Friday, December 04, 2009


I'm thoroughly enjoying the Advent meditations from Goshen College. Today's posting is from Lisa Guedea Carreño, director of the Good Library. She writes,
"Preparing the way of the Lord doesn’t end when Advent ends, but begins anew and continues – until all flesh shall see the salvation of God."
. . . and all the members of our Barth reading group said, "Amen!" We read about union with Christ this morning, from CD IV 3.2, in the context of Barth's emphasis on vocation. We are always called on by the One who has gone/is going ahead, a thought that
summons up C. S. Lewis's image of Aslan bounding on before, calling, "Come higher up and farther in!" (My poor paraphrase--apologies to Lewis.)

Friday, October 16, 2009


We've been exploring some things at our Barth reading group lately that are resonating deeply with me and related closely to my studies. D. W. Horstkoettker at flying farther explains his reservations (not strong enough?) about evangelicals' focus on conversion as the central paradigm/narrative for Christian faith. I'd be surprised if DWH doesn't get some feedback from his Lonerganian friends at Marquette out of that blog post. A big part of my project involves looking at conversion in Lonergan, something that is central indeed to his thought (and, in a certain way, I argue, in his experience/history). There's a helpful summary/extension in Happel and Walter, and Donald Gelpi builds on this in Lonergan: here, for example.
Anyway, we ran short of time at the reading group this am, or I would have put forward a suggestion. David has at other times spoken of Barth's method in terms of two concentric circles and a back-and-forth movement between them such that their positions as inside & outside are exchanged. (Putting this in terms of background and foreground might be helpful.) I see this as very helpful applied to conversion.
When I push students in my Distance Learning course on evangelism & discipleship to explore what conversion is (something I do regularly), asking, among other questions, "Is conversion a point or a process?" I often (interestingly, not always) hear them speaking in linear terms, where "sanctification" is the process that continues after the point of "justification," or something similar. I think we would be much better served by 1) defining conversion simply as transformation, and 2) thinking in terms of a metaphor/analogy/model of concentric circles rather than (narrative and spiritual-life-as-journey) linear progression, building on the idea of centered sets in Paul Hiebert, for example (nice summary here).
What Barth's method adds is this: I have come to think of conversion, from my human perspective, in terms of point-within-process, but there is also the flip side where, in Christ, the process of my conversion is completely taken up within the point of Jesus' faithful obedience to his vocation (so I was converted, as Barth & more than one prominent student of his are reported to have said, on a hillside outside Jerusalem about AD 30--even more, I was converted when the Father chose the Son before the foundation of the world).

Thursday, March 19, 2009

Assessing Intellectual Virtue

David Scobey, in his article, "Meanings and Metrics", Inside Higher Ed, March 19, 2009, notes the challenge that assessment poses when the goals for learning go beyond "informational content in a sub-discipline, performance of competent analyses according to check-listed rubrics." He calls for "a 'slow food' model of evaluation" via portfolios. What he has to say resonates to a great extent with the claim I am making about intellectual virtue.
There couldn't be a bigger contrast with the book I am trying to read now: David Ausubel's The Acquisition and Retention of Knowledge: A Cognitive View (2000). The title says it all--learning is about acquiring and retaining information, and that is so, and therefore learning can be assessed, only by equating knowing with remembering. According to the author, this escapes being labeled rote learning if students are able, and are expected, to express the propositions that they have been taught (think transfer) in their own words. Further, he believes in his model: he proceeds as if constant repetition = a convincing argument. The book is a "revision" of his 1963 work, but I can't imagine that he's not just warming over (and at that only very lightly) his almost half-century-old ideas. Dismissing dissenting voices with the oddest arguments, he labels Gagne and Bruner behaviourists and says that those who criticize his position misrepresent it and set up a straw man to attack. Who needs a straw man when such a position and argument are so obviously weak?

Sunday, March 08, 2009

Competing vs. Collaborating

Clarence at Remote Access is thinking about the negative side of competitive learning. I agree totally when he says,

I would argue that it is more likely that global cooperation and collaboration are the skills we should be aiming at promoting in schools and classrooms. Students who can think through problems with others, who know where to go for information and understanding, and who have the ability to see things from the perspective of another culture will be far more valued as employees; but more importantly as informed citizens, [than] the lone wolf who doesn't work well with others.

He notes that collaborative efforts are much more difficult to assess, but concludes,
Competitive learning reduces hundreds of hours of hard work to numbers, rankings and sorting charts. It dehumanizes and standardizes. . . . . We need to begin working more WITH the students in our classrooms and stop trying to do things TO them.
This is the kind of perspective that I really appreciate in the bit of the blogosphere that I follow, but I wonder--are Clarence and I on the same wavelength because we have similar personalities, or because we both live and work in areas remote from the competitive big city (he rather more than I)? Maybe it's also true that there's a big, bad competitive world out there and teaching for collaboration and cooperation is sending lambs among wolves . . .

Monday, February 16, 2009


My friends and family regularly hear my confession that anything that has to do with numbers makes my head swim, so it's interesting to me how I find something like Dale Harris's latest post so fascinating. I think it's the power of analogy, and the fact that, without being able to comprehend all the details, I can get so caught up in the general idea when it's explained by a master teacher like Dale.
I've been reading Kieran Egan on education (The Educated Mind, 1997; Getting it Wrong from the Beginning, 2002; The Future of Education 2008). While his work is uneven in places and often quirky, he does provide a nice summary of the state of education in the West (not only his West at Simon Fraser U) when he depicts it as a struggle among those who see education as socialization, the traditionalists who see it as passing on academic knowledge to the next generation, and the progressivists who see it as learner-centred, focusing on individuals' development. I think he makes too much of, and is inconsistent in, his claim that it is a mistake to try to keep-in-tension the three perspectives, and it seems to me that he could rework his schema of the "cognitive tools" of somatic, mythic, romantic, philosophic, and ironic understandings to fit both lists into the framework of Activity Theory's subject/object/community with tools/rules/roles (division of labour) as put forward by Yrjö Engeström.
All of that to say that I think there's something correct about the current theological interest in participation, embodiment, analogy, etc. and it funds a keeping-in-tension of these aspects of education for the sake of preserving a sense of wonder in learning, arising from the created order, certainly, but at its heart generated and guided by the Spiritus Creator.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

The Social Net [at] Work

Something important occurred to me as I was thinking about key parts of my research project, and I wondered how I might go about finding out whether I was on the right track. So, I turned to my (very informal) network. I'm not a dues-paying member of the T F Torrance Fellowship because their online payment system doesn't accept $ from Canada, and I noticed that the Fellowship's blog hasn't seen much action lately. But I've received valuable help before from Dr. Gary Deddo and Dr. Elmer Colyer, who are founding members, so I emailed with this question:
I admire TFT's strong position on the contingent nature of creation and there is a lot to be said in favor of his stance re: creation's intelligibility, but I just realized that I can't remember him making the connection that would seem to (necessarily) follow: that creation's intelligibility is contingent. I have read him as saying that, because of creatio ex nihilo and because in Christ all things hold together/he sustains all things by his powerful word, creation has an inherent intelligibility. Would contingent not be more consistent here than inherent? (It certainly could be simply that I am mistaken in my reading; the distinction has just now occurred to me, so I haven't been reading with that in mind.) In other words, would I be challenging, extending, going beyond, or drawing upon TFT by claiming that creation has no voice of its own but contingently depends on the Holy Spirit to (moment-by-moment) give to those seeking understanding what is needed to recognize the intelligibility of its internal structure?

It wasn't long before I heard from both. Here is Dr. Colyer's reply:
You are correct that Torrance should conceive of the intelligibility of the created order as contingent. However, Torrance does acknowledge and develop this explicitly. See my book, HOW TO READ TFT, pp. 168-73 for a summary and notes to the primary sources in Torrance's publications. You are also correct that this contingent order (rationality in human beings, intelligibility in creation) is dynamic and sustained continuously by the Word and Spirit of God, indeed, via Trinitarian perichoretic coactivity. However, it is also INHERENT in the created order by God's continuous activity. This is what provides creation with its stability, consistency, lawfulness that makes creation "open" to human rational investigation, so that scientists can be "priests of creation" who bring the contingent intelligibility of the contingent, free and spontaneous creation to orderly articulation in praise of the Triune Creator, the vast theater of the Glory of God!

I responded with
Thank you very much; this is very helpful. The both/and speaks to the idea of "knowledge"as both ontological, something in the world, and epistemological, something in the mind.

So this exchange relates to my thesis on at least a couple of levels: the social affordances of the internet made possible my asking the question of someone who knows and (combined with the gracious kindness of Drs. Deddo and Colyer) my receiving such a quick reply; also, this experience confirms the idea that knowledge is both verb-like ("knowing") in individuals' minds and noun-like (an object?) as distributed over a network.
Now, since I'm working away from home, I don't have access to How to Read T. F. Torrance. Had I bought anything from, I could have searched inside and found the pages that Dr. Colyer is referring to. Alas, that feature isn't enabled for this book on (where, much to my wife's dismay, I'm a valued customer!), and Wipf & Stock, who have recently republished it at a very good price, don't offer "search inside." I notice, though, that I can check out a few pages of The Promise of Trinitarian Theology and also of The Nature of Doctrine in the Theology of T. F. Torrance.
So all the knowledge to which I need access isn't as easily available as the answer to my question above, but, if copyright issues are ever resolved (right, Tom?), a lot more could be!

Saturday, January 24, 2009


Wow--a long hiatus! I've been working hard to try to understand and express what's central to my project, but nothing has ended up here for a long time. So here are some random thoughts (ok, not quite so random): On his blog, “Just in CASE,” Trevor Cairney responds to Tim Clydesdale’s “Wake Up and Smell the New Epistemology” in the Chronicle of Higher Education. I'm a little surprised by Trevor's linking of what he calls the position of the "deconstructive postmodernist" with the Eden temptation re: knowledge and with constructivism in the context of authority. I'm also very interested to see who has been linking to this YouTube video on a very similar topic. Where is the delicate balance between accepting (participating in) things because they are put forward by an authority and questioning/challenging those same things, perhaps for the same reason? I've been exploring in my own way the idea of "triangulation" that Kevin Vanhoozer is working on in his "On the Very Idea of a Theological System," a chapter in Always Reforming: Explorations in Systematic Theology, edited by A. T. B. McGowan (IVP Academic, 2006), and I hope to be able to put together something similar "toward a theology of learning" for my project. Meanwhile, I'm struck by this from Clydesdale's article:

We need to teach as if our students were colleagues from another department. That means determining what our colleagues may already know, building from that shared knowledge, adapting pre-existing analytic skills, then connecting those fledgling skills and knowledge to a deeper understanding of the discipline we love. In other words, we need to approach our classrooms as public intellectuals eager to share our insights graciously with a wide audience of fellow citizens.