Cognitive Bias, Critical Thinking and Seminary Education
Dave Black posted this observation:
“Just before midnight on Friday, July 7, an Air Canada jet cleared to land on runway 28 Right at San Francisco International Airport mistakenly lined up with a parallel taxiway that was filled with 5 “heavies” full of fuel and passengers waiting for takeoff. The captain of one of those taxiing aircraft warned the tower that the approaching jet was about to land on a taxiway, and air traffic control told the plane to do a go-around, possibly averting the greatest disaster in aviation history. Earlier, the crew of the Air Canada plane had asked the tower, “We see lights on the runway there. Across the runway. Can you confirm we are cleared to land?” The SFO tower replied, “Confirmed clear to land. Runway 28 Right. There’s no one on 2-8 Right but you.”
How did the pilots of that Air Canada jet mistake a taxiway for a runway? The answer may be found in a condition known as “confirmation bias.” This occurs when people seek out evidence that confirms their expectations and ignore facts that don’t align with their expectations. The pilots of the Air Canada jet thought they were lined up with the runway. They believed they were in the right place at the right time. The tower, in turn, assured them they could land, and the pilots continued on their misguided course. What they didn’t “see” were the different color lights that marked the taxiway. They didn’t “see” that the distinctive runway markers were missing. They also apparently didn’t “see” the lights of the aircraft lined up on the taxiway. It took a pilot on the ground to warn of the pending collision before the pilots of the Air Canada plane aborted the landing. Their brains had tricked them into thinking they were landing on the runway, not the taxiway.
In New Testament studies, I wonder if we aren’t guilty from time to time of the same kind of confirmation bias. Our mental model of a situation may be incorrect but we have a very difficult time changing that view even in the face of new information. This can have fairly obvious implications. There is a strong bias to view events through the lens of our own presuppositions. People need to be trained to understand the types of cognitive bias that exist and the strategies to avoid them. Sometimes even those at the pinnacle of research aren’t aware that they’re experiencing these biases. I can think of several fields of study where this might be true: the synoptic problem, New Testament textual criticism, and the authorship of Hebrews, to mention three. A certain “automaticity” prevails. We assume that our solutions are correctly configured even when they aren’t, or might not be.
I’ve never felt that the goal of a seminary education is to tell students what to think. The goal is to train them how to think for themselves, even if this means they look at the evidence in ways their own professors don’t. I’m ashamed to say it, but I’ve been an unwitting partner in the game we might call academic group think. Unfortunately, we forget that each of us — me, you, your pastor, your professor — is in desperate need of objectivity. It will take time to develop this skill. But the alternative could well be disastrous.”
Most of the churches that I have visited, as a first time visitor, have been unwelcoming. I wish it was not true. When a church, en masse, is welcoming, it really stands out and feels good. I think it reflects God.
Priscilla Du Preez wrote about this:
You can read books or attend seminars. Some churches pride themselves on the fact that their pastors are seminary trained. But what continually amazes me is how it’s the simple things that attract guests to and maintain guests in your churches. This past Sunday at my church I was able to talk with two first-time guests. Both of them said they had a great experience and both of them said the same thing in their remarks. They didn’t mention a flyer or an ad campaign, music or even the preaching. They both remarked how welcoming our church was, like a family. That’s it, the simple thing most first-time guests are looking for: a welcoming family. The fact they were both astonished to experience a welcoming family speaks to how little it happens in today’s churches.
- Love your members unconditionally. That’s all of your members.
- Don’t focus on your critics.
- Make the tough personnel decisions sooner rather than later.
- Accept that you won’t be loved by everyone.
- Put those things on your calendar that you often neglect.
- Accept the lows of ministry as normal.
- Don’t compare your church to others.
- Learn to be content.
- Learn to rejoice always.
- Have fun.
Thom Rainer, my shorthand again, on Why Dying Churches Die:
- They refuse to admit they are sick, very sick.
- They are still waiting on the “magic bullet” pastor.
- They fail to accept responsibility.
- They are not willing to change . . . at all.
- Their “solutions” are all inwardly focused.
- They desire to return to 1985. Or 1972. Or 1965. Or 1959.
Questions To Ask When They’re Interviewing You For A Church Job
10 Questions to Ask a Church You are Interviewing with, (video) Jim Holland with Anthony (Tony):
- What is your leadership structure?
- Who holds the senior (lead) pastor accountable?
- How does the church invest in the growth of its staff?
- What is your theology and practice of spiritual gifts?
- Are you expecting a “two for one” deal: my spouse to work, for free?
- What is your vision or mission statement, and how is your church living it out?
- What is your church doing outside? Would your community notice if you disappeared?
- What is your church’s definition of evangelism and how do you do it?
- How do you define discipleship, in your church?
- Why is this position open? What happened to the previous people who left this position?
A Dog’s Story
Have you ever wondered what’s up with those dogs in your neighborhood that bark incessantly? Andrew Hamilton wrote about his (relationship with his) dog, Lucy.
Back in June we almost sold our dog Lucy. She had been driving us mad for over a year with her constant banging on the door during the night and I had grown to really dislike her.
In speaking to her, I called her ‘dog’ or ‘stupid dog’. Some days I would just look at her and say snarl ‘Gumtree’ in a menacing tone… I think she knew she wasn’t my favourite ‘person’. Eventually she played up enough that I was able to win the argument to move her on. However, when the time came to do it I was overcome with a deep sense that it was a wrong decision.
Don’t Tell Someone Else’s Story (Too Often)
Someone told me about hearing his pastor share a deeply moving story about his daughter and a string of pearls. A year or two later, I heard that same story told, on the radio, by a preacher, about his daughter. It is possible that both men prefaced the story by saying it was someone else’s story, and maybe we just missed that.
Scot McKnight wrote about pastors who plagiarize.
I once was in a situation when a pastor admitted to using sermons from sermon sources, and he also said he hadn’t thought there was anything wrong with it. What most confused me about the situation was that he was using illustrations from other preachers in the first person — and you really did think these experiences were his. So far as I know, he stopped.
We are commanded to ‘make followers’ not ‘train leaders.’ When Peter ask Jesus about being a ‘follower,’ what he’s got is a simple answer ‘You follow Me.’ (Jn.21:15-22).
‘Equipping’ is developing people learn how to serve, as in the command to ‘serve one another.’ ‘Equipping the saints for the work of ministry.’ (Eph.4:12) ‘Ministry’ here is a bad translation. The original text used the word ‘service’ rather than ‘ministry.’
Home Grown Servants
In the churches that I have observed and been a part of, I have seen this pattern of looking for a staff person, a pastor, from outside. All the while, in reality, there are able people inside that very flock. They might need on the job training or to grow into their job or position.
Nothing is inherently wrong with someone coming from the outside, as ‘new blood’. Maybe they will have some fresh ideas. But the problem might be, when we exclusively look for candidates that way. Maybe someone that is already there is ready for a promotion, from Jesus, to serving in a greater capacity.
Adam. D. Smith wrote about this:
Choosing leadership for a church ministry is a tricky business. Pastoral search committees and hiring new staff members can be one of the most sanctifying experiences for churches. As you wade through dozens of resumes piled up on your desk, you feel overwhelmed by the sea of potential candidates for the job. You wonder if the person will possess the skills necessary for the ministry or be a “good fit” for the family, and you pray you do not hire a clown who simply knew how to interview well.
All these fears could be avoided if you could choose leadership from within your church. What if it wasn’t necessary to look outside for leaders because you sufficiently discipled and grew leaders from within your congregation?
My mamma taught me to love, honor and favor Jewish people. I can totally identify with Roger Olson’s article on ‘Pro-Semitism’:
I cannot tell you how many times I heard the follow Scripture passage quoted by my parents, my spiritual mentors, and our Pentecostal leaders: Genesis 12:3. Look it up. Paraphrasing here, it basically says that whoever blesses Israel (not talking about the modern State of Israel, of course) God will bless and whoever curses them God will curse. We took that very literally and perhaps to an extreme. Let me explain.
As I recall, this pro-Semitism was more of a habit, a custom, a behavior, than a doctrine. I do not recall any written doctrine about it. In the Pentecostal Christianity in which I grew up, it was simply taken for granted that all Jews are God’s chosen people—have been, are, and always will be—and he favors them above all other ethnic groups. Some of us (I do not include myself in this) believed that somehow, sometime, all faithful Jews will be saved and enter into the same heaven we looked forward to—somewhat automatically.
Musings about a Lost (?) Evangelical belief: Pro-Semitism
Commentary on culture (reflecting on Charlotte):
Today it’s politically correct to jump aboard the bandwagon of denunciation. Of anything resembling supremacy. There’s the catch. The Left advocates supremacy of moral judgment. During the melee a toppled Confederate soldier statue was kicked, spit upon. As outrageously politically incorrect Pres Trump frequently is he frequently makes a valid point. The statues represent a people and culture, beaten, chastised, and changed. To humiliate and insult polarizes. That’s the legacy of the hypocritical supremacist Left. They’ll oppress your rights [how can anyone not cite the Dem Obama Admin’s oppression and outright imposition upon religion in Am] as quickly as you can bat an eye. No one has a monopoly on hypocrisy. Everyone seems to have a monopoly on self righteousness. -Fr./Dr. Peter Morello
Peter is a frequent, thoughtful commentator, so I linked above to his disqus page. Here is a link to Peter’s book: Assent to Truth.
Social Justice, Socialism, Marxism and The Church Today
I have wondered about the ‘social justice’ movement within Christianity. Is the gospel social justice? I believe that the gospel is not any on the ‘isms’. King Jesus and his cross are justice and mercy, is what I believe. To me, ‘social justice’, puts humans at the center and it is a religion; where we end up saying “it takes a village”, and build towers to touch heaven, rather and imploring heaven to come to earth.
“Why is Socialism Being Promoted by Conservative Christian Outlets?”
That’s the question Joe Carter, at his Acton Institute blog, asks about Andrew Strain’s recent article at First Things. In his piece, Strain claims that free markets are “as mythical as unicorns,” and concludes that government intervention in the market, on behalf of “the common good,” is the ideal toward which we should strive.
But Strain isn’t the only one at First Things attracting Carter’s ire, who also cites an editor who openly identifies as socialist, as well as a columnist who claims that “capitalism is inimical to Christianity.” Much of Carter’s frustration comes from the fact that the now socialist-leaning First Things used to be a conservative bastion for capitalism. It would seem that times are changing—and they’re moving toward a growing Christian acceptance of socialism.
In fact, Jake Meador, editor-in-chief at Mere Orthodoxy, replied to Carter’s article defending the rise of socialism among theologically conservative Christians, explaining that Mere Orthodoxy, itself, has “a small group of writers who probably are Protestant versions” of the socialists whom Carter chastises at First Things.
Unfortunately, First Things and Mere Orthodoxy aren’t the only places we find theologically conservative Christians promoting socialistic ideas. While it may be more subtle, and less intentional, there’s a growing trend among Christian thinkers of adopting Marxist-type ideals for political and cultural interaction. One glaring example of this is the widespread acceptance and use of the term, social justice.