That Was The Week That Was


• I was reminded that, even in a challenging season for my university, I’ve got a pretty varied, fulfilling job.

• But even more encouraging, that Bethel students can articulate the value of the Christian liberal arts even more thoughtfully than their professors.

• Though would they think to think of such a model of education as if it were a J.R.R. Tolkien quest?

…There and Everywhere

Marsden, Jonathan Edwards
Not included on Marsden’s list of best biographies, but on everyone else’s…

• George Marsden recommended five biographies, covering subjects ranging from Augustine to LBJ.

• Heather Cox Richardson made three pretty strong arguments for historians to be on Twitter.

• Also at The Historical Society blog, Randall Stephens revisited the tradition of British visitors writing about America.

The historiography behind the Oscar-contending film 12 Years a Slave.

• En route to warning against deflation, Matthew O’Brien managed to talk about both Lenin and Hitler.

• Of the nearly 1.7 million American high school students who took the SAT in 2013, only 43% scored high enough to qualify as “college-ready” — the fifth year in a row that the majority didn’t reach that threshold.

• One factor that seems to predict success on the SAT: schools’ use of a common curriculum. Incidentally, the New York Times profiled E. D. Hirsch, a key defender of such an approach to education: “Mr. Hirsch did not write the Common Core, but his curriculums — lesson plans, teaching materials and exercises — are seen as matching its heightened expectations of student progress. And philosophically, the Common Core ideal of a rigorous nationwide standard has become a vindication of Mr. Hirsch’s long campaign against what he saw as the squishiness — a lack of specific curriculums for history, civics, science and literature — in modern education.”

• At the same time, Jen Kalaidis noted another troubling trend in American education: the decline of social studies in K-12 curricula, which produces (among other problems) a “civic achievement gap” that “has made it increasingly difficult for those who grow up in low-income households to participate in civic affairs.”

• I’m not sure which of these “4 Ways Jesus Was Like a Millennial” is least persuasive. In any case, I couldn’t improve on Scot McKnight’s assessment.

• On the other hand, the same blog yielded Christian Piatt’s “Five Things That Are Holding Christianity Back.” Granted, it falls back on sweeping generalizations backed by almost no data, but at least it’s not (as Scot described the other list) “insufferably shortwinded” — and at least a few observations ring true.

Pope Francis
Licensed by Creative Commons (Presidency of Argentina)

• I’ve been curious to see how conservative Christians would respond to Pope Francis’ instantly famous interview with Jesuit journalist Antonio Spadaro, since early responders latched on to what it provided in the way of evidence for Francis-as-progressive. Two non-Catholic responses of interest… At First Thoughts, Mark Movsesian was principally struck by how apolitical Francis sounded: “Pope Francis’ interview does not suggest he would like the Catholic Church to adopt a ‘progressive’ politics any more than a ‘conservative’ politics. It suggests he thinks the Church is beyond politics. To me, this is the key take-away from the pope’s interview. There is an old, old debate in Christianity. Is the faith about healing souls or social justice? It’s about both, of course, but which is more important? If I read him correctly, Pope Francis leans strongly in the first direction: Christianity is an interior matter, a question of salvation, of walking humbly in the company of the Lord and his followers. Christians can never be completely beyond politics, of course, and it will be interesting to see how this all develops. But Pope Francis seems, in his way, a mystic. And mystics don’t do politics.”

• Meanwhile, Michael Gerson seemed impressed by the pope’s “extemporaneous encyclical” (“Every time he speaks, you wonder what uncomfortable truth is about to be exposed”) but impatient with those who find it surprising that a Christian leader would criticize legalism. Nor did he think that progressives should expect Francis’ agenda for reform to be “identical to liberal Protestantism”: “Rather than surrendering the moral distinctiveness of the Catholic Church, he is prioritizing its mission. In the America interview, he vividly compared the church to ‘a field hospital after battle.’ When someone injured arrives, you don’t treat his high cholesterol. ‘You have to heal his wounds. Then we can talk about everything else.’ The outreach of the church, in other words, does not start with ethical or political lectures. ‘The most important thing is the first proclamation: Jesus Christ has saved you.'”

• One of my favorite books to come out in the last decade is Amish Grace, about the Amish response to the massacre of schoolgirls in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. Now the widow of the shooter (who killed himself) is telling her story, via a book published by Zondervan. Amish Grace co-author Donald Kraybill expects it to sell millions of copies, since it arrives at “the cross-section of evangelical spirituality and interest in all things Amish.”

• Yet another celebration of my favorite spy novelist noted (per usual) how John Le Carré was worlds apart from the Ian Flemings of the world, but added this less typical observation: while Le Carré’s breakthrough The Spy Who Came In From the Cold “spun a rather different yarn” than works like Allan Sillitoe’s Saturday Night, Sunday Morning and John Osborne’s Look Back in Anger, it likewise “reflected a larger rift in post-war Britain and tapped into a new way of writing about British life.”

• If I ever do another “guilty pleasures” post, I’ll probably need to elaborate on my enjoyment of the TV show Nashville. But like Esther Zuckerman, I worry that the departure of its executive music producer, T-Bone Burnett, will damage its chief appeal.

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