You Gotta Exegete Someone

Reformed Protestants may be a tad hung up on Scripture, though it is supposed to be the very word of God. But if you begin to waffle on that canon notice how you begin to add to the authoritative texts.

For Roman Catholics, the doctrine of development has a hard time nurturing content with the Bible (even including the Apocrypha):

The deepest reason for the identity of Revelation in its ecclesial continuity is given in the hypostatic union, i.e., in the unity of the human and divine natures in the one divine person of Jesus Christ. The many words he spoke, revealing God’s plan to us through the medium of human language (cf. Joh 3:34; 6:68), are united in the hypostasis or person of the one Word that is God and has become flesh (cf. Joh 1:1, 14). The Word of God comes to us through the preaching of human beings (cf. 1 Thess 2:13); it is made present through human words, with their grammar and vocabulary. Therefore, it is possible and necessary to grow individually and communally in our understanding of the revelation that has been given to us once and for all in Christ. It is clear, then, that Catholic theology has always recognized the fact and necessity of the development of dogma. It is part of Christianity’s essence as the religion of the incarnate Word—the religion of God’s self-revelation in history—to affirm the identity of the doctrine of the faith along a continuous process by which the Church comes to an ever more differentiated conceptual comprehension of faith’s mysteries.

Make of that what you will about the potential problems of development but here you see an affirmation of continuity between the incarnation, divine revelation, and the ongoing revelation of divine truth in the doctrines of the church. Finding a distinction there between the prophets and apostles, and the teachings of the bishops and councils becomes fairly murky when the word incarnate, the word inscripturated, and the mystical body of Christ (the church) are all pieces of ongoing understanding of truth.

Unfortunately, it seems that Lutherans have a similar problem distinguishing between the apostles and the church’s theologians or pastors:

From a very practical standpoint, we have, as Lutheran pastors sworn to uphold the theology of the Book of Concord of 1580, also consequently, committed ourselves to the hermeneutic of reading the confessions we find in the Formula of Concord, and that is, if ever a question arises within the Lutheran church, the writings of Luther are to be consulted for the answer. In other words, the confessions understand themselves not to be so much a theology in and of themselves, but a summation of Luther’s theology:

“Since Dr. Luther is rightly to be regarded as the most eminent teacher of the churches which adhere to the Augsburg Confession and as the person whose entire doctrine in sum and content was comprehended in the articles of the aforementioned Augsburg Confession and delivered to Emperor Charles V, therefore the true meaning and intention of the Augsburg Confession cannot be derived more correctly or better from any other source than from Dr. Luther’s doctrinal and polemical writings.”[1]

Thus the confessions are not the bottom of a theological well from which Lutheran theologians thereafter would draw, but instead the confessions are the peak of the mountain, the mountain which is the theology of Martin Luther. But if that mountain remains unknown to us, how then are we to understand our task as pastors today in view of the Lutheran confessions?” (Paul Strawn, “Rediscovering the Theology of the Small Catechism, i.e. Martin Luther”)

Luther was great and is always edifying to read. But he did not approach salvation by following a great theologian, unless you consider (as some do) Paul the church’s first great theologian. Here, though, Paul had an advantage over Luther. He was infallible.


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?

Not Blogging?

Remember the old days of trying to have a conversation about race. Turns out blogging is not where Americans are turning:

About 1 in 4 of those surveyed say the office of the president has the best chance of fostering healthy public conversations (23%), while about 1 in 10 say pastors of local churches (11%) or university professors (10%). Members of the media (8%) faired slightly better than business leaders (7%) or members of Congress (6%). Few Americans look to professional athletes (1%) or musicians (less than 1%) to lead healthy conversations about the nation’s challenges.

The most common response: “None of these” (33%).

Among other findings:

Southerners are more likely to look to the president (25%) than those in the Midwest (18%).

Those in the Northeast choose the media (11%) more than those in the South (5%).

Younger Americans—those 18 to 34—look to the media (12%) more than those 65 and older (3%).

African-Americans are the most likely ethnic group to choose local pastors (21%) and the president (37%).

Hispanic Americans are the least likely ethnic group to choose the media (3%).

Christians are more likely to look to pastors (16%) than those from other faiths (1%) or those with no religious preference (2%).

Christians (7%) are less likely to look to professors than those from other faiths (18%) or those with no religious preference (15%).

Americans with evangelical beliefs have faith in pastors (36%) but little faith in the media (3%) or professors (3%) to guide such conversations.

A couple observations.

Notice bond between Southerners and African-Americans (are they they same?) — they trust the president more than other groups. Makes sense for blacks but what the heck did white southerners not learn from that excitement back in the 1860s?

Notice also Christians’ regard for professors. Maybe this explains the lack of Christian intellectuals. The more intellectual, the less trustworthy among the faithful.


Anti-Intellectual, Picky, or Not Willing to Share?

Why don’t pastors use libraries, especially if they have to prepare two sermons a week?

In a 2010 study of ministers’ information use, all ten of the ministers interviewed indicated that they did not use libraries.[4] A 1974 survey intended specifically to aid in helping the Case Memorial Library of the Hartford Seminary Foundation better serve its patrons found that only 5.5% of respondents reported to using the library weekly, and that “the usage by others spread almost evenly among monthly, weekly, bi-weekly, quarterly, annually, and nil categories.”[5] Earlier studies that, like Huseman’s, do not account for work-role nevertheless indicate low library use. A 1961 article in Christianity Today found that of 100 ministers surveyed, only six reported regular library use[6]. A 1944 study – after bemoaning the number of Union Theological Seminary graduates who wasted their time on Readers’ Digest – found that most ministerial books were purchased rather than borrowed.[7]

This consistent finding across time and space is difficult to ignore. But anything one might extrapolate from such data is hamstrung by the lack of studies specifically targeting ministerial library use, and by a general lack of diversity in the studies that have already been conducted. The ministers focused upon are in many cases Southern and Midwestern, and almost exclusively protestant – sampling is limited to Baptists, Methodists, Episcopalians, Lutherans, members of the Church of Christ, two Roman Catholic Priests, and pastors of murkily defined “evangelical” communities.

So why do (many Protestant) ministers avoid the library? Could it be a lack of academic-theological materials in the collections of most public libraries? A lack of access to specialized religious libraries? A misperception of library resources on the pastors’ part? Or do ministers simply prefer the advantages of the personal library? Answers to these questions would help scholars better understand the information worlds of contemporary ministers, and how they choose and use information to create their religious worlds. Information matters. It must. Why else choose it over the baby’s shoes?