Archive for the ‘college’ Category

It’s all to common with a liberal arts education: my degree has about as much economic application as horseshoeing on a spaceship.  I’m reminded of this monthly, when I write those checks to loan companies.  There’s an extra reminder now.  The Alma Mater, Azusa Pacific, has hired students to call me up.  Yes, we all know why.

With some exaggeration, it is easy to feel like this when you get calls from a private educational institution.

"but we gave you 10k in scholarships!!"

“but we gave you 10k in scholarships!!”

Every single alum has at least one reason not to donate.  Additionally, there is a second.  Specifically, many alums are disgusted about the public, and dramatic issue regarding Adam (formally Heather) Ackley the transgender theology PhD who was dismissed (as graciously as possible?) from APU.  Whatever an outsider’s perception of this event, many from the APU community are not in agreement with this dismissal.  A number of students on campus have come out with the supportive slogan “we stand with Adam.”  They may speak for others; students and alum at APU are perhaps more free to speak their minds about human sexuality and Christianity than the people on the campus payroll.  While equally LBGT supportive alums appreciate this, we still know our alma mater has embarrassed itself by doing something we find morally objectionable.  All of this leaves us with a feeling of disgust, frustration, irritation.  No matter how sweet the other person sounds on those cold calls, these feelings aren’t going to go away.

I suggest that these feelings are reasons for alums to donate, rather than an additional reason to shun our alma mater’s inconvenient phone calls.

First, APU’s dismissal of Adam Ackley is horrible mark, but it does not invalidate everything else the school does well.  I regret that I will not be able to attend APU’s celebrate Christmas choral and musical performances this year.  A few weeks ago, several other alums and held a fantastic night of singing, dancing, and improvised comedy.  These nights could never have happened without our APU connection.  There are more altruistic causes too.  One of my former classmates is finishing  up Psy D program with the express purpose to help women pro bono.  Another friend has worked for a children’s non-profit for years.

Second, I think it behooves recent alum (and by that I mean anyone who is between 24-30ish) to consider why APU bit the bullet and dismissed a transgender individual.  It can be only in part because of “Christian Values.”  Whether we like it or not, the older generation has the deep pockets.  These people make up the donation base.  They’re also more conservative on issues of gender and sexuality.  Do other APU hold these views that strongly? I have a hard time believing that any the intellectuals at the campus actually wanted to see their colleague go.  Enough students on campus have shown support for Adam.  As blunt as it is, a transgender professor is probably more offensive to donors than to students or scholars.

I think this is where a humble, and slightly more than symbolic, contributions from recent alums come in.  The silver lining of entire Ackley fiasco is that the university (and anyone connected with it) has to confront this issue of gender identity and Christianity.  We all already know what the result will be in twenty years.  Transgender individuals will become more and more accepted.  Eventually too the broader Christian community will wonder why we thought that dismissing a transgender individual made any kind of sense.  Most of the younger than 30 Christians I know aren’t particularly bothered by LGBT acceptance.  Even those who disagree with things like gay marriage aren’t the type who are pro-actively opposing it.  Eventually, the views of the younger generation will supplant the views of the older.

Therefore, I’d like to put a little money to demonstrate this to University.  I want APU to know that I support my Alma Mater.  I want them to know that I believe in its mission and goals.  I want them to know that my time at APU is still a time I remember well.

Furthermore, I want them to know that I’m sympathetic to LGBT causes.  I believe that “Christian Values” do not demand exclusion on this basis.  Finally, at some point in the future, I want APU to make decisions on LGBT based on purely on conscience, not on donation ledgers.  The only way APU can be freed from the fear of offending a donation base, is if enough of their donation base is demonstrably supportive of LGBT issues.

It might be a drop in the bucket, but I like to show support with my wallet.

This blog continues the perpetually prolonged discussion on why young people leave the church.  Now at last, we discuss the second hottest topic out of the original six at the Barna research.  Young people leave the church because it comes of as antagonistic towards science.  The Barna research expounds:

One of the reasons young adults feel disconnected from church or from faith is the tension they feel between Christianity and science. The most common of the perceptions in this arena is “Christians are too confident they know all the answers” (35%). Three out of ten young adults with a Christian background feel that “churches are out of step with the scientific world we live in” (29%). Another one-quarter embrace the perception that “Christianity is anti-science” (25%). And nearly the same proportion (23%) said they have “been turned off by the creation-versus-evolution debate.” Furthermore, the research shows that many science-minded young Christians are struggling to find ways of staying faithful to their beliefs and to their professional calling in science-related industries.

No one can hardly do this subject justice in one blog.  I hope then, to keep the comments brief and allow others to expand in comments.

Who is actually at fault here?

If Christianity is perceived as anti-science, than who is actually at fault here?  I mean this very seriously.  Is it entirely the dogmatic young earth creationists out there who give Christianity a bad name?  Or is the folks like Dawkins whose beliefs about science versus religion are equally dogmatic?

Consider the famous play Inherent the Wind.  The play dramatized the famous scopes monkey trial: a classic, early 20 century, courtroom case about evolution.  In the play, William Jennings Bryon is portrayed as religious fanatic who refused to read Darwin’s godless nonsense.  He ends the play in a kind of crazed mania.  However, during the actual trial, William Jennings Bryon is a bit more cool headed.  He did, in fact, read Darwin thoroughly.  The irony here is that the original court transcripts are available for anyone to read.

Another issue is the famous Galileo trial.  You will still find people on the internet who believe that the church thought the earth was flat, and that geocentric astronomy was written in the Bible.  This story is frequently told as if Galileo was the first person to look at the universe ‘rationally’ and his religious detractors were knuckle dragging barbarians.  This is not true.  The geocentric model was handed down to western civilization from Ptolemy -hardly a religious source- from the ancient world.  It was based largely on observation.  It tracked the motions of the sun, predicted eclipses, and it didn’t have to explain why “the earth moves even though it we don’t observe it.”  The Roman Catholic Church has long sense acknowledged that it was wrong to put Galileo on house arrest.  Furthermore, there were rational reasons to be skeptical of the heliocentric model.  The geocentric model has never been intrinsic to Christianity anyway.

I do think there are Christians who are anti-science.  However, I think that the perception that Church is anti-science isn’t not entirely the shoulders of Christians.  We can’t be held accountable for theatrical exaggerations or a simplified, anachronistic, text book telling of major scientific paradigm shifts.

Dropping it like it’s Hot

There is one point that Christians are at fault.  It’s one doctrine that needs to go away.  It’s called Young Earth Creationism.  I feel the need to be blunt on this one.  Young Earth Creationism -with its instance that the earth is less than ten thousand years old- has already been declared “embarrassing” by William Laine Craig.  That’s William Laine Craig, the conservative evangelical scholar at Biola University.  Some might say that we should “teach the controversy.”  It’s also true that Christians can disagree on this issue.  It this is true, now remember why young people leave.  They’re turned off by this entire debate.  Who is making the trouble then?   Consider that Ken Ham, of Answers in Genesis, was dis-invited from a home schooling convention because of “unchristian” behavior and rhetoric.

It is not that I think that Young Earth Creationism is bad for that reason only though.  I feel the dogma is riddled with holes and is ad hoc in responding to them.  It is a superficial interpretation of scripture promoted by sophistry and cute cartoons.  It is not that I simply think that YEC is the wrong.  It is that I feel it is so wrong it doesn’t even deserved to be discussed.  Is the church antagonistic towards science?  Not it is not.  So let’s kick YEC to the curb already!

Other Alternatives

There is at least one promising alternative to the (perceived) antagonistic attitude towards science.  Before going further, it needs to be clarified that this is not really about science itselfbut rather issues about the philosophy of science.  The former most high school students have a surface level grasp on.  The latter is not usually covered except by upper level college courses.  I guess what I am saying is, you’d have to be have a pretty exception home school program to hear about this one.

Consider the approach of Christian philosopher Alvin Plantinga.  The really simple version of is like this: given a fully, unguided, naturalistic evolution, why should we trust our senses and our minds to fully understand reality?  This is not a scientific question that can be answered in a scientific way.  Trustworthy senses and minds are an assumption of science.  However, we know that there are cave-dwelling creatures that never evolved eyes, thus they cannot perceive the reality of light.  What would make us so sure that we have the adequate senses to understand all of reality?

Plantinga’s lines of argument endorse something he calls Augustinian Science.  While this is a complicated subject in itself, the thrust of the argument is this: anytime you do science you assume certain things about reality.  For Christians, we should have no problem assuming that God exists.  This doesn’t mean that we should freely invoke God anytime a scientific problem comes up, but it does it mean that we can be more consistent when we trust our senses and our minds.

Is this a perfect solution?  Honestly, this isn’t even a complete presentation.  Nonetheless, it is a step in the right direction.  If we want to keep the younger generation, than we can drop the whole “creation versus evolution” framework that young earth creationistism has set up.  Equally, we can avoid the “science versus religion” framework that atheists seem to pigeon hole us in.

Plantinga’s approach, in my opinion, satisfies both requirements.  It isn’t dogmatically tied to a particular interpretation of Genesis 1-11.  Furthermore, it reminds full-blown atheists that they have deep seated assumptions about science, reality, and what philosophers call metaphysics.  It deals with the whole faith versus science issue where the problem where the actual problem lies: philosophical assumptions about knowledge and reality.

Maybe we can give young people a bit more intellectual credit and assume that they can sort it out.

This short blog continues a series on the reasons why young people leave the church.  The emphasis for this series is to not to rehash out problems, but to find a solutions.

In the previous blog, we talked about a shallow experience of Christianity.  We talked about how the responses aren’t helping.  The evangelical church knows boredom is a problem.  They know that many people feel that Christianity is not relevant.  The response, over the last 30 years, has to been to create what Catholic libertarian Ann Bernhardt* calls “Super Fun Rock Band Church” as well as baptize sagely life coaching so that young Christians can have better careers/lives.

Rock bands and life coaching can be found outside the church.  Why do we need to stay in church to get it?

What any Church needs to do to retain young people is two things.  First, offer them something that cannot be found outside of the Christian faith.  Secondly, respond to the objection that the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough.  Coincidentally, these are the same thing.

Those of you from reformed traditions probably already have an idea of what the answer might be.  Chances are, you feel it looks like this:

Reformation Begins with the PulpitOkay, I am sure you weren’t thinking of Elvis, but you get the idea.  The perscription is this: if the Bible is not taught clearly or often enough, than we need more “Biblical preaching” or whatnot.  The sermon is the centerpiece of the service, and the minister is the man delivering the word of God to the congregation.  Let’s sing to the Lord for twenty minutes and then listen to a forty minute “conversation” since calling it a sermon isn’t hip anymore.  Does this work?

Maybe.

Looking at the pulpit is a good start.  But it is only a start.  There are at least two problems why concentrating on a minister and sermon aren’t enough.  The first is this: like it or not, the minister is a position of power and authority.

By power and authority I do not mean that he is specially anointed by God.  I mean that he speaks, persuades, and motivates a crowd (power), and is given his position through whatever process his church recognizes (authority).  It is very easy to find examples of individuals who persuade hundreds, even thousands, to believe that what they teach is divine and Biblical.  Yet their teachings are the result of proof-texting at best and outright lying at worst.  Their influence comes from the power of rhetoric, motivational speaking, and use of psychological forces.  Yet the lay-person in church is not truly equipped to understand the difference between the work of a clever speaker and the work of Holy Spirit through preaching.  I blame public eduction.

The bigger the smile, the sharper the knife.

The bigger the smile, the sharper the knife.

It’s natural to think “not my church” or “not my pastor.”  It is my sincere hope that this is the case.  However, even if a minister is perfectly benign, he still wields a fair amount of rhetorical power of a congregation.  Have you ever heard a pastor talk about how many people are going to a special event?  Or how many people were baptized on an Easter Sunday?  These are both examples of social proof, and it’s a damn powerful psychological (but not spiritual) force.  If the sermon is central, than the pastor is bit elevated above his congregation (often literally).  At best, he is a great lecturer of correct teaching.  Sadly, most the ability and power to decide what is correct teaching resides in himself unless the congregation understands how to interpret the Bible as well as he does.  I can’t be the only one that sees a problem here.

This leads to the second issue: “Biblical preaching” is always top down.  It often aims the lowest common denominator.  In other words, the speaker speaks the truth.  The lay people are silent.  There’s a strong performance/audience dynamic here.  The speaker, especially in large churches, must make his message as accessible as possible.  This will help reach new Christians and non Christians.  But what about the members of church who have heard the most accessible messages?  Are they ready to move on to something deeper?

I may sound like I am a bit distrustful of ministers.  Frankly, that’s because many times I am.  My context is probably not the same as many readers.  In southern California, mega churches are often the only game in town.  So it is entirely possible that cult-of-personality leadership leaves me chagrined.  However, I’ve also been an educator.  This leads to what the solution could be.

Don’t teach the Bible: Teach people to understand the Bible.

Years ago, my friend and recounted his experience as a 19 year student at a now defunct Bible college.**  He recalled how he had never heard of concepts like cultural context, the nuances of Greek language, idioms, and in general plain old principles of hermeutics, until he was at college.  My own journey began when I borrowed a book on Biblical interpretation from my then youth pastor’s library.  Like many others, both us began to scratch our heads and wonder why we didn’t get a sense that these concepts seemed to make their way into the sermons we listened to.

These days, I notice that a lot of preaching some to come in several gradients.  We have ministers who are conscious of the principles of hermeneutics.  They successfully apply them to even the most accessible messages.  This means they use the heavy duty work of Christian intellectuals, but still communicate a message people understand.  Others preach questionable folk interpretations (I’m looking at you John Eldredge!), and show contempt for Christian intellectuals (Beth Moore).  Among the laity, I notice that many people would like to know more about how to understand the Bible.  It seems wrong that they’d all have to go to a Christian college to figure these things out.

The solution for a shallow Christian experience is a wiser laity.  The laity could never be expected to know and learn as much as a “professional” minister.  However, they should understand enough to be able to know a good, thorough, interpretation from a purely rhetorical, pop-psychological, folk-wisdom message.  This type of spiritual growth cannot be achieved with sermons alone, because it questions the aforementioned performer/audience dynamic that sermonizing uses.

Rather, churches -espeically large and diverse ones- ought to find ways to facilitate an interactive and more egalitarian way to train its laity.  There’s a big difference between sitting silently before a spotlighted, jumbotroned, holy-man and joining in a lively discussion among peers.  In many education circles, the role of the teacher is not to be some kind of faucet that passively fills buckets, but rather a kind of facilitator, and coach who helps guide learning and discussion.

We have to stop worrying about accessibility of a message.  You can’t expect maturing Christian to stick around if you keep ignoring their needs.  These needs aren’t going to be the same as new Christians.  Not everything needs to be about evangelism either.  Someone who has been a Christian for a few years is ready to talk about things that aren’t going to be accessible to someone completely unchurched.  This is okay.

We need to have serious discussion about how we understand the Bible rather than repeating what we think the Bible means.  Many Bible studies are too quick to jump from Bible verse to applicability to everyday life.  This is why we get tragically flawed folk interpretations of verses like Jeremiah 29:11.  We have to invite the opinions and viewpoints of Christian intellectuals rather than sidelining them.  All of this would make an experience of Christianity deeper.

While many people may dismiss this blog, I hope that I have at least hit a chord some people.  One blogger once commented that if younger Christians can get through an AP class, then they can handle a bit more.  My hope is that churches will pay attention to people like this.  After all, if younger folks are able to work that hard to get into college, than surely they are willing and able to into the grit of serious hermeneutics.

==============

*This woman seriously is nuts.  Barbie Pink AK-47 nuts.  That’s a special kind of crazy.  Here references to “superfun rockband pastors” can be found on her blog.

**At least it still has a website.  Ahh Bethany, how I miss my misbegotten summer camps in your dorms…

>Loyola Marymount so Far
It should be known to all by now that I live in West Los Angeles and I attend Loyola Marymount University for graduate work.
I am still doing graduate school, despite all the second guessing I’ve had about the subject. I had to turn down two good job offers in order to take out more loans to get a degree that won’t pay for itself. I am also forgoing the opportunity to travel abroad, which is something I still wish to do. I am not in a position to save as much money as I would like to, which is very bad for the time being.
Still, I like LMU. I enjoy academic life enough that I can stick with it. I remember when I attended a class last year (before I decided to go through with it), I felt that I was “home.” I feel utterly comfortable and in the right place when I sit in classes here. Even when the reading gets boring, I enjoy the overall process. I still love studying Latin and brainstorming paper ideas.
I also like the other students I am around. Philosophy students know how to party. We had a party a few nights ago, and we sat around talking. I had two beers! Isn’t it crazy?! Seriously though, it’s great to be around people and talk about literature, the problem of evil, traveling to Germany, etc.
Of course, when Philosophy students do get boring, I have many of my film students. They play beer pong. I also performed a guitar piece for them. I even got to help out in one of the movies. It’s a great serious drama about a student who chases down the tooth-fairy for her money.
Yeah, so that’s Grad school so far. Now will the powers that be PLEASE post this so they know this is not a spam blog?