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Archive for the ‘F & L Insights’ Category

[200] Icons

I read a stunningly insightful book recently, entitled Dinner with DiMaggio, soon to be reviewed in these pages. The book caught the essence of what it meant to be an American icon. I reflected on the concept of national icons. From the ‘40’s to the ‘90’s there were so many—DiMiaggio, Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Elvis, Billy Graham, and Michael Jackson, among others.

They were so big they were commonly referred to as idols.

But the era of the genuine icon is, for the most part, gone.

The reason is that we are in an electronic age. In the previous era, the media was narrow, consisting mainly of radio, newspapers (literally print on paper), popular magazines, television (limited mainly to three networks), and movies. In short, the modalities were few, such that once a celebrity became nationally marketable he or she would dominate almost all of the layers of media reaching the public. Hence, an icon went deeply into American culture—dominating every point of contact with the public with each segment of the media reinforcing the others.

Two forces have changed all this: Cable TV and the internet. We now have myriad television channels and a world wide web with infinite points of contact. No one person can dominate all these. Hence, we have moved from national icons to what we might call niche icons. In addition, because of the incredibly wide expanse of contact, we are more aware than ever that we are not a homogeneous nation. We are nation of identifiable subgroups.

This makes the spread of the gospel easier and more difficult. It is easier because there are so many more apertures—so many more windows through which we can send the gospel out. It is more difficult because we have no Billy Grahams—icons whose fame and charisma can draw millions to their televisions—all at the same primetime hour–to hear a galvanizing message.

All of this begs the question: Are national revivals a thing of the past? With things moving horizontally rather than vertically, some say it is. Time will tell. We may indeed have to shape the gospel presentation to demographic niches, much as missionaries of the past did, learning the language and the culture of the particular people to whom they were to be sent before leaving American soil. Just as Christian colleges strategize to recruit students from various demographic segments, the church needs to strategize when it comes to evangelism—going to people “where they are,” to paraphrase John Calvin. From another vantage point, there is the concept of “going viral.” We must communicate the gospel knowing it has no boundaries in terms of its appeal, and there is nothing more viral than the Holy Spirit. DC

[199] Mission Statement

A few decades back, the business world was taken by storm with the idea of having a Mission Statement—a simple one or two statement as to its purpose for existence.

Not a bad idea for a business. An even better idea for a Christian college. And better yet for a person. In fact, I would like to see every person engage that task—write a life mission statement. For the Christian, the top line should be to glorify God. Believe it or not, that is the easy part. What comes next? For one thing, each of us can ask if what we are currently investing our energies in is glorifying God. We can also ask how we can take our skills and interests and aim them in that direction.

You get it. Doing these things not only will move us closer to the top line—glorifying God—but it will also make us a lot happier. DC

 

[198] No Consensus

The debate over homosexual behavior and same-sex marriages rages on. I see no consensus in sight on these issues among serious biblical Christians. I think we may have to accept a permanent diversity on these matters.

There are two general ways to look at this. For many, the prohibitions in both the Old and the New Testament are the final word. To mettle with these prohibitions is to mettle with the eternal in unchanging word of God. It is a simple but a compelling position.

The other is to look at the sanctions in cultural context. For example, in Romans, Paul connects homosexual activity to other obvious sins in his description of a truly wicked group of people. Homosexuality appears to be in the context of riotous, promiscuous living, not in a monogamous, committed relationship. Moreover, I doubt Paul knew that sexual orientation is largely if not completely genetic any more than the biblical writers realized the universe is heliocentric, with the earth being oval, rather than possessing four corners. And from there one can shift to other strictures of the past that are no longer in force today—women wearing hats in church, for example, not to mention more liberal attitudes toward divorce.

I urge Christians to avoid the one thing that is among the common and easiest to do when engaging explosive issues such as these: To attack rather than reason, to demonize those with opposing views rather than working out their differences in the love of Christ. DC

[197] Xian Scholars

Do our Christian colleges and universities have Christian scholars, or just scholars who happen to be Christians?

You can find plenty of the latter at Christian colleges, and more “under cover,” at mainline Christian-unfriendly universities. All you need to do is deliver a competent academic job and have a faith confined to a personal level to be one of these faculty. Keep your mouth shut and your word processor silent when it comes to the things of faith and you can enjoy a cozy tenured existence in either setting.

When your faith informs your work, provides a context for your work, is a lens through which you see all of life, giving you a Christian worldview, then you are a Christian scholar. Then you are out there, in the Christian intellectual arena.

So how many of these can you identify?

DC

 

[196] Appraisal

When you buy a building you often need an appraisal as to the soundness and quality of the structure. I suggest Christian colleges do the same in determining the soundness and quality of their Christian foundation.

An assessment might include a number of items. Here are some possibilities.

How are we doing in hiring people who can communicate a Christian worldview that can be integrated in their classes?

How are we doing in evaluating our faculty on expressing a Christian worldview in their classes?

How are we doing in encouraging our faculty to write and do research from a faith and learning perspective?

How are we doing in developing a faith and learning reputation for our institution among students and the public at large?

How are we doing in creating avenues for our students to write and speak from a Christian worldview?

How are we doing in linking with other Christian institutions to find new and fresh ways to empower our faith and learning stance? DC

[195] 1st Amendment

Remember the good old days, the time when people marched against porn and porn theaters? Remember when the purveyors of porn wrapped themselves in the red, white, and blue First Amendment blanket?

Remember that? Now Christians seem headed to do the same. It is clear that the First Amendment is not very popular in many of our colleges and universities. The mere expression of conservative political views will imperil the speaker (or in the case of the student writing a paper, the writer).

But what of the faith? How welcome would any of us be, expressing a Christian worldview on non-religious radio or television? Try a talk show. How comfortable? If you say, “not very,” you are also saying the First Amendment is under siege.

We may soon be asking the porn peddlers if they have any extra blankets. DC

[194] Plantinga Challenge

Alvin Plantinga, winner of the renowned Templeton Prize for 2017, is a role model for every Christian scholar.

Plantinga made his mark by advocating for the presence of religious belief into what had become, by the 1950’s, the hostile field of philosophy. Over time he changed the view of the discipline with respect to its relationship with religion, showing how religious belief can contribute to the solution of philosophical problems.

Christian colleges need to hold Plantinga up as the ideal of Christian scholarship. Many would be happy to confer an honorary doctorate on the 84-year-old icon.

But that is not the point here. These institutions should empower the example of Plantinga by encouraging, supporting, and funding efforts by faculty to integrate Christian thinking into their disciplines.

How does Christianity fit into sociology? If nothing else, it advocates that humans are essentially self-interested, giving rise to Conflict Theory and other explanations as to the nature of society. And what of psychology? Faith is often found congruent with mental health.

From meager beginnings like these, able Christian thinkers—and there are many of them—could make a strong case for the intellectual integrity of Christian notions in otherwise secular disciplines. I am certain Professor Plantinga would prefer that to an honorary doctorate. DC

[193] Plantinga Award

Retired Notre Dame Calvinist philosopher, Alvin Plantinga, won the 2017 Templeton Prize. It is a $1.4MM award for making “an exceptional contribution to affirming life’s spiritual dimension.” Plantinga joins the esteemed ranks of previous recipients, including Mother Teresa, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, Archbishop Desmond Tutu and the Dalai Lama.

But this blog is not about Alvin Plantinga. It is about yet another thing Christian colleges can do to further Christian scholarship and Christian worldview endeavors. I would like to see awards presented annually to faculty members at these schools for singular contributions of any type that further faith and learning.

Awards like this do three things. They reward faculty members for living out the mission statement of the Christian institution. They also reaffirm the Christian identity of the college or university. Finally, they send a message to all faculty and administration as to what is most important to their vocation

It doesn’t have to be $1.4MM or $14. The value of the award lies in the richness of its meaning.

DC

[192] Non-believer

The recently infamous Kathy Griffin has never struck me as particularly intelligent, clear thinking, or even funny. I always looked at her as a rather desperate soul, one without a compass. She describes herself as a “non-believer.” One can read that as simply one who does not have a religion. One can go further, however, and look at it as one who simply has nothing in which to believe—no real foundation or central life purpose.

The latter perspective is more meaningful to me. I have many non-believing friends, some of them are dear friends. One trait characterizes each of them: They do not articulate a purpose for their existence. For them, life is a trial-and-error venture in hopes of finding what they are going to do “when they grow up.” Given their chronological age they will probably not grow up.

For the Christian there is only one purpose: To glorify God. It is a purpose way beyond our capacity to attain, given our sinful condition, but that is what makes it a life-long endeavor. DC

[191] Gutsy Deans

If you are an academic administrator in a Christian college it is reasonable to assume you would like a genuine faith-and-learning environment to be the context of the academic enterprise. If you wish to do this, there are two actions you will need to take. First, you will need to be highly visible in your pro-active push for a true integration of Christianity and the academic bodies of knowledge. You will need to advocate publicly for a Christian worldview.

And you better be fearless about this first item, because in most Christian colleges there is a portion of the faculty that are totally stuck in compartmentalization—the notion that if they are Christians and do a solid academic job in the work compartment, that should be acceptable. If you are in a less evangelical setting, or one that has lacked genuine top-down Christian leadership, you will almost certainly have faculty who feel comfortable openly challenging that faith-and-learning direction.

And that faculty may well include veteran, tenured instructors.

This leads me to the second thing you will need to do. You will need to make things very uncomfortable for any faculty to “buck” the direction you are going.

It takes a gutsy dean (or president) to do this, but if you do not have the courage to take action #2, you might well reconsider even launching #1.

So how do you make #2 happen? You can begin by doing everything you can to promote a faith-and-learning atmosphere—creating courses, emphasizing it at faculty meetings, encouraging Christian worldview publishing, etc. You need to run the ball consistently toward the faith-and learning goal line. In doing so, you will be a major encouragement to the Christian scholars in your employ as well as sending a message to the dissidents that this where the train is heading. Secondly, you can incorporate Christian worldview as a criterion for evaluation. You certainly want to make it a major criterion for tenure or promotion. You can also require faculty to submit a document on how they see the Christian faith informing their discipline. This will create some discomfort where it needs to be.

I am many things but not naïve. You will not bring all the dissidents to your side. That just does not happen in a divided campus. But you can change the way the wind is blowing, and when you do that you will notice that the dissidents will be less vocal in their objections. The resistance will be there, but it will not be as loud. You may see some faculty leave, but they will be people who can easily be replaced with competent Christian scholars.

It will take courage. Guts. More than I have seen among a number of alleged Christian presidents and deans. But it is your calling. DC

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