This morning I read the news that Dr. Willie Jennings will be leaving Duke and joining the faculty of Yale Divinity School this upcoming academic year. Last fall we had the privilege of hosting Dr. Jennings for our annual Vivian Harrison Lectures here at Mount Olive, at which he spoke on the “Risks of Being Christian in America.” Dr. Jennings is exceptionally bright and articulate, and was especially kind to those in our crowd who seemed unsympathetic to his thesis. Much of the material from his lectures was drawn from his book, The Christian Imagination: Theology and the Origins of Race (Yale University Press, 2011). In addition to his previous accolades, Dr. Jennings was also a Grawemeyer Award winner for 2015. We want to wish him congratulations on his impending move! I’m certain that Yale’s gain will be Duke’s loss.
I have often noted in my writing and teaching on the role of the Bible within society that there is (sometimes? occasionally? often?) an inverse relationship between how much some people revere the Bible and how little they seem to follow what they think it teaches. In my own personal experience, this is especially true of people in power. Many of us have been following the situation of Thomas Jay Oord, a well-known and respected theologian and professor who was recently forced out at Northwest Nazarene University over his support for evolution. It is important to note that one of the key interlocutors in the situation that brought about the demise of this tenured professor was NNU president, David Alexander. Over the past few days it has come to light that 25 years ago, Alexander was involved in an “inappropriate relationship,” a fact that has now caused his resignation from NNU. Alexander’s bio indicates that he was married 36 years ago, which means that his “inappropriate relationship” also happened just a little over a decade into his marriage. Thus, it appears that the relationship was both “inappropriate” and “adulterous.” So here’s the irony: Oord is ultimately forced out over an issue that many thinking Christians believe falls into the category of “non-essential” by a president who has been hiding an issue that Christians universally find objectionable and wrong. I guess the role of “the Bible” in this whole series of cascading events is a lot more about public politics than private reflection.
This morning the BioLogos Forum has an article about Dr. James Stump, a philosopher of science who has been, until very recently, a faculty member at the Christian-affiliated Bethel College in Indiana. Stump apparently resigned (or was forced by conscience to resign) over a change in college policy. The school is affiliated with a small, parochial Christian denomination known as the Missionary Church. Until now, faculty members were not required to adhere to all of the specific doctrines of the Missionary Church. Instead, they had to sign off on a separate, less-restrictive statement of faith. However, one month ago (yesterday) the college’s policy officially changed. Here’s an excerpt from the BioLogos response this morning:
The denomination’s Articles of Faith and Practice include the line “We believe that the first man, Adam, was created by an immediate act of God and not by a process of evolution.” Until recently, Bethel faculty have not been required to subscribe to the views of the denomination, but to a separate, brief faith statement. After a few years of discussion between the college and the denomination, the Bethel Board of Trustees approved a new policy on June 9, stating that the denomination’s view on Adam “should be advocated as the official, meritorious, and theologically responsible position of the College, without disparagement.” Because of this change in policy, Bethel faculty may no longer advocate for, nor do scholarship supporting, the view that God used an evolutionary process to create the first humans.
As far as I can tell from researching the matter, Bethel is the only institution of higher learning affiliated with the Missionary Church. I am particularly sensitive to this type of policy change because I teach in a similar setting. The college at which I am employed is the only institution of learning affiliated with a small denomination known as the Convention of Original Free Will Baptists. I am not a member of this denomination and neither are most of my colleagues campus-wide. As of now, there is no requirement that professors in any discipline sign any confession of faith. However, such a change in college-wide policy could be devastating not only for me, but for many of my colleagues. Honestly, I would be genuinely surprised if many of Stump’s colleagues throughout Bethel College could sign off affirmatively on the issues over which he is departing, but how many are going to willingly fall on their swords with their jobs on the line and with such dismal prospects for the future?
I guess we can add one more name to the ever-growing list of US professors who have departed from Christian-affiliated institutions over issues arising from the so-called “culture wars.” If you’re interested, here’s Dr. Stump’s faculty bio (which is still up as of this morning).
I have not been around a reliable internet connection for the past several days, so I wasn’t able to blog about Brandon Withrow’s interesting article from the Chronicle a fews days back (though I did tweet it). Withrow, a historian of Christianity whose academic training was undertaken exclusively in evangelical settings (BA, Moody Bible Institute, MA, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, PhD, Westminster Theological Seminary), recently left his full-time seminary teaching post—quietly, I might add—because he found that he no longer believes. Yes, you read that correctly. He left of his own volition and without incident because he is no longer a Christian. Here’s an excerpt from his piece:
Leaving my faculty position freed my conscience, given that I had already left evangelicalism for the ranks of the unaffiliated, but it was not a decision I took lightly. Before I settled on any new and potentially controversial identity, I wanted to be sure it was the right one for me. While I continue to teach as an adjunct in religious studies at a local university, the choice to leave the seminary not only posed family difficulties, but also had the potential to be career suicide.
Finding another full-time faculty position is a grim prospect. The number of candidates for openings in my field far outnumber the full-time opportunities. I take some solace in knowing that I’m not alone, since this is true for most academics. (Misery in the job market, apparently, does love company.)
When your employment depends on a religious identification, and especially when your closest family and friends remain intertwined with that faith, joining the unaffiliated secular in America is not always the first or easiest choice, even if it is the honest one.
Teaching while nonbelieving is a special crime in faith-based institutions. My field is in religious history, and it is entirely possible for me to teach academically — meaning educating students without casting judgment on or interfering with their faith. The expectation of a professor in faith-based education, however, is that he or she is also a theologian, an advocate for the specific religious mission of the institution.
A secular humanist clearly cannot advocate for doctrine.
I found Brandon’s description of his progressive epiphanies and his decision to depart really interesting for several reasons. First, in the wake of a seemingly never-ending train of high-profile departures of professors from institutions over biblical, theological, and/or social issues (see here, here, here, here, here, here, and most recently here), it was refreshing to see a professor and institution part ways under these circumstances. Of course, given the state of the profession right now, I lament for Brandon as he (along with so many others) tries to find gainful employment in academia. Second, this article brings up a question that I’ve been discussing with colleagues a lot in recent years: Why does this type of thing seem to happen with regularity among evangelical scholars? What is it about the culture of evangelicalism, especially American evangelicalism, that causes or at the very least, regularly allows for such de-conversions and radical re-envisionings of the Scriptures and the life of faith? That’s a topic I’ll likely explore in the future, but for now I want to commend Brandon’s article to you. I appreciate his honesty, integrity, and insight and I hope that you will give his piece a careful read.
Over at New Testament Perspectives, Matthew Montonini reviews my newest book, Reading John. I appreciate his detailed and substantive review which, I should add, is quite sympathetic.
Back during the spring semester I was approached by a rep from Cambridge University Press and asked to review their introductory Greek text by Jeremy Duff, for which they are considering a revision. I’m assuming other colleagues who teach Greek were also approached as this seemed to be a broad initiative to get feedback from Greek instructors about the strengths and weaknesses of their current offering. On the whole I thought the book was decent but not so good that I’d consider switching from what I currently use (which, to be honest, I’m not really that crazy about, nor do I find all that useful). I say all of that to say, to this point I haven’t really found anything that fits exactly what I do with students. I have been assigning Mounce’s Basics of Biblical Greek for the past eight years or so, but to be honest most of my instruction comes from handouts that I have produced, chapters from different books, and materials from friends and other instructors that I’ve found to be helpful (used with permission, of course). 🙂
I have a few friends who use currently Clayton Croy’s book and I know several others who are planning a switch to Rodney Decker’s new textbook. I’m in the process of investigating both of those books, but for now I am actually soliciting your help. If you currently teach Biblical Greek or are currently learning Biblical Greek with something other than Mounce, please do me the courtesy of telling me what you use and why you find it helpful. I appreciate the help in advance. Thanks!