If I had to describe my experience in getting my education (I have a BA in Biblical Research and an MA in Theology) and what I had once thought it would bring me in one word, I think “disenchantment” is the one which sums it up the best. Why?
Make no mistake, I loved getting my education. I love learning, reading, thinking, writing, and talking with others about what I learn, read, think, write, and hear. I even love those special kinds of moments that happen when people who are good at disagreeing find themselves at odds and have to work to understand one another and think about what the other is saying (this happens more rarely than you’d think, as evidenced by a casual perusal through any social media platform). I think it’s fair to say that my time as a student may be the highlight of my life. I had fantastic teachers. I learned Greek and Hebrew. I learned how to read the Bible (and how not to). I studied the writings of people who have thought about these things centuries before I came along. And I was forced to wrestle with their ideas and interpretations and stories and all kinds of wonderful things.
As a student, I always felt like I was being let in on the secrets of the universe. I’ve often wondered since then why I felt that way. All of the books I read in college and in seminary are available to me on Amazon, as well as so many more. And I had done some reading before I ever went off to college, finding books on my own and pursuing understanding. But I was floundering, until I went to school. It was there that I had a chance to devote time to being a student, to study and learning. And I was digging into a deeper and better understanding of what my faith was supposed to be than I was going to ever get simply reading books I happened to find at the Christian bookstore (which can be a dangerous place, theologically, by the way) because now I had guides: teachers. These men and women had spent a lot of time learning how to read and how to think. That may seem silly on the surface, but it’s important. We need one another to talk to or else our thinking collapses into solipsism, where each individual is her own authority. And we need to listen to voices who’ve been disciplined in learning if we’re going to develop proper habits as good learners.
So, if my experience was so great, why the disenchantment? Make no mistake, the learning was great. The topics were great. And many of the teachers were great (even though I didn’t and still don’t always agree with everything each one said). The problem came, for me, I think when the systems and structures which I had gone into tremendous debt to get “educated” to serve decided that I was no longer fit to do so. Oh, I’ve done full-time ministry and even taught theology, Bible, and interpretation for a regionally-accredited college. But, the more my thinking about the Gospel changed, the more I became convinced about the peacefulness of the Gospel and its call for us to empty ourselves of “power” and the pursuit of power, the more it became clear to me that the political and power structures that all such institutions are built on were in tension with the message of Jesus and the apostles.
Of course, nothing bothers the powerful (even those who claim to be “distinctly Christian”) quite like questioning whether their power is legitimate. And I know it’s probably tempting to assume that I didn’t handle myself well…on a few of occasions I didn’t. In the end, I was outed from my role at a Christian college because I voiced my concern that something I was asked to do seemed wrong, it seemed unethical. Soon, I was gone.
Soon after, my wife and I attempted to work with a church…this one a “mega-church” where she could use her extensive experience and education to serve. We lasted there no more than eight months, and, biased as I might be, I can tell you with relative objective confidence that she did nothing wrong.
So, what is it? Well it could be me. And some folks I know would probably tell you that it is. That’s their prerogative. But, I’ve thought long and hard and decided where my failures were and where theirs were. And, in the end, I’ve concluded that there is something about these official structures, something about “brick and mortar,” something about accreditation and money, something about the growth economies that keep “churches” and “institutions” looking to expand, to acquire, and to seek “more” that is inherently at odds with the message of Jesus. Like it or not, much of that which gets called “church” is exactly not. If my own reading of the Bible demonstrates anything it’s that in the hearts of people, whenever God’s will is in competition with the pursuit of power, it is the former which is sacrificed.
That’s one of the primary reasons I’m so excited to be helping with the mission of Forging Ploughshares. The FP community believes in the inherent peaceableness of the Kingdom of God and that the kinds of power-structures which the world finds necessary for doing life are not so in the Kingdom of God.
For this reason, Forging Ploughshares is launching the Ploughshares Bible Institute. Forging Ploughshares is an organization devoted to the notion that peaceful Christian living and teaching are inherently linked. Therefore, the Ploughshares Bible Institute seeks to extend the exploration of Christian peace in the community of the Church through accessible and affordable learning modules which are designed to inform and transform learners through theological and biblical study and dialogue within a larger community.
PBI is not an accredited learning platform but it is written, developed, and facilitated by men and women with relevant accredited education and experience teaching related subjects in the college, university, and church setting. The philosophy behind PBI is not opposed to accredited higher education but suggests that the structures and hierarchies necessary to make institutions “accredited” are designed to serve an economy which is inherently in tension with the alternative community called “the Church” which is established by the Gospels and expounded throughout the New Testament. For this reason, the founders of Forging Ploughshares have concluded that there is an inherent pressure within institutions of Christian higher education to serve power structures and interests which are hostile to the truest nature of Christianity.
What this means for the learner: the Ploughshares Bible Institute is not designed to provide the learner with a “marketable degree” in hopes that they will repay the loans which were necessary to support the structures through which they attained the degree. Instead, PBI is designed to provide the learner with a transformative learning experience with equivalent content and contact to a seminary-level education in an online format. For this reason, the typical student who would find PBI attractive is one who is a devoted Christian who desires to more fully understand and put into practice the very practical and peaceful Kingdom Jesus established within the community of the Church, not necessarily the one seeking qualifications to enter into “vocational ministry.” These are students who, in order to find this experience without PBI, might end up paying a great deal of money and/or taking on exorbitant amounts of debt at a traditional seminary or Christian college or university.
If you are someone who finds yourself, like me, wanting to learn and grow, please check out Ploughshares Bible Institute, and the catalog, which is here. The catalog goes into great detail on the kinds of courses we will be offering as well as how to earn certificates from PBI. Based on the cost of developing and delivering the courses, there is a small, but we think reasonable, cost.
We believe that growing in our understanding of the Gospel with one another is an essential part of enacting the Kingdom of God as a truly peaceful alternative community to this world within and for this world as we await the resurrection. At Forging Ploughshares, we have begun to experience just this sort of peaceful community through learning and sharing with one another. We’d like to invite you to be an active part of that with us! Please consider it!