05 December, 2012

Life In "Concordia Land"

The University of Wittenberg in the 19th century
Martin Noland notes: "In Germany, Scandinavia, and the Baltics, the Lutherans had–and still have–great universities that produced some of the leading thinkers, scholars, authors, inventors, scientists, engineers, etc. in the 16th to 20th century." What about Lutheran higher education in the States?

If you're dying to find out, read Noland's little essay on life in "Concordia Land." It's on one of our favorite blogs, Steadfast Lutherans. To bookmark it, click the link on the right.

03 December, 2012

Which Way Forward?

The liberal arts have fallen on hard times. We all know by now what the battlefield looks like. Consumerism in the "education marketplace" leads the charge, and then all the soldiers fall in line: the liberal arts are outmoded; the delivery system is antiquated; most students choose a college for its prestige, not the education it affords. On the left flank, we've got price tags that are far too high; on the right, the ages-old canard of the uselessness of liberal education.

Alexander Mosaic; Darius III, right, faces Alexander
Meanwhile, liberal arts colleges face the onslaught with all the hand-wringing of Darius III on the eve of Gaugamela. Darius' solution in the face of the tactically superior Macedonian forces was to overwhelm with numbers. He threw more of what didn't work at Issus at a problem that was the same as what he faced at Issus. It didn't work.

In his Chronicle of Higher Education piece, "When Trying Harder Doesn't Work," Dan Lundquist argues that the twenty-first century liberal arts colleges of the States are doing much the same thing as Darius: trying harder. But not necessarily smarter. And not with any apparent gains in withstanding the onslaught.

That's because, so Lundquist, there's been no real, wholesale re-thinking of the critical issues of access, affordability, curriculum, and pedagogy.

He's right. And part of that has to do with the fact historical perspective is lacking. As a result, the liberal arts colleges have had a difficult time articulating, extramurally, just what it is that they do and don't do; and internally, how the liberal arts at the center should drive decision making. 

So which way forward? Return the liberal arts to the center. Center curriculum on the liberal arts. Externally, make promises that can be kept and disabuse of misunderstood promises. Internally, make the education offered more affordable by reducing administrative costs, exiting the higher ed arms race, and making the teacherly task of the liberal arts college central once again. 

05 September, 2012

Luther and Hercules

Lutheranism & the ClassicsII (L&CII), "Reading the Church Fathers," is only a few weeks away. But there's still time to register. You can even do it online here.

There's a lot that L&CII means. But it also means we can officially start talking about L&CI. Now, supposing you planned on making it to L&C II but very much regretted having missed L&CI. What could you do?

Due to the good offices of our friends at Logia: A Journal of Lutheran Theology and its kind editor, Michael Albrecht, the proceedings of L&CI are available for all to read. Oh, to be sure, you'll miss Carl Springer's wry manner as he recounted the name and epithet of the great Viking Ragnar Shaggypants. You'll have to imagine, as you read, the booming voice of John Nordling explaining how to sing modern American Jesus-camp songs in ancient Greek (χαίρετε, κτλ). And you'll need nothing to restrain you when tempted by Diane Johnson's siren-voiced reading of Johannes Posselius' heroized, versified Gospel lectionary. Viva voce was great. But, as I say, if you missed it, you can read it in Logia. The editors inform us there are still copies. If your bent is modern, the ever-enterprising Logia continues to come out with ways to access that important journal electronically.

The one thing the Logia XXI.2 (Eastertide 2012) has in scads over the live event? Its cover depicts Lvthervs Germanicvs as Hercvles, clad in the pelt of the Nemean lion. He is Hercvles redivivus--Hercules resurrected--this time doing battle not against the Stymphalian birds, not against the Hydra (nine heads), but against the seven-headed beast (Rev. 13), known in the German cartoons of the day as das siebenhauptige Papsttier. Luther qua Hercules' battle entailed not only retrieving Scripture from Nicholas of Lyra, but the entire academic method lassoed to idiosyncratic readings of Aristotle, represented here by the papal beast. For his efforts Luther was credited with extirpating all that was good, including the good arts. Wrongly as, it turns out--rebuttal, Kopff, in the aforementioned volume. In the church of the Reformation Aristotle, Plato, Cicero, Vergil--all had their place in court. The Wittenberg Reformation just put the Queen back on her throne. But this was no corporate downsizing. The Queen retained her courtiers in Wittenberg. Without the arts, Luther said, no theology. 

Oh, and did I mention that Logia XXI.2 contains nearly all the papers from L&C I? So if you missed it, it's not too late.

28 August, 2012

Lutheran Education: From Wittenberg to the Future

Can you actually be what you think you are without history? In the what-do-you-have-that-you-did-not-also-receive world of Lutheran thinking, the answer to the question is an emphatic No. Our now is our past; our weal in our now is our faithfulness to our past; our way to future is mapped out on the chart of our past.

Of course, this leads to some Rip Van Winkle moments in the life of the Church of the Augsburg Confession. An uncomfortable illustration, one so close to home many who are now reading will stop: our dads tell us that the general confession of sins at the start of the Common Order is our heritage from the Reformation. Somehow they were able to map the practice over Article 11 of the Augsburg Confession. But the Fathers tell us a different story: Lutherans during and after the Reformation retained private Confession and Absolution. 

So it goes with Lutheran school and higher education, as well. Without the perspective of history, when asked, "How do you know it's Lutheran?" a well-meaning parent's or teacher's response amounts to something like, "Because it is..." "Because that's what our sign says." "Because we have synodically certified teachers." "Because we have chapel every Wednesday."

Tom Korcok devotes an entire volume to answering the question, "How do you know it's Lutheran?" by examining the historical record, tracing a line from Luther and the Reformation through Walther and the North American renaissance of confessional Lutheranism up to today. Lutheran Education: From Wittenberg to the Future is full of Rip Van Winkle moments. But no parent with children in a Lutheran school, no Lutheran school teacher, no parish pastor with a Christian day school should pass up the opportunity to imagine the future of Lutheran education by reading the map of its past in Korcok's perceptive little book. Intensely and intentionally rooted in Christian vocation, Korcok argues, Lutheran education uses the tools of the good arts (of the trivium and quadrivium) and catechesis (yes, Luther's Small Catechism--not as a book of doctrine, but as a devotional text) to shape the baptized into thoughtful, deliberate Christians living simultaneously in God's two realms, of the Law and of the Gospel. Korcok develops his thesis especially in contrast to modernist and progressivist educational thinking. If you're not sure what that means, you'll have to read Lutheran Education to find discover the ideological, philosophical and, yes, theological gulf that separates the two approaches to the education of children.

Our present present may bear little resemblance to our past; but Tom Korcok hopes his book can help us to use our past to move with confidence into our future. 

20 August, 2012

Lutheranism & the Classics II

"What do you have that you did not also receive?" So intones the apostle to the unruly Corinthian congregation. The deposit of the Faith comes with the implication of great humility. It must. That's the nature of the Gospel. We are beggars; God is the great Benefactor. And this Faith, and all the goods that come to men through it--the forgiveness of sins, life, and salvation--Paul reminds us, are nothing if not gift. Those who possess it dare not brag.

That was the mindset, too, of the Wittenberg Reformers. No re-invention of the divine Deposit was their proclamation; they could lay claim to the Gospel as nothing other than what had been given them. And that's why the Reformation is best thought of as the Reformation, and not the Revolution. The very name suggests that its impetus was to "form" the church "back," to return the Church to the doctrine and practice of its faithful teachers who had gone before. That's why the languages mattered--because the faithful teachers taught in Hebrew and Greek and Latin, because God communicates by His Word, proclaimed and read and taught and confessed. And that's why, too, perhaps unlike any other reform movement of the 16th century, the Wittenberg Reformation above all was conscious of its debt to the Fathers of the Church. "Nun komm," a favorite among Luther hymns even today, is nothing but a German translation of Ambrose's "Veni, redemptor gentium." The Augsburg Confession aligns itself clearly and knowledgeably with the Ecumenical Councils, and rejects the arcane heresies that formed the crucible in which the confession of the Fathers was forged. The Catalog of Testimonies, treated today as something like an appendix, but in actuality the fundamental evidentiary basis for the Formula of Concord, foregrounds the work of the Fathers' faithful confession of scriptural doctrine.

In that spirit, Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, offers installment two of Lutheranism & the Classics, "Reading the Church Fathers." Why? Because "what do you have that you did not also receive?"

Here's what the organizers have to say about it:

"Although the fathers of the church occasionally erred, Lutherans have always had the highest regard for such ancient teachers as, e.g., Augustine, Jerome and Chrysostom, as well as the old Lutheran theologians Chemnitz, Hunnius, Selnecker, Calov and others. Concordia Theological Seminary is pleased, therefore, to offer the second Lutheranism and the Classics Conference under the theme, “Reading the Church Fathers.” The conference features three plenary papers, a banquet address and 20 sectional presenters on the Reformation-era reception of the Latin/Greek fathers, classical authors, ancient Christian hymnody, cultivation of neo-Latin and pedagogy. Latin will be used in three worship settings. The presentation by Joanna Hensley is intended especially for classical educators and homeschoolers. The conference celebrates Lutheranism’s engagement with the church’s greatest teachers of the past and to their value for the propagation of the faith to present and future generations."

With "Reading the Church Fathers," Lutheranism & the Classics continues its important work of reminding the contemporary Church of the Augsburg Confession that its future lies in its past. 

So reclaim what's yours, mark your calendars for 28-29 September, and plan to attend Lutheranism & the Classics II.

13 August, 2012

Malthus or the Cliff?

Thomas Malthus

Are we in a Malthusian moment or is that an edge over there? You be the judge. More info in Jeff Selingo's "The Financial Cliff for Higher Ed" from The Chronicle thereof. 

There are so many good arguments that emerge from the very belly of confessional Lutheranism for recalibrating Lutheran higher education along the lines of what Ren Mus has been arguing for--let's call it the Lutheran argument. But perhaps nothing will compel change like forced change. Let's call it the...?

09 August, 2012

Can the Lutherans Lead with Price--and Education?

The second annual Education Department reports on college tuition costs are out. Leading the pack again is Sarah Lawrence College in Bronxville, NY, at over $42K per annum. That's tuition alone. Go figure. There are, of course, low price leaders as well. Berea College in Kentucky, for example, has $910 per annum tuition cost. All students there are on work study. That means they mow the diamond they play ball on and sweep and clean the halls their rooms are on. I imagine it's as or more tidy than most other private college residential halls. 

Which raises the question: can, or could, Lutherans deliver a higher education that is Lutheran and has Lutheranism at its core and lead the pack in low price? I'm not certain it's possible to scrape along the bottom like Berea, but who knows? There are just a few simple things a college needs: a place, a faculty, a curriculum, the bare wherewithal to administer it, and students. 

So how to address each of these to maximize benefit and maximize cost reduction? 

Place: there are many small towns and many environs outside of small towns that would welcome the purchase of 40 acres or the purchase, renovation, and occupancy of some older buildings downtown. Of course, it wouldn't do much directly for their tax base, but it would bring in traffic. I think the small town or rural solution holds a great deal of promise in meeting the challenge of the cost of place. And there are creative and interesting ways to build nice--not extravagant, but nice--buildings at a reasonable cost. Then there are those once thriving now sputtering religious communities....

Faculty: a good, committed, teacherly and scholarly faculty, teaching and studying at the heart of the Wittenberg way is not difficult to pull together. Today in our country we have an embarrassment of Ph.D.s, and the Lutherans aren't lacking. Ironically, however, just as so many Lutherans went off to read in disciplines at the heart of Lutheranism because they are at the heart of Lutheranism--history, the Western humanities, philosophy, theology, New and Old Testament, classics, rhetoric--the colleges in the last four decades have retreated from the disciplines at the heart of Lutheranism. What used to be central has become peripheral, and what used to be left to the so-called state university system (not the flagships, but the regional universities) has now become the bread and butter of the Lutheran colleges. The point is, the faculty are out there. The pay they demand, especially if the location's right, will often be below market, and with the right student:faculty ratio, fielding a solid core of Lutheran faculty at the heart of the Lutheran disciplines will not be difficult. I hate to put price tags on these things, but I think it's reasonable to think that $75K-$85K per annum package--salary + benefits--would be adequate remuneration. 

Curriculum: that's partly because there's no need for a Byzantine curriculum. A tight curriculum, with no or virtually no electives, that serves the purpose of producing, as we've said elsewhere, a theologically conversant, eloquent, and learned laity and clergy (this is the Church's interest in higher ed), not only serves students best, it keeps down costs. It eliminates administrative difficulties. It might, in fact, eliminate student recruitment costs--such an institution simply draws by reputation, and draws, at the end of the day, only those who want what it has to give. 

Administrative wherewithal: the reduction in administrative costs is gained on the back of a simplified, but rigorous, curriculum and a faculty made capable of administration by this simplicity.