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Education, Discipleship, and the Future 1 (RJS)

posted by Jesus Creed Admin

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Scot has been presenting a series of related posts pondering the future of evangelicalism and the importance of youth ministry – something that may cover anyone from 12 to 30 or so these days.  There are many aspects to this problem – and different folks will have different issues and priorities – but I would like us to discuss one issue that I find particularly troubling:  the anti-intellectualism, or almost worse, pseudo-intellectualism that plagues much of our church, particularly with respect to ministry among College and University students and young professionals (20-30 year-olds).

Consider this point 5 in the post from Internet Monk (actually his guest):

5. Despite some very successful developments in the past 25 years, Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism.

One statistic that really jumped out at me when going through the ARIS data was the statistics on Education. In the general population, 27% of those of the age twenty-five and older were college graduates. In Baptist churches the figure was 16%, and in Pentecostal churches the figure was 13%. I am seeing more and more of the Western world viewing Evangelicals as ignorant and uneducated and not worthy or participating fully in the public square. Unfortunately the education numbers seem to support their thesis. Are there Evangelicals who are going to rise to this challenge?

The statistics on education are thought-provoking.  But even more troubling is the original observation.  Evangelical Christian education has not produced a product that can withstand the rising tide of secularism. This is an astounding indictment – and one, quite frankly, I find to be far too true. In too many cases evangelical Christian scholars at evangelical institutions do not engage the wider intellectual climate. They provide inbred wishy-washy pseudo-thinking and pass it off as “rigorous” – because the inbred circle agrees. And rigorous evangelical scholars at secular institutions are often regarded with disdain and distrust – from all sides. We have been warned about this by Mark Noll and David Wells.

But one surprising place where we see the impact of this anti-intellectualism or pseudo-intellectualism most
profoundly is in University Ministries … and I mean all of them, within my experience without exception.

As many who read regularly know, I am a scientist and a professor and have been involved in the secular academy for some 28 years as a graduate student, postdoctoral scholar, and professor. This is an area where I have a great deal of experience and an increasing passion.

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It is my experience that churches and even parachurch
ministries do a relatively poor job of engaging the University because
they are staffed by people who are not
really equipped to deal with the very real intellectual challenges that
confront many students and scholars. At the undergraduate level the interaction and
fellowship is good, but the intellectual level ranges from poor to adequate. We need better than this.  At the graduate level – again fellowship is often good, but intellectual stimulation? Forget it. And this of course
plays into the piece from Internet Monk – if we don’t engage, disciple,
and cultivate educated Christians we have a serious and growing problem.  Don’t get me wrong, I know many people who are involved in college ministry and these are good dedicated Christian people. There are even very good grad/professional student programs in places. But we still have a serious problem.

John Stackhouse has commented on this anti-intellectualism in several posts over the years on his blog. He has an excellent post from last July that may help to focus our discussion: Engaging the University: The Vocation of Campus Ministry.  This post is a lightly edited version of a paper he delivered to a conference on University Christian Ministry in Toronto in 2007. Wow… great stuff.

Lets consider a few excerpts:

The intellect, however, has not been valued always and in every respect in campus missions.

Many activities provide but elementary instruction in Christian discipleship: the “quiet time”; the so-called “inductive Bible study” …

Many campus staff–and leaders on up the hierarchy of campus organizations–have only an undergraduate degree, and often in a field that prepares them badly for ideological contest and Christian disciple-making (e.g., engineering, natural sciences, commerce, medicine). More recently, more have a master’s degree or better in a relevant field. But one wonders why such qualifications are not simply required, the way denominations and congregations require at least one theological degree to do the job? What is this job that requires so little theological training, so little philosophical awareness?

Similarly, one wants to ask why in Canada and in the United States, and likely elsewhere also, there has been so little premium placed upon having genuine intellectual experts as speakers? Why so few professors, and particularly professors in the university, rather than popular writers, “pop pastors,” members of that student ministry’s own staff–few of whom have academic qualifications that would qualify them even for assistant professor status?

What one sees too much of in campus ministry instead is an arrogant amateurism. We’ll do it ourselves. … We staff don’t need advanced training in theology or Christian discipleship; furthermore, we’ll set up our own study centres and do the teaching ourselves rather than work with schools that already exist who have much better-trained faculty. The history of these movements shows that some staff will even innovate theologically and teach ideas that they enjoy thinking are “cutting-edge,” while what they breathlessly announce as “fresh” is simply the latest version of an old heresy that any genuine theological expert could spot at 100 metres. The intellect needs valuing better than this.

Similarly, one finds precious little involvement of the people who know the university best: not students, not alumni, not staffers of Christian groups, but professors and administrators, who inhabit and who shape the university far more than any other participants in it. To ignore them so consistently, which most student missions do at every level, is to try to work at a hospital without consulting physicians or nurses or administrators, or to work in a law courts building without consulting judges, lawyers, or police officers

In particular, one finds precious little involvement of those professors who inhabit ideological “hot zones”: religious studies, philosophy, psychology and other social sciences, native/women’s/black studies, and the like. All too often, instead, professors–when they show up at all–come from geography, engineering, medicine, and the like where there are, to be sure, some sites of moral and intellectual controversy from time to time, but not nearly as centrally and as daily as in the disciplines I have listed. Why are these resources, then, so rarely tapped, let alone thoroughly involved–as speakers, advisors, and board members?

One reason that University Ministries don’t tap the pool of professors is, of course, because there are relatively few Christian professors at many Universities, especially elite Universities.  But this is not the whole picture, in general those Christian professors who are in the University are not considered a relevant resource. After all, isn’t “Jesus Loves Me This I Know” all we really need to know for a quality ministry?  No – resoundingly not.

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In the future we need a product that can rise to the challenge and withstand the rising tide of secularism – or new age mysticism.

We need University Ministries that can train and engage students, scholars, and yes, professors, in an intellectually stimulating, rigorous, defensible faith.

We need to encourage Christian thinking and scholarship and we need rigorous grappling with the issues; with ideas defended before the larger intellectual community  – our cultural ?????? (agora).

This latter is a real problem. Much of what passes for scholarship used in University Ministries simply won’t stand the test. To quote Kent Sparks: if the academy must criticize our scholarship, let it be because it rejects our Lord, not because our historical and exegetical judgments are poor or even silly.  As a biblical scholar he is commenting on his field in particular, but this can extend to fields of science and social science, humanities and beyond. And sometimes “silly” is too kind a word for the reality of what we put forward as evangelical scholarship. Many University ministries take this scholarship and embrace it uncritically. And then we wonder why our message is not taken seriously in the greater University culture.

Stackhouse has positive recommendations in his post – and I have some of my own to add to it.  But first I am interested in hearing from you. 

Am I unfair or inaccurate in my assessment? Do you think that anti-intellectualism or pseudo-intellectualism is a problem in our church (evangelical or otherwise)? If so what do you think can or should be done about it?

If you wish to contact me directly you may do so at rjs4mail [at] att.net.



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Rick

posted March 19, 2009 at 6:43 am


RJS-
Thanks for dealing with this issue.
“We need University Ministries that can train and engage students, scholars, and yes, professors, in an intellectually stimulating, rigorous, defensible faith.”
We need to do this not only for those individuals, but also because of their potential of having a missional impact on individuals and institutions that have wide influence.
Stackhouse mentions the United States and Canada. Are you too speaking of those nations, or do you have in mind a world-wide problem? It seems (I could be wrong) the United Kingdom has a Christian culture that values top scholarship.



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Danny

posted March 19, 2009 at 6:59 am


The best proof of this thesis is that RJS is not willing to disclose his/her identity as a believer AND scientist. There’s just so much wrong with that (no offense intended).



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phil_style

posted March 19, 2009 at 7:41 am


I would suggets that alot (not all) of Evnagelicalism produces structures that are not intellectually defensible. I did earth science at university (2000-2003), but was at that time pretty apprehensive about it, coming from an evangelical background. I know of no other evangelicals in my cohort that studied into “hard sciences” at the same university. I wonder how many of my friends were apprehensive about studying science lest it challeneg their beliefs. . .



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JohnO

posted March 19, 2009 at 8:20 am


I think you are dead on the mark here. I will be attending University for an MTS in the fall. When I told people in my congregations I would be doing this, they asked “Why would you go and do that?”. To which I can only reply, “Really? you don’t know?”.



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Derek Leman

posted March 19, 2009 at 8:23 am


RJS:
Great article. I hope more and more will be inspired to engage in philosophy, theology, history, science, and literature with a Christian background. Considering the declining field of church work, maybe a lot of young people should consider academia and to bring their faith with them into the academy. If I could start again, I would consider that myself.
Derek Leman



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Brian

posted March 19, 2009 at 8:23 am


I believe that the themes of 1 Cor. 1:18-25 play a significant role in how student ministries view the university. What do you think of this connection?



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Derek Leman

posted March 19, 2009 at 8:33 am


JohnO:
I did an MTS at Emory in Hebrew Bible. Great degree and great program. My thesis was on the Elisha narratives. I don’t hear many people say they are in an MTS program. I’d love to know more about what you are doing. My email is derek4messiah@gmail.com
Derek Leman



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joanne

posted March 19, 2009 at 8:42 am


Until I went to seminary, my whole Christian experience was anti-intellectual. I found seminary life-giving and stimulating to my faith journey.
Women’s ministiry in the 80′s and 90′s when i was a young bride, was focused on wardrobing, home-making, raising children, being a good wife. (I longed to study Jesus).
Children’s ministry also is focused on behavior and being nice. It is basically a socialization excercise. (i want them to know the story of God).
Even in my internship journey after seminary, what my church wanted from me was to offer small groups on pop christianity. ( i so wanted to help folks with theology and the story of God and what it meant for them.
I have been frustrated by the whole of christian culture and it’s emptiness of critical thought. Folks are more likely to regurgitate a popular christian guru or idol (radio talk show or broadcast).
I also could not find a solid teaching ministry in the church. We had, need-based preaching, fluffy small groups and social activities but nothing deep or challenging spiritually. While we advertised how “Biblical” we were, we hardly ever cracked the bible for serious study.



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Corey

posted March 19, 2009 at 8:56 am


I definitely agree that there is an unhealthy skepticism lurking in the evangelical world. I’ve seen it from my own church (Baptist), and I’ve seen it at work in other places (UMC, nondenoms, etc.).
When I decided to go to seminary for my M.Div, I had people ask me why I would do that! My passion is youth ministry, and they just assumed anybody could do that with no training. I had to explain to them the importance of actually knowing the subject matter about which one was speaking…
In terms of campus ministries, I think part of the issue that Stackhouse doesn’t address (not that he is unaware of it) involves that constant source of limitation and irritation- money. Hiring a fully trained/educated person for a campus ministry position is an expensive undertaking. It’s a lot cheaper to hire someone with a B.A or B.S. Seminary is ridiculously expensive when you look at the future expected earnings of clergy/ministry workers, compared to say, law or med school, where the cost is offset by the (typically) greater prospect of higher levels of future income. If we want more educated people leading the church, parachurch organizations, campus ministries, youth ministry, etc., we need to find ways to make that education more affordable.



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Corey

posted March 19, 2009 at 9:02 am


@ Derek: Received my M.Div from Emory (I’m assuming you meant Emory University, Candler School of Theology, correct?). Graduated May ’08.



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Jim

posted March 19, 2009 at 9:16 am


I agree, for the most part, with RJS’s article. I’ve got a PhD in mathematics as well as an Master of Divinity degree and am teaching in a secular context. I do find a strong strain of anti-intellectualism among evangelicals. The mind is somehow perceived as something that is in opposition to the heart. And of course, the heart is where all the spiritual action occurs (at least in the opinion of evangelicals).
I also have noted the fact that many on staff and involved in campus ministries have little professional training. But to be fair, some of this is a reaction against those who do have professional training but are largely ineffective in practical ministry matters. So staff are hired who can “get the job done.” And this translates into hiring people with demonstrated competence with no ministerial training. It seems to me that both are needed– intellectual as well as practical competence. So how do we get both?
I also have experienced first hand a fear on the part of Christian leaders of those who are able to teach/preach. I’m on sabbatical at a large university (the same one where RJS teaches) and have tried to get involved in a large campus church. This church runs around 1,000 students on the weekend and many, many people are experiencing Christ in truly transformational ways. But when I’ve volunteered to help with the teaching/preaching in some context, I get a response that is some version of “you’ve got to be kidding me. let me escort you to the nearest mental institution.” And this is despite years of academic and practical training in this area. And the preaching and teaching that does occur at this place is (with some notable exceptions) problematic in many ways. I think much of the reason for this is a deep fear that someone is going to come in and “teach the wrong things” or “take over”.
I’m not sure what the solution is, but I have seen (and experienced) many of the issues that RJS points to in this article.
jim



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dopderbeck

posted March 19, 2009 at 9:36 am


RJS said: In too many cases evangelical Christian scholars at evangelical institutions do not engage the wider intellectual climate.
I respond: I need you to clarify what you mean by this. In many ways, I think, we’re living in a truly unparalleled time of deep intellectual engagement with the wider intellectual climate by Christians of all stripes, particularly by Christians who adhere to the marks of what we call “evangelical”. And, I think Christian scholars at evangelical institutions are leading this in many ways: people like Scot, people at seminaries like Fuller and Regent and Biblical, people at colleges like Westmont and Wheaton and Messiah and Gordon, evangelical-minded people at non-evangelical institutions such as Princeton Seminary, Notre Dame, and even Harvard and Princeton University, through publishing organs like Baker Academic and Books & Culture, and through events like the Q Conference.
One problem, IMHO, is more that there’s often a deep divide between the evangelical “elites” in the academy and the pastorate, and an even further disconnect between both of those groups and the pews. It’s the rare pastor — and I’m very thankful that the pastor of my home church is one — who has the time, energy and capacity to begin to relate to the subtle distinctions academics are accustomed to making.
But that said, on the whole, I agree with you: in many respects the prominent evangelical campus ministries seem to be out of touch, stuck in the culture war paradigm set by Francis Schaeffer in the 1970′s. Maybe Exhibit A here is the “Culture Devotional” that was previewed here on Scot’s blog, which is supposed by its publisher to represent some of the best of evangelical cultural engagement, and which comes out of and is geared towards the typical campus ministry culture. Read through a couple of weeks of those devotions, and you get this impression: we’re scared, we’re defensive, and we’re a bit angry, except maybe we like some of your popular movies.



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joanne

posted March 19, 2009 at 9:38 am


not sure how to ask this question but here goes…. it seems that church or ministry expansion is the focus of ministry. (at least from what i hear). but thoughtful christianity is sort of disdained out of fear or what ever. so why are anti-intellectual representations of Christianity growing… such as pentecostalism etc? (i have heard from pentecostals that i should not use my head but receive in my spirit). or is that growth a myth?



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Phillip Wochner

posted March 19, 2009 at 9:46 am


One thing that occurs to me, although I have not been back to school for years, and have mostly listened to Christian apologists on the radio, is that so much effort is made teaching a “Christian World View,” by which is meant certain extrabiblical assumptions, the terms in which Christianity has been understood for centuries. We should see the world and its latest philosophical claims through the eyes of Christ. But to confine Christians, including Christian students, to a narrow, outdated, and often refuted perspective is to disserve ourselves, our students, and the world to which we speak. When listening to Charles Colson’s “BreakPoint,” I have often been struck by how he has been teaching, preaching, or expounding, not so much Christianity as modernism. I was galled when he gave “credit” to Christianity for the idea of “progress.” This is just one of the assumptions which both Christian and non-Christian philosophers spent the 20th century, and sometimes the 18th and 19th centuries, trying to refute.



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Ben Wheaton

posted March 19, 2009 at 9:59 am


You’ve struck a chord with me, RJS, and I have to confess that much of what you say is true. I am grateful for the fellowship and worship that I have with the Christian group on my campus, but there is no hint of discipleship for those in academic settings–just mush and pablum. Stackhouse’s point about the lack of training, or rather training in fields that aren’t terribly relevant to academic ministry, in speakers and staff is also well taken.
Still, I wonder about the lack of university professors who are Christian. How can you have educated, Christian men and women who work in the academy address a university fellowship if they don’t exist? I don’t know of any professors from my university who attend an evangelical church in my area–and getting in people from abroad is pretty expensive.
I was in England for a year, and I found that the UCCF there is much better in terms of bible teaching than the fellowships in Canada, at least; but even there no professors addressed the meetings–it was largely pastors from around the area. This was a good thing in many ways (and it ensured good theology), but even in England I suspect Christian academics are scarce.
I am entering grad school at the University of Toronto this September, and I hope to contribute something to ministry among grad students. This has been a big help.



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Derek Leman

posted March 19, 2009 at 10:36 am


Corey#10:
Yep, Emory University in Atlanta, 1998 MTS in Hebrew Bible (aspiring to a doctorate in Hebrew Bible to start in a few years). The Dalai Lama received an honorary PhD at my commencement. I like to say I graduated with the Dalai Lama.
Still in Atlanta? We should meet. derek4messiah@gmail.com
Derek Leman



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Matt

posted March 19, 2009 at 11:02 am


I think Corey (#9) hit the nail on the head. The problem with getting educated people to do campus ministry is money. Campus ministry is low paying, support-based, and little appreciated. How are we going to get a PhD to do that?
From personal experience, I spent over $100,000 on my BA and ThM. I was accepted to several PhD programs, but didn’t get a full scholarship. For me to complete the program, I would have spent $200,000. If I was a doctor, lawyer or physicist that wouldn’t be such a big deal, but how is a pastor going to pay that off?
I am a pastor, and one of my jobs is trying to convince people to use their gifts for the kingdom of God rather than for personal gain. I have found that if your approach to problems like this is: (1) find a problem, and then (2) try to find someone qualified to solve the problem, you are going to drive yourself crazy. There are a million things that the church isn’t doing well. If you try to plug people into slots just to fill the void you will inevitably plug people in who are disinterested and/or unqualified.
A better approach is to: (1) find people with gifts and passions, and then (2) find a place for them to use their gifts. It’s a difference of focusing on assets rather than needs. It’s easy to find people who are willing to complain about problems. It’s harder to find people who are willing to solve them. The reason people with BAs are doing campus ministry is because they are willing.
So, the church has plenty of educated and qualified people. How do we convince these people to use their gifts for the kingdom of God? How do we convince a PhD to leave their university post and work in campus ministry instead?



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foxnala

posted March 19, 2009 at 11:09 am


Thanks RJS. Much of what you say hits home for me. I’m a PhD in the Social Sciences, working in a public university. With my family, I also attend a relatively conservative evangelical church that tends to fear the academy and responds often with anti-intellectualism or pseudo-intellectualism.
I think Stackhouse’s term “arrogant amateurism” captures well what I see in the church. Straw-men are created and then knocked over, or out-dated or misunderstood-understood philosophies are railed against in the church. I often see secular scientists and faculty caricatured as ignorant (e.g., “Why can’t those secular biologists see that the world is too intricate to have come about via evolution?”), and the assumption is that their minds are ignorant somehow because they lack the spirit of God. Those of us in the church then pat ourselves on the back and smugly believe we’re actually the intellectual ones. But it’s an “arrogant amateurism”.
I find it pretty frustrating sometimes to live and exist in both worlds.



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Your Name

posted March 19, 2009 at 11:14 am


Jim wrote “I think much of the reason for this is a deep fear that someone is going to come in and “teach the wrong things””
Isn’t this at the bottom of the whole problem? Scholarship is about seeking truth, and implies that you are willing to change your position in response to the truths you discover. For a post wondering why evangelicals are anti-intellectual to appear on the same page as a post on the dangers of heresy is too ironic for words. You can either make sure nobody challenges the church’s preestablished positions, or you can have people doing serious truth-oriented scholarship, but not both.
I have the same problems with people who say the academy should have more ‘conservative’ scholars, or scholars of any ideological stripe. Are these people supposed to do real research that tests and challenges their ideologies, or just to give them a veneer of academic respectability?



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dopderbeck

posted March 19, 2009 at 11:15 am


Matt (#17) said: Campus ministry is low paying, support-based, and little appreciated.
I respond: As opposed to most university teaching jobs? :-)



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T

posted March 19, 2009 at 11:38 am


I’m for the kinds of recommendations mentioned in the post. I love seeing intellectually gifted and disciplined folks integrate that with apprenticeship to Jesus and their service in the Body. It’s always so encouraging to me to see that. I pray we can take the steps RJS advocates much more often. Let’s fully bring our minds into the Church and its ministries.
Having said that, and meant it, I think the ‘anti-intellectualism’ in the Church has quite its counterpart in Western intellectualism and then some. Meaning, I think there is too often good reason for skepticism toward Western intellectulism and those loyal to it. I say this not as a total foreigner to the secular university. I have a law degree and a master’s in tax law, both from a public secular institution, as was my undergraduate work.
Here are a couple questions along this line: How many of even the Christian professors in public universities would scoff at any church today claiming to do what Jesus, his disciples and their disciples did in terms of healing the sick and casting out demons as they proclaim that the government of God has come near? How many would put this into the ‘silly’ category if a church around the corner was doing this? How many professors (particularly of the fields RJS mentions) would want to be publicly and actively part of such a church? And secondly, just as there is truth to the anti-intellectualism that RJS has described, it is also true that the Christian faith in the West has become more intellect-driven than any other time or place in history, and not with the most glowing results. While I agree that the answer to over-intellectualizing the faith is not to under-intellectualize it, there needs to be some recognition of the very real ways that Western intellectualism works against a risen Christ and his methods.



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MattR

posted March 19, 2009 at 11:54 am


RJS, thanks for this… this is a huge issue.
To answer your questions:
- Yes, I think you are, in general, spot on in your assessment.
There is a large strand of evangelicalism that is anti-intellectual, or as you say even pseudo-intellectual.
When I hear people trying to think things through, it is often to engage in ‘culture war’ rhetoric… i.e.: how do we battle those crazy secular universities and stop people from believing in evolution, etc. The thinking at best, is built on arguments already largely found to be wanting, or answering questions most have stopped asking. This seems to be built into the current system.
In other words, I see much of evangelical church culture today as a very shallow pop culture/American Idol world.
Add to this financial issues, etc. as others have already said, and there you have the situation we’re in today.
What’s ironic is that I talk to many grad students looking for something more… the need is there!
- Answers?
What if churches/denominations/campus ministries partnered together to offer graduate level fellowships for those willing to come back and serve in university ministry? A sort of university mission version of the peace core/teachers core.
Bottom line, we need some who are willing to take a risk to lead the church in general into more intelligent discipleship.



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Shelly

posted March 19, 2009 at 11:57 am


The simple answer to Matt’s (#17)
question (how do we convince these highly qualified PhD level people to leave their posts and get involved in campus ministry instead?) is-we don’t! Only God is capable of calling people in a manner that will produce a passionate, long lasting response. The kind of response that Jesus got from a bunch of uneducated fishermen and tax collectors who were not afraid to face the difficult questions of life with honesty and faith. Those who followed him and turned their world upside down did so for one reason-LOVE.My response to the dearth of professors in campus ministry will be to pray that God will light a fire of love in the hearts of those men and women who are qualified to step into those areas of ministry.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 19, 2009 at 12:12 pm


I agree with everything that RJS said, but I?m going to give some push back. Richard Mouw had a post a couple of years ago about the excluded middle:
?[Paul] Hiebert recounted his experience as a missionary anthropologist with recent converts to Christianity in a village culture in India. When these folks would face difficult challenges relating to fertility, family crises, or economic threats, they would often turn to the shaman for help. Hiebert realized that he did not have the theological resources to address their practical concerns. He had a ?high? theology of God, salvation, and human destiny. He also had a scientific grasp of empirical reality. But he was lost when dealing with a middle range of issues: How can I avoid accidents? How can I win my husband back? Who can help me deal with my child?s illness? How can I find enough food for our next meal?
This is the theological ?excluded middle? that my own theology does not know how to address. Yet for many people in the world, those are the most important issues in their lives.?
Miroslav Volf writes in Work in the Spririt, page 69:
?Given the paramount importance of work in both liberal and socialist economic and social theory, it is remarkable that in our world dominated by work a serious crisis in work had to strike before church bodies paid much attention to the problem of human work. Theologians are to blame for the former negligence. Amazingly little theological reflection has taken place in the past about an activity that takes up so much of our time. The number of pages theologians have devoted to the question of transubstantiation ? which does or does not take place on Sunday ? for instance, would, I suspect, far exceed the number of pages devoted to work that fills our live Monday through Saturday. My point is not to belittle the importance of correct understanding of the real Presence of Christ in the Lord?s Supper but to stress that a proper perspective on human work is at least as important.?
I fully agree about the presence of anti-intellectualism but I will also argue with almost the same conviction against intellectual elitism. Intellectuals are always a minority of society. Most people lack either the capacity or the desire to purse intellectual issues to the degree that we intellectuals do. Thank God for that! Otherwise, few things in the world would get done. Entrepreneurs wouldn?t be creating businesses and jobs, caregivers would not be giving care, and no one would know how to fix my car for me.
Yet, there is a palpable uneasiness, if not disdain, for people who don?t share our intellectual passion. The matters of our daily existence are too bourgeoisie for our consideration. They are so consumerist. They are unlike we who have ascended Olympus and can survey all the ignorant brutes. :-) As a consequence, pseudo-intellectual and anti-intellectual frameworks fill up the excluded middle to give answers to people?s everyday lives.
People don?t need to become intellectuals to appreciate the value of genuine intellectual pursuit brings. But when intellectuals treat focus on practical concerns as a sign of inferiority, no one is going to listen. Anti-Intellectualism tends to provoke an anti-?practicalism,? which breeds more anti-intellectualism, and on it goes.



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dopderbeck

posted March 19, 2009 at 12:32 pm


What a great thread this is so far! I see that in addition to RJS, at least three of us who have commented are faculty members in higher education (I’m a law professor), and all of us who are involved in higher education agree there is a problem and that both other faculty members and graduate students hunger for something more substantive. Do we not have the beginnings of a grassroots network right here? Would anyone be interested in, say, a Facebook group relating to these concerns?
BTW, Intervarsity is trying something along these lines, the “Emerging Scholar’s Newtork” (which has nothing to do with the emerging church): http://www.intervarsity.org/gfm/esn/ There are some very good aspects to the ESN, though it does seem to fall in the “worldviews in conflict” side of things in some ways.



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Karl

posted March 19, 2009 at 12:37 pm


RJS, are you familiar with the Veritas Forum? Would you categorize what they do as pseudo intellectualism, or is it a model of the kind of campus ministry you’d like to see more of?
http://www.veritas.org/



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Matt

posted March 19, 2009 at 12:51 pm


Something bothers me about my post (#17).
I said, “How do we convince a PhD to leave their university post and work in campus ministry instead?” I retract that. I don’t think a brain drain is the answer. We need Christians in university posts. A better way to phrase the questions would be, “How do we get the people who are already in the university to use their job to minister to students?”



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Sharon

posted March 19, 2009 at 1:14 pm


I feel the need here to ask for prayers for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. I am a part of the Graduate and Faculty Ministries and have numerous colleagues with advanced degrees who have chosen to minister in this way. We have just finished hosting Following Christ ’08 http://www.intervarsity.org/gfm/resource/fc08-audio with a tremendous line up of scholars worth listening to. I was particularly delighted and encouraged by Francis Collins. We wrestle with the challenge of integration of head and heart, of not just encouraging “brains on a stick” sort of scholars, to use a phrase from Mark Labberton. We certainly aren’t doing it perfectly, but we are trying to wade in there. Money really is a frustrating limitation to bringing on and keeping highly qualified staff, so think about supporting a local staff person as well, if you aren’t doing so already. We also welcome gentle critique, if accompanied by a willingness to wade in to this Kingdom work with us. Blessings on the Christian scholars who are serving so faithfully on campuses. Many of us are huge fans of Scot McKnight and this blog.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted March 19, 2009 at 1:25 pm


#29 Sharon
I know that 25 years ago IVP was about the only campus ministry I found while in Grad school that had a community of solid intellectual Christians. Keep up the good fight.



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c. stirling bartholomew

posted March 19, 2009 at 1:58 pm


One aspect of this problem that hasn’t received much attention is the tendency for seminaries to teach biblical exegesis using language and communication models that are over 100 years out of date. If you studied at an evangelical seminary, more than likely your understanding of how language functions is solidly rooted in the 19th century. This doesn’t just impact language studies and translation. For example, I have yet to seen anyone take on the project of exploring the implications of Relevance Theory for exposition of the gospel by pastors with a pulpit ministry. There have been plenty of papers on this by bible translation consultants, e.g. E.A. Gutt, but the implications for biblical exposition are enormous. For this reason much of the exegetical literature being published today is hardly worth reading. This week I have been working my way through a monograph written by a younger (under 40) Pauline scholar who has an international reputation for serious work. His exegetical model is firmly planted in the language as code model which Relevance Theory has made untenable.
I suspect that once the word gets out, there will be a big backlash against Relevance Theory as yet another feature of “post-modernism”. I am convinced that Relevance Theory is a valid framework and it is already producing significant insights in biblical exposition. This theory has been around for 20 years and outside of SIL and UBS very few biblical scholars are even aware of it.



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Matt

posted March 19, 2009 at 2:26 pm


C. Sterling Bartholomew #31,
I don?t want to get off topic, and I am not an expert in the philosophy of language, but I would suggest that biblical scholars are becoming more and more aware of “philosophy of language” issues, especially in the last 50 years.
From what I picked up from a few paragraphs in a wikipedia article, Relevance Theory is based on the idea that much of communication is implicit and that communicators use economy of language. Thus, we only communicate relevant new information and leave the rest implied.
If I am correctly understanding the theory, then I would say that biblical scholars are aware of it.
For example, 40?50 years ago it was commonly argued that Paul was not aware of Jesus’ teaching because he didn’t use the phrase “kingdom of God” very often. However, modern scholars point out that you can communicate the idea of the “reign” of God without using the phrase kingdom of God. There are stock words, images, and metaphors that bring to mind to whole story of God’s reign, so that you can talk about the kingdom of God without saying “kingdom of God.” Paul didn’t have to say “kingdom of God,” it was part of the story he shared with his audiences. The Third Quest for the Historical Jesus is also rooted in taking advantage of this theory.
That being said, there are a lot of scholars out there who ignore the insights of other disciplines, but in general biblical studies is moving in a more interdisciplinary direction.



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SYC

posted March 19, 2009 at 2:36 pm


I think the article was right-on about the lack of critical thinking that goes on in Evangelical institutions and evangelical campus groups. I attended an Evangelical liberal arts college (one of the best, I must add) and the thing I struggled with all through the 4 years was that students just took in what was being taught. No one questioned anything. Different perspectives were not taught nor encouraged to explore. That was the most annoying thing about my education at an Evangelical institution.
I think that because of this lack of critical thinking, most non-Christians think of Christianity as a religion for non-sophosticated people, for people who are simple-minded. We need to do a better job of not being afraid that our children, friends, family members are going to “loose their faith” if they start questioning. Questioning is a part of our faith in growing.



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RJS

posted March 19, 2009 at 2:40 pm


Rick #1,
The UK has a much better approach than we do on this – there doesn’t seem to be the big divide. But the rest of Europe may be worse, I am not sure.
Brian #6,
I do think that 1 Cor. 1:18-25 plays a role in how some view the University. But this passage refers to acceptance of the cross, the gospel of Christ crucified – not all of the other baggage we attach to the faith. And it is the other baggage these days that prevents many from even being willing to listen to the gospel.
Karl #26,
I am familiar with Veritas Forum and this is a move in the right direction. The “follow through” is a bit spotty and depends heavily on the local organizations – not all the talks and speakers are of equal rigor. I’ve learned a great deal though through many of the talks available as mp3 on the web site.



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RJS

posted March 19, 2009 at 3:24 pm


Sharon,
IVCF is a good organization, especially at the undergraduate level, but also at the graduate student level. And we all know that money, time, people are real limitations. The people involved have to be supported in some fashion. We need a mix of local church and parachurch effort – in cooperation.
I’ve downloaded and listened to all (almost) of the mp3 files from the Following Christ Conference – good stuff.



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AHH

posted March 19, 2009 at 3:25 pm


Great observations. I’m only peripherally connected, as I ended up in government research after my Ph.D. But from what I am still in contact with, all this rings true. I suspect one factor is that most staff are themselves a product of these programs, so it is self-perpetuating. Hard to break the cycle of me-and-Jesus ministry afraid that an uncontrolled scholarly expert might upset notions about inerrancy or evolution or whatever (of course that is a caricature and many do better).
My own church, in a college town, has a large University ministry. When a new director arrived, I emailed him and offered myself as a resource for discussions of science/faith issues and to give advice to students going into science and engineering. No reply. I tried the next year, silence again, gave up. Other experts (for example in the area of creation stewardship) have been similarly treated. It seems like some issues are not on their radar screen; they have their program about following Jesus (which they do in some wonderful ways; the ministry has many good points) and hard intellectual questions are not allowed to distract. Which works for many students, but also leads to things like the adult leader who took his group of students to see “Expelled”.
Some of the pseudo-intellectual that plagues us is in the category of defending the Maginot line of Enlightenment modernism. I gather that the FotF “Truth Project” is an example. So addressing some of this requires the Evangelical church (and these ministries) to grapple with the failures of modernism and come into a more chastened critical realism or something.
I also agree that InterVarsity tends to do better than most in this area, and am glad for the sorts of things Sharon mentions (Sharon, do you know my old buddy Bruce Hanson?). And they seem to be improving — for example in the science/faith area of interest to both me and RJS, 10 years ago IV Press was publishing “warfare” books by Phil Johnson, whereas more recently they have put out things like Darrel Falk’s “Coming to Peace with Science” and brought in Francis Collins.



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ChrisB

posted March 19, 2009 at 3:47 pm


RJS,
Given what you say in the post, and what you say about IVCF needing support (#33), tell us what you are going to do about that, and that may give us ideas of how we can get involved ourselves.
I don’t mean to be snarky, but we can all stand around talking about how awful the situation is all day. What are we going to do about it?



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c. stirling bartholomew

posted March 19, 2009 at 3:50 pm


Thank you Matt,
I agree we shouldn’t diverge from the topic at hand. Anyone who has followed the general drift in humanities over the last several decades will be painfully aware that the nondeterministic views of the semantics of language and text have had an undermining effect on what we used to call “biblical authority”. There have been at least two kinds of evangelical response to this. One is to recoil in horror at the epistemological nihilism of postmodernism and to retreat in to the past. The other approach is that of Vanhoozer others like him.
The first approach is guaranteed to prevent you from getting a hearing in the secular academic culture. It is, I am afraid, the road most traveled. A lot of people give lip service to Vanhoozer but they really haven’t grappled with the problems. This is pseudo intellectualism.
You really can’t go on writing things that look like articles for TDNT (Kittel) when James Barr deconstructed this method in 1961 and expect to be treated seriously by anyone among the secular intelligentsia.
The point I am making is that pseudo intellectualism is deeply engrained in the evangelical way of doing things even in colleges and graduate schools. Why pick on the youth pastors who are probably just being pragmatists, which is a whole different topic.



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RJS

posted March 19, 2009 at 4:32 pm


ChrisB #36,
That is not a snarky question at all. I’ve been working for a few years, trying to figure out what I can do. It is a complex problem. I’ve taught some adult SS. I put time into a book discussion group last year – but fitting it to my convenience (Wed. eves at church) didn’t work well.
We just started a book discussion group looking at Wright’s “The Challenge of Jesus” at a more convenient time and place for many people (on campus, Tuesday afternoons).
One of the things I’ve been doing, for better or worse, is putting time into writing on Scot’s blog and interacting with comments as well. Writing takes effort – and the books I’m reading and interacting with are not part of my “day job” – so this takes a significant chunk of my so-called “spare time.” Of course I benefit from it as well.
Not perfect – but a start.



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beckyr

posted March 19, 2009 at 5:39 pm


It comes from the church pushing that the purpose of being a christian is to make more christians. As so, we’ve settled for mediocrity in many disciplines. Do we see the thought out there that christianity addresses the whole of life? If that was there, we’d have intellectual discussions about different subjects. But there is a place for plain old 4 step type being a christian. I mean, that’s all that some people really are able to do.



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John C

posted March 19, 2009 at 6:33 pm


I’m a prof at a UK university and once in a while have given an apologetics talk during a Christian Union mission week. This year, on my campus, three academics were involved (a historian, a scientist and a linguist/literary scholar) giving talks on the new atheists and the authority of the Bible etc. I think this is really good for both the academics and the students, but I can see why it doesn’t happen more often. Christian students typically want punchy, no-nonsense presentations of the faith, while Christian academics are wary about going out on a limb and compromising their intellectual integrity (and reputation) by associating themselves with populist apologetics. There’s usually a generation gap and a theological/cultural gap between 19 yr old students and 40-something scholars! Christian students can be zealous but simplistic, while Christian academics can be sophisticated but tentative. The problem, very often, is that there isn’t much of a ministry among Christian PhD students, who have the potential to bridge the gap.



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RJS

posted March 19, 2009 at 9:09 pm


John C,
I think you are right. It is good if undergraduate students know that there are Christian faculty – but the big events are not really the right place for many of us.
A better model might have faculty interacting with graduate students and with the ministry staff – who will then be better equipped to mentor and interact with the undergraduate students.



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Eric

posted March 19, 2009 at 11:56 pm


I’m coming to this post late, but I have to say I’m very glad you are addressing this issue, RJS. The anti-intellectualism in evangelical churches I have attended is the primary reason I left the faith when I was in college and grad. school. And its been a running problem in my life beyond school too, through the present; I feel like the inability to engage beyond a superficial level on important questions of faith is a roadblock to community in the churches I have attended. Its depressing.
On the other hand, Michael Kruse is exactly right — the intellectuals can’t put themselves on a pedestal, and assume that they are better than the rest. We are neither Jew nor Greek, male nor female, . . . and neither intellectual nor non-intellectual. We are one in the body of Christ. It is more common in my experience, however, that evangelical churches are anti-intellectual, rather than the other way around, which prevents us from being one body in a lot of ways. You could get the reverse problem of intellectuals dominating and looking down on others (a friend of mine says its more common in Episcopalian churches he has attended, for example), but its not very common in evangelical circles.
Sharon — I attended part of the IV Following Christ conference you are referring to — thanks for working on it! (I’m not a grad. student, but live around Chicago, so I attended). I thought the plenary sessions were great. However, I got a strong sense of the problem RJS’s post identifies in the smaller sessions for the discipline I am in. My profession is one where the Christians (including many in IV apparently) are “culture warriors,” which often translates into anti-intellectualism. Its Christians vs. “the world.” Drives me crazy.



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Brandon

posted March 20, 2009 at 12:15 am


Amen and Amen. I attend a conservative evangelical seminary where the chief qualification for the hiring of professors is if they earned their Ph.d from my seminary. This “circle the wagons” philosophy perpetuates a one-sided, at times vain, educational experience. Never mind the fact that the vast majority of master and doctoral curriculum either ignores or belittles much quality scholarship. Shame on us.
I would agree with Sparks that much of this conversation in intertwined with our epistemology. If Christians are working out of a classical foundationalist approach where they believe that Christian scholars in their circles “have it all figured out” then they will be less prone to openly read, engage and dialogue with “respected” scholarship from other perspectives.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted March 20, 2009 at 5:31 am


I join those agreeing on what is said here. But also believing that there is an uppity intellectualism which is left out in the cold when it comes to the kingdom of God.
The answer doesn’t lie in denying the intellectuals among us. But in including all of us.
That said, it is still important, even crucial for us to hone in on this problem. A Christian ministry on a campus should be cutting edge if it’s really going to be missional as in being all things to all people so as to, by all possible means, save some.



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Ted M. Gossard

posted March 21, 2009 at 12:18 pm


I want to add to the above comment that I’m in no way implying this of you, RJS. Not at all! But just speaking of how each member of the Body of Christ has their part. And the ones not educated certainly do need to learn to pay attention and benefit from those who are.



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RJS

posted March 21, 2009 at 1:38 pm


Ted,
The point made by Michael, Eric, and you in comments above is an important one. We need one body, not elite intellectualism or anti-intellectualism. In many cases the pastoral response may simply be to avoid anti-intellectualism and to be prepared to help some with serious questions find appropriate resources.
University Ministries are a different situation though – at the undergraduate level to an extent, but especially for students beyond the undergraduate level.



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