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Riding the Unicorn Isn’t Easy Either (Theological Vocation, part 3)

Explosive Apple

This is the third part in our series on the economic realities of living a theological vocation in the academy. The first part focused on the difficult job market, and in the last post we discussed the challenges of making it as an adjunct. Now we’re going to turn our attention to the difficulties facing those who have already landed full-time positions.

First, as I already mentioned, theological schools around the country face declining enrollments, and I’m sure we all know people who have had their positions terminated as a result of the corresponding budget cuts. Although positions in higher education are probably still more stable than many, shaky economic realities have many wondering if they will still have jobs in years to come.

And those who have retained their jobs increasingly find that the nature of the vocation has changed around them. As institutions seek to be more flexible and reach more students, faculty face increased expectations to accommodate in ways they may not have originally anticipated. Teaching at multiple locations, on the weekends, or evenings, and creating and managing online learning courses are becoming normal aspects of the academic life, often leaves faculty wondering if this is really what they signed up for.

If declining enrollment and changing job expectations were the only challenges, though, we would be facing something relatively manageable. At least the fundamental nature of our industry would remain the same. The challenge, however, goes further, with many raising questions that go to the heart of the academic theological vocation itself. And this is happening at both the graduate and undergraduate levels.

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Flotsam and jetsam (12/8)

the new king of nativity scenes

the new king of nativity scenes

Good Reads

  • A United Evangelical Response: The System Failed Eric Garner: Not all evangelicals believed that Darren Wilson, a Ferguson, Missouri, police officer who killed unarmed teenager Michael Brown in August, should have been indicted in a recent grand jury hearing. Others were silent on the issue. But Wednesday’s events brought a more forceful, and more united response that justice had not been served. (Christianity Today)
  • 9 Things I Wish Everyone Knew About the Persecution of Christians: Americans like to believe they do not tolerate discrimination against blacks, gays, women, the elderly, or the disabled — we wear that belief as a badge of pride. So why does the persecution of Christians go ignored? Here are 9 things everyone needs to know about the persecution and discrimination of this religious group. (On Faith)
  • The Promise and Prospects of Retrieval: Recent Developments in Roman Catholic Thought that Shape Contemporary Dogmatic Theology: Broadly speaking, Catholic theology in the past twenty years has been characterized by three distinctive tendencies. The first is the decline of influence of the Rahnerianism of the post-Vatican II period. The second is the rise of influence of theologians associated with the Communio movement. The third is the return of interest in classical theological sources, marked particularly by the renaissance of Thomistic studies. I will consider each of these points briefly in turn. (Zondervan Academic Blog)
  • Stop Wasting Everyone’s Time: At the end of the day, many people wonder where all their time went. New data-mining tools are helping employers answer that question. The causes of overload have long been suspected—email and meetings—but new techniques that analyze employees’ email headers and online calendars are helping employers pinpoint exactly which work groups impose the most on employees’ time. (Wall Street Journal)

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Flotsam and jetsam (12/3)

morning

Good Reads

  • The Real Reasons Young Adults Drop Out of Church: he young adults who do drop out of church often lack a first-hand faith—a faith of their own—and a relationship with Christ that matters deeply in their own personal life apart from their parent’s pressure. (Ed Stetzer)
  • Five Things All Atheists Should Know about Religion: I’m an atheist who engages in secular activism and is active within the atheist community. I’m also doing doctoral work in the cognitive science of religion, and I’m sad to see so many atheists who have misguided and ignorant views about religion. Here are five things I wish more atheists knew. (On Faith)

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The Economic Realities of the Theological Vocation (part 1)

I often wonder if I should add another job title to my business cards: Crusher of Other People’s Dreams. A budding scholar walks into my office. She’s fallen in love with the idea of teaching theology and the vision of training Christian leaders so they are better equipped to serve the Church. And she just wants some advice on how to go about doing that, how to pursue a theological vocation in the academy. And although I usually try to lead with something warm and encouraging, I eventually have to drop the hammer: the job is harder than you think, the economic realities are worse than you think, and many spend years on the chase without ever catching the unicorn.

These are generally not fun conversations.

Preoccupied, worried young male worker staring at computer

I say more than that, of course. I happen to think that I have one of the greatest jobs in the world, and I’ll support anyone who is truly convinced that the unicorn is worth chasing. Before they start, though, I want to make sure they know that the unicorn is a sneaky beast. If you’re not careful, it will tear you in half with its pearly white horn.

To explain what I mean, I want to focus on two issues. First, the economic challenges facing anyone just starting to pursue a theological vocation in the academy. And second, some of the realities with which those of us already in place must deal. And I’ll conclude with just a few thoughts on some things we might need to consider moving forward, though I recognize that there are no easy solutions.

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Flotsam and jetsam (12/1)

instagram

Good Reads

  • Are the Divine Persons Persons? One of the key points throughout this essay is that dogmatic formulations have to be seen in continuity with the biblical presentation of the Trinity. Scripture is the touchstone of orthodoxy, because it is only in the economy that the ontological relations of the Persons are revealed. If the revelation doesn’t actually reveal, we are left with no idea of the character of God. (Peter Leithart)
  • The Dangerous Task of Expository Preaching: Just think about the ridiculous nature of preaching for a moment. People take an hour or so out of their week to listen to an oral presentation from an ancient book that contains documents that are over 2,000 years old. Now, why would one subject themselves to such torment? (Church Leaders)
  • Is Atheism a Specifically Western Phenomenon? The dichotomy is not western/non-Western. It is Abrahamic/non-Abrahamic. It is a rebellion against the monotheistic faiths that originated in the Middle East–Judaism, Christianity, Islam. It makes much less sense in a non-monotheistic environment. (Peter Berger)

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Flotsam and jetsam (11/14)

trex nativity

Good Reads

  • Latin America Is Losing Its Catholic Identity: A sweeping new survey, conducted by the Pew Research Center, finds that 69 percent of Latin American adults say they are Catholic, down from an estimated 90 percent for much of the 20th century. The decline appears to have accelerated recently: Eighty-four percent of those surveyed said they were raised Catholic, meaning there has been a 15-percentage-point drop-off in one generation. (New York Times)
  • Gay debate challenges traditional definitions of ‘evangelical’: Growing cultural acceptance of homosexuality is leading many Christians to reconsider their historic opposition. As intractable as the debate itself can be, American evangelicals nonetheless are experiencing lively conflicts over maintaining boundaries. What can you believe about gays and still call yourself an evangelical? And who gets to decide? (Religion News Service)
  • Don’t Waste Your Two Most Productive Hours: One of the saddest mistakes in time management is the propensity of people to spend the two most productive hours of their day on things that don’t require high cognitive capacity (like social media). If we could salvage those precious hours, most of us would be much more successful in accomplishing what we truly want. (New York Mag)

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Flotsam and jetsam (11/12)

angels

Good Reads

  • Majoring in Fear: Our fear has become a pathological condition, a desperate need to bring the future under control. And we seek therapy from colleges and universities, the therapy of cumulative achievement along clearly marked pathways to success. (First Things)
  • Can Money Buy You Happiness? It’s True to Some Extent. But Chances Are You’re not Getting the Most Bang for Your Buck. (Wall Street Journal)

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Flotsam and jetsam (11/10)

sleeping on couch

Good Reads

  • One-fifth of Americans share religious experience online: One in five Americans share their religious thoughts and experiences on social networks, and nearly half said they saw someone else post “something about their religious faith” on the Internet, according to a Pew Research Center study on religion and electronic media. (Los Angeles Times)
  • Technocracy Versus the Great Books: One of the great prejudices of our time is that direct information is king. But the great books offer another, more satisfying way to realize truth. (The Federalist)
  • A Muckraking Magazine Creates a Stir Among Evangelical Christians: The Jewish newspaper The Forward gleefully reports on the foibles of communal leaders, and Commonweal, run by lay Catholics, publishes work critical of the Roman Catholic hierarchy. But evangelical Protestant journalism is generally more public relations than reporting; World stands out as an exception. (New York Times)
  • Discipleship in the “Age of Authenticity”: The church’s response must be to proclaim a gospel that comes from outside ourselves – no matter how countercultural this may seem. When people in our culture discover how exhausting it is to try to be “true to themselves,” when looking further and further inward eventually shows them they haven’t the resources to transform their own lives, the church must be ready to break in with good news that life change isn’t mustered up from within but granted through grace from without. (Trevin Wax)

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Flotsam and jetsam (11/3)

mine fewer

Good Reads

  • Is Gospel Amnesia Creating a Third Great Schism? Unlike the last two, though, the split hasn’t resulted in a clear line between new denominations and old ones, but runs right through the various churches of the West. On one side stand those who affirm a broadly supernaturalist Christian orthodoxy embodied in the Nicene and Chalcedonian Creeds. And on the other, you find those who can at best recite the creeds with their fingers crossed. (Christianity Today)
  • Are You a Good Parent? It’s a loaded question, isn’t it? It seems to me that often the people who think they are great parents aren’t, and the parents who are doing a great job (even if imperfect) tend to feel their weakness the most acutely. (Julian Freeman)

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Flotsam and jetsam (10/30)

potential

Good Reads

  • A Catholic church schism under Pope Francis isn’t out of the question: Until this weekend, I had largely believed in the liberal narrative which holds that Pope Francis’s reforms of the Catholic church are unstoppable. But the conservative backlash has been so fierce and so far-reaching that for the first time a split looks a real, if distant, possibility. (The Guardian)

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