Prayer and PhD Work

I am reading through a number of books at the moment. One is Richard Foster’s, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer. While I appreciated his Celebration of Discipline, I wish I could “journey” with him in prayer in his new book.  However, I simply cannot see his path.

Ben Witherington III, Is There a Doctor in the House?: An Insider’s Story and Advice on Becoming a Bible Scholar, is a profitable little book.  If you are a PhD student below are two gems of advice that Witherington offers:

Beware of displacement activities instead of concentrating hard on researching and writing the dissertation. Beware of working on a PhD in procrastination” (italics original. Is There a Doctor in the House?: An Insider’s Story and Advice on Becoming a Bible Scholar, 31).

“Research by Christian is never done just for its own sake, or even just to advance knowledge in a given field. It is done in service to the Lord and to his church. I must confess I’m sometimes baffled by some Christian NT scholars who are perfectly content to just talk to small circles of like-minded experts without any sense of responsibility to share their knowledge with a broader audience—indeed with the church” (ibid., 84).

I am also reading Fair Game by Valerie Plame Wilson and The Company We Keep: A Husband and Wife True Life Spy Story by Robert and Dayna Baer.  Both are true stories that chronicle the lives of CIA operatives.  Not much here to blog about for OT studies or PhD students…but I’ll keep looking :).

Evangelicalism and Anti-intellectualism

In an Op-Ed piece in the NY Times (October 17. 2011) contributors, Karl Giberson and Randall Stephens, both evangelicals, decry the rejection of reason by certain evangelicals– most notably those who are campaigning for president.

What I find troubling about the article is not their characterization of fundamentalism, presidential candidates, or their misrepresentation of what the Bibles states about gay marriage.  What I find troubling is their presupposition.  Based on their reasoning if a fellow Christian believes that the Bible does not support evolution and that the Bible has not stuttered on the issue of homosexuality (as well as a host of other equally abhorrent sins), that fellow Christian has somehow lost rationale thought.

To choose to accept a literal interpretation of Genesis does not prove that a Christian is anti-intellectual anymore than accepting certain scientific theories uncritically makes one intellectual. What these positions do demonstrate is the presupposition that undergird such choices.

It is clear that Giberson and Stephens have chosen to let scientific observation trump a literal reading of the Bible.  I, on the other hand, have chosen to let a literal reading of the scripture trump scientific theory.

To say that such a literal reading of the Bible is “to embrace discredited, ridiculous and even dangerous ideas” is to expose one’s presupposition.  In addition such name-calling does not foster dialogue within evangelicalism nor does it demonstrate humility which the authors seem to value.

If I understand their argument correctly:  Christians are anti-intellectual if they reject certain scientific theories.  But it is not anti-intellectual if a Christian rejects certain literal readings of an ancient, theological/historical document, the Bible.

It seems according to the authors that to be intellectual you must on the one hand embrace without reservation or qualification Darwinism evolution, homosexuality, gay marriage, study under a prof from a major research university and vote Democratic.  On the other hand to be intellectual you must reject simplistic theology, a literal reading of the Bible, creationism, young earth, spanking, traditional gender roles and the Republican Party.

This article does not expose anti-intellectualism in evangelicalism.  It does, however, expose presuppositions.

Poetry and the OT

I am wrestling with Richard Foster’s new book, Sanctuary of the Soul: Journey into Meditative Prayer. The wrestling has to do with trying to get my mind wrapped around his practice of prayer.  I have limited myself to reading only a chapter a day so as to give myself time to mull over his practice.  I am in chapter seven and I have not been able to pin him yet.

But he did offer some insight concerning the benefits of poetry.  While he is speaking about the use of poetry in settling the mind (107), his insights into the “mechanics” of poetry are helpful for those who study OT poetry.

Foster offers three benefits of reading poetry:

“Poetry startles us with its economy of words and beauty of language…. Words, carefully chosen…have a way of slowing us down and focusing our attention on essential matters” (107).  If one wants to understand the poetry of the OT it must be read slowly and thoughtfully.  Not much is gained by racing through a psalm.

“If you are anything like me, you simply do not understand what the poet is saying on the first read. This forces us to stop and go back and read the words again. And again” (Ibid.).  Should probably read this statement again. J

“The mind is often captured by the metaphor of a poem” (Ibid.). When a poet employs a metaphor the reader is forced to understand how two very different “things” are in someway in the poet’s mind similar.   This necessitates a slow, deliberate rereading and a pondering of this relationship. For instance see Ps 73: 22

So while I have been stymied in his practice of meditative prayer, I will meditate on his insights on poetry.