The Challenge of ESN’s March Madness

The Bookworm by Carl Spitzweg

What a joy to have Micheal Hickerson return to the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN) blog to share The Best Christian Book of All Time: One Year Later (2/13/2014). A slam dunk. Thank-you Mike!

I pray that many of you have been and continue to be inspired to draw from the library of books found in The Best Christian Book of All Time Selection Show.

This year we’re turning to . . .

Which topics must Christians be prepared to engage in today’s higher education?

What is the inspiration for ESN’s March Madness ’14? In January, I spent a significant amount of my time en route to, during, and after InterVarsity’s staff conference prayerfully considering the meaning/purpose of higher education for the Christian as part of the Body of Christ. I wrestled with the stories of students, faculty, and staff from the past year, in particular the complex vocational questions they face each and every day as missional Christians (individually and corporately). Some of these questions are generated internally, others externally. Some are spoken, some unspoken. But many are “classic” explorations of Loving God in the Flesh in the Real World, returned to generation after generation by individuals and the larger community of faith interacting with a dynamic academic context.

In addition I kept cycling back to Vinoth Ramachandra’s prophetic call for Engaging the University. The vision for missional campus ministry offered by Engaging the University spurs me to dig more deeply not only “in and across” particular disciplines, but also “up and down” the “academic ladder”

  • undergraduate students
  • graduate students
  • postdocs/researchers
  • assistant professor
  • associate professor, most probably including tenure
  • professor
  • academic administration — of interest to some.

As I shared in Seek the Welfare of the University (Jeremiah 29:7) — Donald Hay (2/9/2014), I have recently pressed into a number of conversations exploring the importance of “the theology” of this task. In response, by Fall 2014 ESN’s resource section will have several pages on the “basics of theology in higher ed”. This will include coaching/mentoring through stories of how Christians have engaged significant topics/questions and recommendations of material not only to encourage, but also equip Emerging Scholars through their academic journey (i.e., “in and across” particular disciplines, “up and down” the “academic ladder”). How will we generate this material?

We will draw from and refine material offered by the learning community which has been coming together here on the ESN blog and in several local hubs — if you’re interested in writing for the blog and/or creating a local hub, please email me.

The next stage of development is to ask, “On which topics should we focus through this process?” Through March Madness 2014, I desire to create a platform to

  • identify the most important topics and the questions they raise
  • prioritize addressing these topics and questions
  • invite members of ESN, special guests and/or work groups to engage the topics and questions. Note: work groups will have a variety of structures, e.g., local with periodic face-to-face gatherings, conference related, and virtual (regional, national, international).

What topics deserve attention not just during ESN’s March Madness, but throughout the coming months/years?

Please help us extend sixteen “tickets to the Dance” by sharing nominations below. AND by passing along the invitation to all your friends, colleagues, and acquaintances so they too can join in March Madness ESN style 🙂

Next week I will offer some pre-tournament analysis on how I see the “games” unfolding. In two weeks the “selection committee of one” (with some distinguished additional advice — stay tuned) will announce the tip-off of what will truly be a “Sweet Sixteen” 😉

2/16/2014, drawn from post on The calling of Christian postgrad students and academics — Ard Louis

BONUS: Part of an InterVarsity fellowship group (undergrad, grad, faculty, focused ministry)? Please encourage their participation. How do we get this idea “into the paint”? If your fellowship “takes it to the hole” with 10 or more topics gathered through the collaboration of at least three members of your fellowship by Sunday, February 23 midnight Wednesday, February 26 (ET) your “team” will be entered for a prize of $100 of InterVarsity Press publications. ESN will randomly select three winners from the teams who “bring their game to the court”.

How do you submit as a team?  Include your fellowship group’s name and collaborators (first names) in the nominations submitted below AND email your fellowship’s name/contact information to ESN. Whether or not your team “hits the shot from downtown” with regard to the nominations prize drawing, you’ll be a part of the conversation which extends sixteen “tickets to the Dance”. AND maybe one or more of your nominations will be announced on the February 28 Selection Show 🙂 Now that would we be fun, wouldn’t it? Let’s get our game on! To God be the glory!

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Tom Grosh IV

Tom enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa and their four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he teaches adult electives and co-leads a small group), among healthcare professionals as the South Central PA Area Director for the Christian Medical & Dental Associations (CMDA), and in higher ed as a volunteer with the Emerging Scholars Network (ESN). The Christian Medical Society / CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine is the hub of his ministry with CMDA. Note: Tom served with InterVarsity Christian Fellowship / USA for 20+ years, including 6+ years as the Associate Director of ESN. He has written for the ESN blog from its launch in August 2008. He has studied Biology (B.S.), Higher Education (M.A.), Spiritual Direction (Certificate), Spiritual Formation (M.A.R.), Ministry to Emerging Generations (D.Min.). To God be the glory!

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  • Tom Grosh IV commented on February 14, 2014 Reply

    Thank-you to Tim, a professor at a small private college*, who emailed me the below questions. Note: Feel free to share your topics with just one word, several words, a sentence, or a question.

    Regarding important “topics” in today’s higher education, I would suggest these, in question form:

    1. 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?

    2. 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?

    3. 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?

    4. 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?


    Tom Ingebritsen commented on February 14, 2014 Reply

    In my Christianity and Science Honors Seminar I always tell my students that there are four big questions that everyone at sometimes asks (I think I first heard these from Ravi Zacharias)

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

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

    3. Morality. How should I live?

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

    Tom Ingebritsen

    Wagenius commented on February 14, 2014 Reply

    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.

    Micheal Hickerson commented on February 16, 2014 Reply

    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?

    More specifically to higher education, how can we encourage and support scholars who are struggling to find meaningful academic work?

  • Kevin commented on February 17, 2014 Reply

    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.

    The difference between American culture and Christianity.

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

    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.

    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?

    M.Hron commented on February 17, 2014 Reply

    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 quarrelling, 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.

    Concomitantly, 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 adressing 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…

    mikstelltheolog commented on February 17, 2014 Reply

    I probably will have more to add to this discussion, but I have been thinking from a faculty perspective for some time about the issue academic freedom.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? I also think there is a neglected aspect to this discussion – 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?

    DMJ commented on February 21, 2014 Reply

    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.

  • Gerald Rau commented on February 24, 2014 Reply

    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.

    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?

    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?

    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?

    Luke A. Corwin commented on February 25, 2014 Reply

    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?

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

  • David Eric Carlson commented on February 26, 2014 Reply

    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.

    W. Brian Lane (@WBrianLane) commented on February 28, 2014 Reply

    Here’s one I’ve been struggling with as I’ve engaged with young-earth creationists at church (especially after the Ham/Nye debate): I’m beginning to wonder if for many YECists the age of the universe & evolution are like meat-eating in Romans 14; If they feel they cannot serve God faithfully and hold to a 13.8-billion-year-old universe, does that mean that my touting evidence like the cosmic microwave background causes them to stumble? This question could extend to any field of study we pursue: How can I interact with non-scholars in my church in a manner that is both respectful to their convictions but also intellectually honest with regards to my field of study?

      W. Brian Lane (@WBrianLane) commented on February 28, 2014 Reply

      Just a shout-out for the web programmer: That Romans 14 hyperlink automatically generated. Wonderful piece of programming!

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