Wintery Knight

…integrating Christian faith and knowledge in the public square

Is it “brilliant” to accumulate $185,000 of debt studying the humanities?

From the Des Moines Register, an article by Ms. Rehha Basu.

Excerpt:

Sixteen years ago, Patricia (P.J.) Johnston of Des Moines made the front page of this paper for collecting her diploma from Drake University at just 19. “Johnston was reading books on French existentialism while others her age were still buying comic books,” wrote reporter Tom Alex of the young woman who majored in religion and philosophy, dabbled in music and astronomy and found time to take part in online discussions on the Bible.

“I think I’m probably meant to be an academic,” Johnston was quoted as saying. And she has been, getting a master’s in one institution, going to seminary at another, doing field research in India in her area of interest — Indian Catholicism — and currently working toward a Ph.D in religious studies at the University of Iowa.

President Barack Obama came through Johnston’s university on Wednesday, where he said there is no greater predictor of success than a good education. “This country has always made a commitment to put a good education within the reach of everybody who’s willing to work for it,” Obama said. “That’s part of what made us special. … That’s a commitment that we need to reaffirm today.”

He talked about the untenable debt that’s limiting options for today’s college-goers — $25,000 on average — because tuition and fees have more than doubled since they were born.

Johnston didn’t get to hear him since she was teaching a class on Buddhism. But she knows a lot about educational debt. She has $185,000 in student loans to repay.

As it is, she sleeps on her office floor on the days she has to be in Iowa City, riding the Greyhound bus in from Des Moines. She helps support her mother with the approximately $16,000 she earns as a teaching assistant. But she is in danger of dropping out before getting her doctorate because she has hit her limit on loans, and most likely won’t be able to get a teaching assistant position next year because of cuts in undergraduate programs.

If that happens, she wrote me, she would be this far along, “facing the job market in my mid-30s with no marketable job skills of any kind.”

Johnston grew up on welfare and other forms of public assistance. Her divorced mother was unable to hold down a job for reasons that were never diagnosed. Johnston got through college with scholarships, grants, some help from her late grandmother, and only $18,000 in debt.

Student loans should not be connected to the government as they are now – they should be privatized. That way, taxpayers are not stuck with the bill if the person cannot make a career out of what they are studing. What is this person doing going abroad in India? What is she doing riding on Grayhounds? It makes no sense. If she had to go to a for-profit bank, then she would never get a student loan, because they know they would never get the money back. We have to have a system where people pay their own way, so that they can’t take risks with anyone else’s money but their own (or their loan guarantor’s). No taxpayer money should be available to them, and no taxpayer money should be given to subsidize universities, either – it just raises the cost of tuition. Once the number of students applying to the humanities is reduced because no loans are available, then tuition will come down for those who really intend to make a go of it.

I think a lot of the problem here comes from growing up without a father. Fathers teach their children to be practical because they worry more than mothers about the children not being able to be independent and fend for themselves.

UPDATE: The Captain comments on this story here.

UPDATE: This is from the woman’s Facebook page:

I have never asked anybody to pay my student loan debt for me, and I will pay it down someday, even if I have to eat ramen noodles for the rest of my life. I was willing to undertake my studies at any cost and at any degree of personal risk because I believe in God and I am convinced that I am doing what God is calling me to do. If you read the New Testament, you will find a great deal about how people are called to give up everything they own – houses and wealth and family and respectibility and everything else – to do whatever it is that God calls them to do. I am not brave and no longer optimistic, but I have tried to take God at his word.

I am not financing education entirely through student loan debt. I held work study jobs as an undergraduate, and have usually held some kind of on-campus employment. I have been a TA for the university for the last seven years. The fact is, government support of higher education is down and the cost of tuition has outpaced salaries to such a great degree in this country that virtually nobody is able to afford an education on their own wages without taking on a substantial burden of student loan debt. The vast majority of the anecdotes to the contrary concern degrees earned twenty or thirty years ago, before major structural changes in the financing of higher education – in the post-war years, government funding allowed the vast majority of expense for education to be met through Pell grants and scholarships, making it possible for many people to work themselves through school. That hasn’t been possible for most people in most degree programs for at least thirty years, and these nostalgic memories of an entirely different time and set of circumstances are not doing the debate on higher education financing in this country any good at all.

I am not a “professional student” nor am I taking an especially long time to pursue my degree – this is simply how long humanities education takes. http://chronicle.com/article/In-Humanities-10-Years-May/16231

If you only see value in STEM disciplines, I probably will not convince you that humanities education is valuable. There used to be a sense in this country that certain things had value and meaning in their own right, not simply because they produced nice technological gadgets or made bundles of money for businesses. Even conservatives such as Allan Bloom used to realize that it impoverishes us spiritually when we turn away from the humanities, the cultural legacy of Western society. Would that their political descendants had as much grace or wisdom.

She’s not being forced into this course of action. She’s choosing it deliberately, and she wants other people to pay to make her impractical flight from reality financially sound.

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J. Warner Wallace: influence the culture by encouraging young Christians

From the Cold Case Christianity blog.

Excerpt:

I came to faith at the age of 35. I didn’t have a deep relationship with any Christians at the time, and I had no strong Christian influences in my life. Without a mentor or role model, I felt like I had to work through the evidence and claims of Christianity on my own. Many years later however, as I was preparing to write my own book and start a modest journey as a public Case Maker, members of the apologetics community surrounded me with support and encouragement. While I wasn’t much younger than any of them (and was, in fact, older than some), they recognized I was the “new kid” on the block and surprised me with their generosity, wisdom and assistance. I was humbled by the response, and began to look at my own sphere of influence, searching for young men and women I could encourage in a similar way.

Those of us who hope to influence the culture for Christ typically think of our own efforts to communicate and reach the world. What can I write today? What can I say? How can I effectively use the internet to promote and defend the Christian worldview? Like others, I’m guilty of viewing my influence through the narrow lens of my own efforts. As a guy who started this season in my 50’s however, I’ve come to realize the limits of my own impact and the role I can play as an encourager. My questions are starting to change: Who can I inspire as a young Christian Case Maker? What small piece of wisdom can I provide to someone who is a few steps behind me in this journey? How can I impact the younger generation of Christian Case Makers? I know I won’t be writing and speaking 30 years from now, but there are men and women out there who will be. What can I do to make them even more effective?

I wanted to add to what he wrote and tell you a little bit about what I do. Through my blog, I have been able to meet young people in high school and college who are making decisions about what to study and where to work. I’m been able to help people in some specific ways:

  • helping them to know what to read/listen to/watch in order to build up their worldview
  • helping them learn how to debate with skeptics
  • helping them to decide between college and trade school
  • helping them to choose the right major
  • encouraging them to work in the summer instead of taking time off
  • helping them get funding for apologetics events that they organize
  • rewarding them for doing well in school or work
  • listening to the conflicts with teachers and professors
  • helping them make plans for their lives
  • helping them make good decisions with the opposite sex
  • spending time playing games with them or just talking
  • asking them about their classes, assignments and tests

It’s always rewarding to seem them studying hard subjects, getting good grades, entering competitions and getting summer/full-time jobs. I like to give rewards to people who do try to grow their skills and produce results. It can be small stuff like games or books, or bigger stuff, like sponsoring an apologetics event that they’ve organized. Sometimes I can get a young person connected with a mentor. For example, one young lady wanted to start a pro-life club, and I was able to connect her with someone who started a large pro-life organization and the office manager from that large pro-life organization. I also provided her with some helpful pro-life books.  It’s important that we not understimate how much good it does to try to be supportive when young people want to grow their skills and take on challenges.

I think that mentoring young people is especially for those of us who are not married with children. We typically have more disposable income and time than married people do, especially married people with children. Not only is it good for them to get the advice from someone more experienced, but it also gives you parenting practice, and that’s something that you can talk about in a courting situation. This is the kind of thing that signals to a candidate spouse that you are going to be interested in mentoring them, and in raising effective Christian children. The most challenging thing about doing this is that you really have to think about how to please God with your mentoring, and that means that you have to put yourself second a lot of the time. It’s good for singles to learn how to do that.

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , ,

Can you have an apologetics ministry and still hold down a full-time job?

J. Warner Wallace is passionate about encouraging Christians to keep their day jobs and do their apologetics ministry without financial constraints. He did it, and it worked for him. He has just posted a list of people who have full-time vocations with a part-time apologetics ministry.

He writes:

The Christian community is experiencing an apologetics “renaissance”, and this resurgence of interest in Christian Case Making is being driven by an unexpected group of “tent-making” Christian Case Makers. Like the Apostle Paul, these avocational apologists draw their income from “conventional” careers (Paul was described as a tent-maker inActs 18:1-3) as they evangelize, preach, make a case or serve. I’m proud to be a member of this growing group of “One Dollar Apologists”. In this post, I’d like to bring your attention to many of the tent-making Case Makers having an impact in our world today. If you are interested in apologetics, you’ve undoubtedly visited many of the websites I’ve collected here. In fact, you may not have realized these resources were being provided by people who are working in vocations similar to your own. As you scan this list of tent-making apologetics websites, take note of the variety of occupations held by the men and women behind the scenes…

I checked out the list to see what all the bloggers I read do in their day jobs, and was pleased to see a number of people in the list who are in science, technology and engineering fields. That’s what I do, and I think it’s the best thing to do. So for the rest of this post I want to give some reasons why people who want to be tent-maker case-makers should consider a STEM degree and a STEM job. (STEM = Science, Technology, Engineering, Math).

Why you should prefer a STEM degree

I always recommend that people prefer STEM degrees when they want to do a “tent-maker” model of apologetics ministry, for five reasons:

1. Doing a STEM degree will make you miserable and give you nightmares for life, and nothing you do after you do a STEM degree can ever be as bad as sitting in a lab all night trying to get something to work that doesn’t want to work. Not even changing diapers. It’s good to get you to accept that life is hard, that your feelings don’t matter to anyone and that you can’t have your way all the time.

2. Doing a STEM degree will give you a lot of money for your ministry, so much that you can even give some away to other ministries. Yesterday, I sent $150 to a Ratio Christi chapter that I like and $300 to another apologetics ministry that I like. And that’s not a problem because a STEM job typically pays better than average.

3. Doing a STEM degree will help you to pay back any student loans you take out, which is a big problem these days because the economy is lousy for young graduates.

4. Doing a STEM degree will shield you from a lot of the pressure you might face from the secularists and leftists who dominate the university classroom, because there just isn’t time to talk about politics much in those classes. The only time I ever got any trouble was my machine learning / search algorithms course in graduate school.

5. Doing a STEM degree will give you an advantage in credibility when discussing apologetics. I think that atheists are more impressed when we have some experience with a demanding job in some practical field. I don’t know about you, but I don’t find arguments like “the argument from fantasy literature” and “the argument from desire” persuasive coming from artsy people who don’t know how to do anything practical for money in the real world.

If you are a woman and want to be a stay-at-home mom, that is excellent, but a STEM degree is still for you! I think it’s useful for everyone. I have a friend who is busy doing her nursing degree part-time and she is a stay-at-home mom, and some of my favorite women apologists (Letitia Wong and Melissa Travis) have science backgrounds.

The best degrees for a tent-maker

If you are just picking a STEM field, then here is a list of the majors that lead to higher paying jobs, although other jobs might even help you to study apologetics, like being a police detective.

Top 10 highest-paid college majors

  1. Petroleum Engineering: $120,000
  2. Pharmacy Pharmaceutical Sciences and Administration: $105,000
  3. Mathematics and Computer Science: $98,000
  4. Aerospace Engineering: $87,000
  5. Chemical Engineering: $86,000
  6. Electrical Engineering: $85,000
  7. Naval Architecture and Marine Engineering: $82,000
  8. Mechanical Engineering: $80,000
  9. Metallurgical Engineering: $80,000
  10.  Mining and Mineral Engineering: $80,000

And here are some majors that you should avoid at all costs:

  1. Counseling Psychology: $29,000
  2. Early Childhood Education: $36,000
  3. Theology and Religious Vocations: $38,000
  4. Human Services and Community Organization: $38,000
  5. Social Work: $39,000
  6. Drama and Theater Arts: $40,000
  7. Studio Arts: $40,000
  8. Communication Disorders Sciences and Service: $40,000
  9. Visual and Performing Arts: $40,000
  10. Health and Medical Preparatory Programs: $40,000

If you’re not going to do a STEM degree, then a trade degree in the right area can be just as good. The main thing is to be able to do work, preferably in the private sector, that is valuable enough to someone else that they are willing to pay you for it. I think in this economy, it is particularly reckless to be doing a PhD in the humanities, unless you are already retired and fully-funded from your previous work.

Related posts

J. Warner Wallace: practical advice on becoming an effective one-dollar apologist

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Lydia McGrew: we need an army of tentmakers

Lydia McGrew has a post up at What’s Wrong With the World blog that is just excellent. (H/T Apologetics315)

Excerpt:

Apologetics is wonderful and incredibly important. It’s a wonderful thing that a revival of specifically evidentialist apologetics is happening in the United States and even, to some extent, in the Anglophone world at large.

Unfortunately, this revival of interest in apologetics and in being Christian philosophers is coming at a very bad time, economically. Even if you are a genius, your chances in 2013 and following of getting a stable job by the route of going to graduate school in philosophy (or almost any area of the humanities) are pretty darned slim. If you’re not a genius, fuhgetaboutit. Nor were there ever all that many jobs in philosophy. It was always an iffy proposition, but it’s much worse now than it was even twenty years ago.

As for starting ministries, a poor economy makes it extremely hard to do that, too, because people don’t have as much disposable income to donate. Moreover, even in a more robust economy, if all the eager young apologists were to flock to start apologetics and/or campus ministries, they would be competing among themselves for a finite number of available dollars from donors. So that’s not the best idea either.

Let me speak very bluntly here: In my opinion, God doesn’t need a whole raft of impractical idealists out there getting themselves into debt or half starving (or really starving) with no idea of how in the world they are ever going to support even themselves, much less a family, out at the other end of their education. That just burdens the church with a large number of able-bodied but needy Christians who are in a seemingly unending stage of transition, “getting an education for the kingdom” or “hoping to do work for the kingdom” without a viable plan in mind or any fiscal light at the end of the tunnel.

Instead, I believe that we need an army of tentmakers. If you have a job or a marketable skill, for heaven’s sake (literally), don’t quit that job and join the ranks of starving students. Keep your day job, but enrich your mind and prepare yourself to answer people’s questions about Christianity by studying on your own time. If you have entrepreneurial abilities and the capital, start a business. That will support not only yourself but others you employ, and if successful, you will have more money to give to Christian ministries.

But even if you aren’t the entrepreneurial type or don’t have that opportunity, at least make sure (to the extent that one can in today’s world) that you can pay the rent and put food on your own table as well as supporting whatever number of additional people you plan to take on. (In other words, if you are a guy who would like to get married and have children, bear that in mind.) This will inevitably mean spending time at all that distasteful stuff like networking and making a resume. Bookish types don’t enjoy that stuff, because it seems bogus, but it can’t be helped. It will undoubtedly mean, for most people, not being full-time students beyond the undergraduate level, especially not in the humanities, not trying to become full-time academics as a life work, and not going into full-time ministry, even if you would ideally like to do one or more of those three things.

In the end, if we can have this army of tentmakers, there will be (Lord willing) money to allow some people to work in full-time ministry. But it’s going to be quite a small proportion of those who are interested or would ideally like to do so.

[...]Inevitably, the course of action I am suggesting will mean a bifurcation for many between their day job and what they are most passionately interested in. So be it. Indeed, so it has ever been in the world. What proportion of people at any moment in human history have been blessed enough to spend most of their time working on what they are most passionately interested in? The question answers itself. So I think that bifurcation has to be accepted by a great many people and that doing so will lead to what I might call a healthier “Christian economy” among committed Christians than what we could otherwise end up with.

So let’s see her advice in bullet-point form:

  • The job market for philosophers is very bad
  • A bad economy means less support money is available
  • It’s important to have a plan to fund your  ministry
  • Leverage your full-time job to fund your ministry

I often find that when I talk to Christians, there is this sort of hyper-spiritualized way of deciding what to do. People read the Bible, which is good, but then they don’t tend to also look at things like economics, science and public policy. The Bible doesn’t say much about what to study or what job to get, but there is an example of Paul working at tent-making in order to fund his ministry. So there is precedent for the idea of learning a trade and working to earn enough money to support our families, our ministry and even other people’s ministries. I think we have an obligation to take the Bible seriously when it tells us what we can do to please God, but coming up with a plan to please God most effectively is our job. We have to make the plans to serve God. Our plans must be within the bounds of Biblical morality, but they should also reflect our knowledge of how the world really works, too. We’ll be more successful with a good plan and some hard work.

Be sure and listen to the podcast by J. Warner Wallace on this issue, and read my comments too (same post).

Filed under: Mentoring, , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

J. Warner Wallace: practical advice on becoming an effective one-dollar apologist

As promised, below is my summary of J. Warner Wallace’s most recent Please Convince Me podcast, and my comments.

Details:

J. Warner continues examining the Christian life in light of God’s desire for all of us to become Christian Case Makers. Jim reads listener email highlighting some of the typical frustrations involved in starting an apologetics ministry and then provides a template to help you become the Case Maker you’ve always wanted to be. Jim also answers the question: Why Didn’t Jesus Reveal Scientific Facts to Demonstrate His Deity?

You can grab the MP3 file here.

This episode is probably one of the best episodes of the Please Convince Me podcast I’ve ever heard, because it’s practical. I like listening to the cold-case detective talk about practical things.

Summary:

  • e-mail from someone trying to start an apologetics ministry for college students and facing difficulties
  • the challenge of getting Christians to take an evidential approach to their faith
  • tips for getting Christians exposed to apologetics materials
  • there are a lot of Christians who are making a daily contribution to apologetics even with a full-time job
  • Wallace himself started his apologetics ministry while working full-time
  • Wallace, as an atheist, was initially skeptical of religion because he thought it was too focused on money
  • His plan as an apologist was to take money right out of it – do it for free, and  be self-funded
  • 1 Cor 9: “But I have made no use of any of these rights, nor am I writing these things to secure any such provision.”
  • People in ministry deserve to be supported, but Paul dispensed with that right to raise support for his ministry
  • Paul self-financed his ministry in order to avoid all appearance of doing his ministry for financial gain
  • Similarly, Wallace’s goal of being self-financed was to avoid the appearance of doing ministry for money
  • If you plan your life carefully enough in the first half, you’ll have the money you need to do ministry in the second half
  • Wallace wanted the liberty to pursue things without any financial need, and he achieved this by working full-time
  • The problem with money is that it often causes us to not cooperate well with other people
  • Ministries and churches sometimes avoid working with other people, like scholars and apologists
  • They do this because they are afraid of losing their own people to these scholars and apologists
  • Wallace wants to get the money out of it and be able to serve anyone with a need
  • Wallace: you need to work hard in the first half of life, in order to have freedom to serve in the second half
  • First area: financial preparation – you need to escape financial needs so that it doesn’t restrict your passion
  • Wallace married well, to a woman who was a good saver, very frugal, and not materialistic – he saved 30% of his income
  • Second area: need to prepare yourself educationally for being able to teach apologetics materially
  • That doesn’t always mean doing the MA in apologetics, but you do have master the material – continuous learning
  • Third area: try to focus on the parts of your career that might have some connection to apologetics
  • You want to have experiences in your work where you learn something that can be used in your ministry
  • Wallace actually made career choices to focus on evidence, case-making and teaching
  • It’s hard because men are naturally competitive – we focus on promotions, money and consumer goods
  • It’s not always the right move in your career to get promoted if it takes you away from skills related to apologetics
  • Christian apologists need to not neglect to develop leadership skills and to develop influence
  • He recommends a book called “Platform” by Michael Hyatt, which Doug Groothuis also recommended to me
  • If you are financially independent, then if an unpaid opportunity arises, you have the freedom to take it
  • You can volunteer for positions that you want to have, instead having to take what pays
  • Wallace writes for Breakpoint, and he is able to dispense with the 1000-word limit that gets a fee
  • Money opens up the danger of corruption, so it’s another reason to just take it out of the picture
  • You can be very effective in your apologetics ministry while still working full-time
  • The second half is a good time to have even more freedom because your kids are grown up
  • A good wife can really help you if she is picking up the slack so that you can work on your ministry
  • Jane Pantig works for Ratio Christi, an organization that promotes apologetics on campus
  • Jane’s model: she is in full-time ministry, with a BS in biology and an MA in apologetics (Biola)
  • Jane is able to get many high-quality speakers to speak for free/cheap at San Jose State University

The rest of the podcast deals a question that was asked at the San Jose State University event that Wallace did for Ratio Christi. I blogged about it this morning. I  laughed my butt off while listening to that podcast, starting at around 62:50 and on. It’s pretty funny when he does the role-pay between Jesus and the people listening to him.

My comments:

The reason I wanted to post this is because I think that a lot of people feel obligated to quit their jobs and raise support because they think that you have to do apologetics full time. It’s not true. Wallace explains that he worked as a cold-case detective until just recently when he took his pension. His pension is now underwriting his ministry. Similarly with me, I work a full-time job and run the blog out of my income. In addition, I probably donate a few thousand dollars each year to people who are organizing apologetics lectures, debates and conferences – events featuring speakers I like best.

This blog gets about 1 million page views per year, depending on the year (election years are better), so that’s not an insignificant impact. In addition, I meet a lot of young Christians in university in different countries who want advice or mentoring, so I spend a few hours here and there mentoring them, and sometimes sending them rewards (books) for doing difficult degrees at good universities and getting good grades. My full-time job helps me to do all of these things. And before I could have a full-time job in information technology, I had to put in the time and effort to get the Bachelor and Masters degree in computer science.

So I think that Christian men especially need to be thinking about how much the apologetics enterprise of a one-dollar apologist relies on money. We really need to be thinking about that early on, in high school, and choosing to study hard things and to do well in those hard subjects. The higher-paying jobs that are more secure tend to be in fields like science, math, technology and engineering. We need to be thinking of doing these courses in high school – especially the men, but also the women – in order to be able to pay for our apologetics ministry. In addition, my decision to not marry (unless I meet a woman who can support me in my plan) gives me even more freedom to work on my ministry while working full time.

I fully approve of what Wallace said about self-financing your apologetics ministry – and supporting other apologetics ministries – in order to avoid all appearance of self-interest. In fact, I have long admired Wallace for his intentional, practical way of doing his ministry. He doesn’t take donations, and he gives away tons of materials for free. I like that.

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