Calvinism in the Academy

Discussion in 'Baptist Colleges / Seminaries' started by Rhetorician, May 10, 2008.

  1. Rhetorician

    Rhetorician
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    To all who have an ear:

    I have just finished a must read: Young, Restless, and Reformed by Colin Hansen. Colin was an editor at Christianity Today. He wrote a paper by the same name for CT. This sent him on a trek to find out the why and how that young people are turning to the Doctrines of Grace in a wholesale manner. But that is besides the point and I will leave the book for you to read on my recommendation.

    Heres the real deal of this post. On pp. 129-130 he follows a young man who went to Beeson Divinity School (SBC) at Samford University in Birmingham, AL. Dr. Timothy George (one of our Broadus Book Project contributors--I just had to get that in there :laugh: !) gave a class on John Calvin. The young man's name was Joel Brooks. Dr. George had them read Calvin's Institutes. Here is the kicker. They had to summarize every page.

    We have had a lot of discussions about work rigor, accredited, non-accredited, and different levels of rigor here on the BB. But many would say that that is too much to do for only one class. And if I know the level and amount of MDiv worth that Dr. George would require, that would be only one of several assignments.

    For any or all of you who want a "quick fix" to the academic world or to the "gimme doctorates" then you should consider whether or not the work you do in your masters degree is up to that level of rigor. And believe you me, mine was!

    All of us have tried, and mostly unsuccessfully I think, to argue for academic rigor from the called minister. But, I am sure that I cannot possibly shame any of you who want a shoddy, short cut, to a "gimme doctorate" to repent. So, I am going to work on a plan to stop trying.

    Praise God for Samford, Beeson, Timothy George, SBTS, Al Mohler, John Mac, John Piper, SEBTS, Danny Akin, Tom Nettles, David Dockery, RC Sproul, et al who have worked and sacrificed so that all who hear them preach and teach know they can "rightly divide the word." It is because they are all outstanding intellects, but they have also submitted themselves to the Lord of the harvest in his academe.

    Your welcome!
     
  2. Tom Butler

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    A half-century ago, a Union University Classmate of mine went off to grad school. He related to me that at the first class, the professor gave the class a list of five books that he wanted them to read--in the next week.

    We both though that Union was academically tough, but that's rigor!
     
  3. sag38

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    Is there not a healthy balance between rigor for the sake of rigor and actual rigorous work that has a practical application. Sometimes I believe that a professor makes students do certain things not so much for the academic value but so he can be perceived as being tough. I'm all for academic hard work but it must have a practical value to it. Otherwise it's the equivalent of moving a pile of dirt from one end of the prison yard to the other just so the prisoner will have something "meaningful" to do. So what if you read five books in one week along with all the other course work. Reading five books in a week long marathon would leave most people brain dead. There's no real academic value in that.
     
  4. Martin

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    ==I don't think that is too much work. And all of my students would give a hearty amen to that. Even though I teach at a junior college I require college level work. An easy degree is not worth that much in my opinion.

    ==I agree with most of what you say, and your statement here is no exception. I find it amazing how many "preachers" think they don't need a good education. It is not only amazing, it is shameful.
     
  5. Martin

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    ==I wish you could have explained that concept to my MA/History professors. :laugh:

    Seriously though. It was hard work, but it was well worth it. What I have learned through that hard work is of great value to me and hopefully to my students. I agree that being tough just to be tough is of no value. However professors, at every level, should require high standards from their students.
     
  6. StefanM

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    I've seen both sides to it. I can think of one history course in which we had an incredible amount of reading, but the class was structured so that we, through writing reviews and having seminar discussion, arrived at a good understanding of the material in the field. I've also had classes that simply required a ton of work.

    Summarizing every page of Calvin's institutes? That's insanity. It's not an issue of rigor; it's an issue of having an abundance of time to do mindless summary. The average graduate-level student should have no difficulty in summarizing. What purpose does it serve to require students to do that much summarizing?

    I have the same perspective when I hear professors requiring 5-6 page book reviews. If you can't write a book review in 2 (3 maximum) pages, then you can't write it.

    In the other case, requiring 5 books in one week will almost always result in the vast majority of the class failing to "read" the books. You will undoubtedly get a lot of skimming. If the purpose is to get people to skim but retain material, then it's a good goal, but don't expect people to read every page.

    Besides, if you had three courses with that kind of workload, you'd have to read 15 books in one week. That's over two books per DAY. Unless you have no outside responsibilities at all (i.e. you're wealthy or have loans to live on and no family), you will not be able to do more than a quick skim. Even if you had nothing else to do, it would be taxing.

    Now, in the case of graduate work in fields like history, the dearth of open teaching positions may provide justification to make the work so taxing as to encourage people to withdraw from the program.

    For ministry, though, is our point not to train pastors? In Baptist circles, when a person drops out of seminary because of the excessive workload, he doesn't just pack up shop and go home to sell cars. He stays in the pulpit, just without any further education. Is this our goal?
     
  7. Rhetorician

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    sag38 Response

    sag38,

    Let me welcome you to the BB. I hope to hear many excellent comments and opinions from you. Let us have it when we need--OK?

    Let me observe that seminary is a place where the tension of the practical and the theological/historical/Biblical Languages/etc. "sorta" "kinda" gets overlapped and sometimes even lost. The move for the seminaries that I know anything about (and I could name a few here but won't) has tended towards the "practical" as you call it. Invariably, we have "dumbed down" the MDiv and other Master's degrees to the point that many have become "glorified vo-tec" degrees. Now I know I speak somewhat hyperbolically.

    But, the chosen field of the "call to ministry" must have "our utmost for His highest" as Chambers would have said. It is a sad day indeed when the likes of Church Admin, or Missionary Principles and Practices, or How to Baptize or Conduct Funerals takes the place of Theology, Church History, the Biblical Languages, Apologetics, Biblical Ethics; do you not think?

    Well you (we) have entered into a hotly debated topic here on the BB. And I don't mean to overwhelm you all at once. You know how I feel no doubt.

    I for one, advocate that the pastor should "give himself to prayer and the Word" and be a pastor-teacher-theologian rather than being the CEO, church admin, or "I have to be at every committee meeting held" kind of guy. But, that is not going to happen b/c the hiring church will not allow it. They are completely satisfied with the other. They want one "who will come see about me" rather than spending time "getting a Word from God" and then proclaiming it to them. But that is a discussion for another thread at another time.

    Stay with us but develop a thick skin.

    "That is all!"
     
  8. eddie

    eddie
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    StefanM,

    "Insanity" is an appropriate description for an absolutely ridiculous assignment. :thumbs:


    Somebody please help me with this....Since when did the ability to accomplish overwhelming class assignments become a measure of a man's suitability for the ministry? :BangHead:

    I unashamedly admit that I would not waste my time in a class that required such a crazy assignment. And, I still think that God can use me in the ministry for His glory! Moreover, I realize that my MDiv work at Luther Rice is probably not even remotely comparable in rigor to schools like TEDS, DTS, WTS, SBTS, RTS, etc. But, you know what, I have enjoyed my classes, and I thank God for LRU!

    By the way, I spent the first two years of my undergraduate career at an Ivy League university (I got kicked out). Believe you me, I know a little about what "rigor" is all about.


    Eddie :godisgood:
     
  9. Pastor Larry

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    Reading a book and summarizing each page is not overwhelming. It's hardly insanity. It sounds like a good assignment if the purpose of the class is to understand Calvin.

    Reading five books in one week could be a bit overwhelming, depending on the length and style of the books.

    I agree that there is a tremendous dumbing down of theology in ministerial education and it is bad. When you go to school and learn "how" to do things, it will quickly be out of style since the "how" changes. Furthermore, it is very contextually oriented. But if you go to school and learn theology, it will never go out of style, and you won't be trapped by other's ideas about doing things. You can get back to the Word.

    What we need are more ministers who do the hard work of learning theology and the languages.
     
  10. StefanM

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    Each page? How long of a summary would this end up being? Now, if by summary, he means a one sentence summary, then it might be reasonable, but if the assignment requires any significant length in the summary, the final result could dwarf some dissertations (Calvin's Institutes isn't a small book!).

    Besides, summary is not a very challenging assignment. It's an arduous one, but it's very easy to summarize if you have the time to do it.
     
  11. Pastor Larry

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    First, the professor would have to say how long it would have to be. I can't answer that. Second, the point is probably not about it being hard but about mastering the material I would assume. If you can summarize a page, then you probably know what the page was about. I would imagine it is something to see if the material is actually being read with careful thought.
     
  12. StefanM

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    One can summarize without coming close to mastering the material.
     
  13. Pastor Larry

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    By mastering, I mean simply understanding what is being said, and I wouldn't think you can summarize without that. In order to summarize it, you have to know what was said and which are the key points on the page.
     
  14. swaimj

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    If the class in question was a class wholly devoted to John Calvin, and if the students had the entire semester to complete this project, it seems like a reasonable assignment that is pertinent to the subject. However, the last paragraph gives credit to about 5 or 6 other men (Piper, MacArthur, Mohler, and others) who were praised, but who neither taught the class or were the subject of the class. I didn't get the connection.
     
  15. Rhetorician

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    swaimj Reponse

    swaimj,

    Hello, and I am sorry for the disconnect. I just wanted to cite men who have paid the price in rigor and it shows in their preaching and teaching. That was my point, however that was not very well made.

    "That is all!"
     
  16. StefanM

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    Then we were discussing two different definitions. My defintion of mastering is not simply understanding what was said but understanding the implications, deficiencies, etc. of what was said.
     
  17. Pastor Larry

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    I think it would be impossible to understand it, and have any reasonable seminary level grasp on theology, and not pick up on implications, deficiencies, etc. So I am not sure that is a valid distinction. I can't imagine having a full grasp on implications and deficiencies. I don't think anyone does, and if that is the definition of mastering, then no one can master anything, most likely.

    But that's fine. I have no problem with the assignment. I think by and large, education today is weaker than it ever has been, particularly in its workload. And that is unfortunate.
     

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