Notes from The Black Swan by Nassim Taleb

I just finished reading The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable by Nassim Taleb

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download prophecy the movie . It’s a fun read, and I think some of the things I learned from it will help me to illustrate Ecclesiastes when we start preaching through it in a few weeks.

Anyway, here are some snippets I thought were worth holding on to. Hope they are as useful to you as I think they will be to me.

The writer Umberto Eco belongs to that small class of scholars who are encyclopedic, insightful, and nondull. He is the owner of a large personal library (containing thirty thousand books), and separates visitors into two categories: those who react with “Wow! Signore professore dottore Eco, what a library you have! How many of these books have you read?” and the others – a very small minority – who get the point that a private library is not an ego‐boosting appendage but a research tool. Read books are far less valuable than unread ones. The library should contain as much of what you do not know as your financial means, mortgage rates, and the currently tight real‐estate market allow you to put there. Page 1

Now if only I could convince Paula that this is the right way to think about book acquisitions…

It was a few years after the beginning of the Lebanese war, as I was attending the Wharton School, at the age of twenty‐two, that I was hit with the idea of efficient markets – and idea that holds that there is no way to derive profits from traded securities since these instruments have automatically incorporated all the available information. Public information can therefore be useless, particularly to a businessman, since prices can already “include” all such information, and news shared with millions gives you no real advantage. Odds are that one or more of the hundreds of millions of other readers of such information will already have bought the security, thus pushing up the price. I then completely gave up reading newspapers and watching television, which freed up a considerable amount of time (say one hour or more per day, enough time to read more than a hundred additional books per years, which, after a couple of decades, starts mounting). Page 17

I’ve been struck lately by the number of people I respect who advise us against reading the newspaper on the grounds that it makes you more stupid about things that matter. I even stumbled across a compilation of quotes against news today.

In the arts – say the cinema – things are far more vicious. What we call “talent” generally comes from success, rather than its opposite. A great deal of empiricism has been done on the subject, most notably by Art De Vany, an insightful and original thinker who singlemindedly studied wild uncertainty in the movies. He showed that, sadly, much of what we ascribe to skills is an after‐the‐fact attribution. The movie makes the actor, he claims – and a large dose of nonlinear luck makes the movie. Page 31 (he footnotes Arthur De Vany Hollywood Economics: Chaos in the Music Industry 2002)

I suspect the same thing is true of megachurches. Don’t misunderstand me — there is a high level of skill involved in building an organization like that. But looking around at ministers I know, many more people seem to have the skills than have the megachurch to go with it. In other words, there are people out there as skilled as Ed Young

that the world will never know. I don’t think I’m one of them, mind, but I know that they’re out there. I’ve met them.

Indeed, it is not a well‐known fact that the most complete exposition of the ideas of skepticism, until recently, remains the work of a powerful Catholic bishop who was an august member of the French Academy. Pierre‐Daniel Huet wrote his Philosophical Treatise on the Weakness of the Human Mind in 1690, a remarkably book that tears through dogmas and questions human perception. Huet presents arguments against causality that are quite potent – he states, for instance, that any event can have an infinity of possible causes. Page 49

Interesting. You can read more about Huet on Wikipedia


In a famous argument, the logician W. V. Quine showed that there exist families of logically consistent interpretations and theories that can match a given series of facts. Page 72

You can learn more about Quine on Wikipedia.

Indeed, people tend to fool themselves with their self‐narrative of “national identity,” which, in a breakthrough paper in Science by sixty‐five authors, was shown to be a total fiction. (“National traits” might be great for movies, they might help a lot with war, but they are Platonic notions that carry no empirical validity—yet, for example, both the English and the non‐English erroneously believe in an English “national temperament.”) Empirically, sex, social class, and profession seem to be better predictors of someone’s behavior than nationality (a male from Sweden resembles a male from Togo more than a female from Sweden; a philosopher from Peru resembles a philosopher from Scotland more than a janitor from Peru; and so on). Page 74–75

And yet the French remain… 🙂 Seriously, this reminds me of bone I have to pick with personality testing, namely that it is complete and utter bunk. Different people have different ranges of temperament, sure, but the tools we use to measure those variances are ridiculous.

[Given that the narrative fallacy is so misleading, we should remember that] Only a diamond can cut a diamond; we can use our ability to convince with a story that conveys the right message—what storytellers seem to do. Page 84

Good reminder for sermons — there are times that all the data in the world will lack the impact of a single compelling story.

The researcher Thomas Astebro has shown that returns on independent inventions (you take the cemetery into account) are far lower than those on venture capital. Some blindness to the odds… is necessary for entrepreneurs to function. The venture capitalist is the one who gets the shekels. The economist William Baumol calls this “a touch of madness.” This may indeed apply to all concentrated businesses: when you look at the empirical record, you not only see that venture capitalists do better than entrepreneurs, but publishers do better than writers, dealers do better than artists, and science does better than scientists (about 50 percent of scientific and scholarly papers, costing months, sometimes years of effort, are never truly read). Page 90

And governments do better than taxpayers. 🙂

Prediction, not narration, is the real test of our understanding of the world. Page 133

True dat.

For many people, knowledge has the remarkable power of producing confidence instead of measurable aptitude. Page 135

Tragically true dat.

Show two groups of people a blurry image of a fire hydrant, blurry enough for them not to recognize what it is. For one group, increase the resolution slowly, in ten steps. For the second, do it faster, in five steps. Stop at a point were both groups have presented an identical image and ask each of them to identify what they see. The members of the group that saw fewer intermediate steps are likely to recognize the hydrant much quicker. Moral? The more information you give someone, the more hypotheses they will formulate along the way, and the worse‐off they will be. They see more random noise and mistake it for information. Page 144

Combine that with this next one…

…in another telling experiment, the psychologist Paul Slovic asked bookmakers to select from eighty‐eight variables in past horse races those that they found useful in computing the odds. These variables included all manner of statistical information about past performances. The bookmarkers were given the ten most useful variables, then asked to predict the outcomes of races. Then they were given ten more and asked to predict again. The increase in the information set did not lead to an increase in their accuracy; their confidence in their choices, on the other hand, went up markedly. Information proved to be toxic. Page 145

So if you’re addicted to statistics, lay off! Especially if you’re tracking every nuance of your weekly attendance or the hour‐by‐hour views of your most recent Facebook ad.

Economics is the most insular of fields; it is the one that quotes least from outside itself! Page 155

I didn’t see a footnote for this claim, but it amuses me to believe that it’s true.

Researchers have tested how students estimate the time needed to complete their projects. In one representative test, they broke a group into two varieties, optimistic and pessimistic. Optimistic students promised twenty‐six days; the pessimistic ones forty‐seven days. The average actual time to completion turned out to be fifty‐six days. Page 157

Read it and weep, students. Read it and weep.

[Unlike biological variables such as age, human ventures exhibit a totally different schedule] Let’s say a project is expected to terminate in 79 days…. On the 79th day, if the project is not finished, it will be expected to take another 25 days to complete. But on the 90th day, if the project is still not completed, it should have about 58 days to go. On the 100th, it will have 89 days to go. On the 119th, it should have an extra 149 days. On day 600, if the project is not done, you will be expected to need an extra 1,590 days. As you see, the longer you wait, the longer you will be expected to wait. Page 159

Eep. Based on this logic, my office will be finally and fully cleaned sometime around 3,000 A.D.

At New York’s JFK airport you can find gigantic newsstands with walls full of magazines. They are usually manned by a very polite family from the Indian subcontinent (just the parents; the children are in medical school). These walls present you with the entire corpus of what an “informed” person needs in order “to know what is going on.” I wonder how long it would take to read every single one of these magazines, excluding the fishing and motorcycle periodicals (but including the gossip magazines—you might as well have some fun). Half a lifetime? An entire lifetime?
Sadly, all this knowledge would not help the reader to forecast what is to happen tomorrow. Actually, it might decrease his ability to forecast. Page 163–164

He not only knocks newspapers, he knocks magazines as well. What’s next, blogs? 🙂

In 1965 two radio astronomers at Bell Labs in New Jersey who were mounting a large antenna were bothered by a background noise, a hiss, like the static that you hear when you have bad reception. The noise could not be eradicated—even after they cleaned the bird excrement out of the dish, since they were convinced that bird poop was behind the noise. It took a while for them to figure out that what they were hearing was the trace of the birth of the universe, the cosmic background microwave radiation. Page 168

They made an important discovery about the very nature of the universe while looking for bird poop! Don’t wait for the great moment. The event (conversation, sermon, insight) that changes your ministry forever will likely come at the most unexpected moment, and it probably won’t happen in the limelight. Get out there and clean some bird poop, and be attentive to your surroundings while you do it.

[How hard can long‐range prediction be?] I use the example as computed by the mathematician Michael Berry. If you know a set of basic parameters concerning [a billiard] ball at rest, can compute the resistance of the table (quite elementary), and can gauge the strength of the impact, then it is rather easy to predict what would happen at the first hit. The second impact becomes more complicated, but possible; you need to be more careful about your knowledge of the initial states, and more precision is called for. The problem is that to correctly compute the ninth impact, you need to take into account the gravitational pull of someone standing next to the table (modestly, Berry’s computations use a weight of less than 150 pounds). And to compute the fifty‐sixth impact, every single elementary particle in the universe needs to be present in your assumptions! An electron at the edge of the universe, separated from us by 10 billion light‐years, must figure in the calculations, since it exerts a meaningful effect on the outcome…. Note that this billiard‐ball story assumes a plain and simple world; it does not even take into account these crazy social matters possibly endowed with free will. Page 178

Wow. Wow backwards.

We are made to follow leaders who can gather people together because the advantages of being in groups trump the disadvantages of being alone. It has been more profitable for us to bind together in the wrong direction than to be alone in the right one. Those who have followed the assertive idiot rather than the introspective wise person have passed us some of their genes. Page 192

And this is why character and doctrine are always more important when screening ministry candidates than leadership aptitude. Assertive idiots lead people into spiritual disaster.

People are often ashamed of losses, so they engage in strategies that produce very little volatility but contain the risk of a large loss—like collecting nickels in front of steamrollers. Page 204

I can totally see myself being talking into doing that. What a vivid image.

Many people do not realize that they are getting a lucky break in life when they get it. If a big publisher (or a big art dealer or a movie executive or a hotshot banker or a big thinker) suggests an appointment, cancel anything you have planned: you may never see such a window open up again. I am sometimes shocked at how little people realize that these opportunities do not grow on trees. Collect as many free nonlottery tickets (those with open‐ended payoffs) as you can, and, once they start paying off, do not discard them. Work hard, not in grunt work, but in chasing such opportunities and maximizing exposure to them. This makes living in big cities invaluable because you increase the odds of serendipitous encounters—you gain exposure to the envelope of serendipity. The idea of settling in a rural area on grounds that one has good communications “in the age of the Internet” tunnels out of such sources of positive uncertainty. Diplomats understand that very well: casual chance discussions at cocktail parties usually lead to big breakthroughs—not dry correspondence or telephone conversations. Go to parties! If you’re a scientist, you will chance upon a remark that might spark new research. Page 209

Of such things are destinies made.

We can have a clear idea of the consequences of an event, even if we do not know how likely it is to occur. I don’t know the odds of an earthquake, but I can imagine how San Francisco might be affected by one. This idea that in order to make a decision you need to focus on the consequences (which you can know) rather than the probability (which you can’t know) is the central idea of uncertainty. Much of my life is based on it.

You can build an overall theory of decision‐making on this idea. All you have to do is mitigate the consequences. As I said, if my portfolio is exposed to a market crash, the odds of which I can’t compute, all I have to do is buy insurance, or get out and invest the amounts I am not willing to ever lose in less risky securities. Page 211

The results of an earthquake in San Francisco — bad. Probability — unacceptably high. Tick, tick, tick…

I said earlier that randomness is bad, but it is not always so. Luck is far more egalitarian than even intelligence. If people were rewarded strictly according to their abilities, things would still be unfair—people don’t choose their abilities. Randomness has the beneficial effect of reshuffling society’s cards, knocking down the big guy. Page 232

The race is not always to the swift, and this is by design.

Now why am I calling this business Madelbrotian, or fractal, randomness? Every single bit and piece of this puzzle has been previously mentioned by someone else, such as Pareto, Yule, and Zipf, but it was Mandelbrot who a) connected the dots, b) linked randomness to geometry (and a special brand at that), and c) took the subject to its natural conclusion. Indeed many mathematicians are famous today partly because he dug out their works to back up his claims—the strategy I am following here in this book. “I had to invent my predecessors, so people take me seriously,” [Mandelbrot] once told me, and he used the credibility of big guns as a rhetorical device. One can almost always ferret out predecessors for any thought. You can always find someone who worked on a part of your argument and use his contribution as your backup. Page 256

Ph.D. candidates take note. There are worse people to emulate than Mandelbrot.

The degeneration of philosophical schools in its turn is the consequence of the mistaken belief that one can philosophize without having been compelled to philosophize by problems outside philosophy…. Genuine philosophical problems are always rooted outside philosophy and they die if these roots decay…. These roots are easily forgotten by philosophers who “study” philosophy instead of being forced into philosophy by the pressure of nonphilosophical problems.
He footnotes Karl Popper, Conjectures and Refutations, pages 95–97.

And theology that is divorced from daily ministry gets wonky. All the greatest theologians in the history of the church have been involved in regular ministry to normal people.

I am most often irritated by those who attack the bishop but someone fall for the securities analyst—those who exercise their skepticism against religion but not against economists, social scientists, and phony statisticians. Using the confirmation bias, people will tell you that religion was horrible for mankind by counting deaths from the Inquisition and various religious wars. But they will not show you how many people were killed by nationalism, social science, and political theory under Stalinism or during the Vietnam War. Even priests don’t go to bishops when they feel ill: their first stop is the doctor’s. But we stop by the offices of many pseudo‐scientists and “experts” without alternative. We no longer believe in papal infallibility; we seem to believe in the infallibility of the Nobel…. Page 291

Rare to read such clear thinking about this in a book not devoted to apologetics. Of course, Taleb has it in for the Nobel.

Imagine a speck of dust next to a planet a billion times the size of earth. The speck of dust represents the odds in favor of your being born; the huge planet would be the odds against it. So stop sweating the small stuff. Don’t be like the ingrate who got a castle as a present and worried about the mildew in the bathroom. Page 298

Indeed. I like a book that closes with a call to gratitude, even if it’s unclear to whom your gratitude should be directed.

A fun read. Recommended.

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When We Live Like Jesus Told Us To…

A pretty amazing story from NPR: A Victim Treats His Mugger Right

He was walking toward the stairs when a teenage boy approached and pulled out a knife.

“He wants my money, so I just gave him my wallet and told him, ‘Here you go,’ ” Diaz says.

As the teen began to walk away, Diaz told him, “Hey, wait a minute. You forgot something. If you’re going to be robbing people for the rest of the night, you might as well take my coat to keep you warm.”

Remind you of anything? I don’t know if Julio Diaz is a follower of Jesus or not, but the Lord approved of his actions. See Matthew 5:38–40

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ ” But I tell you, “Do not resist an evil person. If someone strikes you on the right cheek, turn to him the other also. And if someone wants to sue you and take your tunic, let him have your cloak as well.”

The story has a great ending I won’t spoil for you: read the whole thing

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Impact of the First World Missions Summit

The World Missions Summit is coming up at the end of this year, and so I asked E. Scott Martin (czar of the summit) what the long‐term fruit of the first summit has been. His answer floored me and I share it with his permission.

He uses a lot of acronyms (he was writing an email to me off the top of his head, not expecting me to post it for the world to see), so let me give you a glossary:

  • AGUSM/USM — Assemblies of God United States Missions
  • AGWM/WM — Assemblies of God World Missions
  • CMA — Campus Missionary Associate (people serving in Chi Alpha as associate staff, usually on a short‐term basis [a few years])
  • MA — Missionary Associate (people serving one to two years)
  • MAPS — Missionary Abroad Placement Service (people serving 1–11 months, often in construction projects)
  • MENA — Middle East/North Africa
  • TWMS — The World Missions Summit
  • XA — Chi Alpha Campus Ministries

You’ll probably need to refer back to that list several times as you read his email unless you’re very familiar with Assemblies of God in‐house lingo.

…here are the hard stats. 661 students filled out commitment cards at TWMS. Neither AGWM, USM, or XA were really prepared to track those who came from TWMS and joined them in mission through MAPS, MA, or fully appointed missionaries. I inquired this past summer with Family Life and Personnel in AGWM about the number of students who had already gone to fulfill their commitment. To the best of their ability they sent me a spread sheet of 78 people who they related to TWMS due to the fact that their applications had the TWMS logo on them. However, of my 13 MAs and MAPpers serving with us in Kyrgyzstan at that time, only 2 of them were on that list and all of them made commitments at the Missions Summit.

I sent this observation back to AGWM and that is when they informed me they only went by the logo. I then began to correlate their list with those Crystal and I personally knew had gone AGWM from TWMS (We had 22 MAs and MAPers in our AGWM Area MENA and Central Eurasia with only 3 of them on the AGWM list being from TWMS) and we came up with 221 students who had gone so far since TWMS. This was the summer of 2007. And believe me, this is not comprehensive. There are more we don’t know about and I know of 3 who followed up their commitments with other agencies and actually informed AGWM of that so that AGWM knew they did not renege on their commitment to go. USM has absolutely no idea what so ever on who has connected in their various ministries after TWMS. We know of 2 who have contacted us who went USM outside of XA.

Here is the other big news. The number of CMAs in XA accelerated dramatically after TWMS. I will ask Bob what the number was prior to TWMS but today we have 168 MAs in the field which is far beyond what we have ever had. Bob and NLT suggest it is the direct result of TWMS, but that judgment is based only on the fact that the numbers leapt following TWMS and on conversations with campus pastors and those MAs.

At this past AGWM Missionary Interview and orientation 10 days ago which is only fully appointed and MAs, not MAPS (which most Chi Alphans go as now) there were 14 who had signed commitments at TWMS. 4 of those were fully appointed AGWM missionary candidates. Every PFO and interview there are more and more from TWMS. They asked who “signed cards” and not “who was at TWMS” so again I don’t think it is an accurate representation but close. Some have gone who made decisions at TWMS but didn’t sign the card. So, we could add these 14 to the 221 in AGWM. And I don’t have the list from October either which would add even more.

Based on this information I can safely and accurately say that at least half of those who signed the card at TWMS have fulfilled their commitments and we still have many in the pipeline right now from the first TWMS.

Wow. Two stats stand out to me.

1) Roughly 15% (661 out of around 4,000) of those at The World Missions Summit committed to give a year and pray about a lifetime of missionary service. That’s impressive but not unprecedented. Lots of people get caught up in emotional moments at conferences and say things that they later reconsider.
2) Over half of those people have already delivered and more are on the way (presumably finishing college first). That’s amazing. I hardly know what to do with a number like that except praise God. For comparison purposes, I would guess that at a youth camp or something the equivalent fulfillment rate is closer to 10%.

Bottom line — the first World Missions Summit rocked. God really used it to advance His plan on earth. I expect great things from the second one as well. Register now

and also join the Facebook group meet bill online download mrs harris online star trek divx to get announcements.

Historical Jesus booklet by Craig Blomberg

A short booklet (28 pages), Jesus of Nazareth: How Historians Can Know Him and Why It Matters was released for free this morning by the Christ on Campus Initiative. It’s written by Craig Blomberg death at a funeral online

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, a well‐respected scholar.

One thing I really appreciate about this piece is that Blomberg footnotes his sources well and provides an annotated bibliography at the end. So if he makes a claim someone finds sketchy they are welcome to investigate it more thoroughly. Christian outreach pieces are rarely considerate in this way, and I applaud the decision.

Highly recommended if you (or your friends) have questions about what we can possibly know about a man who lived 2,000 years ago.

found via JT

Notable Pentecostal Leaders from Secular Universities

It struck me the other day that there are a lot of Pentecostal/Charismatic/Third Wave leaders with degrees from secular universities instead of Bible colleges/Christian liberal arts schools, so I started putting a list together.

The list is heavy on the Assemblies of God because those are the circles I run in, and it’s also minister‐heavy for the same reason. I’d love to add some business leaders. I’m leaving out Chi Alpha missionaries because we’d swamp the list.

In alphabetical order:
For Their Undergrad

  1. Bret Allen (pastor, Bethel Church of San Jose) – Eastern Washington University
  2. John Ashcroft

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    (politician and author) – Yale for undergrad, University of Chicago for law school

  3. Rocky Barra — (pastor of Connection Church in Canton, MI) — Eastern Michigan University (for both undergrad and master’s)
  4. Glen Berteau (pastor of Calvary Temple in Modesto, CA) – Louisiana Tech
  5. John Bevere (author and conference speaker) – Purdue
  6. Brady Boyd (pastor of New Life Church in Colorado Springs) — Louisiana Tech
  7. James Bradford (pastor of Central Assembly in Springfield, MO) — University of Minnesota (all the way through Ph.D.)
  8. Frank Cargill (district superintendent of Oklahoma) — Oklahoma State University (undergrad), University of Oklahoma (master’s),and the University of Central Oklahoma (another master’s).
  9. Dennis Cheek (pastor/church planter & Vice President for the Kaufmann Foundation) — Towson University (undergrad), another undergrad from Excelsior College, a master’s University of Maryland Baltimore County, a Ph.D. in curriculum and instruction/science education from Pennsylvania State University, and a Ph.D. in theology from the University of Durham.
  10. Alicia Chole (author and conference speaker) – UT Austin (through her master’s)
  11. Earl Creps (church planter, author, educator) – University of Pittsburg for undergrad, Northwestern for Ph.D.
  12. Mark Driscoll (pastor of Mars Hill in Seattle) — Washington State University
  13. Denny Duron (pastor of Shreveport Community Church in LA) – Louisiana Tech
  14. Jonathan Gainsbrugh (evangelist and author) — University of Virginia
  15. Randy Garcia (pastor of Fortress Church in San Antonio, TX) — University of Texas at San Antonio
  16. Paul Goulet (pastor of International Church of Las Vegas) — University of Ottowa
  17. Wayne Grudem (theologian) — Harvard
  18. Stanley Horton

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    (theologian and author) — B.S., University of California, S.T.M. from Harvard

  19. Roger Houtsma (founder of World Outreach Ministries) — UC Berkeley
  20. Tim Johnson (Congressman) – University of Illinois – Champaign/Urbana
  21. Steve Lim taming of the shrew the download (Academic Dean at AGTS), UC Berkeley
  22. Mike McClaflin (Africa Regional Director for Assemblies of God World Missions) — University of Wyoming
  23. Lee McFarland (pastor of Radiant Church in Surprise, AZ) — University of Colorado
  24. Marvin Miller (director of Rayne Project Ministries) — Whitter College
  25. Donnie Moore (evangelist) – University of the Pacific
  26. J. P. Moreland (apologist and scholar) — University of Missouri
  27. Marilyn Musgrave (Congresswoman) — Colorado State University
  28. Rich Nathan – (pastor of Vineyard Community Church of Colombus, OH) – Case Western Reserve University
  29. Sarah Palin — (politician) — University of Idaho
  30. Ray Rachels – (Southern California District Superintendent) – Troy State University
  31. Cecil Robeck (scholar) — San Jose City College (for his AA)
  32. Mark Rutland – (president of Southeastern College) – University of Maryland
  33. Anthony Scoma (pastor of Southwest Family Fellowship) — University of Texas (Austin)
  34. Charlie Self — undergrad and Ph.D. from UC Santa Cruz (break for Graduate Theological Union in the middle)
  35. Sean Smith (evangelist) – University of the Pacific
  36. Zollie Smith

    (Executive Director AG US Missions) – Florida State University

  37. Sam Storms — University of Oklahoma
  38. James Watt (politician) – University of Wyoming

For Grad Work Only

  1. Chris Carter (scholar — APTS) — PhD from Aberdeen University
  2. John Carter (scholar — APTS) — PhD from University of Illinois in educational psychology
  3. Roli dela Cruz (scholar, APTS) — PhD in textual criticism from Birmingham University
  4. Gordon Fee (scholar and author) — Ph.D. from USC
  5. Richard Hammar (AG legal counsel) – Harvard Law
  6. Rich Israel (scholar) — Ph.D. from Claremont
  7. Todd Labute (scholar — APTS) — PhD from Marquette University
  8. Everett Wilson (scholar) — Ph.D. from Stanford University
  9. George O. Wood (General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God) — Law degree from Western State University College of Law in Fullerton, California
  10. Amos Yong (theologian) — M.A. from Portland State and Ph.D. from Boston University

Why compile a list like this?

First, if you’re a student at a secular school don’t assume that you can’t go into vocational ministry. As this list shows, some of the most well‐known ministers in the Pentecostal world come from the same place you do. And the trend isn’t abating — when I was in seminary I learned that half of my classmates at AGTS had gone to non‐Christian schools for their undergrad just as I had.

Second, if you’re a youth pastor (or a parent) don’t be scared to send your kids with a ministry calling off to secular schools to major in business or physics something. Bible colleges aren’t the only route to ministerial preparation — and for many people they’re not the best route.

Third, don’t feel alone if you’re in ministry and graduated from a secular university. At least in the Assemblies of God it’s pretty easy to feel isolated, because they have all these Bible college alumni reunions at every big minister’s gathering and there’s never a gathering for “went to a pagan school.” You may feel alone, but you’re not even close to alone.

Anyway, there are no doubt dozens more who aren’t coming to mind right now. I welcome contributions to the list — leave any updates in the comment section or email/facebook me. (If you’re reading this on Facebook, by the way, you’re only reading a copy. Click on the link at the top to go to the original where you can leave a comment). When you make a suggestion, please indicate your source (personal conversation, published bio, heard them mention it in a sermon, friend of a friend, etc).

edit 3/20/2008: first update is Mike McClaflin — thanks to Dennis and Jen for this!
edit 3/21/2008: Rich suggested Roger Houtsma along with Gordon Fee and George O Wood (I’m leaving those two off for now because only their doctorates that came from a secular school — trying to decide what to do with that). I’m also leaving off Mark Batterson for now because he started his undergrad at University of Chicago but finished at a Bible college. I also added a third reason for the list.
edit 3/21/2008: Charlie also suggested several Ph.Ds, so I’ve started a second list of those who did grad work at non‐Christian schools.
edit 3/28/2008: Brady Boyd, Marvin Miller, JP Moreland, Mark Driscoll, Sam Storms, and Wayne Grudem added
edit 6/18/2008: Frank Cargill, Dennis Cheek, Randy Garcia, Jonathan Gainsbrugh added
edit 7/1/2008: added Anthony Scoma — doh! How did I overlook my bud?
edit 7/9/2008: added Rocky Barra — thanks to David Moore for the pointer
edit 7/24/2008: removed Doug Peterson and added Roli dela Cruz, Chris Carter, Todd Labute, and John Carter per Ekaputra Tupamahu’s suggestions in the comments below. I haven’t tracked down a bio on each person, so their undergrad degrees might also be from secular schools.
edit 8/29/2008: added Sarah Palin, governor of Alaska and VP nominee.

Notes from Faith in the Halls of Power

I read D. Michael Lindsay’s Faith in the Halls of Power: How Evangelicals Joined the American Elite a while ago and have been meaning to post some excerpts from it for a while now. It’s a fascinating sociological study of American evangelical leaders (not just the leaders of American evangelicalism but also leaders in society who are evangelicals). In addition to existing research, Lindsay based his conclusions on interviews with 360 leaders drawn from four categories: political leaders, intellectual leaders, business leaders, and ministry leaders.

Here are some paragraphs that caught my attention.

Page 33:

I found the following quote from German theologian Martin Luther on one political leader’s desk: “The very ablest youth should be reserved and educated not for the office of preaching, but for government, because in preaching the Holy Spirit does it all, whereas in government one must exercise reason in the shadowy realms where ambiguity and uncertainty are the order of the day.”

And this is why we count it a success when our graduates go into the workforce, governmental service, or academia. We do want some graduates to follow us into vocational ministry but not most.

Page 77:

At the same time, evangelicals were establishing campus outreach groups. Some, such as the Princeton Evangelical Fellowship, had been present on elite campuses for a couple of decades. The Crusader Club—later renamed the Ambassadors—began as a group of evangelical students from Princeton’s Class of 1912. Their influence is remarkable. One of its founders, for example, was Samuel Shoemaker, who later helped establish Alcoholics Anonymous. Shoemaker’s twelve‐step program for overcoming addiction was formulated in this campus group.

Campus ministry has a disproportionate impact on culture — I’ll have to add this to my list of anecdotes. It’s going to go right up there with the long‐term impact of the Holy Club at Oxford watch what we do is secret online .

Page 79:

Another important factor is that evangelical young adults tend to become evangelical adults: They are much less likely than others to abandon their faith. Hence, evangelical children attending selective universities become alumni and donors. This development may be at the crux of the evangelical intellectual renaissance.

He footnotes Hout, Greeley, and Wilde “The Demographic Imperative in Religious Change in the United States”, American Journal of Sociology 107:468–500 (2001) for this data. I’m encouraged by this observation — I’ve intuitively known for a while that if students make it through college with a fervent faith in Christ they’re likely to maintain it for a lifetime. It’s nice to see that research agrees with me. 😉

Page 85:

Evangelicals’ support is geared not only to the Ivy League but also to a variety of selective, nonsectarian institutions. For example, one of the CEOs I spoke to gives scholarship money to his undergraduate institution, Amherst College. The funds are primarily awarded to active student volunteers in such a way that ‘the scholarships have [typically] been given to Christians.’ Several people told that they prefer not to give money to what they call the ‘crappy schools’ that populate the evangelical subculture but instead prefer to contribute funds to ‘serious’ places like Harvard and Yale, while targeting particular scholars or programs that welcome and engage evangelicals.

Very interesting. Very interesting indeed. If anyone wants to establish a Center for Evangelical (or even Pentecostal) Spirituality at Stanford, give me a call. I have some ideas…

Page 90:

This kind of intellectual exploration of Christianity is not uncommon among the leaders I interviewed, especially those who attended secular universities. Typically, these explorations begin with private reflection and individual reading, often books by evangelical authors seeking to offer a defense of Christian convictions. The most popular of these writers is C. S. Lewis, who was an Oxford tutor and Cambridge professor of medieval literature. Lewis, who died in 1963, wrote dozens of scholarly and popular books, but perhaps his most famous is Mere Christianity, a slim volume published in 1952. The book is based on a series of fifteen‐minute radio talks he delivered on the BBC in the 1940s. Nearly one in four of the people I interviewed mentioned Lewis’ influence on their own spiritual journey, and many have read his works multiple times. One CEO told me, “I’ve read Mere Christianity six times… I almost have it memorized.”

While these investigations usually begin in private, most of the people I spoke to said a campus group helped solidify their faith. These groups are the backbone of evangelical networks.

It’s good to know that Chi Alpha is a vertebrae in the backbone of the major evangelical networks in America, because sometimes we feel like vestigial organs. I need to get the last sentence of that quote into the hands of every Assemblies of God pastor in my district. 😉

Also, it’s worth noting that most converts read literature before converting (at least, those who go on to positions of influence do). I should give away more books…

Page 91:

Collectively, they [the evangelical campus ministries] reached a sizable number of undergraduates. At Princeton alone, for example, I found approximately four hundred undergraduate students—close to 10 percent of the student body—regularly involved in one or more evangelical groups on campus. And the number of students involved with the Harvard chapter of Campus Crusade has increased fivefold over the last two decades. These findings mirror wider trends within the Ivy League. They still do not reach large segments of the student body (except perhaps at Princeton), but these and other evangelical groups like InterVarsity Christian Fellowship and campus ministries for particular ethnic groups have seen similar groups. Taken together, these point to a significant shift on the campuses of America’s top universities.


Pages 140–141

“Being There,” an essay by poet and journalist Steve Turner, has become a manifesto for expanding the evangelical presence in mainstream culture. Turner urges evangelicals to create professional and personal communities in cultural centers so that they can reach general audiences. This is sometimes referred to as a “ministry of presence.” Increasingly evangelicals have recognized the value of “being present” in centers of elite cultural production…. Across the evangelical landscape a “theology of the city” has emerged. Several people I spoke to said they were inspired by a passage in Jeremiah 29 where the prophet admonished the exiled Jews to seek the peace and prosperity of their cities, even though they were in areas populated, and ruled, by Babylonian pagans. I was struck by the number of people—all of whom were working places of elite cultural production—who referred to this passage. Evangelicals living and working in these cosmopolitan centers identify with the exiled Jews, for any of them feel a great deal of tension between the worlds of their faith and their profession. They referred to urban centers as “flashpoints” on the “battle lines” between people of faith and their secular opponents and pointed to missionary activities of the early church that centered along trade routes. These are justifications evangelicals offer for their involvement—not necessarily explanations that they give to outsiders, but ways they legitimate their involvement to fellow believers.

The essay he references is Steve Turner “Being There: A Vision For Christianity and the Arts” Trinity Seminary Review 21 (1999): 25–33 – I can’t find it online, otherwise I would link to it.

Page 165:

As another business leader told me [explaining why he wasn’t a pastor], “There are plenty of Christians working on Sunday morning…. There is no more Christian hour in the country than from eleven to noon on Sunday mornings. But Tuesday afternoon seemed open.”

Page 177–178:

Evangelical business leaders also say faith influences advertising and corporate sponsorships. I interviewed Jockey’s CEO, Debra Waller, in the company’s Manhattan showroom, which was lined with larger‐than‐life photos of models in Jockey underwear. I told Waller that I had never conducted an interview surrounded by so much human flesh. She replied, “Well, we have intentionally decided to stay away from the more provocative, sexy type of advertising.” When pressed about the extent to which her evangelical faith shapes advertising decisions, Waller, who remains personally involved in approving all of the firm’s advertising, pointed out that all Jockey models wear wedding rings in photo shoots involving both men and women, implying that the couple in the ads is married. She also stipulates, “a man and a woman can’t look like a pretzel…. People hugging each other in this situation would be very believable,” but the ad must not demonstrate anything more “intimate” than that.

Heh. It’s that story that made me want to read the book after I stumbled across it in Andy Crouch’s review

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Pages 10 and 220:

Surprisingly, more than half of all leaders talked about embracing the evangelical approach to faith—“deciding to follow Jesus,” in evangelical parlance—after high school. Evangelicalism’s most prolific pollster, George Barna, has found that “if people do not embrace Jesus Christ as their savior before they reach their teenage years, the chance of their doing so at all is slim.” This suggests that American leaders’ spiritual journeys are noticeably different from those of the general population. Faith is important to them, but they generally embrace it later in life.… a majority of those [evangelical leaders] I interviewed (56 percent) embraced evangelicalism after age seventeen, and over one‐quarter were not raised in churchgoing families.

This finding is extremely significant for explaining the strategic importance of college ministry. While most Christians get saved at a young age, those Christians who wind up exerting the most influence on society disproportionately come from those saved in campus ministry (especially at elite universities) or later. The number I hear tossed around is usually 80% — “80% of everyone who gets saved gets saved in children’s or youth ministry.” If that is accurate (and I don’t know what the real statistic is), then someone who converts in college is 5 times as likely to become a significant leader in our culture as someone who converts as a child.

Page 224

…sociologist Sally Gallagher has shown that though evangelicals pay lip service to male headship in the family, few families actually behave that way. Evangelical women join the American workforce at the same rate as women in the general population. And contrary to claims that evangelical belief contributes to domestic violence, churchgoing evangelicals have the lowest rates of domestic violence of any religious group in the country. Evangelical fathers are more active and expressive with their children and more emotionally engaged with their wives. This has led sociologist Brad Wilcox to conclude that if evangelicals maintain a patriarchy, “theirs is a very soft patriarchy.”

That needs to be said more often. Evangelicals get a bum rap that we don’t deserve. He footnotes Sally Gallagher Evangelical Identity and Gendered Family Life 2003 and Brad Wilcox Soft Patriarchs, New Men: How Christianity Shapes Fathers and Husbands 2004

Page 289:

The Protestant and Catholic traditions have long recognized the legitimacy of two forms of religious organization: modalities and sodalities. Anchored by geographical function, a modality is a permanent, localized religious structure that serves a range of constituents. The traditional church parish exemplifies a religious modality, serving young and old alike. By contrast, a sodality focuses on particular religious functions and is not tethered to geography in the same way. Examples include medieval Catholic orders and Protestant missionary agencies. Sodalities serve more specialized functions than modalities. During the Reformation, Luther tried to eradicate sodalities from the church, but by the time of William Carey in the nineteenth century, Protestants had rediscovered the tactical benefits of sodalities, finding them helpful in accomplishing goals that were larger than could be undertaken by a single congregation.

Hey, I’m part of a sodality

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. Who knew? It seems that there’s probably a lot of literature on this that I’ve been completely unaware of that would be germane to the contemporary debate about parachurch organizations.

Pages 297 & 300:

Dye’s examination (2002) of the structure of institutional power in the United States reveals that 54 percent of the nation’s corporate leaders and 42 percent of government leaders today graduated from one of twelve highly selective universities…. The eight Ivy League campuses (Brown, Columbia, Cornell, Dartmouth, Harvard, University of Pennsylvania, Princeton, and Yale), the University of Chicago, Duke University, Oxford University, and Stanford University.

He footnotes Thomas R. Dye Who Is Running America? The Bush Restoration. 7th ed. (2002).

Two thoughts:
1) Stanford made the list!
2) Chi Alpha still isn’t touching most of those campuses. Sad.hitman dvd

The Year of the Rat


Winter quarter is winding down, and so we had our last official function this Friday. One of our students, Andy, made an awesome little treat. Take a cherry, cover it in chocolate, affix a Hershey’s kiss to the non‐stem end, add some almond chips for ears, and decorate the face. Voila!

I’m not sure what the proper name for this treat is, but I’m personally calling them “Calorie Vectors.”

They’re cute as a button. Unfortunately, I’ve had to kill five rats in my apartment over the last two weeks, so I took visceral satisfaction in slowly lowering the little chocolate rodents into my mouth and swallowing them like a snake.

Anyway, good luck to all my students with their finals! Enjoy spring break.

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Chi Alpha Coast to Coast

I just read a great article about Chi Alpha nationwide

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. It’s full of encouraging testimonies — including stories from several of my friends.

There’s one story I remember from my undergrad days:

Ministry real estate can be scarce on a secular campus. When Treuil came to Lafayette, Chi Alpha had no facilities.

“I inherited a two‐drawer file cabinet,” he says.

Today, the Lafayette chapter owns property estimated at $1 million and completely paid for.

A local businessman paid the rent on a house for about 5 years. A non‐Christian group was poised to buy the house in 1993 when the landlord offered to sell the property to Chi Alpha. The catch — Treuil had to raise $90,000 in 90 days.

“We didn’t have the money, but we took a step of faith,” he says.

In 90 days God provided more than $90,000 in cash from individual offerings. Pastors opened their pulpits to Treuil. One man donated a Rolex watch. A woman gave Treuil eel‐skin purses to sell. About 600 people contributed.

It was pretty amazing to watch God provide like that — and now the ministry there owns not only the original property, but almost an entire block across the street from campus that they use for ministry. God is doing stuff like that through Chi Alpha ministries on 250 campuses! Read the full article.born divx


I just learned a cool word: orant

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It means to worship or pray with your hands raised. That’s something I do a lot, but I didn’t know it had a name beyond “raising your hands”.

I don’t expect that I’ll ever have a chance to use this word in casual conversation (and I really don’t think it would be good while leading worship — “I said assume the orant position. Do it now!”), but it’s a cool word to have bouncing around in my head.