Lutheranism 101

I finally got my copy of Lutheranism 101, and I recommend it highly.  And not just because I wrote the last chapter, “Putting It All Together.”  It’s not exactly “Lutheranism for Dummies,” since it goes into some real depth, but it is in that family of books that explain things concisely, clearly, visually, and with a light touch.   Here is the publisher’s description:

Lutheranism 101 examines Lutheran beliefs and heritage in a fresh way. If you are a lifelong Lutheran searching for more information or new to Lutheranism looking to understand what we believe, this book will be your guide. It is written in an easy-to-read conversational style with short articles, side-bar features, and some humor. Lutheranism 101 helps create a solid foundation of reference upon which a lifetime of sound teaching can be built.

Explore the basics of Lutheran theology by digging into the history of Lutheranism and making connections between what Lutherans believe and what Lutherans do.

In addition to treating the big issues regarding sin, Christ, and salvation, and the basics of Lutheranism (why they worship the way they do, how Baptism and the Lord’s Supper are part of justification by faith, etc.), the book has priceless little boxed essays (such as one by John Pless on vocation and the Christian life), interesting tidbits (a list of church bodies in world Lutheranism), and useful factoids (how to make the sign of the Cross).

This book is really striking a chord with people. Paul McCain, the publisher at Concordia Publishing House, reports that they sold out the print run after only two and a half weeks and have had to print more already. Clearly, contrary to what some say, laypeople are hungry to learn about theology.

And CPH has it on sale. If you buy it between now and Reformation Day (October 31, as the book will teach you), you can get it for a mere $14.99, a savings of ten bucks! You can take advantage of that offer
here.

Lutheranism 101

Those of you who have read it, please report.

The rest of what I said: on colleges’ responsibilities

The unedited version of one of the questionsin the interview the Washington Examiner did with me:

3. Do colleges and universities bear a responsibility to nurture the spiritual lives of their students? If so, how are they doing, or how could they do better?

I think distinctly religious colleges do, such as Patrick Henry College where I work and the array of Catholic institutions in the D.C. area. I don’t think secular or state-funded universities do, and when they try they usually spin out some sort of generic therapeutic spirituality that only makes things worse. I would just as soon they stay out of it.

The real responsibility, though, falls on individual professors, and this is true whether it is a religious or a secular school. It comes back, again, to vocation. God works through human beings–nonbelievers as well as believers–in their callings. As a teacher, I am called to love and serve my students. I do this by teaching them my subject. But I dare not corrupt them, harm them, or use them for my own ends. My impact on their spiritual condition may be minimal or great. At Patrick Henry College, I can be more intentional about that than when I taught at a secular college, but all teachers are part of a vast web of influences in their students’ lives. A heavy responsibility comes with that.

Conference on Lutheranism & the Classics

I’ll be heading out to the seminary at Ft. Wayne, Indiana, for the conference on Lutheranism & the Classics October 1-2.  I’ll be giving a paper on Luther and the Liberal Arts.  If you are in the neighborhood or can come to the neighborhood, ome out for it!  For more information, go here: Concordia Theological Seminary – Lutheranism & the Classics.

Educational reform

Robert J. Samuelson notes that decades of educational reform policies have yielded nothing that works:

Standard theories don’t explain this meager progress. Too few teachers? Not really. From 1970 to 2008, the student population increased 8 percent and the number of teachers rose 61 percent. The student-teacher ratio has fallen sharply, from 27-to-1 in 1955 to 15-to-1 in 2007. Are teachers paid too little? Perhaps, but that’s not obvious. In 2008, the average teacher earned $53,230; two full-time teachers married to each other and making average pay would belong in the richest 20 percent of households (2008 qualifying income: $100,240). Maybe more preschool would help. Yet, the share of 3- and 4-year-olds in preschool has rocketed from 11 percent in 1965 to 53 percent in 2008.

“Reforms” have disappointed for two reasons. First, no one has yet discovered transformative changes in curriculum or pedagogy, especially for inner-city schools, that are (in business lingo) “scalable” — easily transferable to other schools, where they would predictably produce achievement gains. Efforts in New York and the District to raise educational standards involve contentious and precarious school-by-school campaigns to purge “ineffective” teachers and principals. Charter schools might break this pattern, though there are grounds for skepticism. In 2009, the 4,700 charter schools enrolled about 3 percent of students and did not uniformly show achievement gains.

The larger cause of failure is almost unmentionable: shrunken student motivation. Students, after all, have to do the work. If they aren’t motivated, even capable teachers may fail.

Motivation comes from many sources: curiosity and ambition; parental expectations; the desire to get into a “good” college; inspiring or intimidating teachers; peer pressure. The unstated assumption of much school “reform” is that if students aren’t motivated, it’s mainly the fault of schools and teachers. The reality is that, as high schools have become more inclusive (in 1950, 40 percent of 17-year-olds had dropped out, compared with about 25 percent today) and adolescent culture has strengthened, the authority of teachers and schools has eroded. That applies more to high schools than to elementary schools, helping explain why early achievement gains evaporate.

Motivation is weak because more students (of all races and economic classes, let it be added) don’t like school, don’t work hard and don’t do well. In a 2008 survey of public high school teachers, 21 percent judged student absenteeism a serious problem; 29 percent cited “student apathy.” The goal of expanding “access” — giving more students more years of schooling — tends to lower educational standards. Michael Kirst, an emeritus education professor at Stanford, estimates that 60 percent of incoming community college students and 30 percent of freshmen at four-year colleges need remedial reading and math courses.

Against these realities, school “reform” rhetoric is blissfully evasive. It is often an exercise in extravagant expectations. Even if George W. Bush’s No Child Left Behind program had been phenomenally successful (it wasn’t), many thousands of children would have been left behind. Now Duncan routinely urges “a great teacher” in every classroom. That would be about 3.7 million “great” teachers — a feat akin to having every college football team composed of all-Americans. With this sort of intellectual rigor, what school “reform” promises is more disillusion.

via Robert J. Samuelson – School reform’s meager results.

There are other reasons:  content-free curriculum, touchy-feely exercises instead of academic instruction, and, above all, teacher-training programs that push progressive educational theory even when it no longer works.  But Samuelson has a good point about motivation.  I’m intrigued by his comment “adolescent culture has strengthened.”  And “adolescent culture,” perpetuated by young people associating mainly with people in their own age group, tends to be anti-school, anti-intellectual, and anti-adult.

Youth group madness

I was on Issues, Etc., yesterday. You can listen here. Somehow Todd Wilkens or Jeff Schwarz got ahold of a WORLD column I wrote way back in 2002. They seemed to think it is still relevant. Here it is:

Stupid church tricks

Many church youth groups are teaching young people exactly what they don’t need to learn | Gene Edward Veith

Four sets of parents are suing a church in Indiana for what happened at a New Year’s Eve lock-in. A youth leader chewed up a mixture of dog food, sardines, potted meat, sauerkraut, cottage cheese, and salsa, topped off with holiday eggnog. As if this spectacle were not disgusting enough (let the reader beware), he then spit out the mixture into a glass and encouraged the members of the youth group to drink it!

Some of those who did, of course, became sick, whereupon their parents sued the church. According to an Associated Press account, the youth pastor said that the “gross-out” game, called the Human Vegematic, was just for fun and that the church forced no one to participate. The lawsuit accused the adults in charge of pressuring 13- and 14-year-olds into activities that caused them physical and mental harm.

Such “gross-out” games have become a fad in youth ministry. Since adolescents are amused by bodily functions, crude behavior, and tastelessness—following the church-growth principle of giving people what they like as a way to entice them into the kingdom—many evangelical youth leaders think this is a way to reach young people.

The Source for Youth Ministry, a popular and widely used resource center, posts scores of games on its website, many of which were contributed by youth group leaders in the field.

There is Sanctuary Softball, which involves whacking a nerf ball in church, with home plate being the area of the altar, and running through the pews, as the fielders then try to hit the batter with the ball to make an out. Another fun activity is Seafood Catch, which involves putting minnows in the baptistry, then catching them by hand. (“Extra points for eating them after it is done.”)

Then there are games designed to appeal to adolescents’ hormones. These include kissing games like “Kiss the Wench.” “Leg Line Up” has girls feel boy’s legs to identify who is who. Some of them have odd homosexual subtexts, like “Pull Apart,” in which guys cling to each other, while girls try to pull them apart. Another has girls putting makeup on guys, leading to a drag beauty show. Then there is the embarrassingly Freudian “Baby Bottle Burp,” in which girls put a diaper (a towel) on a boy, then feed him a bottle of soda, and cradle him until he burps!

These are presented as just ordinary games, good ways to break the ice at youth group. But there is another category of “Sick and Twisted Games.” Many of these involve eating and drinking gross things, like at the Indiana church. (“Toothbrush Buffet” has youth group leaders brushing their teeth and spitting into a cup. Each then passes it along to the next in line, who uses what is in the cup to brush his teeth. The last one drinks down everyone’s spit.) Others are scatological, and are too repellent to describe.

What do teenagers learn from these youth group activities? Nothing of the Bible. Nothing of theology. Nothing of the cost of discipleship. But they do learn some lessons that they can carry with them the rest of their lives:

* Lose your inhibitions. Young people usually have inhibitions against doing anything too embarrassing or shameful. These exercises are designed to free people from such hangups. For some reason, post-Freudian psychologists—whose “sensitivity groups” are the model for these kinds of exercises—maintain that such inhibitions are bad. Christians, though, have always insisted that we need to feel inhibited about indulging in things for which we should feel ashamed. This is part of what we mean by developing a conscience.

Though being “gross” may not be sinful in itself, overcoming natural revulsions can only train a child to become uninhibited about more important things.

* Give in to peer pressure. Defenders of these kinds of activities maintain that they help create group unity. The way they work, though, is to overcome a teenager’s inhibitions with the greater desire to go along with the group. In other words, these exercises teach the teenager to give in to peer pressure. Instead, youth groups need to teach Christian teenagers not to go along with the crowd and to stand up against what their friends want them to do.

* Christianity is stupid. Status-conscious teenagers know that those who are so desperate to be liked that they will do anything to curry favor are impossible to respect. Young people may come to off-the-wall youth group meetings, but when they grow up, they will likely associate the church with other immature, juvenile phases of their lives, and Christianity will be something they will grow out of.

Teenagers get enough entertainment, psychology, and hedonism from their culture. They don’t need it from their church. What they need—and often yearn for—is God’s Word, catechesis, and spiritual formation.

via WORLD Magazine | Stupid church tricks | Gene Edward Veith | Aug 24, 02.

Am I right, or am I over-reacting?  What are your memories of church youth group?  Was it like this, or more helpful?  Did it help keep you in church and make you grow in your faith, or did it drive you away?

“And then they are all mine”

Al Mohler, himself a seminary president, discusses the agenda of some college professors:

On many campuses, a significant number of faculty members are representatives of what has been called the “adversary culture.” They see their role as political and ideological, and they define their teaching role in these terms. Their agenda is nothing less than to separate students from their Christian beliefs and their intellectual and moral commitments.

A good many of these professors deny this agenda, but from time to time the mask is removed. Writing at the “University Diaries” column at the site InsideHigherEd.com, a professor of English revealed this agenda with amazing candor. Responding to an argument about the power of intellectual elites, this professor dropped any effort to hide the real agenda:

“We need to encourage everyone to be in college for as many years as they possibly can,” this professor wrote, “in the hope that somewhere along the line they might get some exposure to the world outside their town, and to moral ideas not exclusively derived from their parents’ religion. If they don’t get this in college, they’re not going to get it anywhere else.”

This professor minces no words. The college experience, the argument goes, is the best (and perhaps last) opportunity for someone to break students’ commitments to the moral convictions “derived from their parents’ religion.”

Similarly, writing in a Seattle newspaper, a teacher of English and college adviser at Northwestern University in Evanston, Illinois reveals this ideological agenda in even more shocking terms. Bill Savage reacts to the fact that the so-called conservative “red” states are “outbreeding” the “blue” states, which are more liberal in voting patterns. Identifying himself as a political liberal with no children of his own, Savage acknowledges that he and his fellow liberals have a lower fertility rate than conservatives. Nevertheless, he insists that educated urban liberals need not despair. He expresses confidence “that blue America’s Urban Archipelago can grow larger, more contiguous, and more politically powerful even without my offspring.” How?

“The children of red states will seek a higher education,” he explains, “and that education will very often happen in blue states or blue islands in red states. For the foreseeable future, loyal dittoheads will continue to drop off their children at the dorms. After a teary-eyed hug, Mom and Dad will drive their SUV off toward the nearest gas station, leaving their beloved progeny behind.”

Then what? He proudly claims: “And then they are all mine.”


CLOSE | X

HIDE | X