Course Syllabus

Dr. Vial Office:  Iliff 109
Winter 2020 Phone: 303-765-3166
Office Hours:  by appointment E-mail:


Paper Guidelines

Writing Conventions

Discussion Guidelines

Background Assignment Guidelines


Course Description:

This introduction to Christian theology will focus on systematic theology, that is, what are the traditional loci (topics or rubrics) that form a complete theological system, how do they fit together, and how does thinking them as a system influence theological thinking? We will look at how the Christian theological tradition provides resources for contemporary theology. As examples we will take a close look at the locus of theological anthropology.

This class will provide an introduction to artificial intelligence, and get at what it means to be human by asking some of the questions AI raises about the nature of humans: what is the relationship of humans to technology? What is intelligence? Must intelligence be embodied? Must it be social? Must it have a culture? What is the place of humans in the cosmos? Etc.

Professional Degree Learning Goals for Constructive Theology Area:

Constructive Theology (TH): critically engage historical and contemporary theological expressions of religious traditions and articulate one's own constructive theological position in relation to contemporary events and/or situations.

Learning Outcomes:

After taking this class, students will be able to:

  1. Say, with authenticity, “Wow. I read, engaged, and analyzed some really interesting authors. Some were fun, some were a slog, but they pushed me to think and respond in ways I hadn’t yet.”
  2. Articulate what some of the theological genres are that writers in the Christian tradition have developed.
  3. Articulate what systematic theology is.
  4. Speak knowledgeably about some of the touchstones in the history of Christian thought in general and on theological anthropology in particular.
  5. Be able to articulate some of the major concepts in artificial intelligence, and the questions they raise about what makes humans special (or not).
  6. Demonstrate awareness of what the traditional theological loci are (and say what a theological locus is), and see how the loci hang together.
  7. Write academic papers with increased ability to formulate a claim and support it with apt textual evidence.


Course Requirements

  1. Preparation and attendance (see above). Participation is 10% of your final grade.
  2. Each student will write three 3-page papers analyzing one of the readings. You may not write on the same author more than once, and you may not write more than one paper for any given class. Class will begin with my posting one or more student papers as a way of initiating and framing our discussion of the reading. Each paper counts for 30% of your final grade. Further instructions for these papers are below.

3-page papers:

Papers will be graded according to the following 4 criteria: 1. A clearly stated claim; 2. Textual evidence to support the claim; 3. Quality of writing (organization, proper use of sentences and paragraphs, grammar, spelling, and all other mechanics); 4. Depth and seriousness of analysis.  In a short paper the claim typically appears as the last sentence of the introductory paragraph (if it is not there the writer needs clearly to mark where it is, since otherwise readers will assume that sentence is the claim). A claim states the conclusion of the argument put forward in the paper. You have a great deal of freedom here. A claim might state what is the most important idea in the reading, or what the author must assume to make their argument, or what the logical extension of that argument might be, or how that argument relates to other readings on our syllabus, or what the author gets right or wrong, etc. In a short paper you will likely not be able to summarize the all the points the author makes, nor should you try. Part of your task of analysis is to prioritize what is most important to lift up for discussion for our class. Your paper will likely not follow the same organization as the reading under analysis, since the logic of your argument will not be the same as the logic of the argument of the reading. If your paragraphs tend to begin “And then . . .;  “Next . . .” then it is probably time to go back and do at least one more draft and re-think what you are presenting and how. The main thing is to make a point about the text.

The purpose of the papers is three-fold: the first is to encourage deep engagement

with the texts; the second is to encourage a habit of discussion that is open, respectful, and rigorous. This is best accomplished when the analytical essays take a charitable stance towards the readings. Some of them will seem old-fashioned, and the writers may have different concerns than do we. Some will seem radical. As in any good conversation, it is important first to try to see where the writer is coming from, rather than to be dismissive of their ideas. There will be plenty of time later to decide what is useful to you and what is not. We must begin with an accurate understanding of what is actually going on in the essay. Third, these papers will help develop your skills as readers and writers. A great number of studies show that “peer-review” is a very effective way to teach writing. The feedback you get on these papers during discussion will be quite valuable.



Students must acquire the following books:

Shawn Copeland, Enfleshing Freedom: Body, Race, and Being

B. A. Gerrish, Christian Faith: Dogmatics in Outline

Further readings will be provided via Canvas

Special Needs

Iliff engages in a collaborative effort with students with disabilities to reasonably accommodate student needs.  Students are encouraged to contact their assigned adviser to initiate the process of requesting accommodations.  The advising center can be contacted at or by phone at 303.765.1146.

Course Summary:

Date Details