March Madness ’14

Page in dynamic development as we explore the most pressing issues for the Christian to engage when journeying in higher ed during March Madness ’14 and in months/years to come. . . . To God be the glory!

Instead of reading the whole list at once, you can review and comment upon the teams by bracket:

Voting is at ESN March Madness ’14.

Higher education

1) Purpose of higher education: The most visited post on our blog is entitled, What’s the purpose of a university? (5,430 views). Although there is more to bring to the table, don’t miss John Mulholland’s perspective on Shalom/human flourishing as the goal of academic work, drawn from Nicholas Wolterstorff:

– “…It eventually became clear to me that there is a biblical category of flourishing, of shalom. [It is] “peace” in the New Testament, but ‘eirene’ in Greek is a pretty weak translation of what the Old Testament means by shalom. It means flourishing. That’s what a Christian college [Christian scholarship] should be about. Not just planting thoughts in people’s heads and getting them into professional positions – but flourishing, in all its dimensions….”

– AND on 3/1 (9:30 am): “The End of Education” with Santa Ono, President of University of Cincinnati. Live at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DiqI0WlhO5k

16) Ethics in higher education: Although broader than these nominations and overlapping not only with 11) Defining Relativism, but also 14 Realizing Justice in Social Action, we return to this question again and again in articles with a higher education focus on our Facebook Wall.

– Is all morality relative? and, Does ‘being tolerant’ of another person’s beliefs mean that you must affirm their beliefs as equally true or valid?

– Morality: How should I live?

– Morals: Where do they come from, and are they absolute or relative? In our increasingly pluralistic society, how can we decide on one set of morals and laws to guide the nation? How much power should the federal or state government have to enforce the opinion of the majority, or of a powerful minority, on localities, religious groups or individuals that may not agree?


8) Academic freedom in higher ed

From a faculty perspective: The issues seem to me to be different for those that teach in a “Christian” university or college from those that teach in a “secular” university or college. However, I would guess that there are acceptable boundaries for each group. How do you navigate these and maintain Christian witness on one side and how do you navigate these and maintain connection to the Christian community on the other? [Note: related material in 10) Church and academia]

9) Diversity in higher education

– Diversity: As the nation is becoming more diverse (ethnically, religiously, including bi-cultural families), how do we as a church and society deal with the differences What is unalterable, what is negotiable, and why? Do we understand, let alone appreciate, the opinions and perspective of the newcomers? Should they adapt and adopt white American traditions, should they maintain their own separate communities, or is there a third way?

Faith and Academia

4) Discerning the truth [and upon what basis/authority]

– Truth: Can we know it, and if so how? Different types of evidence, inference, hypothesis testing and argumentation are used in different fields. Definitions, presuppositions and criteria often determine the conclusion before we begin. But most people are not aware of the differences, and assume every field, every individual, operates on the same principles.

– I know that many have talked about the faith and science idea, but I think behind that is the question of faith and reason as a larger issue. The larger issue behind that is the question of authority as was mentioned already. So it is not just about the issue of finding a balance point between faith and science (or metaphysics and physics) and even discovering a way that they won’t end up battling with each other, it is what is the relationship between faith and reason as a larger question and the larger question is the nature of authority. Authority from the human level – does the scientist have authority beyond their own scientific conclusions – as well as questions of the nature of revelation as authority.

– Fear and resistance–some folks seem to fear reading and thinking about thinkers identified as antagonistic to faith, yet many of these works are foundational in western scholarship.

13) Pluralism and tolerance

– Learning a voice, Earning a hearing – Nicholas Wolterstorff, http://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/3931/earning-your-voice/: “I was a participant in a shared **human** enterprise, rather than a combatant against the enterprise. That was crucial.”

– Principled Plurality in higher education… a Christian among other voices at the table of education in an equitable, engaging, enriching benefit to those in and passing through the university that enables people to hospitably, intelligently engage God’s diversity of people with hope and purpose.

5) Finding and keeping vocation

– Does my work matter to God and to the Church?

– How can we encourage and support scholars who are struggling to find meaningful academic work?

– Disciples/ Apprentices of Jesus on university campuses – Dallas Willard (http://www.dwillard.org/articles/artview.asp?artID=118): “..Thirdly, make a point of specifically treating our subject matter in relation to God. I suggest that at least one whole lecture in each course in a Christian university should be devoted to the relationship of the subject matter to God. One whole hour, specifically devoted to a consideration of how the specialized knowledge of the academic discipline being studied in that class fits into the comprehensive whole of the reality of our knowledge of God…. [a very good friend in a secular university does this, speaking of ultimate issues in the field]

“Fourth, devote one week of research each year to exploring the connection of my subject matter to fundamental Christian doctrine—”mere Christianity.” After a few years you might not need this and that’s good, you can go fishing or whatever you like to do. But keep at it until it’s done,… until it’s done…..”

12) Theology and nature

– The importance of embrace what Alister E. McGrath terms “a Christian natural theology”. What is that? “A Christian natural theology is thus about seeing nature in a specific manner, which enables the truth, beauty, and goodness of God to be discerned, and which acknowledges nature as a legitimate, authorized, and limited pointer to the divine. There is no question of such a natural theology ‘proving’ the existence of God or a transcendent realm on the basis of pure reason, or seeing nature as a gateway to a fully orbed theistic system. Rather, natural theology addresses fundamental questions about divine disclosure and human cognition and perception. In what way can human beings, reflecting on nature by means of natural processes, discern the transcendent?” — Alister E. McGrath. The Open Secret: A New Vision for Natural Theology. Wiley-Blackwell, 2008.

– How can Christian scientists practice excellent science while avoiding “scientism” or materialism? How can we create what C. S. Lewis called “regenerate science?”

– Global Warming (a.k.a. Climate Change) is either one of the greatest challenges the human race will face over the next century or “the greatest hoax,” in the words of one U.S. senator. Which is correct, and can Christians agree on an answer? If it is real, what is the best Christian response?

– Origins. Where did I come from and what is the basis for my significance and value as a person?

– Origins: Where did we come from, and what difference does it make in our conception of humans and God? How should we approach the interpretation of scientific and Biblical evidence? Could you give a reasoned, evidence-based argument for why a certain interpretation of either is better than some other?

– Where did we come from? Is the standard secular model (quantum fluctuation/big bang/abiogenesis/neodarwinian-evolution) or the Biblical/theistic model (Divine creation) the better scientific hypothesis for the origin of the universe, life, species, and humanity? Or, dropping the word ‘scientific’ and expanding to all models (including Quranic, Vedic, etc), what is the best explanation, out of all the competing explanations, for how we came to be here? Which explanation best fits all the evidence we have?

 


Religious Concerns

2) Integrating faith and field [through our understanding of faith, reason, authority]

– Common grace in the academic enterprises of the sciences and humanities – Abraham Kuyper (http://thegospelcoalition.org/themelios/review/wisdom_and_wonder_common_grace_in_science_and_art
Abraham Kuyper. Wisdom & Wonder: Common Grace in Science & Art): “…precipitating thinkers like Thomas Kuhn, Kuyper speaks of the critical role of communities in these fields, arguing that the social structures that create such communities of learners are, in fact, a divine gift. Clearly, Kuyper provides a compelling theological account for not only gifted individuals, such as the Steve Jobs and Francis Alÿs’s of this world, but also the social and cultural structures that make the blessings that come to us through the sciences and arts possible….”

– Reverence: a comprehensive vision of Christian engagement of the university – Nicholas Wolterstorff (http://www.calvin.edu/125th/wolterst/w_bio.pdf). Wolterstorff speaks of “reverence” on p.1, and then p.4-5, i.e., reverence for wood, for machinery, for family, for the life of the mind, et al. Near the bottom of p.4, he writes, “In the tenth book of his Confessions, Augustine imagines the things of the world speaking, saying to him: ‘Do not attend to us, turn away, attend to God.’ I was taught instead to hear the things of the world saying: **Reverence us**; for God made us as a gift for you. Accept us in gratitude.” Editor’s note: Does this fall under 5) Finding and Keeping Vocation OR truly deserve its own category?

– The relationship of academic disciplines and faith. For instance, Eastern Univ. is starting up a graduate program in Christian anthropology. This is not merely anthropology that addresses Christian themes, but an anthropology grounded on Christian ontological and epistemological principles. Is such a move possible in other disciplines, and if so, how would it affect those disciplines?

– How can Christian scientists practice excellent science while avoiding “scientism” or materialism? How can we create what C. S. Lewis called “regenerate science?” Editor’s note: I confess that this involves more of the concerns in 12) Theology and nature (and probably other categories). I kept 12 unique due to the pressing nature of the issues found in it.

– I know that many have talked about the faith and science idea, but I think behind that is the question of faith and reason as a larger issue. The larger issue behind that is the question of authority as was mentioned already. So it is not just about the issue of finding a balance point between faith and science (or metaphysics and physics) and even discovering a way that they won’t end up battling with each other, it is what is the relationship between faith and reason as a larger question and the larger question is the nature of authority. Authority from the human level – does the scientist have authority beyond their own scientific conclusions – as well as questions of the nature of revelation as authority.

15) Scripture in academia

– I always come back to the authority of Scripture: how should we understand its authority, can we trust it, and how do we justify our obedience to Scripture to our colleagues and friends?

– How can I draw the best from Biblical scholarship (such as literary analysis) when I disagree with the assumptions of the scholar in question, and/or when there is no real theological content to the academic analysis involved? On the one hand, I can get caught up in arcane pathways that lead in circles, but on the other I can gain insights from the academics.

7) Meaning and purpose of life

– Meaning. What is the meaning and purpose of life?

– Destiny. What happens when I die? Is there hope beyond death?

10) Church and academia

– Does my work matter to God and to the Church?

– The nature of the Church is one that evangelicalism needs to wrestle with. Is the Church necessary to my life or is it just an add-on which I can take or leave? In my mind, it is the coming crisis in evangelicalism.

– Concomitantly [to 14) Realizing justice in action], the defensiveness and posturing must stop, as well as attendant debates about theological nuances, denominational differences etc. I think that non-Christians often mistake us for narrow-minded (fundamentalist) hypocrites who can’t even get along among ourselves… As for the hypocritical part – many Christians I know spend way too much time defending, dismissing or avoiding addressing their failings and/or sources of contention in their Churches. I think we would totally blow non-Christians away if we actually admitted to some of our failings and engaged in discussion about controversial and contentious topics in a loving and open-minded way…

– [T]here is a neglected aspect to this discussion [see 8) Academic freedom] – what about academic freedom and my church community. While I would guess that many our local congregations have little knowledge about our publishing, are there circumstances in which our publishing can potentially damage our standing in our local church or denomination?


Christ and culture

3) U.S. culture and Christianity

– The difference between American culture and Christianity.

– Diversity: As the nation is becoming more diverse (ethnically, religiously, including bi-cultural families), how do we as a church and society deal with the differences What is unalterable, what is negotiable, and why? Do we understand, let alone appreciate, the opinions and perspective of the newcomers? Should they adapt and adopt white American traditions, should they maintain their own separate communities, or is there a third way?

– Diversity of perspectives/ no single Christian worldview – Vinoth Ramachandra (http://vinothramachandra.wordpress.com/2014/02/16/beyond-worldviews/): “Clearly Christians whose “worldview” has been shaped by one context will have a somewhat different operational map of reality from Christians whose worldview has been shaped within another. There is no one single Christian worldview …. Hence the need to converse across our differences and divisions.”

14) Realizing justice in action

– Morality: How should I live?

– Do “positive rights” exist? “Negative rights” include the right to not be put in jail without a fair trial by jury, the freedom of the press (the right to not be censored by the government), the right to not be kidnapped or murdered, the right to not have one’s property stolen, etc. So-called “positive rights” include the right to free education, free healthcare, free food, free unemployment benefits, etc. However, presumably someone has to pay for these items. Is it possible to provide positive rights without infringing on negative rights?

– What is the best way to care for the poor and marginalized in our society? Is it by giving them money (e.g. welfare, food stamps,etc), no questions asked? One hundred fifty years ago, slaves in the USA were considered sub-human property and could be mistreated without consequences. Today, we consider that barbaric. Seventy years ago, Jews in Germany were considered sub-human and could be mistreated without consequences. Today we call that genocide and consider it barbaric. Today, millions of unborn children per year worldwide are being killed, with no legal consequences. Is it possible that this will be seen as immoral from the vantagepoint of future, more enlightened generations? If not, why not? If so, what can we do to change things, to make our society a more just, humane, wise, and moral society?

– As I reflected on this project, I heard a very lively version of Isaiah 58 resounding in my head: “Day after day they seek me… *as if* they were a nation that does what is right ( God’s voice dripping with irony)…. ‘Why have we fasted,’ they say, ‘and you have not seen? Why have we humbled ourselves, and you have not noticed?’ (hear whine whine whine)… Is this a day acceptable to the Lord?“ (hear God roaring after reprimanding his people about self-centeredness and quarreling, performance and posturing…) ;-)

Basically, I think that if Christians want to be taken seriously in the academia, we have to stop talking and posturing and arguing about theology and/or denomination… And instead, incorporate the “walk” in the talk… In other words, I think Christians should lead the way in God’s way of “fasting”: “to loose the chains of injustice and untie the cords of the yoke, to set the oppressed free and break every yoke”…

So first and foremost, I think Christians should model and engage with social justice in academia; investigating how to conjoin caring and intellectualism; ethics and critical thought; activism and theology etc. Those are discussions I would like to hear more about, and are also discussions that I feel would really engage non-Christians.

– I would the echo the concerns about justice at many levels in our world.

I would also suggest that issues of access to education are significant; as are issues of cultural and ethnic diversity-both at the systemic and individual levels-further dividing into the micro and macro aggression levels.

These are all happening, and the complexities are overwhelming and divisive at the both secular and faith based institutions.

6) Secularism

Secularism as a cultural construct. Most cultures are not secular, so what makes secularism the “preferred” worldview for academics?

11) Defining relativism

– Is all morality relative? and, Does ‘being tolerant’ of another person’s beliefs mean that you must affirm their beliefs as equally true or valid?

– The complexities of relativism–too often relativism is reduced to a grade school “the neighbor kid gets to stay up late why can’t I” sort of discussion, but that is not what relativism is.

– Morals: Where do they come from, and are they absolute or relative? In our increasingly pluralistic society, how can we decide on one set of morals and laws to guide the nation? How much power should the federal or state government have to enforce the opinion of the majority, or of a powerful minority, on localities, religious groups or individuals that may not agree?

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Tom Grosh IV

Enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa, four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he hosts the Christian Scholar Series), on campus as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (serving fellowships such as the Christian Medical Society/CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine), online as the Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network, in the culture at large, and in God's creation.

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