Archive for the ‘Academia’ Category

Having attended seminary, I am of the firm belief that the Bible is not magically able to be properly interpreted by everyone who reads it.  This is in contrast with many evangelicals, who generally expect the Bible’s message to be self-evident to the average attentive reader open to the Holy Spirit.  Notre Dame sociologist Christian Smith recently wrote about this, as well as various other problems with how evangelicals approach Scripture, in his book The Bible Made Impossible.  For a while now, I have been with Smith in considering this an inappropriate approach to Scripture because it simply does not work in real life:  People who don’t know better very often read Scripture quite poorly, despite their best efforts and intentions.

Some might consider it elitist to believe only certain better-equipped people can properly interpret the Bible, but consider this: There was a time when most people were illiterate, making the entire Bible completely inaccessible without some sort of mediator.  Was it elitist for God to inspire Scripture to begin with?  Then neither is it elitist to acknowledge that the Bible was written in unfamiliar languages and cultures a long time ago and that it is therefore not always easily understood.  In fact, even with additional training there is a lack of consensus about certain passages, highlighting how complicated the Bible really is.  This situation need not create a separate class of Christians who keep the Bible to themselves, but rather demands we do a better job connecting academics, clergy, and laity to one another so that everyone might have as many tools as possible to understand as much of the Bible as possible.  And in the event that having been better equipped, there are still certain parts which are harder to understand, lay people should have access to people and books who can point them in the right direction.  This highlights the importance of educated leaders, as well as for academics who take a strong interest in helping the church as a whole connect to their life’s work.

Too often today pastors are uneducated or focused solely on ministerial training rather than biblical studies and theology, and too often even the best educated pastors with an interest in theology do not know how to make this information accessible to their congregants.  We need strong educational requirements and a culture which values learning among our pastors.  We also need to train them in how to teach others about that which often stays shut up in the ivory tower.  We should encourage basic theological literacy among lay people through the sorts of preaching, Sunday school curricula, adults’ and children’s books, etc. to which we expose people in our churches and other Christian settings.  In my view, it would be wise to come to a general consensus on what sorts of topics every Christian deserves some basic instruction in and to make certain our teaching ensures anyone growing up in church or later joining a church has the opportunity to learn such material—in other words, we need more and better catechesis.

Another thing we need, however, is to recognize that the way evangelicals conduct many of their ministries is simply theologically irresponsible.  In particular, I am talking about the very lax standards for ministry in parachurch contexts.  I do not doubt that many of these individuals are called by God to serve and that God uses them in meaningful ways.  But we need to do a better job distinguishing between those in deacon-type positions vs. those with significant teaching and mentoring responsibilities.  Those who focus on practical service (ministries of compassion, social justice, fostering community and fellowship, the arts, etc.) need not possess a theological education, though some might find it helpful to have a background in theology, not to mention other sorts of training (to play certain instruments, to understand social issues, etc.).  However, this is not the case for those who preach and otherwise guide others through Scripture as a regular basis as part of their ministerial profession.

A perfect example of this is campus ministry.  Campus ministry organizations (whether interdenominational or denominational) need educational standards for their staff.  Period.  A typical campus minister may refer to their lessons as “speaking” or “teaching,” but there is no practical difference between the nature of their “talks” and a sermon the student might hear on Sunday morning.  For those who consider it problematic for pastors to lack theological education, the same standard should apply to campus ministers.  They play a very significant role in determining how young people form their theology, not only through preaching but also through “discipling” relationships.  Without educational standards, there is an enormous variance of “quality” of teaching between campus ministry staff, which is rather unfortunate.

Campus ministries, as well as other parachurch organizations, often have enormous power to influence the direction of the church.  We must consider it “worth it” to require—and then, of course, help fund—the education of those in such influential positions if we want to avoid perpetuating poor biblical interpretations, not to mention broader ignorance of theology and church history and the very large problem of evangelical anti-intellectualism.


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I’d like to take this opportunity to tell my friends and fellow-biblibloggers about a new book I have coming out from Major Evangelical Publisher. A few months ago, MEP contacted me about a book opportunity to continue a series exploring the church life and theology of the Fathers. I must admit, I was surprised that they chose an obscure grad student for the project, but when I confronted them about it they replied, “Who is willing to work cheaper than a grad student?”  Who indeed? After accepting their offer, I got to work right away.  I thought I’d use this blog to provide a preview of the content of the book.  The first chapter focuses on Ignatius of Antioch and examines his three point rhetorical strategy, a strategy that I dare say would remain effective even today.

Step I: Dehumanize

The easiest way to challenge the legitimacy of your opponents is to portray them as somehow subhuman. After all, nobody goes to the zoo for theological advice (except perhaps a “pastor” whose name rhymes with Lark Griscoll who pioneered the quadrant-based flung-monkey-poo method of discernment). Watch as Ignatius elbow drops his opponents with the gospel. His opponents are:

  • “wild animals” and “raving dogs” (Ign. Eph. 7.1)
  • “seemingly trustworthy wolves” (Ign. Phil. 2.2)
  • “beasts in human form” (Ign. Smyr. 4.1)

Step II: Demonize

Once you show that your opponents are subhuman, you really have to prove that they are evil instead of just stupid. Try finding as many ways as possible to associate your opponents with the Devil. Be creative like Ignatius, he said his opponents were:

  • “a weed planted by the Devil” (Ign. Eph. 10.3)
  • “filthy” and they “will depart into the unquenchable fire” (Ign. Eph. 16.2)
  • an “evil offshoot which produces deadly fruit” (Ign. Trall. 11.1)
  • bearers of “the stamp of this world” (Ign. Magn. 5.2)
  • promoters of “evil teachings” (Ign. Eph. 9.1)
  • doomed to become bodiless daimons (Ign. Smyr. 2.1)

Step III: Delegitimize
Finally, find ways to smear your opponents with unpleasant titles, and whenever possible exploit the prejudice of your audience. You can call your opponents names:

  • those who say he only appeared to suffer are “atheists” (Ign. Trall. 10.1)

You can exploit the growing Anti-Judaism in Christianity by characterizing your opponents as:

  • partakers of the “bad yeast” of Judaism (Ign. Magn. 10.2)
  • believers of “old fables” who by living “according to Judaism” “have not received God’s grace.” (Ign. Magn. 8.1)

And you can attack the legitimacy of their worship:

  • Their eucharist is “invalid” without the bishop (Ign. Eph. 5.2; Ign. Smyrn. 8.1)

Obviously the church fathers give us powerful examples of theological reflection, prayer, and worship, but they can also help us deal with divisions in our churches. A quick rhetorical rout can leave your opponents decimated, and bring your church back under your impartial, divinely-appointed control with great speed. Watch for the book to be published later this year, and check the table of contents below to see what other church fathers I mine for that decisive rhetorical victory today’s churches really need.

Table of Contents:

  • Chapter 1: Irate Ignatius
  • Chapter 2: Mighty Justin Martyr
  • Chapter 3: Indomitable Irenaeus
  • Chapter 4: Testy Tertullian
  • Chapter 5: Combative Chrysostom
  • Chapter 6: Antagonistic Augustine

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Cool Resource

Harvard University Extension School has a website where they have essentially posted the lectures from online courses for free public consumption.

Harvard open courses feature video of Harvard faculty. The following noncredit free Harvard courses are offered online by Harvard Extension School’s Open Learning Initiative. Featuring Harvard faculty, the courses are open to the public.

  • Intensive Introduction to Computer Science
  • The Heroic and the Anti-Heroic in Classical Greek Civilization
  • Bits: The Computer Science of Digital Information
  • Shakespeare After All
  • China: Traditions and Transformations
  • World War and Society in the Twentieth Century: World War II
  • Sets, Counting, and Probability
  • Abstract Algebra

Of particular interest is the course titled, “The Heroic and the Anti-Heroic in Classical Greek Civilization.” Enjoy.

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A couple years ago, I attended my very first meeting of the Society of Biblical Literature in New Orleans. As I was meandering through the hallways in search of interesting sessions, my attention was drawn by a colorful poster placed upon a board which was in use for the poster sessions. It took about .002 nanoseconds to figure out that some whack-job had hijacked the poster session board. I meant to blog on it then, but I forgot
about it until some particularly ridiculous bit of dilettantish behavior mentioned on Scotteriology reminded me of it. Anyway, I bring to your attention ladies and gentlemen: Prismatic Theology. What is Prismatic Theology you might ask, and the answer is about what you’d expect. From the about page:

[W]hile my husband and I drove from Tulsa, OK to Eureka Springs, AR the unexpected happened! It was a beautiful Fall day and the foliage in the Ozark Mountains was particularly brilliant …yellow, orange, red, purple and green leaves dotted the hillsides! But something other than the colorful leaves caught my attention. An image appeared between the windshield of our car and my mind’s eye. The vision that I saw was an organizational structure for ministry. It was in the shape of a square and it looked like a fishing net which had the colors of the rainbow woven into its structure.

The vision came to me from beyond myself and I have no rational explanation for it. The only thing that I can say for certain is that the vision came with a complete understanding of how ‘The Net’ was to function. Moreover the new knowledge was instantaneous and could not be un-learned…During the next four years,1996 – 2000, I experienced a continuous supernatural influx of instruction. At times the intensity of the teaching and the amount of information was beyond what I thought I could handle. I begged for a respite but no rest came until Oct, 2000. By the end of the four year period of time however I had an awareness of three tools for ministry here on earth: A Clock, a Key, and a Net![emphasis original].

Ok, so she had a vision, but what on earth does prismatic theology even mean? From what I can tell, she seems to have haphazardly applied her vision to a variety of random things in the Bible. For example: The creation story in Genesis 1 should not be understood as linear, but rather as circular…because color wheels are round…or something. Unexplained prophetic vision? Color wheels to the rescue! Her application of the color wheel often breaks down into incoherent rambling:

It is unlikely that the wheel was successfully used in ancient times as a means of measuring time relative to the 24-hour measurement. However through the gift of hindsight, a synchronization of ‘bible-time’ and ‘earth-time’ becomes possible. The entire wheel accounts for the counter-clock-wise passage of 8,400 years of which 6,000+ years have elapsed and 2,100+ remain.

What? At least there are plenty of nifty colorful pictures. If you think the climax of absurdity has been reached, get ready to be blown away. She has presented this crap at SBL!

When my research was complete, I joined the Society of Biblical Literature and the American Academy of Religion in order to present my research. I wanted the scholarly community to listen to the information and either tell me that I was crazy; laugh me off of the planet; or help me understand why the insights couldn’t possibly be accurate. But no one laughed. And after several years of presenting academic papers I’m still on the planet. A few scholars commented on the ‘unconventional nature of the wisdom’ saying, “I’ve never thought about this” or “I’ve never seen anything like this.”  But no one told me that the conclusions I offer cannot possibly be accurate.

I’m all about sunshine and kindness, but for the love of Pete why didn’t anyone say, “Yes madam, you are indeed crazy.” The fact that no one did so is allowing her to trade on the name of the SBL. Her website lists her “academic papers presented within the Society of Biblical Literature” including three regional meetings and a national meeting. I’m no fan of censorship, but who is letting this woman into their sessions? Do her abstracts sound distinctly less crazy or something?

Carol, if you are reading this, I have no desire to hurt your feelings, but what you are doing is not scholarship. It does not belong at SBL, and you shouldn’t be hawking DVDs about it on the internet. If you are really interested in Biblical Studies, I suggest that you seek training from an accredited institution of higher learning or contact someone who has had such training and ask for a list of books to read.

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As many of you know, I attended a variety of schools growing up.  It was intellectual boredom that took me out of the public school I had attended for 2nd and 3rd grade to try homeschooling for a year, and it was my social isolation as a homeschooler that led my parents to their next attempt to educate their smart and extroverted daughter.  The compromise was a fundamentalist Baptist school—the only private school in our small town of 5000 in rural Ohio.  I spent 5th-8th grades at Ohio Valley Christian School, wearing skirts past my knees, memorizing the KJV, and enduring those miserably catty middle school years.  After OVCS, attending a secular private school in North Carolina was quite a change for me, and in fact, my hope that I could find a school that was academically challenging (like my 9th grade institution) and Christian led me to hop to a new school in 10th grade.  But I quickly hopped right back.

This is the story I recalled as soon as I saw the “historical Adam” article in Christianity Today this month: my accidental foray into fundamentalism, my fear over my secular education, and my reassessment of Christian education (as a whole) on the basis of the pervasive anti-intellectualism I found at my latest institution of choice.  Interestingly, the other day while browsing the grocery story and discussing these experiences with Jeremiah, it hit me for the first time that my persistent feelings of disinterest towards the creation/evolution debate were not, in fact, ever-present.  I did briefly care about this issue:  I specifically did mediocre on my 9th-grade Old World History test covering “pre-history,” since I thought, Well, I don’t really believe any of this anyway…  I had just spent four years hanging out with KJV-only-ists, after all, so I knew that this evolution crap was all hog-wash.  Why bother to memorize anything about “Lucy”?

But it was my supposedly enlightened Christian school experience in 10th grade that convinced me creationism was at least equally deserving of the b.s. label.  I remember the hope and enthusiasm I felt about taking biology, in particular, in a Christian context.  Oh how deeply I was disappointed!  Our “unit” on evolution ended up requiring no reading and having no lectures, but instead consisted solely of a research paper.  A paper that didn’t even require us to learn evolutionary theory, but instead forced us to gather up all the arguments we could use to refute it.  This was at the jeans-allowed, NIV-permitted Christian school, but its utter terror in the face of science was hardly different from the fundies’.  I remember dutifully assembling my paper, which I decided would just have to consist of other people’s arguments rather than my genuine opinion.  Some of the “evidence” I found actually had to do with the amount of dust on the moon.  Dust… on… the… moon…  I could not believe I was having to waste my life on this paper.

By the time I returned to the secular private school the next year, these questions just didn’t matter to me.  I had trusted evangelical creationists to have a decent hand of cards, but when I got a peek, I realized they were bluffing.  There was a good reason we didn’t actually cover evolution in class—they had no arguments against it.  No reasonable ones, anyway.  I decided it didn’t really matter how God created the world, anyway—God was still God—and went into college with my faith bolstered by my recently discovered moderate evangelicalism (many thanks to InterVarsity Press, Baker, Eerdmans, Christians for Biblical Equality, and Mark Noll).  I have felt decidedly agnostic towards evolution ever since.

To some extent that might be changing, however.  My first year of seminary gave me some new and better ways of reading Genesis, and our buddies at BioLogos have helped erase some of the lingering prejudices towards evolution that I may have held.  I am not a scientist, so I don’t believe I can make an intelligent case on this kind of an issue—I can merely trust what the (vast, vast) majority of scientists believe.  But I do think that over the last three or four years, I’ve continued to drift even further towards the theological middle, a journey which has made me question whether I should continue to treat evolution as such a not-big deal.

Perhaps, instead, I should be awed that I did search for alternative viewpoints as a high school student who realized much of the faith she had been handed could not stand up to questioning.  It is, in many ways, a miraculous journey, which makes little logical sense and for which I give God the credit.  Unfortunately, not everyone is that lucky.  I do not doubt God’s ability to hold onto others or to chase others down, of course, but I do feel that perhaps by not intentionally making theistic evolution a more accessible option, we moderate folk are not doing our Christian duty.   We are tragically failing to share truly good news with those already committed to science, and we are tragically failing to reassure many doubting Christians that this does not need to be an issue that causes them to lose their faith.

As I read the CT article, I was struck by the utter nonsense of some of the lengths to which more conservative scholars are now going in order to preserve a historical first couple.  If this is what people are being taught, maybe it is time for me to go back and learn the science I never learned in high school.  Perhaps the time has come for me to put my apathy aside once and for all, to better educate myself, and to get passionate about this issue—on the theistic evolution side.

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There was a time not so long ago that I would have fit right in at the Evangelical Theological Society. I remember scrambling to come up with ways John 7:53-8:11 could be authentic or attempts to successfully harmonize the Gospels. I felt I had to. I felt that if I couldn’t find the answers to such difficulties, then my faith would be invalidated. The change was subtle at first, but eventually I came to believe that my redemption was in a person not in a text.

That is not to say that the text no longer matters.  It is supremely important, but belief in its absolute historical perfection would have required a lifetime of cognitive dissonance. It would require denying those obvious truths which God has granted us within the limits of our earthly epistemology. Likewise, I got sick of the way that the biblical authors were muzzled by the texts bound up on either side of them. In the end, it was a desire to hear the voice of the author that swayed me. Luke could not be heard in the din of Matthew, Mark, John, and a Holy Spirit that was conspicuously shaped like my own theology.

In the end, I realized that the inerrantists and I trust in the same thing, our heavenly Father, to achieve the same result, the instruction unto salvation. So what was the big deal? Apparently, refusal to adhere to inerrancy must  invariably lead to heresy! Comparing my theology to the historic measures of Christian orthodoxy, I appear to pass. Trinitarian? Check. Jesus, fully human, fully God? Check. Born of a virgin? Check. Crucified under Pilate? Check. Risen again on the third day? Check. Seated at the right hand? Check. Nevertheless, somewhere along the way I lost my evangelical privileges.

I’m not allowed in the ETS, not allowed to come together with my brothers and sisters in faith, and why? Not because of a thing I believe about God nor because of some foul heresy building in my heart. No, it is because of something I believe about the Bible. It is not for lack of love or devotion to Lord that I am barred, but for the tertiary concern of what terminology I use to describe the work of inspiration carried out by the Holy Spirit. The truly insane part of the whole thing is that certain people within the ETS hold views about God that go against the norm. I have no problem with Open Theists, but it is mind-boggling to me that more leeway is given in regard to what one believes about God than about the Bible.

You are probably wondering at this point why I even care. I’m clearly coming to interpretive conclusions different from those presented by the old guard innerantists, so why would I want to join an assembly filled with those with whom I disagree? The simple fact is that I wear two hats. I seek to be a scholar in the truest sense, but I am also a believer. It is clear that those in the SBL who only wear one hat do not wish me to bring along my second. Where does that leave people like me? Where can the people of two hats go to be scholars and people of faith? Because of what many of us believe about the Bible, the answer is nowhere, and that is, in my biased opinion, the real tragedy of the so-called ETS.

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I think one of the most frustrating things about my experience with the aforementioned half-sexist egalitarian the other day was that this hasn’t been an isolated experience.  For example:

  • When I applied to Fuller’s School of Psychology, I had to clarify that, yes, I actually wanted to do this additional degree—that we were staying in Pasadena for me specifically (which was leading my husband to apply to a ThM here),  not because he was applying to a ThM here already (and I had just nothing to do with my time).
  • Upon meeting people here, I very (very) often have had to clarify that, “Yes, I’m a student, too,” since at Fuller most married students are male and most female students are single.
  • It was recently suggested to me that if a certain job possibility in Durham didn’t work out, I could just work at Barnes and Noble for a year or two.  Somehow I’m guessing a 25-year-old married man’s desire to provide for his family (not to mention build a career) would be taken a bit more seriously.
  • It’s a little discouraging to see egalitarians willing to sign explicitly complementarian doctrinal statements in order to expand their career options.
  • In a class this past quarter, a male Fuller student made jokes about cleaning being women’s work and how a wife’s wearing sexy lingerie—and logically, the sexual acts that followed—was an act of service (in Chapman’s silly “Five Love Languages” paradigm), rather than fitting into the more logical categories of physical touch or quality time.  And nothing happened besides some awkward laughter.

I could go on.  The point is, among egalitarian and egalitarian-leaning folks, there is still much to be addressed.  Here at Fuller, in particular, I find that gender often goes undiscussed because it’s assumed that we’re “all on the same page.”  Well, we’re not, for starters, but even if we all were, what does that even mean?  Mere assent to gender equality is not enough for women or men.  It is not enough for the church.  It is only the beginning of a larger project to improve relationships and eliminate injustices, a project I’m afraid Fuller doesn’t actually encourage many students to consider if they aren’t already spear-heading it.

But this post isn’t really about Fuller, so I’ll leave that point there for now.  The real issue is that a lot of people think gender equality is more or less achieved in our so-called post-feminist world.  That just simply isn’t true—in the church or out of it.  Let me tell you, even in my own heart, I still have sexism.

I remember the first time I really realized this.  It was my sophomore year of college, and I had mentally assumed the author of an article I was reading was male until I went to get the citation information and was surprised to see a woman’s name.  A friend had a similar moment when she and her husband tallied up their chore lists and realized she was doing more work that he was—even though neither of them wanted it that way.  I often wish that the academic world would have its own wake-up and realize that merely admitting women to PhD programs isn’t enough—that until both women and men can have more reasonable and flexible schedules, they are, in effect, requiring all students to either be single or to be men in traditional marriages.

Lest this post seem I’m being too hard on anyone, I want to make it clear that I do have complementarian friends and I know that all egalitarians are imperfect.  But so often, I think people think being egalitarian or post-feminist or just not an obvious chauvinist is enough.  But it’s not.  There is more to this problem than our explicit beliefs about women in the church, home, and society.  We need to examine ourselves for residual attitudes and assumptions that clash with out egalitarian views, and we need to take action to change the world for our daughters and sons.  We need to change how we think, speak, and live in areas like work, family, scholarship, sex, works of compassion, and corporate worship.  We need more than just a nod towards equality.  We need the sort of intentionality that acknowledges just how bad things are in certain realms—and just how far forward we hope we can move them with God’s help.

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