That Was The Week That Was


• Announcements: Books & Culture is alive and kicking; Efrem Smith took a new job; the U.S. News Best Colleges report came out and it’s still ridiculous. That is all.

• Not exactly the finest hour for either Britain or France: the Phoney War of 1939-1940. And WWII would get worse for both countries before it would get better, as we’ll see when that series continues…

• Bethel University: bastion of medievalism.

…There and Everywhere

A tackle in a college football game between the Naval Academy and the University of Massachusetts

• Owen Strachan tackled Christians’ embrace of football.

• Is The Gospel Coalition’s International Outreach program paternalistic, ethnocentric, and even “colonialist”?

• The Evangelical Lutheran Church in America celebrated its 25th anniversary with a day of community service. Addressing declining ELCA membership and attendance, new presiding bishop Elizabeth Eaton said, “The motivating thing is not to get people in. The motivating thing is to help people have a relationship with God through Jesus … try to recapture our missionary zeal or heritage.”

• The Roman Catholic Church has had three popes this century. Hard to imagine the first two meeting with the founder of liberation theology

• …but then I also doubt that John Paul II or Benedict XVI would have written a letter to a liberal Italian newspaper averring that “the issue for those who do not believe in God is to obey their conscience.” Actually, what I found more notable in Francis’ letter was this rather pietistic sentence: “Truth, according to the Christian faith, is God’s love for us in Jesus Christ. Therefore, truth is a relationship.”

• According to one New York Times essayist, “if any patch of our culture can be said to be post-Christian, it is literature.” In rebuttal, Greg Wolfe compiled a list of the top twenty-five “contemporary writers of faith.”

• Quebec’s Parti Québécois government is proposing a “Values Charter” that would “prohibit the wearing of overt and conspicuous religious symbols by state personnel in carrying out their duties,” to the consternation of, among others, John Stackhouse, who asked what problem demanded this solution, and Matthew Block, who called the proposal (supported, according to polling, by two-thirds of Quebeckers, and opposed by both the Conservative Party and the New Democrat Party) a “denial of basic rights” dressed up in the language of values and responsibility.

Richard Dawkins
Richard Dawkins in 2010 – Creative Commons (David Shankbone)

• I was already to say something snarky about Richard Dawkins’ comments about “mild pedophilia,” but I think Rachel Held Evans is probably right to propose this “deal” with Dawkins’ fellow atheists: “How about we Christians agree not to throw this latest Richard Dawkins thing in your face and you atheists agree not to throw the next Pat Robertson thing in ours?”

• But I will draw your attention to this Spectator interview with Dawkins, in which he goes on at length about his fondness for the cultural vestiges of Anglican Christianity, if not its beliefs (which he suspects many Anglicans don’t actually share). One particularly interesting nugget: “I certainly would absolutely never do what some of my American colleagues do and object to religious symbols being used, putting crosses up in the public square and things like that, I don’t fret about that at all, I’m quite happy about that. But I think I share your Anglican nostalgia, especially when you look at the competition.”

• Lots to like about Mark Noll’s predictably excellent review of George Weigel’s Evangelical Catholicism, but I especially appreciated his observations as an evangelical historian (“with pietist and Calvinist convictions”!) working within a flagship Catholic institution: “One of the great privileges of being at Notre Dame has been to witness what can only be called Roman Catholic Christianity at its best, marked by profound understanding of fundamental Trinitarian theology, strong commitment to the Christology of Nicea and Chalcedon, expert deployment of philosophy in service to theology, deep personal piety, and dedicated Christian commitment to a wide range of social reforms. Examples of what to all appearances look like admirable personal religion supported by admirable family, parish, and social religion also abound. Yet Notre Dame is also a place where a broad array of often incompatible ideals are proposed for Catholic reform, where cafeteria religion seems pervasive for what Catholics choose to do or believe, where students participate in dormitory masses and standard college dissipations with equal fervour, and where no one seems too concerned about vast stretches of nominal Catholic adherence.”

Alternative history, coming (perhaps) to a TV near you: “What if Americans had no Independence Day to celebrate? A drama project in development at ABC answers that question by building an alternative reality where the 13 colonies lost the 1775-83 Revolutionary War.”

• I’ve had little success getting undergraduates interested in historiography… Perhaps a hashtag would light a fire…

• On the other hand, it’s taken very little effort to encourage my students to consider careers in public history, most of which require a master’s degree at some point. Ruh-roh.

• I’m less prone than this historian to attempt to draw students into conversations about politics or to share my own political beliefs in class, but I appreciate the substance and tone of his “letter to an angry parent.”

A Faith Not Worth Fighting For
In one of his posts, Greg Boyd recommended this collection, to which he contributed a chapter

• In last weekend’s special Syria edition of That Was The Week That Was, I praised Greg Boyd’s post distinguishing between “kingdom pacifism” and “political pacifism,” and noted that it had been critiqued rather severely by fellow Anabaptists. Greg responded at length to two such critiques: part one; part two.

• Why are some of the same evangelicals who so vigorously supported the invasion of Iraq ten years ago now so leery of intervening in Syria’s civil war? Thomas Kidd offered some explanations.

• If you think I was dismissive of the U.S. News college ranking system, then you haven’t met Jonathan Coppage: “The linear ranking system puts the variances of human experience into discrete chunks, and blends them together into steps of conformity utterly at odds with any reasonable experience of education. While we deride the practitioners of numerology in small Indian villages, we assign these numbers the power to bestow prestige upon some of our most powerful societal institutions, and to measurably guide the streams of millions of students into their appropriate castes.”

• Recent studies produced two findings that will be quite unpopular with wide numbers of educators — both of which should be picked apart; neither of which should be ignored: tenured and tenure-track professors do worse than part-time and non-tenure-track faculty at preparing and inspiring their students; Teach For America corps members do better than their traditionally-trained counterparts at teaching math to middle and high school students.

• All prospective college students and their parents, all would-be reformers of higher education, and everyone who leaves the private sector to become a university administrator… Heed this argument from historian Jay Case: “Education cannot be run like a business because purchasing a product demands nothing from the customer except money. Education, however, makes demands on students.”

• The power of a short sentence.

• As someone who loved alternative-county back in the Nineties and cooled very quickly on neo-folk, I was bound to enjoy Carl Wilson’s recent post at Slate, which pointed to the former (Neko Case!!) to suggest how the latter (ahem, Mumford & Sons) might someday “shrug off their thrift-shop motley for tunes more befitting their own shapes and times, with enough vitality that some later revivalist might even take them for inspiration.”

• New from my friend Victoria Farmer: The Christian Feminist Podcast. Episode 1 starts by asking whether Christians and feminists alike might object to such a label.

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