I recently was made aware of a new book that piqued my interest and wanted to write a review of it.
The Professor’s Puzzle is by Michael S. Lawson and it is a new book to the Christian education field. Even though I have expressed a call to pastoral ministry, educational ministry has also been an interest of mine since I have attended and graduated from Bible college and seminary.
When I first picked up this book and started reading, I wondered if I was going to get lost in a sea of educational philosophy, terminology, or concepts that I did not understand. I appreciated the author’s labor in explaining each chapter in brief in the preface. Most book prefaces are quite brief and not very helpful. This preface is one of the best that I have ever read because it painstakingly explains each chapter without giving away the entire chapter content. This is helpful so as the reader, you know which direction the author is going. The author does start out the book with a chapter on A Philosophy of Christian Academic Education. He starts out by addressing the disparity between Greek philosophers and the Bible. Many times Christians are too quick to immediately dismiss the Greek philosophers, but I believe as the author does that we can learn something from them in relation to our faith. The author outlines this stellar answer on page 3. This is the first time I have seen an evangelical scholar really take the time to address the issue and relationship between Greek philosophers and Christian education. I knew after reading his answer that this was going to be a great book. Also in the first chapter he asks a legitimate question that all professors and institutions should be asking of every course offering – “How do students move from mere cognition about him to an intimate relationship with him? What role does/should a school have in this process?
The author does discuss many facets of education in the early chapters. He talks about an integrated curriculum, motivation, how to write a syllabus, managing the classroom, using a variety of teaching methods, etc. These are great things to know about and to learn from a Christian perspective. I think where this book excels are the last two chapters where the author gets away from the philosophies and methods and talks about something that is probably not discussed often in many institutions of higher learning and that is how professors related to students. Too many times professors seem themselves as the purveyors of truth and that they are “above” or “over” the student. The author makes a great observation regarding the relationship between teacher and student:
The relationship with students is under the absolute control of the teacher… The student’s perception of you, as a Christian teacher, is the platform from which you minister. Your behavior inside the classroom sets up the opportunity to minister outside the classroom.
In furthering the relationship between teacher and student, the author talks about providing the students “a get to you know form” Also on pg. 228-229 he lists several different ways to show a personal interest in students. Many of us can probably think of professors that we have had at the college and seminary level who were good at this.
Towards the end of the book the author talks about issues like funding, enrollment, faculty credentials, tenure. I love the quote about budgets that should be on the wall of every administrator in every institution of higher learning.
In reality a budget is only a hopeful forecast of what might happen, assuming a stable income stream and no unexpected expenses.
One factor that I am glad that the author discussed in the book, which is usually the “elephant in the room” in some cases. He talks quite frankly about the hiring practices in most higher educational institutions. I am glad that he addressed this quotation, but never really went beyond how to escape the phenomena that we call “politics”. I expect politics to be at play in the worldly institutions but find it shameful that they exist within Christian institutions.
While good grades and grasp of content do matter, other factors often play a larger role in getting a teaching job. Auburn University published a study of junior faculty among theological schools. They reported that an applicant’s ‘being known in some way’ contributed greatly to their hiring. When schools looks to fill positions, senior faculty expressed concern about the new hire ‘fitting in’. Relationships and perceived attitudes greatly affected hiring practices. In their words, “connections count”.
I found myself reflecting back a lot of my educational experiences in both college and seminary as I read this book.
Overall, I highly recommend this book to current professors, students, and those especially who are considering a career in the academy especially those who will be teaching and training future servants of Christ.
It would be a great honor to be able to meet the author personally and have a discussion about this book. Living in the DFW area might make that a possibility.
Disclosure: I was provided a free copy of this book in exchange for my review. I was not required to publish a positive review.