The Great Transfusion

As we travel through Lent, we recall Luther’s speaking, in a letter to Georg Spenlein (1516), of Holy Week as the occasion of the Great Exchange:

Therefore, my dear brother, learn Christ and him crucified. Learn to pray to him and, despairing of yourself, say: “Thou, Lord Jesus, art my righteousness, but I am thy sin. Thou hast taken upon thyself what is mine and hast given to me what is thine. Thou has taken upon thyself what thou wast not and hast given to me what I was not.”

Calvin likewise in his Institutes writes,

This is the wondrous exchange [mirifica commutatio] made by his boundless goodness. Having become with us the Son of Man, he has made us with himself sons of God. By his own descent to the earth he has prepared our ascent to heaven. Having received our mortality, he has bestowed on us his immortality. Having undertaken our weakness, he has made us strong in his strength. Having submitted to our poverty, he has transferred to us his riches. Having taken upon himself the burden of unrighteousness with which we were oppressed, he has clothed us with his righteousness.

At the conclusion of her poem “Trauma centre,” Luci Shaw puts it graphically, in the spirit of Isaiah 53 and Galatians 2:20:

But because he

was once emptied,

I am each day refilled;

my spirit-arteries

pulse with the vital red

of love; poured out,

it is his life that now

pumps through

my own heart’s core.

He bled, and died, and I

have been transfused.


Can you feel the blood rush in your veins?



Bad News for Religion Ph.D.’s…and Yet…

Here’s some bad news that no one finishing a Ph.D. in religious studies will find as all that surprising: the job market isn’t improving.

At least, it’s not better in the US, but I have no reason to think it’s better in Canada or the U.K., and is likely worse—given the huge number of religious PSE institutions in the US, an enterprise that dwarfs anything similar in other countries.

Still: The chatter around AAR/SBL employment interview zones is scarier than it needs to be. In particular, there is the Big Numbers Scare. “Fifty people applied for that job.” “A hundred people applied for that job.” “A hundred and fifty people…” and so on.

So here’s a little something to remember. You’re never competing against all the other applicants. Not even against most of them. Why not?

1. Most of the applicants will take themselves out of the running at the first pass of the hiring committee. Trust me: Lots of people apply for jobs they couldn’t possibly get.

2. So of the 100 applicants for the job, maybe 20 are even plausible. Of those, 10 will disqualify themselves pretty early: They don’t have the PhD finished and aren’t even close. Their dissertation is in a subject unlikely to interest this committee. They haven’t published a thing. They are the wrong religious affiliation for the job. They have a good, but not great, academic pedigree (that is, by the standards of the hiring institution).

3. Now we’re down to 10. So do you, in fact, have a PhD in hand, or can you be sure to have it in hand when the job starts? Do you have a PhD with a fine school and/or an excellent advisor? Do you have a dissertation and, ideally, courses and comprehensive exams, that will position you to complement the department’s needs for both research and teaching? Have you at least one published article in a reputable journal? If those boxes are all ticked, then you’re probably on the short list.

4. And the rest is not really up to you. You can prepare and deliver a fine candidating lecture, and you certainly should: jobs large and small have depended on the presentations given by the candidates. (It really isn’t all about research, despite what you may think.) You can be wise, witty, and wonderful in conversation. (Ditto.)

But at the end of the day, it will come down to “fit”—that horrifyingly vague term for the complex chemical interaction that is departmental deliberation about job candidates.

And there’s nothing you can do about that. Just be yourself, don’t try to guess what strangers are thinking while you’re interviewing and then try to “game” them, and trust God to guide the process and you. (And, if you don’t believe in God . . . well, two out of three.)

So are you thinking about a PhD? Then keep thinking about it. Don’t be dismayed by the numbers, by the big numbers. You don’t need twenty jobs. You need just one. And to get that you need to emerge first out of, say, half a dozen. And that is thinkable, right?

* * * * *

For other posts on graduate work, see the list posted to the left.

Why I’m Not Cheering the “Loyola” Supreme Court Decision

The Supreme Court of Canada has now decided, albeit in an almost even split vote, the case of Loyola High School, a private Jesuit school in Quebec. The issue is whether such a school can be compelled to teach the provincially mandated Ethics and Religious Culture curriculum (ERC), as it is to be taught in every other school in the province, or whether Loyola should be allowed to teach its own version from a Roman Catholic perspective.

Lots of Christians, including many I personally like and respect, are rejoicing that the SCC has “finally” recognized religious rights. As a Christian professor of ethics and religious culture, however, I think Loyola’s objection has been misguided and the SCC decision is a mistake.

A legitimate worry from the religious side is that the ERC might be understood to require every teacher to affirm each and every variety of ethics or religion that might surface in a class. But it doesn’t, and for good reason. It would be simply monstrous to compel a teacher, whatever his or her beliefs and whatever school in which he or she is teaching, to affirm a belief in genocide, say, or the oppression of women, or sedition in the name of this or that theocracy. The ERC curriculum does not in fact mandate such ethical idiocy.

Instead, the ERC curriculum submits the discussion of ethics and religion to social scientific and philosophical discipline. Religions are to be described as historical phenomena with the intention of understanding them analytically, not judging them theologically. And ethical decision-making is to be studied philosophically in order to foster careful and consistent deliberation.

The teacher, representing the school and the state, must maintain neutrality—note: not affirmation—regarding the various options. She does so, just as professors of religion already do in public universities, in order that students may explore the vexed world of ethical reasoning and the variety of religious options without any compulsion to decide one way or another. For now—and that is the crucial qualifier: for now—teacher and students are to simply look hard at the religious realities of the world in order to understand their neighbours and themselves a little better. Read the rest of this entry »