Am I Distinguished? (Don’t Answer That)

Yesterday I started teaching two classes at United Theological Seminary of the Twin Cities. Never heard of it before? Not surprising. It’s a small, liberal seminary, affiliated with the UCC, the UMC, and the UUA. I taught a class there in 2012, and last summer I was approached about teaching more. And about a title. So they gave me on: Distinguished Lecturer in the Practice of Theology.

That’s a pretty fancy title for an adjunct professor, but it looks good on the back of a book. Plus, I’ve never heard of anyone with that title before. A Google search shows that no one else in the world has this title, so it fulfills my need for uniqueness.

A funny thing about that title is that I rarely lecture. I do with undergrads, but my pedagogy with grad students — heavily influenced by bell hooks — is to ask trangressive questions and catalyze discussion.

The two classes I’m teaching are dissimilar.

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Honest Scholarship May Not Be Possible at a Christian School

Mickey Maudlin, the capable and well-connected managing editor at HarperOne (think Rob Bell), has an interesting thought in his latest newsletter.  He is promoting the latest book by NT Wright, and proposing the Wright breaks the mold of biblical scholarship by writing from a confessional posture, but still producing popular books.

But I’m most intrigued by his intro:

FF Bruce

The late great Bible scholar F. F. Bruce once remarked that he would not have been able to do his work if he had taught within a confessional institution, such as a seminary or Christian college. What I found odd about his comment was that he was, at the time, often listed as one of the top evangelical New Testament Bible scholars of the day. Why would his work change if the results of his scholarship aligned with the faith commitments of those schools?

I think the answer helps explain why conservative Bible scholars rarely write books that break out into the wider market. What many admired about Bruce’s work was the sense that his conclusions were based on where his arguments led him and not on where he needed to land. One did not perceive that he was steering his readers to the “evangelical” position; instead, readers sensed his curiosity and delight in solving the puzzles he posed. (via Surprised by Bishop Wright by Mickey Maudlin | News and Pews from HarperOne)

Let me ask — and be honest — Do you think that a scholar at a confessional school truly has the freedom to come to whatever conclusions her/his scholarship leads to?

I don’t.  Not if they don’t want to be fired.  And I can affirm this by the emails I’ve received from evangelical college professors who affirm gay relations and rights based on their own academic work, but are unable to publicly state that because they’d be fired.

The Future of Seminary: Wrap-Up

This post is part of a Patheos symposium on the Future of Seminary Education.  You can see all of my posts in this symposium here.

There’s a lot of really good stuff on the Patheos symposium, maybe the best stuff that’s ever been collected on this subject, and from a very wide range of perspectives.  You’ve got everything from an evangelical saying that seminaries need to doctrinally retrench, to a former evangelical who runs an inter-faith seminary.  I don’t think it’s even possible to have a wider range than that.

The robustness of the conversation has, I must admit, surprised me.  It seems there are still lots of people who really care about graduate theological education.  I think that’s a good thing.

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The Future of Seminary: Free?

This post is part of a Patheos symposium on the Future of Seminary Education.  You can see all of my posts in this symposium here.

Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary made news last week, when they announced that beginning in 2015, they won’t be charging tuition anymore:

Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary (LPTS) will not charge tuition for students in its master’s degree programs in divinity, marriage and family therapy and religion beginning in 2015. Tuition is currently a little over $10,200.

“As a result of this bold decision, Louisville Seminary is poised to make not only a difference in the future of this school and in theological education, but also a difference for the future of the church,” said Pamela G. Kidd, chair of the Board of Trustees, following the trustees’ unanimous and enthusiastic vote.

The trustees also committed to raising about $17 million toward the program. The seminary’s current endowment is about $70 million. By 2021 the seminary intends to offer an additional stipend to every student to cover living expenses.

Total master’s degree enrollment will be capped at 130 ― down from about 150 currently ― to make the tuition-free program affordable and more selective. “Capping the size of entering classes will make full funding of each student an achievable goal within a relatively short time frame,” said Patrick Cecil, LPTS’s vice-president and CFO in a statement released by the seminary announcing the historic program.

Interesting, don’t you think?  I imagine that LPTS will suddenly become a very competitive place to get in to in 2015, which will inevitably raise the competency of of the student body.  How they’ll make it work financially is another question.  But at least if they go down, they’ll be going down in flames.

My only question is this: How many LPTS students are already going for free? I know from my experience at Princeton that most of the students who were on the PC(USA) ordination track didn’t pay for their education.  If most of their current students are already going for free, then I don’t know what the news is.

HT: Patrick Marshall