Monday, July 28, 2014

Quote from Noll on "Christian Thinking about the World"

Mark Noll on christians thinking about the world from his book "Scandal of the Evangelical Mind" (pg.130) 

"For Christian thinking about the world, the key question is what happens to a community when it tries to work out a Christian orientation to, say, the conundrums of modern nuclear physics, to the complexities of health care reform, to the meaning of traditional legal principles for a pluralistic society, to the interpretation of classic texts, to efforts at evaluating Communism in the twentieth century, to the issue of how music reinforces or subverts traditional morality, to the debate over which books should be assigned as the literary canon- that is, to the whole range of modern questions in which it is absolutely essential to exercise sensitivity concerning the interpreter's stance over against the data being interpreted, criticism about the way pre-commitments influence conclusion, and critical awareness of the symbiotic connections between methods and results. If that community's habits of mind concerning those things to which the community pays most diligent attention and accords highest authority- that is, to the Bible and Christian theology- are defined by naive and uncritical assumptions about the way to study or think about anything, so will its efforts to promote Christian thinking about the world be marked by naivete and an absence of rigorous criticism."

Difficult Topics and Doubting Thomas

I had some great discussions today with coworkers about the authorship of the Pentateuch and how to handle such topics in a school setting like ours. It reminded me of something I wrote a while ago on how difficult topics should be treated: 

It is undoubtable in the process of continued learning that many staff will wrestle with difficult passages and theological quandaries that have no simple or immediate answer. These discussions consist of but are not limited to topics such as: creation/evolution, historical adam, mosaic authorship of the Pentateuch, historiography and the Bible, inerrancy and authority of scripture, the nature of the historical Jesus, justification by faith, gender roles in ministry and marriage, calvinism/arminiasm, the nature of God’s foreknowledge and various views of the second coming. Those who think there are only two views on all of these above issues, my view and the wrong view or the traditional view and the liberal view, do not do justice to the complex and difficult nature of these topics and the reality of multiple interpretations throughout church history and the church today.

Many of the above topics have been made into book series that display four or five views on each issue, indicating there is more than one “evangelical/christian” view on many of these issues. It is possible and likely that some in the SBS community will disagree with this point or seek to phrase it differently or remove a few of the topics above. That’s fine, disagreement is great for conversation and that is the point- how do we handle the disagreements and tensions that arise as we continue to learn? It is my personal opinion that we ought to encounter the plurality of interpretation and theological viewpoints with humbleness and energetic seeking after the truth; we should seek not to allow fear, name-calling, pride and one voice louder than the others to dominate and steer the conversation. We should seek to avoid both knee-jerking reactions to all things different and a gullible embracing of everything as long as it’s not orthodoxy.  If Jesus is the “way, truth and life” than we as his disciples have nothing to fear from serious engagement in learning truth, for all truth is subservient to him. It is absolutely essential to note here that what are talking about is in the domains of personal wrestling and private conversation not public profession or instructive teaching in the classroom. To talk about what we allow staff to think and question and what we allow staff to teach is to talk about two different things, it is important to realize the difference. Many of these discussions that are wrestled with among staff are not things that need to be thrown out in a lecture or student small group setting. And for that matter it is not even the aim of this program to force questions and challenging views on staff. The question remains though of how to handle staff (and students for that matter) who naturally and personally have these questions arise on their own and seek to privately wrestle through these things (not teach them). I propose that we should treat the serious questions, doubts and challenging views existing in the church today as Jesus treated doubting Thomas. Not with the idea that we are perfect like Jesus and all who question are doubters, but rather encounter the honest questions with love and a simple showing of the evidence (in this case the holes in his hands). So we must encounter these topics of difficulty that have a wide range of interpretation with both love and the simple exchange of evidence from both sides.

Monday, July 21, 2014

A few blogs on Higher Education and Scholarship

Surfing the blog world today and came across a few blogs with the same subject and all of them good.

1. James K.A. Smith on Courageous Scholarship

2. Michael Bird's Advice to Christian Scholars

3. Roger Olson on Academic Freedom, Statements of Faith and Christian Universities

I will include below the full text of James K.A. Smith's's shorter and really well as the video from Michael Bird.

James K.A. Smith:

On "Courage" in the (Christian) Academy

[a few thoughts composed on my iPhone on the shore of Little Platte Lake]

Someone has said that academic squabbles are so nasty only because they are so unimportant. Nonetheless, many academics like to see themselves as "courageous"--exhibiting intellectual heroism, taking stands that are unpopular, leading to some kind of "martyrdom."  This is the kind of "courage" you claim when you've dodged the draft and type with hands never blemished by a callous. 

This self-understanding of academic "courage" takes specific forms among Christian scholars, and is perhaps ramped up by adding religious stakes to the mix. Again, the scholar likes to imagine himself or herself as "courageous" for saying unpopular things, for speaking truth to power, for questioning the status quo. 

There are "progressive" versions of this in which the courageous scholar-martyr is marginalized by evangelicalism for taking unpopular stands that are nonetheless supported by "science" or "justice" or "democracy" or "experience" or what have you. As a result s/he is critcized, bullied, rejected, ostracized, ignored, excluded, etc. But the courageous scholar is willing to endure such sacrifices for the sake of Truth, Justice, Science, Progress, Diversity, etc. 

But progressives don't have the corner on the courage market. There are conservative Christian scholars who tell themselves the same story: they are willing to risk marginalization, exclusion, derision, even appearing the fool in order to stand up for The Truth against academic trends, intellectual fads, and the temptations that roll into the university under the guise of Progress.

But when one looks at these scenarios more closely, I think one will see that, in fact, neither is risking very much. Those "courageous" progressives don't really value the opinions or affirmations of conservative evangelicalism anyway. What they really value, long for, and try to curry is the favor of "the Enlightened"--whether that's the mainstream academy or the progressive chattering class who police our cultural mores of tolerance. Sure, these "courageous" progressives will take fire from conservative evangelicals--but that's not a loss or sacrifice for them. Indeed, their own self-understanding is fueled by such criticism.  In other words, these stands don't take "courage" at all; they don't stand to lose anything with those they truly value.

Similarly, "courageous" conservatives who "stand up" to the progressive academy aren't putting much at risk because that's not where they look for validation and it's not where their professional identities are invested. They are usually "populists" (in a fairly technical sense of the word) whose professional lives are much more closely tethered to the church and popular opinion.  And in those sectors, "standing up to" the academy isn't a risk at all--it's a way to win praise. When your so-called contrarian stands win favor from those you value most...well, it's hard to see how "courage" applies. 

But here's what we don't often see: Christian scholars who have vested their professional lives in the mainstream academy willing to take stands that would be unpopular at the MLA or APA or AAR. Conversely, we don't see many conservative scholars willing to defend positions that would jeapordize their favored status with popular evangelicalism. 

Now both of those options would require courage.

Two talks on productivity

After two weeks of vacation I am jumping back into work...yesterday I decided to listen to a few random talks on productivity from youtube....It was inspiring and had some good practical ideas.

Robert Jenson on the Reading the OT

I was back in the states for two weeks on vacation and the only talk I listened to during that two weeks was this one. My brother was listening to it and I sat along. Enjoyed it. It was my first time listening to Robert Jenson, but it will not be my last.