Just because….God spice

“Sadly, your God’s not me. But, with great Old Spice Body Wash he, she, or it could smell like me.”

You knew it had to happen sooner or later. (By the way, the Hello Kitty cameo alone is worth a watch.)



Morning links (9/16)

Despite the outpouring of support for the previous title “Flotsam and jetsam” (yes, in my world four comments qualifies as an “outpouring”), I’m going to stick with a simpler title for a while and see how it works.

Romans commentary winner!

We had a great response for our giveaway of Doug Moo’s commentary on Romans. Sadly, though, I was only dumb enough to have acquired one spare copy. So, that’s all I have to give away.

The winner of our little contest was Kevin Sam who runs an interesting blog over at New Epistles. If you’re particularly frustrated that you didn’t win the commentary, you can probably go over there and leave him hate comments or something. I’m sure that’s what Paul would have done anyway.

I’ve also been contacted by someone who liked the idea of sharing the wealth by giving away duplicates of good books, and that person has contributed another really good book for us to give away next. Keep an eye out for that announcement soon.

How to write less badly

The Chronicle of Higher Education had a good article last week on the importance of writing well, or at least less badly, in graduate school. Michael C. Munger, the author, starts by arguing that writing is the single most important factor in separating good students from mediocre ones in graduate school.

Many of the graduate students who were stars in the classroom during the first two years—the people everyone admired and looked up to—suddenly aren’t so stellar anymore. And a few of the marginal students—the ones who didn’t care that much about pleasing the professors by reading every page of every assignment—are suddenly sending their own papers off to journals, getting published, and transforming themselves into professional scholars.The difference is not complicated. It’s writing.

I’m not as convinced that good writing is the only factor separating good and mediocre students, but it certainly is an important one. The good news is that you can always learn to write better. Indeed, Munger’s whole point is that grad students need to keep working on their writing skills.

To that end, he offers the following advice:

  1. Writing is an exercise. Practice a lot.
  2. Set goals based on output, not input. Set your goals based on word/page count, not time spent.
  3. Find a voice; don’t just “get published. I think this one needs to be more of a both/and. No one can afford to ignore the question of whether your work will get published, but that can’t be the only consideration.
  4. Give yourself time. You do not do your best work at the last minute. No one does.
  5. Everyone’s unwritten work is brilliant. The one who actually writes something is doing the real work; coming up with “brilliant” ideas is the easy part.
  6. Pick a puzzle. Find a question worth wrestling with.
  7. Write, then squeeze other things in. This one is by far the hardest part for me. I’m too easily distracted by other things that I need (want) to do.
  8. Not all of your thoughts are profound. I’m sure this is true for most people.
  9. Your most profound thoughts are often wrong. Also probably true for most people.
  10. Edit your work, over and over. Please.

His reflections on each of these points was far more helpful than mine. Check it out.

Morning links (9/15)

Okay, I finally got one too many comments from people who either couldn’t figure out what “flotsam and jetsam” means (originally a nautically term referring to the debris left after a shipwreck, it’s also used to refer to “odds and ends” in general), or who wondered if I’m just a big Little Mermaid fan (which, by the way, says more about you than it does me). So, I’m going to drop that title for a while and go with something that will hopefully be a little clearer. But, just in case there’s still some uncertainty out there, let me explain:

  • “Morning” = that period of the day between when I wake up and when my coffee has finally kicked in.
  • “Links” = those underlined/colored/highlighted words on the screen that take you places when you click on them.

Now, that we’ve taken care of that business, here are some links for this morning.

Can’t I disagree with you just because I don’t like you?

I recently had to perform a diagnostic on my racionator (i.e. that part of me that thinks and draws “logical” conclusions). I had picked up a journal article and was just starting to get a feel for the author’s thinking when he revealed that he would be critiquing the position of someone I really don’t like that much. He bugs me. He doesn’t bug me in the same way that Paul Tillich does. I’ve never met Paul Tillich (mostly because he died before I was born), so Tillich doesn’t bug me on a personal level. I just don’t care for his particular approach to pretty much everything. (That’s not entirely fair given that he bugs me so much that I haven’t read enough of what he’s written to know if he really should bug me as much as he does.) But, this guy’s not like that. I don’t have a theological problem with him. And, he doesn’t even bug me in the same way as that jerk in Barnes and Noble who keeps jabbering on his cell phone while I’m trying to enjoy a nice cup of coffee and sponge some free reading from the magazine section. He’s not rude or anything. No, for some reason I just don’t like this guy. I can’t put my finger on it, but it’s still there.

So, as soon as I saw his name in this journal article, I immediately found myself gravitating toward the conclusion that his position (whatever it is) must be wrong. It was fascinating. It’s like a found myself on that slippery slope everyone keeps worrying about, inevitably sliding toward the conclusion that this guy just has to be wrong. Please, oh please, let him be wrong.

Then I came face-to-face with how easy it is to oppose someone just because you don’t like them. Often it is someone you don’t like for theological reasons. I can’t count the number of times that I’ve found students unfairly criticizing someone who is in a different theological camp than they are. They’re more than willing to be fair and give the “benefit of the doubt” to people on their side of the fence. But those other guys, forget it. They’re definitely wrong. Other times you might not like someone for more personal reasons. Was Luther an anti-Semite? That’s a question for another post. But, if he was, would that impact how you assess other aspects of his theology? Could Terry Jones be right on something other than whether we should threaten to burn the Qur’an? Probably not, but it’s at least worth considering. Because, of course, the fact that I don’t like what you have to say about X – or even the fact that you are just flat wrong about X, which is basically the same thing – does not necessarily have any bearing on what I should think about your opinion of Y. If Y is a separate issue, then Y has to be evaluated separately. Even if I don’t like you. That is inherent in the task of good academic discourse.

So, was he wrong? Do I get to bask in the joy of knowing that someone I don’t like was wrong yet again? I don’t know. I haven’t finished reading the article yet. I stopped to write this post.

(By the way, this doesn’t hold when I’m grading papers. It’s perfectly okay for me to grade you down on a paper just because I don’t like you. I do it all the time. That’s one of the privileges that comes from being on this side of the desk. That and not having to play the “What does this essay question even mean?” game anymore.)

Flotsam and jetsam (9/14)

Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason

Guest Post by Danielle Kahut (Western Seminary Student)

A critical dimension in the theological discussion, whether emphasis shall be placed on the objective study of Scripture or the subjective experience of the individual, has its roots in Immanuel Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason. Diogenes Allen and Eric O. Springsted only loosely allude to this philosophy-to-theology link in their later chapters. It is of such importance that it needs to be emphasized.

Allen and Springsted do highlight the clear connection between Hume’s philosophy and Kant’s categories. Hume had used the fact that there is no observable link between ‘causes’ and ‘effects’ to say that the entire empiricist enterprise (the philosophical endeavor to ground knowledge on the foundation of experience) was fruitless and would therefore never produce any ‘true knowledge.’ This view, referred to as Humean skepticism, Kant felt a burden to answer.

Unlike the philosophers who had come immediately before him, Kant did not believe that experience was the source of knowledge; however, he did believe that knowledge begins there. The external sensations (touch, taste, smell, etc.) are significant because they arouse our thinking; Kant calls this first stage on the way to knowledge experience. Our reason, Kant said, cannot go beyond these experiences and arrive at true knowledge on its own; instead, our reason categorizes and makes sense of our experiences. Kant posits twelve categories that shape and filter man’s understanding of his experiences (for a good chart on these categories visit the following link: http://bcresources.net/app-Docs/Kant_TwelveCategories.pdf). This second stage, in which our categories process and interpret our experiences, Kant calls conception. The third state, knowledge, comes as a result of the forming of the raw data of experience via our categories.

This discussion of the twelve categories, and how they interact with our sense-experiences, is significant because it shifts the center of knowledge from the external world to the mind. Thus knowledge is no longer ‘objective’ in that it is independent of man, but ‘subjective’ in that it is wholly dependent on man and his processing of his experiences. This aspect of Kant’s philosophy soon had a major impact on theology. Friedrich Schleiermacher was primarily responsible for shifting the source of dogmatics from the objective study of Scripture to the subjective study of Christian religious feeling. He perceived the traditional subjects of dogmatics—God, Creation, Preservation, Salvation, Regeneration—through the subjective lens. Although the return to objective theology began on the continent over 100 years ago (cf. Hermann Bavinck’s Reformed Dogmatics) the shift has yet to take hold in the United States. To understand theology, especially to understand the cultural constructs which shape the current theological climate, we must understand that this turn to the subject (individuals feelings being a source of knowledge) began back in Kant’s Critique of Pure Reason.

Hawking (et al) on Larry King Live

Steven Hawking, Leonard Mlodinow, Deepak Chopra, and Robert Spitzer were recently interviewed by Larry King and shared their respective views on the relationship between science and religion. Just in case (like me) you missed this interview and (unlike me) you care, here you go. (By the way, how does Deepak Chopra keep getting invited to these things? The fact that your name rhymes with Oprah really shouldn’t qualify as a compelling reason.)

If you want a quick rundown on what they talked about, there’s a good summary here.

Free Kindle Book: The Expository Genius of John Calvin

Many thanks to Brian LePort for pointing out that Amazon is giving away a free Kindle edition of Steven J. Lawson’s The Expository Genius of John Calvin. If you don’t have a Kindle, you can still download the free e-book and then just install the Kindle app for PC. Brian says that this giveaway is for today only, so don’t wait.