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Groups Leader Video

Since we’re always looking for new opportunities to introduce better ways to communicate and leverage platforms to connect with our folks who are scattered and disbursed, we’ve been trying out a new way to provide training to our group leaders who cannot make our regular meetings.

One of the best tools that I’ve encountered for doing this, as well as doing video conferencing for one-on-one, small, medium, and large sized groups, is the Zoom platform. Here’s a sample video that I’ve sent out to our group leaders at University Baptist updating them on some basic information, providing some calendar updates, and then talking about a few more detailed matters.

 

09
Jun 2017
POSTED BY Garet
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Professors Sharing Student Papers – a plea

Over the past several years, social media has exploded as a driving medium for communication and discourse in across our contemporary culture. This is not a surprising statement. Due to the easy access and low barriers of social media, it is rather easy to have a presence in various places. One of the great benefits is having professors who are part of various schools and institutions having accounts on social media platforms such as Twitter and Facebook. This allows them to add insightful notes on their fields of specialization, identify new research or discoveries, and interact with current trends. As this happens, social media is being used well.

TwitterTeachingHowever, some professors and educators are using part of their social media platforms to share their students’ papers through quotes, commentary, and other incisive critiques. In instances, professors are quoting directly from student papers and offering less than charitable thoughts…usually to a handful of ‘likes’, favorites, repostings, and/or replies from those who follow their posts. While the plaudits of the masses are always enjoyable and ego building, these kinds of actions are, ultimately, dangerous and harmful to the educational process.

There are a number of pseudonymous or anonymous social media accounts that started this trend, perhaps one of the earliest to do in my discipline (theology) is the Bible Students Say twitter account. Others have arisen of the kind and the interactions caught a lot of attention. The tweets were edgy and often funny or ironic quotes from students, yet under the veneer of anonymity many seemed to be okay with that kind of posting. At some point over the past several years it became acceptable for faculty members and professors to imitate these accounts, but under their public profiles. Now, it seems, one can easily note when the high points of the semester by the quotations of student papers in various professorial social media accounts.

This trend is not a good one. Thankfully having never seen any of my own paper quotes out in social media, I have heard of some students who have had some of their papers quoted…and then read the, sadly, expected chiding and churlish interactions and replies from others on social media. Recently, over the past several months, I’ve noticed some professors who have ceased doing this, but others who have increased up their posts. A second aspect of this trend is professors complaining about the nature of student papers, without direct quotes, and the lack of educational refinement or gaps in the students’ work.laughing

My thought behind this is simple: Please stop posting student paper quotes and content, please stop commenting on the “drudgery” of grading them, and please stop chiding your students over public social media about being…well, students.

After thinking over this issue for a while, my greatest objection to this is that the behavior of professors who engage in these is, ultimately, a violation of the informal professor-student compact. Students are learners, they don’t know everything on a topic and are most assuredly in process of development. Professors are given the great task of helping forming students intellectually and relationally for the world. To take sections or sentences from their papers and post them publicly, almost always to shame them or make fun of their incomplete thoughts, violates this compact.

If professors would go back and read their undergraduate and early graduate work they would bristle and roll their eyes at things they said, conclusions they made, argumentation process laid out, and even poor methodologies. Part of being a student is the confidence and trust that your professor will graciously hear you out, offer correctives, and help move you forward as a student. If a professor were to stand up in class and read aloud of papers of students while others listened we would cringe; doing it on social media is no different.

Another point is that complaining about the grading process is not enduring to anyone else. As a professor grading is a necessary and expected part of your role in the lives of your institution and student body. They need your feedback. As someone who has little desire to enter the academic world, I also see it as trite and unbecoming of a seasoned academic professional. You have a career that many aspire to, yet it is treated with disdain. My encouragement would be to refrain from letting us know how badly your students are doing, because they are a reflection of an increasingly broken higher education system and your teaching style.

There are some wonderful discussions about how to use social media to interact with and help your student, advice and tips to add to this engagement, and also helpful points about the limitations of what can be shared on social media. Many good things can be accomplished through social media. Students are benefited by access to discussions with professors and even seeing how their educators are actually normal people. Yet in all of this there is a darker side that can lead us to harm relationship between professors and students. Just as a pastor would be negligent in posting the detailed counseling conversations with others, or a priest the sins heard in the confessional, a doctor in discussing a patient’s lifestyle or health, professors need to be reticent in posting harmful or hurtful information about their students. You have a wonderful and amazing task: to shape and develop the next generation. Steward that task well and we are all beneficiaries.

So, what do you say?

23
Jun 2016
POSTED BY Garet
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Education

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Dissertation Synopsis

After about twelve months of intensely researching, writing, and editing, the readers’ draft of my dissertation went out to my committee last week. In an attempt to explain the prolonged silence here, I’ll post up the primary approach the project and then make a few points. My goal is to use much of this research and discussion to continue promoting dialogue here as well as apt fodder for scholarly articles and other works.

The dissertation’s initial title is The Quest for the Historical Church: The Development and Dismissal of Free Church Ecclesiology From Pentecost Through the Second Century.

dissertationMy goal in working on this area is to discuss, via a multi-disciplinary approach, the nature of autonomy of the earliest Christian communities in the first two centuries. As I have been working through some discussions, as well as being part of a larger professional network in my church work, there appears to be a growing gap of literature that accurately engages the realities of the church in this period and also attempts to understand the influences on its hierarchical structure and leadership composition. Since I am a thorough-going Baptist in my ecclesiology, I am keenly interested in whether the earliest churches reflected any kind of early episcopal structures or were they congregational.

My thesis surrounded several key questions: If the apostolic intention was to create one, uniform system of ecclesiology, what happened to that system in light of the rise of the Bishop of Rome? Was this the intended system of the Apostles, or is another ecclesiological form intended? How are we to understand the diversity of forms and offices within the New Testament documents? How did the heretical teachers and false prophets within early Christianity influence the development of authority in the early Church and churches? Is a monarchial episcopacy the ecclesiological form sought by the Apostles?

Ultimately, my research has led to a number of points, not the least of which is abandonment of these kinds of categories for understanding how the churches functioned in this period. One of the primary points of the dissertation was initially evaluating the landscape of New Testament ecclesiology and demonstrating how four distinct ecclesiologies emerge among the earliest Christian communities. These four are: Pauline, Lucan, Johannine, and Matthean. Now, there are likely more sub-ecclesiologies present, and perhaps even some that aren’t mentioned in the documents of the first Christians. However, by establishing this pluriformity of ecclesial forms we start off by acknowledging that there was quite a bit of diversity at the outset of the earliest Christian communities.

Along these lines, I also evaluated apostolic authority, since that is often suggested to be one of the ways that episcopal systems mimic their use of autocracy. Through this step the conclusion is that apostolic authority is rather limited and, particularly in the Pauline usage, often given deference to the freedom of the individual. Of course external influences seem to have impacted early Christianity, just as they do today, and as it relates to the concepts of autonomy and federation between churches Second Temple Judaism and Greco-Roman voluntary associations were also considered.

long bookThe final step was evaluating the documents of the Apostolic Fathers, most specific the Didache1 Clement, and the letters of Ignatius of Antioch, along with other works (Shepherd of Hermas, Barnabas, etc.), for their ecclesiological content. Then the works of the Second Century Apologists were also surveyed, though Ireneaus and Clement of Alexandria were the primary writers to be evaluated.

In the end, I think there is a quite a good case to be made for establishing autonomy, that is the independence of the local Christian communities, as the initial nature of ecclesial relationships within early Christianity. These first communities had no means of establishing external hierarchy, no examples of overwhelming compulsion to the influence of an external leader, and do not appear to make much of other communities, even those existing within the same cities. There is some federated cooperation within these communities, but they are, by and large, isolated from each other and any notion of external influence in their structure and operations.

Now that this project is initially submitted I’m dutifully working on reinforcing some argumentation with professorial critiques in mind as well as tightening up the language. There is much to say about all of this, and hopefully in the coming months I’ll be able to work out bits and pieces on this blog.

I’d love to engage with some feedback on the ideas presented, though this is mightily limited from the 302-page dissertation.

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PhD Languages: Thoughts on Finishing

The bane of many a PhD in humanities (and perhaps other categories) existence is often not the endless research and papers to write for seminars, those are indeed difficult, but it is the requirement of two research languages that is attached to their degree. While many PhD candidates are fine intellectuals there is something about a foreign language that is indeed difficult.

If you’ve been around a PhD candidate for very long you’ll inevitably hear laments about their program requirements. Generally, most humanities PhDs (of which biblical studies, theology, and history are part of this larger category) require each candidate to demonstrate sufficient reading ability for two research languages that is appropriate for their degree. Often, for theological students, these languages can be taken from French, German, and Latin. Given the amount of primary and secondary source literature in the fields of theological studies, being able to engage with these works will round out one’s studies. (I’ve written previously on this here.)

My own experience has been no different.

Since January I set out to learn and pass reading exams for two research languages for the PhD candidacy. My two languages were German and French. Having already done some preliminary studies (about twenty fifteen years ago…yes that’s it) in high school, and after forgetting most of it, I began with German.

However, for both my method was similar. I set out how long I had to finish my language with an exam and the developed a study plan.

1. Chose an appropriate primary textbook and secondary support material. For German, I already had Modern Theological German: A Reader and Dictionary by Helmut Ziefle. I supplemented this with German Quickly by April Wilson. For French, since I primarily did my study through an online program, I was assigned Reading French for the Arts and Sciences by Edward Stack. To this I added Reading French: A Guide for Students of Religion and Theology by K Janet Ritch.

2. After laying out my calendar (and noting times when my ministry responsibilities would call for more time than studying) I noted when I would work on a chapter in the primary texts and corresponding assignments.

3. Since one of the best lessons I was taught by my Greek professor in seminary was that “a language is caught not taught” I made sure that every day something was done in the particular language. As a result I also began translating specific biblical passages that would help in getting a sense of the nature and vocabulary of the language. So every day, depending on the language, I would make sure to translate something from an assignment and Scripture.

4. During my translations and exercises I used the dictionary that I had purchased for use during the exam. This helped with getting to know the dictionary.

5. For the assignments, and this is just the way I learn, I wrote out, by hand, the entire lesson and went back over it several times, reciting aloud what the author had written. This helped in getting the sense of what was being required.

6. As I neared the exam date I began sitting down and translating fresh passages (usually from one of the readers I was using, not Scripture) to see how I was doing in assimilating the language.

7. Once I had some initial lessons under my belt, I began going to German and French newspaper sites to read stories with as little help from my dictionaries as possible. For German I used Der Spiegel and for French Le Monde. This helped with learning basic vocabulary.

Learn the languages so you can read this guy...again, and again, and again...

Learn the languages so you can read this guy…again, and again, and again…

By the time I got to my exam, for German it was in March and for French it was August, I was comfortable with the language and able to work through the exams. While I make no illusions that I can produce highly readable translations right now, I do rejoice in passing my two exams.

One of the larger challenges for English speaking students is getting the sense of an inflected language and how they are different from English. Since I had much of the basics for German already in place, it simply became about re-familiarizing myself with the basics and then building on that foundation. French was more difficult since I had no ideas about the language.

So, for PhD candidates worried about the languages, perhaps this above rubric for learning and preparing will help.

My own experience might not be helpful, but it worked for me. I still recommend that PhD candidates be required to show reading knowledge of one research language halfway through their seminars. While my program did not require this, the languages are required prior to dissertation work, it is beneficial and for the students.

I’m still working on my languages since several primary source texts for my dissertation are in either French or German.

So how do you learn languages? What are some ways you’ve found to confidently grow in reading another language? What are some pitfalls to this approach?

26
Sep 2013
POSTED BY Garet
POSTED IN

Education

DISCUSSION 1 Comment
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Why the Languages are Important for a PhD

Over the past couple of months, I’ve been devoting myself to learning theological French in order to satisfy my second research language requirement prior to my comprehensive examinations.

There is often a push and pull in a PhD program about any number of the requirements. As I’ve seen in my evaluations of different programs before actually entering one, the requirements are often the same across the board. Particularly for those of us pursuing PhDs in a humanities subject (such as theology, history, etc) one of the requirements are two research languages. On my degree completion plan, I have the option of any of two of three research languages: German, French, and Latin.

Not too long ago there was a bit of a dust up about whether or not PhDs in New Testament needed to know Greek for their final examinations. It resulted in a good conversation around the blogosphere. Why a PhD in New Testament should be able to graduate without reading knowledge of Greek is a mystery to me. A PhD, more than any other degree in the university curriculum, should demonstrate mastery of a field of research. So, along those lines, I have no problem stating:

Research languages (i.e. foreign) are important and should continue to be required for those pursuing PhDs in humanities subjects.

Part of proper scholarship is the engagement with a broad array of thinkers and scholars. To best do this, being able to get outside of the box that one’s primary language creates allows access to some who will stretch a student/scholar’s abilities and thought processes. Even today, when we have more access to translated scholarship, there still remains a substantial body of literature outside the English language that should be engaged. Online translating tools, such as Google Translate, remain unreliable and often give incorrect translations of texts as they lack the ability to distinguish nuance.

In my own studies, in historical ecclesiology, I’ve encountered a number of works that meet this classification. For my dissertation, one of the key works that I am using is by a German scholar of the late 1800s, Rudolph Sohm. In writing Kirchenrecht, Sohm argues that the earliest churches had no ecclesiastical constitution but were ruled by a charisma (understood differently than the charismatics of today) which provided leadership for those who were seen as gifted by God. This is an essential point for my work on the role of local church autonomy in the early churches. However, Sohm’s work has never been translated into English. (A challenge I might take up…after my dissertation.)

Other examples abound.

Having competency in two research languages allows one to engage in this kind of broader research and fill out the views that would be other otherwise unavailable to the student.

Along these lines it is important to note this: a PhD isn’t a gimme degree.

Too many students believe that just because they pay tuition and submit assignment they deserve a degree. Our entire higher education system has become a secondary entitlement program where students demand degrees and passable grades for shoddy work.

Because a PhD is a rigorous degree it should also have requirements that are equally rigorous.

To be honest, over the past month I’ve been staying up until about 2 AM most mornings working on my French so I might pass a competency exam. This isn’t fun, but it is absolutely worth it. There are certainly other things I could be doing, but because I’m enrolled in a PhD program I have purposely set aside these things to pursue a higher calling. Languages are difficult and add an important step of rigor to a PhD.

PhDs are important degrees for those who desire the highest levels of intellectual engagement and academic accomplishment. If you cannot learn two research languages that might be a good indication that you aren’t cut out for a PhD. This likely will sound like a kind of elitist, and it certainly is. We should have no illusions that a PhD is as simple to achieve as an undergraduate degree. The language requirements of a PhD are an effective vetting mechanism to ensure that the highest qualified students (note, this is intellectual qualification not monetary) are obtaining these degrees.

Finally, the language requirements of a PhD provide an important tool for a lifetime of scholarship that awaits. Though I am not entirely convinced that Latin, German, and French should be the only research languages, this harkens of colonialism, a student should have the ability to add in an appropriate language. By having two research languages in their research tool chest, academics are prepared to provide quality research and engagement with works that have yet to be written.

Perhaps, in summation, the language requirements for a PhD are important for these three reasons:

  • The ability to engage in a broad discipline of research and scholarship
  • A reasonable vetting step for the most rigorous of academic degrees
  • Developing tools for a lifetime of scholarship

 

So what do you think? How have you engaged with research languages? Are there other reasons for requiring languages for a PhD?

20
Aug 2013
POSTED BY Garet
POSTED IN

Education

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The Challenge of Seminary: an initial post

Over at the Gospel Coalition, there is a great short reflection about the challenges of seminary written by Donny Friederichsen pointing out that seminarians often forget that their time in school should be developing them both theologically by pastorally.

One of the paragraphs that seemed to stand out is this:

I also would have spent more time with real people in my neighborhood and at my church instead of gravitating toward people who liked to read dead Dutch guys and use phrases like “hypostasis,” “hapax legomenon,” and “the chthonic thralldom of sin.” I need those people too, but in seminary it’s entirely too easy to get lost in the academic world and lose contact with why you are there. (emphasis mine)

This is a good point and worth exploring. Seminary, in its current form, is presenting substantial challenges to ministry and ministers. As a quick observation, many of my peers in growing, dynamic churches are becoming increasingly wary of hiring seminary graduates who are both 1) recent graduates and 2) don’t have a lot of outside experience under their belts. For many of us, we find that seminary does a good job of preparing a student theologically but there is a massive shortfall in actual pastoral training and ministry execution.

Having graduated from seminary 8 years ago, I saw this challenge worked out. Thankfully a gracious professor of mine put several key texts into my hands while I was in my earliest days of seminary that reconfigured my outlook and steps for preparation. For what its worth, I thoroughly enjoyed seminary. It was a kind of intellectual and spiritual renaissance for me. Though there were some institutional pressures and challenges which cloud a bit of last days at my seminary, I am the minister I am because of my time in seminary.

Now, back to Friederichsen’s point. Too often our seminaries are a kind of “Sunday School 2.0” that fail to maneuver their students to interact critically and practically with pastoral ministry situations. We are seeing a substantial rise in post-seminary ministry failure rates in new graduates over the past decade, and its not because of moral failure. It is often due to burnout, firings, underperformance, expectation issues, among other factors. While not every seminary graduate is going to end up in pastoral ministry (a fairly new concept by the way), for those who do go into pastoral ministry one of the first tasks that must be accomplished is to sort through what was helpful and what was not helpful for application in the local church ministry.

The very real issues at Friederichsen brings up in his post are matters which, as I recall, were rarely addressed in seminary classrooms. They were talked about in my undergraduate instruction. For too many seminarians there is a need to balance this intellectual maturation with practical equipping tools. At this point too many of our seminaries are ill-equipped and ensconced in “church of last century” ministry models to provide a substantive change to the ministry training culture. Another challenge in the seminary model is professors who have never served a day in a church, yet are given opportunities to train and equip future pastors for ministry. While there are certainly individuals and fields where we can make margin for the academic only scholar, I wonder if we are pressing the mark too hard in continuing to elevate and place individuals with no local church experience in the midst of the training and equipping institute for future pastors.

Final thought: In Houston we have radio ad for a local law school that promotes itself by producing “practice ready attorneys.” Perhaps if we can start to get our arms around the realities of ministry and begin developing seminaries that produce “ministry ready pastors” we can see some things begin to change. Seminary is a vital part of training men and women for a lifetime of ministry. I’m looking forward to seeing how this important conversation continues.

25
Jun 2013
POSTED BY Garet
POSTED IN

Education

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