Monthly Archives: July 2011

Elegant Reflections on an Elegant Ministry: John Stott, 1921-2011

Several members of the BibleMesh project have posted meaningful reflections on the life and career of Anglican expositor John Stott, who just went home to glory.  I commend them all to you.  Below are two that speak to a personal connection with the man, who influenced generations of Christians.

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One of Dr. Stott’s many initiatives was to establish the London Lectures focusing on Christian engagement with the  wider world. I delivered the London Lectures in 2003, on the topic “Can Christianity and Islam co-exist in the 21st century?” Dr Stott attended the series and was inspirational by his presence, by his insightful questions and comments, and by his words of encouragement. I was humbled by his presence and felt that I should have been sitting at his feet, rather than him sitting in the front row of my lectures. The series was held at the London Institute for Contemporary Christianity, which serves as an enduring legacy of Dr Stott’s energy and vision.

Peter Riddell
Dean of the Centre for the Study of Islam and Other Faiths
Melbourne School of Theology, Australia
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I can still feel the silence in St Ebbe’s Church, Oxford, when John Stott neared the end of his exposition of Philippians 2:5-11. With his characteristic clarity he impressed upon our hearts that every knee will bow before the Lord Jesus: every Christian knee, every Muslim knee, every Hindu knee—every knee will bow before him. I remember buying two of his commentaries for the first time—Ephesians and 2 Timothy—and buying The Cross of Christ at the Oxford Christian Union. I’ve read all his works more than once—some many times—and been inspired by the story of life. The risen Lord Jesus gave us John R.W. Stott as a gracious gift and to God be the Glory!

Michael McClenahan
Irish Presbyterian minister
 
Read several more reflections on the life and ministry of John Stott at the BibleMesh blog.

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Why Grades Matter to Christians: A BibleMesh Post

Why should you care about grade inflation? First, because it’s happening en masse.

In a post entitled “A History of College Grade Inflation” on the New York Times Economix blog, Catherine Rampell recently drew attention to the work of Stuart Rojstaczer, formerly a Duke professor of geophysics, and Christopher Healy, a computer science professor at Furman University.  According to Rampell, “The researchers collected historical data on letter grades awarded by more than 200 four-year colleges and universities. Their analysis (published in the Teachers College Record) confirm that the share of A grades awarded has skyrocketed over the years.”  Here’s the central finding of the study:

Most recently, about 43 percent of all letter grades given were A’s, an increase of 28 percentage points since 1960 and 12 percentage points since 1988. The distribution of B’s has stayed relatively constant; the growing share of A’s instead comes at the expense of a shrinking share of C’s, D’s and F’s. In fact, only about 10 percent of grades awarded are D’s and F’s.

What does this mean in the aggregate?  ”By the end of the last decade, A’s and B’s represented 73 percent of all grades awarded at public schools, and 86 percent of all grades awarded at private schools,” Rampell notes.

These are stunning findings.  Consider those two data points once more:

  • 43% of all grades are A’s.  (This despite the fact that students spend less time studying today than they did in the past–27 hours per week instead of 40.)
  • Secondly, 86% of all grades given at private schools are A’s and B’s.  (Garrison Keillor’s vision of America as populated exclusively by “above-average” children is realized!)

This plays out, of course, in real life, in classrooms in which many students expect at the very least a B for even marginal effort.  Completing the paper, successfully double-spacing it, plopping together a bibliography–this is the material of outstanding work today in many of our schools.  Professors who dare to touch this emotional live-wire risk criticism, low class enrollment, or the fate worse than death, damning reviews on online “rate-my-professor” sites.  Call this the Self-esteem Code.

Beyond an entitlement mentality–driven by often-unseen narcissism–many students approach college transactionally.  They give the college their money, the professor teaches them, they earn the degree.  Writing in The New Yorker, Louis Menand has commented on this trend:

They attend either because the degree is a job requirement or because they’ve been seduced by the siren song “college for everyone.”…the situation [is] analogous to the real-estate bubble: Americans are being urged to invest in something they can’t afford and don’t need. Why should you have to pass a college-level literature class if you want to be a state trooper? To show that you can tough it out with Henry James?

In other words, a good number of students enter college viewing the professor as a kind of job-partner.  The person up front teaching the class has some kind of unspoken requirement to pass all of his students; call it the Competency Code.

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To read more about Harvey Mansfield, The New Yorker, and why the mind matters to Christians, go to the BibleMesh blog.

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Does Alternative Medicine Work Better Than Normal Medicine?

If you’re like me, you’re pretty skeptical about that loaded question.  A recent story in The Atlantic made me think more about this subject, though.  David H. Freedman’s “The Triumph of New-Age Medicine,” from the July 2011 issue, makes the case for alternative medicine more persuasively than I’ve heard it.  You may be skeptical at this point, and you may not come away convinced, but the piece does give you much to chew on.

Here’s one anecdote that caught my attention:

At one of the University of Maryland Medical Center’s hospitals, I introduced myself to Frank Corasaniti, a 60-year-old retired firefighter who had come in for an acupuncture treatment from Lixing Lao, a Ph.D. physiologist with Berman’s center. Corasaniti had injured his back falling down a steel staircase at a firehouse some 20 years earlier, and had subsequently injured both shoulders and his neck in the line of duty. Four surgeries, including one that fused the vertebrae in his neck, followed by regimens of steroid injections and painkillers, had only left him in increasing pain. He retired from the fire department in 2002 and took a less physically demanding job with Home Depot, but by last year his sharpening pain made even that work too difficult, and he gave it up. “I was starting to think I’d have to stop doing everything,” he told me. He was particularly worried that he’d be unable to continue helping out his mother, who had been battling cancer for two years.

His wife, a nurse, urged him to try acupuncture, and in February, with the blessing of his doctor, he finally met with Lao, who had trained in his native China as an acupuncturist. Their first visit had lasted well over an hour, Corasaniti says, time mostly spent discussing every aspect of his injuries and what seemed to ease or exacerbate them, and also other aspects of his health—he had been gaining weight, he was constipated, he was developing urinary problems. They talked at length about his diet, his physical activity, his responsibilities and how they weighed on him. Lao focused in on stress—what was causing it in Corasaniti’s life, and how did it aggravate the pain?—and they discussed the importance of finding ways to relax in everyday life.

The results of this treatment are worth considering.  Perhaps diet and stress play far more of a role in our health than we know:

Corasaniti’s description of the results is fairly typical too. After two months of treatment, the worst area of pain, near his neck, had shrunk from a circle six inches across to the size of quarter, he said. He’d lost 10 pounds, and his constipation and urinary difficulties had cleared up. And because of his progress, he’d been cleared by his doctor to start a vigorous monitored-exercise program aimed at strengthening muscles in a way that should reduce the chances of reinjury, in addition to improving his general fitness. “I just feel so much better,” he said.

Read the whole thing.  Here’s a larger symposium on the issue that might be of interest.  Two things jump out at me: 1) the prevalence of “placebo” medication dispensed to the population, and 2) how important the mind is in healing (and thus apparently diet and exercise).

(Image: Acu-Ithaca.com)

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Third-Country Nationals and the US Military: A Harrowing Report

A recent story in the New Yorker entitled “The Invisible Army” chronicled problems with a phenomenon most of us have not heard about: third-country nationals who serve our armed forces overseas.  According to Sarah Stillman, workers from economically weak countries are recruited to serve in high-paying jobs in global cities like Dubai.  They enthusiastically sign up, fly to Dubai (at great personal cost), and are then–to their shock–flown to U. S. military bases in places like Afghanistan and Iraq, where they work for low wages in great danger.

Stillman explains:

Lydia and Vinnie were unwitting recruits for the Pentagon’s invisible army: more than seventy thousand cooks, cleaners, construction workers, fast-food clerks, electricians, and beauticians from the world’s poorest countries who service U.S. military logistics contracts in Iraq and Afghanistan. Filipinos launder soldiers’ uniforms, Kenyans truck frozen steaks and inflatable tents, Bosnians repair electrical grids, and Indians provide iced mocha lattes. The Army and Air Force Exchange Service (aafes) is behind most of the commercial “tastes of home” that can be found on major U.S. bases, which include jewelry stores, souvenir shops filled with carved camels and Taliban chess sets, beauty salons where soldiers can receive massages and pedicures, and fast-food courts featuring Taco Bell, Subway, Pizza Hut, and Cinnabon. (aafes’s motto: “We go where you go.”)

The expansion of private-security contractors in Iraq and Afghanistan is well known. But armed security personnel account for only about sixteen per cent of the over-all contracting force. The vast majority—more than sixty per cent of the total in Iraq—aren’t hired guns but hired hands. These workers, primarily from South Asia and Africa, often live in barbed-wire compounds on U.S. bases, eat at meagre chow halls, and host dance parties featuring Nepalese romance ballads and Ugandan church songs. A large number are employed by fly-by-night subcontractors who are financed by the American taxpayer but who often operate outside the law.

Read the whole piece.

Stories like this remind us of 1) injustice in this world, 2) how difficult and uncertain life is for many people worldwide, and 3) how important it is that Christians seek to be light in dark places.  We may not be able to overturn evil in this life–only Jesus can–but we can stand against inhumane practices and minister the gospel to those who suffer, whether in our own towns or cities or on military bases.  The people profiled in this essay are far from home, with little legal recourse and even less voice.  The gospel animates our natural-born instinct to seek justice and mercy on behalf of those who suffer.

(Image: Peter Van Agtmael for TNY)

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Gerald Hiestand on Becoming a Pastor-Theologian By Theological Reading

Really enjoyed this piece from my SAET colleague, Gerald Hiestand.  This point, on reading theology regularly in the midst of pastoral work, caught my eye:

Make your study time a priority in your weekly schedule. The expectations and demands of your congregation will almost certainly push you away from study and writing. So if you’re going to get after it, you are going to have to make it a priority in your schedule. I’ve found that setting aside my mornings works best for me. This year I’m reading Augustine on Mondays, Thomas on Tuesdays, Barth on Wednesdays, and contemporary theology/scholarship on Thursdays. I turn my phone off, don’t open my e-mail and don’t schedule any appointments (if at all possible) until noon. Of course, sometimes I have to pull up from studying — funerals, emergencies, etc., press in occasionally. But for the most part I’ve found that I can get nearly all of my administrative stuff done if I push it into the afternoons. (Typically, if you give yourself eight hours to do your administrative stuff, it will take eight hours. If you given yourself four, it will take four).

Of course, this only works when you are in control of your schedule. Most pastors are, but some of you serve in a church where you are at the mercy of others. Even so, there are probably times in the week that are usually open. Schedule your study time around those times. And one more point here — don’t just study for your next sermon or teaching assignment. Quite apart from striving toward the calling of the ecclesial theologian, too many pastors are merely one step ahead of the theological train. The lifeblood of the pastor — whether your local congregation realizes it or not — is a steady intake of rich theology, prayer and bible reading. Stop feeling guilty about prayerfully reading Calvin’sInstitutes, or Anthanasius’ On the Incarnation or Augustine’s De Trinitate. Theological study isn’t something a pastor fits into his schedule when he’s completed his pastoral duties, rather theological study is the pastor’s duty. For the good of your congregation — for the good of your preaching and teaching and counseling and capacity to offer pastoral care — it is vital that you not neglect to feed yourself. 

Read the whole thing.

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John Calvin and Sin in the Life of the Believer: The Gospel Coalition and Evangelical Spirituality

How should we who consider grace the central reality of our life think about God’s response to our sin?  This is a tricky question, one that defies some of the easy answers we offer to it.  Today at The Gospel Coalition, I ask and seek to answer this question in a post entitled “You Can Anger God But Not Lose Him.” 

Here’s a bit to chew on:

The fact that our sins displease God motivates us in practical terms to put our unrighteousness to death through the power of the Spirit offered and given us in the gospel (Col. 3:1-10). Pastor-theologian John Calvin said it best in his Institutes: “[H]e who in the end profits by God’s scourges is the man who considers God angry at his vices, but merciful and kindly toward himself” (III:4:34). Like David, God is angry at our “vices,” but if we may inject some Lutheran paradox into our treatment of Calvin, this anger is also kindness that leads us to repentance (Rom. 2:4).

God’s response to the sin of believers is not vengeance, Calvin noted, but “chastisement.” The Frenchman pointed out that “when a father quite severely corrects his son, he does not do this to take vengeance on him or to maltreat him, but rather to teach him and to render him more cautious therefore” (III:4:31). The authors of the Westminster Confession concurred with Calvin when they noted that believers “may, by their sins, fall under God’s fatherly displeasure, and not have the light of his countenance restored unto them, until they humble themselves, confess their sins, beg pardon, and renew their faith and repentance” (11.5).

This short essay is part of a series on evangelical spirituality that TGC has been running this week.  Here are the other posts, all of which I commend to you.  Each tackles an important issue in the spiritual life of the believer.

(Image: Churchofnopeople.com)

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