Thursday, May 14, 2009

Erasmus Always Wins

Occasionally I come across disparaging remarks about Wikipedia--usually by traditional academics. Now, I'm not saying Wikipedia is perfect or engaging in some apology for Wikipedia. But there are bigger fish involved in this dialog.

Wikipedia represents the democratization of knowledge and--more important from my perspective--the network generation of knowledge. Is Wikipedia perfect? Not at all. But in the time it takes a traditional online dictionary or encyclopedia to put out an edition, Wikipedia has undergone five or six updates. Notice I say a traditional online dictionary. We'll have gone to Mars before you can get a traditional print encyclopedia edition out.

The internet is a network generated source. They're gone now, but back in the early 90's a prognosticator at Wesleyan HQ apparently tried to convince the denomination to put its stuff online. The response--for free! Are you crazy? And yes, the Wesleyan Church remains relatively unknown to this day.

I know of professors who scoffed at offering courses online in the late nineties. A fad, they said. And if they remain in power at their institutions, insisting on a 90 hour curriculum or more, often requiring Greek and Hebrew, I will unfortunately live long enough to watch them go bankrupt.

The bottom line: Erasmus wins. You know, Erasmus, the entrepeneur scholar who was the first to put out a printed Greek New Testament. Who was he up against? A group of very erudite scholars in Spain putting out a very well planned and executed Complutensian Polyglot with five, I think, different versions of the NT side by side.

Never heard of them? Have you heard of the KJV? Yes, it was based more or less on Erasmus. Was Erasmus' first version quality? It had some hilarious aspects. For example, he didn't have any Greek manuscripts of the last part of Revelation. So he made it up--he took the Latin and translated back into Greek! In other words, his first edition had stuff in it that had never been in any manuscript before him.

But he won. In an age of innovation and paradigm shift, the first is often what gets established. Good grief, do you know how hard it was to dethrone Erasmus' textus receptus, decades, even a century after the best textual scholars knew it needed to be replaced? Even in our day there are still King James only groups gleefully riding the fumes of Erasmus' entrepeneurial venture.

I'm apprenticing with these types at IWU. We are, to be sure, entering a "depth" phase and that is much to be applauded. But why are we the largest private educational institution in Indiana, even bigger than Notre Dame. Why are we founding a seminary and hiring as many as three new people in relation to it in the same year that other institutions are closing and laying off faculty. It's not because we're better or more quality. It's certainly not because we're more spiritual. It's because we were Erasmuses in the nineties, right when it counted the most.

So scoff at us, ye traditional academics. Erasmus always wins.


Bob MacDonald said...

He made it up !!! that's the funniest tidbit of textual stuff I have ever read.

Allan R. Bevere said...


Great post. Ashland Seminary is also going more and more online. The whole face of education and publishing is changing and it is not going back. It is time to get with the program.

Mike Aubrey said...

Well, I truly hope your analogy breaks down and breaks down quickly, because I really don't want to have to think about 500 years of education that's equivalent to the quality of the Textus Receptus.

And dropping Greek and Hebrew will definitely give us that regardless of the format. Yes, current teaching methods don't work super well and they definitely need to change. But either making the language optional or simple teaching students how to use the software along with a copy of Exegetical Fallacies isn't going to do the trick. And then 500 years from now, we'll have the equivalent of KJV onlyism with seminary.

Ken Schenck said...

Mike, I love Greek and Hebrew. I'm cursed both to love the least important things for ministry and to know it. Most people either hate them and know it or love them and don't know it.

From a pragmatic perspective, the actual payoff of the requirement of Greek and Hebrew for ministers is minuscle, perhaps a 1% return for one of the most demanding of learning activities. In the end, the vast majority of those ministers who have been forced to take Greek and Hebrew know just enough to get it completely wrong in the pulpit.

Reality bites--me in fact, because I'm really good at them.

Mark Schnell said...

Great thoughts, Ken. I'm at a seminary that doesn't just make you take Greek and Hebrew but they do it on steroids! My Greek prof. uses a six point grading scale rather than the usual ten point scale. I got an 88% on my Greek 2 final. That's a B- in that class. I don't care what he says, that's a B+ in my world!! I like it that I have a fairly good grasp of introductory Greek. I think pastors should but only a decent understanding. They don't need to do their devotions with the NA-27 to be good preachers. As far as I'm concerned, the best part about what I know of Greek is that I will be able to use better commentaries and understand what they are talking about. I can use my Bibleworks or and really get something from them.

You are absolutely right, schools and churches that consistently put the cookies on the top shelf will go the way of the dodo bird. Whoa, two colloquialisms in the same sentence. And I don't think for a second that you are calling for the dumbing down of ministerial education. I think it is about saying, "Welcome to the real world."

james petticrew said...

Ken we need to move you to Nazarene Theological College in Manchester who still refuse to offer anything on line! No money but money has been spent on study bed rooms for post graduates!
I have been recommending second career people to consider IWU's seminary rather than moving to Manchester or having to spend a couple of weeks a year there for years doing intensives.
I think the problem is actually as you state that the institution is being run for the benefit of those who teach and not the church or those who wish to minister in our church. RANT OVER (well to you)

CfkZgScNrulAy00aLyeL9kxjS4H9tMUNp7BJ_A-- said...

Hi Ken,
I enjoyed the post. Have you read "The Starfish and the Spider?" It examines the decentralization of power as a new leadership theory and it uses wikipedia and ebay as examples of decentralization and cites them for the very strengths you mentioned. Judging from this post you'd find the book pretty interesting.

Andy said...

Wow, so my attempt at using yahoo for open id didn't work on that last comment - my name is Andy

Mike aubrey said...

From a pragmatic perspective, the actual payoff of the requirement of Greek and Hebrew for ministers is minuscle, perhaps a 1% return for one of the most demanding of learning activities.But is that because of the language themselves or because of how they're taught?

Until Greek and Hebrew are taught using modern methodology such as Total Physical Response, we'll be stuck in the same spot - or worse.

For the languages, its not going to the internet, its updating our teaching and learning methods - I used TPR and learned as much Russian in 12 weeks as I learned Greek in two semesters. Dr. Daniel Streett from Criswell College gave a presentation at ETS on the need for using TPR in Greek instruction,.

Ken Schenck said...

Thanks for the link, Mike. I'll look at it. Andy, I ordered the book...

Brian Russell said...

Great post, Ken. I suspect that the future will be even more decentralized than you are even imagining. Hope that we can stay on the wave.