Tag Archives: education

10 Reasons You Should Go to Seminary

I recently came across an older blog post by Scot McKnight about going to seminary. McKnight is one of my favorite authors and biblical scholars. He also teaches at a seminary. I respect the guy a ton! So if he says, “here are 10 reasons you should go to seminary” I listen, and I think you should too.

Here are some reasons for going to seminary:

1. Gift enhancement. Seminaries will not “gift” a person but seminaries can almost always enhance the gifts God has given to a person. I have argued for years that seminaries work best when they are populated by ministers and not by folks who think or want, but aren’t sure, if they are gifted or called. What seminaries do well is enhance gifts.

2. Biblical and Theological enhancement. Seminary students will study the Bible, the whole Bible, and that will be a first for some. And, they already have a theology; seminaries can enhance that theology, both by way of subtraction (getting rid of some careless ideas) and addition (adding better ideas). Students have the opportunity to study great theologians, and pity the seminary that assigns textbook-ish theology books, and I’m thinking here of Athanasius and Augustine, Aquinas and Anselm, Luther and Calvin (and the Anabaptists like Hubmaier), and then into the modern era with Barth and Moltmann.

3. Personal enhancement. There was a day when seminaries assumed seminary students would be praying and reading the Bible and practicing the disciplines and attending church … they assumed formation was already underway. No more. Increasingly, seminaries are making spiritual formation — personal enhancement — a part of each course in the curriculum. I will be. 

4. Dedicated time. Let’s face it, to develop theologically as a minister you need time, and that’s what seminary does. In sociological terms, seminary can be a time of encapsulation: you are isolated from your work, your church, and you are holed up in a class with other students and a professor, and you wander into quiet libraries and you study — it is that dedicated time that seminaries can offer. Most pastors aren’t afforded the luxury to study in big chunks of time, so going to seminary, even if it is as a commuter, offers dedicated time. It probably won’t happen without dedicated time.

5. Access to specialists. One of the problems with seminaries is that they can take on the flavor of a research institution and its professors want to be left alone to do historical and technical research and write books and articles and monographs for the academic guild. I am proud to say at Northern, the aim is for the professors to be both specialist enough to be able to work in the guild but who are shaping their lives toward pastors, toward ministry, and toward the church. Seminaries provide specialists to ministers who need specialists on the topics of the day.

6. Theological diversity. Some seminaries (names omitted) prefer to have faculty who all think alike. I’m 100% persuaded diversity, theological diversity, is the name of the game for seminaries. No two pastors think exactly alike and no two professors think alike, and having theological diversity (within some creedal constraint) that interacts with one another sets a pattern for ministry for years to come. Taking classes from professors who don’t agree with you, or who think differently, will make you a better minister.

That is just 6/10! You can read the rest here.

By the way… I think Fuller Seminary is a great option. Just saying!

This is a picture of Fuller Seminary’s library – oh and also  of California’s year-round beautiful weather.

Jason Sexton’s Advice to Students – Serve the Church!

Jason Sexton, a Systematic Theologian who holds positions at USC and Cal State Fullerton and heads up the Theological Engagement with California’s Culture Project, advises those pursuing theological and biblical studies to serve the church consistently and faithfully in order to flourish during their education

A Rich Guy Walks into a Room…. (Cultural Capital)

I have spent all week studying the book of James – getting ready for a new series at Soma. As I have been reading James 2 I have been struck by the gravity of his injunction against favoritism.

Essentially James says, if you are believers in Jesus Christ don’t show favoritism. Period. He gives us some examples of how favoritism plays out in the church. Basically, a rich guy wearing gold rings and flowing robes comes in and everybody pays him close attention, people flock to greet him.

Liberace – aka The Glitter Man aka the man from James 2.

A poor guy comes in and people make him sit on the floor, or stand in the back of the room. The problem with this (there are a few problems that James mentions) is that in doing this believers have become “judges.” Essentially they are saying – X is what makes you a valuable person, X justifies your existence & you have X. The thing is though that their “X” is not God’s X. It’s a radically different X.

According to James, and he thinks they should already know this, God has choosen the poor (the not X’s) to inherit the kingdom. They have things backwards. They have bought into the world’s way of seeing things.

Roman culture says you are a “have” if you “have” money, land, prestige, fancy clothes, etc. King Jesus though says you are a “have” once you recognize that you are a “have not.” To say otherwise is to deny the fact that the gospel is for those who are poor in spirit.

Anyway… I’m really interested in what makes you valuable today, because the truth is, if somebody walked in wearing a gold ring and flowing robes into our services aka if somebody came in looking like Liberace most people are going to stay away from that dude.  I guess what I’m really thinking about is….

What do we consider “cultural capital?”

According to sociologists “cultural capital” is very similar to “economic capital” – it consists of things we posses that are exchanged for goods, resources, and/or power. If you have “economic capital,” i.e. money, you exchange that for food, education, electricity, etc. If you have cultural capital, you “exchange” or “reveal” those things and get some sort of cultural good i.e. favor, prestige, status, friends, followers, gifts.

When talking about “cultural capital” sociologists will tend to classify it into three categories:

  1. Embodied – that is properties one possesses. This would include your language (formal or slang), your physical looks, race or even gender. All these things are used/revealed/exchanged for cultural goods.
  2. Objectified – the physical objects one owns. This includes the type of car you drive, the type of clothes you wear (or don’t wear), the gadgets you own, etc. Just like all other cultural capital, possession of these things (and the public display of them) give you cultural goods. Those might include special treatment at the store, by the opposite sex, or even in the marketplace.
  3. Institutionalized – these are markers accorded to a person according to one’s position in some sort of institutional system. For example, within the education system degrees count as cultural capital. Within the workforce, one’s position (intern vs. ceo) count as cultural capital.

In all honesty, most young adults and college students could care less about “institutionalized cultural capital,” but embodied and objectified cultural capital matter a lot. And that is just as true among Christians and non-Christians.

Christians will certainly value some things non-Christians wont. For instance knowing the Bible will give you cultural capital, experience on mission trips will give you capital, speaking Christianese, or not-cursing will probably give you capital. There are certain identity markers that we Christians (sadly) have that are used to assign cultural value to some and not to others. However things aren’t that straightforward. Although we would repudiate certain things – like looks giving one cultural capital, fashion giving one cultural capital, etc. – the truth is that things just aren’t that simple. Most of the things that non-Christians consider valuable are the same things non-Christians consider valuable. At times these things are at odds with the gospel but they are too subtle for us to notice.

The Church is always at risk of embracing anti-kingdom cultural values. Some are obvious, but most are subtle.

So what contributes to what counts as cultural capital within any one particular culture? How do people come to learn what is worth something and what isn’t? Is it simply because somebody told us once that some thing is valuable and some other thing is not? I don’t think so. To believe that we are shaped to value some things and not value others simply by means of propositional knowledge is to deny the fact that we are embodied beings. More on that, and how we are shaped to value some things as “cultural capital,” next time.

The Right to Education? (Pt. 6)

Over the last 5 posts (Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5) I have compared and contrasted Wayne Grudem’s and Michael Walzer’s position on the injustices in our education system and their responses to the problem. Today, I am going to offer my own opinion regarding this issue.

My Position

Walzer begins his book by saying that “human society is a distributive community.”[1] As a community we decide how we distribute goods like food, shelter, knowledge, capital, and education. Of course how goods are distributed will vary from community to community. Some communities will distribute goods more justly than others. The United States is a community composed of people from different parts of the world and of different cultures. It would be fair to say that the United States is a community that is composed of many small communities and social structures. The family might be considered a small community representing one unit of society to the larger community. The government might be considered one part of the community created to serve the smaller units of community as well as the aggregate of these smaller communities. The government however is not a standalone entity, it is an entity which exists as part of the larger community embedded within a particular culture. In other words, in the United States the government is not separate from the people it is part of the people. Because the government is part of the society, it plays a role in deciding how the society as a whole will distribute its goods. In this series of blogs we focused on education. Walzer argues that education is a good which is distributed by the community. I believe that Walzer is right in saying that the society as a whole has the responsibility of distributing goods in such a way as to eliminate the practice of domination.

In regards to the good we call education, I personally believe that society as a whole should do its best to provide an education to all who are willing so that none within that society experience domination. Glen Stassen points out that justice has four dimensions: 1-deliverance of the poor from injustice, 2-lifting the foot of domineering power off the neck of the dominated and oppressed, 3-stopping violence and establishing peace, and 4-restoring the outcasts into the community.[2] If society as a whole were to take these four points seriously they would realize that providing an education to all people is a matter of justice. This means that if our society is going to take the biblical mandate to enact justice seriously, all segments of society must do their part to educate children. (Whether or not “society” should be working to ensure “biblical justice” is an entirely different question, and its too big to address in this particular post.)

How we understand the authorities in our community will influence how the proper education of all children will occur. We must remember that God has placed the government as an authority over our society. “For there is no authority except from God, and those that exist have been instituted by God.” (Rom. 13:1) These authorities are God’s servant for our good. But the government is not the only authority God has placed in the world for the good of society. God has created families so that they may instruct, discipline, teach, and raise children in the ways of the Lord (Deut. 6:4-7). If we take seriously the government’s God given mandate to serve its people and the family’s mandate to raise children in the ways of God, and believe that a society is mandated by God to enact justice then education is the responsibility of both government and family. In other words, all of society is responsible for being interested in the education of its children.

As a church, how are we to create a society that cares for the education of all children, especially the children of poor, oppressed, and marginalized people? I believe that the first step is to teach our churches about justice. Justice is a deep concern to God. Jeremiah 22:3 says “Thus says the Lord: Act with justice and righteousness, and deliver from the hand of the oppressor anyone who has been robbed. And do no wrong or violence to the alien, the orphan, and the widow, or shed innocent blood in this place.” As evangelicals, the justice element has really been ignored in our preaching. And I must admit, I gravitate towards ignoring it in my own preaching as well. Once our churches have understood God’s concern for the poor and oppressed we will desire to find ways to bring about justice. This might involve creating programs which help underprivileged children succeed in their education. Perhaps it will involve political advocacy for educational reform. It will certainly involve prayer for our government so that they would enact justice.

If education reform is to happen and our society will distribute education in a just way that pleases God then churches, families, governments, and non-governmental organizations must come together to work in ways that will bring about deliverance for the oppressed.

[1] Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, 3.

[2] Stassen and Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, 249.

The Right to Education? (Pt. 5)

In The Right to Education? (Pt. 4) I laid out both Wayne Grudem and Michael Walzer’s proposed soultions to education inequality. Today we will take a look at their distincitve approaches to the solution, and their basis for their proposals. It will soon become evident that their solutions although are a bit similar, their presuppositions are is radically different…..

Differing Presuppositions: Authority

In Kingdom ethics Glen Stassen states that our perceptions powerfully shape how we approach any ethical issue. According to him there are four variables that “make crucial differences in how people perceive the context of action across the spectrum of ethical issues.” One of these variables is how we perceive authority. Some people have a high view about the present authorities, and believe that there is a God-ordained authority that everyone should obey.  Others believe that each of us is responsible to a certain extent, and that authority lies in the hands of the society at large. Either way there is a strong relationship between how people understand justice and how they perceive the authority variable.[2]

Before we move on to examine how Grudem and Walzer differ on the authority variable, it will be useful to make a few brief comments on basic convictions about justice. Both Grudem and Walzer believe that justice is something that all human beings should strive for. Both believe that justice is not an issue of merely distributing wealth. Although Grudem does not treat the issue of justice extensively in his book, he says that the government does not have the responsibility or the right to attempt to equalize the differences between the rich and the poor by taking money from the rich. This is because stealing property, in this case money, from anyone be it rich or poor is morally wrong.[3] In addition to the moral wrongness of simple distribution of wealth, it would not work. Grudem provides a thought experiment in which wealth is distrubted evenly, at the end of the thought experiment inequality would arise once again because some have saved, invested, or spent their money.[4]

Walzer makes a similar point, there can be no simple mode of distribution because no power is so pervasive as to be capable of regulating the patterns of sharing, dividing, and exchanging within a society.[5] Eventually it will be invested, spent, and saved.[6]

So then what is the solution to the injustice of poor education? Grudem’s solution relies on his theory of the government’s authority. Grudem believes that the government has several primary responsibilities. The government is to punish evil and encourage good. Grudem cites Genesis 9:5-6, Romans 13:1-7, and 1 Peter 2:13-14 as evidence for this.[7] The Government should safeguard human liberty. He says that “the Bible consistently places high value on human freedom and responsibility to choose one’s action.”[8] Finally, he says that the government should serve the people and seek the good of the people. He cites Romans 13:4 as evidence for his. It is this belief that serves as the foundation for his solution to the threat. He claims that it in regard to education it is goal of the civil government to produce educated citizens for the next generation. Although it is the primary responsibility of parents to train their children, it is in the interest of the government to help parents accomplish this goal. He thinks this because it is the purpose of “the government to promote the general well-being of a society, or as the U.S. Constitution says ‘to promote the general welfare.’” According to him the government should do all it can to enable its citizens to live adequately in the society.[9] Thus the government should provide enough funding so that everyone is able to gain enough skills and education to earn a living. We should note that Grudem’s belief is not based upon the idea of justice, that providing an education is the just thing to do, but that it is the government’s responsibility to promote the general welfare of its citizens that serves as the foundation for his solution to the threat.

Walzer on the other hand bases his solution to the threat entirely upon the idea of justice. He does not make a case that it is specifically the government’s responsibility to ensure the welfare of its citizens, but that it is in the interest of human society as a whole to bring about justice when it comes to education. He claims that justice is equality, but not the mere equality of possessions. It is not the elimination of differences, but the elimination of domination by others. For Walzer the aim is “a society free from domination.”[10]

Walzer notes that domination is always mediated by some set of social goods. These goods vary from society to society. In some societies domination is mediated by birth and blood, in others it is mediated by land and wealth. In our society it is capital and education. Thus education is a good which has been used to dominate others. If education is a good that perpetuates injustice, it must be reformed. Thus the solution to the ending of domination through social goods like education is to distribute it for distinct and internal reasons.[11]

If we are to focus upon reducing dominance, especially in regard to education, we need identify how education serves as a dominating social good. Walzer notes that education often reinforces structures of membership and hierarchy which tends to dominate others. Although domination is often what results from unequal education, it is in the interest of the community as a whole that all children be educated to be future citizens of that society. But equal citizenship requires common schooling in which everyone is taught the basic knowledge necessary for active citizenship.[12] Since education is in the interest of the society as a whole, “educating citizens must be a matter of communal provision, a kind of welfare” provided by the society.[13]

So it is helpful to think of educational equality as a form of welfare provision, in which all children, conceived as future citizens, have the same need to know, and where the ideal membership is best served if they are all taught the same thing.”[14] In conclusion, Walzer believes that education is a good which should be distributed equally by the society itself so that all members of that society may participate in it equally, keeping all people free from domination and injustice.

We should notice that the major point of difference between Walzer and Grudem is not their perception of the problem; they both recognize that failure to educate children harms the entire society. It is not their solution to the threat, both recommend vouchers as a possible solution. Their fundamental point of difference is in the government’s role in solving the problem. Grudem thinks it is the government’s responsibility to enable its citizens to receive an education in whichever form they choose to do so. Walzer believes that it is society’s role, not the government, to provide education so that no citizen will be dominated by the social good of education. Of course, for Walzer the government is an important part of society but it is just one part of society. Walzer does not emphasize the government’s role in stopping domination because Walzer is interested in justice that transcends time and culture. Grudem on the other hand is primarily concerned with a very specific government, the American government.

Before I state my personal belief on this variable of authority and its relationship to education, we should note that Grudem and Walzer are not advocating for conflicting views on authority. They simply disagree on what role the government plays in the creation of an educated society. Grudem places much responsibility in the government’s hands whereas Walzer places responsibility upon the whole society’s pursuit of justice and equality.

[2] Stassen and Gushee, Kingdom Ethics, 66.

[3] Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 281.

[4] Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 282.

[5] Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, 4.

[6] Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, xi.

[7] Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 77-81.

[8] Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 91.

[9] Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 281.

[10] Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, xiii.

[11] Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, xv.

[12] Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, 208.

[13] Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, 209.

[14] Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, 203.

The Right to Education? (Pt. 4)

In my last post I laid out what Wayne Grudem and Michael Walzer take to be a major issue in our education system, namely that an unequal education system perpetuates an economic underclass in our society and that unequal education opportunities often fall along racial lines. In essence unequal education is a justice issue. Today we will take a look at some of the solutions that Grudem and Walzer propose in order to alleviate this problem.

The Solution – Grudem

Wayne Grudem believes that it is appropriate for the government to provide enough funding so that everyone is able to gain enough skills and education to earn a living.[1] He knows that the problem is a failure to educate children to be active and productive citizens of their society and he advocates for a school voucher system, funded primarily by the government, as the solution to the threat. He says that “the most beneficial change in our schooling system would be a system of school vouchers provided by the local government to pay for the education of the children in each family.”[2] Parents would then be able to use these vouchers to pay for the fees required by the school that they choose for their children. He believes that privately run schools could do better job educating children than government run schools could. In addition to the claim that privately run schools could educate children in a more efficient manner, he believes that this fulfills the biblical mandate which calls for parents to be the party primarily responsible for training their children.[3]

The Solution – Walzer

Michael Walzer advocates exploring educational vouchers as a solution to the problem. He says that because private schools are expensive parents have little control over their children’s education. Thus instituting a voucher system seems at the surface to get rid of the inequality that arises as an accident of birth.[4] The voucher plan would make tax money available for education purposes, thus parents could spend this money on the open market. This would guarantee that children go to a school with other children who are similar in interests and ideologies. In one way, this is a pluralist proposal. It would strengthen many traditional organizations, such as religious institutions.[5] It “would help create a society where there was no strong geographic base or customary loyalty, but rather a large and changing variety of ideological groups.”[6] However, it might also serve to inhibit diversity within schools, thus children would not be exposed to a variety of ideas and cultures. Walzer concludes by saying that a voucher plan is a possible solution, and that it makes sense,[7] however it is not the only solution.

The Solution – From Within the Church

Last time I introduced a couple of former classmates that I had while at Fuller seminary, Jamal Scarlett and Randy Demary. Both of these students also provided “solutions” to the issue at hand. Both students believed that the schools, whether they be public or private, and parents should work together to solve the problem. Jamal Scarlett said that it is in part due to broken families and faulty government structures that children find themselves receiving an education which keeps them in a cycle of despair and failure. Thus if children are to be reestablished into the community, both family and governmental structures must be strengthened. Randy Demary believes that parents “must confront the system, protest, move, tutor, and seek out afterschool programs”[8] if the school district is failing to do its job educating the children. Also, the government has a responsibility to respond to such complaints, making sure that such complaints do not arise in the first place by ensuring a quality education for all.[9]

By examining Grudem’s and Walzer’s solutions to the problem of a lack of quality education, as well as Jamal Scarlett’s and Randy Demary’s solutions, we have seen that there is a pretty common belief that the provision of a quality education is the responsibility of families and government. In other words, both Grudem and Walzer have much in common when it comes to the practical nature of the solution. However as we will see in our next blog, their theoretical approach to the solution, their basis for their proposals, is radically different…..

[1] Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 281.

[2] Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 250.

[3] Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 247.

[4] Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, 218.

[5] Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, 218.

[6] Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, 218.

[7] Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, 219.

[8] Demary, E-mail Interview, December 4 2010.

[9] Demary, E-mail Interview, December 4 2010.

The Right to Education? (Pt. 3)

Last time I introduced the participants (so to speak) in our discussion about the right to education. Both participants come from pretty distinct backgrounds, nevertheless they share the judeo-christian tradition as their basis for thinking about this tough issue. Today lets take a look at what they actually have to say about education.

The Issue: The Failing Education System

The evidence that our modern education system in America is failing is quite ample. Grudem cites a study by Abagail and Stephan Thernstrom which reports the “glaring and tragic failure of American schools to educate children, especially black and Hispanic children.”[1] According to Grudem, the lack of educational skills perpetuates a permanent economic underclass in our society.[2] However, the issue is larger than mere economic inequality, this is a racial and justice issue. Grudem recognizes this, and says that if we are ever to achieve racial reconciliation in America there is a need to reform our educational system.[3]

Walzer notes that education is basic to every human society, that is, that every human society educates its children. However, what kind of education a child receives varies from society to society, in other words “education is always relative to the society for which it is designed.”[4] For instance, a child living in the Amazon in A.D. 1345 will receive an education very different from a child living in Europe in A.D. 2013. However this does not negate the fact that education is fundamental to a society, because education is intimately tied in to how future members of a society will fit in. Keeping this in mind, Walzer claims that education has mostly been plagued by domination perpetuated by the elite of the society.[5] In the past, and to a certain extent in the present schools have been elite institutions dominated by birth and blood, wealth, gender, or religious and political office. It is precisely because domination has plagued education and schools that some members of society have been denied a proper education. Walzer believes that it is in the best interest of the entire society that all of the future members of society are taught the basic skills necessary for active citizenship in that society.[6] He notes that one place in which society has failed to teach the basic skill necessary for active citizenship is in the ghetto and slum schools.  He says that in these schools “children are prepared, and prepare one another, for ghetto and slum life.”[7] Thus they are doomed to live a life of passive citizenship within their society.

There is plenty of evidence that there is something wrong with our education system in the United States. Not only do professional scholars agree with this, but it in my experience students at Fuller Seminary believe this as well. A while ago I interviewed two Fuller students, Jamal Scarlett and Randy Demary, and asked them a range of question regarding education in the United States. Mr. Scarlett, who is now an Anglican priest, told me that he thoroughly believes that “schools and communities have failed to educate and produce fair citizens.” Randy Demary, who did an MDiv with an emphasis on Christian ethics, believes that the failure to educate children is a justice issue. According to him the fact that children receive “drastically different educational experiences” is a justice issue especially because the “difference often falls along racial lines.”[9] Ron Sider, whom I cited in earlier posts, would agree with this statement, he says that “schools serving our poorest children, especially poor black and Latino children in our big cities, are simply not working.”[10] The threat is clear and is not up for debate, however what is up for debate is how this threat is to be addressed and resolved. This is the topic of tomorrow’s blog post.

[1] Wayne Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2010), 253.

[2] Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 254.

[3] Grudem, Politics According to the Bible, 256.

[4] Michael Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, (New York: Basic Books, 1983), 197.

[5] Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, 201.

[6] Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, 206.

[7] Walzer, Spheres of Justice: A Defense of Pluralism and Equality, 222.

[8] Sider, Just Generosity, 193.