Saturday, March 31, 2007

Why Professors Should Blog

If anything has inspired, amused, and occasionally annoyed me at seminary, it is that so many professors are under the impression that their ideas can change the world. I've read countless articles and books implying that if people really believed what the author believed about (insert relevant theology/methodology/interpretation here) then the church would be saved, oppression ended, and the world redeemed.

Unfortunately, most of them have chosen a very clunky and cumbersome way to proclaim their message: books. The process of publishing a books (especially an aspiring PhD's student's first book) takes in the neighborhood of five to ten years, and its end result is often so expensive and esoteric that only academic libraries and other professors in the same field can afford to buy it. (And, if it gets really successful, then perhaps it gets foisted off on a few unsuspecting college/grad students as well!) Therefore, the reach of most academic books, (unless they are absolute dynamite) is extremely limited, measured in the tens of thousands, or perhaps even the hundreds of readers, rather in millions.

So I wonder, if professors care so much about their ideas, if they believe, that their ideas can change the world, then why not blog about them?

Blogs carry with them several sizable advantages over books:

1) They're cheap- anyone with a computer can write one, anyone with a computer can read one, without having to shell out $50-$150 for the privilege.

2) They're contemporary- if a burning issue comes up, then you can write about instantly, rather than having to wait 5-10 years to get a book published (at which point it is automatically outdated.)

3) Their success based on merit- If (and I admit, this is a big "if"), you engage with other blogs and post interesting, compelling material, then people will read your work. It doesn't require a PhD, a slick proposal, or connections with a publishing house to get your ideas out there.

4) Their potential audience is gigantic- An academic book reaches a very small subsection of the population (measured in the tens of thousands), a successful blog could reach millions.

Granted, there are some drawbacks. Blog posts don't lend themselves too long, complicated, interconnected arguments. However, with the advent of easy to make e-books, or even publishing on demand, it is still possible to disseminate more complex academic works to a wide audience. (In fact, blogging provides a built-in customer base for any would-be book author.)

Therefore, may I suggest to all the professors reading this post (of which I believe there might be one, who is already online here), if you truly care about disseminating your ideas, blog!

Tuesday, March 27, 2007

Liberal Tolerance Is A Lie

I was sitting in class this evening, and someone brought up a book that a lot of us were reading in a separate class, Purpose Driven Church. Immediately, almost everyone gasped in horror and disgust (someone even made the symbol of a cross at the book!) The passage in question, Rick Warren’s suggestion of starting worship with an upbeat song (never mind that most mainline churches do that) became the symbol of all that was wrong with evangelicalism- shallow, demanding only a one time commitment, and giving no impetus for long term discipleship. At the end of the conversation, the book symbolized everything wrong with all those big churches and those conservative pastors: it was “manipulative”, “shallow”, “boring”, and “irrelevant” for mainline ministry.

This was blatant, first class, shameless, theologically fundamentalist stereotyping. In the end, for many of my classmates, Rick Warren’s conservatism invalidated everything he said about pastoral leadership. Furthermore, their criticisms willfully ignored huge stretches of the book where Rick Warren talks about member’s rigorous discipleship training program (which would put most of our mainline churches to shame) or where he notes that his chapter on worship primarily refer to “seeker services”, which are geared exclusively for non-Christians, while members get a service with more depth later in the week.

I am not surprised by this episode, but I am disappointed. It’s a shame that my classmates, who have been lectured by liberal professors time and time again to “read a text in its entirety” and to “not prooftext”, have just willfully done exactly that.

Unfortunately, this is not the first time I’ve seen this happen at Drew. (And if you talk to any conservative student at my school, they can tell you stories about the times they’ve been stereotyped or even demonized by other students and professors.)

Oh well, so much for that much vaunted liberal tolerance.

Monday, March 26, 2007


Churches often encourages their leaders, especially their pastors, to be culturally static. The pastor is expected to dive head first into the church’s little universe- their social circles, their traditions, their activities. Many pastors take this leap for what seem like good reasons:

1) Why take time getting to know non-Christians in the community when I can spend time building relationships with the people who will support my ministry (and pay my salary)?

2) Why listen to “secular” music (or for that matter, engage with secular media of any type) when I can fill my heart and mind with music that will bring me closer to God?

3) Why participate in activities in the larger community (e.g. school board, community theater, rec-league sports, etc.) when the church needs my help for their programs (e.g pot luck suppers, family fun night, meetings, etc.)

This thinking entails that ministers have little contact with the outside. Their perspectives get warped. Inch by inch, they begin to think that their church members are the norm for the wider community: that everyone knows what words like “doxology” or “benediction” means, that activities beloved by the church will appeal deeply to the unchurched, that advertisements and promotions that resonate with our church members will touch the wider community as well.

If we, as the church, are primarily concerned about engaging the community for the sake of transformation, then this is a deadly rut. Seth Godin, who I have blogged about before, talks about the same phenomenon with business leaders, and has a technique to help them break out of their ruts, called “zooming”. The premise is this: in today’s world, cultural/technology/business shifts are happening so quickly that it’s important that business leaders remain flexible. Therefore, successful leaders must consistently challenge their norms by engaging by continually challenging their assumptions and their routines. (He suggests simple techniques, like taking a different route to work in the morning or listening to a CD from a genre of music that you don’t like.)

This technique is equally important for church leaders. So, here are a few tips for how to start zooming, church style:

1) Get involved in the community. Join a book club, a community theatre, or a volunteer project and build relationships with people who don’t go your church.

2) Keep track of cultural trends- subscribe to a few blogs, watch the latest popular television show, or turn on the radio to the top-50 music station to see what people are listening to.

3) Change up your spiritual life- experiment with new spiritual disciplines, read parts of the Bible that you’ve avoided (and preach on them!),or find a spiritual director to help keep you accountable.

4) Read the top books in both church leadership and business leadership, especially from those who will directly challenge you. (e.g. Adam Hamilton, Peter Rollins, Shane Claibourne, Seth Godin, etc.).

5) Never say “I don’t have enough time! The church needs me to do (insert important ministry here)!” This is as (perhaps even more) important than your committee meetings, pot luck suppers, and other church-centric activities. Churches that effectively engage with their community grow spiritually and numerically. Churches that remain isolated die. If you, as a church leader, can’t break out of your box, how will the congregation ever be able to?

Friday, March 16, 2007

Another Quick Post

You know you're getting old when it's 8:30PM and your body's telling you it's time for bed. So, since keeping awake right now is my greatest concern, I'm going to keep this short. First, a stream-of-consciousness preview of topics that I'd like to write about in the next few weeks. (And you, my faithful reader, are allowed to harass, threaten, or blackmail me if I don't come through!)

1) Zooming (Another Seth Godin idea)
2) Why Professors Should Blog
3) Who is Church?

Finally, links to a few nifty websites and posts that I came across this week.

1) Swap your paperback books here
2) Wikihow- wikipedia plus how to manuals
3) How to save electricity
4) An insightful post about privilege and charity in the West

Monday, March 12, 2007

A Quick Update

I’ve been meaning to post regularly, and over the past month or so, I’ve done pretty well. However, with the craziness of this past week, I blinked and realized that it was Saturday, I hadn’t posted in a week, and I was driving home the next day.

So, with my abject apologies, here’s a quick update on my life. I’m home this week, so I have absolutely no excuse for not posting again.

At any rate, here are this week’s highlights.

1) I got into my inaugural accident on Wednesday evening. Note to all you young drivers: always check your blind spot before you switch lanes, especially during NJ rush hour. Thank goodness, the other car wasn’t damaged, but my front side driver’s door is not looking good, and my driver’s side mirror was completely obliterated. The car is currently camped out in a NJ body shop, getting fixed.

2) Yes, the wedding plans are coming along. If we really like you (and have your e-mail address), expect a save-the date e-mail by the end of the week. The rest of you will have to wait for it to come in the mail, which will happen hopefully next week!

3) School is remarkably sane. My chronic illness is under control, my coursework is reasonable (and I’m even enjoying most of my classes), and supervised ministry at my church continues to be enjoyable and challenging.