The Education Bubble is Bound To Bust

Its been about thirty years since our federal and state governments started reducing direct support for higher education and started steering students toward student loans.  Now students commonly leave college with the equivalent of a mortgage payment, a debt many of them can never repay or escape.

Private colleges, and specifically, church-related Christian colleges have bought into the same student-debt funded tuition scheme.

When I entered one such college in another millenium, I never heard of FAFSA.  Typically I would start the fall semester with enough money to pay my tuition, then in January, I might take out a short-term loan from the college, which I was able to repay over the summer and start the cycle again.  I was able to get through more years of graduate study than is profitable in the same way.

Back in those days we were reminded that our tuition was only a token, it only paid a small percentage of the cost of our education.  We were reminded that little old ladies on Social Security and hard working farmers contributed to our institution from their meager savings.  And that was true.

But somewhere in the last few years administrators of Christian colleges found it was easier to raise tuition than to raise support for their students.

Their peers headed for law school or business school might look forward to a lucrative job that would make repayment of their student loans easy.  Most of our students were headed to for far more modest (to put it mildly) salaries, and will be saddled with debt.

Hearing the tragic news about Kayla Mueller this week, I thought about some of my own former students who majored in intercultural studies and are serving people and God overseas, as she did.  These were some of our brightest and most dedicated students.  But many of them have to devote several years to paying off their student loans before than can go and serve in other lands among other cultures.

There will be another economic downturn, and tuition will become unsustainable.  Meanwhile, students are customers paying for a service and are entitled to have it their way.

There are only a handful of colleges that are bucking the trend.  One is Christendom College, a Catholic college in Virginia, and College of the Ozarks near Branson, Missouri.

Let the Earth Bring Forth Life

Sensational headlines get attention, so you can’t blame Solon for the bit of hyperbole in the title of the article God is on the Ropes, about a new theory that claims “Under certain conditions, matter inexorably acquires the key physical attribute associated with life”–certain conditions being those that prevail on a planet such as the earth.

I have been thinking for a while about a couple of verses in Genesis 1.  In the first God says, “Let the earth bring forth vegetation” (1:11).  Then in verse 24 “Let the earth bring forth living creatures (animals).”  Similar is verse 20, “Let the waters team with living creatures.”

God assigns a role in creation to the earth.  Other verses describes God as arranging “certain conditions,” separating the land mass from the oceans, providing an atmosphere, and roles for the sun, moon, and stars.

Genesis 1 uses simple images to describe the process of creation and the sequential development of life on earth as the creator willed.  If the language of science is mathematics, then you would have to say Genesis is unscientific because it does not use scientific formulas.  But there is nothing in Genesis 1 incompatible with what the natural sciences have shown us about the origin and development of life on the earth.

A New Journal–Free Online

A New Journal, the Journal of the Jesus Movement in its Jewish Setting, is available online free, here: 

The last article is a review by Craig Evans of the Jewish Annotated New Testament.

Our Annual Conference, the Western Fellowship of Professors and Scholars

is coming up next weekend, October 10-11.  Here are the presenters and topics:

Russ Dudrey,  “How Bookish is Our Faith?  The Problems of Preaching a Book-Centered Faith to a Non-Literate Generation.”

Loren Decker, “The Bible in an Illiterate Culture-A Historical Perspective”

Alisha Paddock, “Family Metaphors in 1 Thess 2.”

Mark Alterman, “What Kind of Authority is the Bible?”

Les Hardin, “Searching for a Transformative Hermeneutic”

Bill Jenkins, “Deflation of Truth in an Age of Distraction.”

Virgil Warren, “Friends” or “Sons”:  Comments on the Apostasy Question.

Here is the LINK for more information about the conference.

A Pedantic Rant on the Translation of a Greek Word

In 1 Corinthians 1:20 Paul asks ποῦ συζητητὴς τοῦ αἰῶνος τούτου;

The NIV translates “Where is the philosopher of this age?”  A more accurate translation is “debater.”  Bruce Winter, in his book After Paul Left Corinth describes how the movement known as the “Second Sophistic” affected the Roman city of Corinth.

Earlier, in the time of Socrates the first Sophistic movement entered Athens.  The Sophists taught eager young men–for a good fee–the arts of being successful.  Success for these ambitious students who hoped to move quickly up the ladder in politics meant learning the art of persuasion, how to sway a crowd with moving words and convincing arguments.  It didn’t matter if the arguments were true, what does that have to do with winning?

It was on that point that Socrates disagreed with the Sophists.  How do you know what success is, if you don’t care about truth?  How can a life be called successful if it is based on sleazy manipulation?

Four hundred and fifty years later the Sophistic movement gained a new life and the Sophists came to Corinth.  A teacher would advertise a sample oration or debate (in which vicious insults was often the key to defeating his opponents) and then would enroll tuition paying students in the full course.

Once more the philosophers and the Sophists became bitter enemies.  That’s why the NIV translation in this verse is historically inaccurate.  It is also misleading.  It gives the impression that St. Paul is anti-intellectual.

Paul is attacking pride in human accomplishments and the idea that life is a struggle of all against all, a contest to be won at any cost and by any means.  That is what the “debater” represents.  It is also what the system he calls “the world” represents.  It’s what we used to call the establishment, the machine, or the Man.

But Paul is not attacking clear thinking or clear and effective communication.

Another Bonhoeffer Biography

I don’t know if we need another one, but here is a review of a new biography of Dietrich Bonhoeffer.

Evidently Charles Marsh indulges in a little speculative psychoanalysis about Bonhoeffer’s relationship with Eberhard Bethge, suggesting a latent homosexual attraction.  This speculation, based on no evidence other than reading between the lines in the letters, of course could be neither proven nor refuted.

I think it does show a pretty serious failure to understand Bonhoeffer.  First of all, he had no use for psychoanalysis; he described it as a secular version of religious fanaticism.  Revivalist preachers tried to convince decent, honest people that they were miserable sinners, and psychoanalysts tried to convince happy, well-adjusted folk that they are inwardly miserable.  Bonhoeffer believed private matters should be kept private and one should not speak in public about sexuelle Dinge.  Aha, proof of repression?  I think rather it reflects his aristocratic upbringing and some honest convictions about propriety and ethics.

In his Ethics Bonhoeffer followed traditional categories of duty, vocation, family, work, government.  But He also said there is another realm where ethical behavior is realized, and that is the area of freedom.  To this area he assigned friendship.  He recognized a failure in previous attempts to define and describe ethical behavior without recognizing the importance of deep and abiding friendships not confined by categories of duty but developed in the realm of freedom.

One of the failures of a lot of our thinking today is a lack of imagination and vocabulary to appreciate the value of friendship.  Dietrich Bonhoeffer and Eberhard Bethge certainly did love one another.  It was a deep human and Christian friendship.

The World Needs More Madrasas

Shari'ah Law: An Introduction

I’ve been reading about Shariah law because I don’t want to be ignorant, and the book is very enlightening.  I have learned that there is a long history of Islamic scholarship, and that there are four or five major schools of interpretation.  Some of these schools emphasize the letter of the law, while others emphasize the intention and purpose.  All recognize the historical context in which the laws arose, and all recognize to some degree the place of reason in understanding the laws.

Professor Kamali points out some plain statements in the Qur’an that are often ignored by advocates of harsh punishments.  For example, passages prescribing amputation of a hand for thieves or flogging for adultery, are followed by the words “unless they repent.”  Who wouldn’t repent for stealing when their hand was on the chopping block?

Kamali also frequently quotes the verse “there shall be no compulsion in religion.”  He also frequently discusses issues related to gender equality, supported by laws in the Qur’an and examples from the prophet’s life.

One of the most remarkable sections of the book, to me at least, was on the “Decline of the Madrasahs.”  The last two chapters of the book discuss the need for reform and challenging issues.  The decline of Islamic schools means that a generation of young Muslims is growing up ignorant of the Qur’an and the other sources of Shariah, as well as the history of Islamic scholarship. Consequently their ignorance makes them vulnerable to ignorant fanatics who recruit them for suicide missions.

In the discussion of that issue, Kamali makes it clear that Islamic law universally condemns both suicide and the intentionally targeting of civilians.

In reading this book I was reminded of a statement of Rabbi Gamaliel,

An ignorant person cannot be pious.  [http://www.torah.org/learning/pirkei-avos/chapter2-6.html  — the whole article is worth reading!]

I used to think this was snobbish, and I thought of Jesus appealing to fishermen, farmers, and day laborers.  But now I realize, Jesus called people from all walks of life to follow him and learn from him.  He called them to become disciples.  Jesus taught the people of the land.  In this sense, I think it is true that a Christian who willfully remains ignorant cannot be devout.

I also think of the difficulty conservative Christian centers of learning, such as Bible colleges, have in remaining conservative.  We knew a sociologist years ago who wrote his dissertation on “goal displacement” in Bible colleges.  He studied the inevitable drift away from specific doctrinal commitments and from a narrow curriculum to broader and more liberal curricula.  Most leaders of such institutions see this as a problem.  But maybe it’s not.  Maybe being narrow and dogmatic is not a virtue.  Maybe an educated person cannot remain dogmatic.  Maybe it is impossible to study the Bible (or the Talmud or the Qur’an) without raising serious questions about traditional understandings.

My colleague Wes and I went to hear a distinguished professor of genetics who has devoted his waning years to destroying something he doesn’t understand.  I asked him what background he had in the study of theology or philosophy.  He replied, “I don’t believe in fairies, so I don’t study fairiology.”

If I believed fairiology was the greatest threat to our civilization, I would study it.

Ignorance is a threat not only to civil society and peace, it is a threat to faith.  I think Hillel was right after all.

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