Archive for November, 2009

Looking Like Work?

November 28, 2009

A good description of one of the problems of the academic life from Confessions of a Community College Dean:

Now that computers are much more fun than they used to be, writing doesn’t look like work anymore. It is, of course, but it doesn’t look like it. When I’m at the computer typing, I might be doing something for my day job, or blogging, or reading, or shopping, or emailing, or tweeting. In any given hour, it’s usually a mix. Chewing on an idea isn’t a linear process. It’s shaggier than that, which is necessary to get enough perspective on what’s already written to make revising worthwhile. But if you swoop in from the outside and peek over my shoulder at a random moment, you might see a series of tweets or an article on heaven-knows-what, while I maintain with a straight face that I’m writing. And I am. It just doesn’t look like it.

In my faculty days, class preparation time often had the same flaw. TW would assume that I was ‘on call’ at any moment that I wasn’t actually in a classroom or grading. Thinking can look suspiciously like goofing off, and any honest account would have to concede that some amount of goofing off is an integral part of the process. But the process is real. The problem is that, from the outside, it’s often indistinguishable from loafing.

Self-definition 1: Historic

November 28, 2009

It’s always a challenge to explain yourself to others; we tend to rely on labels. Labels have advantages and disadvantages; at the very least, they need some explanation.  What I hope to do in a series of posts is describe myself using a series of these labels. Through them, I will try and describe how I view myself within the theological/Christian tradition in at least in some broad parameters. I’ve been reflecting on this for a little while and thought it would be a useful exercise for me, at least.

I’m going to start with “historic.” I consciously identify myself within the boundaries of Christian orthodoxy, which means I am an historic Christian. As with the early Christian fathers, I believe there is a “rule of faith,” a tradition of orthodoxy that helps define the broad boundaries of the Christian faith. That is why we properly give a great deal of deference to the early Christian creeds (such as Nicea and Chalcedon).

Evangelicals have increasingly recognized the importance of tradition (see, for example, D.H. Williams’ Retrieving the Tradition: A Primer for Suspicious Evangelicals). Not all my friends (nor my students) have found that persuasive. I grew up in a Baptist church and we never used the creeds – I am part an evangelicalism that often stresses the Bible as the sole authority; we have no creed but the Bible! The problem is that the Bible alone seems to be insufficient to infallibly guide us to the truth. So tradition is another tool that helps us avoid big mistakes and leads us in the right direction.

I don’t believe the early church was infallible, of course. Mistakes (even some big ones) were made; in fact, even within the NT we find ample evidence of false teaching within the early church. But, the NT embodies the apostolic tradition and helps define, at least broadly, the boundaries of the faith. It is worth noting that in the early debates over Christology, for example, appeals to “the tradition” or the apostolic teaching were a key factor in deciding which of the dueling interpretive traditions was correct. I believe it was Alister McGrath who used the phrase “critical appropriation” to suggest a model for how to value tradition, without slavish and thoughtless repetition (The Genesis of Doctrine).

Balancing respect and deference to the accumulated wisdom of the Great Tradition with a love for the truth that humbly subjects that accumulated wisdom to the norming norm of scripture (with a little assist from reason and experience, when appropriate) is a difficult task, but one that is essential.


GMO and Religion, etc.

November 27, 2009

An interesting looking book on genetically modified foods and religious and ethical concerns is briefly reviewed at Religion Dispatches. The site is often a challenge for those with more orthodox theology, but keeps pointing me to interesting things, so I keep reading.

A Christmas Memory – The Best Christmas Ever

November 27, 2009

Though I’m not sure it ever made it into print, here’s a Christmas story from Carla that at least made an online appearance. It was indeed the best Christmas ever. Just found it today.

No more out of print books?

November 26, 2009

An interesting post by Scott McLemee  about libraries, books and their joint future at Inside Higher education. It identifies issues related to out-of-print books (there are fewer of them daily), the role of used books in library acquisition budgets (increasing), the possibility of print on demand as a future revenue source for libraries (not yet there, but perhaps coming), and more. All of this comes from the latest issue of Against the Grain, a periodical I may have to start reading.

ETS Insights

November 25, 2009

I got back from the annual ETS meeting last week and have a few general impressions to share:

1) New Orleans has great food (I know, it’s obvious, but it was!). And, as usual, the banquet is a gastronomic mistake (though the desert was pretty good, the rest of the meal – uninteresting compared to the neighborhood eateries).

2) The job market is horrible. At the ETS job posting area, there were zero jobs posted. Now that does not mean no jobs, but it does suggest something! I talked to a friend from a school which had 2 searches approved earlier (so they are proceeding), but he also mentioned they are planning significant cuts in next year’s academic budget. I’m guessing the first academic cuts (at least the easiest) would be to not hire…so perhaps it’s worse than it appears. And rumors of a closing or two were floating around (just rumors, of course), but it would not be surprising if the school year results in a couple here and there. This would only make things worse. So – be thankful for your job, whatever its difficulties!

3) I talked to a friend from yet another school (you are probably noting a theme here – that’s what conferences are for!) and he mentioned that in his first hour or two at the conference he had talked to three different people commenting on how administrations were taking advantage of the economic crisis to subvert traditional academic principles of governance. If those represent a trend (and if administrations are increasingly driven primarily by financial considerations rather than mission), the future of evangelical education will be bumpy at best. Noll’s classic critique (The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind) may be found to understate the problem!

4) Another friend put out an offer to teach Greek online for a year to students for $150, hoping to get a few students. He got 50. A reminder that the possibilities for education in this world of new technology (especially for those who don’t need credentialing and degrees) are exciting – and for institutions with all our tradition overhead, challenging.

5) In conversations, a friend suggested that we are lacking a good history of the ETS. He’s right, and as the remaining founding members will probably not be with us for long, it’s time for someone to begin that work. Any takers?

Nevertheless, there’s a lot to be thankful for in evangelical academics. There were many wonderful papers (I got to a few of them), always lots of interesting books to buy (and later read), and though we differ on specifics there is a commitment to scholarship and all that entails on the part of the vast majority of attendees. The time always refreshes and encourages me.

Who should go to college?

November 24, 2009

One last education link. A widely discussed discussion of whether too many students are going to college from the Chronicle of Higher education. The basic issues are described in the introduction:

Behind the rhetoric lies disagreement over a series of issues: which students are most likely to succeed in college; what kind of college they should attend; whether the individual or society benefits more from postsecondary education; and whether college is worth the high cost and likely long-term debt.

Fundamentally, I tend to think those arguing for fewer students in a four-year setting seem to have the best of the argument. Especially given 1) the fact that we already have more graduates than jobs which require college degrees and 2) that in most cases the college degree is more a screening device rather than something actually required for a job.

Now what that means for the ethics of educational life and institutions is another question I’ve been pondering.

Financial Stability and the College Search – another thing to consider

November 24, 2009

Robert Blumenthal argues that parents and potential students should consider the financial stability of the schools they are considering attending. Not as the only factor, but at least one that is relevant. An interesting challenge for those of us in schools with no endowment and financial challenges (most evangelical colleges have some of the same issues).

Too many Ph.D.s

November 24, 2009

The problem of too many Ph.D.s rears its head in The Ph.D. Problem. As a survivor of the experience and a sometime advisor to those seeking a degree, I have wondered about this. My theology degree equips me for little except theology (I could pastor a church, but I didn’t really need the Ph.D. for that); and it took me years to find a full-time job – and one that doesn’t really enable me to do research and all the other things I envision in my ideal “educator” world.

h/t Robert Verbruggen (PhiBetaCons)

Hello world! Why Insomniac memos?

November 24, 2009

I’ve decided to supplement my reading blog (associated solely with reporting on what I’m reading and things gleaned from that) with a broader blog.

I sometimes have trouble sleeping at night, particularly when my mind is racing a million miles an hour and I’m trying to solve something. I’ve found that perhaps the best way to deal with this problem is to get up, go to the computer, and pound out a memo. Most are at least several pages long and incorporate some of my most creative thinking (at least in my judgment). I even write them when I know I can’t give them to the person I’m writing them for. I call them my “insomniac memos”, hence the title of this blog.

I promise, not all posts will be long memos, and I hope most won’t be written after midnight. But, probably some will be. I’ll see how this goes. I’d like to keep it up and remain committed to linking interesting things regarding theology, education, culture, and anything else I find interesting. If I ignore your interests, I’m sure someone else will address them – that’s what internet search engines are for!