Durham University
Programme and Module Handbook

Postgraduate Programme and Module Handbook 2019-2020 (archived)

Module THMN45430: Early Christian Perspectives on Mission and Ministry

Department: Theology, Ministry and Mission

THMN45430: Early Christian Perspectives on Mission and Ministry

Type Open Level 4 Credits 30 Availability Not available in 2019/20 Module Cap None.


  • None


  • None

Excluded Combination of Modules

  • None


  • To enable students to undertake in-depth critical study of a select number of key pastoral and missional issues, and the responses to them, across later New Testament texts and other early Christian writings.
  • To enable students to develop and critically evaluate possible responses to contemporary issues in mission and ministry in the light of these early Christian responses.


  • Early Christian perspectives on mission and ministry are important conversation partners for contemporary missional and pastoral practice and understanding. They are often overlooked in patristic studies’ focus on doctrinal, canonical, or ecclesiastical development, or the reading of scripture, in the early church. This module brings them into focus by examining how various pastoral issues arose and the ways in which they were addressed in the early church, from the period when the writings that later formed the New Testament were composed, up until the Council of Chalcedon in AD 451. Such early Christian perspectives can offer approaches to these issues that are commensurate with or strikingly different from those common today, and can thus be fruitful conversation partners in developing and evaluating contemporary missional and pastoral responses.
  • Topics to be studied include:
  • Repentance and baptism, including the development of rigorist positions, the permission for a second repentance in texts such as the Shepherd of Hermas and Clement’s Miscellanies, delay of baptism to late in life, and the Novatianist and Donatist controversies over rebaptism for converts or penitents.
  • Debate and dialogue, including the issues around determining whether debates are intra- or extra-mural, strategies adopted by the heresiologists, Justin Martyr’s Dialogue with Trypho and First and Second Apologies, and the articulation of anti-Christian apologetic by figures such as Celsus, Porphyry, and the Emperor Julian.
  • Persecution and power, in particular focussing on the shift from a position of minority, exclusion, and persecution within the Roman Empire (as, for example, in Revelation and Ignatius’ letters), to one of dominance, hegemony, and exclusion of others after Constantine; we will also consider the ambivalent and fraught relationship to power of figures such as Athanasius and Chrysostom. >

Learning Outcomes

Subject-specific Knowledge:
  • Discuss in depth the nature, setting, and content of a number of early Christian texts and the pastoral issues they address, in conversation with contemporary scholarship.
  • Situate these texts and issues within wider trends and movements in the early church.
Subject-specific Skills:
  • Offer critical interpretations of early Christian texts which demonstrate sensitivity to both their historical context and the human experience they reflect and address.
  • Relate ancient Christian thought to contemporary situations in a methodologically rigorous and pastorally appropriate manner.
Key Skills:
  • Carry out systematic and creative research into a variety of texts and the issues they address.
  • Communicate findings both orally and in writing with clarity, sensitivity, fairness and imagination to specialist and non-specialist audiences.
  • Demonstrate initiative, self-direction and independence in tackling and solving problems, and in planning and implementing tasks.

Modes of Teaching, Learning and Assessment and how these contribute to the learning outcomes of the module

  • Lectures provide subject-specific knowledge, offering historical and textual understanding and a conceptual framework as well as a survey of approaches within biblical and patristic studies that enable students to locate their learning in a wider context, to make connections with other disciplines, and to evaluate and apply their learning to different contexts.
  • Seminars enhance subject-specific knowledge and skills by enabling students to interact with texts in conversation with one another and critical scholarship.
  • Student-led seminars develop subject-specific knowledge and skills, and key skills, both through preparation and through interaction with students and staff, promoting awareness of different viewpoints and approaches.
  • Summative essays develop subject-specific knowledge, skills, and key skills, in the acquisition of information through reading and research, and in the structured presentation of information in written form.

Teaching Methods and Learning Hours

Activity Number Frequency Duration Total/Hours
Lecutres 16 1 16
Seminars 9 1 9
Student-led Seminars 5 1 5
Independent reading and preparation for assignments 270
Total hours 300

Summative Assessment

Component: Essay Component Weighting: 100%
Element Length / duration Element Weighting Resit Opportunity
Essay offering a critical analysis of one issue in the area of mission and ministry in an early Christian text or texts, and evaluating its response in relation to a comparable contemporary issue. 5,000 words 100%

Formative Assessment:

Seminar: presentation and discussion on an early Christian text and the pastoral issues it addresses. Essay proposal: 500-word outline of the proposed question, the early Christian text(s) engaged, and the pastoral issue to be addressed.

Attendance at all activities marked with this symbol will be monitored. Students who fail to attend these activities, or to complete the summative or formative assessment specified above, will be subject to the procedures defined in the University's General Regulation V, and may be required to leave the University