Sunday, November 25, 2018

The Future of Christian Universities

I was thinking this weekend about how Christian colleges might strategize for the future. More than one threat is converging on us:
  • Massive demographic shifts are coming. These will be especially difficult for midwestern colleges and universities. 2025 is forecasted to see around a 15% drop in college age students.
  • Part of such demographic shifts is a diversification of the population, meaning that the typical evangelical college is in serious trouble.
  • Students are leaving high school with one or more years of college credit. My daughter will graduate from high school this year with an associate's degree (=around 60 credit hours). This fact means that even if they come to you, they will be with you for a significantly shorter period of time.
  • Students have lots of less expensive options and the value proposition of a more expensive Christian college is not clear to them or their parents.
  • The online market is saturated. It's no longer enough to go online. There has to be a reason to choose you among the many online options. 
  • Satellite campuses also seem on the decline.
  • My pastor, Steve Deneff, has predicted a backlash against evangelicals whenever the Trump presidency ends. We have just seen the biggest "blue wave" since Watergate. Unless the situation changes, we should expect a similar wave in the Senate in 2020. This dynamic probably does not bode well for Christian colleges associated with evangelicalism.
  1. Only make essential replacements. By all means don't panic! Nevertheless, the next 7 years are years to prepare for the Mariana Trench in demographic decline that is coming. There may be some good years coming in the meantime. So use retirements and natural departures to contract naturally in preparation.
  2. Diversify. Find ways to hire people and bring students who broaden your audience. Do so on every level--student, faculty, administration, top leadership. I've seen some great movement in this direction at Indiana Wesleyan where I work.
  3. Expand or move into graduate programs, especially 3+2 programs. If they are coming for fewer years in undergraduate programs, find seamless ways to keep them into graduate programs. Again, the KERN program at IWU where I work has done this magnificently.
  4. Make your value proposition clear. What is your distinctive? What are your faculty's superpowers? What is your region? What is your specific Christian tradition--what flavor of Christianity is your school? What is your identity or identities? What is your online distinctive? Build on what you have!
  5. Make it less expensive for as many students as possible. If you have a clear identity, you may be able to find donors who like it and are willing to give to it. If the government stops giving federal loans to students in Christian colleges, we may need some huge endowments to increase scholarships. Possibly start with certain pockets of students.
  6. Adopt a "Christian host" model. This approach might be easier for the Wesleyan tradition than some others, but I consider my own college a place where, as long as you are civil, anyone is welcome. The beliefs of the host university are clear, but you will be treated with respect if you are an atheist student. Professors obviously must be believers with a living faith, but we can have professors who respect the Wesleyan host without full agreement on every doctrine. And willingness to live within community ethos is acceptable, even if one's conscience is freer. 
So those are some of my ideas on how Christian universities can continue to thrive despite changing times. 

Saturday, November 24, 2018

Gadamer's Truth and Method: Introduction (1960)

A couple years ago I started to translate Hans Georg Gadamer's Wahrheit and Methode, a classic in hermeneutics and philosophy. Way more than I have the time to do. But I am starting ahead on a renewed New Year's resolution for next year--to read through it. Over thanksgiving I read the introduction again. Here is a summary.
In his introduction, Hans-Georg Gadamer indicates that his book is about hermeneutics, not in the sense of a method of interpretation but the nature of interpretation itself. Indeed, he argues that the question of interpretation is not a matter of method. The key is to understand the role that tradition plays in interpretation. Gadamer's question is about the nature of knowledge and truth (xx). [1]

In the modern age, science thinks that its scientific method is objective and stands outside such traditions, but even science cannot avoid the nature of understanding. There is no domain of understanding that transcends the nature of the experience of truth. There is a tendency, even in philosophy, to think the thinkers of the past as inferior to contemporary philosophical insights. Nevertheless, "That in the understanding of the texts of these great thinkers, truth is known that would not be attainable in another way" (xxi).

"Truth comes to speech" by way of historical tradition (xxii). "The experience [Erfahrung] of the historical tradition [Überlieferung] reaches fundamentally beyond that which [objectively] explorable." There is an event involved in all understanding, an event that presupposes the traditions in which we stand. Historical consciousness weakens those presuppositions very little. This dynamic is true of "the whole of our hermeneutical experience."

There was a radical rupture [Einschnitt] with the past in the emergence of historical consciousness [geschichtliches Bewusstsein] in the last century. "The naive innocence has been been lost with which one made the ideas of tradition [Tradition] servants to one's own thinking" (xxiii-xxiv). Nevertheless, it cannot overcome the nature of hermeneutics. "To be conscientious in our thinking, we must become aware of these presuppositions" (xxiv).

[1] Although the page numbers correlate to the English translation by Joel Weinsheimer and Donald G. Marshall, Truth and Method, 2nd ed. (London: Bloomsbury, 2013 [1989]), the translations are my own.

For Patrons: Herod Agrippa II

My podcast/video for patrons this week is now available. I had what I thought was a big aha moment in the middle of researching for this podcast, an interesting argument for the historicity of the basic events of Acts 21-26.

Patrons are those who donate at least $5 a month to my page, supporting my daily podcast commentaries on Acts, along with the daily videos on the Greek of these same passages.

Sunday, November 18, 2018

For Patrons: Roman Citizenship

My podcast/video for patrons this week is now available. This is a quick look at the privileges of a Roman citizen, as well as how one might become one.

Patrons are those who donate at least $5 a month to my page, supporting my daily podcast commentaries on Acts, along with the daily videos on the Greek of these same passages.

Sunday, November 11, 2018

The Centennial of the Armistice

1. A hundred years ago today, World War I ended. It seems like the day should be marked. It was a stupid war, a testament to fallen human nature. Of course all wars are stupid. All wars are a testament to fallen human nature.

Nevertheless, because of fallen human nature, wars must be fought. I am sad for the British, French, and Germans who died in this ego war between kings with too much testosterone for their own good. Some 50,000 Americans died too.

2. America entered the war because the Germans kept sinking passenger ships with Americans on them. The last straw was the Housatonic. We only entered the war in 1917, but it seemed to be a tipping point. The war ended November 11, 1918.

Hitler and others were incensed that the Germans gave up. And the war reparations were unbearable on Germany. These factors were not the whole cause of Hitler's rise to power, but they were factors.

3. Both my grandfathers registered on September 12, 1918. It must have been required since they were in different counties. But of course the war was over less than a month later.

4. The war was fought because of a cascade of treaties between nations, triggered because of an incompetent assassin and an equally ridiculous crown prince. Then the chest beating began. Chemical weapons, trench warfare, the evolution of artillery, U-boats that sunk ships--all lovely developments of WW1. See Wonder Woman for some additional events that didn't happen.

We are not beyond such wars. There are still world leaders who wouldn't give a second thought to send the youth of their nation to their deaths. There are still world leaders who care for little more than themselves and their own egos. The masses are still easily manipulated and large numbers can easily be convinced that it's time to fight a war.

One hundred years on and humanity is exactly the same.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

For Patrons: Jewish Afterlife Traditions

My podcast/video for patrons this week is now available. Acts 23:8 has such an intriguing statement on Pharisee and Sadducee views on resurrection that I decided to give some of my old research on Jewish afterlife traditions. The four afterlife positions are: 1) no meaningful afterlife, 2) immediate reward or punishment, 3) otherworldly resurrection, 4) physical resurrection.

Patrons are those who donate at least $5 a month to my page, supporting my daily podcast commentaries on Acts, along with the daily videos on the Greek of these same passages.

Friday, November 09, 2018

Desiderata by Max Ehrmann

For some reason, this poem popped into my head today. It was on the wall of one of my classrooms in high school. I can't remember what class it was, possibly an English class one year. I didn't necessarily like the poem. I'm not sure I ever actually read it all the way through, but the first two lines seem to have stuck in my head and the first line of the second stanza always made me chuckle.

Nevertheless, I leave it here in memoriam of high school. Seems like it was on the east wall of the room. Was it a male teacher? Packard for history? Gauss for freshman English?
Go placidly amid the noise and haste, and remember what peace there may be in silence.
As far as possible, without surrender, be on good terms with all persons.
Speak your truth quietly and clearly; and listen to others,
even to the dull and ignorant; they too have their story.

Avoid loud and aggressive persons, they are vexations to the spirit.
If you compare yourself with others, you may become vain and bitter,
for always there will be greater and lesser persons than yourself.
Enjoy your achievements as well as your plans.

Keep interested in your own career, however humble;
it is a real possession in the changing fortunes of time.
Exercise caution in your business affairs, for the world is full of trickery.
But let this not blind you to what virtue there is;
many persons strive for high ideals,
and everywhere life is full of heroism.

Be yourself. Especially do not feign affection. Neither be cynical about love;
for in the face of all aridity and disenchantment it is as perennial as the grass.
Take kindly the counsel of the years, gracefully surrendering the things of youth.
Nurture strength of spirit to shield you in sudden misfortune.
But do not distress yourself with dark imaginings.
Many fears are born of fatigue and loneliness.

Beyond a wholesome discipline, be gentle with yourself.
You are a child of the universe no less than the trees and the stars;
you have a right to be here. And whether or not it is clear to you,
no doubt the universe is unfolding as it should.

Therefore be at peace with God, whatever you conceive Him to be.
And whatever your labors and aspirations, in the noisy confusion of life,
keep peace with your soul. With all its sham, drudgery and broken dreams,
it is still a beautiful world. Be cheerful. Strive to be happy.

Saturday, November 03, 2018

For Patrons: Paul and the Gentiles

My podcast/video for patrons this week is now available. Given that Paul speaks of a vision he had about the Gentiles in Acts 22, I stepped back to speculate about how and when Paul's sense of himself as an apostle to the Gentiles might have developed.

Patrons are those who donate at least $5 a month to my page, supporting my daily podcast commentaries on Acts, along with the daily videos on the Greek of these same passages.