Remember a post or two back when Crusty said that he always recommended people taking the exam outline the question, because often the questions asks for specific and detailed responses? Well, COD hopes all of you were paying attention, because that's exactly what we get in the Church History question for today:
Set 5: Church HistoryOPEN RESOURCES
The Enlightenment of the late 17th and 18th centuries produced effects that remain important today. Enlightenment thinking affected the Christian church as well as the Western world. Some of the hallmarks of Enlightenment thought include:
- • The importance of individual autonomy rather than the authority of society and the state;
- • The preference for human reason over received tradition;
- • The importance of empirical observation rather than divine revelation;
- • Progress as a result of human achievement;
- • An optimistic view of the future.
2) Identify an issue confronting The Episcopal Church today and in approximately 250 words discuss how the influence of the Enlightenment contributes to the way in which TEC shapes discourse on this issue.
Normally when Crusty reflects on GOE questions, he usually jumps right into it; normally COD finishes these posts pretty quickly and then has to wait until the West Coast exam is over before posting them. But this one was different: COD really had to ponder this question, balancing what he likes about it with elements he finds concerning. Some initial thoughts on the question itself:
--Crusty always tells students that Church History questions very often will ask you to talk about something in the past and apply it to a more modern context; this question certainly falls into that
|Thinking of incorporating this into GOE prep.|
--We can again see here the place of Open Resources in shaping both the question and the response; Crusty sincerely doubts this question could have been asked in a closed resources question, since the Enlightenment is a complex phenomenon and the two exemplars chosen are not ones which many church history courses in the Anglican tradition devote significant portions to (though nobody takes an Anglican church history class from Crusty without reading at least some Wesley and White).
That said: the first essay students are asked to write brings this question close to receiving a WTF ranking. Scroll back up and read what is being asked in the first essay. Then come back down to this part.
OK, now continue below.
What are you being asked to do? Did you outline it? Crusty hopes you did.
A) Thoughts on Essay #1:
You are not being asked how White and Wesley are influenced by the Enlightenment, or what ideas or concepts of theirs have been shaped by the Enlightenment! Please, GOE takers, tell me you outlined the question! Because you are actually being asked to discuss "changes that occurred IN THE CHURCH as SEEN IN THE WRITINGS AND MINISTRIES" of White and Wesley which are a "RESULT of the Enlightenment." This is a pretty convoluted way of asking something. Reading a GOE question shouldn't be like Batman interpreting a cryptic message from The Riddler.
--So you are being asked to talk about "changes that occurred in the church". Specifically, changes that are a result of the influence of five aspects of the Enlightenment outlined. OK, but when? The "church" is pretty ambiguous. If you mean in the 17th and 18th centuries, then say so.
--Then, how those changes are seen "in the writings and ministries" of John Wesley and William White. OK, unless people have read White's Memoirs (which are fascinating, to be sure, but not widely read) COD is guessing, hoping, that most have read White's "A Case for the Episcopal
|His Memoirs were not a big seller.|
--Therein is what bothers Crusty: the way Essay #1 is phrased bolloxes up a perfectly good concept. For one, as noted above, it's needlessly confusing and complex.
--For another, perhaps more importantly, this marks the second year in a row that the church history question elides church history and theology. Last year they had the history question be about a theological evolution of an understanding ordained ministry. This year we have one on the impact of the Enlightenment on the church, but in the church history question, not a theology question.
--For example: say you chose Wesley. You could talk about his organizational rules for Methodist Societies, establishment of classes, roles for lay preachers and women, as an example of how the church was impacted by "importance of individual autonomy..." Then, you could, conceivably, talk about his theology of Christian perfection reflecting the overall impact of the Enlightenment emphasis on "progress as a result of human achievement." However, Wesley's Sermon on Christian Perfection and his Rules for Methodist Societies are different documents, one is pretty clearly a theological text.
Please note: Crusty is not opposed to this; history and theology are undoubtedly intertwined. When Crusty took over teaching Anglican Theology and Anglican History at another seminary, he changed them from two separate courses into a two-part "Anglican History and Theology," because Crusty believes theology is always contextualized. The Enlightenment, as a movement with roots in science (which at the time was called "natural philosophy"), philosophy, theology, and a number of other disciplines is a perfect example of how theology and history can be intertwined; aspects of this movement had real, tangible impact of the structure and development of the Christian Church. Crusty has said previously in blogging this year's GOE that, really, you could make a case for arguing that any canonical area could be combined with any other canonical area.
So if Crusty has no problem with this pedagogically, why does he note concern about it on the GOE? Several reasons.
--COD is concerned about the way church history might be taught, and whether students have been prepared to move back and forth between historical and theological texts; Crusty knows there are still seminaries which have separate "development of church history" and "development of Christian theology" courses.
--The canonical area says church history, just like we have separate areas for Theory and Practice of Ministry and Studies in Contemporary Society. The place to change the canons is to change the canons, not for various groups in the church to decide on their own. Two years in a row we've had a church history question that incorprates a significant theological component. Not sure we want to start playing fast and loose with categories that are canonically defined. At least Crusty is consistent on this, and feels this way about communion of the unbaptized (why do we get to ignore some canons and depose people for others?), and various groups of people trying to define certain things in contradiction to what is laid out in the Constitution, and pretending to accept renunciation of orders of bishops who didn't really renounce them http://crustyoldean.blogspot.com/2014/10/requiem-for-seminary-or-piling-up.html. Crusty would support canonical changes to allow for greater flexibility, or to empower the General Board of Examining Chaplains to do so, so long as these are clearly communicated to students as to what to expect -- not that some years church history questions will be about church history, and other years they will be about historical theology.
B) Thoughts on Essay #2.
Like COD says, he wasn't opposed to this question in principle, just thinks they have bolloxed it up. Essay #2 isn't as bad as Essay #1 in terms of the bolloxing, but it's close. The student is then asked, in 250 words (basically a long paragraph) to "Identify an issue confronting The Episcopal Church today and...discuss how the influence of the Enlightenment contributes to the way in which TEC shapes discourse on this issue." Time out! Another M. Night Shymalan situation here, with a totally new concept brought in at the tail-end of the question, like those damned plants in The Happening
|As they said in South Park: That's not an idea, that's a twist. We need ideas.|
Crusty gives this question a "meh", but on the low-end of the "meh" scale. When COD was at Yale Divinity School, they only had three grades: Honors, which was basically an "A." High Pass was anything from A- to a B- or thereabouts. Pass was basically a C. You can see in this grading system there's an incredible middle ground, with anything from B- to A- being the same grade. This caused frustration among some students, as you'd bust your ass on a paper and fall just short, getting an A-, whereas if you half-assed something and got a B- on a paper, in the end it was the same result. This resulted in the common phrase among students, "This, too, will high pass," when you were going through the motions and knew you could turn something in and still get a High Pass. "Meh" is not that different, in that it encompasses question falling just sort of "Axios!" with questions that barely are a step above "WTF."
This question gets a "Meh" because it's needlessly confusing. It doesn't get a WTF because the thing being asked is an important one: take a significant movement in church history, explain how it impacted the church at the time, and how it still effects the church today. But they took a potentially interesting question and bolloxed it up with how they chose to present it.