How Do We Work for Justice and Not Undermine Evangelism?

That is the question that The Gospel Coalition has been asking this week, soliciting responses from Don Carson, Ray Ortlund, Russell Moore, and Mike Wittmer. In sum, they responded as follows:

Don Carson:

  • By making sure that we actually do evangelism.
  • By being careful not to malign believers of an earlier generation.
  • By learning, with careful study of Scripture, just what the gospel is, becoming passionately excited about this gospel, and then distinguishing between the gospel and its entailments.
  • By truly loving people in Jesus’ name.

Ray Ortlund

  • By changing the question to, “How can Christians neglect the work of justice in the world without undermining evangelism?”

Russell Moore

  • By aligning our mission with the mission of Jesus, which included not just personal regeneration but also disciple-making.
  • By understanding the gospel accounts in terms of redemptive love for the whole person, both body and soul.
  • By understanding the gospel as a message of reconciliation that is both vertical and horizontal, establishing peace with both God and neighbor.

Mike Wittmer

  • By recognizing that Christians need to stop the perpetrators of evil and violence.
  • By recognizing that Christians need to seek justice to help the victims of oppression.
  • By understanding that we do both of these ultimately because we love Jesus – we do these things, and we tell them about Jesus while we do, because they matter to him.

Reading through these responses, I have to say that I resonated with Russell Moore’s the most (though Carson’s was pretty good). Moore was the one who made the clearest connection between the Gospel as the good news of God’s redemptive plans for his entire creation, and the things that we do in the world as those who have been transformed by that Gospel and now act as its witnesses/messengers in the world. So, social justice dovetails with evangelism in that both are necessary aspects of those who live as messengers of the Kingdom. As such, neither necessarily undermines the other. But, both can become obstacles to the other when we lose sight of their unity in the Gospel.

Sacramento hates me

Why is my plane always delayed when I’m flying out of Sacramento? What did I ever do to Scramento?

Is my search finally over? The MacBook Air 11.6″ is pretty tempting

I’ve posted a couple of times now on my search for some new technology in my life. Should I get both a new laptop and an eBook reader, or should I try to find something that can serve both purposes? I’ve gotten a lot of good advice on both sides, but I’m still torn. So, I still haven’t made any decisions.

And then Apple comes along and makes everything worse. The MacBook Air is very tempting. The 11.6″ version may be just what I’m looking for. It’s small enough to meet my travel needs, but it’s still powerful enough to serve as a real laptop (as opposed to the iPad). And, although it’s a bit pricier than I’d wanted, it’s not completely out of reach. So, I’m tempted.

What are the drawbacks? Well, it’s Apple. Do I really need to go further? My computing life (both work and personal) is entirely MS based. All the computers, networks, and software that I use and own operate in the universe that the rest of the world lives in. Is the MacBook Air really worth making the switch to Appledom? I’m not sure that my psyche could handle the transition.

So, I’m still torn. And, that probably means that I’ll continue to visit computer websites and drool pointlessly over trinkets, gadgets, and doo dads that I won’t actually buy. Maybe it’s actually a form of entertainment. I should see a professional.

Do schools have an obligation to make sure there’s a job market?

I was intrigued by a recent Inside Higher Ed article discussing a Boston College law student with an unusual proposal.

An anonymous Boston College law student has published an open letter asking his dean to let him leave the law school without a diploma this semester (two and a half years into the program) in return for getting his tuition money back. The student writes that he was convinced to go to law school by “empty promises of a fulfilling and remunerative career,” and that now he faces the likely prospect of huge debts and no decent job.

My initial reaction was to think that it’s really the student’s responsibility to check out the job market and understand whether the cost of the education is justified given the education received (which surely has at least some value by itself) and the vocational prospects.

But, as I reflected just  bit further, I started to see it rather differently. I’m not sure how many people graduate every year with their PhDs in Bible or theology, but I do know that they far outstrip the number of teaching positions that are available to them. (That may change in the future with the impending retirements of a large percentage of Bible/theology faculty and the long hoped for economic recovery; but those changes may also be outweighed by technological advances and the changing economic models for many schools.) That means that there are quite a few doctoral programs out there who know full well that the job market cannot sustain the number of graduates that they’re producing. Yet, those same doctoral programs don’t seem to be reducing the number of applicants they accept as a result. Instead, these doctoral programs continue and new ones crop up with some regularity.

What do you think? Do schools have any obligation to adjust their admissions practices based on the likelihood that their graduates will find a job? Or, do they at least have an obligation to make the reality of the job market clear to prospects and/or make job-placement data publicly available? Or, is the responsibility entirely on the student?

The Rise and Fall of Accreditation in America

One of the first things that I had to learn about when I became an academic dean was the world of accreditation. What is it? What’s it for? Why do I seem to spend so much time on it? A recent position paper by The Center for College Affordability and Productivity does a very nice job of summarizing the history and purpose of accreditation in America, along with its greatest challenges, most troubling failures, and the likelihood of significant changes in the future. The report, “The Inmates Running the Asylum: An Analysis of Higher Education Accreditation,” is worth at least a quick skim if you want to understand the accreditation world better. And, if you’re involved (or would like to be involved) in higher education, accreditation is something you should know at least something about.

The authors begin with a pretty pointed summary of their view on modern accreditation.

If the nation were starting afresh on accreditation, we predict it would devise a radically different system than the one it has become over the past century. Would we have multiple regional accrediting agencies? We doubt it. Would the accreditors be private entities largely controlled by individuals themselves affiliated with the institutions that they certify? We doubt it. Would accreditation largely be “an-all-ornothing”proposition, where institutions are simply “accredited” or “non-accredited” with few distinctions in between? We doubt it. Would an accrediting mechanism be permitted where key elements of the assessment are not available for public review? We doubt it. Would accrediting that sometimes emphasizes inputs rather than outcomes be permitted? Again, we doubt it. In short, there are numerous characteristics of today’s system of accreditation that are subject to questioning and criticism. (1)

The authors do a nice job explaining the four eras in the historical development of accreditation (pre-1936, 1936-1952, 1952-1985, and 1085-present). The most helpful part here was their explanation of how accreditation shifted from being a largely voluntary, self-governing process in the early years, to one focused on meeting certain standards in order to be eligible for government funding after the passage of the GI Bill (1944, 1952) and the Higher Education Act (1965). The authors then assess how successful accreditation has been in each era with regard to a number of factors:

  • Quality Improvement
  • Quality Assurance (defining appropriate measures of quality, certifying minimum quality, informing the public)
  • Promoting the Health and Efficiency of Higher Education (preserving historical strengths, promoting efficiency)

In each case, they argue that accreditation practices were generally more effective in the earlier years when accreditation was voluntary and not connected to federal funding.

One of the more interesting aspects of the article was their contention that modern accreditation largely fails because it’s trying to serve two, mutually exclusive purposes. First, accreditation tries to promote institutional development. Having just been through an accreditation visit not too long ago, I can attest to the fact that one of the primary emphases is on helping the institution improve at what the institution claims it is trying to do. And, given the diversity of educational institutions, these purposes and goals are determined by each school. So, the school determines the target and the accreditors come along side to help the school get better at hitting its target. Indeed, one of the reasons that the accreditation process is largely confidential is because accreditors want/need to the schools to disclose candidly their areas of weakness so they can facilitate improvement.

That’s all well and good until you realize that a second purpose of accreditation is supposed to be quality control. Quality control isn’t about helping a school improve; it’s about measuring whether a school is performing up to some minimal level of expectation. And, quality control isn’t for the benefit of the institution (primarily), but for the benefit of the public. Quality control serves to determine which institutions are performing satisfactorily so that they should continue receiving government funds for the benefit of society. For quality control to work in this sense, though, it would seem that you need clear standards of acceptable performance that transcend institutional differences and are publicly available.

Somewhat surprisingly (to me), the authors end up arguing that the second function, quality control, is the one that needs to remain the primary emphasis for accreditation moving forward. They make this argument partly from a rather pragmatic perspective. Federal funding for higher education isn’t going away, and as long as it’s around, there will be a need for some kind of quality control mechanism. Since modern accreditation is simply incapable of handling that task, they argue that it needs to be jettisoned and a completely new system put in its place. But, they also think that higher education needs to focus much more on measuring student learning and performance as the primary indicator of success. So, they argue for the creation of clearer, discipline-specific standards for learning that could be used to measure quality across institutions.

Flotsam and jetsam (10/22)

What churches often do less well is grieve. We lack a ritual for the long and tiring process that is sorrow and loss. A friend of mine whose husband recently died put it like this: “For about two weeks the church was really the church—really awesomely, wonderfully the church. Everyone came to the house, baked casseroles, carried Kleenex. But then the two weeks ended, and so did the consolation calls.” While you the mourner are still bawling your eyes out and slamming fists into the wall, everyone else, understandably, forgets and goes back to their normal lives and you find, after all those crowds of people, that you are left alone. You are without the church, and without a church vocab-ulary for what happens to the living after the dead are dead.

  • Dave Block offers some good thoughts on how to master Greek. None of the advice is terribly new, but it is a good reminder that learning Greek (or any language) is a continuous process.

So you’re studying New Testament Greek and finding it a bit of a challenge. A lot of people don’t stick with it. “I tried learning Greek and it didn’t work for me.” The problem with these people may just be that they never learned persistence. Do you want to master the Greek language and be able to use it in your walk with God and in your service for Him? If you do, you will have to put forth some effort. How can we “stick with it” in a practical sense?!

Cockatoo: If you’ve ever seen the cockatoos at a pet store and thought about keeping these large and magnificent birds- don’t. Yes, they are beautiful, and yes, they are relatively smart. But, they will cost you $1,035 a year after spending $1,535 the first year. And these guys are no guinea pigs. Expect your cockatoo to live for 50 years, costing you a total of $52,250.

  • And, on a similar note, here are instructions for how to pet a kitty. I’m not sure why you would want to pet a kitty. But, if you’re going to do it, you should learn to do so safely. HT

Flotsam and jetsam (10/21)

Purdue University scholars found that between 1996 and 2004, Americans who saw Christian identity as a “very important” attribute of being American increased from 38 percent to 49 percent.

The process started with a selection committee, chosen from the Lausanne network including one representative from each of 12 regions globally. That committee chose a selection director for each of 200 countries. According to Lindsay Brown, international director for Cape Town 2010, the committee looked for “Christian statesmen” who would be fair-minded in trying to represent the whole church in their country, not merely their friends or fellow church members. That chair gathered a selection committee, vested with the authority to choose delegates for their country.

Any religion’s greatest prayers should be addressed to the whole world. If a prayer only speaks to you, that’s fine. But I would like to hear you speaking to all of us. The Lord’s Prayer is the greatest because it comes from the heart of Judaism and the lips of Christianity—but speaks to the conscience of the world.

Sheep bites can’t kill me, but the gnawing will make life miserable a few days each year.

Christmas came early: book giveaways around the blogosphere

There are a number of book giveaways going on right now. So, if you’re looking for some new loot, check out one of these.

5 things you won’t believe aren’t in the Bible

Cracked offers a list of 5 things you won’t believe aren’t in the Bible. Most of this is pretty common knowledge among those who actually read the Bible, although I found some of the comments interesting. Others were just funny.

Since Cracked isn’t always safe viewing material, I’ve listed them below along with some of their more interesting comments.

  1. Angels. Now, there are angels in the Bible. But if you encountered some of the angels it describes, you’d probably need a shotgun under your bed to sleep soundly for the rest of your life. NOTE: that is a joke. If angels turn out to be real, and you encounter one, do not shoot it with a shotgun.
  2. The Devil Is Red, and Has Horns, a Pitchfork and Goat Legs. Not one inch of that is in the Bible. Anywhere. Not even the goatee (and this is a book where every other character has a goatee. Or at least we picture it that way).
  3. The Holy Grail. If you try to find the story of the magical cup in the Bible, you’ll wind up flipping around confused, thinking you’ve got an abridged version or something. (Okay, seriously? People actually think this is in the Bible?)
  4. The Antichrist. The Antichrist is mentioned only four times in the Bible, and each time he’s described the same way: ”Many deceivers, who do not acknowledge Jesus Christ as coming in the flesh, have gone out into the world. Any such person is the deceiver and the Antichrist.” (2 John 1:7) Yep: The Antichrist is anyone who doesn’t believe in Christ. The “anti” is basically being used the same way it’s used when we say someone is “anti-war.” So anyone who wants to accuse Richard Dawkins of being the Antichrist is actually entirely correct, and what’s more, he’ll agree with you. (They do go on to point out that much of the material traditionally associated with the Antichrist comes from things like the beast and the false prophet in Revelation.)
  5. Hell. The only part you’ll find in the Bible is the fact that Hell sucks and that there is fire (from passages like Matthew 13:42: “And shall cast them into a furnace of fire: there shall be wailing and gnashing of teeth.”) And … that’s as specific as it gets.

Stephen Colbert on The View

I can’t believe that I’m actually referring to The View on this blog, but since it involves Stephen Colbert, I guess it’s okay. Colbert appeared on The View today and, in typical Colbert fashion, accused them of having bedbugs in their couch and of being rude to Bill O’Reilly. He then storms off the set in a huff, before returning to apologize for his rudeness. The most fun part, as usual, is watching everyone else try to have a serious conversation with him while he’s doing all of this. It’s good stuff.

I couldn’t embed the video, but you can watch it here.