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Pastor finds that seminary education prepared him for vital questions


Rarely have I seen
such a vigorous defense of academic theological study as the column Jason Byassee just wrote for the United Methodist Reporter. Byassee is an academic -- he most recently has been a fellow in theology and leadership at "Leadership Education at Duke Divinity," a program of Duke University Divinity School.

This summer Byassee was appointed pastor of a United Methodist church in Boone, North Carolina, and he was somewhat surprised by what he found: Regular people in a small Appalachian city were eager to ask the new pastor theological questions.

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Beyond Borders (part 2): Box store vs. Bookseller

Read Part 1 of this post. The bankrupt Borders stores tried to be a one-stop shop for books, magazines, music, movies, and related paraphernalia -- remember the "Itty-Bitty Book Light"? But in an increasingly digital age, consumers can compare prices instantly on their smart phones and select the brightness of their books' pages on their Kindle or iPad. Unfortunately, many theological schools assume that they're falling short of their mission if they don't try to provide a Borders-like experience: a comprehensive approach to theological and ministerial education that provides everything to everyone. But North American theological education diverges from the Borders example in at least one significant way: its mission is to serve -- not profit from -- church and society. Theological schools exist not for their own sake but rather in service to a larger mission. Our schools are all playing on the same team, striving toward a broad and common goal of educating effective ministers, lay leaders, counselo ...

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Beyond Borders (part 1): Lessons from a megachain's demise

The closing of Borders bookstores has drawn responses from a variety of sectors. One seminary professor even wrote a theological reflection on the news. Without a doubt, Borders was an American fixture for nearly two decades, and its downfall has important lessons for organizations in the midst of large-scale shifts in their markets. A few observations are noteworthy: One news report suggests that the fall of Borders is an opportunity for small independent stores, which can focus on special niches or cater to particular communities. The lesson is simple: a one-size-fits-all approach may, in fact, serve no organization very well. One college dean suggests Borders failed because it was not distinctive enough and did not align its core competencies to a changing marketplace. He fears many middle-of-the-road private colleges are headed down this same path. Another observer offers three concise lessons: (1) The middle is a bad place to be. (2) Technology is not always the answer. (3) Disruptio ...

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Theological reflection in the Internet age

I tend toward skepticism when I read titles like "Theology and the Church After Google: How This New Age Will Change Christianity." How could one product (like Google) affect the church? Is theological reflection really that much different today than it was in 1990, before the advent of the Internet?  Yet this article, which originally appeared in the Princeton Theological Review, is well researched and provocative, and author Philip Clayton offers some insights that may be helpful to theological school boards. Clayton sees a problem: While some church leaders are addressing the spiritual needs of people who live in a world that has been transformed by the Internet, most are not -- they're still trying to reach people in timeworn ways.  Clayton says that's because academic theological studies haven't changed as fast as the culture has. Theology in the Internet age must be more "beta," more hesitant, he says. In the age of Google, people see "bugs" or problems as opportunities to learn rather th ...

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Harnessing technology to educate the public about a three-school merger


George O. Wood, general superintendent of the Assemblies of GodMergers and consolidations are in the news these days. Just off the top of my head, I can think of several:

With some exceptions, most of these consolidations involve a seminary becoming a graduate division within a small university of the same theological tradition. That seems like a winning combination.

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Worth noting: The emerging church

There's a big difference between a fad and a movement: Christian heavy metal was a fad. Emergent Christianity is a movement. Emergent Christianity and the emerging church movement gained considerable traction in the first decade of this century. Wikipedia has a pretty good introduction to the characteristics of a concept that's still gaining shape and definition. But the general idea of the emergent movement is a realignment of Christian communities for a world of "posts": postmodern, postliberal, postevangelical, even post-Christian.  Based on a typical description like this one, confessional Christians may see emergent Christianity as too liberal and too dismissive of ecclesiology. And liberal, mainline, and "cultural Christians" may think it's just conservative neo-evangelicalism in disguise. Many seminary trustees and administrators, who likely fall somewhere on this continuum, may also have one of these reactions when they hear murmurs of emergence among their professors o ...

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He lived in a dorm room for 20 years

University of Victoria, British Columbia

The British Columbia Human Rights Tribunal has sided with the University of Victoria over its decision to evict an on-campus resident who had lived in a dorm room for nearly 20 years.

Alkis Gerd'son finally moved out of his room in December 2010 after the provincial Supreme Court validated the university's eviction notice. He then filed a complaint with the Human Rights Tribunal. Last week, his claim was determined to be groundless.

Gerd'son moved into the University of Victoria residence hall in 1991 and graduated in 1997, but he refused to vacate. He suffers from post-traumatic stress, obsessive-compulsive disorder, and allergies. The province of British Columbia declared him disabled in 2004.

University officials say that they allowed Gerd'son to remain in his dorm room for more than 10 years out of "compassion," but they finally served an eviction notice in 2008.

Read the article in the Times Colonist newspaper here.

College president criticizes his own board in mass e-mail

Here's an example of "worst practices in governance." In a "special edition" of the college e-newsletter sent this week, Hocking College president Ron Erickson assailed his board for interfering with his presidency. "Word has now reached me that a new plan is underway to remove me from my current position as president, reassign me to the role of 'consultant,' and to appoint an internal, interim president for the remainder of my current contract," Erickson wrote. He said that the board had made promises at a previous meeting to improve the board-president relationship, but these had not been kept. (The previous conflict was detailed last year in the Columbus Dispatch under the title "A mess at Hocking College.") When the Athens News asked board chair Joe Murtha about the e-newsletter, Murtha said, "My God -- you're telling me (about this) for the first time. He certainly hasn't tried to talk to me about anything like that." Erickson suggested that the plan to remove him from his job might be enacted at Fri ...

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"Traditioned innovation" at Beeson Divinity School

The award-winning website Faith and Leadership has recently been highlighting "traditioned innovation." That's their term for an entrepreneurial orientation that's tempered by the wisdom of the ages. Their latest example: Beeson Divinity School at Samford University. Although part of a Baptist university, Beeson is explicitly interdenominational. Its founding dean, Timothy George, is a graduate of Harvard Divinity School who has tried to open Beeson's doors to various historic emphases: respect for Mary and the saints, appreciation for monasticism and iconography, and more. The divinity school's blend of tradition and innovation is most evident in its marvelous Hodges Chapel, which could easily grace a European capital but is an unusual sight on the skyline of Birmingham, Alabama.  Jason Byassee, the author of the article about Beeson, has written an essay for the upcoming issue of In Trust about another example of "traditioned innovation" -- the weekly congregational reports published by ...

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Six myths about the proposal to limit charitable deductibility

Have you heard about President Barack Obama's proposal to limit the amount the deductibility of charitable gifts for high-income donors? Many observers fear that by reducing the incentive for wealthy people to give, the nonprofit sector will suffer. The Nonprofit Quarterly has published a helpful article that tries to separate fact from hysteria. It identifies the following as "myths" that are circulating about the president's proposal: The president is aiming only at charitable deductions. The cap will affect all charitable donors. Charitable giving will be slammed. Charitable deductions have never been capped before. All of charity will lose. This is the wrong signal at the wrong time. On page 20 of the Spring 2011 issue of In Trust, Washington attorney Marcus Owens told writer Dorothy Ridings that he believes the full charitable deduction is safe for now, since the divided Congress is unlikely to agree on any plan -- especially one that would raise revenue but mi ...

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Where are military chaplains trained?

Earlier this month, the St. Louis Post-Dispatch reported that Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary, the theological school in Lynchburg, Virginia, founded by Jerry Falwell, is training more future U.S. Air Force chaplains than any other school. The Christian Century picked up the story too. The paper also reported that Eden Theological Seminary, a United Church of Christ school in St. Louis, is launching a new initiative to provide more liberal chaplains for the military. President David Greenhaw said that "there's a vacuum" in the chaplaincy that Eden wants to help fill. But what's most interesting to me about this story is buried a little deeper than the headline. It turns out that that chaplain candidates are required to pass 72 semester hours in post-baccalaureate studies in theology or a related field. This coursework must be taken at an accredited institution -- but not necessarily a program accredited by the Association of Theological Schools.  Liberty Theological Seminary has accreditat ...

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Global view lends insight at home

Those of us in theological education keep a close eye on what other schools in North America are up to. And in seeking solutions to new challenges, we often look among our peer groups for best practices and sparks of innovation. A new publication from the World Council of Churches, however, reminds us that theological education is a global enterprise with many different forms and functions.  The length and density of most academic reference works usually keep them off our recreational reading lists. And the new Handbook of Theological Education in World Christianity -- almost 800 pages long and weighing nearly five pounds! -- is no exception. But the massive tome draws on the perspectives of more than 90 leaders from around the world to detail the varieties of theological education.  There is much for us to learn from this snapshot. For example: In Latin America, where theological education was once a missionary endeavor from the North, seminaries are now turning to their own communities ...

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Plug-and-play theological education

It's been a year since we first wrote about the "edupunk" phenomenon. Edupunks are part of the up-and-coming generation of students. They think outside the educational boxes that institutions provide for them, finding sources of knowledge and authentic experience wherever they may. While edupunks might still matriculate at an institution of higher learning, they are on the lookout for what they really want and need, wherever they can find it. (One university is experimenting with students like this and hosting "flash seminars," where a time and location for discussion on a hot topic is posted in online social networks, and only the first 25 students are allowed to participate.) In the past year, we've also seen the rise of another term in higher education: "plug-and-play." This refers to an increasingly a la carte market approach to completing a degree. While a graduate student may be officially enrolled at one institution, that student can shop around -- usually online -- for classes at other schools -- c ...

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Keeping your school in alignment

Over at the Call and Response Blog, a young mainline pastor is getting honest about the professional world into which she recently graduated. In a post called "Younger Clergy and the New Economic Normal," Amy Thompson Sevimli outlines the economic and demographic realities facing the mainline church, telling of a generation of older ministers who are hanging on to fewer and fewer full-time pastorates, while seminaries produce ever more young people expecting to enter the pulpit with the pay and pension of their predecessors. "[W]hat should younger clergy do, since most of us have already paid for at least eight years of schooling and don't have a second set of skills to fall back on?" she asks. "The model for ministry which we have long assumed is no longer the model of the future." Or, as a headline for another article says, "Too Many Pastors, Not Enough Work." The changing nature of the pastorate is evident everywhere we look, and not only in mainline denominations. For many small congregations (wheth ...

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Changing theological education in a changing world

Presidents, rectors, deans, and other leaders in North American theological education gathered in Montreal earlier this summer for the Biennial Meeting of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the association, gave the opening address that set the stage for the two days of conversation and decisions to follow. His speech addressed the changing landscapes of North American religion, including shifting patterns of religious adherence and practice, increased religious diversityand pluralism, and the globalization of Christianity. It's fitting, he explained, that the meeting was being held in Montreal, which only 50 years ago was a firmly Catholic city. Today, rates of religious participation in the city are among the lowest on the continent, a fact which some interpret as the canary in the coal mine for American and Canadian churches. The most complete scholarly account of secularism also has a connection to Montreal. Charles Taylo ...

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How do you measure credit hours for online classes?

The U.S. Congress is looking into the question of how credit hours are measured for online higher education. With more and more students funding their higher education through federal financial aid, members of Congress apparently suspect that standards may be slipping. As with most topics in Washington, party politics has reared its head, with Democrats defending traditional notions of credit hours based on "seat time," while Republicans argue for increased flexibility, which might help the for-profit "proprietary" colleges like the University of Phoenix. But over at Inside Higher Ed, my favorite blogger "Dean Dad" is balking. The crisis in higher education, he says, is not competition with for-profit schools. The crisis is that higher education, as it exists today, is not sustainable. And awarding credit hours for seat time, rather than for learning, is actually making higher education's future even less sustainable. As we continue to discuss the future of theological education, this is an important con ...

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Christians at the forefront of online learning

The New Year 2010 issue of In Trust included an article about the recent growth online theological education. Now the wider world is also taking note of the impressive growth of religious schools that embrace online learning. Inside Higher Ed reports that more and more Christian colleges are taking advantage of the built-in loyalty that many Americans feel toward religious institutions. Many of these schools are learning marketing and delivery tips from the most successful proprietary colleges like the University of Phoenix, which has 458,000 students. Among the schools profiled in the piece is Indiana Wesleyan University, which In Trust also described in the New Year 2010 issue. Read the article in Inside Higher Ed, titled "Online, Christian Students," here. If you're affiliated with an In Trust member school, you can read "Time for Reflection" (about online learning) and "Launching in Tough Times" (about Indiana Wesleyan University). Both appeared in the New Year 2010 issue of In Trust. Not sure wheth ...

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ATS Biennial theme: "The future has arrived"

Will your school be represented at the ATS Biennial Meeting this month? The Association of Theological Schools is holding its 47th Biennial Meeting on June 23-25 in Montreal. The biennial meeting is the gathering of all ATS member institutions. In Trust will host a reception for its members and friends on Thursday, June 24, at 5 p.m. You are invited! The Biennial Meeting is a true business meeting -- representatives from member schools vote to admit new members, discuss changing standards of accreditation, and hear financial reports. It's also a place for continuing education. Numerous workshops cover material like distance learning, stabilizing a tuition-driven institution, and resource-sharing among schools. This year, two seminary leaders will join In Trust president Christa R. Klein in a session on "building boards for good governance in demanding times." Finally, the Biennial Meeting is an opportunity for socializing and networking. It's the one chance for seminary deans and presidents to meet other ...

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Dropping diversity's baggage

The word "diversity" carries a lot of baggage these days. It is both cliche and code, sometimes bordering on meaningless, other times carrying deep emotional meaning for folks on all sides of an issue.  Scott Page, an economist at University of Michigan, tries to drop diversity's baggage at the curb with a more practical approach to the topic. Perhaps you already know about his book The Difference: How the Power of Diversity Creates Better Groups, Firms, Schools, and Societies. In it, he uses mathematics to explain why diverse working groups produce better results than homogeneous groups. "[D]iverse groups of people bring to organizations more and different ways of seeing a problem and, thus, faster/better ways of solving it," he says. This not only refers to professional or academic training, but also that "people's identity groups -- ethnic, racial, sexual, age -- matter when it comes to diversity in thinking." So what does this have to do with theological education? In 2002, Auburn S ...

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Ideas vs. visions

A recent piece on the Harvard Business Review blog suggests that the previous 10 years was a decade of ideas. The author reminds us of 2002's The Rise of the Creative Class by Richard Florida, which was embraced by leaders in business and local government as a new model for community development and economic growth, based on attracting creative people with new ideas. And of course the rise of Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and other social networking media has been happening all around us -- they too grew out of great ideas. But are great ideas enough? "What is in short supply," the blog post asserts, "are visionary thinkers who will be capable of making sense of this abundance of stimuli -- visionaries who will build the arenas to unleash the power of ideas and transform them into actions."  He goes on to predict that the next 10 years will be a decade of visionary thinking.  Theological eduction has likewise experienced a decade of ideas -- dozens of theological ...

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Christian Century editorial on theological education

The editors of the Christian Century have published an editorial on economic pressures at theological seminaries. The Century is often considered the mouthpiece of mainline Protestant Christianity in America. The editorial quotes data from the Association of Theological Schools: The Association of Theological Schools reports that of the member schools that responded to a survey last April, 53 percent saw their endowments drop from 21 to 30 percent between June 2008 and March 2009; another 15 percent experienced an even deeper drop. Seminaries that were living on the edge financially before the recession were forced to cut faculty and staff, freeze or reduce wages and benefits, defer maintenance and reduce other spending, especially on libraries. Aleshire suggests that seminaries need to rethink their economic models. But the editorial goes further:  Seminaries and their constituencies should use this moment to consider new pedagogical models as well. . . .  Curricular discussions have focused on ...

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Controversy over the selection of a new president

With minimal input from faculty or alumnae, the trustees of the College of New Rochelle have chosen a new president. She has no advanced degree, but much experience at the school and a strong financial background. Is this a problem? Inside Higher Ed reports that the new president of the Catholic women's college will be Judith Huntington, who currently serves as vice president for financial affairs. Her highest degree is a bachelor's degree in accounting from Pace University. Although unhappy about the process by which the new president was chosen, many of the college's constituents seem content with the choice: "She is a very collegial individual, and I believe she has great respect for the academic mission of the college," the chair of the faculty council says. "While I understand the concerns of others and respect and share the concern for the procedures that were followed in this case, we're all best served at this juncture to be behind her."  For their part, trustees emphasized that Huntingto ...

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Seminary will cease traditional face-to-face teaching

Early in 2009, Lexington Theological Seminary declared financial exigency, terminated tenure, and announced plans for a new model of theological education. In May 2009, the board approved plans for a new educational model. The Disciples of Christ institution in Kentucky plans to continue offering the M.A., M.Div., and D.Min. degrees. But after the current academic year, courses will be offered only through intensives, distance learning, and online.   In the transition, the board instructed the seminary's administration to seek court approval to use donor-restricted endowment funds. They also asked the administration to develop an operational budget of $2 million (down from $4.1 million) and to begin necessary reductions to balance this budget. During 2009, staff was reduced from 31 full-time employees (21 staff and 10 faculty) to 17 employees (12 staff and 5 faculty). A report on the transition, written by president James P. Johnson, appeared in the seminary's Winter 2009 Bulletin, which was posted ...

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"Slate 60" lists the most generous donors of the year

Golisano Library at Roberts Wesleyan College

The online magazine Slate has released its annual list of the most generous American philanthropists. As usual, gifts to higher education are well represented.

See the table of the most generous donors here.

Read biographies of the philanthropists here.

 

Image: The cafe in the B. Thomas Golisano Library at Roberts Wesleyan College. The library is also used by Northeastern Seminary, a sister institution to Roberts Wesleyan and one of In Trust's member schools. Golisano, the donor who helped build the library several years ago, is No. 50 on this year's "Slate 60" list of 2009's most generous donors. Photo by Jay Blossom.

Private giving to colleges declines 12 percent

Empty wallet

Both the Chronicle of Higher Education and Inside Higher Ed are reporting on a new study of private giving to colleges and universities, and the news is sobering. Donations are down across the board, at both public and private colleges.

Read about the study in the Chronicle of Higher Education here.

Read about the study in Inside Higher Ed here.

Read the press release from the Council for Aid to Education, which sponsored there survey, here (PDF).

 

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