Rating Professors is Arbitrary

So warns Jacques Berlinerblau:

Professorial prestige, I contend, is an awfully arbitrary thing.

Among professors, where one works is a marker of status. Thus, the assistant professor employed by an Ivy League college accrues greater glory than her counterpart at a midsize regional university. The latter, in turn, is more esteemed than an assistant professor laboring at some far-flung small liberal-arts college. The same hierarchies prevail, I guess, among high-school seniors comparing their college-acceptance letters as they hotbox their parents’ Toyota Priuses.

The juveniles and, distressingly, the professors are just following the logic of popular college-ranking systems. They are assuming that the greater the renown of an institution as measured by U.S. News & World Report, the greater will be the quantity and quality of research produced by scholars in its employ. Is this assumption accurate?

If it were, it would follow that an assistant professor in anthropology at Princeton University (U.S. News 2016 rank No. 1) publishes more and better work than her exact counterpart at the University of Southern California (U.S. News 2016 rank No. 23). The USC savant, in turn, outperforms the identically ranked anthropologist at Clark University (U.S. News 2016 rank No. 75). The Clark ethnographer has a heftier CV than a comparable scholar employed at Oklahoma State University (U.S. News 2016 rank No. 149). The better the institution, the better the research its tenure-line professors produce. Right?

Well, practice has a habit of trolling theory. Let’s imagine an experiment. All four of our hypothetical tenure-track anthropologists are asked to submit an updated CV and all of their relevant publications. Upon their arrival, these materials are scrubbed of any identifying markers. The anonymous files are then forwarded to a panel of experienced academicians, no-nonsense types who understand how the game is played. Their task: Figure out which CV corresponds to which sage employed at colleges ranked 1, 23, 75, and 149.

Our arbiters, I’m convinced, would fail this blind test. They would fail even if we asked them not to look at mere quantity of publications but quality as well. That’s because the contestants would all look puzzlingly similar. The judges might assume that the assistant professor at Clark worked at Southern California. And, yes, it is not unthinkable that they would place the Oklahoma State ethnographer in New Jersey. The problem is not that the Princeton person is a slouch. The problem is that all four are publishing a lot and all are very impressive on paper. Ergo, it would be impossible for the judges to distinguish between scholarly Coke and Pepsi.

Does this apply to New York City pastors?

What about U.S. Senators?

What about platforms makes an author more of an authority than another author?

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Do Celebrity Pastors (like TKNY) Have Authority?

Or is fame the primary aspect of aspect of celebrity? And if a celebrity actually tries to use his fame or influence to restrain someone, does he lose his celebrity?

I generated these questions when reading a response to City Church‘s (San Francisco) decision not to discriminate on the basis of sexual identity and behavior:

It’s also untenable to say that God has not made His will plain in the Word. Look at the extreme candor and clarity of the scripture about intimacy. The bible is very blunt and clear about sex. Going on to ignore all of that is kind of like saying “Not only am I not liking this air stuff, I’ve had it with gravity too.” The irrational position of this letter is another part of the growing fallout.

Someone might respond and say I’m wrong to lump City Church into Romans 1, that it’s obvious your church still believes in God. Of course they do, and there are many earnest and sincere believers in your community. That’s abundantly clear. That isn’t what I’m claiming. What I’m saying is this – in this particular letter it simply isn’t the God of our ancient writings, our ancient witnesses, and our ancient creeds anymore. This isn’t the God of Romans. And my fear is now this. Where there is a new god, there must always be a new gospel.

I think Keller put it well: a god you create, where you pick and choose what you think is “flourishing,” is just a Stepford god. Like the robot women in the old sci fi B-movie The Stepford Wives, where husbands are quietly getting rid of their wives and replacing them with obedient, pretty, and servile android spouses. It’s just a god who does what pleases you, can never offend you, and in the end can never save you.

Imagine if Tim Keller wrote that letter. Imagine even if he called on the phone pastors who either worked with or were inspired by him. Imagine if he spent some of his considerable capital. Might the Gospel Coalition then actually do something more than inspire or impress?

And then Kathy Keller’s B-S detector goes off . . .

Called to Discombobulation

I wonder if Stellman needs some coaching from Mark Shea:

It was around here that I entered the Church (1987) and fairly quickly surveyed what I took to be the lay of the land. The Church, I gathered, was divided between the loopy left and what Peter Kreeft called “non-revisionist Catholics”, aka “faithful conservative Catholics” who accepted the whole of the Church’s teaching, including the inconvenient and difficult Pelvic Bits, and tried to live that out. Having endured numerous nutball Seattle liturgies (“in the Name of the Creator and the Redeemer and the Sanctifier, may God our Father/Mother bless you”) with edited scripture readings sanitized for my protection and commentary such as “This passage is a crock” from the Seattle priestly caste, as well as instructions to just feel free to blow off the Church’s more inconvenient teaching, I came into the Church ready to stick it out defiantly against the lefty Seattle fiefdom with its sneering contempt for orthodoxy and its naked disdain for the Holy Father (my DRE loved to mock the Polish accent for the benefit of the RCIA class and tell the newbies what a buffoon the pope was for upholding the Church’s teaching. It made my blood boil. Only silly ultramontanes believed all that junk JPII said, I was assured.)

So I entered the Church in 1987 and set out to seriously live by the profession “I believe all that the holy, Catholic Church, believes, teaches, and proclaims is revealed by God.” Found a great parish in Seattle (Blessed Sacrament) full of wonderful Dominicans who taught me that the key to happiness as a Catholic was what Sherry Weddell has come to term”intentional discipleship”. That means not merely getting the sacramental card punched once a week, nor figuring out strategies for doing as I pleased while checking off a minimum daily adult requirement checklist on bare minimum cooperation with the Holy Spirit when he doesn’t get in my way, but making a serious stab at asking “What do you want me to do today, Jesus?” In this, I assumed that the great secret underground of Faithful Conservative Catholics was my allies and that the mission was to infiltrate, undermine, and destroy from within the regime of liberal dissent I’d seen up close and personal here in Seattle. Seemed reasonable.

Consequently, I took the formulation of the Five Non-Negotiables (abortion, euthanasia, embryonic stem call research, human cloning, and gay “marriage”) as common sense as, I have no doubt, did whoever formulated them. I can’t remember when I first ran across them (sometime in the 90s I think) and I have no idea who came up with them, but they seemed (and seem) to me to have a certain prima facie common sense to them: Here are five big issues that, at the very least, Catholics should agree on. The “at the very least” was always, for me, the key phrase. It never occurred to me that Catholics would insist that these are the only things Catholics should care about, much less that Catholics should seize on these things to attack other aspects of the Church’s teaching. That was, I assumed, what the Liberals did with their hyperfocus on protesting the Trident base over at Bangor while turning a blind eye to Seattle’s abortion mills. So I happily embraced the five non-negotiables as as a sort of quick and dirty summary of bare minimum adherence to the Church’s fundamental teachings about the dignity of human life, and the family. It didn’t and shouldn’t exhaust our understanding for the Church’s social teaching. But it sketched out the floor of that teaching, below which we cannot go. If you wanted a much fuller teaching, there was the Seamless Garment, which always impressed me as a fine, nuanced, balanced, and sane approach to articulating the whole of the Church’s consistent ethic of life. Indeed, back in the day, I once wrote a piece for the National Catholic Register, sketching out the sanity of the Seamless Garment and more or less naively assumed all Catholics agreed with this obvious, catechism-based, common sense.

At least conservatives in the PCUSA used to claim that their communion before 1967 had not changed its doctrine. An entire Christian tradition, from Augustine of Hippo to Zoe of Rome, boiled down to five moral claims?

I still wait for the Callers to acknowledge the discrepancy between their Call and their Communion. The former may have a certain logic, but the latter has all the marks of the Protestant mainline circa 1970. Here’s a piece of advice to Jason and the Callers — the Call needs to address the conservative Presbyterian opposition to modernism. How those converts got around the modernist trends in Roman Catholicism since Vatican 2 has to owe to the Callers’ divorce of history from truth.

The Protestant Dilemma Writ Catholic

Devin Rose thinks he found all the dilemmas that haunt Protestants (and that led him to Rome). But has he along with Jason and the Callers really escaped the thicket of difficulties.

On the one hand, having a written basis for determining church teaching really comes in handy (as opposed to the slippery way that oral tradition or papal whim might operate. According to Gerhard Cardinal Mueller:

Not even an ecumenical council can change the doctrine of the Church, because her Founder, Jesus Christ, entrusted the faithful preservation of his teachings and doctrine to the apostles and their successors. The Gospel of Matthew says: “Go and teach all people everything that I commanded you” (cf. Mt 28:19–20), which is nothing if not a definition of the “deposit of the faith” (depositum fidei) that the Church has received and cannot change. Therefore the doctrine of the Church will never be the sum total of a few theories worked out by a handful of theologians, however ingenious they may be, but rather the profession of our faith in revelation, nothing more and nothing less than the Word of God entrusted to the heart—the interiority—and the lips—the proclamation—of his Church.

We have an elaborate, structured doctrine about marriage, all of it based on the words of Jesus himself, which must be presented in its entirety. We encounter it in the Gospels and in other places in the New Testament, especially in the words of Saint Paul in the First Letter to the Corinthians and in Romans.

On the other hand, the dilemma for all Christians is whether they will submit to religious authority. This includes Roman Catholics and Protestants:

The hallmark Protestant idea of priesthood of all believers allows the individual — whose relationship with God is unmediated — to determine his or her fitness to receive the sacrament. The Catholic Church, meanwhile, retains a few layers of priestly and catechetical scrutiny.

Last week at the synod, Cardinal Andre Vingt-Trois of Paris worried that couples “do not believe that the use of contraceptive methods is a sin and therefore they tend not to speak of them in confession and so they receive Communion untroubled.” Perhaps because married women might think it inappropriate to be questioned about contraception by a cadre of celibate men.

Either way, confessors tend not to press the issue, and no one pulls married couples out of the Communion line. Few believe a solid majority of Catholic women or their husbands will burn in hell for using artificial contraceptives.

In the case of cohabitating couples, there is little the Church can do. Marriage preparation classes acknowledge its sinfulness, but priests and bishops cannot afford to turn away half of what is already a declining number of couples seeking marriage in the Church. The US Conference of Catholic Bishops advises that priests can point couples toward a holier union by “supporting the couple’s plans for the future rather than chastising them for the past.”

Yet even for Catholics whose relationships put them in a perpetual state of mortal sin, individual conscience and church authority are often in fierce tension. In practice, LGBT Catholics often rely on their own consciences in determining whether they will go forward for Communion. In some locales, it is common enough for partnered gays and lesbians to receive Communion that it only makes news when they are turned away.

Meanwhile, Bryan Cross and company have yet to recognize a dilemma that cost a night’s sleep.

Sola Scriptura Has Its Moments

Carson Holloway explains why the Roman Catholic Church teaches what it does about marriage and divorce (and in doing so sounds like a Protestant):

It turns out, then, that the Church’s rather rigorous teaching on marriage is based not on the words of some little known celibate old man, but on the words of one very well known and important celibate young man. The teaching is based on the words of Jesus Christ, whom faithful Catholics believe to be God. Perhaps, then, Christians at least, and even all those people who claim to respect Jesus as a moral teacher, could cut the Church some slack and acknowledge that it has good reason to think that it is not just imposing some man-made morality on human beings but in fact preserving what was delivered to her by her divine founder.

And there you have the logic of Protestantism, a form of reasoning that makes sense to most Christians unless they are trying to protect the prerogatives of specific offices. Sometimes the word of God really is a lot more compelling than the word of men (even episcopal ones).

Teachers without Principals (not without principles)

On this matter of contrasting Protestant and Roman Catholic paradigms of authority, I like Jeremy Tate’s analogy of a school room. Protestants in class have no teacher, only a book. Wrong, but let’s go with it for now. Roman Catholics have a teacher and a book. Therefore, Rome has a teacher to instruct and determine the right answer.

The problem with the analogy for the folks at Called to Communion is the failure to notice that post-Vatican II Roman Catholics seem to ignore their teacher as much as Protestants behave when no classroom authority is present. Granted, a time existed, and Quebec between 1900 and 1960 is an example of that era, when Roman Catholics did heed with deference the church hierarchy. But just as Quebec secularized in the 1960s to become one of the least observant places in the West, so Roman Catholicism in the West has shown a marked hostility to the teaching authority that CTCers tout. According to Mark Noll in what is one of his best essays:

As a final element in Canada’s recent ecclesiastical history, it is important to highlight the significance of the Second Vatican Council. The role of the Council was obviously important for Canada’s Catholics, but may have been almost as significant for its Protestants. In Quebec, but also for Canadian Catholics in general, the Council was destabilizing because it rapidly altered the liturgy, the language, the music, the tone, the disciplines, and the calendrical observances that for a great part of the faithful had simply constituted the meaning of the faith. In this sense, Canada resembled Western European Catholicism, which was also disconcerted by the Council, rather than Eastern European, African, and Asian Catholicism, which was energized by its work.

The lack of compliance among Roman Catholics is a huge problem for those who celebrate Rome’s superiority as a communion with a teacher who can instill order and discipline in this imaginary classroom. If Rome has it, and I don’t doubt that Rome claims it, why won’t it use that authority to make the students sit down and be quiet? Why won’t it teach those students what they are supposed to learn? Well, one big reason is Vatican II (more on that at another time).

Another reason is that no communion since the late 18th century has the school principal to back up its teachers (Protestants do actually believe they have ministers with authority who exercise the keys of the kingdom). Since the separation of church and state in the West, all of us inside the classroom don’t have the fellow with the big stick at the end of the hall who will spank the bottoms of unruly students. That means that Protestant teachers and Roman Catholic popes are left with the same amount of authority — it’s all spiritual. We can exhort, cajole, excommunicate. But at the end of the day, without the state to back up our rulings, the unrepentant sinner is free to walk down the street and attend another church, and over time join and become a member in good standing.

Even so, I wonder what good the CTCers promotion of infallibility does. It seems, given the state of North American and European Roman Catholicism, the main effect is to remind Protestants what we don’t have. Great. I got it. Rome has authoritative authority. Protestants don’t. That may make Rome more orderly and coherent. But then why does the classroom with a teacher look so much like the classroom without one? It sure seems to me this is a question that the serious minded folks at CTC could ponder.

Two Kingdom Tuesday: Transformational Vigilantism

I keep my finger of the pulse of anti-2k venom with the help of my CRC friend, Rabbi Bret. The easiest way is to use his handy subject category links. Bret’s designation of choice is “R2K Virus (Radical Two Kingdom Theology)” – when radical and viral alone will not do.

But sometimes Bret is revealing of 1k thinking when he’s not heaping scorn and antibiotics on 2k ideas. Here’s something that left me scratching my head under the title, “The Limits of Authority”:

The King is the King, the subject is the subject, only within the law. The husband is the husband, the wife is in subjection, only within the law. The Elder is the Elder, the member is in subjection, only within the law. No delegated sovereignty is ever absolute. All delegated sovereignty is only as legitimate as it acts within the constraints of God’s empowering and restraining law.

When delegated authority violates God’s revealed law by egregious measures and constant disregard then those called to be in submission are no more automatically obligated to submission but instead are required to first insist upon repentance of the governing authority. If those in authority refuse the calls for repentance by those called to subjection then those called to subjection are duty bound due to their higher loyalty to King Christ and His revealed law to either escape, or if escape is not possible, to overthrow such illegal authority when wisdom dictates that the opportunity for such overthrow is both ripe and advantageous.

There is only one authority that is absolute. All other authority only retains its legitimacy as it operates within the law.

Does Bret really mean this, or would he prefer to qualify – as he does – when he explained that every square inch does not include road surfaces? In fact, most of the rhetoric of transformationalists is bloated and needs serious but’s, if’s, and maybe’s.

In this case, I wonder if Bret could actually be an accomplice to murder if he were the pastor to Tom Wilkinson’s character in the movie, “In the Bedroom.” I won’t spoil a terrific movie, but a parent, played by Wilkinson, confronts the dilemma of whether to let the local police and district attorney satisfy the demands of justice regarding his son, or whether to take justice in his own hands. Bret’s policy would appear to be to enforce divine law when God’s authorities will not enforce the law. (This is odd because Bret likes to quote Beza and others against 2kers, but here Bret finds no room for the Reformed notion of appealing to lesser magistrates – like police, congressmen, dog catchers.)

I appreciate the Rabbi’s candor. But the self-confidence is downright troubling. What happens if Bret is as wrong in the way he tries to enforce the law that the formerly legitimate authority failed to enforce? How does Bret, or anyone he might counsel to take authority into their own hands, know that he is right, that he has interpreted the law correctly, and that he is actually yielding a just punishment? And if God has ordained both the rain and the sunshine, both pain and pleasure, how does pastor Bret know when to accept divinely appointed pain in the form of enduring imperfect authorities, or when to reject such suffering as a circumstance contrary to God’s will? I mean, isn’t a implicit question here – who made Bret God?

I don’t write this to pick on Bret necessarily. But his point, as extreme as it may be, seems to afflict transformationalism more generally. The logic appears to be, we have faith-based ideas about how the world should be and we are going to make sure at least that other Christians hold them. If they don’t, we will call them unfaithful, viral, and possibly cowardly (all the while pretending we believe in Christian liberty). And while we’re at it, we’re going to see if we can generate enough enthusiasm among the faithful to generate a Christian movement that will take the legitimate authority of road paving, baking, banking, history writing, and especially legislating, into the hands of those saints that comprise the spiritual kingdom. Never mind that these saints are not authorities in these fields of cultural endeavor. They have God’s law on their side.

But I do see a potential upside, half-full guy that I am. lost. Perhaps Bret will run for and win political office in Michigan and then some of his progressive CRC peers will follow his advice and remove Bret from office after discovering that he and his office staff do not recycle. I know this is not a holy thought, but I do hold it.