Monday, 20 April 2009

Graduate School, Don’t Go??!!

On January 30, 2009, the Chronicles of Higher Education posted the following melancholy article by William Pannapacker entitled, “Graduate School in the Humanities: Just Don’t Go”. Pannapacker, Associate Professor of English at Hope College, argues that there are only five reasons that a person should attend graduate school in the humanities:

1) “You are independently wealthy, and you have no need to earn a living for yourself or provide for anyone else”

2) “You come from that small class of well-connected people in academe who will be able to find a place for you somewhere”

3) “You can rely on a partner to provide all of the income and benefits needed by your household”

4) “You are earning a credential for a position that you already hold — such as a high-school teacher — and your employer is paying for it”

Pannapacker states that his intention is to warn graduate students that their chances of securing a tenure-track position as a professor is comparable to winning the lottery. Too many students, he says, are ignorant of the reality that “there is a shrinking percentage of positions in the humanities that offer job security, benefits, and a livable salary… They don't know that you probably will have to accept living almost anywhere, and that you must also go through a six-year probationary period at the end of which you may be fired for any number of reasons and find yourself exiled from the profession. They seem to think becoming a humanities professor is a reliable prospect — a more responsible and secure choice than, say, attempting to make it as a freelance writer, or an actor, or a professional athlete — and, as a result, they don't make any fallback plans until it is too late.”

I found Pannapacker’s article sarcastic, unsympathetic, and disturbing – but accurate. I think that graduate students should be aware of the difficulties of landing the elusive full-time teaching position.

Jon Yeager

Sunday, 19 April 2009

Christianity and History Forum

Dr. David Ceri Jones (but not this Dr. Jones) is blogging about several presentations at this year's CHF conference over at his blog.

Thanks for this David. We look forward to your post on the Evangelicalism and Fundamentalism in Britain project's workshop, to be held at the University of Stirling next week.

Tuesday, 7 April 2009

The Need for Historians of Theology

"Where are the Historians of Theology?"

I remember on one occasion David telling me that a friend of his, when asked if he was a historical theologian, replied no. If I recall correctly, this response came as a surprise to the people interviewing him for the position of a historical theologian at a prestigious evangelical institution. The candidate responded instead that he was a theological historian. He subsequently went on to demonstrate that he was a capable person for this post.

The previous story highlights what I see as a negative trend, particularly among evangelicals: there seem to be few theological historians in the academy. In my estimation, there are countless historians and theologians, but relatively few historians of theology. Alister McGrath and Tony Lane have written excellent books on historical theology, but they are writing primarily as theologians and tend to downplay the rich cultural and social contexts in which theological ideas were birthed. What I want to suggest is that theology is influenced by its social and culture context. Thus greater attention needs to be given to these contexts in order for us to gain a better understanding of theology.

The opposite problem is apparent among many historians. At the history conferences that I have attended, the dominant topics there relate to politics, social and cultural issues, even if they are religious in nature. I remember attending the Eighteenth-Century Scottish Studies Society conference at Halifax last July. Two eminent Scottish historians commented to me about the lack of theological knowledge among the members of the society. One of the two provided the honest assessment that he and others simply did not understand the relevant theological issues of the day.

My thesis therefore is that we need more historians of theology. I submit that there is a need for systematic theologians and social and political historians. However, surely there is also a need for historians to examine theology. We need able historians to describe lucidly the context of theological ideas. We need more David Bebbingtons, Mark Nolls, Bruce Hindmarshs, John Stackhouses (perhaps he would not want to be known as a historian), Timothy Larsens, Jaroslav Pelikans, and Roger Olsons. In my historical theology class that I teach at Taylor University, I chose to lecture from Roger Olson’s The Story of Christianity. Why? – because in my opinion, the best way to relate doctrine to students is to explain it within the context of narrative. Not only are Augustine’s ideas interesting, so is his personal life. His lustful struggle as a youth and the freedom that he found in God’s grace informed his thought on predestination (being irresistible called by God). Origen is another interesting thinker. He took Matthew 19:12 as encouraging words for becoming a eunuch for the kingdom of heaven. Despite the wide variance in grades on my first exam, not one of my students missed the following question:

Name the controversial early Church Father known for his allegorical interpretations of scripture who castrated himself in order to become a “eunuch for the kingdom of heaven”

  1. Justin Martyr
  2. Origen
  3. Cyprian
  4. Julius Caesar

Perhaps it is time for institutions of higher learning to consider advertizing for theological historian faculty positions.

Jon Yeager