Home Archive for category "Academia"

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.

Question of the Day

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

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.

The People of the Two Hats—or What Really Drives Me Crazy About ETS

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.

© Jeremiah and Ashleigh Bailey 2012