Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cheney's Memoir

I don't plan to buy it.

The things being said about it fit my own sense of history.  That Bush let Cheney run the show his first term.  That Bush was a lot wiser the second term.  That Powell was the voice of wisdom the first term and that Cheney is mostly responsible for the Iraq War.

I predict history will be sympathetic to Bush... and quite hostile to Cheney.

Scot McKnight on Spiritual Gifts

These are things I've said as well.

Denominational Transplant Growth

One fun dimension of being in the denominational seminary is to get a better sense of some trends going on in my denomination at large.  One such trend I think I am observing is that we seem to be drawing a lot of pastors from other denominations of various sorts.  I don't mean here so much kindred theological denominations like Free Methodists and Nazarenes, but denominations who are close in other ways.

This is fascinating and, on one level, very exciting.  It says there is something about us that other believers are finding attractive.  So we have individuals from charismatic denominations joining us.  We have individuals with a similar church growth approach joining us.  In short, we have people joining us because of what they perceive to be our practices, our modes of operation, rather than our theological tradition.

This brings some interesting thoughts.  For one, the net effect over time will almost certainly be to steer us as a tradition in certain ways that may or may not be anticipated.  For example, I believe we are becoming more and more charis friendly as a church, which I welcome.  At the same time, it probably means we are probably going to drift away from some of the strengths of our own tradition.

We are forming an identity we haven't had since 1) we formed our identity around legalism and then later 2) we formed our identity around Maxwell's church growth stuff.  In comparison to some of these earlier identities, it is pretty healthy.  But it is not necessarily a Wesleyan identity.  It is an identity strongly impacted by the restorationism in the water (e.g., Alan Hirsch, etc).

Here are some of the warning lights I'm having go off:

1. narrow conversionism
Using Acts as a model, the focus is on getting people to make decisions for Christ and on baptism as soon as possible thereafter.  Notice the swing away from what I believe is the broader cultural trend against thinking of conversion in terms of an event.  How quickly the pendulum has swung in a post 9-11 world!  Or has it?  Is this simply "The Boomers Strike Back," out of touch with broader American culture.

Our focus should be on seeing people's lives change, not on how many baptisms we've had.  Changing people's lives does involve event decisions, but this is only one small piece of an overall process of discipleship that starts before (prevenient grace) and continues after (sanctifying grace).  If God judges people according to the light they have--certainly a long-standing Christian and Wesleyan perspective that I believe is theologically necessary for Christianity to be coherent--then it is far more important to disciple the world than to get it to make a decision and be baptized.

2. naive primitivism
One hermeneutical dynamic involved in these trends is a kind of naive primitivism that thinks the goal is to do everything the way the church of Acts did.  Of course no account is taken of the fact that Acts is only one picture of the early church.  If we had a 2 Matthew, a 2 Mark, and a 2 John, it would give us as different a picture as Luke does from these other gospels.

A 2 Matthew would probably feature much more the perspective of the Jerusalem church and would see a lot more continuity in Jewish Law keeping.  A 2 John would be much more anti-law keeping than Acts.  In short, we are not looking at a video tape of the early church in Acts.

And even if we were, the first century was a dramatically different place than twenty-first century America.  Are we going to bring back greeting each other with a holy kiss?  It was a patriarchal society formed in group identity. If we're smart, we'll be able to see the points of continuity and discontinuity and feel free to flex in a way that best ministers to our world. The goal is not to do everything exactly as they did.

3. fundamentalism
The leaders of the Wesleyan Church in the late middle decades of the twentieth century tried to move us away from a kind of fundamentalism we absorbed from the broader culture in the mid-century.  It is still alive and well.  This ranges from the untenable biblicism of Harold Lindsell (the Wesleyan who thinks the only difference between him and Dallas Theological Seminary is eternal security) to the civil religion that can't tell the difference between the Republicanism of the moment (because such things are quickly moving targets) and core Christian values.

We live in a tinder box climate.  Given our current sense of economic and protectionist insecurity, these sorts of fundamentalisms can go toxic on short notice anywhere.  Then come the witch hunts and events our grandchildren later wag their heads about.  It's a climate like 1914, where a chance assassination ends up as World War 1.

4. anti-women
And of course the trends above put our historic position on women in ministry in jeopardy.  Even though Acts is actually rather pro-women in ministry, the fundamentalism and primitivism forces usually lock their sights on 1 Timothy 2.  The household codes of the New Testament are not seen as they are--first century expressions of Christianity, like head coverings--but as God's timeless design for the home.

We'll see where it all leads...

Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Understanding Personality (Meyers-Briggs)

I found the Myers-Briggs personality analysis an incredibly helpful tool in seminary, not only for understanding myself but for understanding others.  Why does my wife want to get together with others when I want to stay at home?  Why did I like trigonometry when my friends were asking when they were ever going to use this stuff?  Why does my mom like to take spontaneous side trips while my dad wants to reach his driving goals for the day?  Why can't some of my colleagues see that it doesn't matter whether they are right or wrong if they are outvoted?

Myers-Briggs gave me a framework once upon a time for processing these sorts of interpersonal dynamics.  They are massively helpful in figuring out what is going on sometimes in interpersonal conflict, as well as to know your own strengths and weaknesses.  The test gives you four letters--the formal version with scales attached, because you can be more or less.  I currently consider myself to be an INTP.

I have since learned more about this tool as I have been involved in implementing it into our spiritual formation sequence at Wesley Seminary at IWU.  One of the middle types, I've discovered, is a person's "dominant function."  So my I, T, and P are right down the middle and fluctuate.  The N is what most defines me.

N--This is my dominant function, and it stands for intuitive.  It is why I liked trig and calculus whether it applies to anything or not.  It is why I like theoretical physics but don't care much for botany or biology.  It is why I have started about thirty novels (the P is why I haven't finished any of them).

S--stands for "sensing."  It is the opposite of intuiting.  This is the concrete person who wants to know how something relates to the "real world."  Since N is my dominant function, the S is my "inferior function."  In the S domain lay my greatest weaknesses because it is the opposite of my greatest strengths.

T and F stand for "thinking" and "feeling."  This type has to do with whether you are a person who makes decisions primarily on the basis of what seems logical to you or on the basis of more relational dynamics.  Of course just because you are a T and you think something is logical doesn't mean it is.  For example, taking relational dynamics into account is quite logical, since they exist and you have to deal with them.

But herein are many a conflict.  Spouse F is blowing off steam to Spouse T.  Spouse T, rather than recognize that Spouse F just wants them to listen, begins to problem solve with them.  Sorry, this conversation is not about solving anything, it's about me feeling better.

So the S-N and T-F types are the ones where your dominant (and inferior) personality traits will lie.  Two other dynamics then complement these basics.  Are you an extrovert (E) or an introvert (I)?  This is not about whether you talk a lot but about where you draw your energy--from getting alone or from getting around people.  An extrovert can be quiet, and an introvert can be rather talkative (before then going off to crash somewhere).

Finally, do you like to reach closure on things (J for judging) or do you like to leave things open-ended to keep exploring or taking in more things (P for perceiving).  A J likes structure and organization, finishing what s/he starts.  A P likes spontaneity and informality, keeping options open.  The J likes to nail things down.

These are not necessarily fixed over a person's lifetime and can vary given a person's context.  I for example came out as an F in seminary, but a T more recently (I like to say that I take relational elements into account because it is logical ;-)  I tested as a J in seminary but more recently as a nominal P.

The fact that I could be a J at all often comes as a surprise to people, because I consider a preoccupation with policies and structures--and obsessive tidiness--a time-wasting and often counter-productive disease.  But, of course, these are J issues that relate to the S domain, which is of little interest to me.  What people often don't realize is that I very much insist on organization in my intuitive life as an NJ, in my ideas.  I actually went back and edited out an extraneous space from this post that was bugging me.

So these personality types are very helpful for self-analysis and interpersonal relationships.  On the other hand, if you are a ESTP, you will strongly disagree with the helpfulness and accuracy of this tool. ;-)

Here's a free, but therefore not as accurate, version of the test:

Monday, August 29, 2011

Leadership Summary (Part 3)

Leadership Summary (Part 1)
Leadership Summary (Part 2)
My final summary of Northouse (2012):

Chapter 10: Overcoming Obstacles
This chapter addresses the kinds of obstacles that can arise as a leader and followers are working toward their goals.  Such obstacles can include things like 1) unclear goals (leader needs to make goals clear and understandable), 2) unclear directions, and 3) low motivation.

For low motivation, Northouse suggests leaders should help others feel competent, help others get what they expect, and help others value what they do.  When this sort of an environment is present, groups will tend to be more motivated.  "Expectancy theory suggests that people will be more highly motivated when the effort they put into a task leads to an expected outcome that they value" (214).

Different obstacles merit different leadership styles.  If the obstacle is 4) complex tasks, then a "directive" leadership style may help a group move forward.  If the tasks are 5) simple, then a "supportive" leadership style can help motivate.  If the obstacle is 6) low involvement, then a "participative" style may create involvement.  If there is a 7) lack of a challenge, then an "achievement-oriented leader" may be needed.

This chapter features a key aspect of leadership that was often overlooked in the past.  Good leadership is not only a matter of certain traits or skills.  It is the ability to exercise the right skills in the right situations.  Indeed, different situations probably call for leaders with different skills.

Chapter 11: Addressing Ethics in Leadership
Ethical leadership is about moving others to do the right thing in the right way for the right reasons.  Northouse breaks it down into five categories:

1. The character of a leader
The Josephson Institute (2008) frames character around dimensions like trustworthiness, respect, responsibility, fairness, caring, and citizenship.

2. The actions of a leader
Ethical actions show respect, serve others, and show justice (234).

3. The goals of a leader
"Identifying and pursuing just and worthy goals are the most important steps an ethical leader will undertake" (236).

4. The honesty of a leader
"More than any other quality, people want their leaders to be honest" (237).

5. The power of a leader
Northouse (2012) identifies five bases of power: 1) referent power (power because followers like the leader), 2) expert power (power because followers consider the leader to be competent), 3) legitimate power (formal authority because of position), 4) reward power (power because the leader can reward followers), and 5) coercive power (power because leader can punish followers).

6. The values of a leader
"Values are the ideas, beliefs, and modes of action that people find worthwhile or desirable" (240).  "The challenge for the ethical leader is to be faithful to his or her own leadership values while being sensitive to the followers' values" (240).

Here endeth the book...

Josephson Institute. (2008). The pillars of character. Los Angelos: Author.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Leadership Summary (Part 2)

Yesterday I started summarizing Northouse (2012).  Today I continue.

Chapter 6: Creating a Vision
Since Northouse defines leadership as a process that influences a group of individuals toward a common goal, the ability to create vision in a group must surely be key to being a good leader.  It relates to the charisma trait so many leaders have.  It relates to the interpersonal skills that are generally needed in a good leader.

Vision is "a mental model of an ideal future state" (109).  One branch of leadership theory discussed in Northouse (2010) is "transformational leadership."  Transformational leadership attempts to change and transform others, in contrast to "transactional" leadership, which motivates people more on the basis of rewards and punishments.  Transformational leadership "creates a connection that raises the level of motivation and morality in both the leader and the follower" (2010, p. 172).

Northouse (2012) suggests that a vision has five characteristics: 1) a picture of a future that is better than the status quo, 2) a change in the status quo, 3) values that others find worthwhile, 4) a map to get there, and 5)  a challenge to transcend the status quo.

Unless a leader can articulate a vision, it will not likely take hold.  They may need to 1) adapt the vision so that it is close enough to where people are for it to catch hold.  The leader may need to 2) highlight the values of the vision so followers see its value.  The leader will want to 3) choose the right language, using words and symbols that motivate.  This includes language that includes the followers within the vision, rather than the vision simply being that of the leader.

Implementing the vision is the real test of a leader.  To do so the leader should being modeling the values s/he is promoting, should set high performance expectations for others, and should come alongside to encourage and empower those moving toward the goals.

Chapter 7: Setting the Tone
Chapter 7 largely relates to the kinds of things a leader needs to do for the group to move toward its goals, to implement the vision.  The ability of a leader to do so relates directly to some of the leadership skills discussed in chapter 5.

First, Northouse (2012) says the leader should provide a sense of structure for group members.  It looks like, for Northouse, vision translates into "mission," which he defines as "the goal toward which they are working," which "provides organization to the rest of their activities" (130).  A leader tries to orchestrate tasks so that "synergy" occurs, when the talents of each individual is maximized toward accomplishing the mission.

The leader not only provides a sense of structure but clarifies group norms, where norms are "the rules of behavior that are established and shared by group members" (130-31).  The leader tries to build cohesiveness, a sense of "we-ness" or cement that holds a group together (132).  Finally, a leader promotes standards of excellence, expectations of performance.  The three R's here are 1) require results, 2) review results, and 3) reward results.

Chapter 8: Listening to Out-Group Members
In order to create synergy and cohesiveness, a leader needs to get the whole team on board.  The "out-group" are those individuals in a group or organization "who do not identify themselves as part of the larger group" (152).  Why do out-groups form?
  • When individuals are in opposition to the larger or dominant group.  
  • When individuals do not identify with the beliefs, norms, or values of dominant group members. 
  • When people sense they are excluded by the larger or dominant group.
  • When some individuals lack communication or social skills needed to relate to the larger or dominant group.
The impact of out-group dynamics are 1) they run counter to building community.  2) They have a negative impact on group synergy. 3) Out-group members do not receive the respect they deserve from others.

A possible strategy for a leader is 1) to listen to out-group members, 2) to show empathy to out-group members (empathy is when you stand in someone else's shoes and feel what they feel), 3) to recognize the unique contributions of out-group members, 4) to help out-group members feel included, 5) to create a special relationship with out-group members, and 6) to give out-group members a voice and empower them to act.

Chapter 9: Handling Conflict
"Conflict is a felt struggle between two or more interdependent individuals over perceived incompatible differences in beliefs, values, and goals, or over differences in desires for esteem, control, and connectedness" (174).  To break it down.  Conflict is a struggle between opposing parties with differences who are interdependent in some way.  There is always a felt, affective part to the struggle.

It is helpful to recognize that conflicts always involve two parts, a content part and a relationship part.  On the content level, the conflict can relate to 1) beliefs and values or 2) goals.  Procedural conflict is conflict over how to reach a goal.  Substantive conflict is conflict over the substance of the goal itself.

The relational aspect of conflict can involve "personality clashes."  Sometimes the conflict is not really about the content, even though it presents itself that way.  The relational side of conflict can involve 1) issues of esteem, 2) issues of control, and 3) issues of affiliation.  Issues of esteem have to do with someone feeling valued.  Issues of control have to do with competition for power.  Issues of affiliation have to do with feeling like you belong.

The chapter presents two different approaches to conflict, one of which is more a matter of tactics and the other more theoretical.  Fisher and Ury (1981) present a method called "principled negotiation."

1. Separate the people from the problem (get a sense of the distinction between the content and relational dimensions of the conflict).
2. Focus on interests, not positions (what is really going on here?).
3. Invent options for mutual gains.
4. Insist on using objective criteria (precedent, professional standards, what a court would decide, moral standards, traditions, scientific judgment).

Northouse (2012) adds three communication strategies: 1) differentiation (getting the different sides to the story), 2) fractionation (dividing a large conflict into smaller, more manageable pieces), and 3) face saving (finding ways for parties to maintain their self-image).

Kilmann and Thomas (1975, 1977) provide a helpful delineation of conflict styles.  A chart with two axes sums it up: level of assertiveness and level of cooperativeness.  The "avoidance" style is low on both assertiveness and cooperativeness.  The "competition" style is high on assertiveness but low on cooperativeness.  The "accommodation" style is high on cooperativeness but low on assertiveness.

The "compromise" style meets in the middle. It "works best when other conflict styles have failed or aren't suitable to resolving the conflict" (197).  But the best possible outcome is "collaboration," high on assertiveness on all sides, yet just as high on cooperativeness.

Fisher, R. and Ury, W. (1981). Getting to yes: Negotiating agreement without giving in. New York: Penguin Books.

Kilmann, R. H. and Thomas, K. W. (1975). Interpersonal conflict-handling behavior as reflections of Jungian personality dimensions.  Psychological Reports, 37, 971-980.

Kilmann, R. H. and Thomas, K. W. (1977). Developing a forced-choice measure of conflict handling behavior: The "mode" instrument.  Educational and Psychology Measurement, 37, 309-325.

Back to the NASB

I hate that I repeatedly find myself cheating off the NASB when I don't have time to linger with the Greek.  ESV, NIV sometimes or often grind theological axes respectively.  NRSV uses inclusive language, which is fine by me, but sometimes deceives me as far as the original.  NLT, CEB are dynamic so don't help me cheat.

Oh that there were a more or less scholarly formal equivalence translation on the market.  I bounce between NASB, NRSV, and ESV when I'm trying to cheat.

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Passing of C.K. Barrett

Just read on James McGrath's blog that C. K. ("Kingsley") Barrett has passed.  What a nice man.  A scholar and a gentleman.  His article in Bultmann's 1955 Festschrift, if I remember correctly, was instrumental in some of my earliest forays into Hebrews, in which he argued that Hebrews has both an apocalyptic and a Platonic dimension.

I met Barrett once in Durham and told him that.  His mild mannered response was something like, "I don't much remember what I wrote in it.  Might not even agree with it any more."

He was a Methodist who preached in the countryside from time to time.  I remember someone saying that he had become a bit of a question mark to some of the formerly coal mining congregations in Durham County.  He of course didn't bring any critical considerations into his preaching, so they had difficulty, I inferred, reconciling his scholarly writings with his preaching.  Of course it makes perfect sense to me. ;-)

I've often envied what I took to be his life.  I've sometimes wondered if I've stretched myself so thin that I will die at a relatively young age.  He always seemed so calm and to have such a leisurely scholarly life of ease at Durham (although I heard once that he and Cranfield were fierce competitors there).  He lived to be 94.

Leadership Summary (Part 1)

For good or ill, I find myself once again creating a summary of some English resources that are not available in Spanish so that my summary can be translated.  I've decided to create a hybrid summary of Peter Northouse's more basic Introduction to Leadership and his more advanced book, Leadership.  If you know a bit about the field of leadership, please feel free to correct anything you see here that you think is incorrect.
Northouse, Peter G. (2012). Introduction to Leadership: Concepts and Practice. Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Chapter 1: Being a Leader
In this chapter, Northouse catalogs a number of different perspectives on what a leader is, many of which appear in the chapters that follow.  However, more helpful than his introduction in this book is his introduction in his more advanced book, Leadership (2010).  "Leadership is a process whereby an individual influences a group of individuals toward a common goal" (3).

Northouse distinguishes leadership from management, which involves functions like planning, organizing, staffing, and controlling (9).  By contrast, leadership is more about direction, team building, motivating, and inspiring (10).  "To manage means to accomplish activities and master routines, whereas to lead means to influence others and create visions for change" (11).

Northouse, Peter G. (2010). Leadership: Theory and Practice. 5th ed.  Los Angeles: Sage Publications.

Chapter 2: Recognizing Your Traits
The second chapter of Northouse (2012) addresses the oldest theory of leadership that basically held that "leaders are born not made."  The "great man" theories of the past focused on "traits" or characteristics with which great social, political, and military leaders seemed to be born.  We now recognize that this approach is only a very small piece of the leadership puzzle, but studies nevertheless show a number of characteristics most great leaders seem to have.  These include things like 1) intelligence, 2) confidence, 3) charisma, 4) determination, 5) sociability, and 6) integrity.

Northouse (2010) adds some depth and background to the question of the kinds of qualities leaders often have.  The 1990s saw discussion of a persons "EQ" (emotional intelligence) in addition to "IQ" (intelligence quotient). This is the "ability to perceive and express emotions, to use emotions to facilitate thinking, to understand and reason with emotions, and to effectively manage emotions within oneself and in relationships with others" (23).

We might mention here the way some have connected leadership potential with the so called "Big Five" factors of personality:
  • low neuroticism (how easily does a person get depressed, anxious, insecure, vulnerable, or hostile)
  • extraversion (how sociable and assertive is someone)
  • openness (intelligence, creativity, curiosity, insight)
  • agreeableness (accepting, trusting, nurturing)
  • conscientiousness (organized, dependable, decisive)
Chapter 3: Recognizing Your Philosophy and Style of Leadership
Northouse (2012) discusses how different people have different tendencies in relation to their style of leadership.  These can relate to a person's general sense of human nature.  The so called "Theory X" tends to have a negative view of human nature.  It assumes that people dislike work, need to be directed and controlled, and that people prefer security to responsibility.  By contrast, so called "Theory Y" assumes that people like to work, are self-motivated, and seek responsibility.

Various leadership styles tend to play to one or the other pole.  The "authoritarian leadership style," whether consciously on the part of the leader or not, operates as if people are like Theory X.  The "democratic leadership style" functions as if the assumptions of Theory Y are correct.  Meanwhile, a "laissez-faire leadership style" gives no real leadership at all and generally has negative results (57).

Northouse (2010) gives a more sophisticated delineation of leadership styles in relation to supportive and directive behavior ("situational leadership," chapter 5).  The person whose style is low on support and low on direction tends to be a delegating leader.  The person who is highly supportive but low on direction is a supportive leader (democratic).  The person who is high on direction but low on support is the directing leader (authoritarian).  The person who is both high on direction and high on support is a coaching leader.

Chapter 4: Attending to Tasks and Relationships
This chapter in Northouse (2012) actually continues the kinds of things that a style approach to leadership addresses.  Is a leader more or less oriented around accomplishing tasks (task-oriented leadership) or on the well-being of his or her subordinates (relationship-oriented leadership).  Northouse (2010) presents what has come to be known as the Leadership Grid (74).  On one side of the grid is a concern for people.  On the other is a concern for results.

The combination of both high concern for people and results is "Team Management."  High concern for results without concern for people is "Authority-Compliance Management."  High concern for people without concern for results is "Country-Club Management."

Chapter 5: Developing Leadership Skills
Northouse (2012) organizes the key skills that a leader should have into three general categories: administrative, interpersonal, and conceptual skills.  Administrative skills involve things like the ability to manage people, to manage resources, as well as technical competence. Interpersonal skills involve things like social perceptiveness, emotional intelligence, and the ability to handle conflict.  Finally, conceptual skills include things like problem-solving skills, the ability to do strategic planning and to create vision.

Northouse gives four basic steps in solving problems: 1) identify the problem, 2) generate alternative solutions, 3) select the best solution and 4) implement the solution.  Meanwhile, the skills that make a person best suited for strategic planning include the ability to learn, the capacity to adapt, and managerial wisdom.

Northouse (2010)  goes further to suggest that the proper proportion of technical and conceptual skills needed depends on whether a person is in top or lower management.  In top management, the need for conceptual skills is high but the need for technical skills is lower.  In lower or supervisory management, the need for technical skill is higher, but the need for conceptual skills is lower.

Friday, August 26, 2011

Pragmatism (IWU Coffee Talk)

Inspire me, oh muse, to tell of the secret to the (earthly) success of IWU these last twenty years, to the secret of the great things that came out of the IWU religion department in its Decade of Synergy (2000-2010), not least a seminary.  The answer is a goal-oriented pragmatism.  For the university at large, Jim Barnes was the primary catalyst.  For the religion department, it was no doubt Keith Drury.

With the right people around them at the right time, things happened.  Around Barnes, these were people like Mark Smith (now president of OCU), David Wright (now Provost), Todd Voss (now president of SWU), and Terry Munday.  In the religion division, you had people like Russ Gunsalus, Steve Lennox, Jim Lo, Bud Bence, and a cast of characters they could have made superteacher cards out of and sold them in the bookstore.

Mind you, most of it was intuitive.  I'll be so bold as to say that my post today is the most theoretical reflection on what the precise dynamic was.  People called it "entrepreneurial."  What it was was a penchant to see opportunities and not to let things like idealism, procedure, reputation, or academic mores distract from the goal.  Another way to put it is a penchant for lateral thinking.  It reminds me of the Cynics, who pointed out that an awful lot of society's rules are really rather made up.

Now mind you, Barnes had his own set of man-made rules.  But they didn't apply to opportunities to get more students or build satellite campuses.  As a result, IWU didn't have to lay off any faculty in the economic recession, even while more traditional schools were closing.  He really didn't care that people were saying online education was shallow.  He had the pragmatic foresight to start his entrepreneurial ventures in a new part of the university where academic purists couldn't touch it.  Criticize him if you want, but come visit the campus and see the beautiful buildings that came as a result.

At one point they were building a new dorm every year.  If a traditional academic had been in charge, IWU probably would have closed in the early 90s.  As it stands, it now has over 16,000 students, more than any other private college or university in the State of Indiana.  The next innovation was like cat-nip in those days.

This same spirit prevailed in the religion department.  There was always a friendly tension between the religion division and the history department in those years, with Glenn Martin at its helm.  Martin reminded me much of Plato.  His understanding of history was basically the story of the disintegration of ideas, from what he called a biblical worldview to the present.  He spent the first two weeks of his courses indoctrinating his disciples in his philosophy, and I understand it was fairly easy to get a good grade if you simply regurgitated his ideas and catchphrases.

Of course his entire system deconstructed on the fact that what he called a biblical worldview was really an ideological imposition on the biblical texts.  I want to applaud the fact that he inspired a lot of students over the years, many of whom came to him with no sense of direction at all.  A lot of them have gone on to do very significant things (despite the fact that I continue to irritate them, just as they often annoy me ;-).

Nevertheless, he illustrates an idealism that is generally the opposite of what made the university and the religion division such a success these past decades.  Ideas in themselves rarely have any power at all.  It is only when ideas focus the energies that are already present, much more a matter of feeling than thinking, that they have real power.

It's like the failure of the great man theory of history.  There are no doubt individuals all around us who, given the proper set of circumstances, might do great things.  But if those circumstances never arise, they will live and die without anyone ever remembering.  In the same way, ideas only have power at the right time in the right place.  Martin treated ideas like they not only had power in themselves, but as if they set the agenda.  It just doesn't work that way.

We are far more feeling creatures than thinking ones.  This is one reason why the IWU religion department has shied away from apologetics.  Very few are the people who will believe in God because of rational argument.  In that sense, the religion department intuitively got what the postmodern wave was saying without ever reading Derrida, Foucault, or Rorty.

The best theories are the ones that are built from the ground up, from practice.  The more a theory becomes self-referencing, the more the theorist starts trying to plug holes in the theory without reference to concrete reality, the less and less meaningful and effective the theory is.  It becomes a work of art, beautiful to look at and for that reason legitimate, but of no particular practical value other than the jollies it gives those who are interested.

And we learn best by doing, not by lecture.  The old academic approach that spends a hundred hours talking about the runway is less effective than ten minutes in a plane on the runway.  Don't give me three hours about Word, Excel, or Blackboard.  Give me an assignment and stand there to answer my questions as they arise.  Then I'll remember it.  It's called problem based learning and it was a core idea behind the seminary.

Erasmus the pragmatist wins, while the purists are still working on the details.  Sure, his first edition of the Greek New Testament in the late 1400s had some glaring errors, but the King James Version isn't based on the Bible the academics were slowly and meticulously working on in Spain.  You obviously have to have enough of the plane built to take off safely.  And you need a plan to finish building it.  But you don't need the landing gear until it's time to land.  And you'll get to your destination a lot faster if you work on the paint while you're in the air.  Structures should develop organically around what you're trying to do.  It doesn't matter if they're pretty.  The goal is not beauty but effectiveness.

The idealist tends to be an all or nothing person, and in this day and age they will more often than not get nothing.  The pragmatist knows that something is better than nothing.  Rules for their own sake are goal-defeating.  Meetings should only be run by people who don't like meetings.  Policies should only be written by people who don't like policies.

What's the opportunity and what's the most effective way to take advantage of it, ignoring artificial convention, reputable propriety, and goal-defeating neuroses?  That's the motto of the goal-oriented pragmatist.

Of course these are only proverbs.  If there aren't detailers to follow the entrepreneurs, eventually it all falls apart.  The key is for the detailers to come second, rather than first.  In academics, it's usually the detailers first, and the entrepreneurs are run out of town.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Origins (IWU Coffee Talk)

Over some lunches, coffee, and reading groups, another topic that came up from time to time these last ten years was our faith and science, not just the topic of evolution, but brain research, etc.  Thankfully, IWU doesn't have any "in the face" scientists like the gentleman at Calvin who recently parted ways.  Its science faculty present various perspectives on these sorts of issues.  In the 00s, Burt Webb was often at the lunch table wrestling with us in relation to these sorts of things.

In the absence of any official statements on the issue, Keith Drury's book, Common Ground probably comes closest to a position by the Wesleyan Church on origins currently: "Christian doctrine does not offer final answers to these questions.  Individual Christians have hunches, theories, and opinions about these things, but none of us knows for sure.  We read books on these things because we are curious, and some of us have even started organizations to promote one or another of these theories. However, we do not do this because we are Christian theologians. Christian theology says little about how God created.  Theology addresses the "who" of creation--we believe the God of the Old and New Testaments and the Father of Jesus Christ our Lord is the creator of heaven and earth.  How he created is interesting but is not relevant to our core faith.  Christians insist on rejecting any theory of creation that leaves God out, but we are open to discussing any theory that confesses God as creator.  We let Christians in the field of science give their theories on how it might have happened, but these scientific theories are merely interesting to us, not vital.  We claim only that God is creator" (46).

In my opinion, this is a very wise position.  On the one hand, as our own Wim VandeMerwe would often remind us, there are presuppositions involved in science.  As Thomas Kuhn once suggested, paradigms shift often unexpectedly and sometimes drastically.  It is impossible for us to know what the scientists of 100 years from now will be saying.

On the other hand, as Kenneth Miller warns in one of the books we read these last 10 years, it is dangerous to base your faith on gaps in our current knowledge.  I personally find it problematic to stake my faith on the hope that the vast majority of experts on any topic are incorrect--especially when they haven't substantially changed their position in over 100 years.  Christian scientists and theologians should be brainstorming how faith could fit with evolution and other prevailing scientific theories.  Those of us who are not experts on these issues--either science or theology--should be careful about our own assumptions as well.  It is not only scientists that can have unexamined assumptions.  We can have unexamined assumptions about theology as well.

Some discussions these last 10 years at IWU meandered through these sorts of topics. I can't say that we broke any new ground, but I think it would be fair to say we agreed that Christian scientists should have space to explore these sorts of things.  Not only can scientific theories be wrong but biblical interpretations can be wrong too.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Wesley our grandfather (IWU Coffee Talk)

The other day I jotted down some of the great coffee talk we've had at IWU in the last 10 years, mostly around coffee or the lunch table, with religion and other colleagues like Keith Drury, Russ Gunsalus, Chris Bounds, Steve Lennox, Dave Smith, Burt Webb, Bud Bence, etc...  I've tried over the years to share some of those conversations here.

Perhaps it's a bit presumptuous, but I honestly feel that those lunch conversations have been ground zero for theological reflection in the Wesleyan Church.  I can't think of any other context where generative theological thought on this level is taking place in the church, at least not with impact.  I hope the seminary at some point will become such a place, but it is not there yet.  And of course even the undergrad group has disintegrated a bit, with Burt Webb going to Northwest Nazarene, Dave Smith to Bethany, Bud Bence retiring, I've gone to the seminary, etc...

I thought I'd share one insight from those years of coffee talk.  Not surprisingly, it comes in its most potent expression from Keith Drury--"John Wesley was not the father of our church.  He was more like our great-grandfather, and Phoebe Palmer more like our grandmother."  If you've already done it, don't worry about it, but you should think very seriously about picking Wesley as a doctoral topic if you're just starting.  For one thing, Billy Abraham has pointed out that Wesley is pretty much exhausted as a topic of study.

There is a certain Wesleyan trajectory where a person begins to realize aspects of our tradition that are a function of late 1800s culture and then turns to Wesley to deepen.  But a lot of us feel that if a person doesn't at some point locate Wesley as a function of 1700s culture, you've not gone far enough.  Basically, focusing on Wesley these days is not a good ticket to a teaching job.  Too many on the market.

Wesley was a great man.  His practices were full of great insights.  His theology is full of potential.  But he did not found the Wesleyan Church or the Nazarene Church or the Free Methodist Church.  We have the freedom and I hope the profundity to think greater thoughts than he did.  After all, we have 200 more years of good stuff to integrate and evaluate with.  For example, he was a pre-modern biblical interpreter.  His interpretations may end in truth, but he would not have received good grades in an inductive Bible study class.

Don't fawn over grandpa.  He was good.  But if we can't be better today, we're mediocre.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Stages of Hermeneutical Maturity

Yesterday, I synthesized some stages of Christian maturity (in relation to adults).  I don't mean to suggest that everyone goes through these stages.  These are more levels of Christian maturity, in my opinion.  The spark behind that post was actually today's post, namely, to suggest that these levels of Christian maturity relate directly to the way a person might use the Bible.

Stage 1: Pleasure Hermeneutic
Many people read the Bible primarily in a self-oriented way.  What is God going to do for me today?  What does God want to say to me today (in a narcissistic way)?  This would especially apply to those who teach or believe in a prosperity gospel--teachers like Joel Osteen, for example.  Another person reads the Bible so they can have pleasurable spiritual experiences--not to be changed but just for the good feelings. A person who is preoccupied with biblical prophecy can be in this category, maybe reading the Bible to get secret knowledge no one else has or fixated on what they have coming.

This way of using the Bible relates to the self-oriented stage I mentioned yesterday, the most immature way a person might use the Bible.  In some ways, it is oriented in the exact opposite direction of Christian ethics, which is other-centered rather than self-centered.  Instead, this type of reader reads to pleasure him or herself.

Stage 2: Rule Book Hermeneutic
Many Christians read the Bible as the "rule book" and the "answer book."  This generally corresponds to the rule-oriented Christian of yesterday's post.  This person is oriented around reading the Bible to get the rules to bind others and to find easy answers to life's questions.  They want to reduce the complexity of life and truth, the hard work of working out our salvation, to simplistic rules and answers.  "God said it; I believe it; that settles it."

At its worst, this is the way the legalist reads the Bible, who delights in making rules and making sure others keep them.  But it is also the way a fundamentalist reads the Bible, whose version of inerrancy is primarily concerned with whether historical details fit together or and whether a person interprets the ancient poetic narratives of Genesis to support a particular version of science today.  The quest is to find who does not measure up and who needs to be kicked out.

This is also the reader who sees God primarily as a judge.  As they are, God is primarily concerned with rules and is a legalist when it comes to people who break them.  He demands satisfaction and cannot show mercy unless someone pays.  He cannot break his own rules, as if the rules are a higher law than himself.  Suffice it to say, in any of the moral development theories out there, this version of God suggests he has some growing up to do.

The rule-oriented reader will have a tendency to trump the spirit of Scripture with its letter.  This again is the problem with the fundamentalist approach to Scripture.  It was this approach that so many Christian readers of the early 1800s used to argue in favor of slavery, and it is this approach that so many are using currently to argue against women in ministry and for a rigid male headship in the home.  Unlike Jesus and Paul, this reading cannot see behind the ancient specifics to the kingdom ideal.

It is this approach that forgets the absolute principle of loving one's enemy and trumps it with a hate for homosexuals as rule breakers.  It is this approach that forgets the spirit of loving the stranger and trumps it with a delight in punishing the wrongdoer.  It is this approach that is voted more likely to hear the words, "Depart from me, you doer of iniquity.  I never knew you."  It is this approach that is most in danger of making the Bible into an idol.

Stage 3: Transformational Hermeneutic
The most appropriate way to read Scripture as a Christian is to read it with an openness to being changed, in the posture of a servant.  Such change should, as the first order of business, lead you to love others more, to love God more.  As a friend says, it should "form a holy people."  Yes, such change involves our ideas but it involves our attitudes even more.  It also leads us to live differently, but not because we are preoccupied with rules.  The Spirit of God inside of us changes us, the "law written on our hearts."

There is a mysterious quality to this openness to Scripture.  It cannot be tied down neatly by our confessional words.  Yes, the word God speaks through Scripture is inerrant, infallible, authoritative, instructive, and corrective.  But our tidy interpretive methods and hermeneutical formulas are not inerrant or infallible.  Hearing God's voice is a spiritual task and it is a task for the church as a whole even more than for me as an individual.

Behind this statement is the fact that the Bible was written to address multiple, diverse ancient audiences.  Since it addressed them, the task of figuring out what it says to us--indeed the task of determining the relationship of those words to each other--is not an exact science, as the 10,000's of denominations demonstrates beyond question.  Appropriating the Bible is not an exact science even when reduced to the accepted evangelical method.  Thus application requires hard work from the body of Christ, and we should read the Bible in community.

A transformational hermeneutic is more concerned about the spirit than the letter.  This hermeneutic recognizes that a world without slavery is closer to the kingdom of God than a world with it.  It favors abolition when the rule-oriented reader is arguing to preserve it because of the household codes in Colossians and 1 Peter.  But it does not make such decisions in isolation from the body of Christ.  It is a surrendered hermeneutic--surrendered to what is best for others, surrendered to the mystery of God's will, and surrendered to the fact the community of faith as it reflects on Scripture is perhaps the surest of places to hear God's will clearly.

It is a hermeneutic, in short, that is centered on the Word more than the words.  It reads the Bible to see God with a servant's heart.  Yes, it is pleasurable to experience God.  Yes, God requires things of us.  But these are not the goals of reading.  These are the result.

Monday, August 22, 2011

Stages of Christian Maturity

Yesterday's train of thought led to a post I hope to make tomorrow on moral development and how you read the Bible.  But I thought I would lay the groundwork for tomorrow's post today by generalizing about stages of Christian maturity.  You may know Lawrence Kohlberg's stages of moral development or James Fowler's Christian stages of faith.  Kierkegaard had a much simpler progression in stages of life: 1) pleasure phase, 2) ethical phase, 3) religious phase.

Of these, I want to modify Kierkegaard and speak of adult Christian depth.  I don't want to speak of these as a clear progression, as if a person will start with the first and eventually move to the third.  In fact, these may more be types of believers than stages.  Nevertheless, I am ordering them because they reflect, in my opinion, shallower and deeper forms of Christian faith.

1 Self-Orientation
There are many Christians, as there are many people, who live primarily for their own pleasure and desire.  I am no Abraham Maslow who saw the goal of human development as a self-defined embrace of life.  There are more and less virtuous people, and those who live solely for their own pleasure are not virtuous.

In a society where it is convenient to be a Christian, many of those in our pews are just as selfish as anyone else. They may use the church purely as a social institution, maybe even a place to get clients for their business.  It's a place for them to look pretty or sing pretty or maybe have power in a generally powerless life.  Whether such people are truly Christians or not is for God to decide, but they are not very mature Christians if they are.

2. Rule-Orientation
Many Christians are oriented around keeping rules.  At worst, these are legalists in the church who are hyper-critical of those who don't keep the rules.  They like the rules for their own sake rather than for their purpose, namely, to protect us from ourselves and each other, as well as to help us grow in our relationship with God.

However, there is a milder form of rule-orientation that seems righteous even though it actually reflects a lack of Christian maturity.  We can hide a rule-orientation behind language of making God number one in our lives.  What we might really mean is "Are you willing to submit to all the rules?"

Language of submitting to God is tricky because God's will is always mediated by someone else's interpretation of it.  If you truly understand the Bible, "obeying the Bible" or "submitting to the authority of God's word" is very much the same.  Which interpretation of the Bible are you referring to?  So my pastor or my church has mediated to me the rules I am supposed to follow.

It is thus much safer to capture all the rules under two headings: loving my neighbor and being God-oriented in a way that means I am willing to sacrifice my own interests when I discern it to be God's will.  This is what I am calling stage 3 of Christian maturity.

3. Servant-Orientation
I wrestled with what to call this ideal stage of Christian maturity.  The benevolent oriented stage?  The principles oriented stage?  Entire sanctification?  None of these others quite seemed to capture it.

The nice thing about the word "servant" is that it applies both to my relationship to others and my relationship to God.  I am assuming a healthy sense of self with healthy boundaries.  I am assuming that moral action is judged based on intended consequences and motives.

I have highlighted the importance of intention in moral assessment many times.  All sin is not sin for a Christian, and sin is not primarily a matter of failing to keep certain rules.  It is not "to miss the mark," so to speak.  These are not mature understandings of morality in general, let alone Christian morality.  The greater the intent to wrong others or to go against God's will, the greater the sin.

Mature moral judgment also looks more to fundamental principles than to specific rules.  It takes situations and contexts into account, rather than having a one shoe fits all "absolutes" approach.  It understands how human culture differs from place to place and how it has changed over time.  It incorporates this understanding in its appropriation of Scripture.

The mature Christian acts toward others with a sincere desire for their well-being, often including self-sacrifice.  The mature Christian is surrendered to God but has a mature sense of who God is and what God desires for the world.  It thus does not view God as self-centered or rule-oriented but sees God as a God of selfless giving as well, most consummately embodied in Jesus Christ.

Tomorrow I will play out these stages of Christian maturity in relation to the way a Christian might use the Bible.  Suffice it to say, these levels also apply to the way a Christian will think politically as well.  And of course it implies that certain Christian traditions are more mature than others.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Life is messy...

Life is messy.  That is, I think for a vast number of people, life is messy.  Churches, especially in my experience of churches, try to create a tidy space where there isn't any mess.  They aim the church to be a place where couples don't get divorced and young people don't have sex without being married, let alone have children when they're not married.  They try to make a space where people don't turn out to be gay.

The problem is that these things happen, even in the church. And the church often doesn't know what to do with them.  Churches are good at saying these things shouldn't happen, which is not the same as being effective at preventing them.  Most churches seem to think that if you stand in the pulpit or Sunday School and say, "Don't do this," maybe say it very loudly, that pretty well takes care of that.

Meanwhile, there are a host of people who have grown up in the church, maybe who would love to stay in the church, but when their lives get messy, the church shuns them.  Maybe it's not even entirely intentional.  Maybe it's just uncomfortable.  Uncomfortable for the person with the "messy" life, uncomfortable for the church with its assumed cleanness.  And so those whose lives are on the margins just disappear, maybe even get angry.  They didn't go looking for a divorce.  They didn't ask to be gay.

In recent times, the church at large has tried to normalize the mess.  "I'm not perfect just forgiven."  Here we get to the opposite set of proverbs.  God does expect us to try.  The person who runs off and has an affair has created his own mess.  He's ruined the life of his wife and children.  The church should be a place where he can be restored--if he truly wants to turn his life around--but it should not be a place that is ok with adultery.

One problem is that the church has had a tendency to major on the minor.  For example, in the case of adultery it is not the sex act that is the major.  The major also is not the breaking of some abstract rule that you shouldn't have sex outside of marriage.  Rule oriented morality is a lower level understanding of morality, not to mention the fact that that this particular rule isn't even stated in the Bible.  It's a synthesis of several different biblical commands rather than a principle the Bible actually states explicitly.

What is major about adultery is the lives it destroys in a selfish act.  It is thus doubly wrongful, deeply hurting both spouse and children and doing so merely in the pursuit of selfish pleasure.  Premarital sex doesn't do this kind of damage.  Homosexual sex doesn't do this kind of damage.  Yet somehow the church has become comfortable with divorce, with the massive damage it does, while the teenage parent who truly loves her child and the guy who did nothing to become attracted to the same sex have committed unpardonable sins.

What is the church to do with those who don't follow the script?  The church is supposed to proclaim the ideal, after all.  Would that it grew up a little in its sense of moral evaluation, however.  Intention in context is the key to evaluating morality.  What was the intention of a person?  What were the circumstances?  Could the person have done anything differently?  All sin is not the same. This is not only an unbiblical notion.  It is way unbiblical.  We should more measure things by the harm they do to others and the intent of the individual in doing the harm.  The level of selfishness is also an indicator of moral vice.

But once a person's life is a mess, it is not the job of the church to mete out the consequences.  Yes, there is a place for church discipline, another proverb.  There is a time for a pastor to be removed or for an individual to be taken off the church board. I'm speaking of the person whose mess is its own punishment and who truly would like to continue in community.  Here all the other proverbs kick in about the church being more a hospital than a haven.

Life is messy.  We celebrate those whose lives are squeaky clean.  But a loving and welcoming hug for those whose lives have turned out to be messy.  We're people of the heart, not the external appearance.

Saturday, August 20, 2011

Proverbial Thinking

I was looking at the first chapter of one of the leadership books we use in the seminary and it was going through the various theories of leadership that have dominated from one era to another.  So people used to function with a certain kind of "great man theory," that great leaders were "born not made," that great leaders had certain inborn traits.  But then there was an approach that focused on certain behaviors of successful leaders.  Then there was the situational approach, that different situations call for different kinds of leaders. It goes on--transformational leadersihp, authentic leadership, servant leadership, leadership and followership.

Have you ever heard anyone say with a smirk on their face, "Well, that's the way they thought about x in the 90s, but now scholars think/new studies have shown/etc.  Those with a short view of history can ride these waves to their grave without seeing the overall picture this way of thinking produces.  If this is really how it works, then we can never trust the current wave either.  If this is really how it works, then we have to know that the newest "in thing" we are sharing is going to blow away tomorrow.

"Truth upmanship" is annoying.  You know the type, the person who belittles you and glorifies him or herself by knowing the latest thing you don't.  And how annoying is the preacher or scholar who says, "Here's what's really going on here [and that no one but me has noticed]." I don't know who it is, but I heard several years ago that someone who at at that time was a leader in my denomination boasted that he never read anything that was more than 5 years old.  My reaction was that this guy must therefore be incredibly shallow (and of course, does he read the Bible?).  Imagine only to read things that will become "wrong" in such a short space of time.

A long view of this way of thinking leads squarely to the most pessimistic types of postmodernism.  There must not be any truth.  Or it can lead to a certain anti-intellectual fundamentalism.  Nothing but what my parents taught me is true (because fundamentalisms change over time too--the conservatives of my circles who have buns don't look like people in Bible times but the way people did when their movement was born in the early twentieth century).

The key is to begin to think proverbially.  The traits of leaders often are natural characteristics they haves had from birth.  Different situations often require different leadership skills.  Leadership is often as much about whether people follow you as about the leader's intrinsic capabilities.  We don't actually have to choose between proverbs.  It is rather the nature of a proverb to capture a snapshot of the truth that is limited in its scope.

New thinking usually does involve added insight and often does correct the excesses of the past. But there must have been something true about past thinking or people wouldn't have bought it.  It must have "worked" at least in some respect.

This kind of thinking would go a long way toward helping our current political rhetoric.  I listened in on a conversation the other day that ranged about topics like the Wisconsin walk-out, unions, and such.  It was a thoughtful Republican conversation.  One comment was that unions did a helpful thing when they started but they have come to be a hindrance.

Now whether you agree with this comment or not, I sat there thinking that most sides on these issues had a proverb that was true. "Unions can help their employees not get run over by businesses."  "If unions do not allow a business to adjust wages and benefits, they may go out of business."  "A company will just take its factories to Mexico because they don't have to pay their employees as much."  "It is horrible the conditions under which factory workers in other countries often work."

One of the problems with our political rhetoric is that we mistake our proverbs for absolute statements.  Many if not most of the things people say about politics and religion are true in some way.  The problem is that we treat our proverbs as if they are the only truth rather than a picture of one piece of the truth.

If we could learn to see our opinions on such matters as proverbs and be willing to see the truth in our opponents' proverbs, society would vastly move forward.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Sabbatical approacheth...

Now that the fall seminary courses are uploaded into Blackboard, a belated book review is done (sorry Ron if you're out there), and I can begin to think about a normal life that isn't always in crisis mode, I've been having a novel thought.  What should I read that I want to read?

My first thought is actually work related.  I think I'll start with a book Dr. Bob Whitesel is now using in our seminary leadership course:

Yum, yum ;-)


I had a fun opportunity yesterday to visit a company called Steelcase in Grand Rapids, MI.  They make classroom equipment and furniture and are involved in technology for educational purposes.  Let me just say that their website doesn't come close to the impression you get onsite.  On their website, all you see is individual pieces of furniture.  In Michigan, they not only have the furniture arranged in pedagogical and work cofigurations, but they presumably encourage their employees to use the mock rooms, not least so that visitors can see them in action.

The main purpose for the trip related to the new 5 story science building IWU is about to start constructing.  I went up with nursing, science, and math faculty who were strategizing about learning spaces.  I went because we will be breaking ground on a seminary building this spring as well.

The place is fun--at least it looks that way.  The furniture and arrangements had a European feel, a kind of souped up retro-70s style with fun innovations.  So all the chairs are build to roll and most to twist, adjust heights, etc. 

The corporate culture at least seemed relaxed.  People worked wherever they wanted.  The global HQ seemed to have a gym.  The global conference equipment was open whenever anyone needed to connect around the world.  The cafe was open 24 hours a day.  They had computer desks connected to treadmills. Food was all over the place.  Lots of mock classrooms, meeting spaces, and study spaces.

Some of the educational insights could be implemented simply by the way you arrange a classroom, supplemented by some portable whiteboards.  Of course the whiteboards they had were high tech.  A tap on a spot and the professor could project the web on the whiteboard and engage the board like it was a touch screen.  Another tap and you're writing on the web with a colored marker.  Another tap and everything on the board is saved to your laptop.  Another tap and anyone in the room can project what's on their computer screen onto a nearby screen, whether the high tech white board or a flatscreen.

But again, a simple arrangement of tables with a whiteboard at the end would go over half way toward their room and vastly improve average pedagogy today.  Another key is swivel chairs, so students can quickly spin from watching the professor to being in a group to working on their own board.

I'll stop there.  It's always fun to see how creative people are in areas you know little about.  I hope our seminary building will be able to incorporate some of these ideas.

Thursday, August 18, 2011

Integration Capstone

And so we reach the end of the line.  I've gone through the entire required curriculum: 4 foundations courses, 6 praxis courses, 6 spiritual formation courses, and now finishing the book ends.  It began with "Pastor, Church, and World."  It ends with the Integration Capstone (not including the 15 hours of electives).

1. Pastor, Church, and World
2. Cultural Contexts of Ministry
3. Bible as Scripture
4. Introduction to Theology
5. Global Christian History
6. Missional Church
7. Congregational Leadership
8. Christian Worship
9. Christian Proclamation
10. Congregational Spiritual Formation
11. Congregational Relationships
12. Spiritual formation sequence

The Integration Capstone is meant to bring it all together.  In the first course the students made a personal plan.  In each of the praxis courses students have written both an Application Paper and an Integration Paper.  The Application Paper for each course looks ahead several years in itself.  So at the end of the Missional Church course, they take the individual strategies they have created throughout the course (service strategy, evangelism strategy, etc) and synthesize them to form a doable missional strategy.

In the capstone, they will dig out the application papers from each of their six praxis classes (missional strategy, leadership strategy, worship strategy, proclamation strategy, congregational formation strategy, congregational relationships strategy).  They will look back and see how they've done so far.  Then they will synthesize all of them, along with their personal strategy from the first course and a spiritual strategy from the last spiritual formation course.  They will create an uber-ministry strategy plan.

They will also take their integration papers from the first and last praxis course and see whether they have improved at bringing the Bible, theology, and church history to bear on pastoral issues.  Now starting the third year of the MDIV program, I think any of our students would laugh at the old suggestion that we don't have Bible, theology, or church history in our curriculum.  About a third of each praxis course involves engagement with Bible, theology, or church history.

For the first two years, we actually arranged for up to 5 professors for each praxis class.  A Bible person facilitated the Bible assignments.  A theology person the theology, etc.  This has proved to be administratively taxing, to say the least.  This year we are going to a team of two for each class.  One professor will teach the praxis part of the course (two-thirds).  Another will do the "foundations" part (Bible, theology, church history, and integration paper).  This latter person should be someone with expertise in Bible, theology, or church history.

The IP, as we call it, is a thread that runs throughout every praxis course from Week 3 to Week 14.  In fact, in Week 7, all they do is exegetical work on passages related to a pastoral issue.  In Week 14 all they do is right a position paper based on the biblical, theological, and church historical work they have been doing.  In the Integration Capstone, they will take out some of their previous work to see how they have improved in turning to Christian foundations to address pastoral issues.

So there you have it, the Wesley Seminary at IWU curriculum.  15 more hours and you have an MDIV, a 75 hour program.  Certainly we've had our nay-sayers.  But I am thankful that God has brought things together in a marvelous way.  I believe our students are finding their ministries super-charged and, yes, you have to be engaged in ministry to be in this program, so it is like on the job training.  I believe they are learning to integrate Scripture and theology into their ministries with integrity better than most students at most seminaries.

There is much to refine.  The purist will say it is not enough hours or that a person can't be formed online or maybe that it does not require the students to go deep enough.  But there is more depth here than meets the eye.  When you have a J. Cameron Carter coming in to teach Bonhoeffer or are going to do field research at a church of several thousand, you can't say that they aren't getting depth in their electives and I hope there is depth brought to them by individual professors.  In our infancy, we are only beginning to develop the panoply of electives that make for depth.

As for online, more formation can go on here than many imagine and it is bolstered by yearly face-to-face visits to campus for one or two weeks.  The field of online teaching is only getting better as the bandwidth issue goes away.  All of our professors can now do video lecturing/discussion via Adobe Connect.

And as for the purist, the writing is on the wall.  I don't see how an all residential, 90 hour MDIV is going to survive long term.  We can complain about it but reality doesn't care.  Maybe a few high end academic MDIVs can do it for a while.  But then again, the denominations with which those institutions are affiliated are dying.  The life of the American church is in the thriving charismatic and warm hearted evangelical church.

So, yes, I would love to have more hours in this MDIV.  It's been painful making decisions about what to include and what to cut out of these courses, a process that I have very carefully orchestrated these last two years.  But it has turned out well and now as the writing reaches its close, I sadly begin to cut the umbilical cord and let Wesley's competent professors--in conjunction with our curriculum committee--take what we have and make it even better...

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

The Spiritual Formation Sequence

I forgot yesterday that I had not written about the spiritual formation sequence in our curriculum.  I'll treat them today all together.

1. Pastor, Church, and World
2. Cultural Contexts of Ministry
3. Bible as Scripture
4. Introduction to Theology
5. Global Christian History
6. Missional Church
7. Congregational Leadership
8. Christian Worship
9. Christian Proclamation
10. Congregational Spiritual Formation
11. Congregational Relationships

And now our spiritual formation sequence.

I'm again proud of many aspects of the spiritual formation sequence of the Wesley curriculum.

1. For one, there is a spiritual formation course every core semester.  The idea is that your heart is growing at the same time your head and hands are.

2. Second, these courses include affective, formational activities.  They are not simply learning about spiritual formation.  Every other week involves doing some act of spirituality.

3. Thirdly, the course sequence is not narrowly focused on individualistic spiritual disciplines like so many think of spiritual formation.  The overall sequence is meant to model an actual process of change.  The sequence was the brain child of Keith Drury.  I was there when in about a minute, maybe less, he spun out the entire course list, titles and all.

So here is the sequence:

1. Change and Transformation
The idea of this course is that a person investigate the basic process of how individuals change.  I like the fact that this course does not assume that everyone changes the same way or that if you want to become spiritual, you have to pull this level, tap your head three times and, ding, you're there.

The course currently also uses Bobby Clinton's The Making of a Leader.  Much of this book annoys me, because in contrast to what I said in the last paragraph, he has a very narrow sense of how leaders develop.  Nevertheless, if we ignore his rigidity, throw out his sense that "It's Tuesday, I must be having an integrity check," he does capture the key elements that are part of a leader's development.

2. Self-Awareness and Appraisal
The next two courses are quite logical.  The first assesses where you are.  The next asks where you are going.  I'm happy that this second course assesses a person's personality, involves an assessment of strengths and weaknesses, and involves an individual 360.  It also has a more balanced sense of spiritual gifts than you often find out there (in other words, the same rigidity is out there with regard to spiritual gift tests that is out there with regard to Clinton's leadership development theory.

3. Goal Setting and Accountability
So the next question is where we are headed.  The element of accountability is very important for the Wesleyan tradition, and this course has an element that looks at Wesley's class system.

4. Mentoring and Spiritual Direction
Many of us think spiritual formation is a matter of going it alone.  Apparently, God does not usually work this way but most of the time works on us through others.  This course is not about mentoring others, but about being mentored.  For half of the class, the students submit to the mentoring of someone else.  For the second half, students submit to a spiritual director.

5. Personal and Corporate Spiritual Disciplines
This course is the one that everyone thinks is what spiritual formation is.  I like the way it has turned out to involve not only the study of a discipline each each but the practice of it, including a 6 hour retreat they are to go on in the course.  I also like the fact that it not only thinks of individual disciplines but corporate ones like worship and service as well.

6. Recovery and Deliverance
This is the last of the spiritual formation sequence and the only one that is not yet written.  The idea behind it, however, is to arrive at the goal.  The spirit of the times is to think only of progress--"It's all about the journey."  But do we, can we never actually arrive anywhere?  The Wesleyan tradition certainly believes so.

So in my mind, this course should cover a variety of things, ranging from 12 step type things and recovery/deliverance from additions to spiritual warfare and deliverance from spiritual oppression.  A good dose of Wesleyan optimism.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011


Just wanted to boost my blog ratings today. ;-)

Congregational Relationships

And now the final praxis course, only one more MDIV core course to go and we will have run through the entire curriculum.

1. Pastor, Church, and World
2. Cultural Contexts of Ministry
3. Bible as Scripture
4. Introduction to Theology
5. Global Christian History
6. Missional Church
7. Congregational Leadership
8. Christian Worship
9. Christian Proclamation
10. Congregational Spiritual Formation

The final core praxis course is called Congregational Relationships.  Once again, I am proud that this class is not narrowly conceived of as a "pastoral counseling" course.  Our philosophy is "refer, refer, refer."  Most pastors are simply not going to be equipped to do serious counseling and, in a highly litigious world, should have at hand a whole host of professionals to which to send individuals with various problems.

At the same time, a pastor needs to be able to serve as a triage to more serious counseling.  You don't have time to refer a person who has just called you with a gun to his or her head.  You need to know some basic skills.  A pastor should be able to do basic pre-marital counseling and basic marital counseling.  A pastor should know the basics of what to say and what not to say when a family is grieving.  A pastor should know how to visit homes and shut ins.

Some people seem to have these sorts of interpersonal skills by nature.  Some others didn't seem to come with any of this software on their hard drive.

Yet this class is also about skills to facilitate a congregation that has a healthy "body life."  What can a pastor do to make churches places where some of a person's most fundamental relationships lie? What can a church do to facilitate friendships.  If churches can be schools of virtue for communities, they can also be centers of fellowship in communities, places that get kids off the streets and integrate new families into communities.  This is a high function if it is done virtuously.

This also seems the course where dysfunction and sin is addressed.  Here the Wesleyan optimism for change surely comes into play.  People can change.  People can be healed.  Relationships can be restored.  We all start out damaged, and life usually damages us more.  The church can be a place of wholeness and mending.

Monday, August 15, 2011

Congregational Spiritual Formation

One more core praxis course to go after this one.

1. Pastor, Church, and World
2. Cultural Contexts of Ministry
3. Bible as Scripture
4. Introduction to Theology
5. Global Christian History
6. Missional Church
7. Congregational Leadership
8. Christian Worship
9. Christian Proclamation

I should probably have made the distinction in these posts between my "wish list" - angles I would like to see in these courses - and my general thoughts on the topic.  For example, are there particular angles to the Congregational Spiritual Formation class that I would like the course to take or promote?

The course does include Steve Harper's The Way to Heaven, which is an overview of Wesley's theology.  It also has an assignment on Wesley's class meetings.  So, yes, there are some distinctly Wesleyan elements that I would hope are eternally covered.

One thing I like about this course is that it takes a broad view of things and talks about Congregational "formation" rather than Christian "education."  Its title recognizes that spiritual formation isn't just an individual thing but a corporate one as well.  It is a course about discipleship.  I am told that such formation best takes place in small groups, so that is an element in this course as well.

I'm also proud that our course includes some discussion of the current phenomenon of "delayed" adulthood.

Beyond my wish list, I'll confess that I didn't have a lot of generic opinions on the topic come to mind like I did for leadership, worship, and proclamation.  I do think a church should have something formative for its congregation from cradle to grave.  It's formative agenda should take into account the developmental stages of life.  There is room for great creativity in how the church goes about it, limited of course by the church's resources, staff, and volunteers.

I personally believe that the church might very well take a very broad and grand sense of its formative function as the best place in the world to train people to be virtuous.  The church is once again getting a sense that our mission is not just to "save souls," but to be Christ to the whole person.  I see a similar and very important opportunity for the church as well in training communities for virtue.

It is sad and fascinating to me that churches--in their professed pursuit of the good--so often become permeated with the perpetuation of vice.  We take the idea of following God and use it as an excuse to be ungodly.  We take biblical exhortations and turn them into prison cells.  We take instructions meant to flesh out the love of our neighbor and use them to hate our neighbor.

Wouldn't it be great if the church helped people to be virtuous?  Wouldn't it be great if the church helped us see in a loving way our hidden motives and desires.  At my own church, Judy Huffman preached such a great formative sermon yesterday.  Not only did she engage the children (normally they would not be present but this was "One Day Sunday" - I personally like having the children in the main service once and a while) but she exposed the hidden thoughts of our hearts.  We think "it's my business what I do in private" and she exposed us, in a loving way, to the fact that it is not just my business.  My private actions almost always affect others eventually.

That's a lesson in virtue.  The question is who will teach us virtue.  Who will teach the pastor virtue and give her wisdom to present it?  Who will teach the district superintendent or bishop virtue that they might form the pastor?  I have a dream, that churches become places that train their communities in virtue.

Sunday, August 14, 2011

Global Christian History

Here are my thoughts on what I might like see taught in a church history course...

1. Pastor, Church, and World
2. Cultural Contexts of Ministry
3. Bible as Scripture
4. Introduction to Theology
5. Missional Church
6. Congregational Leadership
7. Christian Worship
8. Christian Proclamation

So, Global Christian History:

Our seminary curriculum tries to separate American church history from global church history.  American church history is treated as part of the cultural context of American ministers in the Cultural Contexts class. This allows the Global course to spend more time on the way Christianity has existed in the two-thirds world. It also would eventually allow versions of these courses taught elsewhere in the world to fit those contexts without assuming that American Christianity is ground zero.

I'm rather proud of this feature of the curriculum.  First, if these components were taught right, it could help them see the extent to which some of the elements of their thinking are not Christianity but culture.  For example, I grew up with no sense at all of how my thinking on things like sanctification, standards, and going forward to the altar were shaped by nineteenth century holiness revivalism. I never even heard the name Phoebe Palmer until I was teaching at IWU... and here the form of "name it claim it" sanctification I struggled so much with as a teen was strongly linked with this 19th century woman.

But this post is supposed to be about global Christian history.  Certainly I would like a person to know the key events and people of church history.  Even more so, I would like students to see how so many of the ideas and practices they think simply come from the Bible were hammered out in church history as Christians wrestled with issues in dialog with Scripture.  I would like students to realize that the Trinity and the dual nature of Christ was won in the midst of massive struggle and debate.  I would like them to realize that the doctrine of creation out of nothing may have been won in debate with Gnostics in the second century.

So what would be my agenda for this class if I taught it?  Here are a few:

  • Constantine was not the boogie man and he only made Christianity legal--he didn't make it the official religion of the Roman Empire.  Christianity never thrived during the years of persecution.  Persecution actually almost wiped it out.  It was between persecutions that Christianity thrived.  Constantine may not be in the kingdom, but he did a good thing when he made Christianity legal and tried to get Christians to come to some consensus on issues like the Trinity.  Good grief, American cultural evangelicalism is more Constantinian than Constantine was.
  • Some key elements of what Protestants think is "just the Bible" are Augustine (original sin, total depravity, etc)
  • I would like students to come out of this course without the knee jerk anti-catholic bias so many have.What was God doing for a thousand years of Christianity?  Off somewhere playing golf?  There will be an awful lot of catholics in the kingdom, and Luther wouldn't have withdrawn from the Roman Catholic Church of today.
  • Luther was an overreaction.  Luther didn't enact sola scriptura but "sola the first five centuries of the church."  Luther's sola fide missed the fact that Paul talks about being judged for what we have done at the time of final justification.  
  • Calvin was playing out traditions just like anyone else.  His predestination was an extension of Augustine extending Paul.  The end result eliminates the "Arminian" elements of Paul.  The doctrine of penal substitution is an extension of Anselm extending the New Testament.
  • The fragmentation of Protestantism, as well as liberal Christianity, were simply playing out the founding principles of the Reformation.  When everyone thinks they just get their ideas from the Bible, then the polyvalence of language will facilitate tens of thousands of churches who all think they are just getting their ideas from the Bible alone.
  • Liberal Christianity was a natural offshoot of not allowing the words of the Bible to be read in more than literal ways.  If I must only stick with the "literal" meaning, then eventually the books fall apart as separate historical documents that are difficult to connect to each other.  The quest for historical meaning comes to undermine theological unity.
  • Although this course is primarily about world trends, I would hope students would locate themselves in relation to the world.  Some of the things that pre-occupy our minds might baffle world Christians with similar values to us but who can see the cultural elements of our thinking.

Saturday, August 13, 2011

Christian Proclamation

Next, Proclamation

1. Pastor, Church, and World
2. Cultural Contexts of Ministry
3. Bible as Scripture
4. Introduction to Theology
5. Missional Church
6. Congregational Leadership
7. Christian Worship

So Christian Proclamation

Preaching took on a character and prominence after the Reformation that was myopic in function and disproportionate to its effectiveness.  We can of course imagine it as anemic before the Reformation, but it comes to take center stage for the thinkers of the Reformation.  If before it was word and TABLE, now it becomes WORD and maybe table every once and a while.

Worship went left brain, so to speak.  The word of the Lord now becomes a cognitive set of propositions to believe. Most humans don't primarily work this way.  We are physical, emotional creatures.  The more senses we have involved in something, the more powerful the experience and the more we remember it.  Sitting and hearing a set of ideas, whether in the classroom or the pew, is the least likely to have any lasting impact on us.

Thus the rise of narrative sermons that take more the form of a story.  Thus the rise of all sorts of object lessons and creative activities that get us participating in the message or worship.  And of course there were the American Great Awakenings that heavily involved the emotions, the altar call.  Then there was charismatic worship that might involve "speaking," laughter, running the aisles, shouting, falling, and so forth.

I forgot what the current attention span is said to be--is it 7 minutes.  I personally think that a sermon that goes much over 20 minutes is wasting its time, especially if it is primarily in the form of conveying information.  As in the classroom, the lecturer may pat him or herself on the back for covering more material, but the students will only take about 10% of it with them.

I suspect that a well rounded preaching ministry will include a well rounded variety of forms and shapes--some narrative, some topical, perhaps some exegetical.  Some should teach, some should encourage, some should correct, all should aim at facilitating "the word of the Lord."  Craddock once said that a sermon needs to have an address, meaning it should land the plane at the airport in front of you.  But there is probably a place for general truth as well.  Most of the time, however, a plane that only circles the airport does not deliver anything.

The word of the Lord comes from God.  God speaks in many different ways.  He speaks directly.  He brings experiences.  We as Christians believe that he has especially spoken through Scripture.  Scripture is a sacrament of revelation that catalyzes God's speaking to a congregation.  God speaks through it.

We have had a tendency to objectify the revelation of Scripture and forget it is a window through which God "speaks" to us and we see God.  The Bible gives witness to God and Christ.  It is not an end in itself.  To focus on the Bible in a way that does not point beyond itself to the Word of God and to the Father of our Lord is to have an improper focus.

Not only that, but the polyvalence of language has regularly allowed the preacher to pretend that his or her words are obviously the word of God.  Because we can make words mean different things, we are able to pretend that our pet ideas and agendas are the word of God.  A fool with no wisdom or understanding can come to speak with the authority of God.

We are also wont to miss the distance that can exist between the revelatory relationship in the Bible between God and an ancient audience and God's relationship with us.  "God said it; I believe it; that settles it for me" can end up leading us not to eat a cheeseburger in Israel because "Do not boil the kid in its mother's milk."  The inability of many Christians to read the Bible in context has led to all kinds of oddities in the history of interpretation.

In terms of the way our congregations experience it, good preachers are generally born, not made, but any preacher can improve.  Some people, though, are not good communicators and never will be.  But perhaps they are great administrators or pastors.  And most importantly, they can be faithful.  Like worship, because we are human beings with certain characteristics, it is just the case that certain forms will have more effective results than others.

Few people these days will engage their audience as well reading from a manuscript.  But, then again, not everyone can speak fluidly with an outline or memorize enough to do well without anything.  Certainly a sermon that started with a manuscript will generally go smoother even when the manuscript is not used in the actual preaching.

God of course can speak regardless of the preacher and regardless of what the preacher might say or do.  But what makes for good content is wisdom.  The difference between simply reading the Bible and preaching, beyond the most important element of the Spirit, is what the preacher says and does.  The key to good content to fill this gap is wisdom.  Some people are built to have wisdom.  Some people bring wisdom because of their wealth of experience.  Some preachers do not have wisdom, but they can share the wisdom of others.

Preaching over time should cover the whole council of God and the whole text of Scripture.  Again, it is more important to cover the whole truth about Christ and God than to cover every text of the Bible.  Scripture points beyond itself and is not an end in itself.  But it is ideal that a pastor over time cover the whole text of Scripture.  The pastor who does not pay attention to the texts and topics s/he preaches will almost always repeat the same pet texts and topics over and over again.  This is the value of the lectionary.

If I were to have one bottom line piece of advice to a preacher it is to "know thyself."  It seems to me that the vast majority of preachers cannot distinguish well between their own preferred or inherited styles, between their own ideas, and the prophetic goal of facilitating a word from the Lord.  We need to learn how to get out of the way.  We must decrease, divine encounter through the word must increase.