Week in Review (Updated)

[Editor’s note: This is a new weekly feature from your blog contributors. Each week, we’ll be posting articles, books, news, etc., that Tom, Mike, and the ESN community have been pondering. If you have a book or article you’d like us to add to next week’s Review, add it in the comments or send it to either Mike or Tom. Thanks!]

The Harvard disadvantage – The Boston Globe takes a very personal look at students from poor backgrounds at Harvard and their struggles to fit in with the children of privilege.

In the Chronicle, Audrey Williams June provides two looks at the changing world of tenure: a report on the rapid decrease of tenure-track instructors (73% of instructors, including graduate assistants, are now off the tenure track) and a profile of St. John’s 2008 decision to move 20 contingent writing instructors to tenure-track positions.

A few weeks ago, Inside Higher Ed published this advice on managing large writing projects from John Gastil. I (Mike) am working on a large writing project myself at the moment, and plan to take Gastil’s advice about outlining, scheduling, and setting deadlines.

A fine tuned universe? At Scot McKnight’s Jesus Creed blog, RJS (a science professor) reviews some high profile opinions on the Anthropic Principle.

From the community

Dave Snoke submitted this very interesting article from the UK, about an Oxford researcher, Justin Barrett, who claims that belief in God (or at least, a god) is ” built into the natural development of children’s minds,” not something learned from the culture around them.


N.T. Wright’s Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision (InterVarsity Press, 2009). Here’s a quote to ponder:

“Knowing God for oneself, as opposed to knowing or thinking about him, is at the heart of Christian living. Discovering that God is gracious, rather than a distant bureaucrat or a dangerous tyrant, is the good news that constantly surprises and refreshes us. But we are not the center of the universe. God is not circling around us. We are circling around him. It may look, from our view, as though “me and my salvation” are the be-all and end-all of Christianity. Sadly, many people — many devout Christians! — have preached that way and lived that way. This problem is not peculiar to the churches of the Reformation. It goes back to the high Middle Ages in the Western church, and infects and affects Catholic and Protestant, liberal and conservative, high and low church alike. But a full reading of Scripture itself tells a different story. God made humans for a purpose: not simply for themselves, not simply so that they could be in relationship with him, but so that through them, as his image-bearers, he could bring his wise, glad, fruitful order to the world.” — pp.23-24.

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Micheal Hickerson

The former Associate Director for the Emerging Scholars Network, Micheal lives in Cincinnati with his wife and three children and works as a web manager for a national storage and organization company. He writes about work, vocation, and finding meaning in what you do at No Small Actors.

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  • Tom Grosh commented on May 15, 2009 Reply

    Great to read of Justin Barrett’s continuing work (thanks David!). In 2006, I heard Barrett, http://www.cam.ox.ac.uk/staff/dr-justin-barrett/, speak at Franklin & Marshall College, Lancaster, PA (HT: Michael Murray). At the time he was “coming out of academic retirement” to become Senior Research Fellow for the new Centre for Cognition and Culture. An exciting story for another day. …

    Has anyone else read “Why Would Anyone Believe in God?” (2004, AltaMira) — http://www.cam.ox.ac.uk/publications/why-would-anyone-believe-in-god/ — which provides his field’s “first relatively comprehensive introduction intended for a general audience.” If so, let’s connect!

    PS. For those with interest, I have posted my notes on his 2006 presentation on “Why Would Anyone Believe in God?” at http://groshlink.net/archives/2006/10/25/why_would_anyone_believe_in_god

  • mikehickerson@gmail.com'
    Micheal Hickerson commented on May 15, 2009 Reply

    From the lighter side: Any philosopher professors looking to be on reality TV? Inside Higher Ed reports that the show Wife Swap is seeking philosophers for an upcoming show. Cheesy? Yes. But it pays $20,000 – perfect for paying down student loans!

  • dwsnoke@comcast.net'
    Dave Snoke commented on May 16, 2009 Reply

    Let me just comment that anyone should read N.T. Wright’s book with a great caution and care. I have not read this book, but from what I know from others he is questioning very core orthodox Protestant teachings on justification, turning it into something like communal membership rather than right standing before God. We would all say that communal membership is extremely important, but Wright is putting the cart before the horse, as far as I understand, and setting himself against Luther, Wesley, Spurgeon and every other major evangelical preacher of the last 500 years, by saying that individual heart conversion is not a main issue, and that God does not impute Christ’s righteousness to us, because, in his words, “that would not make sense.” To me, the belief that we need Christ’s righteousness, because we have none of our own, and that only comes by heart conversion and union with Christ, is a core doctrine, worth fighting over, not a quibble of theologians.

    Wright may be more nuanced, but the quotes I have seen do not make me optimistic. Here is a question for discussion: is there an inherent problem that theologians only make a name for themselves by coming up with “new” theology? What if the old theology is fine?

  • Tom Grosh commented on May 16, 2009 Reply

    David, Thank-you for expressing your concerns regarding N.T. Wright’s “Justification: God’s Plan & Paul’s Vision” (InterVarsity Press, 2009). I wouldn’t recommend this as the first book one would reads as a follower of Christ. Titles which come to mind as important reads (alongside the Word of God) early in one’s walk as a follower of Christ include: Athanasius “On the Incarnation” (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/athanasius/incarnation.html), Augustine’s “Confessions,” http://www.ccel.org/ccel/augustine/confess.titlepage.html), Brother Lawrence’s “The Practice of the Presence of God” (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/lawrence/practice.titlepage.html), John Bunyan’s “Pilgrim’s Progress” (http://www.ccel.org/ccel/bunyan/pilgrim.titlepage.html), C.S. Lewis’s “Mere Christianity,” J.I. Packer’s “Knowing God,” John Piper’s “Desiring God,” (http://www.desiringgod.org/ResourceLibrary/OnlineBooks/ByTitle/1594_Desiring_God/), Jim Sire’s “The Universe Next Door” (followed by “Naming the Elephant”), John Stott’s “Basic Christianity,” John Stott’s “Your Mind Matters,” Stuart & Fee’s “How to Read the Bible for All It’s Worth,” N.T. Wright’s “Simply Christian” … stopping now so that I can get on w/family activities today.

    N.T. Wright’s purpose in writing “Justification” is to clarify his position, not to make a name for himself as a pioneer of a “new perspective.” His scholarship and ability to communicate the Word of God as an academic, preacher, and producer of popular level materials (books, commentaries, videos) has brought respect and interest to his work. By the grace of God the Father & His work through His Holy Spirit, the Word of God is to be the spectacles through which we not only embrace our Lord & Savior Jesus Christ, but live as Christ (individually and corporately) in relationship with the broken/fallen creation in anticipation of the the new heavens and the new earth. No doubt there is great value in what has been taught by the Church through years, but as for as for the value of numerous “new” and “old” perspectives/theologies we must return to the Word itself. I’d encourage you to pick up a copy of the book, so that we could have conversation about it later in the summer/fall.

    Your brother in Christ, Tom

  • David commented on May 16, 2009 Reply

    “I have not read this book, but from what I know from others he is questioning very core orthodox Protestant teachings on justification, turning it into something like communal membership rather than right standing before God.”

    Wright indeed challenges how “others” are reading the relevant texts on these important matters–and Wright thinks they matter a lot. Please give Wright a chance to make his case! That’s been Wright’s plea for years. People warn others about Wright not having read him themselves. And when they read Wright, they read him through their own lenses, the very lenses are being disputed! Wright argues–and read Alister McGrath on this too–that there’s been a “doctrine of justification” that has developed over time and that this doctrine has come to replace the biblical concept of justification. McGrath noticed this. Wright says, Yes–now lets go back and see how Paul uses these words and concepts and be careful not to read back into his concepts doctrines that the church has developed over the centuries. Fair enough.

    Then let’s look at Wright’s case and see if what he says is true. Just a plea for a Berean mindset; that’s all. I would definitely give this book to anyone who wants to enter into reading Wright for the first time. It’s a great read. They will get a much larger picture of God and his workings in the world through Jesus Christ. They will find themselves learning to read the Bible from within the biblical narrative itself. Wright is first and foremost and exegete and a refreshing guide to what all of the Scriptures say. I once heard Wright say this very helpful thing at a conference on preaching from Romans: When you’re done doing your exegesis of Romans and then look around you and see bits and pieces of the letter on the floor, then something has gone wrong with your exegesis. Give Wright a chance. Read him with a humble mind (that is, “I could be wrong, my denomination could be wrong on this or that passage.”). Yes, read him with a critical mind too–don’t believe it because Wright said! But neither think Wright is wrong because your favorite theologians/pastors say so. I’ve read too many of their criticisms and realized that they much of their analyses is question-begging: they read Wright through their own lenses, which lenses Wright argues have the wrong prescription. So, please read Wright humbly as well as critically. But engage Wright himself and not simply through the words and lenses of “others”. Actually, Piper’s book is online as a pdf; just google for it. And read Piper with the same charity–humbly and critically.

  • mikehickerson@gmail.com'
    Micheal Hickerson commented on May 17, 2009 Reply

    I’m a fan of both Piper and Wright, and I’m becoming more and more interested in this dispute between two pastor-scholars with whom I usually agree. (BTW, it was Tom who contributed the Wright quote above – I’ll start distinguishing between mine and Tom’s items on the Week in Review posts.)

    David, thanks for reminding me about Piper’s online book library. Here is the link:

    I’ve just downloaded Piper’s Future of Justification (the book which started this dialogue) and will soon order Wright’s Justification. This is not a doctrine I’ve thought much about, so I look forward to becoming better educated.

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