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Measuring a Liberal Bias in Psychology

Measuring a Liberal Bias in Psychology

As a self-professed passionate moderate (the liberal charismatic title was thrust upon me by an opponent), I’m very conscious of bias on both the liberal and conservative sides. To be human is to be biased. I have my moderate biases, including a bias toward considering anything from the left or the right obviously biased. You just can’t win with me!

A number of readers likely already know that FiveThirtyEight.com is one of my favorite, of not my absolute favorite, news source. Besides their efforts to state their own biases, and the fact that I like numbers, this is a result of their efforts to cite their sources and show their work. If I question their rating of a pollster, for example, I can go look at what goes into that rating.

Before I get to the article I’m linking from them today, I want to emphasize something important. I like numbers, yes, but you have to be careful. The reason for this is that you have to understand how the numbers you’re liking were produced. Let me give an example. A friend asked me to read a book on the ancient world because I know the languages and he wanted an assessment of how much credence I should give it. In the book, someone gave measurements for the original size of the great pyramid in millimeters. There is no way the author could actually have that information. Numbers calculated in that way are designed to give the impression of precision even when such precision does not exist.

A more common way to produce a number is to assign it, such as asking people to rate something on a scale from 1 to 10. In order to know the question asked, how it’s asked, and who it’s asked of. After that you might consider asking what those people might know. For example, asking a random sample to rate the quality of cardiac care in this country on a scale from 1 to 10 produces information on how the sample views this, but might tell you as little as nothing regarding the actual state of such care, depending on who is being asked and what they could know.

So here’s the article, Psychologists Looked in the Mirror and Saw a Bunch of Liberals. (You need to read the article—the whole article. This material is useless without the reasoning behind it and the look for solutions.)

Someone noted the bias with a simple show of hands, and followed up with a study looking at the way in which results of studies were presented in journal abstracts. Here’s the generalization:

Sure enough, the abstracts more often explained their findings in terms of conservative ideas rather than liberal ones, and conservatives were described more negatively in the eyes of the raters.

The study authors tested for a bias in their raters and found that their liberal raters actually rated the abstracts as more negative regarding conservative views than did conservative raters. In a  separate test, they also note that a panel of psychologists surveyed for their expectation of bias expected the results to be more biased than the study showed they were. You should, in turn, read the note on the potential problem with the panel of psychologists surveyed.

Note to self: Doing a deep enough study on an issue to have a strong opinion is a lot of work and takes a lot of time!

One of the solutions suggested is studies done by “trans-ideogical teams,” i.e., have research done by people who expect different results and who then design a study based on what would change their mind on the topic. I like this idea quite a lot.

I’ll note that this has a great deal to do with the way I publish (my company). I look to create conversation between people of widely differing viewpoints. (This is not identical to creating a church congregation, where some identity is necessary. I also support diverse congregations, but the boundaries will be set up differently.) I believe that in learning, there is great value in hearing the opposing position from someone who actually supports it.

A conservative professor requiring readings from a liberal book and explaining liberal ideas is not as challenging as hearing from an actual liberal. Similarly, if you reverse liberal and conservative. I have lived and learned in situations dominated by conservatives and at other times in ones dominated by liberals. The result I see is the same: Complacency, laziness, and arrogance. One decides one doesn’t have to have support for an idea because “everybody knows that.” But this “everybody” is a very selected subset.

I don’t see any solution here except intentionally involving people who disagree. I have found for myself that I cannot truly express the support for an idea I don’t accept myself nearly as well as a person who truly does support it, even if I try diligently.

This article is encouraging to me because it attacks bias in two ways: 1) Identifying and quantifying it, and 2) Looking at ways to correct for it.

Women Teaching in Seminary, Oh Yes! (@KaitlinCurtice)

Women Teaching in Seminary, Oh Yes! (@KaitlinCurtice)

On Tuesday I noticed a tweet, after comments on the Desiring God blog regarding women teaching in seminary. The answer was, not surprisingly, no. The men who do ministry should be taught by men who model men leading the church.

Here’s the tweet:

I thought this such a good idea that I immediately chimed in with the names of two teachers, one in my undergraduate theology program and one in graduate school who had been important, even critical influences on my learning and development. I intended to blog immediately afterward and talk about why I list these two women, both of whom have gone on to glory, in particular. Unfortunately, life happened, and a couple of days have passed. I’m still going to do it.

Preliminary Thoughts

But first, ever the wordy one, let me write a note on my view of women in ministry. I’ve been accused of not really being egalitarian, not by other egalitarians, but by complementarians. The reason seems to be that I don’t say men and women are the same. Come to think of it, I pretty much don’t say men and men are the same. That is, we’re all different. What I do say is that this isn’t the issue. The issue is to see each person as one who is gifted by God, to recognize the gifts God has given, and to not merely allow, but to do everything to encourage that person to use those gifts.

How many women should be in church leadership? Precisely the number that God has gifted for that leadership. How many women should teach? Precisely the number that God has gifted to do that teaching. My main scriptural argument in favor of women in leadership is that the Holy Spirit gives gifts as the Spirit wills (Hebrews 2:4, among many others), and that when such gifts are recognized, quenching the gifts is quenching the Spirit. It is also not men who have the right to allow or not allow women in ministry. Their call is a call from God. Men have the choice of recognizing or not recognizing God’s call.

I do understand the other view and the scriptures on which it is based. I believe that it is a case of using advice produced for a particular time and place and making it universal. I believe making it universal hinders the advance of the kingdom.

Many

I have been taught by many women. Doubtless, complementarians would approve of having women as teachers in elementary and high school. I have to mention home school years with my mother and my older sister Betty Rae, both strong influences on my. Ethel Wood at Wildwood Rural School in northwest Georgia, who discovered I already knew how to type, and used my help in the school office. There I learned some skills that would come back to me later when I became a publisher. But this isn’t just about having women influence one’s life. It’s about training people for church leadership.

Theological Education

Lucille Knapp

Lucille Knapp taught first and second year Greek at Walla Walla College (now Walla Walla University). I was privileged to take both these courses and to become friends. She was determined not just to teach us Greek but to help us use it to understand the Bible better and to help us grow in our spiritual lives in ways beyond just language.

I remember her particularly for gentle conversations urging me to consider unfamiliar ideas that hadn’t been part of my world before. She also connected the beauty of literature with my spiritual journey. When I graduated, I received a gift from her of a book of inspirational poetry, along with a note that urged me to remember that faith and theology were not just about the technicalities of biblical languages and biblical studies, which were my focus, but also about the experience of beauty and of God’s presence that was available through art and literature.

There were some people who thought she should shut up and just teach Greek. It was OK that she teach technicalities, but she should quit trying to influence others and shape their spirituality in any way. I’m glad she resisted those voices and continued to model spiritual leadership to her students.

(A bio and obituary.)

Leona Glidden Running

When I arrived at the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary, though my degree was an MA in Religion, concentrating in biblical and cognate languages offered by the graduate school, I almost immediately meet Dr. Running. Some of us thought she truly deserved her last name, as she was an active and vigorous person who didn’t let any grass grow under he feet. Ever. She didn’t believe in letting grass grow under our feet either.

One of my favorite memories of her was taking the final exam in Akkadian. I was the only student for that term for Akkadian, so the class had been somewhat informal. She handed me the final exam, which was a legal size sheet of paper filled on both sides with cuneiform text. She said, “Translate this. You have two hours.” Then she walked out of the room.

Now my guess is that I might have produced a good translation of a few lines in two hours. I don’t mean getting the gist, but getting a workable translation. The idea that I could produce a decent translation of that much text in two hours at the end of my first quarter was ludicrous.

So I struggled through, grabbing the first possible translation I could find and writing it down, knowing that I wouldn’t have time to recheck, and also knowing that I had to be making substantial errors. I managed half of the first page using that approach. At the end of two hours she was back, took the paper and made no comment. I got it back the next day with a grade — an A. So I asked her how this was possible. I was actually gratified by how few red marks there were in my translation, but I mean that with reference to my expectations. The page was still doing some bleeding! She said, “I wanted to see your first pass. I didn’t want you to have time to double check. I graded accordingly.” She had deducted only for things she thought I should have gotten without taking a second pass.

She also invited me to tutor Greek and Hebrew for the seminary students, guided me through what to charge so I could help pay my way. (I had a fellowship, but it didn’t cover all expenses.) When my Uncle, Don F. Neufeld, passed away, she was the one who recognized that I was grieving when I was still telling myself I could handle this. She made sure I made the trip to his funeral and took care of myself. She remained a friend after graduation.

She was, like Lucille Knapp, an example of leadership. She modeled that godly leadership for me.

(A bio and her obituary.)

Different Styles

Even though I didn’t select them for that reason, I like the fact that they exhibited two very different styles. I chose these two names because their influence on me was powerful.

I will still tell classes that while I value my knowledge of biblical languages highly, it was not learning the biblical languages that did the most for my hermeneutic. It was learning about people, learning how people react. Often elements of the tone of a Bible passage become much clearer when I think about the way people react to different things. Lucille Knapp is responsible for starting me on that way of thinking, and I’m eternally grateful.

Dr. Running, on the other hand, taught me that thoroughness is important, but so is diligence and vigorous pursuit of a goal. It isn’t just your last read that counts, but the way you attack a text in the first place. In coming to understand a text, it’s important not to get hung up or lost in the forest while carefully examining each tree. Of course, that has to be balanced by thoroughness, but she both modeled that for her students and expected it of them.

Conclusion

My life and work would be significantly less productive without these two women who taught, one in a theological school, and the other in a seminary. I thank God that their gifts were not suppressed, and that they were there for my benefit.

(Image credit: Openclipart.org. Modified by me.)

Teaching How to Experience God

Teaching How to Experience God

At my home church, Chumuckla Community Church, we’re going through the Experiencing God workbook. There will be 10 sermons, and then discussion groups. My wife Jody leads one right after church each Sunday, and I’m part of that. Doubtless someone will suggest that the book is somewhat more conservative than the theology I express on this blog. I’m delighted that this is the case. Later I’ll read something that’s more liberal and I’ll be delighted with that as well. I believe God is just as happy to talk to conservatives as to moderates and liberals.

The thing that bothers me about all teaching materials that deal with the experience of God’s presence, whether through listening to the Holy Spirit, expectation and exercising of spiritual gifts, or following God in any other way, is that it is often uncertain ground. In fact, I would suggest that if there isn’t an element of risk, you’re not really talking about experiencing God.

There are two basic approaches to trying to teach someone else to experience God. First, one can be prescriptive and define parameters. Second, one can be descriptive and open doors. In reality, of course, an individual’s approach will fall somewhere between, but there is usually a tendency one way or the other.

What I have found is that the most important thing any teacher can do regarding prayer, hearing from God, experiencing God, finding God’s will, or simply sensing God’s presence is ground clearing. Most people who want to hear from God or experience God aren’t simply looking for a formulaic approach they can follow. Rather, they’re usually facing barriers to the experience. Often these barriers are really good approaches they learned from someone else, but which do not work for them.

For example, my wife and I pray differently. Yes, we have times of prayer together, but when we’re each in our private time with God, we take a different approach. She likes music. I like music, but not when I’m praying. She’ll turn on the music and enjoy her time talking with (with, including listening) God. I start with scripture. I will select a passage and read without forcing the pace. I read very fast when that’s what I intend. In prayer time I read slowly and allow the words to direct me into communion. I will sometimes be directed to a different passage.

Jody’s prayer time would be really unfruitful if she used my method.  She’s likely to end up looking at scripture, but that will come as she hears from God in her prayer time. I, on the other hand, find music uplifting and energizing, and often use it to get myself charged for work on a day when I’m feeling slow. Right now I’m typing largely in silence. If I had gotten up unmotivated, I would likely have gone up to my office, turned on some music, and would have found myself getting ready to go.

It’s great to share your experiences. Just avoid telling someone, or leaving them with the impression, that your way is the one and only way to experience God. If you read the Bible stories, you’re going to find quite a variety: Abram just hears, as Abraham he later argues, Moses hears but might rather not at first, Gideon required a sign for each move, Balaam heard through a donkey (hard head there, I think), Jesus was in constant communion. There’s a valuable variety in scripture.

Experiencing God is great. Don’t be afraid of present experience. Beware of either letting someone place you in a straight-jacket, or of placing someone else in one. God’s way is past finding out. You and I haven’t gone that far!

(I’ve put some books I publish related to experiencing God into a collection on Aer.io. Check these out!)

 

Is It Greek Pedagogy, Learning Skills, or Something Else

Is It Greek Pedagogy, Learning Skills, or Something Else

These discussions seem to come up all the time about learning Greek, but the discussion also applies to Hebrew. How one can imagine it’s critically important to learn Greek if one is to preach or teach, but not so much to learn Hebrew, I don’t know. But the degree requirements of various colleges and seminaries reflect just such an attitude.

That said, I want to make some comments about learning and teaching, but more importantly about goals. Thomas Hudgins has written a good deal about this in a recent post, and he posted some material from Dave Black, which provides me a good link for that as well. Both make some excellent comments on pedagogy and what those of us who teach need from the students.

On the use of the word “we,” I want to note that my role as teacher is vastly different from Dave’s or Thomas’s. I tutored Greek as a student in graduate school, helping Master of Divinity students get ready for tests. And that was indeed what it was: Getting them ready for the test. None had patience for letting me help them comprehend the subject better. They wanted to make sure they had memorized enough answers to get by on the test. Since then I have occasionally offered classes in the local church or tutored individuals who were trying to learn. The key element here is that people came to these classes because they had a goal, and they pursued the goal.

And this is why I think we need to look at two other things. I used “learning skills” in the title, but what I really mean is the art and practice of being a student. There’s probably a perfectly good word for it, but short of suggesting you be a good talmid, I can’t bring it to mind. But beyond learning skills there’s motivation, and behind motivation there’s purpose, or perhaps mission.

That leads me back to graduate school and my graduate advisor, Dr. Leona Glidden Running. I was truly blessed to have Dr. Running as a teacher and advisor. I learned enormous amounts from her in classes in Syriac (which I audited), Akkadian, and Middle Egyptian. From the list of languages you can see that I had the motivation for learning languages. Thus I learned from good teachers and some whose pedagogy may have lacked a bit.

It was also Dr. Running who got me into tutoring and sent her students to me for help in both Greek and Hebrew. The problem with tutoring points me to what I think is a problem in ministerial education: Students going through language courses in order to check a box. We’re often fairly good at ditching traditions in Protestantism. Just look at the reformation! But folks, that was 500 years ago. What traditions have you ditched lately?

What I encountered were students who were studying Greek because it was required for the degree, some of whom had been told by ministerial advisers, mentors, and church leaders that the only reason they should learn Greek was to get their degree, and most of whom would serve churches that didn’t care what biblical languages they might have learned. Is it any wonder that they just wanted me to help them through the test? I can’t count the number of times I was called within hours of the test, or late on a Friday afternoon or even working into Saturday with desperate pleas for that help. At this time I was a Seventh-day Adventist and I took my Sabbath seriously. (I’ve recently commented that it’s one thing from my SDA background that I really miss.) But these ministerial students who were supposed to be preparing to shepherd people in that tradition, were quite ready to ditch their Sabbath rest to get past the test.

I know from reading what others have said that while the details may differ, the attitude is quite similar. Some seminaries have given up on the languages as a requirement. Often those seminaries are ones that have reduced the entire biblical studies requirement to a minimum. So study of biblical languages goes the way of Bible study, and it all happens without that much planning.

So speaking as someone who thinks biblical knowledge is critical, let me suggest that we need to reexamine this entire process. What is a Master of Divinity degree for? What are our goals? Within that, what are the goals for knowledge of the Bible? Of biblical languages? Once we know what we need—and want—then we need to ask how we get it. Forcing students to take one or two (or whatever number) of semesters of Greek and/or Hebrew doesn’t accomplish anyone’s ultimate goal, at least anyone I know of. Nobody actually hopes that the student will pay tuition, check off a box, and leave with no knowledge that he or she will use (except possibly the university finance department).

I don’t know about other biblical languages classes, but my teachers taught with the goal of having us learn to read the language. They knew they were only going to accomplish that in a few cases, but they still worked toward that goal. If the assumption of everyone else is that the student will not, in fact, learn the language, then we need to do something about that. That isn’t something that a Greek teacher can fix. He or she can try to motivate more students, to provide as much useful information as possible, but that all constitutes making the best of a bad situation.

Amongst the possibilities that should be considered are requirements for additional classes in history, cultures, people (sociology/psychology), linguistics, or other topics that helps a person understand a written text. Perhaps, in addition, one might include classes specifically in taking complex ideas and expressing them clearly and simply (to whatever extent possible). Then we can aim the biblical languages classes at people who do actually want to learn to use the material.

I have to put in my ritual dig at the whole educational system. I think that in the 21st century world the degree system is getting more and more out of date. Something more like the badges system that the Mozilla Foundation is sponsoring may be at least an early pointer toward a replacement. But that moves beyond this post …

In summary, in languages as in anything else, we need to keep our focus on the mission. That starts with knowing what the mission is.

And we don’t.

Saber-Tooth Everything

Saber-Tooth Everything

Source: Openclipart.org. I think this is the Cheshire saber-tooth tiger, fading toward his smile!

I love the classic book The Saber-Tooth Curriculum, and I was reminded of it when I read The disposable academic in The Economist, I was reminded of it.

In education we’re increasing the cost without increasing the benefits, and that’s not sustainable. Educators should be thinking of better ways to operate now, before unchosen and unwanted new ways are forced upon them.

I think the whole system, which expects students to spend years and dollars getting degrees before they enter the workplace was designed for another time and is hopelessly unfitted for the 21st century.

Underlying Principles for Christian Education and Discipleship

Underlying Principles for Christian Education and Discipleship

Chalk rubbed out on blackboard

… and with that pretentious title.

Actually, last night I talked on the Energion Tuesday Night Hangout (I’ll embed the video at the end as well) about Christian education and how one might go about choosing curriculum.

My sister, Betty Rae, asked me a question via e-mail this morning, and I thought it was so on point that I would post her comments and my response here. What am I actually up to at Energion Publications? For those who wonder, yes, my sister and I communicate like this quite a bit.

From her comments:

I have been trying to understand what is the purpose or goal you have in what you are doing.  I think I may have glimpsed something tonight.  Please tell me if I am right.

The early NT church consisted of home gatherings.  They had no center of worship, like the Jerusalem Temple.  So All that was Christian centered in these small groups.  Luther calls them “small companies;”  Ellen White, “little companies.”  So if there is a difficulty with the church at large, the church may be preserved in the “small study groups,” as you are calling them.  I saw in your presentation that you are encouraging the preservation of the individuality of individuals and groups.  Your presentation tonight holds great significance as I see it.  By leaving the groups free, even to making them free not to use your materials, room is left for the working of the Holy Spirit.  Hopefully, the small groups will follow that example, and also leave the individuals in their groups free.

The time will come, however, if there is religious oppression, that small groups will be suppressed; as an example, “The Conventicle Act” in England, for disobeying of which John Bunyan spent 12 years in prison.  During times of religious revival and opposition, believers were forced to meet in small groups, even outdoors in forests and mountains, for which they were severely punished if they were caught. John Wesley was forced, even to preach out of doors, when denied access to the churches.  The Advent Movement believers met in small groups after they were thrown out of the churches, coming together in camp meetings.

On an individual basis, churches in this country have already persecuted and tried to suppress small groups, calling them “cults.” (The devil will always mix his counterfeit in with the true.  Fear of being called a “cult” has discouraged the “small group.”)  One thing that drew disapproval was the groups’ using of materials “unauthorized” by the denomination, which you addressed tonight in your presentation.  Your work may be small, but who hath despised the day of small things!

Here’s my response:

One of my fundamental beliefs is that spiritual choices made through duress, emotional manipulation, or spinning data are of no positive benefit and are indeed destructive. Thomas Aquinas and I are not even playing on the same ball field on this one!

I carry this so far as to say that if I were helping to bring a Jew into Christian fellowship (no human “converts” anyone), I would want to make sure that person understood Judaism as well as Christianity to be sure he or she is making a choice that is as informed and as free as possible. Similarly, if a person is kept in the church because he or she was prevented from getting outside information, that brings no glory to God. While it may build up the church organization, the Kingdom of God is not built.

I could summarize this by saying that God’s kingdom cannot be built by deception, and trying to deny people information from another perspective is deception. That’s the reason leaders do it. The leadership is afraid that if we, the followers, have information other than what they approve, we might decide differently than we have.

This is often done for the best of motives. In the church, the idea is to prevent people who are less informed from being led astray. So information is restricted in pursuit of truth. But just because an approach is intended to accomplish something does not mean it will accomplish that. We often give credit to people for being well-intentioned, but the universe does not. The laws of physics don’t care about your intention. You may intend to fly when you jump off the cliff, but gravity (and the rocks below) does not say, “I’ll give him/her credit for having good intentions.” It’s just plain splat!

Similarly in politics we have a desire to limit information to what is accurate and unbiased. I agree that the internet provides a huge reservoir of material that ranges from misleading in presentation to flat out wrong. But those who would like to clean that up somehow, other than by countering false with true, are playing with fire. Whether it’s by controlling political spending or trying to narrowly define a “real” journalist, it’s going to head toward control, and control will lead to mass falsehood and delusion. The universe will not regard the supposedly truth-loving intentions of the censors.

So I do advocate freedom in ideas, and I follow that belief in the small (very small) world of my publishing business. I restrict what I publish not because I think the other stuff is bad, but simply to define a reasonable audience for me to try to address.

At the same time I personally advocate a program of education in churches, however carried out, that makes sure people are aware of the full range of ideas that are out there. Carrying this out will involve reading books that are written by people who disagree with and disapprove the church’s views as well as hopefully hearing directly from them. There’s nothing like hearing an idea from an advocate. I may be ever so careful to present my adversaries position, but hearing me is not as good as hearing them.

Those are the beliefs that underlie what I said about curriculum last night.

And for those who might need context, the actual presentation:

Thinking Things Will Make You Stupid Will Make You Stupid

Thinking Things Will Make You Stupid Will Make You Stupid

Power PointRecently I’ve encountered a seeming avalanche of comments, articles, and posts that claim that some new technological tool will make you stupid. Or possibly lazy. Or immoral. Or something.

Doubtless the first stone knife was similarly received — as the end of manly dependence upon unformed sticks and stones, and the birth of a generation too lazy to rip the skins off their prey with their bare hands.

Amongst the things I’ve been told will make people stupid are cell phones, tablets, laptop computers, PowerPoint presentations, television, and YouTube. These things will make you lazy, destroy your memory, rip out your analytical capabilities, and probably precipitate immoral behavior. Or something.

Thus contrary to the upright nature of previous generations, the current generation is going to hell in a handbasket. And doubtless using cliches and incomplete sentences too.

Besides the myth of the golden age, which seems to infect people around my age, this is simply nonsense. Tools are tools. We will use them according to our character. Any tool can be misused. Television can convey information and be educational. It can also convey abominable trash. A PowerPoint presentation can be boring beyond belief (I’ve made one or two), or it can contain helpful illustrations that aid understanding and memory.

I believe it is intellectual laziness that causes us to blame the tools for the result. The sort of moaning that some folks in my generation indulge in regarding modern technology is enabled by our own intellectual laziness, lack of critical thinking, and unwillingness to examine the facts.

So quit moaning about progress. Learn new things. Make effective use of new tools. Get involved in educating the next generation. Or go ahead and vegetate.

Oh, and about that seeming avalanche I mentioned in the first paragraph. That’s laziness too. There’s no recent avalanche. People have always complained about these things and always will. The only thing that happened today is that I got annoyed enough to write a blog post.

Better Learn to Live with Technology

Better Learn to Live with Technology

Mark Bauerlein at First Things doesn’t like laptops in the classroom (HT: Dave Black Online.) Even the title of the post says something about his view of technology. For what it’s worth, I write things by hand on my tablet. I teach Sunday School using notes, book, and Bible references on my tablet as well. If a speaker is boring, I might well be reading e-mail. The solution? Improve your content.

I agree with one of the commenters who said he used a laptop in class and if he ended up in a class where the teacher banned laptops, he dropped the class or found a section with a different teacher.

Just so!

In (Partial) Defense of Confessional Schools

In (Partial) Defense of Confessional Schools

Brandon Withrow tells the story of How Westminster Theological Seminary Came to Define Fundamentalism for [Him]. It is a story that is repeated over and over again, and in this case a professor was removed from Westminster for saying much the same thing as I would about the study of the Old Testament:

Green says that the Bible — and books in it like Genesis, for example — should be read in two ways: Firstly, read “Genesis on its own terms,” as an “unfolding story,” meaning, “as an Israelite book, and not (yet) a Christian book!” The second way means letting “the Jesus-ending of Israel’s story reshape the way you interpret” Genesis, which “is the way you read Genesis as a Christian book.”

I’ll usually tell classes to listen for my terminology. If I say “Hebrew scriptures” I’m referring to that literature in its purely historical sense. What did it mean to those who first read it? If I say “Old Testament” I’m referring to the same literature as the first part of the Christian Bible. I refer to this as reading through Jesus-colored glasses. I consider both readings perfectly valid and related, but they are not the same thing.

I must confess, of course, that I am neither Reformed nor a fundamentalist. I did, however, attend a confessional school. I got my MA degree (Religion, concentrating in Biblical and Cognate Languages) at Andrews University, and the degree was offered in cooperation with the Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary. For those who think I was brainwashed into accepting evolutionary theory while being educated by liberals, I should note that as an SDA school, the official position was that the world was created in six literal days, followed by a seventh day of rest (Seventh-day, you see), and that this happened around 6,000 years ago.

My problem with all these stories is simply this: Why should someone remain a professor at a seminary if he or she does not support the confession that seminary is established to support? When I discovered that my beliefs were no longer in accord with those of the Seventh-day Adventist denomination, I left. I didn’t have any position, much less a tenured one. I understand the investment. I understand the hardship. I also believe I understand the attachment to an organization that one thought would be supportive but happens not to be. But I’m not sure that in the nature of what a seminary is, it’s possible not to have boundaries on what a professor may believe. I’m certain, for example, that I would not belong in a Reformed seminary. I don’t want to minimize the pain of such a separation, but I think it might be necessary nonetheless.

It’s a bit touchier for schools that are not seminaries, for example, liberal arts colleges. Those schools, however, are established by religious organizations to educate members of their faith, and often others whom they hope to attract to their faith. It seems to me that the supporters of a school should have some say in what is taught there. The alternative would be for there to be no religiously connected schools at all.

I happen to deplore the narrow testing of doctrinal beliefs amongst professors. There needs to be an exchange of ideas on a faculty. There is, in addition, a matter of integrity. Recent stories about Bryan College claim a change in the doctrinal statement along the way. That adds another layer to the issue. But not every school can or should represent everything.

Does someone get a good education at a confessional school? I think that’s an excellent question. I suspect that the answer will be generally ‘yes.’ There may be elements lacking. Debates have occurred around Seventh-day Adventist schools regarding whether the theory of evolution is adequately taught on the one hand, and whether it should be taught at all on the other. Accreditation organizations think it should be. Denominational leaders would prefer not.

Accreditation organizations are generally a good thing. I certainly want to thank the team that visited Andrews University a short time before I arrived there as a student and told them that they couldn’t offer a concentration in Church History at the graduate level without offering patristic Latin. That resulted in the addition of a readings course in the Latin church fathers, which I was able to take. I don’t believe, however, that accreditation should be based on a school giving up on its confession. The assumption is that academic freedom is impaired by the confession. Doubtless it is. But how much?

Academic freedom is impaired by many things. Sometimes it is impaired when it should be, such as when a school denies tenure to a crackpot. Sometimes it is impaired when it should not be, as when tenure is denied to someone unorthodox but visionary. The problem is to tell the difference between the crackpot and the visionary.

It is in discerning that difference that I think it is more important to have a variety of educational institutions, not all run according to the same vision and standards. You will, of course, have students who are not informed about certain views, or who do not hear them from a real advocate. But no matter what you do, students are going to miss some things. Students at Westminster will not hear from Peter Enns, someone I consider well worth hearing. But students at Eastern University will. I think Westminster is the poorer for not having Peter Enns on their faculty. But I’m not Reformed.

My question is this: How many secular universities or mainline seminaries are looking for very conservative or fundamentalist scholars to balance their departments?

I was educated in rather conservative schools. I grew up hating the way in which new and more liberal ideas were suppressed. (I would note that quite a number of my professors were not narrow at all and made sure I was introduced to other ideas, even ones they disapproved. But the denominational atmosphere was not friendly.) Thus I am very aware of the way conservatives can suppress liberal ideas. I’m writing this article contrary to my personal feelings but in accordance, I think, with logic.

I don’t think true academic freedom is possible in a single system. Variety is necessary, and variety must include ideas of which I disapprove. I think some people are living in the old days (for them) when they were being blocked from new ideas that were more liberal, and so they keep watching just for the suppression of more liberal or progressive ideas. But it’s possible for conservative ideas, or just unorthodox ideas, to be suppressed as well. That’s why I like a variety of schools organized in a variety of ways. Thanks to places like Westminster, conservative Reformed scholars have a place to work, research, and write. Others can reject their ideas, but those ideas are available.

I’d still go to one of the more liberal schools if I was going back to school. But I’m glad the others exist.