Another Seminary Hits the Skids, Firing Eight Professors

GTS logo

The crest of General Theological Seminary in New York City.

I’ve been beating the drum that seminaries across the land are in a time of crisis. Here are some examples:

Now at General Theological Seminary in New York City, the flagship school of the Episcopal Church, a situation is happening that some describe as war. Eight professors, in conflict with the dean, walked out of GTS, refusing to teach, attend meetings, or participate in common worship, then they were fired. The professors wrote:

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Transgender Teens Are the Next Target of Minnesota Bigots

trans ad

The above full-page ad was run on the back of the Sunday sports section in the Minneapolis Star Tribune on Sunday. According to reports, it’s from a coalition of religious right and Tea Party activists who regularly oppose legislation meant to protect vulnerable communities. When they fought anti-bullying legislation, it was under the pretense of government intrusion in schools.

But this worse, way worse.

With an image of a shower and a rhetorical question about a boy showering with “your 14-year old daughter,” they go on to mischaracterize the rule that is being considered by the Minnesota State High School Athletic League. (You can read the draft policy here.)

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Weight-Watchers and Dietary Restrictions in Leviticus: A (Post)-Colonial (Sub)Liminal (Post)Postmodern Neopragmatic Reading of the 2014 Ikea Catalog(ue) [Five Questions for Peter Enns]

Peter Enns is a fellow Patheosian. Ooh, I like that. Patheosian. We also have the same literary agent, editor, and publisher. In spite of that, I’ve never met him. But I’ve admired him from afar. So I’m excited to post this email interview that I conducted with him. 

Enns cover

1. I love your book. You have the rare skill of being able to translate serious biblical scholarship into light-hearted and witty prose. Have you always been funny?

Not really. I had to take classes in funny during college and remedial classes in funny at night school. But after a lot of hard work, it’s beginning to pay off. So let that be a lesson to you young people out there, you can achieve anything if you apply yourself and keep at it.

All kidding aside, I’ve always been a bit of a jokester and it’s gotten me into trouble on more than one occasion, but sometimes it can lead to new insights and growth.

Of course, not everyone laughs at the things that make me laugh. For example, in my new book, The Bible Tells Me So, I compare the rulebook view of the Bible to a fake Chanel bag. Some people might be offended by this, but others – well the humor can disarm people’s defensiveness and open up a dialogue. Humor takes the familiar and twists it just enough that it becomes unfamiliar, so you can see it from a different angle.

Humor can also annoy people, which is my reason for getting up in the morning.

 

2. Are you tired of the Bible? I mean, seriously, do you ever get sick of it?

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You Don’t Know If God Exists…Or Doesn’t Exist

Friend of the blog and Yale philosopher Keith DeRose has a fascinating interview up at the NYTimes’s The Stone. On the heels of the Archbishop of Canterbury’s admission that he sometimes doubts the existence of God, Keith argues that no one knows whether God exists.

But, more politically unpopular these days, he argues just as strongly that atheists cannot prove — indeed, don’t even know — that God doesn’t exist:

The thought that God exists does strike many atheists as bizarre. But, in contrast to the Flying Spaghetti Monster, there are all of these theists and agnostics who do not find the thought of God’s existence bizarre, and I really think they ruin our atheist friends’ hopes for easy knowledge here. The basic point is that, when there are many other apparently sensible people who disagree with you, you need a good argument to claim that you know they’re wrong.

Keith’s point is that atheists can’t simply write off belief in a God because they find such a belief bizarre. That’s not a counter-argument.

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Remember When Yoga Was Bad?

The yogis at Solomon's Porch.

The yogis at Solomon’s Porch.

Last night in yoga, I couldn’t help but smile. I know I’m supposed to be totally and completely focused on the moment — and I was — but I was also thinking about the past. When I wrote The Sacred Way, editors and Zondervan made me take out two passages: one that mentioned drinking a beer, and one that referred to a yoga pose. (It didn’t matter that the pose I mentioned was in the context of a spiritual retreat led by Zondervan partner, Youth Specialties and Mike Yaconelli.) No yoga. No way.

Then, of course, Doug went on CNN to debate John MacArthur about yoga, seen above. At the time, Doug had done yoga, but I wouldn’t say it was a part of his daily life. Well, it is now, and his wife Shelley runs a non-profit yoga studio at Solomon’s Porch (she’s at the center of the photo above). And I take yoga classes a couple times a week at Life Time Fitness.

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A Grammatical PSA

Are you in seminary? Starting grad school this fall? If so, here are some hints to make your professors more happier as they grade your papers:

  • Avoid the subjunctive mood.
  • Avoid the passive voice.
  • Don’t use “scare quotes.”
  • Punctuation goes inside of quote marks. See above.
  • Book titles are italicized, not underlined or in quote marks.
  • Always use a serif font.
  • Always use the Oxford Comma.
  • Only a single space between sentences. Unless you’re using a typewriter. Which you aren’t.
  • Don’t capitalize words that are not proper nouns.

Now back to your regularly scheduled programming. :-)

Official Seminary Response

As a blogger, one never knows. Most posts are crickets. Sometimes, a post captures the attention of an audience and goes a bit viral. That’s what happened to last week’s post about the three major Protestant seminaries in the Twin Cities (though the traffic to that post still paled in comparison to the previous posts on Driscoll and Pannenberg).

There’s been conversation online about that post, and a fair amount of criticism of what I wrote (you can see the pros and cons in the comments to the original post). Fair enough. Many have seen my bigger point that the seminary landscape is shifting, while some have taken issue with my numbers. It’s a fair criticism. But we’re all shooting in the dark a bit, since I’m using anecdotal evidence about this fall’s matriculations, and others are referring to publicly available data from past years, from the Association of Theological Schools (ATS).

The only way that we could really know about this year’s numbers is from the respective schools, so I reached out to each of the three schools and invited them to write a response. United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities did not respond. Bethel Seminary wrote to tell me that my numbers were incorrect, but they did not send an official response. United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities told me they would not be submitting an official response. Luther Seminary responded. The following is from Carrie Carroll, vice president of enrollment at Luther: [Read more...]

Jesus’ Death, God’s Culpability

Marc Chagall's "Yellow Crucifixion," which hung on Jürgen Moltmann's wall as he wrote The Crucified God.

Marc Chagall’s “Yellow Crucifixion,” which hung on Jürgen Moltmann’s wall as he wrote The Crucified God.

I spent the summer revising and rewriting Did God Kill Jesus? That meant that the subject of Jesus’ death was front-of-mind much of the time. Even as I mowed the lawn or biked to work, I was thinking about this.

My editor has expressed some trepidation over the question. Of course, God didn’t kill Jesus, in the sense that God didn’t pound the nails into his wrists and hoist the cross upright. But even if God stood aside and allowed to happen, God is somehow responsible, right?

(Which reminds me of Richard Pryor’s famous bit. God’s invited to a dinner party on Earth, but before he leaves, he asks, “Hey, can I see my son?”

“Oh, um, shit, we cruficified him.”

“What?!?”)

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Be the First To Get DID GOD KILL JESUS? #DGKJ

If you’d like to know about my new book, Did God Kill Jesus?, before the throngs and the hordes, sign up on this form (only an email address is required).

Here’s a taste of what you’ll read in that book: [Read more...]

A Tale of Three Seminaries

Twin Cities seminaries

The Twin Cities boasts three Protestant seminaries (forgive me if I don’t consider John Piper’s unaccredited school a seminary in full standing). They are Luther Seminary, United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities, and Bethel Seminary. And I think that the rising and falling fortunes of these three can tell us something interesting about the landscape of the church in America today. [Disclosure: I teach at United, I am part of a Templeton grant at Luther, and I once made out with a girl in the trees behind Bethel. I have friends who teach at all three.]

Luther Seminary was initially founded in 1917 as the merger of three Norwegian Lutheran seminaries. Another merger with Augsburg Seminary (also Norwegian) happened in 1963, and yet another merger in 1976 with Northwestern Lutheran Theological Seminary (English) led to Luther Northwestern Seminary. In 1994, they simplified the name to Luther Seminary. Luther is the largest of the eight seminaries of the ELCA denomination — with incoming classes of well over 100 — but it has recently fallen on hard times. Due to falling enrollment and financial mismanagement, the president and CFO were let go and many faculty and staff were laid off.

United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities was also formed by a merger. In 1957, the United Church of Christ denomination was formed out of the merger of a couple denoms, and in 1962, UTS was founded as the merger of Yankton School of Theology (German Congregational) and Mission House (German Reformed). In the 1970s and 80s, UTS was at the forefront of liberalism, particularly feminist theology, and was among the first seminaries to enroll openly gay students. But their star faded, and in the last few years, incoming classes were in the low 30s. Today it serves primarily UCC, UMC, and UUA students.

Bethel Seminary was initially founded in Chicago in 1871. In 1914, it was acquired by the Baptist General Conference denomination and moved to Minnesota. Always evangelical in its outlook, Bethel made news in the 1990s when professors John Piper and Greg Boyd squared off, resulting in Boyd’s resignation and Piper’s withdrawal from Bethel and the BGC. In its heyday, Bethel was welcoming over 200 new students every year, but recently they’ve laid off all of their church historians as well as several other faculty members.

Here’s the interesting part:

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