Free audio books from Amazon, Amazon’s audio-book company, is offering two free audio books if you sign up for a 1-month trial of their service. (I’d tell you how much it costs after that, but I didn’t bother to find out. I always cancel before the trail period runs out.) It looks like they’ve got a really good selection. So, if you have any kind of commute (like I do), this could be a good opportunity to pick up some new books for the road.

Roundtable discussion of C.S. Lewis

In this video, Alan Jacobs (The Narnian: The Life and Imagination of C.S. Lewis), Douglas Wilson (What I Learned in Narnia) and N. D. Wilson discuss C. S. Lewis’s writings, creativity, imagination, and the way that these relate to and express his worldview. It’s over an hour long, and I haven’t had time to watch more than a few minutes. But, it looks very interesting and should be worth your while if you have an hour or so to spare.


On tithing the firstruits of the Halloween spoils

David Regier has a fabulous post on the importance of kids dedicating a portion of the Halloween spoils to their fathers – From the book of Davidicus: When you eat of the spoils.

4 Of the Reese’s®, you shall devote them all, likewise the Snickers®. But take heed, lest you try to test your father and give him Skittles® instead of M&Ms®, and thereby incur his disfavor.

5 Of the Pixi Stix®, and the Sweet Tarts®, and the Kandy Korn®, you shall give him no part, for they are an abomination unto him. But of the Nestle Crunch® and Krackel®, you shall give him a portion, as a peace offering.

To this I can only say a hearty “amen.”

Make sure you read the rest of it if you’re looking for some post-Halloween entertainment.


Flotsam and jetsam (11/4)

The theology that is taught in almost all theological institutions around here is an ill-fitting version of Christianity that simply does not work here. The Christianity that results is not transforming lives or churches or communities or cultures or nations. In that sense, rather than reflecting what is happening theologically, these Western theologies may actually be erecting barriers preventing people here from experiencing the transforming power of the risen Christ.

“I cannot help thinking that the incarnational analogy may be more trouble than it is worth.  Chalcedon was designed to clarify the being of Jesus Christ, not Scripture.  Please do not misunderstand: there is nothing wrong with Chalcedon, just as there was nothing wrong with the paper clip I used so cleverly in my skateboard to replace a screw.  However, that improvisation ended with a broken arm.  I wonder, then, about the wisdom of using language formulated for one truth to express another.”

Here’s our context: they are bringing the ark to the house of Obed-edom, the future site of the Temple, and they are sacrificing. The context is cultic. The modern correlation to worship (i.e., singing) is false.

  • I forgot to mention earlier, but James McGrath has posted a link to what looks like a really useful set of resources from the Wabash Center for evaluating online resources. If you’re a teacher or student, check these out.

Advice on applying for a teaching position

In a recent Inside Higher Ed article, Thomas Wright offers some job-search advice based on some of the mistakes he made when applying for a teaching position. Let me summarize his main points and offer some of my own thoughts.

  1. Get to know the school. This just makes good sense. You can’t even put together a compelling application without getting to know the school, and you’ll look like an idiot in your interview if you don’t have some sense of its mission, purpose, history, student body, denominational ties, etc. You don’t have to spend months on this, but at least familiarize yourself with what’s on their website and in the school’s catalog.
  2. Don’t be afraid to apply for a position. I’ve made this mistake. You see the description of the position and you don’t think you really have a chance. Now, sometimes you’re right. If the description calls for 10 years of higher ed experience and you’re just getting started, don’t bother. But, sometimes you’re fully qualified for the position, but for some reason you don’t think you’ve got a shot (e.g., the school is too “prestigious.” Don’t sell yourself short. If you’re qualified for the position and you think you’d like to teach there, go for it. The worst that can happen is that you’ll contribute to the growing deforestation problem and global warming.
  3. Don’t be too humble. I hate this one, but it’s true. When you’re applying and interviewing for a job, this is not the time to reveal your tendency to turn everything in late, mock student questions, or dress as Little Miss Muffet every Halloween. It is the time to highlight everything that you do well. You’ll have to come up with at least a couple of “weaknesses” so you don’t sound too arrogant (e.g., I work too hard, I care about my students too much, etc.), but your main focus is to sell yourself. Usually, no one is going to do it for you.
  4. Proofread everything. Seriously, if you send in a CV or application with typos, you deserve not to get the job.
  5. Personalize your letters. This goes along with the first point. Take the time to find out who will be receiving your application and address your cover letter to them. It shows that you’ve done your homework and you’re not just blanketing the academic world with random applications.

There are a couple of things that I would add to this list if you’re applying for a position at an evangelical college/seminary in America, since that’s the context I know best.

  1. Read the doctrinal statement carefully. This one is probably the most obvious; but it’s important. And, beyond making sure that you could actually sign the doctrinal statement, I would pay particular attention to how the statement is constructed. Are there things in the statement that you don’t think should be there? If so, does that suggest an approach to things that will be narrower and more restrictive than you would prefer? Or, have they excluded things that you think are very important? If so, does that suggest anything about the direction of the school (current or eventual)?
  2. Find out about theological hotspots early. This can be difficult if they don’t make it explicit in their doctrinal statements (and they often won’t), but the best way is usually just to ask around. If a school has really staked out some territory on a theological issue, people usually know about it. You should also check out the list of faculty and do some internet searches to see if any particular issues pop up. And, don’t just do this in your area. Even if you’re a NT specialist, if there’s a hot-button issue among the faculty, they’ll expect you to know about it and have something intelligent to say.
  3. Check out the academic/ministry balance. Every evangelical school worth its salt has to deal with the balance it wants to strike between academics and ministry. Some will lean more toward one or the other, but most try to develop what they think is the best synthesis of the two. You want to identify that mix for two reasons. First, you’ll want to know if you resonate with that approach and will be a good fit for the school. Second, you’ll want to make that the way you present yourself is consistent with that perspective. Again, the best way to do this is to ask around. But, you can also get some good hints by reading between the lines on their website and in the catalog. Pay particular attention to what they’re not saying.

And, of course, the single best way to apply for a teaching position is to have the inside track from the very beginning. Name recognition works in academics every bit as well as it does in politics. The more people you know, the better positioned you’ll be when the time comes. Take advantage of every opportunity to meet people and get your name out there.

Ignatius, The Ultimate Youth Pastor

Okay, as a former youth pastor, this one just hurts. I think I met this guy at a youth retreat once. You don’t need to watch the whole thing, but it does do a nice job highlighting where youth ministry can (and often does) go terribly, horribly wrong.




Should we read less in seminary?

Jon Bloom posted a quote from John Piper today, which argued that seminaries produce bad, superficial readers because we’re simply requiring too much reading. Here’s the quote from Piper’s book Brothers, We Are Not Professionals:

I [do not] want to give the impression that I think there is virtue in reading many books. In fact one of my greatest complaints in seminary was that professors trained students in bad habits of superficial reading because they assigned too many books. I agree with Spurgeon: “A student will find that his mental constitution is more affected by one book thoroughly mastered than by twenty books which he has merely skimmed, lapping at them.” God save us from the allurement of “keeping up with Pastor Jones” by superficial skimming. Forget about “keeping up.” It only feeds pride and breeds spiritual barrenness. Instead devote yourself to boring in and going deep. There is so much soul-refreshing, heart-deepening, mind-enlarging truth to be had from great books!

What do you think? Do you think that the amount of reading required in Bible schools and seminaries detracts from or contributes to quality learning?

I have been so helped by John Piper’s recommendation in his book, Brothers, We Are Not Professionals:

Flotsam and jetsam (11/2)

  • from The Daily What

    Today, is election day, don’t forget to vote.

Second, physical manufacturing and distribution expenses cost less than you think. Some people assume that these two items represent the bulk of a book’s costs. They don’t. Together, they account for about 12% of a physical book’s retail price. So eliminating these costs doesn’t do much to reduce the overall cost structure.

That is what mere Christianity evangelicalism is: a movement of ecclesiastical, historical, and theological amnesia.

  • A South African pastor generates worldwide attention with a sermon series titled, “Jesus was HIV positive.”

Wherever you open the scriptures Jesus puts himself in the shoes of people who experience brokenness. Isaiah 53, for example, clearly paints a picture of Jesus who takes upon himself the infirmities and the brokenness of humanity.

Who are the “must reads” in theology? (part 2)

Yesterday I started a short series on “must reads” in theology. In other words, who are the the theologians that you simply must read if you are going to study theology seriously. And, to be very clear, I’m not trying to address the question of whether these are must-reads for all Christians (they’re not), but only what it means to say that someone is a must-read for students of theology. (Whether they are also must-reads for people involved in biblical studies is something that I’ll leave for someone else to answer.)

Yesterday’s post focused on the clearest kind of must-read: those theologians with such historical significance that you really can’t understand entire theological traditions, or at least significant theological eras/movements, without understanding these theologians to some degree.

Today, I want to explore a different kind of must-read: people you consider to be a must-read because of the inherent value of their theology. This is to use “must” in a very different sense from yesterday’s post. People in this category really aren’t  necessary for studying theology seriously. So, from one perspective, they are not must-reads. But, there are some theologians you think are important enough that you want to identify them as must-reads for any serious student of theology anyway.

Understanding the category in this way, of course, means that this kind of must-read is necessarily more subject that the former category. For the most part, those theologians who qualify as historical must-reads is really not debatable. Like most attempts to categorize people, there will always be questions at the margin. But it’s usually not that difficult to identify people who defined an entire theological tradition. To say that someone is a must-read for their inherent theological value, though, is entirely different.

I can think of three reasons that you might want to identify someone as a must-read in this more subjective sense. First, you might find their theology so personally compelling that you think  any serious student of theology simply must be exposed to their way of thinking. This is generally what I think people mean when they say that Williams, Hauerwas, Jenson, or Gutierrez is a must-read. As I argued yesterday, I don’t think you can argue definitively that any living theologian is a historical must-read. So, any of these would have to be must-reads in the latter sense.

A second possibility is to say that someone is a must-read in this sense because you anticipate that they will eventually become a historical must-read. This is a tricky endeavor because it requires predicting which contemporary theologians you think will have “staying power” and will go on to become one of the great theologians that future generations will continue studying. I accidentally broke my crystal ball while using it to scare aware the neighbor’s cat, so I don’t make these kinds of predictions anymore. But, if you think you’re onto something, by all means call someone a must-read in this futurist sense.

And, the third option would be to say that someone is a must-read because they are shaping contemporary theological dialog to such a degree that the serious theological student simply must know about them regardless of whether you find them personally compelling or as having future significance. This one’s tough because you’d basically be saying that people need to study someone even though you think they have no inherent or lasting value. I can think of other ways that I’d rather spend my time. But, sometimes you have the bite the bullet if you really want to know your field.

So, I think that the label “must read” can be used meaningfully even in this more subjective sense. We probably should change this to “should read,” but it loses a lot of its rhetorical impact. Maybe “otta read” would work better.

The Dogmatics Have Landed

Or is it the Dogmatics has landed? Either way, the box arrived today with my brand new set of Karl Barth’s Church Dogmatics. Now I just need to find a place to put them.

For those of you wondering why I would need to purchase the Dogmatics when I’ve been studying Barth for a while now, it’s because I’ve never had a complete set of the Dogmatics. I’ve been piecing mine together as needed, and, until now, I was still missing three volumes. At the sale price of $99 for the whole set, it was actually more expensive to purchase the three volumes I was missing than just to buy the whole set all at once. So, now I have a really spiffy set of new books. (Isn’t “spiffy” a great word?)

Unfortunately, I’ll have to hold on to most of my older volumes because I don’t want to let go of all the underlining and note-taking they represent. But, it does look like two of the volumes are still in new condition. Maybe I’ll offer them up as giveaways soon.