A relatively quiet week for The Pietist Schoolman (grading season, doncha know) was more than offset by some excellent blogging elsewhere.
- I’ve always wanted to write about my favorite punctuation mark — but to get to do that and respond to a New York Times op-ed piece on belief in God at the same time…
- Two posts about groups of students at Bethel University: a summary of our department’s fall Senior Seminar presentations; and how 140 18-year old evangelicals think Christians should relate to the culture around them.
- Friday morning I finally realized that the reason I had word clouds on the brain is two-fold: a recent Parks & Recreation episode that featured a Leslie Knope cloud; and the cover of the last issue of Book & Culture for 2011…
Militant atheist and professional contrarian Christopher Hitchens died Thursday night, and some of the most interesting eulogies came from evangelical Christians: e.g., Douglas Wilson, Michael Gerson, and Jamie Smith.
- Speaking of finding evangelicals where you don’t expect them… One of the more intriguing developments of 2011 was the sudden eagerness of the New York Times to feature such voices — and not just on its Opinion page. Jennifer Schuessler penned a remarkably sympathetic assessment of Alvin Plantinga, who has “led a movement of unapologetically Christian philosophers who, if they haven’t succeeded in persuading their still overwhelmingly unbelieving colleagues, have at least made theism philosophically respectable.”
- Among my Bethel colleagues, the Plantinga piece was overshadowed in popularity only by fellow Notre Dame philosopher Gary Gutting asking “What Is College For?” (Again, from the N.Y. Times — whose ability to remain essential reading deserves a post at some point…) I’m most taken by Gutting’s notion that the classroom is the principal place where often narrowly focused scholarship “remains in contact with general human concerns.” Depending how grading goes, I mean to return to this idea in the context of a larger post about the nature of scholarship.
- I was underwhelmed by the now-famous op-ed piece (sorry, one more Times reference) by Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens on “The Evangelical Rejection of Reason” (see critiques by Thomas Kidd and John Fea, which articulate my own feelings better than I could), but I’m a huge fan of John Schmalzbauer’s review of Giberson and Stephens’ The Anointed: Evangelical Truth in a Secular Age. John notes the growing sophistication and influence of evangelical scholars in fields like philosophy and history, but finds that “there is one place where Christian scholarship has often failed to penetrate: the evangelical grassroots” — e.g., John’s own surroundings in the Missouri Ozarks, an “evangelical epicenter” where multiple Christian liberal arts college and seminaries seem almost unnoticed by the Christians who attend over 100 Southern Baptist and some 90 Assemblies of God churches and visit the Creation Museum of the Ozarks. (This, it should be noted, seems to underscore one of Kidd and especially Fea’s points: evangelical intellectuals who want to address evangelical anti-intellectualism by editorializing in the Times and publishing with Harvard University Press might not be reaching the audience most in need of hearing their critique.)
- As someone who married into a steadfastly ELCA Lutheran family, I can understand Steve Thorngate’s frustration with an author who should know better simply dismissing “mainline Protestant” as a category.
- But as an evangelical who sometimes wonders if the first initial in ELCA refers to anything beyond a historic and generic European term for “Protestant,” I can also understand one Lutheran bishop’s insistence that Christians need unapologetically to bear witness to Christ, since “If we are embarrassed or ashamed to allow [efforts to "make the world a better place"] to bear witness to the love and power of Jesus, then they will implicitly bear witness only to the power of our love, our strength, our virtue, our ingenuity, our intrinsic goodness.” (H/T First Thoughts)
- News that one of my fellow Yalies is launching a “Do It Yourself University” prompted Wheaton art historian Matthew Milliner to argue that, however much higher education undoubtedly needs reform, it “does not come from pressing forward into digital oblivion, but from returning to (ehem) the original ideal, an ideal that can now be digitally enhanced.” That ideal being (as I had argued last week on this blog) “collegiate, residential” and marked by “fellowship.”
- I’m not sure if I’ve linked to his blog (which shares the name of a book on religion in post-1945 America that I’ve used in my Cold War class) before, but Mark Silk often has insightful (if sometimes rather pointed) things to say about religion and politics. One pointed insight with which I wholeheartedly agree, as someone who often talks with students about nationalism in European history… When Newt Gingrich recently dismissed the Palestinians as an “invented people,” he seemingly failed to recognize that inventing themselves (ethnogenesis) is what all nations do at some point in their history. How old does such an innovation have to be in order to merit the right of self-determination? Or, as Silk asks about Gingrich, “does he think that the national claims of recently invented post-Ottoman Arabs like Syrians, Lebanese, Jordanians, and Iraqis are less meritorious than those of the Jews or the Kurds, whose self-invention is lost in the mists of time?”