Friday, December 23, 2011

Happy Holidays!

So now that I’ve attempted to start blogging again, I’ve decided to be more forthright about my opinions. Nobody reads this anyway, so it really shouldn’t be too upsetting to the world. Along with being more forthright, I’m not going to just write about a few of my more mainline opinions on bible stuff like I have in the past but will freely blog about anything of note to me at the time, whatever the subject. What this really means is that my audience (notice how I joke) should expect a lot of drivel about not just religion, but also libertarianism and societal collapse. So there we are. All of that to preface that what I’m about to say, though also mostly of a religious nature, shouldn’t be thought of as evidence that religious drivel is the only sort of drivel that should be expected to drivel out of me in the future. 

So in this special and beautiful season of aggression between Christmas’ true crusaders and those irrationally bent on eliminating a God they know doesn’t exist, let me take just a moment to implore those out there (among my vast readership) whom call themselves Christians and fans of Christmas—those of you that see yourselves as God’s appointed champions of Christmas virtue and purity—to please, for Heaven’s sake, lay down your arms. It is not merely my abhorrence of war that motivates me in this admonition, but more the simple reality that you are fighting for an illegitimate cause, you are likely doing spiritual harm to yourself and others, and (most importantly) you are neglecting what SHOULD be your actual and legitimate mission.

Christmas is superfluous. Neither Christmas nor any celebration of Christ’s birth (or anyone’s birth) was ever commissioned by Jesus or the Apostles. December 25th has no inherent significance in the Kingdom of God. Nothing is gained or lost in how Christians or non-Christians spend their time (or greet one another while shopping) in and around this time of year (as compared to any other time, I mean). The church will not be edified and the lost will not be found through your protests, your petitions, and your punditry. So give it up and let us focus on keeping the Christ in Christian for a change. 

Fifteen days from now, when the smoke clears and this Christmas season is just another in a long string of holiday memories, how will the Kingdom have advanced because of your ire? Is there going to be one more soul in heaven because you’ve campaigned (or just sat at home and complained) for the local department store to make sure its Christmas greeting conforms to your specifications? Celebrate Jesus’ birth on December 25th in accordance with your desires and convictions. Or celebrate it some other time if you want. “The one who observes the day, observes it in honor of he Lord” (ESV, Rom. 14.6). Just don’t think some bit of outward scorn toward the secular world during this arbitrary time of celebration in any way amounts to “your spiritual worship” (Rom 12.1). I believe that if you stop and reflect you would find that God would have more for you and ask more of you than fighting this war on Christmas. 

Merry Christmas.

Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Bread for Dogs

There is a growing niche in education. Enabled by the new global information structure, some rather significant players in academia have pioneered new approaches in educating the masses. Most notable at the moment might be heavyweight Massachusetts Institute of Technology who has been the leading proponent of a concept called OpenCourseWare (OCW). In a nutshell, MIT OCW provides material (e.g. lectures, handouts, exams) from maybe thousands of courses taught at the school over the past decade. This is all free and accessible to anyone anywhere in the world who has access to the internet.

Another approach comes from MIT/Harvard educated Salman Khan. His online Khan Academy has thousands of video lectures along with a unique platform for practicing and tracking student progress. I have personally significantly benefited from Khan in my own studies with geology and advanced calculus, and just a few weeks ago I heard of a family near me that integrates Khan’s resources with their homeschooling. The kids themselves say they love it.

Univeristy of the People is taking a third route and endeavoring to create a truly tuition free online university. At the present, they offer programs in computer science and business administration and they are in the process of seeking accreditation. U of P adds the structure that is not present with OCW offerings such as an actual professor and a class of peers. This general trend toward alternative means of educating is remarkable in and of itself and also stands in remarkable juxtaposition to the other, more prolific trend of creating for-profit commercial institutions out of the carcasses of failing traditional colleges. I can see only good things coming from intelligent, creative people taking it upon themselves to make education more available to the broad world.

So what is going on with the church? While we certainly have some strong representatives in the for-profit (and arguably predatory) movement with Grand Canyon University and Victory University, the church is conspicuous in its near absence from the alternative higher education thrust. This should be an utter embarrassment to all of us who claim to take seriously the standards set forward in scripture, because we have a mandate to build up the church freely and sacrificially. Making disciples certainly encompasses education, so should gaining a Christian education for a disciple of Christ cost as much as it does for a disciple of Wall Street to attain an MBA? Is the church just blithely trudging along on the same well-worn path with the rest of academia—the same academia that much of the church is so quick to condemn as damnably secular and progressive?

It would still be an embarrassment to us if Christian educators were merely on par with the secular educators in alternative education. We have fairly clear guidelines on how to go about life differently and we are the ones that should be setting standards. And while there are small players here and there that are operating in that direction (see,, and, the major agents in Christian academia (e.g. Wheaton University or Dallas Theological Seminary) are, to my knowledge, completely absent. So what are we to make of this? Is there to be a distinction in this kingdom of priests between a well-educated, controlling class and laity that has a life-long dependence upon the professional ministers to truly understand the Bible? Are we to understand that Jesus’ edict to make disciples of the world was intended to include a hefty tuition for those being made (and comfortable salaries for those doing the making)? And what happens to Mathew 10:8—is it null in our day considering that those who now have (in the context of education) certainly didn’t freely receive it for themselves?

There are likely unqualified, ungifted, and I dare say even unsaved men and women in Christian institutions of higher learning all across the country. They can afford tuition so they receive the best that Christian minds can offer while there are likely those who are called, gifted, and abandoned to the Lord who get by on the scraps that are left on the floor. Can we seriously not do better than MIT and Yale in meeting the educational needs of our own? Certainly it is not right to take the children’s bread and sell it to the dogs.

Christians should be very interested in finding creative ways to make the highest quality theological education available to anyone in the church who is willing to learn. We have seen that with OCW models this can be done without risking the established system of allowing those with the means to attend school and actually walk away with diplomas in hand. There are likely several potential solutions to this situation that do not involve an overnight abandonment of the Christian educational system as it now stands, so it really comes down to whether or not the people with the knowledge care enough about equipping Christ’s body to actually do so.