Baker Academic

Tuesday, September 17, 2013

Michael Jinkins On Why Tenure Matters--Chris Keith

If you haven't yet read the blog of Michael Jinkins, President of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, do yourself a favor and read this post entitled "Why Tenure Matters."  Needless to say, this one hits too close to home for too many of us.

I appreciate a lot of what he has to say, but I want to highlight something he points out about the work of William Robertson Smith.  The bit of his writing that was oh-so-controversial and warranted, in his context, removal from his professorial chair, is completely commonplace today and non-controversial.  The church tradition I came from essentially ruptured over German Protestant theological liberalism.  When I read or hear about those battles today, I come close to laughing at how non-controversial the issues are now.  Too often in theological controversies, at stake is not the text itself or even the God to whom it points, but rather the familiar forms of the discussion about both of those entities that have become enshrined in a community.


  1. Chris, I very much appreciate your posts on Christian academia. But I continue to wonder if the problem you describe is one in search of a more radical solution.

    Yes, we should all work to establish religious contexts with greater flexibility and tolerance for unfamiliar voices (and here, I'm thinking of my context as well as yours). Yes, the problem you mention exists in different degrees in academia at large, and in other walks of life. And yes, I'm looking at the problem you mention from an outsider's point of view.

    But it strikes me that the reason for Christian colleges is to create a different context than those available at "secular" (or should I say "traditional", or "mainstream") universities. It thus becomes key for the colleges in question to define this difference, and perhaps to enforce it by (logically, if ironically) purging from its ranks those who do not conform to the definition. Arguably, what happened to people like Anthony, and Peter Enns, resulted from a change in the "enshrined" "familiar forms", as those given the authority to define the difference chose to redefine it in a more exclusive way.

    There's always a problem with drawing borders. Whoever is located where the border is drawn is likely to get hurt. The same goes when a border is repositioned. Arguably, the "battles" you refer to today are over where borders should be drawn, and who is going to be excluded (or newly excluded) as a result.

    I'm just a humble outsider (!!), but I think the first question is whether ANY border is needed here, and if so, what it is that the border is supposed to accomplish. I wonder whether Christianity, a religion that often prides itself on its universality (as opposed to, say, the supposed particularity of my Judaism) should be in the business of border-drawing.

  2. Larry, thanks for these thoughts. As I've mentioned before, I have no problem with articulating and even defending borders. I would just like the ones patrolling those borders actually to understand the nature of borders and, more importantly, what's on either side. The people I'm disgusted by are the ones who draw borders out of fear and ignorance and maintain them out of fear and ignorance. I suspect we would agree here.

    1. We agree that "ignorance" is not a basis for border-drawing. I'm less certain when it comes to fear. I think that all borders are drawn in fear. Whether fear justifies border-drawing depends on whether the fear is justified, the threat posed by the stuff feared, and the nature of the border. This is a highly subjective judgment call, where insiders and outsiders are almost certain to see things differently.