“Are you going to be the Tina Fey of your field?”

That’s the question that was put to some of evangelicalism’s best and brightest, who gathered at Veritas Riff, the new program from the estimable Veritas Forum, to learn the weighty art of…improv theater.

You won’t hear me belittling the good that can come from learning improv.  I think it’s a fantastic training ground for all sorts of skills, not least of which is the ability to conduct meaningful conversations and discussions.

But the event seems to betray a populist approach to culture, as though the professor’s work won’t really be influential unless it is communicated to a popular audience.  As the article states, they want to equip “Christian thought leaders with the communication skills and peer support to become recognized and compelling cultural commentators.”

Maybe it’s my own skepticism about the good I’m doing in the world, but I tend to think that the real work isn’t being done by the nebulous “cultural commentators,” who seem to be a dime a dozen, but by real thinkers who are devoted to investing deeply in the next generation of Christian leaders and scholars.  If there’s a problem with “staid Christian scholars,” in other words, I suspect it’s less one of skill and more one of passion, drive, and connection to their student’s lives.

But then there’s Peter Marten’s take-down in the letters to the editor:

VF’s diagnosis of the problem is that the reason evangelical academics have a disproportionately small influence on their students and American society at large is that they lack media and theatrical training. I wonder if it is not more likely that the cause of low influence is that evangelicals as a group have a disproportionately low interest in pursuing academic careers…

I have a more effective proposal for the founders of VR. If you want to shape the academic world outside of the evangelical enclave, leave Ms. Fey to do her own thing (a craft which, by the way, took her more than four days of intensive training to hone). Evangelical leaders should instead heed the well-established strategies of other religious movements in this country. Establish endowed chairs for their outstanding scholars at nonevangelical institutions. This will ensure a solid sphere of influence outside of the evangelical subculture.

In wrestling, that’d be two points.

In the Q&A at the AEI event with Dr. Hunter, he casually remarked that if you really wanted to know where a culture is going, follow its academics, a principle that I have argued for in the past and wholeheartedly endorse.  Somehow, I don’t think this was precisely what he had in mind.

Posted by Matthew Lee Anderson

Matthew Lee Anderson is the Founder and Lead Writer of Mere Orthodoxy. He is the author of Earthen Vessels: Why Our Bodies Matter to our Faith and The End of Our Exploring: A Book about Questioning and the Confidence of Faith. Follow him on Twitter or on Facebook.

  • Jim Lowery

    ” I wonder if it is not more likely that the cause of low influence is that evangelicals as a group have a disproportionately low interest in pursuing . . .” The Lord Jesus: His person, His example, His Word. He is, after all, The Lord.

    We seem so eager to try the latest Man-centered “thing” -no matter how “off the wall” it is, and so blind to The Most High God. We’ve become inured to broken cisterns, and so accustomed to petting The Lions, that we’ve forgotten what fresh water tastes like and what serious danger we face from The Wild Beasts here in “Ephesus”.

    I realize that this comment may be simplistic. I like to think it is as simplistic as an iceberg’s tip.

    Thank you ALL for this site. I appreciate the broad-ranging, informed, intelligent, challenging thought . . . especially the hymn analyses that ‘usually’ come on Saturdays. May your investments return great rewards-in this world and the Next; by God’s grace and for His glory.

    Jim Lowery; Richmond, VA

  • Elliot Ravenwood

    May I invoke the memory of the venerable St. Jack?

    Lewis provides a helpful model here, at least for me: both top-notch academician and exquisite rhetorician in print and on paper.

    We would never have heard of Lewis if not for his Oxford bona fides. So if we must choose between scholarly work or improv skills, the former is the winner.

    But his verbal fluency catalyzed his speaking and publishing career, and we know the rest of the story.

    By all accounts, Jack had more than a ready wit and was a devastating extempore debater. He might have given Ms. Fey a good run for her money at Second City.

  • Jim,

    Thanks for the kind words. I’ve been out of the country, which is why the hymn analyses have stopped. I’ll probably get them going again this week, though.

    And I actually think your comment is right on the money. From JI Packer’s *Knowing God*:

    We have been brought to the point where we both can and must get our life’s priorities straight. From current Christian publications you might think that the most vital issue for any real or would-be Christian in the world today is church union, or social witness, or dialogue with other Christians and other faiths, or refuting this or that -ism, or developing a Christian philosophy and culture, or what have you. But our line of study makes the present day concentration on these things look like a gigantic conspiracy of misdirection. Of course, it is not that; the issues themselves are real and must be dealt with in their place. But it is tragic that, in paying attention to them, so many in our day seem to have been distracted from what was, and is, and always will be, the true priority for every human being. That is, learning to know God in Christ.

    Elliot,

    “By all accounts, Jack had more than a ready wit and was a devastating extempore debater. He might have given Ms. Fey a good run for her money at Second City.”

    Don’t hear me saying that I’m against wit or verbal fluency. I’m not. My favorite writer, after all, happens to be one of history’s wittiest men (and yes, I mean that seriously).

    But really, do you think that improv training will produce anything close to Lewis or Chesterton? Count me among the (very) skeptical. While such things can be learned, I don’t think improv is quite the right tool for it.

    Best,

    matt

  • Elliot Ravenwood

    I don’t think anything other than an act of God will produce another Lewis or Chesterton.

    But I do have enough grad school under my belt to know that appealing to a popular audience is derided throughout academia. (As it was in Lewis’s day.)

    And I’m close to convinced that Christian scholars must step out from the towering ivory walls and share what they’ve learned with their neighbors (both literal and figurative).

    To do that means knowing why what you study matters, and knowing how to explain it helpfully–without causing terminal cases of glazed eyes. Humor helps a bit in this process, no?

    Will a day-long improv seminar be enough to create a cadre of winsome, witty Christian scholars able to reach popular audiences however big or small? No. But if it encourages a few to think more about how to effectively explain their work inside and outside of their fields, I’m all for it.

    I think we agree here, Matt. An improv seminar is not enough. But I applaud it as a little step in a good direction.

  • “I think we agree here, Matt. An improv seminar is not enough. But I applaud it as a little step in a good direction.”

    I think we mostly agree, too. However, I think the supposition is that the way academics will *really* change the world is by having a broader audience. That’s the supposition that I really wanted to question in the above.

  • Elliot Ravenwood

    To invoke another Inkling, DL Sayers’s warning against creative heresies in Mind of the Maker applies here, I think.

    Without the Word and the Spirit, the Idea remains inert. Good words and vital spirit can be (possibly) taught via improv. But as you point out, Matt, these are useless unless the idea expressed is important.

    On the other hand, without good expression and inspiration, even the best ideas will go nowhere.

    Academia is all about communication. Papers, presentations, meetings, conferences, networking(!), books. A few brilliant minds, perhaps more-so in the sciences, can afford to be incomprehensible.

    If there are few people within academia who will tolerate a boring or dense speaker, how much fewer outside?

    The question that grabs me is: can one be a faithful Christian scholar and not be interested in reaching a popular audience at some point?

  • Mark

    I can see both sides of the Matt-Elliot dialog. To the fairly small extent that one can discern a disagreement here at all, here is my take on it and how both of you could be right.

    No, I don’t think learning communication skills is going to help, and it certainly comes secondary to scholarship. On the other hand, the rabid “publish or perish” mentality that is rife in academia (that Evangelicals have uncritically accepted so we have it in Christian seminaries too) makes for narrow specialists talking to each other, if they’re even listening. A horrible situation for academia.

    http://wallyboston.com/2009/09/25/how-the-“publish-or-perish”-trend-in-higher-education-negatively-impacts-undergraduate-students/

    One more thing, though understand I am not talking about anyone here but simply using this as an occasion to opine. I always hate it when the word ‘scholar’ is used interchangeably with ‘teacher’ or ‘professor’. As if ‘scholar’ = ‘paid scholar’ (I didn’t say ‘professional scholar’ because that term is so distorted from its original meaning and prejudices the issue). These are not the same, and the idea that they are (no one said this here) really wears on me.

    We need good amateur scholars (which does not mean “second-rate” but rather for the love of it) and the credentialism I referenced in the link above isn’t helping us where people seek credentials over knowledge. When I can get almost any book in the world now (as many of us can now with modern, fast, and free interlibrary loan systems and Amazon for the rest) with no serious cost or effort, we should be encouraging a generation of Christian amateur scholars as we always had in the past. If the direction of a culture can be determined by its academics, is that still so, and should it be?

    Is academia (even Christian academia) really serving its students well? Why is it so many people brag about where they went to school or what program but casually admit “I don’t have time to read anymore”? How many people now *don’t* say that? Why bother to go to college at all? Can a bunch of Christian professors change a culture? Yes. Can a legion of Christian amateur scholars change it at least as much? Probably so. Why doesn’t that happen? People don’t have an image of the amateur scholar as something they should be shooting for? Why? Well how did ‘scholar’ and ‘professor’ come to be conflated in people’s minds, and where is the church on this one? That’s what makes J. P.’s “Love Your God with All Your Mind” such a great book.

  • I’m not able to confirm or deny Peter Marten’s claim that “evangelicals as a group have a disproportionately low interest in pursuing academic careers.” Compared to which groups? I’d like to see the statistics. I’m proud to say that my alma mater, Wheaton College, ranks eleventh in the nation for the number of graduates from private liberal arts colleges who go on to earn doctorates. Eleventh!!!

    Marten’s proposal for establishing “endowed chairs for their outstanding scholars at nonevangelical institutions” sounds good, but in reality there’s not a W-E-L-C-O-M-E mat for such scholars. If a scholar has distinguished himself as at an evangelical institution like Biola or Wheaton, it’s very hard for that person to break into a non-evangelical institution like Stanford or Swarthmore. Are J. P. Moreland, William Lane Craig, Alan Jacobs, and Roger Lundin hirable at non-evangelical institutions? Probably not. Regardless of their exemplary scholarship, the deep-seated prejudice against evangelicals is very difficult to surmount.

    I wonder if Professor Hunter’s claim––”if you really want to know where a culture is going, follow the intellectuals”––can be confirmed by historical and sociological data. I also wonder if this privileging of the intellectual conflicts with his book’s emphasis that institutions change culture more than individuals. To put a twist on Hunter’s claim, I’d say that if you want to know where Christianity is going in America, follow the ministers and parents; they, more than professors or scholars, shape Christian belief and practice––and that’s how it should be.

  • Mark

    >> I’m not able to confirm or deny Peter Marten’s claim that “evangelicals as a group have a disproportionately low interest in pursuing academic careers.” Compared to which groups? I’d like to see the statistics.

    I don’t have a dog in this fight, but I’d be surprised if the assertion is wrong. I think conservatives generally are underrepresented and since Evangelicals are conservatives I suppose it is no more complicated than that. Not much fodder for an anti-intellectual boogie man. The reasons that aren’t hard to guess and I am painfully aware of. Let’s just say that our universities are broken in ways that liberals see as progress. And have you ever asked yourself why men are not as interested in college now (is it 65% women at Biola)? Is it because men are troubled or because college (as with education generally) increasingly involves less aggressive knowledge pursuit and more busy work? Maybe both. Perhaps higher-ed really is the next bubble.

    But if you want to search for stats you can look for various studies, which I don’t really have time to do so I have no idea of their credibility.

    http://www.google.com/search?client=safari&rls=en&q=conservatives+underepresented+in+academia&ie=UTF-8&oe=UTF-8

    >> I wonder if Professor Hunter’s claim––”if you really want to know where a culture is going, follow the intellectuals”––can be confirmed by historical and sociological data … I’d say that if you want to know where Christianity is going in America, follow the ministers and parents; they, more than professors or scholars, shape Christian belief and practice––and that’s how it should be.

    Agreed, but he’ll just say that the parents will be following the intellectuals (knowingly or not), and that’s probably true. My point is to ask if the church should be trying to promote a Christian version of “follow the intellectual” rather than being the knowledge tradition it used to be. We’re all following leaders of some type because that is what humans do.

    >> I’m proud to say that my alma mater, Wheaton College, ranks eleventh in the nation for the number of graduates from private liberal arts colleges who go on to earn doctorates. Eleventh!!!

    But why is a Phd something to celebrate in and of itself? Are there stats about how these folks do after graduation, personally and professionally? How many experience the futility that the author of “Shop Class as Soulcraft” did?

    • Mark: To begin, I don’t regard this as a “fight.” You’ve made two good points. First, I agree that we should question “a Christian version of ‘follow the intellectual'” and instead be content as our own “knowledge tradition.” Second, I agree that the fact of earned doctorates means nothing in itself except that Wheaton produces an astonishing number of graduates who pursue terminal education.

      I don’t know why it didn’t hit me immediately, but isn’t there something ironic about an intellectual who says, ”If you really want to know where a culture is going, follow the intellectuals”? It’s not only self-congratulatory, but it seems mistaken in a time when few people are reading and therefore unacquainted with a class of people whose writing is mostly read by their own kind and not the public. After watching the first 10 minutes of tonight’s 20/20* special edition, “Inside The Bachelor: Stories Behind the Rose,” I’m compelled to say, even though it churns my stomach, that if we want to know where American culture is going, follow the media ecology (movies, television, digital technologies). Where is Neil Postman when we need him?

      * Remember when 20/20 used to a news magazine show? Based on tonight’s episode, it would seem that the program is now devoted to “infotainment.” This fact alone reinforces my hunch that media ecology shapes culture.

  • Mark

    Christopher: The expression “not having a dog in the fight” is an expression that at least to my understanding doesn’t take the word “fight” literally.

    Wheaton is a good institution no question, but in my mind the number of graduates that pursue doctorates is neutral. I think the percentage of college bound students a high school produces is way overbilled and it is now generally accepted that many of those who go to college really should not have. George Will has as plausible an explanation as anyone for why many of them go to college now that didn’t in the past. In my opinion much of the same credentialism goes on at the graduate levels for different reasons.

    http://www.washingtonpost.com/wp-dyn/content/article/2009/01/02/AR2009010202098.html

    And the effect? Well …

    http://www.mererhetoric.com/2010/02/08/confirmed-college-doesnt-make-kids-smarter-just-more-liberal/

    I agree that there is something ironic about intellectuals arguing on their own behalf. It is true, for example, that the ideas that appear in ethics journals will be in the mainstream in a decade, so it is certainly true as far as it goes. But I have gotten queasy over the past few years about Christians thinking they can win that game simply by getting doctorates because I doubt it will work in the end. I’m not sure that people realize that a doctorate is a research degree or whether a research position is for them, or would benefit the church. They just want a “terminal degree”, whatever that is. Like Louis Lamour, who quit school because it was “hurting his education” I think at some point you have to admit that jumping through all the hoops required for these “terminal degrees” over the increasing number of years it takes is taking away from the knowledge that people could be learning by scholarship the old fashioned way over that same period of time. I find the term “terminal degree” an offense to my sensibilities. I once heard a Talbot phil prof remark what a shame it was that Richard Swinburne didn’t have a doctorate. He taught some of Talbot’s profs at Oxford. A shame? I can only shake my head. Credentialism.

    Agreed we need Neil Postman, or at least people that read him, but I think of Aldous Huxley’s Brave New World where no one read books despite wide availability when I think of all the books only available to people like me within the last few years or so, but that few college graduates read on their own anymore and they find it more congenial to follow experts on what to think. Huxley is weeping somewhere that we didn’t heed the warning.

    • Mark: I like your “take” on things. It’s unapologetically old-fashioned. Yes, college doesn’t make kids smarter and certainly not wiser. If anything, it just makes them smart asses – and I’ve been guilty of this from time to time. Yes, the expression “terminal degree” is offensive if it denotes the end of learning. And yes, credentialism is one of the unexamined idols that besets evangelicals who want to surmount The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind critique. For graduate school, I attended St. John College in Annapolis, MD and Santa Fe, NM. This is one of the most counter-cultural institutions in America for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is its unusual practice of hiring faculty who don’t have PhDs. Why? Because the vocation of a tutor is significantly different than a professor or scholar. The tutor, like the Socratic midwife, helps deliver truth, beauty, and goodness through dialogue.

  • Elliot,

    “The question that grabs me is: can one be a faithful Christian scholar and not be interested in reaching a popular audience at some point?”

    Yes, I think one can be. There are different routes for Christians within the academy, and “influence” is a notoriously tricky thing to measure. But Alvin Plantinga’s influence is enormous, and he established almost no lay level speaking or writing career.

    That’s one model. The other is our friend JP. Which to take? I don’t know. But my point was largely that as a culture-changing strategy, I am increasingly wary of the populist approach.

    And this has bearing on Christopher’s excellent suggestion that the media, not the academy, is the institution to watch.

    Christopher, I think Hunter’s point isn’t just that it’s institutions that change things. Rather, it’s that institutions as bearers of particular ideas change things. So he’s not denying the role of ideas per se, but rather the means by which evangelicals think that they can change a culture’s dominant ideas.

    That said, the media is a great suggestion. However, where did all the people who make the media get their ideas? : )

    matt

    • Matt: Indeed, Hunter emphasizes a dialectic of institutions and ideas. So, your nuance – institutions are “bearers of particular ideas” – is correct. Where did all the people who make the media get their ideas? Here’s a possible answer: the media is its own academy.

  • Elliot Ravenwood

    Matt,

    I certainly grant that there is a difference between Moreland and Plantinga in the level of popular engagement. Moreover, I don’t want to say that Christian academics must primarily focus on a lay audience.

    But I do think that Christians scholars need to be willing to translate their work for a relatively popular audience.

    And Plantinga has done that. He does lectures for broadly educated audiences (which for him is like talking at an elementary school). He does stuff for Veritas Forum (http://www.veritas.org/Media.aspx#/v/884). He talked to Torrey undergrads at Biola.
    He teaches Sunday school on philosophical topics at a local South Bend church.

    Secular scholars can afford to ignore their neighbors. I don’t think Christian scholars can.

  • There is a difference, I think, between teaching a sunday school class and establishing a ministry to a “lay audience.” No one’s suggesting that Christian academics “ignore their neighbors.” But it’s easy to see how one might view Sunday school as at the periphery of one’s mission, and not anywhere close to the center. I suspect that’s how P. views it.

    In addition, speaking to college students doesn’t count for me as establishing a ministry to a “lay audience.” Those are educated folks, and he speaks at a level that almost no lay people would understand, about things that most lay people don’t care about.

    Additionally, let’s name a book that Plantinga has written that comes close to the same level as “Love The Lord Your God with All Your Mind”? I haven’t searched (yet), but none come to mind. That’s pretty telling, I think.

    Which is to say, Plantinga’s legacy as a Christian scholar will be measured very differently than Moreland’s. I view the scholarship as its own vocation, dignified in and of itself, and not needing any sort of “translation” to a broader audience to fit within the Kingdom of God or its purposes. If that happens, great. But I have yet to see a compelling case for why Christian scholars are obligated to do that, or why not doing that constitutes “ignoring their neighbor.”

    Best,

    matt

  • Christopher,

    “Where did all the people who make the media get their ideas? Here’s a possible answer: the media is its own academy.”

    Hah! Yah, I just don’t buy it. If you look at the pedigree of most people in the media, many of them have been trained in the institutions of higher learning. I don’t think that’s incidental to their understanding of the world or the art/media they create.

    matt

  • Mark

    >> I like your “take” on things. It’s unapologetically old-fashioned.

    Christopher: Thanks. Old fashioned is probably the best description for my view.

    >> And yes, credentialism is one of the unexamined idols that besets evangelicals who want to surmount The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind critique.

    One of the epiphanies shortly after grad school and embibing the hatred for all things anti-intellectual, was that intellectualism is a problem too. The anti-intellectuals saw a real problem, but their solution was just wrong-headed.

    >> For graduate school, I attended St. John College in Annapolis, MD and Santa Fe, NM. This is one of the most counter-cultural institutions in America for a number of reasons. One of those reasons is its unusual practice of hiring faculty who don’t have PhDs. Why? Because the vocation of a tutor is significantly different than a professor or scholar. The tutor, like the Socratic midwife, helps deliver truth, beauty, and goodness through dialogue.

    Wow. Now that is interesting. I didn’t know about this strategy. I’ll look up some info on those institutions.

    But I might not express the difference in terms of a tutor/scholar distinction. I’m uncomfortable with that -I”m not sure that is a real distinction. I think it may be under-appreciated that doctorates are research degrees. Edward Everett was the first American to receive a German Ph.D. in Europe just before 1820. That is what we all accept now as a Ph.D. The “German research model” was adopted uncritically by our universities much later and swept much of the previous Oxbridge model away. Many people think this was problematic. For example, I have read of top scholars in literature of the recent past year that opposed promoting research degrees in literature for some very specific reasons. I think failing to understand what a research degree is and what it is good and not so good for is a problem. I believe in picking the tool that does the job I need and not just mindless following so I always want avoid just having a fondness for old-fashioned ways, and I don’t think I am actually drawn to it unless I can see a real concrete reason.

  • Mark

    Regarding the Matt-Elliot dialog:

    I agree that no one is obligated to teach at a lay level, though I think all should be willing to do so. And what is lay level these days? Look at the Lincoln-Douglass debates and how sophisticated they were and how long they lasted. Much of our population is dumbed down. I don’t think any thinker is obligated to speak to people who aren’t capable of listening, at least if he thinks exhorting people to be better educated and informed does not happen to be a part of his calling. That said, how many people do you need to understand you to make it worth it? Maybe only one that understands will change the world so people should be wary of deciding they don’t have a message for laypersons overquick.

    But the distinction between lay level and scholarly level isn’t very firm in my opinion. People read introductory books in things they’ve studied for years and profit from them. Because one has to be a master to present a subject well and it is a rare skill and an object of beauty when achieved. Here is a prime example of an exemplary philosophy intro: http://www.amazon.com/Introduction-Philosophy-Perennial-Principles-Classical/dp/0895554690 If more people read books like these instead of the usual unconnectedr mix of stuff we’d have more Christian philosophers.

    >> Additionally, let’s name a book that Plantinga has written that comes close to the same level as “Love The Lord Your God with All Your Mind”? I haven’t searched (yet), but none come to mind. That’s pretty telling, I think.

    Not sure I agree with this observation. Plantinga is a Reformed Epistemologist, and the wide perception is that this makes him ambivalent to apologetics, or at least certain types of it. If he is right that religious belief is “properly basic”, apologetics of a certain type would be a waste of time. J. P. does not share this view and that is a sufficient cause of their writing being different. I think they probably both see themselves as instructors of laypeople, but Plantinga thinks that people that don’t believe don’t for reasons that he can’t change, whereas Moreland thinks he can. Who knows what books Plantinga would write if he thought it would make a difference to a certain audience, or what J. P. would write if he didn’t.

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  • I’m not sure that I agree that evangelical scholars aren’t translating their work for lay audiences. NT Wright, Stanley Grenz, Eugene Peterson, JI Packer, Miroslav Volf, Mark Noll, etc. etc. have all written for lay audiences, some (Wright, Grenz, Peterson, Noll) have written a TON that was directed at Christians with no theological training.

    So I’m not sure that’s a good diagnosis of the problem with the relation between academy and Church in evangelicalism. I think the larger problem is that only about 20% of those who self identify as evangelicals have graduated from college, and few read anything other than mass market paperbacks, if they read at all.

  • T Dalrymple

    I was at the Veritas Riff conference, or at least the latter half of it, and David Skeel’s Wall Street Journal piece was more than a little tongue-in-cheek. Unfortunately, for those who were not there, and who therefore lacked the proper context, I think it gave a misleading impression.

    First of all, Marten is absolutely wrong that there is a disproportionately low interest amongst evangelicals in academic careers. That was once true, but evangelicalism began as a rejection of fundamentalist separatism, and in recent years (as documented by the likes of Michael Lindsay, for example, who was one of the organizers of the Riff conference) evangelicals have finally permeated the elite academic institutions. To the extent that evangelicals still remain underrepresented amongst tenured faculty, it is a consequence of the failure of *previous* generations to take the academy seriously, and of latent biases against conservative Christians amongst secular academics (a bias which can be overplayed, but which is quite real nonetheless; see Ross Douthat’s recent column, referencing an important recent study). But I have seen no evidence that evangelicals do not take excellent scholarship with the utmost seriousness, and I see abundant evidence to the contrary.

    Second, the point about being the “next Tina Fey” was at least half in jest, should easily be recognized as such. These were some of the most impressive scholars and intellectual leaders that I have ever met. They are sure to have an influence within their fields through the virtues of their scholarship, but there is nothing harmful in also seeking to be commentators on culture who can shape the way in which events and movements and the church itself are interpreted. So yes, of course, Tina Fey took more than 4 days to learn her craft, but she began with 1 day, and then another, and the Riff program continues for a year with a variety of training experiences. It’s a serious endeavor with a serious purposes. Few scholars these days are given any direction in how to navigate the media and rise above the deafening noise of today’s media. Identifying those on the cusp of intellectual greatness, nurturing them, giving them a vision, training them in how to represent themselves and relate their fields of expertise to the problems of the day, and giving them exposure to national media, all for the sake of putting devout believers in positions of extraordinary cultural influence, is nothing to be sneered at by the Peter Martens of the world.

  • Mark

    T Dalrymple: This is all fine as far as it goes, but I think I can be forgiven for thinking that your words convey the clear impression that to be “interested in academic careers” to be interested in knowledge and wisdom, and that “scholarship” = “professor”. BTW, I have a very low interest in an academic career. I strive to be the best amateur scholar I can be with a passion that only increases over time, though my abilities are modest. One of the reasons I have a low interest in an academic career is that I think the research degrees tend to have a narrowing effect. I have found in the past that most professors weren’t able to answer the questions that mattered to me, or even point me in the right direction most of the time. This is why I seek to be an amateur scholar. It is my calling and my reasonable service to God. I know that there are those Christians who are called to be college professors, but it seems to me not as many as are seeking to be.

    Those professors that I do respect so much have more measured words for academics as a career than the breezy assurances of what it will do for the world. For example, here is Gilbert Meilaender:

    “I have found it increasingly difficult simply to believe in liberal education, despite the little talks about it that I have given to my advisees over the past couple decades. So often it does not seem to open the mind and heart to what counts most in life. This lack has, in my view, almost nothing to do with the idea of core curricula and almost everything to do with the fragmentation of our culture and the identity politics that dominates so much of academic life. Moreover, the one identity that seems to lack a place in the academy is religious identity. It becomes hard to recommend such a setting to young people and disconcerting to think of having given one’s most productive years to an undertaking one is reluctant to recommend.”

    Is he talking down scholarship? No way!!!!! He speaks passionately in other places of his unquestioned love for books and scholarship and has never expressed regret or weariness of any type. He’s talking here about a career. I have heard J. P. say similar things. Scholarship and careers are not the same thing, certainly not in this age where there are fewer actual constraints to pursuing academic knowledge than ever before.

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