"The object of all good literature is to purge the soul of its petty troubles." ~ P.G. Wodehouse

Thursday, August 23, 2012

The difference between "college" and "university"

"...we use the terms 'college' and 'university' inchangeably. 'She went to Michigan,' we say, or 'he goes to Oberlin'--not bothering with the noun that follows the name, as if a college and a university were the same thing. They are not. They are, to be sure, interconnected (most college teachers nowadays hold an advanced university degree), and a college may exist as a division or 'school' within in university. But a college and a university have--or should have--different purposes. The former is about transmitting knowledge of and from the past to undergraduate students so that they may draw upon it as a living resource in the future. The latter is mainly an array of research activities conducted by faculty and graduate students with the aim of creating new knowledge in order to supercede the past."    --   Andrew Delbanco, College: What It Was, Is, and Should Be (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 2012), p. 2.

The terminology in this quote is specific to the American context. These definitions of "college" and "university" are not entirely accurate in the British and Canadian contexts, even though the American colleges of the 17th-early 19th centuries had their roots in the British universities (and their colleges) of Cambridge and Oxford, as Delbanco notes in the opening chapters of his book.

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Susan VanZanten, Joining the Mission

I recently finished reading Susan VanZanten's, Joining the Mission: A Guide for (Mainly) New Faculty (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2011), and I can guarantee that it will not be the last time I read it.  Joining the Mission is primarily directed toward faculty who are about to or have recently begun teaching at "one of the nine hundred religiously affiliated colleges or universities in the United States, which collectively enroll abour 1.5 million students annually" (vi). While providing the most advice for new faculty, there is plenty of career advice for those who have been teaching at one of these institutions for most of their careers.

VanZanten's title derives from one of her arguments: that faculty need to join the mission of the institution at which they teach. The chapter titles are as follows:

1. What is a Mission-Driven Institution?
2. A Very Brief History of Western Higher Education
3. Teaching: Call and Response
4. Teaching: Brick by Brick
5. The Faithful Professor: Multiple Paradigms for Faith and Learning
6. How Outrageous is Faithful Scholarship?
7. Beyond Professing Alone: Becoming an Academic Citizen
8. Composing a Life: Balance and Improvisation

The first part of the book sets mission-driven institutions in their historical context, and VanZanten's argues that many of the issues and disputes that we wrestle with today have been discussed and debated throughout history...including all the way back to Athens. Chapters 3 and 4 addresses teaching. First, VanZanten talks about how learning takes place listing neuroscience "brain rules" and her own implications of these for teaching. There is helpful information on the current generational particularities of the current generation of students. (Some of this was eye-opening to me and led to some "Ah-hah" moments.) She also provides a list of the "Seven Practices of Effective Teachers." This was another challenging and encouraging list for me as a teacher. (See the list below). Chapter 4 gets into some more practical aspects of accomplishing this teaching calling. Vanzanten walks through setting up a course, using small groups effectively, and lecturing. Her argument throughout is that students learn best through "active learning," so she provides examples and ways in which to promote active learning in students.

Chapter 5 covers the perennial topic of Faith and Learning. Vanzanten sets out the various opinions on the relationship between Faith and Learning. 1) We should start over and not acknowledge a separation between faith and learning. Faith is foundational to learning. 2) Faith and learning are separate but equally important. One model of this is the "two-realms approach." Faith is addressed in chapel, Bible studies and the like, but not in academic courses, and thus not by faculty. The "complementary or value-added" version of this view includes faculty involvement in raising awareness of faith and ethical issues related to their discipline. 3) The integration of Faith and Learning. This is the phrase more typically heard and echoed, but their are some different streams of thought on this topic: the additudinal approach, the ethical approach, the foundational approach, and the worldview approach (111). As a good Reformed scholar, VanZanten sides with the worldview approach. The helpfulness of this chapter is in its clarifying of the various positions and listing of the positives for each. It would be a great chapter for institutional and faculty discussions.

In chapter 6, VanZanten addresses how professors at mission-driven institutions who must focus on teaching can engage in research and scholarship. How does faith function within one's discipline? She contends that faculty should take part in "faithful scholarship" which she says "should emerge from the depths of our true selves out of a desire to glorify God and a willingness to utilize our strongest gifts" (142). She also addresses the tensions and benefits of grafting teaching and scholarship, again all in the interest of student learning.

Chapter 7 takes up the communal aspect of faculty and institutional relationships, from committees to curriculum. This chapter holds some nuggets of insight, especially some generational differences between Baby Boomers and Gen Xers. Chapter 8 concludes with VanZanten's argument for a balanced faculty life. She uses the metaphor of jazz and the need for improvisation as the academic life and the academic year moves and changes.

The book is an excellent introduction of new and old faculty to the reality of the mission-driven institution and teaching-scholarly life. I plan to be continually referring to it, especially with regard to teaching tips, research advice, and the need for taking a vocational inventory.

Seven Practices of Effective Teachers
(62, cited from Arthur Chickering and Zelda Gamson, "Seven Principles for Good Practice in Undergraduate Education")

1. Respect students' differences, using a variety of teaching methods that take into account various ways of learning and knowing.
2. Focus on active rather than passive learning
3. Provide opportunities for cooperative learning and collaboration among students in the pursuit of clearly defined tasks.
4. Evince high academic expectations, clearly conveyed and periodically repeated.
5. Provide timely and frequent feedback on student performance.
5. Pay consistent attention to time on task.
7. Develop a rapport with students that encourages and facilitates student-faculty interaction, both during class and outside of it.

And a quote, 127:
"Faithful learning acknowledges that the educational process is not hermetically sealed in the classroom, laboratory, and library. Service-learning, travel abroad, civic engagement, residential life, student leadership positions--all contribute to one's unfolding understanding of God's story. The spiritual discipline of personal and communal practices such as Scripture reading, mediation, prayer, worship, participation in the sacraments, and acts of service help train our minds, bodies, and souls to perceive God and God's kingdom in all that we do."

Tuesday, August 14, 2012

Von Balthasar on Prayer (3)

A third quote from this deeply powerful book on God's word to us:

"Mary is the 'image of the Church' for two reasons: she is the location of the Word's indwelling, both bodily and in terms of being, in the most intimate union of mother and child sharing one flesh; but this indwelling arises from the spiritual servanthood of her whole person, body and soul, which knows no autonomy but only the law of conformity with the word of God. It is because she is a virgin, that is, pure, exclusively a hearer of the word, that she becomes a mother, the place of the Word's embodiment. Her 'breasts' are blessed only because she has heard the word of God and kept it (Lk 11:27 f), because she 'kept all these things, pondering them in her heart' (Lk 2:19, 51). All contemplation must take its directions from Mary if it is to keep the twofold danger at bay: on the one hand that of seeing the word as something merely external, rather than the deepest mystery within it, that in which we live, move and have our being; and on the other hand the danger of holding the word to be something so interior that we confuse it with our own nature, with a natural wisdom given to us once and for all to be used at will" (pp. 27-28).

Saturday, August 11, 2012

Von Balthasar on Prayer (2)

Another quote from Hans Urs von Balthasar's Prayer:

"This looking to God is contemplation. It is looking inward into the depths of the soul, and hence beyond the soul toward God. The more contemplation finds God, the more it forgets itself and yet discovers itself in him. This unwavering "beholding", moreover, is also and always a "hearing", because what is beheld is the free and infinite Person who, from the depths of his freedom, can give himself in a way that is ever new, 
unsuspected and unpredictable. Therefore the word of God is never something finished, to be surveyed like a particular landscape, but it is something new every moment, like water from a spring or rays of light. "And so it is not enough to have received 'insight' and to 'know the testimonies of God', if we do not continually receive and become inebriated by the fountain of eternal light" (Augustine, Enarr. in Ps.118, XXVI, 6). The lover already knows this; the beloved's face and voice are every moment as new as if he had never seen them before. But the being of God, which is revealed to us in his word, is not only for the eyes of the lover. In itself, in all objectivity, it is the unique marvel, ever new. No seraph, no saint in all eternity could "get used" to it; in fact, the longer one gazes into this mystery, the more one longs to go on gazing, glimpsing the fulfillment of that to which our entire creaturely nature aspires. The creature, seeing and hearing God, experiences the highest bliss of self-fulfillment, but it is fulfilled by something infinitely greater than itself, and its fulfillment and bliss are commensurately great" (pp. 24-25).

Wednesday, August 8, 2012

New Journal Link: Early Christianity

I have just added a link to Early Christianity under "Journals" at the right. The journal Early Christianity which was started in 2010 is now in its third volume and tenth issue, June 2012, Vol. 3, number 2. The editors are Jörg Frey, Clare K. Rothschild, Jens Schröter and Francis Watson.

Here is the website comment:

The journal is concerned with early Christianity as a historical phenomenon. Thereby, “Early Christianity” aims to overcome certain limitations which have hindered the development of the discipline, including the concept of the “New Testament” itself. The journal, then, is taken to cover not only the first Christian century but also the second.

This journal will not, however, give any special prominence to reception-history or to the second century. The total phenomenon called "early Christianity" comprises a kaleidoscopic range of individual phenomena, including communal structures, social norms, discursive practices, points of conflict, material remains, and much else – far more than just the production and reception of texts. This journal will strive to reflect this multiplicity of contexts, in the expectation of new light on our subject-matter from a variety of angles.

Tuesday, August 7, 2012

Vielhauer on "Apocalyptic"

In his 1964 introduction to "Apocalyptic," P. Vielhauer defines apocalyptic as primarily focused on eschatology or the imminent expectation of the end ("Introduction," in E. Hennecke, New Testament Apocrypha (W. Schneemelcher, ed.; R. McL. Wilson, ed. ET; vol. 2; London: Lutterworth Press, 1965) 581-607). The majority of scholars of apocalyptic literature today would not define "apocalyptic" as essentially eschatology. The following quote highlights some of the difficulties of defining "apocalyptic" and the contents of apocalypses.

"'For the youth of the world is past; the strength of the creation has long ago come to its end, and the approach of the times is (already) at hand and (indeed already) passed by. For the pitcher is near to the well, the ship to harbour, the caravan to the city, and life to its conclusion' (syr. Bar. 85:10).

"This cosmological statement makes it clear that the conviction concerning the nearness of the End is rooted in the deep levels of the apocalyptic understanding of the world" (p. 593).

For Vielhauer,  this "apocalyptic understanding of the world" includes the doctrine of two ages, pessimism and hope of the beyond, universalism and individualism, and determinism and imminent expectation. However, to me, this quote from 2 Baruch is not necessarily apocalyptic in the revelatory sense nor even apocalyptic eschatology. It seems like a common human view of the world. What part of this statement could not be said by the pessimistic, cynical caricature of the crotchety old man? The world is in decline. It has gone to hell in a hand basket, and we will all eventually die. Isn't this primarily a human idea, that the golden days are past, the present state is unable to be fixed, and so we must suffer through until our end? What makes this "apocalyptic" apart from its placement in an apocalypse? The old man on the porch is not necessarily breathing apocalyptic eschatology.

Again, this only highlights the difficulty of definitions.

Friday, August 3, 2012

James L. Kugel, "The Beginning of Biblical Interpretation"

James L. Kugel has an essay entitled "The Beginning of Biblical Interpretation" in Matthias Henze (ed.), A Companion to Biblical Interpretation in Early Judaism (Eerdmans, 2012), pp. 3-23. The essay is an excellent introduction to interpretation of the Hebrew Bible during the Second Temple period (i.e., "early Judaism"). He notes that such interpretation may be found in later Old Testament books such as Chronicles, the Greek translation(s) of the OT, apocryphal and pseudepigraphal texts (Ben Sira, Jubilees, Wisdom of Solomon, Testament of the Twelve Patriarchs), the Dead Sea Scrolls, Philo, Josephus, and Pseudo-Philo.

The central piece of the essay are the four assumptions that he argues form "a common attitude and approach to the biblical text" even with the differences of time, location, and content in the texts and authors mentioned above (p. 13, emphasis original). These assumptions are 1) The Bible is a fundamentally cryptic document, which means that its true meaning needs to be discovered; 2) The Bible is a great book of lessons (morals can be learned throughout); 3) The Bible is perfectly consistent and free of error or internal contradiction; 4) Every word of Scripture comes from God (p. 14).

He continues by looking at how Genesis 5:21-24 concerning Enoch was interpreted in various texts during this period and shows how these assumptions were at work. And in a reminder to modern interpreters, he points out how these assumptions  have guided and continue to guide biblical interpretation.

Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Von Balthasar on Prayer

The following selection is from Hans Urs von Balthasar's preface in his book Prayer. The book, so far, is excellent.

"Anyone entering the sphere of radiance of the divine word is held fast by it; he knows from experience that this word not only communicates knowledge about God, but--hidden within the garb of the letter--actually has divine qualities: in itself it is an overpowering manifestation of God's infinity and truth, his majesty and love. God's epiphany compels the hearer to kneel in humble submission. The latter had imagined that he was dealing with a word he could grasp and evaluate, like other great and profound utterances of mankind; yet once he enters its field of force, he himself is the one who is grasped and evaluated. He had wanted to approach Jesus in order to see him ("Come and see!"), and now, under the gaze of Jesus, he finds that it is he who has long been observed, seen through, judged and accepted in grace by Jesus. All he can do now, therefore, is to fall down and worship the Word: "Master, you are the Son of God; you are the King of Israel!" This conquest, however, is only the starting point: "You shall see greater things than these...You will see heaven opened, and the angels of God ascending and descending upon the Son of man" (Jn 1:46-51)."

Yes...this is just from the preface.