Tuesday, October 07, 2008


To respond to Dustin's comment on the previous post, here are some references to participation that I've gleaned from Torrance--on knowledge of God, conversion, and the church:
Regarding knowledge of God, “we know that we cannot attribute it to ourselves and know that we can only say something of how it arises by referring beyond ourselves to God's acts upon us—i.e. though it is our knowledge of Him, it is explicable only from the side of God as freely given participation in His self-knowledge. The epistemological relevance of the Holy Spirit lies in the dynamic and transformal aspects of this knowledge.” God and Rationality, 166.

He says that “in and through the Holy Spirit . . . God imparts himself to us in Christ in such a way as to lift us up to share in the Communion of Life and Love which God is in his own eternal Being.” He continues, “It is as Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit mutually mediate one another to us that our knowing of God is not confined to the objectified form of his self-revelation and self-communication but in and through it is made to terminate upon the transcendent Reality of God the Father.” Reality and Scientific Theology, 186.

“Human society cannot be transmuted into an authentic community of personal being merely through a redisposition of its diseased in-turned structures, for that cannot offset the steady disintegration and fragmentation that result from the conflict of group-egoisms so evident in our modern world. It is the conviction of the Christian faith that such a transmutation can take place only through the reconciliation of people with God and with one another and through a healing of personal and inter-personal structures in their ontological depths through participation in the creative source and fullness of personal being in the Communion of the Holy Trinity. Human beings need to be turned inside out in a profound inversion of their self-centredness and to be anchored in a transcendent centre of Love in God if they are to be persons freely open to one another and the universe which God has created.” Ibid., 197.

He talks about a “two-way movement in the realizing of divine revelation: from God to us and from us to God.” The church is “the Body of Christ, entrusted with the Word of God and commissioned to bear witness to the unique self-revelation of God to humankind as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. The very existence and continuity of the church are thus inseparably bound up with the triune self-revealing and self-naming of God sealed upon it and all its constituent members in holy baptism.” For the church, then, “It is with this knowledge of God mediated to us in history through the Scriptures of the Old and New Testaments that we may now participate in the two-way movement from God to humankind and from humankind to God and thus continue to be in dialogue with him.” The church is “a community of reciprocity between humankind and himself, within which he continues to speak to us and make himself known.” “The Christian Apprehension of God the Father,” in Speaking the Christian God: The Holy Trinity and the Challenge of Feminism, ed. Kimel, 122-23.

Friday, October 03, 2008


As I worked through some material on and by those who speak of Radical Orthodoxy (as I realized I needed to do) and came upon the conversation between RO and Reformed scholars, especially in Radical Orthodoxy and the Reformed Tradition, ed. Smith & Olthuis, I began to realize how much the discussion re: participation, analogy, etc. is tied up with ecclesiology. Then I read the pieces by John Webster and Ellen Charry in Community of the Word: Toward an Evangelical Ecclesiology, ed. Husbands & Treier, and more started to click. It's probably just some quirk of my personality, but it seems to me that it should be possible--it may even be necessary--to glean the best from both covenantal and sacramental traditions, to preach from Colossians on both Christ's work of nailing our sins to the cross and being given fullness in Christ--so that's what I'm going to try to do on Sunday.
October: Thanksgiving (in Canada), elections (this year), Reformation Day--what else would I preach on but the church?

New blog

So . . . Dustin has (reluctantly) entered the blogosphere! I'd say "welcome," but that's probably inappropriate from someone who blogs as sporadically (randomly) as I do. Lots of good stuff already at ". . . A Resch Like Me," and I'm looking forward to lots more.
(The title makes me laugh--I can just imagine Dustin's "Mini-Me" coming out with that line.)

Something different

I'm among the least interested when it comes to politics--at every level, but particularly when it comes to those of our giant neighbour to the south. But I enjoy the "Van Peebles Land" blog of David Williamson (an Irishman in Wales!) and I have to shout out a huzzah for this clever post on President Bush II and his future.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Radical Orthodoxy

I've already forgotten whose footnote set me on the trail, but I suddenly realized that the language I've been using of participation and analogy, etc. is a significant part of the vocabulary of Radical Orthodoxy, so I've been trying to get up to speed with the way Milbank, Ward, Pickstock & co. are using those terms/notions. In the process, it finally twigged why John Webster chose, in his paper at the analogia entis conference, to deal with participation and plenitude. What at that time seemed so puzzling in that context was actually quite astute--he was connecting the way Hart and co. are looking at analogy with the same theme in RO (with a particular sidelong reference to Todd Billings).
It's fascinating to me how my project has fallen out exactly along the lines of what I'm saying about the change that the Internet has brought about in how people learn: I started with an interest in Thielicke's use of the Prodigal Son parable re: conversion, and that led me to conversion in Lonergan (via Gelpi, if I remember correctly). I can't remember how I started on Torrance, but I was fascinated to hear him talk of epistemological reversal, where the object of study grasps the learner rather than vice versa. I connected that with the insight I gained from Anna Sfard about acquisition and participation as two metaphors for learning and then began to see connections/patterns in the most interesting of places, so I've been clicking my way from one lead to the next, trying hard not to assume that everyone is using these terms in the same, or even commensurate, ways.
Now it's crunch time. Can I really draw this all together in a coherent piece of writing within the time allotted? Lord, in your grace . . .

Sunday, August 31, 2008

Hey, Bert!

Sesame Street has to be one of those under-rated radically defining pieces of cultural change. Check out Bert and Ernie on using one's imagination.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Wesch lecture

Michael Wesch, the cultural anthropologist from Kansas State University who produced "The Machine is Us[ing Us]" and an hour-long (approx) YouTube video on his students' research on YouTube ("on" in multiple senses) unpacks the former in a lecture at the University of Manitoba recorded last June. This is a perfect introduction to what I'm trying to look at theologically.
Here's his class Netvibes page.

Tuesday, August 26, 2008

A profitable day

Our Distance Learning staff joined Moose Jaw teachers and administrators and guests from both Alberta and Manitoba for a day with Ewan McIntosh yesterday. Thanks to Dean Shareski for putting the day together. It was very valuable for us, and the debriefing session at our staff meeting this afternoon is just the start of what I am sure will be lots of innovation and creative ideas to come in the way we help our students learn (and learn from them).
One thing Ewan said and I'm still processing is that (can't remember who he was quoting) we can't get creative with a tool until its use is so familiar to us as to seem boring. I'm not by any means on the cutting edge of ed-tech tool use, but I have to remember that things now "old hat" to me are still new to many. Thanks to a good, full day in Moose Jaw, our staff is now much more familiar than before with what's available and how it might be put to use. Now we have some introductions to make for others in the institution . . .

Thursday, May 15, 2008

TLt Conference

I'm enjoying the TLt conference in Saskatoon--the ID pre-conference yesterday, and the full conference today and tomorrow. It's a joy to see old friends (though some object to the "old" part--probably fearing the potential association with this old guy) and the presentations, both keynote and concurrent, have been very good. I finally met George Siemens face to face. I caught his opening keynote last night but wandered to a couple other concurrents this afternoon, so I'll have to check out the notes from that presentation. It's interesting comparing the "Information Processing Model" perspective from yesterday (so modern and foundationalist, with emphasis on the teacher telling students what's important) and the more constructivist/collaborative outlook of most presentations today (including Alan November's inspiring, informative sessions and a brave attempt by Brian Lamb to disturb our complacency). I'm beginning to wonder if the key piece that I want to focus on in the application part of my project is actually also a conversation--at this point, I'm thinking cognitivist / constructivist.
Two other things: I have some excellent take-aways re: digital literacy/critical thinking re: and via: the web, and it's interesting to be "part of the experience" as Heather Ross wonders about the usefulness/propriety of the backchannel. I leave my laptop in its case during sessions mostly because of its short battery life, but also because I need time to think about what to post, and writing notes in longhand (complete with doodles!) helps me condense my thoughts. On the other hand, I really ought to learn to write small pieces to be corrected/reshaped later rather than give in to what Brian Lamb labels the waterfall effect: waiting until everything is in place before going public.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Analogia entis conference

My friend David and I attended the analogia entis conference in DC last week. (If we need proof, there’s this photo. I’m the bald one wearing a green jacket—a raincoat that came in handy in DC’s soggy Cherry Blossom Festival weather.) I wish I had known that other bloggers were there. (Of course, I’m such an infrequent and tardy blogger that I hardly fit the category.) I found out since coming home that Joel Garver was at the conference, as was millinerd, and so was MM from Theology of the Body (three posts). Their summaries and impressions are very good; all I would add from my perspective, as neither a Barthian nor a Roman Catholic, is that it’s very encouraging to see scholars coming from such different perspectives honestly trying to understand one another. There were sharp defenses against the suggestion of weak ecclesiologies and Christologies, sure, but I guess I wasn’t aware before of just how much difference the choice of a starting point (roughly, metaphysics/being vs. revealed theology/Christology) can make. Interestingly, that didn’t come out as clearly as I would have expected in a contrast of Eastern and Western approaches. David Bentley Hart seems quite at home among Roman Catholic scholars, if not quite as comfortable with Barthians.

So, while I’m thinking along these lines of difference, I fortuitously come across something that pushes such thinking one step further. This video of a Ted Talk from Jill Taylor (a brain scientist talking about her experience of having a stroke) is fascinating for many reasons, but particularly so as I think about

Left Brain

Right Brain

Space and Time

Here and Now





Ordo salutis

Ordo relationis







I may have confused some of these, and correction will certainly be welcomed, but I think there may be something here. And now for what interests me most: If I were to add a column between and arrows representing interaction across the great divide, would it primarily be about analogy, metaphor, paradox?

Friday, February 29, 2008

Peer Review

I've heard the observation that the process of learning through reading blogs and publishing one's own is not really all that different from reading and publishing in print journals, except that it's light years faster. Of course, that's the first radical difference, but it dawned on me the other day that, although the blog conversation, through comments and linked posts, still uses third-person language, it has much more of a collaborative "talking with one another" feel than the old, strident, confrontational "talking about others" tone of academic debate in printed resources. Is this also mostly a function of the shortened response times? In print, scholars have significant lag time before somebody hammers them for one thing or another in their work and then another lag before they get their equally fiery response into print. Of course, my perspective is skewed by the way I "vote with my feet" re: who is worth listening to--I spend lots of time (maybe too much) following the friendly banter and civilized discourse in web communities; I would have no time for any who prefer bashing and flaming (and I'm dismayed whenever people I've come to respect slide over into that style in putting forward their strongly-held positions).

Safe Playgrounds

George Siemens responds to Peter Tittenberger's The Strength of Garden Walls. I wonder if there might be something else at work here besides educators' tendency to think in outmoded terms of "my stuff" and the attendant view of education as something that ought to happen behind closed doors (though I heartily agree with the assessment that the notion of intellectual property is something that needs a hard look--and I would add that what is problematic here is the idea of knowledge as "property" or commodity, an attitude that grows out of an acquisition mentality).
I've been thinking that, for me and (if it's legitimate to thus project) for students generally, a safe place to air ideas within a smaller community, for the peer review of people I trust and whose counsel could keep me from making large mistakes, would be immensely valuable en route to publishing those ideas, suitably reworked, for the whole world. In fact, I think if I were designing a learning experience for students that featured Learning 2.0, I would make that a central feature in both content and practice.

Monday, February 11, 2008

Causality vs. Intentionality

Thiemann rejects the causality inherent in foundationalism & turns instead to intentionality: “According to this form of philosophical analysis, a person's identity is constituted by the intentions he or she carries into action. Actions are appropriately described as enacted intentions, and intentions are rightly described as implicit actions. Identity-description is nothing more or less than the description of characteristic intention-action patterns across a chronological sequence. Such temporally ordered patterns are given natural description in narratives” (Revelation and Theology, 90). He connects this to MacIntyre’s description of a unified character across a narrative, so this links nicely to virtue epistemology. In God, Action, and Embodiment, Thomas Tracy (briefly) contrasts causality and intentionality, but his book is most helpful as an introduction to the latter.
It occurs to me that, although both are metaphors of movement, intentionality is superior because causality, in its incarnations as either reasoning back to an unmoved Mover or as the determinism inherent in the
decretum absolutum, is both mechanistic and suggestive of idolatry. (Idolatry, that is, in the sense that its practitioners assume that “the gods” cause whatever happens in the world and that they can “cause” them to act in their favour.)
I think this fits a theology of education better, too--in a sense, we can think analogically of being in a
“cognitive apprenticeship” with God, where God both shows us what he is doing and explains his purpose (as in Scriptures ascriptions to God of the phrase, “I'm doing this so that . . .”).

Saturday, February 02, 2008

Revelation and (non)-foundationalism

Key to my exploration of education, epistemology, theology is the question of revelation, and particularly the issue of whether/how we can know God. (E.g., Jerry H. Gill, On Knowing God: New Directions for the Future of Theology [Westminster, 1981] and idem, Mediated Transcendence: A Postmodern Reflection [Mercer, 1989]; Denys Turner, Faith, Reason and the Existence of God [Cambridge, 2004]; Paul D. Janz, God, the Mind's Desire: Reference, Reason and Christian Thinking [Cambridge, 2004].)
In his Revelation and Theology: The Gospel as Narrated Promise (Notre Dame, 1985), Ronald F. Thiemann sharply criticizes Torrance for his foundationalist epistemology (165-66, n. 40), a stance that, Thiemann says, stems from his commitment to the scientific method. (This is surprising to me, not least since Torrance is as enamoured of Polanyi as Thiemann is. On that note, I'm also interested to see how John Seely Brown and Richard Adler [see my comments on their article in my previous post] use Polanyi on tacit/explicit knowledge.) I'm not so sure Thiemann's criticism is just here; part of what he assigns to Torrance is inconsistency re: a "reciprocal relation between the investigating subject and the object of inquiry" (38) required by the scientific method and Torrance's insistence that the direction of revelation is necessarily from God to humans. I haven't seen anything in Torrance that would suggest he subscribes to that notion of a necessary "reciprocal relation"; in fact, I'm pretty sure he would oppose it as much in terms of science as in theology/revelation. (That may mean he's inconsistent re: scientific method--I can't rule on that--but it wouldn't mean inconsistency re: revelation.)
What Thiemann does re: non- (or "soft") foundationalism is instructive, though, for something that's puzzled me about both Torrance's and Lonergan's presuppositions. Thiemann wants to "begin with a set of accepted dependent beliefs and move by implication to the more general belief upon which they rest" (76). Specifically, he outlines "a group of dependent beliefs concerning God's promises and their narrative fulfillment and concerning the relation of God's identify and reality," arguing "that there are good reasons for assenting to these beliefs as constitutive of Christian identity. If that argument holds, then it follows by implication that the belief upon which they depend, belief in God's prevenience, is also a justified belief constitutive of Christian identity" (77). Clearly, there are links here to what Lindbeck tries to do with his “cultural linguistic” approach (and with the way Vanhoozer reworks it), and it also supports my model of aspects-of-learning/knowing-held-in-tension, but I also wonder if this is in fact what both Lonergan and Torrance are actually doing without realizing it--building up a set of beliefs re: the learner and the object of study, respectively, that not only presuppose but also support (in the way Thiemann suggests) their background beliefs about knowing God.
Even more helpful for me is Thiemann's distinction between an epistemology built on causation vs. one proposing an intentional direction of movement, and that will keep me busy re: both Lonergan (in the way he uses the phenomenological idea of intentionality to reshape Aquinas) and Torrance.

Participation and Learning 2.0

Both Rick Schwier and Mark at E-BCNZer (see there also links to his interchange with George Siemens on connectivism) refer to an EDUCAUSE Review article by John Seely Brown and Richard P. Adler that nails for me the reality that important theological themes and trends in education theory are converging rapidly--clearly, evidence that I need to get my project done before its conclusions are so obvious that those evaluating it use that wonderfully pointed popular ironic expression: "Ya think?"
Some excerpts illustrating my point (just substitute "disciple/follower of Jesus" or "theologian" for "student"):

“The emphasis on social learning stands in sharp contrast to the traditional Cartesian view of knowledge and learning—a view that has largely dominated the way education has been structured for over one hundred years. The Cartesian perspective assumes that knowledge is a kind of substance and that pedagogy concerns the best way to transfer this substance from teachers to students. By contrast, instead of starting from the Cartesian premise of ‘I think, therefore I am,’ and from the assumption that knowledge is something that is transferred to the student via various pedagogical strategies, the social view of learning says, ‘We participate, therefore we are.’

“Mastering a field of knowledge involves not only ‘learning about’ the subject matter but also ‘learning to be’ a full participant in the field. This involves acquiring the practices and the norms of established practitioners in that field or acculturating into a community of practice.”

“In a traditional Cartesian educational system, students may spend years learning about a subject; only after amassing sufficient (explicit) knowledge are they expected to start acquiring the (tacit) knowledge or practice of how to be an active practitioner/professional in a field.9 But viewing learning as the process of joining a community of practice reverses this pattern and allows new students to engage in ‘learning to be’ even as they are mastering the content of a field. This encourages the practice of what John Dewey called ‘productive inquiry’—that is, the process of seeking the knowledge when it is needed in order to carry out a particular situated task."

9 Michael Polanyi, The Tacit Dimension (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday, 1966).

“The web offers innumerable opportunities for students to find and join niche communities where they can benefit from the opportunities for distributed cognitive apprenticeship. Finding and joining a community that ignites a student’s passion can set the stage for the student to acquire both deep knowledge about a subject (‘learning about’) and the ability to participate in the practice of a field through productive inquiry and peer-based learning (‘learning to be’). These communities are harbingers of the emergence of a new form of technology-enhanced learning—Learning 2.0—which goes beyond providing free access to traditional course materials and educational tools and creates a participatory architecture for supporting communities of learners.”

John Seely Brown and Richard P. Adler, “Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0,” EDUCAUSE Review 43 (January/February 2008): 16–32.

Monday, January 28, 2008


I've had several "aha! moments" lately, the most recent about my conversation partners' theological epistemology (a term favoured by Steve Sherman in his Revitalizing Theological Epistemology, a review copy of which I've just received from the good folks at Pickwick/Wipf & Stock). In the last chapter of God, the Mind's Desire, Paul Janz, following Bonhoeffer's designations, rightly points out that the issue for theologians thinking about the relationship between knowing God and knowing generally is what to make of the line between penultimacy and ultimacy. In my terms--if there is a door between the realm of knowing (about) God through human reason and knowing God by grace alone, is its purpose to keep people out or invite people in? I know what I would answer, based on Jesus' claim, "I am the door."
Ronald Thiemann in Revelation and Theology is critical of Torrance's foundationalist epistemology, claiming that its dependence on revelation defined as God-given, immediate, intuitive knowledge of God undermines his efforts to make theology a scientific pursuit. I think he has made some unwarranted assumptions and thus misunderstood Torrance, but he is basically right on some important scores. Torrance does seem to be inconsistent, read in a modernist framework that takes as its credo "knowledge = justified true belief." What Thiemann's criticism made me realize, though, is that Torrance nowhere grants that; he approaches knowledge of God/knowledge generally in a completely different way--and it dawned on me yesterday that the way he sees the relationship is analogical. More on that later--time to head off to work.


OK, that should have been "us Christians" in the last lines of the earlier posting. I got thinking later, "I meant that generally, but what if it comes across as critical of particular Christians?" Then I had to admit that my responsibility is for this particular Christian, and I am guilty of trying to hold on to what is "mine" and not share openly. I have invested a great deal in this PhD project and have been fearful of having my idea "stolen" by some other needy student. That's ridiculous, of course--who in his right mind would try to bring into conversation a Roman Catholic and a Reformed theologian, both heavily influenced by modern modes of thought, in order to explore something as postmodern as learning design changes (pedagogy or andragogy, or whatever the term ought to be) influenced by the Internet's impact on how people learn?
Anyway, as a late New Year's resolution or an early Lent commitment to better things, I'm going to try to post more often and be more forthcoming (though I can't promise to be more clear!) about my project.

Friday, January 11, 2008

Changes in education

At long last, I'm getting around to interacting with these comments from Tim Bulkeley at SansBlogue on a post by Nichthus (whoever that may be) at E-BCNZer on the impact of Web 2.0 on education. (It seems Tim and I (and Nichthus) have a lot of similar interests. Tim blogs today on metaphor, and that's what I've spent a week researching. I tried Zotero earlier and decided to drop it, but on his recommendation I think I'll look at it again, since it seems much better now than it was.)
So, to Tim's comments: Agreed "that students themselves are not crying out for a change of approach" but "that students who are aware of other possibilities" may not be as "happy with the current tertiary pedagogies." My last classroom experience a couple years ago taught me that I shouldn't assume that internet-savvy students will demand--or even be ready for--anything beyond "listen-to-PowerPoint-enhanced-lectures-and-write-papers." I do think that times/learners are changing quickly, and there may be even now more acceptance, and expectation, for the affordances of Web 2.0 (or whatever we choose to call it). To be fair, one of the big hurdles in that class was the immature technology. Funny--it seems every online offering starts out with challenges because of bugs in the technology. Maybe that should be the topic of my next post.
Back to Tim, though--in response to the claim of Nichthus that "at best, the pervasiveness of Web 2.0 draws fresh attention to old theories and provides additional possibilities for their use," he points to two important elements: 1. the internet makes "communication at a distance fast, easy and cheap," 2. the move to open learning means that, increasingly, "'information content' is no longer a valuable commodity which the teacher or their institution controls"; now, what "the teacher has to offer that is of great value is the wisdom to make sense of and use the information well." He sums up with the hope that current technology will facilitate a move toward "participatory and exploratory, and more student centred" learning.
First, one caution: as I'm sure Tim is aware, the internet's role in making learning"cheap" means one thing to learners but is largely misunderstood re: development in online education. It's not at all the cash cow that some administrators still seem to think it is. There are many things to consider in regard to cost, including the development $ required in hardware/software tools and in salaries for development teams, not to mention the added demands on SMEs' and instructors' time. That said, though, open tools that are set up to allow for rapid development are beginning to appear (but, not yet at least, eliminating the need for designers), and their affordances will have a lot to do with making development cheaper, easier, quicker.
Then, another couple of amens: hurrah for open learning initiatives, and yes, "participatory, exploratory, and student centred" are all generally good in terms of the direction in which education is being transformed.
I would add, though, that Christian educators need to look theologically and not just pragmatically at what Web 2.0 adds to (and how it changes) learning. So, for example, in theological terms, learning-as-participation is much richer than learning-as-acquisition, but it won't be easy displacing the notion of knowledge as a commodity & all that it implies. Think just of what it will take to move (Christian) educators--teachers and administrators--away from the mindset that scholarship is not the ladder for promotion & tenure but a gift to be shared openly. Would it be counter-productive to say shame on Christians for hanging back & holding on to resources when those who do not profess to follow Jesus are leading the way in making their resources freely available?