Waiting (for an Academic Position)

Waiting (for an academic position) Bond Chapel university of Chicago

Waiting (for an Academic Position)

by Steve Huerd

Within the pages of Scripture, we find many saints who had to wait upon God to fulfill their life calling.
 
The Wonder of Waiting.  Abraham had to wait for a son, Joseph had to wait to see how his dreams would be fulfilled, Moses required forty years of preparation, Caleb finally conquered Hebron after waiting forty years for an entire unbelieving generation to die in the wilderness, and the list goes on and on.  Waiting is one of God’s primary tools he uses to shape us into the kind of men and women he desires us to be.  God often gives us dreams, aspirations, and desires of what he wants to do through us to bless others.  It is during these years of waiting where God builds Christ’s character in us (Rom. 8:29) through sifting and pruning us (John 15:1-5) that we might truly know him and become even more fruitful.

The world and many who wish us well continually tell us, “You must do this and that” to get to where you want to go.  You need to complete your education, be published, attend the right types of academic communities, intentionally build strategic relationships, and so forth in order to make yourself the best candidate you can be possibly be.  Granted, there must be a balance between the waiting and preparing oneself, and these two need not be separate entities (though often it seems that even with the best of human preparation, there remain long seasons of just waiting upon God)  


Tony Stolzfus, who serves as a professional pastor’s ministry coach claims:
In God’s economy, the power of your ministry is a function of the depth of your processing. In other words, the more deeply Jesus’ character gets worked into you, the more you have to give. The more years God has to sift you and refine you and prune you for greater growth, the more potential you have for world-changing impact.”
 
The Divine Perspective About Our Academic Careers.  The biblical examples mentioned above along with particular verses seem to affirm these truths.  For example, the Psalmist declares, “Unless the Lord builds the house, they labor in vain who build it; unless the Lord guards the city, the watchman keeps awake in vain” (Psalm 127:1-2)  David also claims “And in thy book, they were all written, the days that were ordained for me, when as yet there was not one of them.”  Paul states that, “We are his workmanship created in Christ Jesus for good works which God has prepared beforehand” (Eph. 2:10).  These and other verses surely affirm that God has prepared a specific place for us to accomplish the good works he has prepared for us.  God sovereignly works on both ends, both for those seeking academic positions and for those seeking to fulfill them, to accomplish his agenda with the person of his choosing.
Often we fret and worry, becoming impatient with God and demanding for him to grant us the position we feel we deserve.  Yet even in waiting, there is danger as Stoltzfus states, “It is so easy to end up resisting the very thing that will take us where we want to go! We are protesting and squirming and trying to get out from under the knife, while God in his mercy is saying, ‘If I let you go now, you will never become what you are capable of becoming.’ If we truly demand release, God will honor our request and let us go forward into a shallow shadow of our call, but He is in no hurry to release us from the wilderness.”
 
Pondering upon these thoughts causes me to rethink my perspective and relax knowing that a loving God is working behind the scenes in ways I can’t see.  It causes me to read again Andrew Murray’s classic book entitled “Waiting Upon God,” while journaling my thoughts and prayers.I find that I have to continually remind myself of this perspective time and time again when I become anxious and insecure.  When I do trust in him, I can take one day at a time, experiencing the peace he promises in Phil. 4:6-7.  I want to yield myself fully to the Master Surgeon, giving him full access to all areas of my life letting him take the time he needs to shape me into the professor that I believe he is calling me to be.

Research Genres

Research Genres, image courtesy of US Army

Research Genres

by Dr. Sharon Short
I am delighted and grateful that I was able to conduct my dissertation study in an environment where qualitative research is respected. This is not always the case. One of the students in my program mentioned to a colleague that she was planning a qualitative study, to which this individual responded, “Oh, then it isn’t real research.” Recognition of ethnographies, life stories, case studies, and the like as “real” research is joyfully welcomed by students of the social sciences who know that numbers are incapable of telling all there is to know about a subject, concept, or phenomenon. Having said this, however, I can appreciate scholars within the hard sciences questioning the legitimacy of an approach to research that allows such an astonishing array of options.
Qualitative inquiry has become an umbrella category for a bewildering variety of research procedures and reporting forms. These variations of qualitative approaches are sometimes identified as research traditions or research genres, and as many as 45 different types have been cataloged. Naturally, some of these traditions have become more thoroughly developed than others and are more widely known and applied than others. According to Jacob (1987), each such tradition or genre “forms a coherent whole, comprising internally consistent assumptions about human nature and society, foci of study, and methodology” (p. 1), somewhat like sports games that each adhere to their own sets of rules.
Since there are so many different “games” to choose from within the qualitative paradigm, and since each one requires expertise in its own unique assumptions and practices in order to be employed effectively, scholars recommend that researchers (especially novice researchers) select one or at most two of these genres within which to become knowledgeable and proficient. Furthermore, they encourage adherence to one genre as a whole rather than selectively using elements from different ones, at least until one has become very experienced.
Therefore, the next decision after one has committed to a qualitative research paradigm is to determine the most appropriate research genre for one’s research question. I found the following resources particularly helpful in understanding and selecting the genre within which to conduct my study.  See the following sources for more insights!
Sources:
Creswell, J. W. (1998). Qualitative inquiry and research design: Choosing among five traditions. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
Glesne, C., & Peshkin, A. (1992). Becoming qualitative researchers: An introduction. White Plains, NY: Longman.
Merriam, S. B. (1998). Qualitative research and case study applications in education (Rev. ed.). San Francisco: Jossey-Bass.
Jacob, E. (1987). Qualitative research traditions: A review. Review of Educational Research, 57(1), 1-50.
Piantanida, M., & Garman, N. B. (1999). The qualitative dissertation: A guide for students and faculty. Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Press.

The Best Courses Always Include… (Part Two)

Best Courses always include Bible Study

The Best Courses Always Include… (Part Two)

by Steve Huerd
Recently, while I was sitting in the dental chair, I asked my dentist and the dental hygienist, to describe for me what makes for a great professor.  After some thought, they both unanimously agreed that the best professors were those who truly cared for you.  As my anesthetic gradually wore off later in the day, I began reflecting on how teachers communicated their concern for me as a student over the years of my education.
In high school, my world literature teacher let me teach class one day debating the merits of secular humanism as compared to the truth of the gospel.  I was the only one in my entire senior class to take him up on the offer to teach class for one day  and though he was an atheist, he enabled me to teach on whatever subject I desired.
At St. Cloud State University, during Social Science 204, after listening to a homosexual couple describe their relationship, we had to write a paper stating our own views.  I expressed some strong statements in that paper and though the professor disagreed with me, he still gave me an “A” based on the quality of my work.
In seminary, when I couldn’t meet the agreed upon deadline during an independent study course, my professor cut me some slack so I could graduate.  Dr. Mark McCloskey, a dean at Bethel Seminary, met me with personally for mentoring, greatly encouraging me during a difficult time in my life.  Then, there was Dr. John Hannah, distinguished professor of Church History at Dallas Theological Seminary, who I encountered during Campus Crusade’s summer training, who cared enough to investigate nearly every detail of his subject matter making him a true expert.
In my doctoral program, Dr. Klaus Issler cared enough to keep pushing me to give my absolute best in his Theological Research and Integration course.  Dr. Kevin Lawson expressed his care through being willing to do whatever amount of work it took to help me and my fellow Talbot colleagues grasp and comprehend solid and robust educational research.  The list could go on and on of teachers who found ways to express care and concern in their pedagogy.
Caring for students, though there are a thousand ways to express it, is not dependent upon the subject matter but rather upon the character and heart of the teacher.  And, whether a teacher is a Christ follower or not, whether in elementary or graduate school, students can tell if they care, making this ingredient an indispensable part of the best courses.

The Best Courses Always Include… (Part One)

Best courses Light Bulb

The Best Courses Always Include… (Part One)

By Steve Huerd
It’s the most wonderful feeling as a speaker or teacher when someone comes up to you after you’ve finished speaking and says, “I felt like God was directly speaking to me through what you said.  It’s like you were just talking to me.”  These affirmations provide the speaker with assurance that God is using them in people’s lives through their teaching.
If our purpose as Christian educators is to teach to change lives so that we might present everyone mature in Christ (Col. 1:28), then this dynamic interaction must occur somewhere in the teaching process.  When it occurs and the light bulb comes on, a glorious thing transpires in the student’s mind and life as the Holy Spirit uses our words and life to create change in the learner.
Having sat under many Godly men and women educators during my twelve years of graduate school, I’ve noticed that the best courses always included professors making the material especially applicable to my life.
For example, while I was taking a course called Human Growth and Development at Talbot School of Theology, party of Biola University’s graduate school, I had no idea there was a scholarly area entitled “Faith Development.”  At that time, I had spent roughly twenty years investing in people to help them in their faith development as a practitioner and I was shocked to learn that scholars had been researching my life’s work!  I was so thrilled at this discovery, and grateful to my professor, Dr. Jonathan Kim, of Talbot School of Theology, for his teaching, that I devoted my dissertation to the subject of spiritual development in youth.
It was Dr. David Clark, now provost of Bethel University, whose unique and simple way of presenting his arguments in the apologetics course I took from him years ago enabled me to share these arguments with hundreds of students over the years.  Or Dr. Walter Kaiser, Old Testament Scholar and former president of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, whose love and passion for the Old Testament inspired me to read and love the Old Testament every year in my devotions.  It can even be as simple as sharing from your own life as Dr. Klaus Issler, professor of Christian Education and Theology at Talbot School of Theology, often did in our Philosophical Issues class causing me to rethink my own presuppositions and see Jesus in new ways.
While there is certainly not just one way to make material applicable to student’s lives, it seems all the best courses include professors who somehow have figured out how to make that happen.  Whether through their teaching methods, their insights, personal examples, relationships, etc., they always find a way to connect their subject matter to their students’ lives.

Self Promotion or Sharing Knowledge?

Self promotion Guru

Self Promotion or Sharing Knowledge?

 by Dr. Sharon Short 
Most people would agree that individuals who brag about themselves are obnoxious. “Showing off,” “tooting your own horn,” even “calling undue attention to yourself” are generally deemed unacceptable social behaviors. Descriptors such as “blowhard,” “loudmouth,” and “windbag” come to mind, and none of them are complimentary. This negative sentiment about “putting oneself forward” can create considerable dissonance for someone who is seeking employment and is suddenly expected to become an aggressive self-promoter.
In his book Become a Recognized Authority in your Field in 60 Days or Less, author Robert Bly (2002) describes the marketing of oneself as establishing one’s “guru status,” and in his book he outlines a strategy for positioning oneself as a “guru” in a particular field. In Bly’s words, “Gurus are not born, they are ‘manufactured’ through self-marketing and promotion.” (p. 21).
Many job seekers might find such strategies odious. We do not want to be the kind of people who boast about themselves! Fortunately, in this situation a subtle shift in perspective can make a world of difference. Bly explains that what he means by a “guru” is someone who has gained significant mastery over a specific discipline, and is able to communicate this knowledge “in a clear, understandable, and useful manner to a well-defined target audience” (p. 9). Bly goes on, “You build your reputation as an expert in your field by giving your knowledge away [emphasis added] in a variety of forums—articles, books, seminars, speeches, newsletters, e-zines, Web sites, and information products” (p. 41). If building a professional reputation in order to gain a desirable position can be redefined as sharing one’s useful knowledge with others, then the odium of “marketing oneself” is greatly diminished.
I can enthusiastically endorse the premise of becoming an expert in a well-defined niche and then sharing that knowledge in many different ways. If that is what a guru is, then bring it on! What I can not get excited about “selling,” “marketing,” or “promoting” myself. I am not a commodity to be bought and sold, nor do I want to be regarded and treated as such. Sharing my knowledge, though, is an altogether different and more positive mission. That sounds like something I would be glad to do.

Line of Research

Line of Research

Line of Research

By Dr. Sharon Short
In the course of my doctoral studies, I observed a variety of attitudes toward their dissertations among professors, authors, and colleagues. One of my instructors, for example, commented that after she finally finished her dissertation she wanted to take it outside and bury it. The author of a book I read remarked that she wished the library copy of her dissertation could have been bound on all four sides. Some—perhaps many—doctoral graduates set their finished manuscripts on a shelf with a grateful sigh of relief and move on with their lives.
For others, however, dissertation studies produce a more profitable outcome: for these scholars, the monumental amount of work that they poured into literature reviews, investigations, and analyses endures in an ongoing journey of learning, writing, and teaching about their area of research. Another professor I know, for example, regularly uses data from her research in the master’s courses that she teaches, and she involves her students in collecting new data using the interview protocol that she designed for her investigation. Similarly, the instructor of my qualitative research methods class described how she continued to build on the research that began with her dissertation. This professor encouraged us to establish a “line of research” based on our dissertation work to which we intended to continue contributing all our lives.
A great deal depends, of course, upon what subject one chooses to research. I am blessed to still be fascinated by the topic of my research, and to still enjoy working with this subject matter. My dissertation has already provided me with meaningful content to present in the form of papers at two different conferences, in addition to a research report already published in a journal and a chapter in a newly-published book. I look forward to developing and extending my findings into a book that will benefit a larger audience than the small sphere of scholars who currently have access to it.
Not that the journey so far has been completely straightforward and linear! The dissertation topic that I finally investigated was my third attempt. I entered my Ph.D. program with one research issue in mind, which I continued to pursue for most of the first year. In my second year I jettisoned that idea completely and took off in another direction, for which I wrote a 75-page dissertation proposal before concluding that that topic was not tenable either. The third try, finally, had that proverbial “charm” that has kept me engaged and intrigued ever since.
In short, doctoral student, follow your heart, keep looking for something that excites you for the long haul, and don’t be afraid to change direction if necessary. Certainly it is important to get that dissertation done, but it is even better if its completion inaugurates a lifetime of fruitful scholarship.

Student Needs: Recognizing the Needs of Your Students

Recognizing the Needs of Your Students

Recognizing the Needs of Your Students

by Timothy Howe
Student needs are important.  Students bring a lot into the classroom other than books and ideas. They come into the classroom with a whole host of issues with which they are dealing. This is part of life. Each one of us approaches our job affected by  a variety of factors – our mood, recent news we have received, physical illness or tiredness, concerns, etc. Students are the same way. Part of the maturation process requires them learning to deal with various struggles while performing at an acceptable level. Yet, as educators, we can help them in to learn this process to great degree. We do so through a combination of demonstrating compassion while holding them accountable to their work. A large part of the educator’s task is recognizing what are the real needs of the student versus plain old laziness or apathy.
Classroom: When students are first entering into the classroom is a good time to assess how they are doing. The look on their face, their body motions, their interactions with other students and their preoccupation with objects not associated with the class (such as cell phone) can all be good indicators as to whether or not there is something with the student beyond what meets the eye. Furthermore, interaction within the classroom with the professor or other students can give more clues. How a student responds to question – does she give quick, short answers when normally she is full of ideas, or is he hostile when normally he is pleasant – can reveal what is going on internally. Since, everyone has a bad day or feels “blah” from time to time, this might not set off alarm bells initially. However, the repetition of such behavior can communicate that a student is in need of assistance.
Silence Speaks Loudly: Most people do not want to communicate their problems. They hold them in and put a mask on for the world around them. One way that people communicate their difficulties is precisely when they do not speak out. When a student seems to shut out others and avoid communication, this is a good time to pay attention to what might be going on in his or her life.
Anxiety Affects Performance: A sure sign that a student has had a need develop is a drop in performance. Anxiety affects performance. When a normally well-performing student suddenly starts to perform poorly, this should be a hint that something is not right. It might be as simple as not understanding the assignments, an easy thing to fix. It is likely to be a lot more complex.
What concern is the student’s problem to the professor? So if a student is having a problem, is that a concern of the professor. People go into education to improve the lives of others. This is done primarily through helping others to grasp knew levels of understanding. It is also accomplished through experience. So, yes, it is a concern of the professor if the professor wants to be a real influence in the life of the student. Learning takes place in so much more than the imparting of factual data. Students learn much from professors they perceive as caring about them. Learning will be enhanced when these problem areas are no longer in the way.
So, how to help?
Face the problem head on: People often times will avoid a problem and hope that it goes away rather than deal with it. This strategy rarely works. If a professor suspects that a student is struggling with a need that is of direct bearing on the course, a good approach usually is to communicate directly with that student about the suspicion in a sensitive fashion. If the need is classroom related, the student might feel relieved to get the issue in the open. If the issue turns out to be non-classroom related, but it still affects the classroom, then the professor is able to get the student the best help available.
Over-communicate: The professor should not assume that one try to communicate about the problem will be sufficient. Neither should there be an expectation that once a problem is diagnosed that it is fixed. Intentional follow-up is necessary and this includes clearing up any missed assignments or completion of material agreed upon to get the student back on track. The professor will need to over-communicate to be sure that the student is back on the right track.
Encourage: Students can become overwhelmed and think that they are too far behind or incapable of doing the work. An encouraging word of a professor carries a lot of weight in such a situation. Professors can take on a mentoring role to not only help the student through the course, but also through life. Many students still refer to past professor’s as mentors in their lives years after the last course they took with him or her.
Resolve the Need: Where it is possible, help the student to resolve the need, not just become aware of it. Their seems to be a tendency to analyze a situation and not do much more than explain it. Real problems need real solutions. If a professor is able to help a student chart the course to solving a real problems, the professor has just passed along one of life’s most important skills.

Social Science and Scripture (Part II)

Social Science and Scripture. Featuring image:Money Ball by Wolfgang

Social Science and Scripture (Part II)

by Steve Huerd
Missed Part 1 of the Series? Read it here.
Integration begins with the notion of reconciling all things together in Christ.  In the world today, there seem to be separate things which either do not relate together or compete with one another in their truth claims.  For example, is homosexuality a learned behavior or a genetic issue?  What is the best form of government?  How should we as a country prepare for retirement in the future?  Just read the latest headlines and you will come up with many issues demanding immediate answers.  These myriads of issues requiring integration for the Christ-follower can be personal, corporate, or even conceptual in nature.
Central to the concept of integration is the notion of unity in all things since Christ is king over all the created order.  For example, in Col. 1:16, Paul says of Christ that, “all things were made by him, for him, and through him.”  This truth obviously implies that all things must necessarily then relate to Christ in meaningful ways since he created them, empowered them, and was the purpose for their existence.  We also know from this passage that all things will be eventually reconciled to Christ (Col. 1:20), or brought back into their proper perspective in relation to him.  The later verse also seems to imply that now, in the present, everything is not reconciled to Christ, being perhaps the reason we experience difficulties in reconciling them together in our minds.  In C.S. Lewis’s fictional series, the Chronicles of Narnia, “Aslan” has not yet appeared to unfreeze the winter covering the earth.
Thus we press on continually trying to see the connections and disconnections between the findings of social science, or any other truth claim for that matter, and that of scripture.  If we hold to the view of the scriptures being the primary and foundational source of truth, then other truth claims must be evaluated and carefully analyzed by what we know is true in the pages of the Bible and the mind of God.
The honest Christ-follower then must perpetually do what Duane Litfin, the former president of Wheaton College suggests, “The Christian’s intellectual task is to use his or her God-given apprehension and correlation to discover truth about God and truth about the spiritual, moral, and material dimensions of the world he created” (Litfin, 2004, p. 173).
Consequently, if we are to “know the truth” as the “truth will set us free” (John 8:32), then this task takes on greater significance as it affects not just our salvation but how we live here on earth.  If all truth is unified coming from the mind of God where there is no confusion, then regardless of the source, all that is truthful should cohere and fit together with whatever else is truthful.  This logically implies that truth discovered via social science should cohere with truth being revealed by God in the scriptures wherever possible.  And, correspondingly, wherever truth seems to contradict or not fit with scriptures, we need to proceed with caution.
While the masses may follow the crowd, we as Christian educators and scholars should be most thoughtful in how we put things together in our thinking.  We need to lead the church and this next generation through our careful scrutiny of today’s truth claims for “all who are prudent act with knowledge, but fools expose their folly” (Prov. 16:13 NIV).
Sources:
Litfin, D. (2004).  Conceiving the Christian college: A college president share his vision of Christian higher education.  Grand Rapids, MI: Eerdmans.

Social Science and Scripture (Part 1)

Social Science and Scripture. Featuring image:Money Ball by Wolfgang

Social Science and Scripture (Part 1)

by Steve Huerd
Brad Pitt played the entrepreneurial Oakland A’s baseball manager Billy Bean in the film Moneyball in which he goes against conventional wisdom by following the advice of a statistician in changing his team.  Though the film was nominated for six academy awards including best actor and best picture, it raises interesting questions we must address in Christian Education.
For example, how do we really know what is true?  This is not a new question per se, as the study of epistemology in philosophy directly studies these phenomena.  But, it does pose continual questions as we in academia seek to lead and influence the new generation in discovering truth.
For centuries the church based its epistemology upon revelation or the idea that truth was directly given to us by God through the writing of the Holy Scriptures.  However with the rise of the Enlightenment period, man’s reason gradually grew to occupy a more central place in the search for truth.  This led to the rise of science, which while being originally created to study God’s universe, eventually became an alternative means of discovering truth in the world.  Francis Schaeffer (1976), in his classic book How Should We Then Live, traces this independent and autonomous thinking back to the Renaissance period, placing man in the center of the universe.
Today, centuries later, science and the scientific method of investigation have largely supplanted revelation in the secular world as the chief means of discovering truth and knowledge.  Revelation as a means of epistemic knowing has been subjugated to the realm of person opinion or even superstition as there is no way to empirically verify its findings through experimentation.
Thus, when it comes to doing research in the social sciences of academia, empiricism and the scientific method rule.  You can’t really say anything unless you can support it with empirical evidence.

Those of us in Christian education, who still hold to God’s revelation through scripture as a means of knowing, must constantly wrestle at the task of integration.  We maintain that all truth is God’s truth whether it is found in nature through general revelation (i.e. empirical research) or in special revelation (i.e. the Bible).  If we have as our premise the knowledge that “all truth is one and all ways to truth are one because the Author and End of truth is One” (Green, 2007, p. 63), then integration becomes an essential task we must engage with great care.
And, like Billy Bean of the Oakland A’s, we face constant temptations to ignore conventional wisdom in favor of a more scientific approach.  Even in the writing of my dissertation, I confess to spending far more time reading and summarizing empirical research than I did in writing about how the scriptures interact with my topic.  Yet, if we truly believe that God has revealed truth in the Bible to us, than this truth must have supremacy over human reason being argued through statistically based empirical research.
Integrating truth discovered through empirical research with truth being revealed via scripture is no easy task.  The scriptures will always hold epistemic supremacy for me in my thinking, but anyone who has ever read the Bible knows that the Bible doesn’t speak about every little truth God has created.  For while God has given us everything we need for a life of godliness (2 Pet. 1:3), there remains much more truth to be discovered in the universe.  Social science and scripture need not conflict and it’s not always one or the other, nevertheless we in Christian education need to be prepared so that we don’t lose our way in the midst of the fog in our search for truth.
Sources:
Schaeffer, F. A. (1976).  How should we then live? The rise and decline of western thought and culture.  Old Tappan, NJ: Fleming H. Revell Company.
Green, B. (2007).  Ch. 3: “Theological and Philosophical Foundations,” in Shaping a Christian worldview: The foundations of Christian higher education, ed. David Dockery and Gregory Thornbury.  Broadman & Holman.