Read This Book: Awakening Wonder by @DrTurleyTalks (@ClassicalAcadPr)

“There is no argument against beauty.” -Peter Kreeft

It has become increasingly clear to me in recent years that North American evangelical Christianity suffers from a lack of confidence in and appreciation for Beauty. We pursue and call for the Good and the True, yet our strategy has centered primarily on syllogistic rationalism. We’re not all that apt at aesthetics. We love Truth, but we’ve forgotten that whatever is true is also beautiful, and we’ve forgotten that Beauty itself is deeply persuasive. There is no argument against beauty. 
Given my growing interest in the role of theological aesthetics in pedagogy and apologetics, I was very excited to see Stephen Turley’s new book from Classical Academic Press (CA), Awakening Wonder: A Classical Guide to Truth, Goodness, and Beauty (2015). I’ve been following the work of CAP for several years now and have found their resources invaluable. This book is no different. 
Turley’s book introduces the reader to the role of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty in shaping human life through a distinctly Christian education. The book opens in dialogue with C.S. Lewis to survey the way contemporary Western culture has redefined what it means to be human by removing objective value from our common life (chapter 1). This is followed by a look at the birth and development of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty as objective values in the classical world, and Plato’s role in that development receives focused attention. (chapter 2). Turley then traces the development of these values by the Christian Church in the Greek East (chapter 3) and the Latin West (chapter 4). All of that then serves as the foundation for his argument that the recovery of objective aesthetics by classical Christian educators provides the necessary tools to redeem the senses (chapter 5), sanctify the imagination (chapter 6), and reform education (chapter 7) in order to provide an environment in which our children grow up to embody the objective values of Truth, Goodness, and Beauty. The strength of the book is the author’s ability to synthesize and communicate a significant amount of material across a variety of disciplines and apply it to the contemporary classical Christian education project. The coherence of the argument embodies the values it promotes.
The God who raised Jesus from the dead is perfectly beautiful, and his beauty beckons us. Turley has provided a framework for developing our ability to perceive the divine beauty which calls us with joy to himself. The result is the recovery of that which we have neglected in the modern period, and the rediscovery of full human life that faithfully incarnates the sacred vocation to shine forth the beauty of the glory of the triune God in whose image we are made. Take and read. 

Wesley Biblical Seminary Announces Full Ride for Majority World Pastors

If you know anyone serving as a pastor in a developing country, you may want to share this with them. Wesley Biblical Seminary is offering 50 full tuition scholarships to qualified Majority World pastors and church leaders. Here’s the announcement from the seminary

As part of its Great Commission calling, Wesley Biblical Seminary is pleased to announce a pilot program to extend biblical and theological education to 50 pastor/leaders living in the two-thirds world. The Seminary will begin this fall to offer qualified applicants a totally online Master of Arts in Christian Studies degree with full tuition scholarship.

Over next several years, WBS will partner with mission agencies and national churches to identify and admit 50 qualified pastors and Christian leaders to join the vibrant WBS online learning community. The first cohort of this group will begin in the fall 2013 semester.

Rev. Reuben Lang’at, Seminary alumnus and board member of World Gospel Mission says, “With Christianity’s center of gravity having shifted, the church in the global south is experiencing tremendous growth. Africa alone is said to be getting 23,000 converts every day. This growth comes with challenge of making sure that these converts are properly discipled. This can only happen if the pastors are themselves trained to do so. There is need for these pastors to receive good training from qualified, experienced professors such as the ones we have at Wesley Biblical Seminary.”

Persons accepted into this online degree program must be qualified in these ways:

  • Be living and serving in the majority world. (This degree is not offered to internationals living in the United States.)
  • Possess a credible bachelor’s degree with at least a 2.5 (solid B) average
  • Be recommended and sponsored by a recognized mission agency or church
  • Have access to a computer and consistent internet service
  • Be able to learn in English at the graduate level
  • Be able to buy and obtain the texts necessary
  • Be able to pay the non-tuition fees, such as the technology fee and graduation fees.

Our new global outreach will draw in majority world students who are serving effectively in their own nations and enable these Christian leaders to have a quality biblical and theological education. The Master of Arts in Christian Studies (50 hours) is the most flexible degree the Seminary offers, giving the student the option to choose more elective courses.

If you are interested personally or know someone who should study with WBS in this strategic Great Commission outreach, please contact the Seminary registrar at this email address: or contact us by phone at 601.366.888.

I’m excited to be affiliated with an institution that has this kind of global vision. If you know someone who might be interested in the program, be sure to pass this info along to them.

UMC Must Align Resources with Mission

The 2012 General Conference (GC 2012) of The United Methodist Church (UMC) is only days away, and this quadrennial meeting is not lacking in importance as many issues relating to the future of our denomination will be decided by the delegates in attendance. Among those issues is to what extent the UMC will align its resources with its mission with regard to its official schools of theology. More specifically, GC 2012 will have to decide whether the UMC will maintain its current relationship with Claremont School of Theology, one of our official United Methodist schools of theology.
An interfaith seminary?
The mission of the United Methodist Church is “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.” Unfortunately, Claremont has decided to abandon this mission in favor of an alternative mission of inter-religious training and credentialing. In 2010, Claremont School of Theology announced its decision to inaugurate what was then called The University Project, a program in which clerics in Islam and Judaism could be trained and credentialed in their respective religious traditions alongside Christian ministerial candidates.
As an official school of the UMC, the University Senate investigated Claremont’s new endeavor but ultimately decided that Claremont could retain its status as an official denominational school of theology and engage in its inter-religious educational ambitions.
Since the initial announcement, the name of the project has been changed and is now known as Claremont Lincoln University (CLU). CLU is its own distinct institution formed through a partnership between Claremont School of Theology, The Academy for Jewish Religion, and The Islamic Center of Southern California. One is easily inclined to suspect that this initiative was transformed from a project housed by Claremont itself to a new university in which Claremont was a partner in order to appease critics opposed to the idea that a UMC seminary might undertake to train the leaders of non-Christian religions.
Dialogue does not equal training
Opposition to this move by Claremont has sometimes been portrayed as opposition to inter-religious dialogue. This is not accurate, though. Claremont has gone far beyond dialogue. I affirm the importance of inter-religious dialogue, but I also affirm that dialogue and conversation can happen without devoting UMC resources and seminary personnel to the training of the leaders of other religions. Claremont’s insistence on training the clerics of various religions reveals their intention on moving beyond dialogue in a way that is antithetical to the mission of the UMC “to make disciples of Jesus Christ for the transformation of the world.”
Align resources with mission
Everyone knows that the UMC is in crisis, and GC 2012 will hopefully make some changes that will help all of us to focus on our mission. One of those changes should be to align our denominational educational resources with our mission. As an official school of theology, Claremont receives funding from the UMC, which means our resources are going to support an institution that has diverged from the mission of our Church. In this time of crisis, we must realign our resources to support institutions that share with us in our disciple-making mission, which means we must break relationships with those who do not.
Two Annual Conferences (Alabama/W. Florida and Mississippi) have petitioned  (#20745) GC 2012 to rescind the status of Claremont School of Theology as an official UMC school. As the author of the petition submitted by the Alabama/W. Florida Conference, I can say that this legislation is not about hindering inter-religious dialogue. It is about stewardship of our missional resources. If we are to be faithful, we must align our resources with our mission, even if it means breaking with an institution with which we’ve had a long relationship. Such a break might be difficult, even painful, but it is necessary. In this time of crisis, our mission must be our chief priority.

Tom Oden on the Theologically Marginalized

Which group is now the most oppressed and underrepresented in mainline theological education? Here’s Tom Oden’s answer from Requiem: A Lament in Three Movements:
A new form of oppression analysis is required in our stuffy cubbyhole of academia, to show that the most marginalized and oppressed group in Protestant theological education is currently least represented in its faculties: those who come from its evangelical and pietistic heartland. Those most maligned and humiliated and demeaned are believers who bear the unfair epithet of “fundamentalist,” like the Jews who wore the Star of David on their clothes in Nazi Germany.
Those who have the least-heard voice in the academic caucus game – far less than ethnic minorities or officially designated oppressed groups – are evangelical students from the neglected side of the exegetical tracks. I speak candidly of biblical believers who are assigned pariah roles in Scripture courses, those forced into a crisis of bad conscience by being required to conform in ideologically titled courses, who are given bad grades because they have read C. S. Lewis or Dorothy Sayers or taken Francis Turretin or have grown up loving the hymns of Fanny Crosby.
It is time for those who have patiently sat through repetitive courses in guilt to apply a specific social oppression analysis to the new oppressors: the tenured radicals in syncretistic faculties who replicate only themselves when new appointments are made, who are tolerant only of latitudinarians, who neither have nor seek any church constituency, who debunk the plain sense of Scripture, who never enter a room with a Bible unless armed with two dozen commentaries that enable them to hold all decisions in a state of permanent suspension, who lack peer review because they do not know any colleagues in the guild different from themselves (135).
So, according to Oden, the most underrepresented and marginalized in academic theology are not an ethnic or gender minority but evangelical orthodox believers. What do you think?

Young Pastors’ Network Reflections: Strategic Planning

I have the privilege this year of being among 44 young United Methodist pastors being mentored by Adam Hamilton and Mike Slaughter as a part of the Young Pastors’ Network 2011. YPN is a “leadership development school” that includes six days together at key events and ongoing interaction through the use of social media. Last week we all met at Ginghamsburg Church for three intensive days of learning and mentoring. It was like drinking from Niagara; I’m continuing now to reflect on and process the things I learned.
One topic we covered that made a significant impact on my thinking was strategic planning. I was struck by the way in which Hamilton and Slaughter both developed very specific plans, though often quite different plans, to implement their respective visions. Fruitful ministry does not just happen; it is the result of planning and implementation.
After some ongoing reflection, the thing that strikes me is that I didn’t have a class on strategic planning in seminary. I didn’t learn how to build a comprehensive strategy that would bring cohesion to the mission and ministry of the local church. I think seminaries are attempting to compensate for this lack with courses on Christian leadership, but those classes cover a range of topics related to leadership. They do not necessarily put strategic ministry planning in the core of the basic divinity degree.
Now let me be clear. I’m not bashing seminary here. My time at Asbury Theological Seminary was a hugely important part of my ministerial training, and I look that time with fondness and appreciation for professors who made a significant investment in me both inside and outside the walls of the classroom. And every pastor has the responsibility of continued learning after graduate school in order to cultivate continuing effectiveness. 
I’m wondering, however, whether this is a place where seminaries need to find creative ways of providing students with training for developing and implementing a strategic plan for the local church.
I also wonder if this is something that even can be accomplished in the typical way we’ve done seminary. By virtue of their vocation, many (if not most) seminary professors have not been pastors in local churches where they’ve had to develop and implement a long-term plan for carrying out the mission of the church. Again, the goal here is not to be overly critical but to consider whether this is a limitation of the traditional way we’ve trained pastors.
So, what’s the solution? Well, Hamilton and Slaughter are making a contribution by gathering young pastors together to teach them the basics of  strategic planning. Beyond that, perhaps seminaries need to look at partnering with local pastors and churches who have demonstrated that they can plan and implement effectively to take a vital role in the training of upcoming clergy. I think some schools and churches are already engaged in such partnerships, but I also think that we need to find ways to make these partnerships the norm rather than the exception.
I’d like to learn from you on this. Pastors, do you have a strategic plan for the church you serve? Where did you learn how to create such a plan? Has it been fruitful? What resources did you use? Can you recommend any helpful books?
Laypersons, do you know whether your church has such a plan? If so, what is your role in implementing the plan? Has the leadership of your church been effective in communicating the plan?

Should United Methodist Funds Be Limited to Official Schools?

Official United Methodist Schools of Theology that train more ministerial candidates will now receive more denominational funding than schools that train less. This is the result of a new formula, approved by the Directors of the General Board of Higher Education and Ministry (GBHEM), for dispersing money from the Ministerial Education Fund (MEF). Rev. Sharon Rubey, an executive with the GBHEM’s Division of Ordained Ministry explains the rationale behind this change: “We want to reward the United Methodist seminaries that educate more United Methodist students for ministry in the church.”
My question is this: If the goal is to reward seminaries that train higher numbers of United Methodist students, then why limit the disbursement to official United Methodist Schools of Theology? I understand that the goal as stated is not actually to reward any seminary that trains more United Methodist students but to reward United Methodist seminaries.
My question intends to point to the inequity within the United Methodist educational system. The UMC has thirteen official seminaries; many other seminaries are approved for the training of UMC ministerial candidates, but since they are not official denominational schools, they get no denominational funding; this despite the fact that some of them train more United Methodist students than many of the official United Methodist schools.
Take my own alma mater, Asbury Theological Seminary, a school approved by the denomination for the education of ministers but not an official United Methodist School of Theology. It is my understanding that Asbury Seminary trains and graduates more United Methodist ministry candidates than any official United Methodist seminary, yet because they are only approved and not official, Asbury Seminary gets zero funding from the United Methodist Church despite the significant service rendered in providing clergy to the UMC. You heard that right. More clergy; zero cash; none; zilch, nada, nothing. In that light, it’s amazing how many United Methodist students still choose Asbury Seminary even though there is no denominational support for scholarships!

Another way to frame this issue would be to consider whether the money should go directly to the schools or follow the student. It has been pointed out to me that if UMC ministerial candidates got equal funding for the official or approved school of their choice, then that would certainly be more fair and equitable. Also, the schools that are in high demand would thrive while those institutions that are faltering in their task would become irrelevant. You would get to see which schools are really doing a good job and which ones are presently being propped up for other reasons. Shouldn’t there be equal funding opportunities for all UMC ministerial candidates?

So, if the UMC were really interested in rewarding schools that serve the denomination by training more clergy, would we not also reward those approved but not official seminaries that  train the most clergy? If the money followed the students, the whole system would seem much more equitable.

What do you think? Should there be a way of rewarding non-official but approved schools who serve the UMC by training more of its ministers? Is the distinction between official and approved seminaries even helpful? If a school is good enough to be approved, why shouldn’t they get funding? I’d like to hear what you think!

United Methodist Church Changes Course on Distance Learning Limits

In light of yesterday’s post on the benefits of online learning, I was glad to learn last night that the University Senate of the United Methodist Church had backed off its decision to limit online courses for the M.Div. to one-third of the program. Rev. Chris Roberts, a board member at United Theological Seminary, has more information. I’ll just point out that it appears all United Methodist schools of theology and Asbury Theological Seminary will be allowed to provide two-thirds of the M.Div. in the form of online classes. This is a good move on the part of the Senate. I believe that the decision to limit online learning would have led many potential students who may be unable to relocate their families to forego seminary studies leading ultimately to a less educated body of clergy. I’ll also say that I’m a bit surprised for the Senate to change its course, but it is a pleasant surprise. I’m glad they did not choose to stubbornly maintain unhelpful limits on distance learning.

Education Regression: Should United Methodists Limit Distance Learning?

Commentary has recently been showing up around the blogosphere on the decision of the University Senate of the United Methodist Church to limit the number of credits taken towards the M.Div. to one-third of the total degree curriculum (see here and here). Such a move could have a significant impact on some schools who have extensive online programs. For instance, Asbury Theological Seminary currently allows two-thirds of the M.Div. to be completed in an online format. Asbury also provides a substantial number of ministers to the United Methodist Church many of whom undertake a large part of their studies online. Questions as to the adequacy of online education have arisen before now; but with this move by the University Senate, they have arisen once again. During my own time as a student at Asbury, I split my degree program down the middle with approximately half of my courses being online and half on campus. I like to think of myself as having had the best of both worlds in this regard. Here are a few reflections based on my own half and half experience. Let me say first that my experience is limited to Asbury, and I can only speak to that program. Asbury has a high quality online course delivery system that is constantly being improved and is much better now than when I began my classes in 2005. I’m not familiar with other distance learning programs; so I can’t speak to those.
First, in online courses students receive much more detailed and extensive feedback on assignments. The comments on my papers and assignments were far more thorough in online classes than in traditional geophysical courses. I learned this both as a student and as a teaching assistant in two online courses. As a TA, I was expected to give a lot of substantial feedback that formed a great deal of the course instruction. In online courses, not only are corrective comments given for what needs improvement but positive comments are made on what is done well. Across the board, I tended to get much more feedback in online courses, which made them very beneficial.
Second, online courses tend to be more heavily weighted on substantive participation. Many classes divided students into small groups for discussing the assigned readings, and the discussions were expected to reflect substantive interaction with the texts and our classmates. If we did not do the reading, then we would have nothing to contribute to the discussion and our grade would suffer. In contrast, its quite easy to attend class on campus, sign the roll, skip the readings, and surf the web during the lecture. It should be quite plain that online courses create much more accountability for students to actually do the work.
Third, online courses typically provide for more interaction with the professor. I tend to be the kind of student who tries to get to know his teachers, but many do not. The traditional classroom gives provides a superficial feeling of connection or interaction simply by virtue of everyone being is the same room. The online format leads profs to do a bit more to make sure they are connecting with students. If they don’t, then the students are just sort of out there in cyberspace all alone.
The traditional classroom certainly has some strengths over the online classroom as well. I am not persuaded, though, that the traditional classroom is significantly stronger or that the online classroom is second rate. Major strengths of the online classroom are significantly increased interaction with the professor and with other students. I am disappointed that the University Senate has placed this limit on online courses. I believe it is a mistake that may ultimately lead to a less educated clergy, but an explanation of that claim will have to come in another post.

Education Vouchers and So-called Private Schools: What’s at Stake and What’s the Solution?

New Florida Governor-elect Rick Scott is catching some heat for his suggestion that all Florida children receive vouchers which can be redeemed at public or private schools.  The plan is controversial because a mass exodus from public schools is feared were the government to give vouchers for students to attend schools of their parents choice, be they public or private.  The vouchers are expected to be worth $5,500 dollars, which is the amount it costs to educate a pupil in the state education system.   
At issue here is whether private schools ought to honor government vouchers.  I champion the view that they should not.  “Why?” you ask.  Good question.  Once private schools begin to accept government funding in any form, even vouchers, then they are basically ceasing to be private schools.  Seldom does the government pass out cash with no strings attached.  The recent government bailout of General Motors and the subsequent executive branch canning of that company’s CEO make that point with clarity.  It’s not hard to imagine the government putting educational and ideological stipulations on which so-called private schools can receive funding in the form of school vouchers.  Imagine this scenario:  Let’s say a private school begins honoring government vouchers.  A couple of years later and after some law suits over the use of public funds to pay for private education, the government implements stipulations about what curriculum can be used in private schools if they want to keep the cash flow coming in the form of vouchers.  By this time, the school has increased its enrollment and hired on a lot of new teachers.  What do they do?  Decrease enrollment and lay off a bunch of teachers when they can’t afford to pay them because they don’t have the government funds?  Or just keep on taking the cash and adjust the curriculum (and eventually everything else) in line with government regulations?  Obviously, most will keep taking the cash.  And now the government is calling the shots in the private schools.  And the private schools aren’t really private any more.  So, should private schools accept government vouchers?  Not if they want to stay private. 
What is the solution then?  I propose that instead of vouchers, states that truly desire to grant to parents the freedom to choose the way their children are educated should allow a tax credit to those families who elect to use private education.  This tax credit could be set to the tune of what it costs to educate a child in whatever state is in question, $5,500 in Florida.  This would free up money for children to attend private schools and avoid the problem of government checks being written to private schools.  Of course, the problem with this plan in Florida is that there are no state income taxes.  In this case, the government could just cut families who opt out of public education the $5,500 check.  I certainly don’t expect to see this plan in legislation any time soon.  It’s way too conservative; way too small government; way too hands-off my kids and their education.  It would, however, provide for a truly free parental choice in the education of their children, which is what Governor-elect Scott claims to advocating.  It would also guarantee that private schools stay private, which is very important. 

Wisdom and Eloquence

Sadness, anger, and hope.  These are the emotions that I experienced as I read Wisdom and Eloquence: A Christian Paradigm for Classical Learning by Robert Littlejohn and Charles T. Evans.  The book casts a vision for education that leads students not only to grow spiritually, intellectually, and socially but to foster similar growth in society.  Against the pragmatism of vocational-technical educational philosophy, the authors advocate education that instills in students a love for wisdom and the skill to use that wisdom for the transformation of the culture. 
With regard to the range of emotions evoked  in me by this book, I was saddened because the rich tradition of the liberal arts has been so significantly neglected in favor of contemporary experimentation in educational method.  I was saddened because we do not, as a culture, generally approach education as a means of gaining wisdom but as a means of generating income.  Education has historically been about producing cultural leaders.  And if such leaders are to be produced, they must be educated to think well and speak clearly.  This is the sort of education that produced the men who crafted the American Declaration of Independence.  This is the sort of education that produced the men who forged the Protestant Reformation.  This is the sort of education that produces free cultures, and if it is lost, then freedom is lost as well.
I felt anger because I did not receive such a Christ-centered and classical education.  I am struggling now to gain the sort of education of which these men write because I did not receive it in grade school.  I was not taught the intricacies of language and how to use it with care and precision in a persuasive manner.  I was not taught to identify the fallacies foisted upon me by those who will seek to take advantage.  I didn’t learn to diagram a sentence until I took intermediate level Greek in seminary.  Indeed, I learned to diagram in Greek before learning the same skill in English, and my understanding of English grammar at present is a result of the only two options of sinking or swimming in graduate school Greek.  How much benefit I would have reaped had I been trained in these skills from the earliest grades. 
But I also felt hope.  I felt hope because men like Littlejohn and Evans are writing books like Wisdom and Eloquence.  I felt hope because our Lord is raising up a generation of educators who long to give their children what they themselves never received.  I felt hope because Christian parents across the country are taking charge of the education of their children in obedience to Deuteronomy 6 and Ephesians 6.  I felt hope because my own son will perhaps be given the sort of education which I did not receive, which will equip him to shape the world in which he lives rather than be shaped by it.
You have certainly noticed by now that this is not the typical book review in that I’ve spoken more of my reaction to the book rather than the content of the book itself.  But it occurs to me that the highest recommendation of a book might come in the form of personal testimony rather than a summary of content.  I will say briefly that the authors use the opening chapters (1-4) to establish the philosophical framework for Christian liberal arts education.  The following four chapters (5-8) will be especially helpful to those with little previous exposure to the liberal arts curriculum.  In these chapters, Littlejohn and Evans give an overview of the entire curriculum and make numerous helpful suggestions with regard to objectives and course planning.  The final two chapters (9-10) provide some practical advice for establishing a healthy ethos for a liberal arts school.  Many of these chapters should be read and read again.  The book has some specific strengths, of which I have written previously.  And, as with all published works, it has weaknesses, of which I may write in the future.  At this point allow me to simply commend to you the joy of reading this book.
Wisdom and Eloquence is itself full of wisdom put eloquently.  Every Christian parent should read this book.  It is one with which I will certainly consult with regularity.