[Milton-L] Help with a pedagogical question

Daniel W. Doerksen dwd at unb.ca
Thu Oct 1 12:37:10 EDT 2009

(1) Although the OED agrees with your distinctions, my Webster's New 
Collegiate Dictionary allows a simple equation of "Jesus" and "Christ." 
This is presumably following actual American usage.

(2) Another aspect to the matter is what I think of as generous inclusion, 
or maybe suspension of disbelief. I'm now retired, but in teaching I tried 
to take into account the various backgrounds and commitments of my 
students, but if I were teaching "Rabbi Ben Ezra"  or Rudy Wiebe's 
Temptations of Big Bear I would encourage students to think themselves into 
the mindset of a Jewish wise man or a native American chief. Similarly I 
encouraged students to read Paradise Lost as much as possible from a 
seventeenth-century Christian viewpoint, suspending disbelief as necessary. 
Of course I wanted them also to realize that there are different points of 
view, and not assume in their papers that the reader was necessarily a 
Christian (or whatever).

Dan Doerksen

At 07:40 AM 10/1/2009, you wrote:
>I would appreciate guidance, especially from professing Christians, about 
>how to advise believing students in their use of "Christ" in academic 
>discussions of religious poetry.  Normally when my students refer to Jesus 
>as "Christ" they do so because they think "Christ" is his last name, so I 
>point out that to refer to him as Christ is to make a faith claim, which 
>they hadn't intended.
>But this semester I have two very devout students who, in writing about 
>Herbert poems, are using "Christ" in ways for which I don't have easy 
>Here is an example from a superb and subtle analysis of "The Windows" 
>which ended:
>>Such an example of wordplay serves as the perfect ornament to Herbert’s 
>>poem; for, just as the Christian is called to be like Christ and thus to 
>>be as a kind of filter for his image, so too Christ’s image filters 
>>through this poem about man.  He enters subtly, symbolically and yet 
>>perceptibly; and, in-so-doing, this poem about windows becomes, itself, a 
>>window for Christ’s light.
>I could just ask him to substitute "God" there, but that is not precisely 
>what he meant.  Here is what I wrote:
>>“Christ,” as you know, is an honorific and a faith claim.  As such, it 
>>needs to be used carefully and sparingly in literary analysis.  When you 
>>refer to Christ in your intro paragraph, you present the argument­that 
>>the preacher must let Christ’s light shine through him­as Herbert’s 
>>argument.  So I think “Christ” is okay there.  But in your concluding 
>>paragraph, when you say that in John “we read of Christ that. . .” you 
>>not only reveal your faith position, but include your reader in that 
>>community.  What if the person reading your discussion of the poem does 
>>not identify as a Christian?  Is that person excluded from the paper’s 
>>audience?  Does the argument’s success require that readers share this 
>>faith position?
>I would appreciate knowing how others handle this issue.--Margie
>Margaret Olofson Thickstun
>Elizabeth J. McCormack Professor of English
>Hamilton College
>198 College Hill Road
>Clinton, NY 13323
>(315) 859-4466
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Daniel W. Doerksen 
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