The other main problem with the series is the length and complexity of each study. Studies are up to 10 pages long, and contain several longish bible passages to study, along with questions and explanations. It’s ok for arts students, but for the rest of the world probably too much to ask in one session.
This problem is exacerbated by Chester and Timmis’s habit of placing a teaser for the following study at the end of each session – not just a few words or lines, but sometimes a few pages! The whole first section of the next study is often brought back and tacked on the end of the previous one. Now I’m all for teasers, but this is way overdone. You get through the material for one session, there’s been some focus and clarity, and then suddenly you get ten minutes on a new topic – focus lost! Bad idea, guys. Those teasers need to be cut to two sentences, max.
This length/complexity problem is the main thing stopping me using this gear as-is with our people. Around here people’s English is not very strong, we need something that’s easy to understand and interact with. Simplicity, focus, brevity. Or at least, not over-longness!
However, the good news is, Timmis and Chester encourage people to adapt their studies to suit their group. So we’re` doing that…
At a more detailed level, probably the weakest session is no.6, on the Cross. Pity to be weak here! But as so often happens, the study on the cross relies on a larger than usual number of leading questions, and even these are not enough: it then dumps a load of theology on the reader which they probably can’t see in the bible passage they’ve just read. This happens twice over – first for Jesus’ death scene, then for his resurrection. The passage is used largely to establish the historical facts – then the meaning of the events is imported from who knows where – we assume from the Chester’s own theological framework. Not very persuasive. The whole structure of the course, where people are learning from reading Bible texts, gets compromised at this point.
To be fair, every other intro-to-Christianity series I’ve seen does the same thing. But haven’t we got a real problem at this point? We can’t seem to get away from the divide between gospel-narrative and gospel theology. It’s almost as though there are two gospels: a story and a body of doctrines.
I think it’s time we said – this is really not good enough. Go back and do some more work, and fix this, boys. Learn to use the narrative better. I’d go as far as to say – this is a major challenge facing such courses for the future.
OVERALL: Chester and Timmis would have done better to go for either a ‘bible overview’ or a ‘intro to Christianity’ course. They’re not the same thing, and trying to do both detracts from doing either that well. The studies are a bit long and the extended teasers detract from the focus. The study on the cross is disappointing.
However, a great big-picture approach with fresh new ideas, full of potential to engage the modern person. TWWAW represents a good-sized step forward in the ‘intro to Christianity’ genre, compared to say Christianity Explained. I’ll be making use of it.
Over the next few days I’ll post my adapted TWWAW series – keeping the best of their idea, but making it simpler and shorter. In particular I’m going to take up my own challenge re. session 6.