Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Teaching or Research

Whenever I work on a writing project, I worry that my time would be better spent doing something else. I'm used to it, but sometimes it keeps me up at night: How can I justify slaving over a technical article on a subject whose direct relevance to my teaching will amount to perhaps two minutes of class time in a course I teach every second year? Wouldn't my summer be better spent (only) reading and exploring questions directly related to the classes I have to teach this fall--even if nothing written or publishable comes of it? Is it enough to research something because it fascinates me? Does it pass the Annie Dillard test?
‎Write as if you were dying. At the same time, assume you write for an audience consisting solely of terminal patients. That is, after all, the case. What would you begin writing if you knew you would die soon? What could you say to a dying person that would not enrage by its triviality? - Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (1989), 68.
In this case, maybe the best response is a note to self: Next time, think twice before volunteering to write on that esoteric topic!

But to counter Dillard and my internal interlocutor, I am reminded of a talk C.S. Lewis gave to a group of university students that defends the value of "Learning in War Time." Lewis's initial point is that, for Christians, learning in war time is no different than any other:
[E]very Christian who comes to a university must at all times face a question compared with which the questions raised by the war are relatively unimportant. He must ask himself how it is right, or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to heaven or to hell, to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology. If human culture can stand up to that, it can stand up to anything. - C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 44.*
I've quoted from Lewis's affirmative answer before. Lewis goes on to say that the pursuit of learning is worthwhile and--to qualify Dillard--we don't always need to be able to explain how all our little projects relate to the big questions in life:
Humility, no less than the appetite, encourages us to concentrate simply on the knowledge or the beauty, not too much concerning ourselves with their ultimate relevance to the vision of God. That relevance may not be intended for us but for our betters--for men who come after and find the spiritual significance of what we dug out in blind and humble obedience to our vocation. - C.S. Lewis, The Weight of Glory and Other Addresses (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1949), 49
Lewis, it seems to me, takes for granted a classic ideal of higher education that has been obscured, if not lost altogether, in a contemporary context where schools that emphasize teaching are distinguished from research universities, and where, in the latter, one is sometimes better off staying home and working through a textbook than attending class: The scholar is paid to research, not to teach. Since there is no reward for teaching, little effort goes into doing it effectively.

According to the classic ideal, teaching and research go together. You expect a scientist to do science not just to teach it. Part of learning from a scientist is to learn about what it means to live the peculiar life of the mind that is scientific inquiry--and that is best caught from someone who lives and loves their craft enough both to share it and to practice it.The point is not for all students to become scientists--or literary scholars, for that matter--but for all to learn disciplines of learning that will form them for their own vocation. Actually, Annie Dillard says something similar:
"Rembrandt and Shakespeare, Tolstoy and Gauguin, possessed, I believe, powerful hearts, not powerful wills. They loved the range of materials they used. The works possibilities excited them; the field's complexities fired their imaginations. The caring suggested the tasks; the tasks suggested the schedules. They learned their fields and then loved them. They worked, respectfully, out of their love and knowledge, and they produced complex bodies of work that endure. Then, and only then, the world flapped at them some sort of hat, which, if they were still living, they ignored as well as they could, to keep at their tasks" - Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (1989), 70-71.
*Lewis, obviously, hadn't read Rob Bell.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Philipp Jakob Spener on Pastoral Training

"In regard to the education of pastors, Spener [1635-1705] argues that they must be trained in universities and schools that should be recognized as 'workshops of the Holy Spirit rather than places of worldliness and indeed of the devils of ambition, tippling, carousing, and brawling.' In the selection of candidates for the ministry, Spener is convinced that 'a young man who fervently loves God, although adorned with limited gifts, will be more useful to the church of God with his meager talent and academic achievement than a vain and worldly fool with double doctor's degrees who is very clever but has not been taught by God.'" - William Baird, History of New Testament Research Volume 1: From Deism to Tübingen (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 61.

Baird calls this "implicit anti-intellectualism." I wouldn't call it that as long as Spener didn't consider academic training dispensible.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

A Twitter Miscellany

A selection of less ephemeral (??) updates from my twitter account (@ntdmiller) since I began tweeting in February:
  • 9 July: Why I suspect the prolific: "[P]erhaps twenty people can write a serious book in a year. Some people lift cars, too." (Annie Dillard)
  • 8 July: Just registered for 
  • 4 July: Contemplating organizing a study tour of Turkey and Greece...
  • Elmer Fudd Wikipedia ()! E.g., "In de Thai generaw ewection, de Pheu Thai Party... wins a wandswide majority..."
  • 30 June:  9 looks great on the NT side; still considering whether it is worth an upgrade for someone focused primarily on the Hebrew Bible
  • 25 June: Great price for a fantastic resource: Randall Buth's Living Biblical Hebrew Part One MP4 Version ()
  • 24 June: Looking for a succinct, scintillating, readable  commentary to use as an upper level undergraduate Biblical Studies textbook.
  • 23 June: Absolutely loving Bruce Fisk's Hitchhiker's Guide to Jesus (). The trick is creating a course to go with the textbook.
  • 19 June: Nothing like having a Hebrew verb paradigm jingle running through your head for days on end.
  • 8 June: "Any humanities professor who comes up with one genuine idea in a lifetime should be recognized." - Mark Bauerlein ()
  • 4 June: "Fulfillment is a byproduct of how people engage their tasks, and can’t be pursued directly." - David Brooks ()
  • 18 May: What's the benefit of a  book priced the same as a printed edition?
  • 13 April: Here's to "a sensory deprivation tank in Siberia"! ...Dale Harris on the crisis in evangelical ecclesiology ().
  • 31 March: Jon Coutts on Rob Bell and the "twitter-fingers of a million popes" ().
  • 30 March: Attractive idea: "The Rules of Writing Group" ()
  • 26 March: "Ideally, we would like to see a decrease in publishing... One good article is worth a dozen mediocre articles."-RDH ()
  • 25 March: -18 C, feels like -27. Welcome spring!
  • 9 March: Noticed Augustine's conversion account in Confessions 8 is a meditation on Rom 7; conversion for A is incomplete without radical life change
  • 25 February: Decided I can't put off reading through Morton Smith's Palestinian Parties any longer.
  • 24 February: Ideal language learning scenario: .
  • 21 February: Ehrman's Forged () looks like unwelcome support for Carson & Moo's Introduction ().
I need to go full-bore on a non-bloggable writing project this month, so posts that require independent thought (such as my unfinished series on Christian prophecy) will be limited--unless the ideas are so distracting they bleed onto the page.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Annie Dillard on courageous writing

"Courage utterly opposes the bold hope that this is such fine stuff the work needs it, or the world. Courage, exhausted, stands on bare reality: this writing weakens the work. You must demolish the work and start over. You can save some of the sentences, like bricks. It will be a miracle if you can save some of the paragraphs, no matter how excellent in themselves or hard-won. You can waste a year worrying about it, or you can get it over with now. . . . The part you must jettison is not only the best-written part; it is also, oddly, that part which was to have been the very point. It is the original key passage, the passage on which the rest was to hang, and from which you yourself drew the courage to begin." - Annie Dillard, The Writing Life (Harper & Row, 1989), 4.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

What was old is new again: Richard Bauckham and Hugo Grotius on the Raising of Lazarus

One of the intriguing proposals in Richard Bauckham's Jesus and the Eyewitnesses explains why the resurrection of Lazarus in John 11 is ignored by the earlier Evangelists, Matthew, Mark and Luke:
"Lazarus could not have been protected in the early period of the Jerusalem church's life by telling his story but not naming him. His story was too well known locally not to be easily identifiable as his however it was told. For Lazarus 'protective anonymity' had to take the form of his total absence from the story as it was publicly told. . . . If the raising of Lazarus was not only the remarkable event that John portrays but also such a key event in leading to Jesus' death, its absence from Mark -- and so, presumably, from the pre-Markan passion narrative -- is certainly puzzling. But the difficulty is removed when we recognize that the need for 'protective anonymity' in Lazarus's case would require his complete absence from any public telling of the passion narrative in the early Jerusalem church" - Richard Bauckham, Jesus and the Eyewitnesses: The Gospels as Eyewitness Testimony (Eerdmans, 2006), 196. 
The solution, it turns out, is not completely novel. According to William Baird, it was advanced at least as early as the 17th century, by Hugo Grotius (1583-1645), and subsequently adopted by others:
"As to the reason the other evangelists neglected to record the raising of Lazarus, Grotius adopts the hypothesis--popular with later apologetic exegetes--that Matthew, Mark, and Luke wanted to protect Lazarus and his family from the wrath of the high priests (12:10) and, therefore, kept the story secret. Years later, after their Gospels were written and the danger had passed, John was able safely to recount the miraculous event." - William Baird, History of New Testement Research, Vol. 1: From Deism to Tübingen (Minneapolis: Fortress, 1992), 11.
Since Bauckham does not cite Grotius--or anyone else--in this regard, he may have come across the same solution independently. (After all, great minds think alike.) But Bauckham has a monograph on 16th century English apocalyptic thought, and he may have encountered Grotius in this connection.