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[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

[234] Murder & Grace

A dear friend called me yesterday and told me his twin granddaughters’ mother had been murdered.

She was 33.

A product of a Christian college, she had been doing the wrong things with the wrong person at the wrong time.

There are myriad reactions one can have to such news.  The one that stood out to me was grace.

It would be easy to moralize about the behavior of the young woman—the context of her murder–but I was struck with thought that the only reason the same did not happen to so many of us in youthful, often reckless times is God’s grace.

I mentioned the incident to a close friend who responded with the same thought.

The only thing that separated this woman’s plight from that of so many of the rest of us sinners is God’s protective grace.  It is a grace that is present even when we are not living according to his will.  It is grace that is especially present at those times.  DC

[233] Thanksgiving

Consider the origin of Thanksgiving in the US.  The pilgrims were so overwhelmed with their blessings they felt compelled to continue the English tradition of Thanksgiving.   This amid the loss of loved ones en route to the New World, conflicts with Native-Americans, illnesses ending in death, short life spans, elevated infant mortality rates, and hosts of other dangers particular to that era.

We have far more reasons to give thanks today than those pilgrims did 400 years ago.

But I don’t think we are as thankful.  And I’m talking about Christians here.  We seem to live in a subliminal atmosphere of entitlement.  Meals should be tasty, cars should not break down, and cellphones should work.  We should be able to keep our jobs, illness should not strike us or those we love, and our churches should serve our needs.

In reality, we are not entitled to anything—not food, not cars, not cellphones, not employment security, not extended health, not the service of the church.  Those are blessings.  Gifts the pilgrims could not have imagined.  When we remove the illusion of entitlement we see as the pilgrims did, a gracious God in a fallen world.  We become thankful—and yes, happy.  Happy Thanksgiving. DC

[232] 2nd Commandment

You don’t need me to tell you the Second Great Commandment is love your neighbor as yourself.  What I do want to say is that the church (a) does not seem to understand this commandment, and (b) does not do well in keeping it.

First, let me share a few thoughts on what this imperative entails.  It includes loving one’s family members.  They are one’s closest neighbors.  Judging from the divorce statistics, many of us are really failing here.  And that does not include all the loveless, albeit intact marriages, in addition to all the toxic parent-child relationships.

One’s church family would also be included.  So many churches fail here, as members fight over ecclesiastical turf as if the church belongs to its members rather than Christ—who just happens to be the originator of the Second Great Commandment.  I have real issues with this infraction, having been in too many churches ridden with dissension.

From there we go to the outside, those “without.”  Being a sociologist, I am very concerned with caring for the dispossessed, those mentioned in Matthew 25.  But before we get there, we might want to look at our personal and church families. DC

[231] Culture Lag

Recently I used this space to make the case for a required course in Christian apologetics (defenses of the faith) in Christian colleges.  Since then I ran this idea past the esteemed Christian philosopher, Nicholas Wolterstorff, perhaps as astute a Christian thinker as anyone in the world.  He concurs with this position, apparently because he—like myself—sees the mind as the battlefield on which current spiritual warfare takes place.

We no longer live in a Christian-friendly culture.  Today’s Western culture is increasingly shaped by secular-progressivism—an organized force aimed at driving religion in general, and Christianity in particular, out of contemporary society.

Hence, sound theology has its place, but it is not the panacea for keeping youth in the kingdom.  Theological divisions typified particularly the first half of the 20th Century, and therefore doctrinal purity became the first priority in educating youth for discipleship.  Those days are gone—permanently.  Today the battle is with secular-progressivism—the notion that provable scientific facts are the only universally acceptable creed.  On the spiritual/philosophical front, secular-progressivism takes the form of postmodernism—the notion that non-material truth is individual in nature.  In other words what is true for me is true only for me.  Not for anyone else.  Therefore, non-material truth does not exist, because “truth” is not universal.  It is customized to the individual.

So much for evangelism.  It is unnecessary because there is no grounded, immutable, spiritual truth to communicate.  It simply does not exist.

It would seem then that courses in apologetics would loom large in importance for Christian educators, the need for such courses being inescapably obvious.  To the extent that they are not so regarded suggests that much of Christian higher education is caught in what sociologists call a “culture lag,” one in which colleges are continuing to focus on matters of past rather than current importance.

Please understand, this is not a call to delete courses in theology from the curriculum.  Indeed doctrinal education remains vital, as it crystallizes one’s Christian beliefs.  The issue is that the secular-progressive, postmodern culture attacks the very validity of any theology.  It attempts to wipe out the acceptance of any spiritual truth before the first doctrine is taught.

We cannot continue to lag behind contemporary culture.  The enemy is well positioned in the 21st Century, and is rapidly gaining ground.  DC

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