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Archive for the ‘F & L Insights’ Category

[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

[190] Orthodoxy Sells

In pjmeida.com, Tyler O’Neill reported that a 5-year Canadian study indicated that “conservative” churches with a literal interpretation of scripture were growing. That would seem surprising only in that Canada is a rather secular nation. It is not surprising when one sees how many conservative evangelical US churches thrive.

Why is that?

First, I might suggest that we change the term “literal interpretation” to Christian orthodoxy. There is a rather wide range among Biblical Christians as to how literal one wishes to be with scripture. I do not see women covering their heads in church much anymore. There is, however, little disagreement among orthodox Christians as to what are the central doctrines of biblical Christianity.

But I digress here.   The question is why these churches grow. First, there is power in the Word. Churches that preach from Bible are preaching spiritual dynamite, a message that will not return void.

There are some other, lesser reasons. These churches use scripture to provide simple but profound spiritual answers to the vexing, complex, and confusing problems of our age. Further, they provide clarity and truth in a postmodern world.

A final note: These churches are not necessarily traditional in worship style. They do follow the Calvinist principle of going to the contemporary person where he is. But once doing that, they deliver the power of God unto salvation. DC

[189] Celebrity Mirage

Faithandlearningforum.com’s movie reviewer, Steve Launer, occasionally gives me printouts of interest, often from Christianity Today online. One, by Karl Vaters, encouraged the church to counter the “fame culture.”

Indeed, even Christians are too often caught up with the celebrity mirage. This mirage has people believing that secular celebrities are more important, more valuable, than those who are not famous. More worthful than even ourselves. Even if the celebrity in question offers no indication of being a fellow believer.

And my, just wait until a famous person confesses Christ as the new center of her life. The panting Christian publishers cannot get there fast enough with a contract for an autobiography, while other Christian groups eagerly stand in line for these babes in Christ to speak at their important events.

In other words, these “spiritual infants” are thought to have something helpful to say that may aid in the discipleship of mature believers. Other than the uniqueness of Christ’s work in their life, they have little to offer. And how often do we not see one of these “famous Christians” all but abdicate their simple Biblical faith after a few months or years. B. J. Thomas, Larry Flynt, George Harrison, Eldridge Cleaver, Bob Dylan, Jane Fonda… How embarrassing that always is.

When we elevate these celebrity believers, are we not worshipping celebrity more than God—the creature more than the creator? Please understand, there is a place for the public witness of believers who have excelled in the secular world. They have a voice to which others will listen. But we might want to wait until the water of their baptism has dried.

But that escapes the larger point. They should not be celebrities—heroes—to believers, unless they are genuinely heroes of faith. DC

[188] Stimulation

Have you ever noticed that people are addicted to stimulation? They cannot drive their car without listening to something. At home, their television is on virtually every waking hour. If they are waiting for anything, their phone is in their hand occupying their attention.

They must have something to stimulate them, something to which to respond.

It is not that they do not have time to stop and think. It is because they do not ever want to stop and think. If they did, they would have to ask whether their life has any purpose. What values shape their lives? Is there a God? What happens when they die? In short, they would confront the emptiness of their lives.

Who wants to engage the real questions of human existence when there is a new song to hear, movie to see, meal to eat, or text to send?

DC

[187] Wordview

I teach doctoral students at Grand Canyon University. I am, like other faculty members, evaluated periodically. One of the criterion in my review is the extent to which I communicate a Christian Worldview. In other words, simply teaching a course competently in the sheer academic sense is not sufficient, because it does not cohere with GCU’S goal of being truly Christian.

GCU is huge (over 70,000 grad and undergrad, on-ground and online students). Yet despite its size, it is able to monitor the spiritual quality of the education it provides.

There is no reason why any Christian college cannot do the same.

DC

[186] Personal God

I once had an unbelieving client with whom I sparred in a friendly way. I remember him saying, “I do not believe in a personal god.” His is a very common position. Many secular people will admit to believing in a transcendent being of some sort, but the line is drawn when that being becomes personal. That is a safe position intellectually. Such a being would have no real authority in a person’s life. It is a neutered god. That god has no impact. Let me make a very short case for a personal god. I know there are large numbers of people who are improperly incarcerated in this country. For example, ABC news reported that 1 in 25 prisoners on death row are innocent. I hear a stat like that and it bothers me. But not as much as it might. Because it is a number. It has no face. When, however, I watch the story of a single victim of wrongful incarceration on “48 Hours” or “Dateline” it really bothers me. I pray for that person. Why? Because he or she is a person and so am I. Now that victim and me are connected in a meaningful way—in a personal way. I can identify with this person, imagining what his or her worldview might be. If God were not personal—through Christ—we could not be meaningfully connected with him. We could not identify with him. He could not transform us into people who have a Christian worldview. DC

[185] Xian Worldview

I work with doctoral students at Grand Canyon University. I review the research methodology of their dissertations. I am heartened to engage the term Christian worldview on a regular basis. Faculty members are encouraged to weave a Christian worldview into their classes. Curriculum designs encourage Christian worldview, and there are courses of study that focus on Christian worldview.

The matter of Christian worldview captures in a single term the essence of what this website, what faith and learning, and what Christian scholarship is all about. It is a worldview informed by Christ. The alternative to a Christian worldview is a compartmentalized life—a series of separate and nearly sovereign components such as family, work, leisure, religion, etc. Such a view makes God the chief occupant of but one component of one’s life. That is not a disciple-driven life.

Every Christian college needs two things. It needs a required class on apologetics and at least one on Christian worldview. If we know why we believe (in an aggressively non-believing culture) and can put those beliefs into a view of life, we will be fulfilling the Great Commission. We will be making disciples. DC

[184] Right Spirit

The church is in a bad place when it comes to the matter of homosexual behavior, and particularly same-sex unions. There are those who condemn it. Others give total approval. Regrettably, these groups are marked more by their absolutism than by a humble and prayerful approach, replete with careful thinking. Those in the faith and learning community who favor the latter approach may end in different places, but they are not likely to divide the body of Christ.

Throughout the ages, the church has struggled with vexing dilemmas going all the way back to the grisly institution of slavery. Over the years the church has engaged such matters as divorce, the ordination of women, abortion, capital punishment, and its relationship to political parties. Followers of Christ have not found a consensus on many of the thorny social dilemmas requiring careful reflection.

The Reformed tradition, noted for its heavily doctrinal approach to the faith, has no stronger spokesperson and thinker than philosopher, Nicholas Wolterstorff. Last Fall, Wolterstorff shared his views on homosexuality. The only way to do justice to his presentation is to provide this link: http://thebanner.org/news/2016/10/wolterstorff-biblical-justice-and-same-sex-marriage.

I present this not to advocate a point of view, but rather as an example of the type of spirit we need to have when approaching potentially explosive issues that cry out for God’s illumination. DC

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