Every Ph.D. Has A Little Crazy Inside

Straight Jacket GuyPh.D. stands for doctor of philosophy. Doctor is from the Latin doctor which means ‘teacher’. Philosophy is from the Greek (the verb phileo ‘I love’ plus the noun sophia ‘wisdom’). From an etymological standpoint, a doctor of philosophy is one who teaches others to love wisdom.

But etymology is often a misleading guide to reality. Just ask a butterfly or a pineapple.

There’s an old joke that Ph.D. stands for permanent head damage. Humor usually has more truth buried inside it than etymology. I am convinced that most Ph.D.s have a little crazy in them.

You see, to earn a Ph.D. one must convince not only oneself but also a committee that you are one of the world’s leading experts about one narrow slice of reality. Ideally, you convince the committee that you know more about this very narrow problem than anyone else who has ever lived.

And here’s where the crazy comes in: this idea that you are uniquely qualified to hold a certain opinion in a very esoteric area becomes a habit which creeps into other areas of your life. You convince yourself that you are right and the world is wrong about something quite trivial. Everyone does this to a degree, but there is one important difference: the Ph.D. believes something absolutely crazy.

At this point you are thinking to yourself, “Glen, I know several Ph.D. holders. They’re nice, normal people.”

Yes. They are. They are also insane about something unexpected. They have learned through experience to keep their craziness well-masked. You have to dig down deep.

Talk with your friend long enough and you will likely discover that they raise hamsters for food. Or that they have a plan for which stores to loot in which order after the next major natural disaster, and actually have a shopping list secreted about their person at all times for just such an eventuality. Or that they believe in flooding preschools with marijuana smoke to keep the kids calm. Or that they keep a bazooka in the trunk of their car.

And that’s just the way it is. Some things come with accessories – Barbie dolls are one and Ph.D.s are another. You just have to learn to live with it. This is why I have a much higher tolerance for eccentric beliefs in outside speakers for my ministry if they have a doctorate. I expect the crazy. I actually welcome the crazy – it keeps things interesting.

So if you are my friend and are in pursuit of a Ph.D., know that I love you and that I won’t be distressed when you turn crazy in a few years.

And if you already have your Ph.D., just remember that I know. Somewhere deep in the recesses of your brain is an idea. I don’t know what it is. I don’t even know what it’s about. But I know it is so insane that your family has tried to slip pharmaceuticals into your meals on more than one occasion, which is why you only eat foods that are translucent. Which is crazy.

The Deceptiveness of Sin – Deeper Than You Thought

Justice Preveils?Simon M. Lahama, Adam L. Alterb, and Geoffrey P. Goodwinc report a surprising result in “Easy on the mind, easy on the wrongdoer: Discrepantly fluent violations are deemed less morally wrongCognition, Volume 112, Issue 3, September 2009, pages 462-466.

From the paper:

Participants completed a questionnaire in which they read six vignettes describing various moral violations: ‘Punch’ (one man punches another in a bar), ‘Flag’ (teacher burns Australian flag in class), ‘Dog’ (family eats its dead dog), ‘Deface’ (man defaces a memorial), ‘Hitler’ (man taunts Jewish sports fans with Hitler imitation), ‘Kiss’ (brother and sister kiss passionately).

Each of the participants read three of the stories in an easy-to-read format and the other three in a harder-to-read format.

In the words of the authors:

…discrepant perceptual fluency decreased perceptions of wrongness compared to discrepant disfluency. Further, and consistent with effects of discrepant fluency on truth judgments (Hansen et al., 2008), it seems that this difference is accounted for by fluent processing decreasing, rather than disfluent processing increasing, perceptions of wrongness.

In normal English: people thought that immoral choices were less serious when they were easy to read about. In theological terms, they excused sin because of how good it looked (or more precisely based upon how easy it was to understand). Apparently cleanliness is next to godliness (or at least legibility is next to living right).

So the next time you have something to confess, be sure to print it on nice paper and use a laser printer. It just might give you the edge you need.

The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (Jer 17:9)

Where Should Prospective Ministers Go To College?

question markC. Michael Patton over at Parchment and Pen (one of my favorite blogs), recently offered some thoughts on entering ministry. He made a statement that has always seemed like common sense to me, but that I know many people find objectionable:

If possible, go to a secular university for undergrad and an Evangelical seminary for your masters. You need exposure to both.

I’ve long been mystified that as a matter of course we isolate prospective ministers from their culture for 4 years (more if they go to seminary afterwards). Surely there’s a case to be made for taking our prospective young ministers and forcing them to solidify their own faith and also minister to their peers in a secular setting. Let them prove that they can be both faithful and fruitful before they invest time and money in education that is useless outside of ministry.

I’m sure a Bible college is the ideal route for some people, but it seems to me that we should highlight secular schools as a viable option. It’s certainly borne good fruit for the Pentecostal movement and the impact in the larger evangelical world is even more impressive (Tim Keller, anyone?).

I suppose the most common objection is that secular colleges are harmful to faith, but that’s just not true. And even if it was, I don’t think it would matter that much. If someone who is planning to enter ministry can’t handle Intro to Sociology or the campus beerfest, then I really don’t want them preaching the gospel. They’re a time bomb waiting to explode and take others with them.

But someone who can thrive spiritually at a secular university and make a difference for Christ on campus… give that person a robust theological education and then turn them loose in the pulpit!

Evaluating Sermons

I evaluate a lot of sermons. I don’t just mean that I listen to sermons and decide whether I like them or not – everyone who goes to church does that. I mean that I professionally evaluate sermons and give formal feedback to the preacher. Some I evaluate in my role as a ministry trainer and others I evaluate in my role on a preaching team (before one of us preaches we preach the sermon to each other and get feedback on how to strengthen it).

So I’ve thought about this a lot. Most sermon evaluation forms you find on the internet and at seminaries are not very helpful because they measure too many things.

These were the top hits when I googled for “sermon evaluation forms”
Calvin Seminary’s (30 questions)
The Orthodox Presbyterian Church’s Form for Ministry Interns (41 questions)
Reformed Baptist Seminary’s (35 questions).

Do all the things these long forms ask about matter? A little. But using that to evaluate a sermon is like evaluating your church’s statement of faith based on its grammar. It sort of misses the point. Of course you want a statement of faith that is grammatical, but if its content is sketchy then every moment spent improving its grammar is wasted time. Sinfully wasted time.

In the same way, focusing on the superficials of a sermon when the underlying content is bogus is ridiculous. I realize that’s not the intent of these forms, but that is what they encourage.

So this is the form I use:

Pointers (what should I change?)

Keepers (what was so good I should be sure not to take it out)?

That’s it – two questions. I sometimes do it on a 3×5 index card. Keepers on the front, pointers on the back (a tip I got from Earl Creps).

And this is the grid I’m putting it through:
1) Was Christ proclaimed clearly?
2) Was the sermon Biblically sound?
3) Was it interesting?
4) Did it ask me to do something appropriate in response?

I try to never give them more than three pointers and three keepers, and I try to be as specific as possible.

There are lots of other aspects of a sermon I could nitpick, but if the person is preaching an interesting, Biblically sound sermon that exalts Christ and challenges me to obey Him then they’re doing fabulous. Why would I nitpick them at that point? To demoralize them? To clone my habits (“at this point I would have told a joke – you should tell a joke”)?

Anyway, this post probably wasn’t relevant to most of you. But for those of you who have to evaluate preaching on a regular basis, I hope I’ve given you some food for thought.

And to those in my ministry, now you know what I’m trying to do when I prepare a sermon: proclaim the good news of Jesus in a way that is faithful to the Biblical text I’m working with in an interesting way that challenges you to wholeheartedly respond. From time to time, be sure to let me know how I’m doing. 🙂

Jacob Goldman rocks

I recently updated the Recommended Reading Google Shared Items plugin for WordPress to the latest version and it stopped working.

I contacted Jacob Goldman, the plugin developer, who went above and beyond the call of duty to help me fix the problem. The issue was all on my end, and he helped me straighten it out quickly.

The man deserves a shout-out.

To Jacob: consider yourself shouted out. Or shout outed. Or something.

To the rest of the world: if you need a web developer check out the company he works for C. Murray Consulting. I can attest that they’ve got excellent customer-service skills and know what they’re doing.

Roku Rocks

Roku Box BackendFor Paula’s birthday I bought her a little device called the Roku Digital Video Player. Basically, it takes Netflix streaming videos and displays them on your television.

This is very good for us since we don’t have any television service. When we moved into our new place a year ago we decided that our cable bill was 90% waste, so we cancelled it and we watch television series on DVD through Netflix or on the computer now.

So I bought this Roku device which takes the 12,000 or so streaming videos available on Netflix (and the 40,000 or so available on Amazon as pay-per-view) and lets you watch them on your normal television.

The Roku box is amazing. It only does one thing and it does it well. The images are crisp, the audio is clear, and the interface is very easy to use. In my opinion, the videos display much better than they ever did on my laptop or our desktop computer.

If you use Netflix and ever watch streaming videos, you should seriously consider the Roku. It rocks.

And it costs less than a few months of cable – even when you combine it with your monthly Netflix bill.