Home Archive for category "Academia"

Seminary Re-Do

Based on a number of factors, we have decided to live in an apartment for our first few months in Waco, hopefully becoming homeowners just before Jeremiah starts class at Baylor in August  This means temporarily downsizing from 1500 sq. ft. and a garage to about 900 sq. ft. and a POD. True packing has only barely begun, but as a preliminary step today, I decided to try to pick out which books I want to keep with me over the summer. It’s a nearly impossible task.  How on earth do we take over ten IKEA Billies’ worth of books and select only two Billies’ worth?  Plus, some of that space will be taken up by our German board games and Ambrose’s books!  I tried to do my part tonight by paring down my to-read-soon selections to fit on only two of the twelve 30″ shelves we’ll have.  And looking at all of those books I’m hoping to read this summer got me thinking again about something I’ve considered a lot over the three years since I’ve graduated with my MA in Theology from Fuller: Sometimes I really wish I could do seminary over.

I started thinking this because of the books on my shelf.  A lot of my to-read books have been chosen to either build on what I learned in seminary or fill in some of the gaps left by the things I think I should have learned by didn’t.  Among the things that I wish I had gotten to spend more time on are world religions, philosophy (Nancey Murphy!), the Hebrew Bible (Pentateuch, Prophets, and Hebrew Exegesis Psalms didn’t even give me any survey of the rest of the Writings, much less additional in-depth work!), and church history.  Among the things I wish I had learned anything about at all are Greek exegesis (not enough space in my degree, although I did take Greek and Hebrew themselves), modern Roman Catholicism or Eastern Orthodoxy of any era, non-Western Christianity, preaching, and liturgical studies.

It may be surprising where some of those gaps lie, depending on your own seminary experience or your impressions of what seminary entails.  I think I sometimes wish that my time in seminary were altogether different.  Not only in terms of the specific topics I got to cover in class but in terms of my degree structure or denominational affiliation (or, in Fuller’s case, lake thereof), or who my professors and classmates were or (goodness, please!) trading the quarter system for semesters.  Before picking Fuller, I also considered applying to Duke, North Park, and Palmer.  I picked Fuller because of its size, its multiethnicity, its larger number of female professors, and its location in a place that was totally new to me.  I thought it would be a place with lots of exciting opportunities, and it was.  While I was at Fuller, I griped a lot about the degree plan for the MA in Theology, inefficiencies on the business side of Fuller, etc.  After experiencing Duke Divinity through Jeremiah, I now know that many of Fuller’s flaws are far from unique, and since my time at Fuller was overwhelmingly positive, I look back with an intense nostalgia.  Fuller is now a magical place where people think of themselves as evangelical and yet I still fit in.  (Those are few and far between at this point!)

Between all these warm fuzzies and the obvious fact that I met my husband there, I would never, ever want to go back and change where I actually went to seminary.  And yet sometimes I wish I could do a seminary re-do of sorts, gaining everything I feel I missed without giving up any of the good things I’ve already enjoyed.  Here’s some of the things I think I might change the second time around:

1) I would go to a mainline seminary.  I’ve had my time in a postconservative institution.  The second time around, I’d love to get to know the postliberal side of things a bit better.

2) I would go to a denominationally affiliated school.  Fuller benefits in many ways from being interdenominational, but I don’t think it encouraged me to nail down my own denominational identity.  I don’t need to be whatever the school is, but I think there being one primary denominational affiliation can encourage others to become more active in the smaller denominational groups on campus.

3) I would do an MDiv.  Because, well, first of all, my MA in Theology is not the most helpful degree when it comes to getting jobs.  And secondly, because an MDiv at most schools would require a lot of those classes I wish I had had, like Greek exegesis, preaching, and liturgical studies.  I also think doing an MDiv would have forced me to answer certain questions about vocational ministry that I didn’t have to answer with an MA and which now are more complicated to work through.

4) I would speak up more in class.  I felt rather self-conscious in seminary and became much less active in class than I had been in high school or college.  I’m not sure if it was the very different gender ratios, the unfamiliar subject matter, or various other transitions I was going through at the time—whatever the cause, I was a very good student but simply tried to stay out of certain conversations.  It didn’t help that there were a ton of hipster theologian wannabes at Fuller who seemed to think it was a great idea show off during class.  (Most of them made fools of themselves anyway, so I was glad not to join them.)  At risk of sounding too critical of everyone else, as much as I hated them at the time, I wish I had tried to be even a little bit more like them.  I think if I had put myself out there, I could have been a student who TAed for professors (like my friend Christy) or who went on to take more advanced classes or who at least would be remembered as more than a number after graduation.  And, most importantly, I would have learned more and probably made some meaningful connections with other people interested in fascinating subjects.

5) I would specialize rather than being a generalist.  This is challenge with an MDiv, and even more so with an MA in Theology.  However, the new structure of the program since I graduated does greatly improve one’s options, even when doing an MA at Fuller.  I would probably take more courses on modern and American church history, which is one of the only areas (besides ministry and New Testament) that I had done a fair amount of reading in before seminary.  It connects well with my interest in sociology of religion, and it is very helpful and informative in thinking about the roots of and future possibilities for today’s church.

There is, however, one thing that I definitely would not change: I would absolutely still do my MA in Family Studies degree, as well.  While it also isn’t the most helpful degree for finding a job, I loved my short time in Fuller’s School of Psychology, and I think it helped inform and round out my theology degree in important ways.

I’ve arrived in Chicago for SBL

I’m here in Chicago waiting for the fun stuff to start. If you see me on the book floor, do stop and say hello. I’d love to hear from you.

Tenuous Tenure: My thoughts on the Rollston debacle

A lot has already been said about the ongoing drama at Emmanuel Christian Seminary, but given the recent article in Inside Higher Ed (which I was directed to by Dr. Cargill) I thought it might be appropriate both to lend my support to Dr. Rollston and to add a few brief comments. The part of the article that has energized the discussion is this particular passage quoting the president of the seminary:

“At a time when Emmanuel is under severe financial stress, we have some potentially significant donors (one of whom is capable of regular gifts in the six-figure range) who refuse to support Emmanuel because they regard your influence as detrimental to students,” Sweeney wrote.

As an admitted cynic, I am in no way surprised to discover that money was yet again the root of an evil. That is not to say that I am not sympathetic to the situation ECS is in. Keeping a seminary running probably takes an almost soul-crushing level of pragmatism, and choosing your battles is probably an important part of keeping the cogs turning. When I was at Fuller, I was bothered to learn that the seminary had received substantial donations from a business mogul who had an unsavory reputation as a budget clothier. The backbone of his early business model was the exploitation of poor immigrant workers in the greater LA area. Did the fact that he had cleaned up his act recently make up for the fact that he built his empire on the raw hands and bowed backs of the poor? It is easy to reflect on the bitter irony of leaving my fantastic class on Luke where I learned that in the third Gospel losers become winners and God is on the side of the poor to go home to an apartment complex named for abusers of the poor.  It was in many ways disappointing, but I understand that without those donations there would not have been an affordable place for me to live. Perhaps in such situations a consequentialist approach is permissible and we might hold our noses and carry on.

In the case of Rollston though, much more is at stake than a slight whiff of hypocrisy. Here, the very soul of ECS is at stake. This is where an organization with integrity digs in its heels and decides to ride out the consequences. The point of any educational institution worth its salt is to provide a quality education, but how can such a mission be accomplished without academic integrity? If even the curriculum is for sale to the highest bidder, then ECS has fundamentally betrayed itself. Why? Because tenure is a promise. The whole point of tenure is to protect intellectual exploration from the ravages of political concerns. If ECS tosses aside Rollston, it has tossed aside its promise to provide a quality education. The wealthy already festoon their names upon the buildings, rooms, and benches (pretty much any surface you can attach a plaque to) of our seminaries and colleges, but in a way Sweeney is considering letting the wealthy place their stamp on the curriculum itself. The courses would not be titled “Wealthy Donor’s Introduction to the Old Testament” or “Hebrew Poetry presented by Wealthy Donor.” No, their mark would be invisible, but the situation would be no less insidious or real for it being done in secret.

If the wider academic world comes to believe that ECS is an institution that doesn’t respect its promises and is for sale to any “orthodox” donor with a big enough checkbeck, then ECS will have bigger problems than low enrollment. If Rollston is actually dismissed, I suggest that a formal complaint be filed with the ATS on his behalf. Because of the nature of ATS’s complaint policies (quoted below), it would be necessary for Rollston or a colleague to file the complaint.

The Commission has an obligation to the various publics it serves to give responsible consideration to complaints that may be made against any accredited school. The Board of Commissioners maintains policies and procedures for reviewing and responding to complaints. The complaint must be filed in writing, together with substantial documentation, as appropriate for the circumstance. The Board of Commissioners will determine if the complaint has standing with reference to any membership criterion or accreditation standard of the Commission. If the complaint has standing, the Board of Commissioners will conduct an investigation.

I do not make this suggestion out of malice, rather I see accreditation as the next line of defense for academic integrity. If the system of tenure has failed, then perhaps a revocation of accreditation is necessary.

Whatever happens in the case of Dr. Rollston, I think we can all agree that we have a larger problem. The heresy hunters have always railed against academia, but now the economy sucks and they wield six-figure clubs. We have seen a string of high-profile cases in the last couple of years. We have scratched our heads at the treatment of folks like Pete Enns and Anthony LeDonne who are, after all, clearly people who care about being faithful believers. Though we scratch until we are bald, I am starting to believe the causes are rather simple. The ugly foundations of inerrancy and associated outmoded readings of scripture are crumbling, and the conservatives are circling the wagons. Their insular orthodoxy must be protected, and if that means dismissing a competent academic then so be it. Exclusion and separation are ever the tools of the weak minded, and the sad truth of it all seems to be that the conservative evangelical reading of scripture is so weak it can’t stand up to scrutiny. Rather than protecting their community from the heretical incursions of “theological liberals,” they demonstrate the sad fact that a tenuous tenure is a sure sign of a tenuous orthodoxy.

The Importance of Biblical Studies to the Church

For those of you who have somehow missed the “Does Biblical Studies Matter?” drama between “Bryce Walker” (pseudonym) and Brian LePort, links to the various posts going back and forth can be found here.  Others such as Daniel Kirk have also since blogged on the topic.

I don’t have time to respond to the actual content of these posts, but I do have a few brief thoughts of my own on why biblical studies is, in my opinion, extremely valuable.

Why does biblical studies matter, generally?  It doesn’t any more than the exploration of any other topic by liberal arts folk, I suppose.  It’s knowledge about old stuff for the sake of knowledge about old stuff.  But it’s interesting and meaningful to some people.

For those who are Christian why does the field of biblical studies matter?  Because quite frankly, we get a lot wrong when we only look at the Bible from our own limited perspective.  As biased and insular as the community of biblical scholars may be, there is still enough diversity to call into question various interpretations.  While blind spots can never be fully eliminated, biblical studies offers tools and background information to better understand the Bible, as well as other specialists who can continually call out each others’ bullshit.  It’s never going to be perfect, but that’s a heck of a lot better than reading the Bible privately and individually (or even within individual churches or denominations or traditions) and from a contemporary Western perspective.  And if we better understand what the Bible really is and says, the more we can believe rightly and respond faithfully.  This is something all Christians should be happy about!

A lot of evangelical Protestants have this notion that reading the Bible is just you and Jesus and your feelings and that biblical interpretation is a democratic exercise with legitimate views being determined by popular opinion.  I think this is plain wrong.  Scholars may hold a number of legitimate understandings of certain passages of Scripture, but that doesn’t mean just anyone’s uneducated guess is a worthwhile interpretation.

God gave us a written Word even though this excludes those who are illiterate (the majority of people throughout history) and requires the average person to receive additional education or requires a mediator between the text and laity.  Perhaps this makes God elitist, but I don’t hear many people complaining about it.  (Instead Christians have responded to it by prioritizing basic education for everyone.)  What they do complain about is any implication that we need scholars to tell us how to read the Bible.  I hate to break it to you, but we do.  And it shouldn’t be any more insulting than the fact that the Bible can only be read by literate people.

As much as we learn bits and pieces of interesting information from biblical scholars we may become better readers of the Bible, but the everyday Christian is unlikely to have the time AND desire AND talent to become a truly proficient reader of the text.  And so we need biblical studies.  Because having someone to ask the sorts of academic questions normal people in the pews are typically unaware of and unable to answer themselves is the only way we come up with the stuff we need to get a handle on what certain parts of the Bible are actually saying.

If you think it’s elitist, prioritize getting everyone in your church the sort of information covered in OT and NT survey courses.  (If first-year college students can handle it without any prereqs, then probably any adult of average intelligence with a high school education could grasp it.)  And if you think we don’t need anything besides the Holy Spirit, ask yourself how the craziest Christians you know seem to be doing on “Spirit” alone.  We need biblical studies not because it introduces a magical foundation on which we can build a perfect understanding of the Bible but because it at least introduces a space in which various ideas can be intelligently discussed and compete on the basis of sound evidence and logic.

 

Getting Shushed: Problems Coming Home to Evangelical Institutions

Yesterday Pete Enns wrote a very astute post on the sorry state of evangelical biblical scholarship, or perhaps even more specifically, the problem with how evangelical scholars who “know better” are forced to teach their undergraduates and seminary students by “the system.”  Without even having much direct experience with this phenomena, I absolutely believe it’s as big a problem as he implies.

At Fuller I would say we didn’t struggle with this in quite the same way because professors were expected  not to be inerrantists, and I think this makes the biggest difference.  At the same time, I do think certain issues were sometimes approached more “softly” because of the wide variety of student viewpoints present in the classroom.  This has advantages and disadvantages: On the one hand, it maybe allows some students to maintain views that just really don’t “work” when confronted with scholarly realities.  On the other hand, it allows students to gradually warm up to new ideas instead of flipping out and shutting off their brains the instant they hear something that contradicts what they learned in Sunday School.  In fact, Jeremiah has noted this “There are lots of views; here you can explore them but won’t be pushed into them!” approach made it a million times easier for his theology to develop at seminary.

Of course an easy way to perhaps get the best of both worlds here—classes that don’t tip-toe around important issues and yet don’t overwhelm students—might be achieved by a real “degree plan” which ensures students take certain classes in roughly the same order.  This would mean professors would know from the get-go what students did and did not know and be able to introduce certain ideas more gently.  It would also mean that when I was finishing up my MAT I wouldn’t have had to spend twenty minutes bored in class listening to another student try to sound clever and innovative by suggesting that we could abandon inerrancy—which might have been a rather inspiring speech had it not been for his obvious desire to impress the professor and the fact that I had worked through this issue a full two years earlier.  But I digress…

The point is, if it can be tricky for Fuller professors to sometimes know how to introduce certain topics without frightening students (who often come to Fuller a bit more conservative and leave a bit more moderate), then most certainly there is a much more intense pressure on professors at more conservative evangelical institutions.  Not only are there bound to be more extreme student reactions at such schools, but there is more pressure from the board, more pressure from administrators, more pressure from donors, more pressure from peers…  Not to mention the fact that every year you have to re-sign a doctrinal statement which typically gets into a lot of stuff Fuller’s doesn’t touch.  And what if one day you decide you don’t want to use the word “inerrancy” anymore or don’t want to make a literal six-day creation the cornerstone of your faith or have begun reading Revelation as an amillenial preterist—what then?

As Enns points out, it has to be particularly heart-wrenching to come back to the school that trained you (or a very similar institution) and realize that you no longer are a “good fit.”  It was this place that first nurtured your passion for your field and encouraged you to continue your education.  And yet when you return with your PhD, they want the old, sheltered you rather than the diligent and truthful scholar you feel called to be.

Interestingly, I have similar questions and fears about how I would today be received by InterVarsity, the campus ministry organization I planned on working with after college until I decided to go to seminary instead.  In college, InterVarsity affirmed me as a female leader, encouraged my passion for social justice, and gave me a great deal of freedom on issues such as inerrancy (on which I was then not entirely decided but never very committed either).  More than ever before, I felt supported to pursue a thoughtful faith by reading good books, considering the contexts of various biblical passages, and hearing from a wide variety of perspectives.  Yet even with all of this good—which shaped me in significant ways and prepared me for my education at Fuller—I am not certain that they would really want the person they would get back today.  I could still sign their doctrinal statement, but I still wonder if I would be told I’m not a “good fit” for IV staff anymore.  Sadly, I probably won’t get to find out unless I go through the trouble of the thirty-page application and the interview process (something I was going to do last year until I found out there was no space for me anyway and they really wanted more than the two-year commitment to one campus that I could give them).  And call me silly, but it sometimes really bothers me to not even know if IV staff might be an option in my future.  After all InterVarsity has meant to me, I think it would be nice to know whether that door is still open or whether I need to move on.

It is a strange and somewhat tragic thing for a spiritual “home” of sorts to cease to be a welcoming place or to feel compelled to hide your theological development for fear of rocking the boat.  I suspect that the reason why many professors end up in such a position is that they don’t know where else to go.  Indeed, the more moderate you become, I think the lonelier things get.  I sometimes wonder if postliberals feel as isolated as postconservatives.  In any case, I often wish I were a Duke Div student so that I could explore this “other side” of moderate Christianity and maybe discover ways we could bridge the evangelical/mainline gap so as to create a larger middle ground for everyone.

Question of the Day

If everyone hates Brill, why do scholars still publish with them? It’s enough to make your head explode.

Theological Irresponsibility and the Parachurch

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.

Book Announcement

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

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.

From the Dilettante Files: Prismatic Theology

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.

© Jeremiah and Ashleigh Bailey 2012