Briefly Noted: History with a Beer Chaser; Or, Why Theology is Best Done in Community

Pin It

Not at Southeastern Seminary, mind you, but at Ithaca College. That’s where they have a Beer’n’History club. So writes Michael B. Smith in a recent edition of The Chronicle Review (Dec 14, 2012). In the article, Smith tells the story of a small group of faculty members who get together regularly to dialogue about history, writing, and life. As Smith tells it:

Having ranged in size from four to six members, the Chapter House writing group—aka Beer’n’History—has helped midwife 10 books and nearly a score of articles and book chapters, a powerful testament that we have succeeded in our purpose. As publishing has become an ever more significant part of the reward system in academe, Beer’n’History has been indispensable to all of us, both for encouraging our scholarly productivity and for celebrating the craft of writing. But above all we value our gatherings for the way they embody what too often seems to be missing from academe: trust, honesty, and the absence of hierarchy.

Smith goes on to delineate the benefits of this small community of scholars. First on the list is the vigorous and rigorous exchange of ideas; the conversations are sometimes heated and often humorous as everyone at the table engages fully and honestly with the ideas being set forth. But equally significant is the friendships they’ve built that go far beyond the campus borders. “The camaraderie and trust forged around those tables,” he writes, “have not only enriched our lives as academics but also led to collaborations on home renovations and soccer fields, to an annual intergenerational family football game the day after Thanksgiving each year, to canoe trips to the Adirondacks.”

Smith is “spot on” about the value of a close circle of peers doing their scholarship and writing together and at the same time building friendships that go beyond their scholarship. The first time I remember reflecting upon the value of such friendships was years ago during my M. Div. studies when philosopher L. Russ Bush told the story of Tolkien’s and Lewis’ famous friendship, of the walks they took together, the hours they shared at The Eagle & Child, and the countless discussions and debates which sharpened them both. The second time I was forced to reflect upon this was during my Ph. D. dissertation stage, sitting in Stanley Hauerwas’ office. Dr. Hauerwas was my external dissertation adviser, and he graciously gave me upwards of 15 hours helping me with my dissertation. During that time, he mentioned several times how much he had benefited (personally and professionally) from the friendships he had built over the several preceding decades.

Since then, I’ve increasingly become convinced of the value of community for theology and scholarship. A sound theology puts our feet on this sort of path. First, God created humans to be relational beings. Second, our human propensity towards idolatry has deleterious noetic effects which can be lessened because of the positive influence of community. Third, God saved us for relationship with him and his church (universal and local). God created us to be thoroughly social and communal beings, and this need for relationships remains and is even enhanced in the aftermath of the Fall.

What does “theology in community” look like in practice? Each person’s situation differs, but for me, there are several ways this works out. First, I have chosen to co-author or co-edit many of my writing projects, including the manuscripts I am working on right now. If a book or essay is co-authored well, it might take more time to write than if one writes alone. The authors discuss, debate, write, re-write, and then discuss and debate some more. I am a far better theologian (or perhaps a “less deficient” theologian) because of the influence of friends such as Heath Thomas, Keith Whitfield, Craig Bartholomew, and J. D. Greear. Second, I’ve been blessed to hold informal “theology and coffee” or “theology and mission” discussion groups with students. Most semesters, this lasts from 6:30 a.m. until 8:00 or so, as we read through a book, discuss the ideas, and pray together. The lively exchanges we’ve had have benefited both student and professor.

Third, I am enjoying a Tuesday lunch appointment with 8-10 colleagues in which we discuss theology and life, and share more than a little laughter. Similarly, we have impromptu Earl-Grey-and-Chat meetings during some late afternoons in my office. Fourth, I thoroughly enjoy doing theology in my local church context. God’s church is in fact the primary context for receiving the word of God, and I remain profoundly grateful to my church and to certain friends in particular for sustaining me theologically. Fifth, I am grateful to global Christians (Asian, African, Middle Eastern) who teach me much about the gospel. Finally, I cannot fail to mention the great theologians of yesteryear who provide substantive and sumptuous theological fare for our benefit, and who help point out blind spots in our 21st century theologies.

So, if you’re a Baptist friend, I heartily recommend that you find a group similar to Smith’s Beer’n’History club. Maybe you can call it Milk’n’History. Or Cheerwine’n’Theology.

 

 

What I’ve Been Reading (6)–Creationism Is Evolving

Pin It

We often forget to make the distinction between creation and creationism. Creation is a doctrine, and as such it is an unchangeable tenet to the Christian faith.  Creationism is an apologetic approach which attempts to integrate the doctrine of creation with the current understandings of the natural sciences.  As such creationism is always changing and subject to amendment. Ronald Numbers has provided us with an excellent history of creationism with his book, The Creationists: The Evolution of Scientific Creationism. Numbers’ father was a Seventh-Day Adventist evangelist who preached in tent revivals sermons such as “God’s Answer to Evolution: Are Men and Monkeys Relatives?” Numbers today appears to be agnostic, but he treats creationists with respect, and he writes as who was an insider to the creationist movement. Creationism indeed has evolved, and Christians need to be aware of the changes that have occurred over last 150 years. The Creationists makes several points of interest: 

1. Virtually all early fundamentalists and evangelicals held to an ancient earth. For example, B.B. Warfield, who coined the term “inerrancy”, held to theistic evolution. R.A. Torrey, who founded both Moody Bible Institute and BIOLA and who edited The Fundamentals (from which we get the term “fundamentalist”), held to the gap theory.  In a celebrated debate over the creation account in Genesis between two early fundamentalists, W. B. Riley and Harry Rimmer, neither advocated young-earth creationism. Even William Jennings Bryan, of the Scopes Monkey Trials fame, held to a day-age interpretation of Genesis One. 

2. Young-earth creationism (YEC) did not ascend to prominence until the early 1960′s with the publication of Whitcomb and Morris’ The Genesis Flood (1961). Prior to Whitcomb and Morris, the view that the proper interpretation of Genesis requires that the earth be less than 10,000 years old was advocated almost exclusively by Seventh-Day Adventists such as George McCready Price. Ellen G. White, founder of Seventh-Day Adventism, claimed to have received a vision in which she was carried back to the original week of creation. There, she said, God showed her that the original week was seven days like any other week.

3. Young-earth creationism (YEC) originally was called “scientific creationism.” Whitcomb and Morris argued that, when the evidence is examined in an unbiased manner, the case for a young earth is much more compelling than for an old earth.  Artifact number one was the claim that humans footprints were found along with dinosaurs tracks in the river bed of the Paluxy River near Glen Rose, Texas.  YEC advocates don’t make that claim about the tracks anymore, nor do they still use the label of “scientific creationism.”

The Creationists was published in 1992, so it doesn’t cover significant developments within creationism over the last 20 years.  Most notably, there is no discussion of Ken Ham and the Answers in Genesis organization, nor is there anything about the rise of the Intelligent Design movement.  However, if one wants to know how the debate got to be where it is today then this book is an excellent place to start.

An Invitation to Study History at Southeastern

Pin It

Christianity arose within human history and inevitably is set within the flux of history; and Christian theology and ministry are inevitably done within historical and cultural context. For this reason, Southeastern offers undergraduate courses in global history, Western history, and American history; and offers both undergraduate and graduate level courses in church history and Baptist history. In so doing, we provide students the opportunity to explore the place of Christian persons, institutions, ideas, and movements within history, and to comprehend the social, cultural, and institutional factors shaping the church throughout history.

Toward that end, students may study with the following instructors at Southeastern:

Brent Aucoin (Ph.D. University of Arkansas) is Associate Professor of History and Associate Dean, The College at Southeastern, the author of A Rift in the Clouds: Race and the Southern Federal Judiciary, 1901-1910 (University of Arkansas Press), and has published articles in the The Historian and The Arkansas Historical Quarterly. He is a specialist in post-Civil War American History and in LSU football, Les Miles being his favorite orator. Dr. Aucoin is known for his dry wit, as well as for being an impeccably well-prepared classroom instructor.

Nathan Finn (Ph.D., Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary) is Associate Professor of Historical Theology and Baptist Studies and is the co-editor of Domestic Slavery Considered as a Scriptural Institution (Mercer, 2008), assistant editor of The Journal of Baptist Studies, and editor of Strictures on Sandemanianism in The Works of Andrew Fuller (Paternoster, forthcoming). He has also contributed to Calvinism: A Southern Baptist Dialogue (B&H, 2008) and Southern Baptist Identity: An Evangelical Denomination Faces the Future (Crossway, 2009). Dr. Finn teaches courses in church history, Baptist history, and historical theology. He is known for many things-beards, bowties, Bulldogs, etc.-but none more significant than his being extraordinarily gifted as a writer and a classroom instructor.

Keith Harper (Ph.D., University of Kentucky) is Professor of Baptist Studies and is the author of The Quality of Mercy: Southern Baptists and Social Christianity, 1890-1920 (The University of Alabama Press) and co-author with Steve McKinion of Then and Now: A Compilation and Celebration of Fifty Years at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary (Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary), and is the editor of several works including American Denominational History: Perspectives on the Past, Prospects for the Future (The University of Alabama Press) and Send the Light: Lottie Moon’s Letters and Other Writings (Mercer University Press). Dr. Harper is known as a meticulous researcher, a top-shelf historian, and a publishing machine.

Steve McKinion (Ph.D., King’s College, University of Aberdeen) is Associate Professor of Theology and Patristic Studies and the author of Words, Imagery, and the Mystery of Christ: A Reconstruction of Cyril of Alexandria’s Christology (Brill), the Reformation Commentary on Scripture: Isaiah (IVP, forthcoming), and Invitation to Historical Theology (Kregel, forthcoming), and the editor of Isaiah 1-39 in the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture Series (IVP) and Life and Practice of the Early Church: A Documentary Reader (NYU Press). Dr. McKinion is the pastor of New Covenant Fellowship. Furthermore, he is the Doogie Howser of the theological world, having finished his PhD at the University of Aberdeen in just over a year’s time, being hired to teach at SEBTS when he still looked like he was 14 years old. He is known as an excellent preacher, classroom instructor, and writer.

Amanda Aucoin (Ph.D., University of Arkansas) is Adjunctive Professor of History in the College at Southeastern and expert in Russian history. Her dissertation, entitled “Deconstructing the American Way of Life: Soviet-American Cultural Relations and the Soviet Response to American Information Activity in the Khrushchev Years” equips her as an expert teacher in Russian History, 20th Century Europe, and Western Civilization; she also teaches in the Women’s Studies track. She is also a fan of the purple and gold tigers, but of the Ouachita Baptist (her alma mater) variety.

The College at Southeastern is distinctive for its emphasis on history. The core curriculum of the Bachelor of Arts in Christian Studies is highlighted by the History of Ideas sequence – 12 hours dedicated to the development of the great ideas of civilization and the most pertinent works in that development. On top of this strong base, the Bachelor of Arts in Christian Studies and History double major teaches the student to comprehend and critically evaluate the present through a biblically-informed understanding of the past. The student will examine the story of humanity, develop reading, writing, and research skills, and learn how to study history from a Christian perspective. In the Bachelor of Arts in Christian Studies one can also minor in History to obtain a foundational knowledge of American history and the history of Christianity in the West.

The core of the M.Div. at Southeastern includes two courses in Church History spanning the Patristic to Modern eras and a course in Baptist History. The tracks within the M.Div. then build upon this historical base to equip students for vocational ministry. The M.Div. with Pastoral Ministry is the flagship degree of Southeastern and is centered in theology in biblical and historical perspective. Its intent is to prepare students for pastoral ministry with the sort of training befitting that call. The M.Div. with Christian Ministry is the most flexible program at Southeastern and prepares one to serve in a number of contexts of full-time ministry. Another example is the M.Div. with Missiology which includes a course in the history of Christian missions. Thus, Southeastern recognizes the significance of historical context for right study and application of theology, mission, and ministry.

The Th.M. at Southeastern is a post-M.Div. degree designed to build leaders through personal mentoring by the faculty and can be taken in a thesis or non-thesis track. The Th.M. in Theological Studies with a specialization in Church History prepares one either for doctoral study in church history or for ministry in a local church or on a mission field.

The Ph.D. in Theological Studies with a concentration in Church History prepares students to teach church history in general and specific eras of that history (Patristic, Medieval, Reformation, Modern) in particular to college or seminary students, and to write at the scholarly level and for the church on church history from an explicitly evangelical perspective. SEBTS PhD students determine their research focus by way of their supervisor in the area of church history. The Southeastern library holds a large collection of early American and British works, especially in Baptist history making it an excellent resource for primary source research in history.

We invite you to study with our History faculty in the B.A., M.Div., Th.M., or Ph.D. programs of Southeastern. For more info visit our website (http://www.sebts.edu/ or http://www.sebts.edu/college/) and check out the Admissions and Academics links.