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[244] Diversity at the Christian College

Christian colleges continue to struggle in attracting African-Americans and Hispanics.  There are more than a few reasons for this.  One is that these colleges draw a huge slice of their students from white evangelical churches, who by the way, are woefully behind the national population in diversity.

The colleges cannot change that.

There are things they can do.  They all involve a commitment to cultural diversity.  The key word here is cultural.  I am not talking about adding a black or Hispanic faculty member here or there, or another vice president of this or that.  This is ornamentation. A black or Hispanic student is not going to say, “Oh wow, I met this black professor.  This is the place for me.”

It goes much deeper.  Christian colleges need to examine every aspect of their culture.  Here are just a few questions for them to consider.  (Evangelical churches would also do well to adapt some of the following.)

–Do African-American or Hispanics consistently hear their sound in the music on the campus?  At least in chapel?

–Is there black and Hispanic art prevalent on the campus?

–What about the food in the cafeteria—is there diversity there?  In the campus union?

–Does the school recognize MLK Day and Hispanic holidays?

–Is there diversity among guest speakers?

–Are there courses that engage diversity?

–Are members of these groups adequately represented on student governing groups?

–Does the school have an ongoing committee whose task it is to advance diversity?

You will find many Christian colleges that cannot answer in the affirmative to any of these.  In short, they are failing to create an environment in which minorities feel at home. 

It’s not about a few more African-American and Hispanic faces in the faculty and the staff any more than that the basketball coach is a minority.  It is about an entire environment—an ethos.

Don’t try to rework diversity with white people at the throttle.  Looking at the environment through a white worldview is what has created the problem.  Call in Christian minorities who will be candid.  They are out there.  They will be willing to help.  Some are on the campus now—students.

Addressing the need for cultural diversity is a very important step.  It is not only an affirmation of the old Sunday School song, “Red and yellow, black and white; all are precious in his sight.”  It is a huge stride toward providing a genuinely relevant Christian education.  DC

[243] Evangelism II

Recently I used this space to discuss the absence of evangelism among biblical Christians?  Two points were made—the secularization of the larger culture, and an absence of sermons on the afterlife.

The second one begs the question: Why.

A recently published poll indicated that a sizable slice of pastors—over 30% (if memory serves)—fear saying anything that may generate what we now call “pushback” from their congregations. In short, they do not want the gospel to be a stumbling block—which, of course, is exactly what it is.  Think about that.  One-third want to shape their message to the appetites of their parishioners, rather than have their parishioners be shaped by their message.

Might that be true among campus pastors as well?

Among many larger churches—those with big websites and lots of visitors–we hear the “searcher” copout.  “We want to appeal to those who are searching, questioning whether they want to accept Christ.”  There are plenty of faith crises among Christian college students, placing many of them in this category.  Apparently, telling those spiritual wanderers their eternal security hangs on their relationship with Christ may be a put-off—particularly in a postmodern (truth is personal not factual) culture in which claims to exclusive truth are rejected as intolerance.

Do you think Paul would be muzzled by that?  And while we’re at it, is not the eternal dichotomy very much a part of the whole counsel of God?  Further, might not a more fearless rendering of spiritual truth be exactly what the searchers need to hear?  Might not it be wiser to spell out the truth in love and trust the Holy Spirit to apply the words than juke around the entire subject?

But there may be another, more disturbing reason: a creeping universalism among evangelicals, including pastors.  We are in an era of analytics, even in Christian circles.  Polls indicate a strong strain of postmodernism and its concomitant universalism among believers.

I have no idea if this latter reason contributes to the absence of afterlife preaching.  I hope it does not.  But until I hear a lot more such preaching, I will be wondering.

DC

[242] Evangelism?

Why is there not more evangelism going on among orthodox Christians?  Concern about this is expressed in publications like Christianity Today and less celebrated websites and publications.

Here are some thoughts.

Evangelism is about salvation, which in turn is about life after death.  The more the culture secularizes, the more God-consciousness moves off the cultural org chart and into irrelevance.  And with it concern about anything beyond the here and now.  When one considers how many US citizens do not have real savings or sensible financial plans for the future, it is not hard to imagine these people spending much time thinking about the great beyond.

But that is about the larger non-Christian culture.

How about the church?  I cannot remember the last sermon I heard about heaven or hell.  And I am there every week.  In fact, I cannot remember the last time I even heard a clear and pointed reference to heaven or hell.  Instead, I have been on the receiving end of one long stream of sermons about discipleship—putting Christ and his principles into Monday through Friday.

Christ spoke a great deal about heaven.  More specifically, he spoke even more about hell.  Even more important, he did not pull any punches as to the eternal consequences of one’s decision with respect to him. But pastors everywhere—including campus pastors, I suspect—pretty much leave the afterlife out of the narrative.  When we do that we make evangelism less urgent.  If I were really locked in on what is at stake for those who show no evidence of knowing Christ, I might feel more compelled to communicate my faith.

Until then, as I leave church each week I am more inclined to think about what we will have for dinner than how I can get the bread of life into the souls of others. DC

[241] Evidence

“We have enough evidence to convince the whole world [of the validity of the faith].  It is just a matter of people listening.”  So says biblical scholar, Richard Cromwick a friend who debates atheists in public settings, and under whom I studied recently.

Then why do so many Christian college students (and others) struggle with their faith?

Because we do not teach apologetics in our colleges and churches.  As a result, it is open season for skepticism and postmodernism.  We sit on the sidelines and let secularism dominate the playing field.

Many Christian college academic administrators—and pastors–should buy land out here in the Las Vegas desert.  They seem to be comfortable with their heads in sand. DC

[240] Stewardship

Whenever you hear the word stewardship you immediately think of tithes and offerings.  Stewardship is the tag used to fill the collection plates.

It is, however, a wonderful word that needs to be looked at more expansively.  Recently I watched the 20/20 segment on the fall of Jim and Tammy Bakker.  We can do all the forensic examining we want to determine just what went wrong at PTL and I believe we will land in one place.  Jim and Tammy believed they were the ministry.

PTL and they were one. They were accountable to no one, not even God in many ways.

But Jim and Tammy are easy targets.  I am currently watching an urban church commit ecclesiastical suicide in slow motion.  The pastor badly wants to align his church with the local community, if only to make it relevant, but the landed gentry (almost none of whom live in the local community) want to keep the status quo.  It is their church, not the church of the unwashed in the community nor that of the pastor, who they happened to call.  I don’t hear God mentioned much as the real owner by this crowd, and stewardship seems to be confined to the offering envelopes.

How about the Christian colleges?  Many are filled with fiefdoms—departments, powerful professors, and administrative structures–squabbling over control of the larger enterprise.

In each of these instances, no one is talking about stewardship; that these entities belong solely to God.  That he owns 100% stock in each, and those people he has—by his grace—put in charge, have a one-item job description: to do his will..  They are too busy tearing up his kingdom to consider that. DC

[239] Academic Freedom

There is always tension in the Christian college, particularly in the departments in which thorny issues like that of liberal theology, evolution, and postmodernism are often on the plate.

By nature, Christian college faculty members are usually more liberal in their thinking than the organizations that own their institutions.  Good scholars are curious.  They want to explore new things and be receptive to new systems of thought. Nothing is off limits to the curious mind.  Furthermore, institutions of higher education affirm academic freedom—the right to study and investigate phenomena without restriction.

And it is right here that the issue is joined.  Often professors will present various philosophies, theories, and theologies for study, the purpose of which is to expose the student to the range of thinking that is out there.  Occasionally, however, there will be pushback.  Complaints will come in that a given professor is advocating a non-creation evolution, or a liberation theology, for example. The only way around this is for the professor to make clear her non-advocacy of “objectionable” views.

This, however, creates another problem.  For some professors, a didactic advocacy means doing the thinking for the student, rather than having him grapple with ideas.  Such instructors opt for the question-oriented Socratic method.  In doing so, however, they elevate the risk level if the student is not clear where the professor stands amid these murky matters .  The result can be unwanted campus controversy, bad publicity, and the possible loss of students and financial support—a near lethal combination for institutions often struggling to survive.

There is no easy end run available here, and political tempests rear their head regularly in avowedly Christian institutions.  In this context, there are a few simple things academic administrators can do.  First, they need to be sure they have clear faith statements from their faculty.  They also need to have continual dialogue with faculty on their views with respect to controversial issues and systems of thought.  Further, they need to charge their faculty to be clear about their Christian stance on difficult issues, at least to the extent of not unintentionally undermining faith. DC

[238] College Names

In a recent blog, I talked about the trend of churches to drop their denominational affiliations from their name in hopes of making those churches more appealing to seekers.  Christian colleges rarely change their names.  Some have names that make clear their denominational identity.  Notre Dame, Calvin College, Pacific Lutheran, and California Baptist come to mind.  Others have never incorporated their affiliations into their name.  Boston College, Grand Canyon University, Spring Arbor, Wheaton, and Gordon College are examples.

The issue for colleges is different from churches.  People go to churches—once, twice, fifteen times—and then can stay or move on without consequence.  It costs money to go to a college, a lot of money.  There is also an indelible academic record involved once a class is taken.  The issue for the colleges is exactly the opposite from that of the churches.  Christian colleges need to make clear their spiritual identities.  Students need to know what decision they are making when they choose a Christian college, and perhaps more important, they should get what they are paying for.

Here is where we run into other problems.  There are three types of Christian colleges.  First, there is the pseudo-Christian college, one that goes to the marketplace wearing the Christian label in hopes of attracting students from Christian families, all the while being little more than secular institutions that do not challenge Christian faith among their students and faculty.

Second, there is the biblically sound institution that falls short of teaching a Christian worldview in the classroom.  The chapel program is solid, bible studies and spiritual growth opportunities abound, and faith statements are required from the faculty, but the actual instruction in the classroom is almost indistinguishable from that in the nearby state university.

Finally, there are those that make their Christian identity known, and attempt to integrate the faith into every aspect of its existence, particularly the classroom.  These are the ones that offer a truly Christian education.  DC

[237] Church Names

Over the past decade we have seen more and more churches drop the denominational label from their church name, a trend about which G. Shane Morris of BreakPoint has written.  Instead of Alexander Methodist Church we are likely to see Alexander Community Church.  Community is a nice, soft word that seems among the most popular of substitutive choices.  There is range here, when it comes to names, with some rebrands choosing names running from Dream City and Destiny City Church to Submerge Church and The Foundry.

You can make an argument on both sides of this trend.  On the plus side, denominationalism has for decades been receding in importance.  Much of it has its roots in the doctrinal controversies of nearly a century ago, a time in which church attendance was common and the culture was more Christian friendly.  We live in a more hostile social environment now, filled with biblically illiterate people, who desperately need to meet Christ in a transforming way, long before they concern themselves with matters like infant baptism.  In short, being Methodist, Lutheran, or even Baptist may send a more line-drawing, theologically focused message, one that casts a narrow net in a time in which we need to welcome the masses of unchurched into a healthy experience with Christ.

On the other side, there is concern that the church is caving in to secular culture, trying not only to shed the tag of intolerance (what is more warm and fuzzy than community?) but perhaps their very beliefs as well.  Here the concern is that the church is cowering in the face of a culture that has little use for what is termed absolute truth.

According to the available research, the jury is out on whether this naming trend works.  There is a near even split on its effectiveness as a marketing tool.  I like it–though I stop a bit short of The Foundry–as I do not want what are traditional styles and minor theological nuances standing in the way of a person’s comfort in entering the church.  What is important, however, is that the message from the pulpit is biblically centered.  One that speaks truth, irrespective of that truth’s level of acceptance in contemporary culture.  Without that truth the church may as well be a foundry. DC

[236] Spiritual

I don’t like the word spiritual.  It has to be among the most postmodern words in the English language. It connotes a non-material reality, but nothing more.

What makes it postmodern is that to be merely spiritual requires no commitment to truth.  Furthermore, it is highly individual.  What is spiritual to the Muslim is substantially different from that of the Christian, the Hindu, or the non-religious mystic, and all are equally acceptable.

Nonetheless, it is “in” to be spiritual in contemporary society.  It is a bit like being creative—a good additive to other personal characteristics.  It is a trait that suggests open-mindedness, leaving one open to a possible spirit world, should there be one out there.

But that is as far as it goes.  No spirit world is defined and no real truth is affirmed.

It is all an individual phenomenon, and one person’s spirituality is as good as another’s.

That single doctrine–that one person’s spirituality is as good as any other’s—makes the contemporary concept of being spiritual so lethal.  It superficially conveys openness and tolerance, while subtly being wholly closed and militantly intolerant to the notion of spiritual truth, and especially the notion that there is one spiritual truth for everyone.

In 1 Corinthians 15:19 Paul tells us that if Christ was not raised from the dead we are of all people most miserable.  In brief, he is telling us that our very life is founded on that fact, that truth.

Paul is saying all of spirituality is encompassed in Christ.  For everyone.

DC

[235] Light

The world is dark without hope.  It is dark without Christ.

If there is one word that describes the secular and Christian celebration of Christmas it would be light.  People drive into downtown areas of cities to see the Christmas lights.  We light the Christmas tree.  Neighbors with outside Christmas decorations have their lawns flooded with light.

The Christmas star is about light.

Too often it stops there, even for believers.  We get halted looking and enjoying all that light.  We are not realizing that light is a symbol of something much greater.  That Christ is the light in a dark world.  That is why we celebrate his birth with all that light.

God entered the world by saying, “Let there be light.”  It all started with light.

He redeems the world the same way, by sending the light of Christ.

I encourage you to think of that the next time you enjoy the Christmas lights.  They will be brighter than ever.  DC

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