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[270] Missional Campus

Steve Launer, whose name appears here on occasion, is a deacon in a Missouri Synod Lutheran church.  He gave me a report on the impact of missional ministry.  In short, it states that we live in a post-church age.  For many non-believers, the church is irrelevant—even viewed with suspicion.  We live in a culture quite similar to that of the 1st Century church, in which believers were but a small island surrounded by often-hostile unbelief.

Seeing the church decay in England, Mike Breen started a new movement that followed the system used in the early church, building “missional communities.”  Small groups would go into their local communities, get involved, and invite their fellow residents into the Missional Community.  As the communities grew, they would split off and continue the process.  There would be occasional larger group get-togethers comprised of a number of smaller ones, but the essential model of multiplying through connecting with the unchurched in their communities remained the same.  This methodology reportedly is now working in the US—and in China, where as many as 30,000 a day are being baptized.

So what about the college campus?  I could see something like this being very effective in a Christian college community.  Not every Christian college student is a believer.  Among those who are, there are plenty of faith crises.  Rather than confining outreach to weekly chapel services and Bible Study opportunities, would it not be more effective to put together some of these groups lead by committed Christians, and have them build relationships with fellow students in spiritual need.  With the studies indicating that Gen Z thirsts for authentic relationships, and eschews what they see as corporate groupthink, it is hard to see Missional Community ministry not working in the current context.

And while we are at it, for those ministering on the secular campus—where we really have a replication of 1st Century unbelief—Missional Communities may have an even greater impact.  DC

 

[269] Christian Worldview

If we educators have any desire to prepare our Christian students for effective discipleship in their future lives, we need to become much more serious about teaching a Christian worldview.

Discipleship without a Christian worldview is akin to driving in the unknown without a map or GPS.  It is a Christian worldview that provides the lenses of truth through which one views, understands, and analyzes the world.  Without those lenses, perceptions and judgment, already distorted by our fallen natures, are vulnerable to all manner of deceit.

Many Christians, educated in elite secular universities, do not have a clear Christian worldview.  I know a number of them.  The intellectual lenses of these potential difference makers for Christ have been shaped by secularists, rendering them continually vulnerable to value-laden, non-Christian perspectives that result in poor judgment.

If Christian colleges do nothing else, they need to take advantage of their opportunity to develop “minds of Christ” among the intellectually gifted population in their charge.  This needs to go well beyond nuanced efforts to tuck in an occasional Christian notion in basic academic classes.  It needs to be deliberate.  Obvious.  Intentional.  This means required classes—even majors–on Christian worldview, just as there needs to be at least one required course on apologetics.

We need genuinely Christian colleges.  A Christian college is more than an institution with chapel services, often less than vibrant theology courses, Christian faculty members, and a high percentage of students from Christian homes.  It is an academic institution aimed at equipping disciples—future Christian leaders–with the “mind of Christ.”  If the education is not academically sound it is not really a college.  If the college is not teaching a Christian worldview it is not really Christian.  DC

[268] Cultural Apologetics

There seems to be as many flavors of apologetics as there are flavors of ice cream.  A recent one deserves mention: cultural apologetics.  Actually, it is not at all recent, as Lesslie Newbegin introduced the concept in his 1988 book, Foolishness to the Greeks.  In any case, Paul Gould, in Christianity Today (April 17, 2019) defines cultural apologetics as “establishing the Christian voice, conscience and imagination within a culture so that Christianity is seen as true and satisfying, and it has both a global and local component.”

Cultural apologetics grows in importance as a mainstream culture becomes more secularized and resistant to theistic notions.  It differs from traditional apologetics as it draws from “music, art, sports, entertainment, social relations, and politics” rather than philosophy and science.

It is much about understanding prevailing cultural worldviews and how they are presented and ingested by a society.  In short, cultural apologetics begins with a deep understanding of culture.  From there it tries “to awaken those within culture to their deep-seated longings for goodness, truth, and beauty.”  The task involves working within government, business, and the arts to help people “see the reasonableness and desirability of Christianity.”

Cultural apologetics has a unique feature.  Though it is inclusive of philosophy and science, it integrates the faith in real what’s-happening-now time.  It can open the mind of the unbeliever submerged in a purposeless post-Christian culture to the way, the truth, and the life that is Christ.  DC

 

 

[267] Go Urban

The city is where the people are.  Many Christian colleges (and major secular universities), however, are located in less than rural areas.  Much of this harks back to the notion that learning is best done in peaceful, non-hectic, pastoral settings—environments that are conducive to thought and reflection.

The problem is that those environments are not typical of the urban worlds their students will likely inhabit.  The smaller the college the more problematic this becomes, because often the student body is insufficiently multicultural.

Colleges like these need to “go urban,” to integrate urbanity into the education they offer.  This may mean courses on urbanology, an urban extension campus, internships in the city, urban field trips, etc.  In short, they need to offer an education that prepares their students for the lives they will live.

For the Christian college, this is especially critical.  They are in the business of educating disciples—difference-makers in the kingdom of God.  For their graduates’ light to shine brightly, for their salt to have savor, they need to prepared for life in the city—where the people are.  DC

[266] NIPS

My dear friend, Steve Launer, one of our movie reviewers, referred me to Ed Stetzer’s February, 2020 blog in Christianity Today on NIPS—Nothing in Particulars, a subgroup of Nones—those who profess no religious affiliation.  A fun set of weird alliterative sounds there.

Christian churches have recently been fixing an evangelical focus on Nones (again those unchurched people who profess no religious affiliation).  Stetzer dissects this growing group into three subgroups—atheists, agnostics, and Nothing in Particulars.  The first two groups are rather strongly dug into their nonbelieving positions, while NIPS possess a belief in God, but one without defined belief systems.

Sociologically, this group is less wealthy and educated than the first two subgroups and are characterized by low-commitment.  They are non-joiners in every aspect of their life.  I suspect there are plenty of NIPS on the Christian college campus, students from Christian homes who have never really actively embraced the faith.

Stetzer offers some thoughts on how this demographic needs to be reached.

First, whether one is a college chaplain, a pastor, or an evangelizing believer, it is important to move slowly with these non-joiners, and listen carefully before laying out a linear theology.

NIPS seem to have an “inability to foster a sense of hope when life falls apart.” When believers portray the expectation of a victorious, problem-free life in Christ, the connection with NIPS may well break down.  It is better to demonstrate, by word and example, how the gospel offers continual hope as one goes through the challenges of life.

It is very important to engage doubt and difficult questions.  Smoothly-expressed propositions that sidestep doubt and uncertainty will not resonate with NIPS.  This would seem especially true for college students.

NIPS offer a harvest field, but we need to be creative in our sowing.  DC

[265] Reason to Faith

For many skeptics, the Christian faith is simply unreasonable.  For them, the gospel is indeed foolishness and hence, sane, rational people do not entertain such silly notions.  Joshua Rasmussen’s book, How Reason Can Lead to God (IVP, 2019), begs to differ.  In the book, the author sees different people stepping on a bridge, one with common experiences and universal principles of reason.  He states that just as shining a light on anything brings more clarity, shining reason on God reveals his majesty and reality.

Rasmussen suggests that if God exists in a world of evil, he would want to present the greatest of all stories of love and adventure; that is exactly what he does in the sacrifice of Christ.  Among Rasmussen’s goals is for people to feel their worth in the eternal perspective.  The book presents God as the foundation for the world, a foundation far greater than people think it to be—one that makes their lives far more meaningful than they realize.

The power of this approach lies in its use of reason as an apologetic tool, rather than fleeing reason because of the commonly held notion that reason (and science) is in conflict with God.  This method figures to be especially effective among educated seekers, including college students struggling with faith.  Rasmussen’s approach makes science, logic, and academia a road to faith rather than a collective barrier to belief.

Many years ago, Christian philosopher Arthur Holmes uttered the famous words, “All truth is God’s truth.”  Reason involves a search for truth, and Rasmussen shows how that method of searching can lead to the creator of reason. DC

[264] M-C Christian Colleges

If you were to ask administrators of Christian colleges whether their institutions were multicultural, I suspect many would say “yes,” quickly noting the presence of non-white students.

And many would be wrong.

Many Christian colleges are barely diverse, much less multicultural.  For a church to be considered multicultural requires that no single ethnic/racial/cultural group constitutes more than 80% of its membership.  Only 8% of US congregations meet that diversity standard.

I suspect many Christian colleges fall short here as well—among its student as well as faculty.  I have written previously on how Christian colleges can attract more minority students, but that is not the point here.

What makes an institutional multicultural goes well beyond its demographics.  To be multicultural, a college needs to express a specific concern for, and attention to the various subcultures represented in its student body.  It also needs a vision that includes growth in diversity through its student and faculty membership, as well as in its academic offerings and perspectives. Furthermore, it needs to have different cultural representatives in positions involving decision making.

In short, if a college’s faculty and students (of various ethnic groups) listen to the same music, eat the same foods, experience the same cultural events, and study bodies knowledge from a dominant Eurocentric perspective, it is not multicultural. It has simply assimilated its campus population into a common culture.

We live in a multicultural world.  We need to prepare our Christian students to function effectively in that world.  A good way to start, would be to get very serious about making our Christian colleges multicultural.  DC

[263] Evangelism

Piggy-backing on my last blog, “Out Yourself,” let me share some thoughts from Ed Stetzer (https://www.christianitytoday.com/edstetzer/2019/december/how-do-you-define-evangelism.html). He makes clear that evangelism involves more than a setting a Godly  example, or engaging an admirable discipleship.

It is communicating the gospel simply, clearly, and directly.

He sagely debunks the silly quote attributed to St. Francis of Assisi: “Preach the gospel at all times. If necessary, use words.” First, it is a misquote–St. Francis never said it, secondly, it is shabby theology. “You can’t preach the gospel without words any more than you can breathe without air,” says Stetzer.

The Assisi misquote is a much-used copout—a form of cowardice.  It is a lot easier to behave properly than it is to step out and take the risk of rejection involved in telling our friends—no matter how tactfully–their eternal well-being may depend on their making some major changes in the interior of their lives.  You can tell people you are a Christian, but for many secular souls that just means you don’t vote Democrat or are pro-gun or against abortion.

We are wise to assume nothing with respect to others’ knowledge of the gospel, and begin letting them know there is some good news on which they may be missing out.

DC

[261] Holism

In June of 2019, Mark Galli, the beleaguered soon-to-be former editor of Christianity Today, argued passionately against the notion that the purpose of the church is to be “missional, existing for the sake of the world.” If you believe the purpose of the church “is to make the world a better place, why bother with the church, because it is clearly not very effective in this respect.  Better to give oneself to UNICEF or the Democratic Party,” stated Galli.

Then comes the hook.  Galli is talking about mainline (in other words, theologically liberal) churches.  It becomes clear when he states that it is this missional notion that is among the main “reasons for the numerical decline of mainline Christianity.”

Methinks not.

The decline of mainline Christianity is much more about what Galli terms the belief “that it [the church] has to be a place where the world feels comfortable, it has dumbed down the preaching and the worship, so that in many quarters we have ended up with a common-denominator Christianity.”

That is the reason.  The make-the-world-a-better-place mission is a symptom of the mainline drift out of biblical orthodoxy.

And Galli was dead wrong about his larger, missional thinking.

One of the purposes of church, and the Christian college, most definitely is to make the world a better place.  There are two Great Commandments.  One is vertical, the other horizontal, and there is plenty in scripture about the horizontal one.  There are over 400 verses indicating God’s love for the poor, and over 70 affirming his concern for justice.  The church is called to holism—to minister to body, mind, and spirit.  In the city–where most people live–it is imperative that the church minster to the hurting and be a relevant social force in its own community.  Anything short of that has the church offering a stone when people ask for bread.  Anything short of holism—in the church or the Christian college’s understanding of discipleship–falls short of the words and example of Christ. DC

[260] Culture Wars

Sociologist James Davison Hunter popularized the term, culture wars, in his book of the same title. He described the issue of one “rooted in different systems of moral understanding,” something Duane Litfin reviewed in Christianity Today (September, 2019).  This split is not new. It harks back to 1791, when we see two interpretations of the nation, a “providential” (religious) one, and a secular one–a vertical.one grounded in transcendent authority and a horizontal one founded in humanism.  These two views have been jousting for decades on the turf of American institutions–law, government, policies, and education. According to Steven D. Smith, the Supreme Court tipped the balance to the secular side with a series of decisions running from the 1940s on into the 1960s.

That SC tilt worked against the providentialists in the past few decades, as the secularist agenda gained the edge on issues of homosexuality, gender, abortion, marriage, and religious freedom in the courts.  The secularist agenda became the essence of Political Correctness, with those who objected to this secular catechism branded as at best, out of touch, and at worst, racist, homophobic, misogynistic, and bigoted.

With things looking bleak for the providentialists, enter Donald Trump.  He willingly supported the providentialist—even evangelical– agenda. Backed in a cultural corner due to the ever more dominating force of secularism, providentialists were faced with a surprising choice: they could either back Trump, despite his less than sterling moral past and often ungracious demeanor, or watch the secular march go unopposed.

And there is where we are today.  We have a powerful and very aggressive secular movement being resisted—at least politically–by of all people, Donald Trump.  God certainly works in mysterious ways.

DC

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