Top 10 Ways to Fail a Bible Paper


Required reading for Dallas Christian College students, I think.

Reading Acts

While I was grading papers a couple of weeks ago, I thought it would be funny to write a few tweets with common student mistakes. This turned into a “top ten list” of things I have consistently read over my 23 years of grading Bible papers. I posted the Top Ten list using over a couple of days. (By the way, follow me @Plong42.)  The tweets were very popular, most were re-tweeted and there was a fair amount of sympathy among other Bible teachers. I thought I would post the list with a little clarification.

FailI want to make a few clarifications. There is no one student in mind for any of the Top Ten. Sadly, these are the types of things that regularly turn up in undergraduate Bible papers, from freshmen to seniors. Most of my students are very bright and write excellent papers. Occasionally even the…

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Tom Loveless: Does the Common Core Matter?


The falsification of Common Core’s claims: “Test-score differences WITHIN states are about four to five times greater than differences in state means…. Districts & schools within the same state have been operating under common standards for several years and, in some states, for decades.”

Diane Ravitch's blog

In the spring of 2012, Brookings scholar Tom Loveless set off a firestorm when he wrote a study of the Common Core State Standards and concluded that they would make little or no difference in student achievement.

He did not pass judgment on the quality of the standards but on the question of how much standards matter.

He wrote:

“The finding is clear: The quality of state standards has not mattered. From 2003 to 2009, states with terrific standards raised their National Assessment of Educational Progress scores by roughly the same margin as states with awful ones.”

Does rigor matter? In fourth grade, he found, that was some evidence that raising cut points “is associated with increased achievement. But the effect is not large, and it is difficult to determine the direction of causality. At 8th grade, states with lenient cut points have made NAEP gains similar to those of…

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Leadership 201: When You CAN’T Tell People


I’ve been caught in a couple of situations recently where people that I work with were upset–thankfully nothing major–over issues where they didn’t have the full story.

I, as one of the executives, had knowledge that they didn’t have.  But as often happens in such situations, I couldn’t share the information I had, even though it would have made their lives easier.  (Or do I mean it would have made MY life easier?)

I’ve been in situations like this before: terminating a faculty member, for example.  Budget decisions.  Decisions to shut down programs.

During my six years in administration, I’ve had somewhere between 12 – 18 situations like this, where a person or group of people were upset because administration had made a decision that rocked their corner of the institution.  And I understand why they’re upset; their value to the college is partly their ability to focus single-mindedly on THEIR corner of the institution, make it as excellent as it can be, and NOT take the big picture view.

Administrators, OTOH, have to worry about the health of the whole institution, not just ONE corner but ALL the corners and programs AND the whole gestalt of the thing.  And sometimes, what’s healthiest for the whole school isn’t what’s best for a single program, or a single person.

So how do you face it?

  • You hope you’ve built up enough emotional capital with people that they’re willing to trust you even when it’s hard.
  • You give as much information as you can, and be absolutely honest when you’re up against something you can’t say (or don’t know.)
  • You practice transparency consistently when there AREN’T jobs / programs on the line.

Leadership is about service.  You are a servant of the people you lead.  Serving requires transparency, graciousness, honesty, respect.

The Dave Ramsey Imbroglio


One of my twitter friends, @micahjmurray, asked me this morning: “@plstepp I’d be curious to hear your thoughts on this thing @sethhaines wrote re: Ramsey/ prosperity gospel:…

I’ve spoken up in defense of Dave Ramsey over the past week, after a sharp exchange that began with a post on his blog set off a feeding frenzy.

I think @sethhaines analysis is good.  As I see it, Ramsey has made three mistakes.

First, his replies to his critics were bombastic.  He is a bombastic guy, as am I.  To quote the great theologian John Mayer, “Call me Captain Backfire.”  I specialize in taking jokes too far, and saying what I think will be funny or memorable without realizing that it’s unkind, or could be perceived as such.  I’ve gotten really good at apologizing for the things that jumped from my brain to my mouth without any censoring in between.  

At several points early in the dispute, Ramsey could have dialed things down.


Second, Ramsey is not a pastor, nor has he he previously (in my experience) tried to be a pastor.  His statement about “character in Christ” crosses that line.

I’ve listened to about 20 hours of Ramsey’s radio show, read his books, and completed Financial Peace University.  Throughout everything of his I’VE consumed, he has NOT attempted to do marriage counseling (except for financial matters), pray the sinners’ prayer with anyone, scolded the cohabiting couples or same-sex couples that call him, etc.  (BTW, did you know that the word is not “cohabitating,” it’s “cohabiting”?  Just learned that.)

He’s not a pastor, he’s a Christian business guy who knows a lot about money, how the American financial system works, etc.  He should stick with that.

I think the “character in Christ” statement is an aberration.  If so, it’s a category mistake to treat Ramsey as a Bible teacher / pastor preaching a prosperity gospel.

Does the fact that he is teaching principles he has drawn from the Bible = him crossing the line into pastor-dom?  I don’t think so, unless he starts doing pastoral things in other contexts.


Third, Ramsey is speaking in generalities and he should acknowledge that when he gets into sensitive territory.

It’s not wrong for Ramsey to speak in generalities: his primary source is Proverbs.  James Crenshaw describes Proverbs as “orthodox generalizations about how to live a good life.”  ANY advice that’s built on that kind of wisdom is going to be generalities, and generalities by definition don’t hold true in every case.  (That’s why God also gave us Job and Ecclesiastes.)

Ramsey seems to recognize this when he qualifies his “pastoral” statement, “in non-third-world settings.”  That’s rather ham-handed, IMHO.

A Scenario for Church Leaders to Ponder


A twin scenario for church leaders to consider:

1. Imagine a couple, Steven and Maria, start attending your church.  They’re not married, but they’ve been together for fifteen years.  Their affection and commitment to one another is clearly evident to all.  Their desire to know and please God quickly becomes evident as well.

After attending your church for a month, they make an appointment to ask you a question.  “We want to join your church.  We know you don’t approve of our living situation.  What do you want us to do?”  What do you tell them?

2. Imagine a couple, Steven and Mark, start attending your church.  They’re not married, but they’ve been together for fifteen years.  Their affection and commitment to one another is clearly evident to all.  Their desire to know and please God quickly becomes evident as well.

After attending your church for a month, they make an appointment to ask you a question.  “We want to join your church.  We know you don’t approve of our living situation.  What do you want us to do?”  What do you tell them?


Gender, Sexual Orientation, & “Masculinity”


I don’t know if I can articulate this.  I’ve been struck by some of the assumptions that Tony Jones and others that I frequently agree with make.  I disagree with these assumptions, and I’m trying to articulate my disagreement.  I’m thinking this through as I write.

I’m not trying to throw anyone under the bus, just trying to describe something.

1. For years, I’ve argued that the traditional Evangelical view of gender differences in the church (complementarianism, the view that men and women are distinctly different & that these differences mean that there are ministries that women cannot carry out) is BOTH destructive AND an inadequate treatment of the biblical text.

1.A.  It’s destructive because it leads to marginalization and abuse.  One needs only look at the SGM scandal (where the victims of abuse / mothers of the victims were ignored because they were women, and women are supposed to submit to male authority) to see this.  In one case I read about (which I don’t believe was an SGM case), a mother alleged that a male nursery worker was sexually molesting her child.  The church leaders refused to investigate or take the allegation seriously, until her husband (the child’s father) made the same complaint.  The message: “You’re a woman.  You’re accusing a man of wrongdoing.  We’re not going to listen to you, because women should be silent.”

Or look at the excesses in some of the home school movement (chronicled at, where girls are NOT educated in mathematics, science, etc. (topics in which boys ARE educated) because “No daughter of mine will ever go to college or work outside the home.”

There will be less drastic, horrific cases, of course.  But the assumptions of male leadership / female submission reliably lead to subordination, hierarchy / patriarchy, and abuse.  

1.B. It’s an inadequate treatment of the biblical text because it ignores the cultural difference between our world and the world of the biblical writers.  The literalists assume that they can simply transfer apostolic methodology from the 1st century to the 21st without allowing for the vast differences in how masculinity and femininity are constructed in the two worlds, how individualistic modern Western culture differs violently from the clan / family-centered Mediterranean culture of the biblical writers, etc.

When I hear Mark Driscoll or John Piper talk about how Christianity needs to be masculine, I wonder which masculinity they have in mind?

  • The masculinity of mid-20th century American cinema, Steve McQueen and John Wayne?  (Rock Hudson?)
  • The masculinity of 1st century Palestine?
  • The masculinity of Samson (Judges 13 – 16)?
  • The masculinity of David, who said of his affection for Jonathan that it surpassed the love of a woman (2 Samuel 1.26)?
  • The masculinity of Jacob, who loved to cook & stay among the tents and was extremely attached to his mother (Genesis 25)?

Our definitions of masculinity and femininity are culturally constructed.  When we universalize OUR culture’s definition, we commit anachronism and say stupid things about the Bible.  We also hurt people, and needlessly cause divisions in the body of Christ.

1.C. The two ideas (destructiveness, bad hermeneutics) come together in the complementarian treatment of Ephesians 5.21ff.  The complementarian ignores the first sentence of the paragraph (“Submit to one another out of reverence for Christ”) and so misread the sentences that follow to define submission as subordination.  But Paul’s instructions begin with MUTUAL submission, following the example of Christ.  In this context, submission is NOT subordination, it’s following Jesus’ example of self-giving, self-sacrifice, which Paul demands that both the husbands and the wives put into practice (albeit in different terms.)


2. People I respect and have learned much from argue that the church must accept same-sex relationships on the same bases that I use to argue that women and men should be equal in ministry.  They say that refusing to endorse same-sex relationships is destructive and poor hermeneutics.

I agree that the church’s treatment of same-sex attraction etc., can be & has been very destructive: see my previous post, “Five Ways the Church Fails Homosexuals.”

I do NOT buy the argument on hermeneutics, however.  Whatever we (Christians, individually and corporately) decide to do with homosexuality, we cannot begin by assuming that the Bible is neutral on the issue.  The arguments of Furnish, Boswell, Scroggs, etc., do not hold water.  They are simply, demonstrably wrong.

On a host of issues where the church has been “on the wrong side of history”, the biblical texts themselves are in tension: race, slavery, gender equality.  There is no such tension in the Bible’s treatment of sexuality.  The model for sexuality throughout scripture is heterosexual, monogamous, life-long commitment.  Any exercise of sexuality outside of those parameters–affairs, prostitution, pornography, serial monogamy, rape, same-sex relationships–is contra the Bible.