Reaching the Campus Tribes: review part 2

Hines is right. He is right on both points—Christian ministry to college students needs attention, and ministry to college students is missions. He writes “…the sad truth is that we have reached these people for Christ far less than we can or should…mission work among these millions of people is given very low priority by most Christians (p. 6).”

 

This was true over 20 years ago, when I left home for college. The church of my childhood had a miserable youth group of about 30 apathetic kids congealed into a couple cliques who would not give me a ride home from activities, so I avoided meaningful involvement. Today I cannot name anyone from my high school youth group, although I can recall some faces. I do remember the youth pastor (“Dan!”). The church did not seem to have a college group, or at least I was unaware of anything beyond Sunday morning. I moved a thousand miles to college, so I was only home on Christmas and summer breaks. This may be part of why churches don’t know what to do with college students; if they all leave for college, are they even still part of the church? Reminiscing aside, my experience may not be typical. This brings up my main critique of Reaching the campus tribes[1]. The research would have greater impact if it presented more data.

 

Hines’ pilgrimage appears epic, with visits to about 180 campuses, 300 ministers, and hundreds of services and activities. As a research project, it is conducted like anthropological or sociological field research. It provided Hines with enormous amounts of material to draw from. Unfortunately, he doesn’t present many numbers, which leaves us with a lot of questions. What is the undergraduate enrollment of the schools visited? How many students are involved in campus ministries or local churches? What proportion of students who self-identify as “Christian” are incorporated in a church or ministry? How many ministries and churches are operating on the campuses? How many campus ministers? Which campus ministries? How many campuses have Campus Crusade, Intervarsity, etc.? How many staff? Paid? Volunteers? How many people are reached? What is the ratio of long-time Christians to recent converts?

 

The point is that I would have liked for Hines to show us the patterns of data that support the points he’s making, for variety of reasons.

 

How do we know whether Hines’ conclusions are overly biased by his subjective impressions? How do we reconcile Hines’ conclusions with other reports which claim that things are going well? Consider the Ivy Jungle Network’s “State of Campus Ministry” report from 2008. It says “…generally speaking, the state of campus ministry over the last decade has been strong.” For what it’s worth, I tend to disagree with that statement given the fact that Christendom is collapsing in America. For example, church attendance in 2050 will be half of what it is today, lots of people abandon their childhood faith by their mid 20’s, and only 20% of twentysomethings maintain spiritual activity at a level consistent with their high school involvement. All these statistics are from sources like the Barna Group and the Pew Forum. If Hines published the data, he would also have powerful statistics that demonstrate his thesis. One recent example of how to conduct this style of research is “Breakout Churches” (Thom Rainer, 2005).

 

Nevertheless, Hines is right. Perhaps it would be fair to say that on his whirlwind national tour, he only had time to look for any signs of life, and perhaps he could not possibly have provided the kind of data that I believe are sorely needed. Maybe that must wait for the follow-up book (i.e., please write more!).

 

Back to the main point: Hines is correct. Ministry to college students needs attention. In addition to being overlooked, Hines argues that the college years are precisely when missions to American should switch into high gear. This is matter of both the incredibly valuable opportunity that college represents and the horrific dangers of failing to reach college students. Specifically, college students are about 9 times more likely to make a decision for Christ in any given year than older adults. College is a sort of last chance for reaching people, before they reach the “zombie years” of older adulthood, during which very few people ever receive Christ. Unfortunately, the college years are also when people are abandoning faith in record numbers, so you sort of have to catch people on their way out the door.

 

Why is the university such an effective machine for stripping people of their faith? It’s astonishing how efficient higher education has become at accelerating the erosion of faith in America. I think that the answer is in the enormous influence that the university continues to wield in our culture. As an institution, the university dominates the world (Charles Malik) and the university is the center of culture (Gene Edward Veith). It can be convincingly demonstrated that the university has become post-Christian, and yet nearly every bright young person of sufficient means in our society receives a higher education. All important people are university educated: every leader of government, all professionals (e.g., doctor, lawyer), all members of the media, and all leaders of the church. The university is already post-Christian, and the rest of society is getting there.

 

So Hines is right. But this brings up another question: Is anyone listening?

 

 

 


[1] I could have been more critical. For example, very little scripture is incorporated into his arguments. However, I don’t want to distract readers from the main thrust of Hine’s argument.

Download this book: Reaching the Campus Tribes

Notorious instigator Abbie Hoffman’s “Steal this Book” (1971) ingeniously captured the dissident spirit of the Yippie counter-culture. It was, in contemporary parlance, very relevant. In the new millennium, to not write a book is now the most relevant way to spread ideas, and author Benson Hines’ e-book “Reaching the campus tribes: an opening inquiry” is one forward-thinking example aimed at the Christian ministry subculture. So, stop reading this blog book-review and go download the genuine article (e-book) for free at www.reachingthecampustribes.com.

 

OK, done? Notice the fine photography, interesting layout, and relative brevity of the book (the full 70 megabyte version looks best)? I learned nearly as much from the photo captions as I did from the text. The medium is the message, right?[1] Well, this book has several messages.

 

  • Christian ministry to college students needs attention

        …egregiously neglected in the recent history of the protestant church

        …understaffed, underfunded, and poorly thought out

        …critically important to the core mission of the church

 

  • Reaching college students is missions (hence “tribes”)

        …a cross-cultural experience for non-college student ministers

        …requires missions-like strategies, including contextualization

 

So, the book is an essay, arguing two points. First, it implores churches and ministers to prioritize ministry to college students. Second, it draws an analogy between overseas missions and ministry to colleges and universities. Furthermore, the book’s tagline is “an opening inquiry” so you should not expect it to provide many answers. Rather, it is only the beginning of the dialogue (also very relevant in contemporary ministry lingo). Hines writes: “this short book is more proclamation than primer, more megaphone than microscope…(p 8).” Hines does not spell out a clear strategy for how to successfully launch or invigorate a campus ministry. Finally, the book is born out of a pilgrimage of sorts. Benson traveled for a year visiting 181 campuses and talking to about 300 campus ministries. As such, it is very autobiographical, in the sense that it emphasizes the first person voice, and also the impressions and views of the author.

 

In the spirit of “Reaching the campus tribes” I will likewise unashamedly offer my opinions on this topic during this review. I will also accept Benson Hines’ invitation to the “open inquiry,” and will ask a lot of questions. All this will have to wait for part two of this book review. For now, go download this book if you haven’t already. Read it, and come back prepared to hear both praise and criticism in part two of the review. As always, feel free to comment, and add your voice to the inquiry.



[1] Marshall McLuhan

Updates from the decline of Christianity in America

OK, I ain’t blogged in three months. But I was stirred from slumber by some recent news from the Pew Forum on Religion and Public Life, the Barna site, and a new e-book “Reaching the College Tribes.”

First; Check out the executive summary of “Faith in Flux: Changes in Religious Affiliation in the US” from the Pew Forum.

Highlights:

  • 1 in 10 Americans is a former Catholic
  • People generally abandon their childhood faith by age 24
  • Catholics leave because they don’t believe the teachings (slightly lesser so for Protestants)
  • 40% leave because they no longer believe in God
  • Used to be only 6% of the population was “unafilliated,” unwilling to claim any religion…now its 16%

Commentary; as we already know, the main church institutions of our country continue to empty out, and the Catholics are the hardest hit. The biggest growing “religion” in America is “I’m not religious,” and people abandon faith in their young adult years (e.g., during college).

Second; check out the Barna group’s article “Americans are exploring new ways of experiencing God” (June 8, 09).

Highlights: 

  • Americans are still “spritiual” in the sense that they have some kind of “religous faith” in “God”
  • 64% are open to leaving the typical church to do something else
  • Half agree that everyone is tired of the typical (institutional) church
  • 71% say they develop their religious beliefs themselves, instead of getting them from a church
  • Attendance at “home church” or “house church” has grown 700% in the last decade

Commentary; All this to say, yet again, that the institutions are emptying out, with all the former churchies rushing off to do something else. Barna appears to be arguing for “simple church.”

Thoughs for NeoXenos: We were the irreligious anti-institution alterna-assembly when it wasn’t even cool! Now what we do is the “new hotness!” Why aren’t we scooping up the youth scrambling away from their denominations? One reason is that we’ve always reached the non-churched nearly non-religious peeps. “Conversion growth” not “transfer,” right? But given this growing meta-trend in American Christianity, should we/can we net some ex-churchies? If we decide to draw in those who get up out of their pew, put down the hymnal, and walk away from church, how do we accomplish this?

I got to digest “reaching the campus tribes” more….I’ll blog about this soon.

Why don’t we sing?

Slaughtering Sacred Cows

 

We recently met to “Review, Plan, and Pray” about the many new directions that NeoXenos seems to be heading. I was astounded at how easily we agreed to become a “church without walls.” This is one of the major “sacred cows” of western Christianity. At Xenos, we’ve ditched a number of the prototypical features of American ecclesiology. For example, we’ve given up legalism in favor of grace, we’ve abolished the clergy-laity distinction, we’ve abandoned the worship service, and we’ve recently set out from the safe, respectable, sterile church building in favor of itinerant-preacher-style meetings.

 

This all started decades ago, a long before I came around to Xenos in Columbus and before NeoXenos was planted. It was a bit of a shock when I encountered Xenos for the first time in 1996. I remember well, how refreshing it was to encounter a group that understood concepts like grace and “every member a minister.” I was overjoyed to give up singing, but mostly because I don’t like to sing. I think Christian music is boring, embarrassing, and out-dated. Maybe it was the hot new ministry tactic when Martin Luther took tavern songs, wrote some Christian words, and had the audacity to allow the parishioners to sing (strictly verboten in the Catholic church!). But in the 20th (and now 21st) century, it is mostly weird and uncomfortable. I was so sick of the worship service that when we arrived in Columbus that I let it go with more relief than careful thought. However, recently I had to reconsider my reasons for disdaining the worship service.

 

Some of us from NeoXenos recently attended the “Multi-site Exposed” conference in Chicago to learn more about one way of breaking out of the “church in a box” syndrome. Before the conference we attended New Life Community Church at their Midway campus. The service began with three praise songs, which were tastefully performed and expertly sung by a clear tenor and two somewhat energetic female back-up singers. Everyone stood on command and many clapped along as requested. The service ended with an altar call and communion, accompanied by soft music and the singers crooning “I live to worship you.”

 

It brought back memories of my time in the “regular” church, which is a stark contrast with Xenos where we do not sing or even have Christian music performed at our main meetings. Many people outside our fellowship find this odd or even appalling. I remember when one of my friends from California visited Xenos in Columbus he left saying “that was nice, but when do you worship?” I have invited a number of people to NeoXenos who say that they are not interested in visiting because “they would really miss the music.”

 

I’m sure that the planners of Multi-site Exposed did not intend for us to walk away with the impression “hey, that’s just like church,” but that is what I was left with. I was not able to get a satisfactory answer to whether or not the multi-site phenomenon is resulting in actual church growth as opposed to merely an in-gathering of disaffected Christians who had left other churches or church-hopping from a boring service to a better show. I started to complain a lot about “The Show,” or what I perceive to be an approach to ministry that relies excessively on public performances. The multi-site experiment is still basically a worship service, repackaged for modern tastes. I wondered out loud “If your church was somehow prevented from meeting, and you couldn’t have ‘the show,’ would it still exist in 6 months?” I hoped that NeoXenos was different, that our church was not essentially a service-based or program-based enterprise. Our recent history has been proving this point.

 

The Scriptural Basis for the Worship Service?

 

Is Xenos off-base? Are we wrong not to worship the Lord in song? Should we have worship services? Some would say we must. The website for Mars Hill in Seattle indicates that “The Scriptures provide a number of directives regarding corporate worship and require that there be the following.” They then list prayer, scripture reading, preaching, singing, giving of tithes and offerings, warm friendship, and communion. Does the bible really command singing at worship services? In an address entitled “Why do we sing?” Bob Kauflin (2000; Sovereign Grace Ministries conference on worship) says that there are about 20 references to music in the New Testament (and 500 in the Old Testament, including 50 direct commands to sing), and that most are connected with singing. I can’t find 20, but the most commonly cited references supporting singing are Ephesians 5:19 and Colossians 3:16. The verses read “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly as you teach and admonish one another with all wisdom, and as you sing psalms, hymns and spiritual songs with gratitude in your hearts to God” (Col 3:16; italics added) and “Speak to one another with psalms, hymns and spiritual songs. Sing and make music in your heart to the Lord” (Eph 5:19-20; italics added). So both of these passages include the caveat “in your hearts,” which does not seem to be principally about a public worship service with group singing. Furthermore, the only example of Jesus and his disciples singing is their singing the Hallel Pslams after (and probably during) the Passover meal, as would have been customary during Passover (Mt 26:30; Mk 14:26).

 

So there is absolutely no scriptural basis for the worship service as it is currently practiced. Jesus never commanded anyone to sing, although he taught on prayer, railed against religious formalism and hypocrisy, and devoted extensive time to explaining the Kingdom of God. None of the books of the New Testament discuss proper procedures for singing at the worship service, despite many ‘one another’ passages and extensive discussion of other matters of ecclesiology (e.g., qualifications for leadership, the importance of teaching the word, the exercise of spiritual gifts in the body of Christ, submission to authority, relations in the Christian family and the relationship of the Christian with society and government).

 

Song in a Box: Worship in the American Church

 

Yet even a cursory glance at the landscape of evangelicalism in North America reveals that singing at worship services is a major element of contemporary Christianity. You can get undergraduate and graduate degrees in worship, which is always connected to musical performance (as opposed to a broader definition of worship such as sacrificial service). Nearly every church in this country has singing at the worship service, and the “worship theory of evangelism” has been described as the dominant strategy of the American church to win the lost (Dennis McCallum, 2008 Xenos Summer Institute). The Christian music industry has subcategories devoted to worship music, large churches have worship teams that sometimes write and distribute their own music, and TV commercials advertise worship CD’s (e.g., “Songs 4 Worship: Shout to the Lord”).

 

On a personal note, I remember all this very well. In the church of my youth we sang straight from the hymnal tucked into the back of the pew. I started playing the drums in church as a child at special events (remember the “Easter Cantata?”—you would if you grew up in a conservative Baptist church!). It was controversial—can there be drums in church?!? During college, I occasionally played for the gospel choir, played for special events with the “chorale” (e.g., Christmas concert), and toured with small vocal ensemble “Triumph!” We performed many Sunday mornings in all kinds of churches around Southern California. I’ve been to hundreds of different church worship services and there was singing at every one of them until I found Xenos in Columbus. I’ll never forget my first Sunday walking in to hear the cover band playing Sting and Steely Dan covers, but no worship songs. Yet even at Xenos I played with Nathan Dickson (singer songwriter) at Central Teaching, and for short time we were required to perform praise songs for the 30 or so people who would show up to sing before the very early service (8 am?). (We glumly rushed through some boring contemporary Christian songs, intentionally mispronouncing certain words to amuse ourselves.) At last year’s Christmas program at NeoXenos it was yours truly who was pressed into service to lead the singing of several Christmas carols, to my great dismay (none of my experience ever included singing in public).

 

In contrast to my experience and mainstream evangelicalism, there is also the opinion that musical instruments should not be allowed in church. Apparently John Calvin, John Wesley, Martin Luther, and Charles H. Sturgeon were all opposed to having musical instruments in church. Lavelle Layfield of the Church of Christ wrote an essay arguing that the New Testament only authorizes singing without musical accompaniment (http://www.scripturessay.com/article.php?cat=&id=426). When I was younger I would have scoffed at this minority position, and I still do. No instruments in church? Why not? There’s no scriptural prohibition against musical instruments in church, and freedom in Christ covers a lot of territory on non-essential matters like music (Galatians 5:1; Galatians 2:4).

 

Reconsidering the Worship Service

 

Why have we at NeoXenos dropped the worship service? Given that there’s no scriptural support for the worship service, nor any scriptural prohibition against music, we certainly have the freedom to sing or not sing as we see fit. We have chosen not to, for a number of reasons.

 

First, non-Christians don’t like it. Newcomers to our fellowship are primarily the non-churched youth of our culture. They are not familiar with the Christian sub-culture or church traditions. They are not used to singing in groups, and often find the worship service to be bizarre and off-putting. This was not the case 500 years ago, where there might have been a cultural precedent for group singing. There was no recorded music, and live performances with group participation may have been commonplace. But in our culture, it doesn’t make sense to require strange rituals of people with no background to understand what is going on. Paul said “to those who are without Law, as without Law” (1 Corinthians 9:9-14) to describe his efforts to bring the good news to all kinds of people. Here, I’m saying “to those who don’t like to sing, as those who don’t sing.”

 

More importantly, I believe that there are aspects of the worship service that actively promote false doctrine. In contrast to common opinion, the Church is not defined by having sacraments and a worship service. Rather, the church is the body of Christ (Ephesians). The church simply not a worship service, and requiring a worship service does a tremendous disservice to church planting efforts. As NeoXenos becomes a “church without walls,” saddling us with all the demands of a worship service would be a terrible waste of time, money, and energy.

 

In addition, the worship service sends the message that God must be approached in a mystical and emotional manner by groveling penitents. This idea is directly contradicted by passages such as Romans 8:15-17 and Galatians 6:6,7. Both of these passages portray Christians as having such an intimate and loving relationship with God that we call Him “daddy,” with no fear. We are not to grovel before God, but rather approach God boldly, like members of the family.


The worship service also promotes the false doctrine that we exist primarily to worship God in song. For example, the lyrics of one popular Christian praise song are “I live to worship you” (Israel Houghton’s band Israel and new breed, “to worship you I live”). This sweet-sounding slogan slips by unnoticed, but it numerous passages in the NT contradict this doctrine. For example, Ephesians describes a much more glorious purpose and destiny for which we were called (Ephesians 1:18-19; 3:16-19; 4:1-3; 5:1-2; 5:15-18). We are evangelists, pastors, teachers, and saints who comprise the body of Christ. We are His witnesses (Acts 1:8), ambassadors through whom God is reconciling the world to himself (2 Corinthians 5:20; 1 Peter 3:9). Our destiny is to be co-heirs of the Kingdom of God with Christ (Romans 8:16-17; James 2:4), even judging angels (1 Corinthians 6:3). Our calling is indeed glorious, so implying that our only purpose in this life or the next is to sing nursery rhymes to Jesus is insulting and patronizing. No wonder so many people have no interest in wasting their lives in pews when there are so much more interesting worlds to conquer outside the church doors!

 

Finally, and perhaps most troubling, the typical worship service redefines worship from a lifestyle of sacrificial loving service to singing at a group meeting. Paul defined worship in his letter to the Romans. “Therefore I urge you, brethren, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies a living and holy sacrifice, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service of worship” (Romans 12:1). A lot can be said about this passage, but simply put the most reasonable worship we can offer to God is to give our whole lives and selves to God in thanks for what He has done for us. To reduce this to mere participation in a musical show is incredibly offensive if you think about it. Becoming a living sacrifice, or setting yourself apart to serve the Lord instead of yourself, is a profound decision with wide-reaching implications. You cannot simply punch the “worship” clock once a week and consider yourself a faithful servant of the Lord.

 

Moving Out Without Baggage

 

To conclude, at NeoXenos we’re moving out. We focus on the gospel of grace, all of us are ministers, and we own no property. We stopped a lot of religious formalism a long time ago, and most principally the Worship Service. We are an underground movement meeting from house to house and in a variety of rented rooms. We bring the good news of salvation as a free gift by faith in Jesus Christ, with full membership in the body of Christ, and resurrection from death in order to enjoy eternal life with God. We are free to sing if we want to, and you’ll probably be treated to joyous song every year at our Christmas celebration. In our meetings, however, we can’t afford all the baggage of the worship service. There’s no scriptural basis that requires it, there’s no advantage for attracting people that it affords, and there’s some heinous false doctrine that it promotes. We will probably continue to be criticized for being the only church around with no worship band, but that’s a small price to pay for the freedom we enjoy.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Review of “The Outrageous idea of Academic Faithfulness” Part 2

Review of “The Outrageous idea of Academic Faithfulness” Part 2

by Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby

 

In my last blog, I started to review this short book. I focused on one particularly jarring passage from the book, but I do not think that I am misrepresenting the theme of the book by singling out one mistake. Rather, the misinterpretation of the kingdom parable of the wheat and weeds is consistent with the underlying theology on which the book appears to be based (stay tuned for Part 3). This has implications for what the thesis of the book becomes, and I believe that this results in the book having a crippling omission.

 

Evangelism?

 

A book about the task facing Christian college students should emphasize evangelism. The church is facing a mass exodus that peaks during the college years, with perhaps 60-80% of people who were “involved in church” during their high school years abandoning their faith by the time they reach their mid twenties (for proof, go look up research by George Barna). Furthermore, adults older than college aged very seldom make a decision to receive Christ. There is a steep age-related decline in the likelihood of salvation, and the flat line begins after college. College is precisely where young men and women leave their own family and micro-culture of their home town to explore alternative world views (and lifestyles) in the public marketplace of ideas. Colleges are like catch-basins for all the meritorious youth of every industrialized nation, where young people concentrate in one place to transition from childhood to an independence that is broader than economic and relational independence—it includes independent thinking and the adoption of a world view that guides the rest of their lives. Therefore, college is a sort of “last chance” to reach people before its too late, combined with a highly concentrated and relatively receptive audience for the gospel of Jesus Christ.

 

I just can’t understand why a book for Christian college students does not call on them to reach their lost peers. Yet evangelism is simply not a theme or even prominent topic in this book. Rather, there’s a sense that although evangelism is good (yawn), the gospel is bigger than just getting people saved (yay!), so by implication the book focuses on the part of the gospel that’s not about the good news of forgiveness of sins, eternal life, and a restored relationship with God as a free gift on the basis of faith in Jesus Christ. For example, on p. 75 the authors state that “The work of Jesus Christ is not limited to the redemption of individuals” and on p. 90 they write “In some traditions, for example, the gospel is viewed primarily as rescue from sin and the promise of heaven. While this view emphasizes the urgent call to evangelism, it offers little to help shape a theology of culture or an ethic for life in the world, especially the academic world.”

 

I’m sure many will disagree with me on this point, but I suspect that defining the gospel as much broader than evangelism and salvation often results in Christians redefining anything they feel like doing to be part of ‘spreading the gospel.’ I am not joking when I report that they actually say that being a “good steward” of your job, hobby, institution, or ecosystem is participating in the gospel of Jesus Christ (p. 76) and that maybe you should start a recycling program in your dorm to help God restore his creation (see p. 128 and 126). This is your great act of Christian ministry? Recycling? Compared to reaching the lost, it doesn’t measure up.

 

Consider Joel’s beer ministry, a satirical (mean spirited?) exploration of this line of reasoning. I like to brew my own beer. I am trying to be more frugal lately, and home brewing saves money while still providing me and my friends with excellent beer to drink. This way I am also able to recycle beer bottles, instead of contributing to the pollution of the earth. I’m not adding to the profits of big beer corporations with their smutty advertising and bad values. I don’t get a hangover (lots of vitamin B in homebrew!), so it’s kinder on my body. I recently brewed a Guinness-style dry Irish stout, which reminded me of the wise words of Os Guinness (from the Guinness family—you know, descendent from the Dublin brewer who started the company). He once wrote “Deep in our hearts, we all want to find and fulfill a purpose bigger than ourselves. Only such a larger purpose can inspire us to heights we know we could never reach on our own.” (Guinness, The Call: Finding and Fulfilling the Central Purpose of Your Life, 1998). Yeah…brewing is my “beer gospel,” because I’m helping God redeem the earth one bottle at a time. This is how I integrate my faith with my lifestyle, so I can take part in the broader understanding of the gospel described by this book.

 

If I believed any of that nonsense about “beer gospel,” I might also throttle back on evangelism. In my view, this is the slippery slope of broadening the gospel to mean anything that a Christian does sort of thoughtfully. Don’t get me wrong—Christian students should take their academics seriously, but this does not substitute for fulfilling the Great Commission from Matthew 28:18-20

 

Then Jesus came up and said to them, “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me. Therefore go and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and the Son and the Holy Spirit, teaching them to obey everything I have commanded you. And remember, I am with you always, to the end of the age.”

 

Review of “The Outrageous idea of Academic Faithfulness” Part One

by Donald Opitz and Derek Melleby

What if Christian college students didn’t resign themselves to the two themes of university life? Namely, these two themes are “college is your ticket to a good job” (so get the piece of paper and never mind learning anything so long as the resume is stuffed) and “college is a rite of passage” (so you should eat, drink and party, for tomorrow you must graduate and become a boring adult, shuffling zombie-like through your “earning years”). What if Christian college students actually devoted themselves to learning, actually took learning seriously, and were actually disciplined students seeking to integrate their faith with their course of study? This is the premise of the book The Outrageous idea of Academic Faithfulness by Donald Optiz and Derek Melleby (2007; Bazos Press).

The title is inspired by George Marsden’s The Outrageous idea of Christian Scholarship (1997; Oxford University Press), which essentially argues that Christian faculty should be more explicitly Christian in their teaching and research. From the title alone, I had to read this book. As a college professor, I am often frustrated by most college students’ approach to their academics. Often students have very lackluster performance or view college in a very utilitarian manner. For example, I have heard students comment “Why go to class?” Usually this is followed by an explanation, such as “they teach right from the book” or “the notes are available online” as if there is no value in an education besides finishing the degree with as little work as possible. I often wonder “how are you going to use that time that you didn’t attend class?” So I read The Outrageous idea of Academic Faithfulness, a short treatment of what has sadly become an outrageous idea; that God cares about how people use their intellectual talent and extraordinary opportunity to attend college, and that students just might take learning seriously, approach academics in a disciplined way, and choose to be faithful in this area of their lives.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t much left in this book after the premise was established. I think that the book has many shortcomings, but some of these might merely reflect my fickle tastes (e.g., too short, too shallow, too “popular press” in style). Therefore, I will focus on what I believe are three major and related flaws in this three-part series.

Wheat and Weeds in the Kingdom of God

First, the authors misinterpret the parable of the wheat and the weeds from Matthew 13 and reach a faulty conclusion. The parable is:

24 Jesus told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a man who sowed good seed in his field. 25 But while everyone was sleeping, his enemy came and sowed weeds among the wheat, and went away. 26 When the wheat sprouted and formed heads, then the weeds also appeared. 27 “The owner’s servants came to him and said, ‘Sir, didn’t you sow good seed in your field? Where then did the weeds come from?’ 28 “‘An enemy did this,’ he replied. “The servants asked him, ‘Do you want us to go and pull them up?’ 29 “‘No,’ he answered, ‘because while you are pulling the weeds, you may root up the wheat with them. 30 Let both grow together until the harvest. At that time I will tell the harvesters: First collect the weeds and tie them in bundles to be burned; then gather the wheat and bring it into my barn.'”

The authors stopped at verse 28, and conclude that college is like this field, full of good things (wheat) and bad things (weeds). Telling the difference is the challenge, and in college the academically faithful learn to carefully discern the good ideas from the wrong ideas.

Well, this is not remotely the point of this parable, as verse 29-30 make clear (who stops to interpret a parable after a question mark but before the answer is given?). Jesus says DO NOT try to separate the wheat from the weeds, not to mention that the parable is about people in the Kingdom of God and not ideas. Oh look! Jesus himself explains the parable in verses 36-43, so there’s no confusion…and the authors are waaay off base with their application.

36 Then he left the crowd and went into the house. His disciples came to him and said, “Explain to us the parable of the weeds in the field.” 37 He answered, “The one who sowed the good seed is the Son of Man. 38 The field is the world, and the good seed stands for the sons of the kingdom. The weeds are the sons of the evil one, 39 and the enemy who sows them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the age, and the harvesters are angels. 40 “As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. 41 The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. 42 They will throw them into the fiery furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. 43 Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. He who has ears, let him hear.

Jesus sowed, the field is the world, good seeds are Christians, the weeds are God’s adversaries, etc. So “do not try to separate them” has to do with the coexistence of Christians and non-Christians until the final judgment…which does not support the application that students will be faced with the task of discerning between good ideas and bad ideas during college. There are doubtless bible passages that support the need to discern true from false, but not in this kingdom parable.

In Part 2 of this review, I will describe what I believe is a crippling omission from the book, and in Part 3, I will try to uncover the source of these shortcomings of this book.

Conference in Indiana

Indianapolis is a beautiful city—at least downtown. New football stadium, upscale dining, elevated mall in all the buildings connected by skyway bridges between the buildings, and three microbreweries within 2 blocks of my hotel (“Alcatraz” and “Ram” are on the same block). Yes, I’ve been to all three microbreweries. It’s also the state capitol, so there’s a slow steady stream of black Lincoln Towncars with tinted windows…I wonder who is coming and going from the statehouse?

 

The conference (American Association of Cardiovascular and Pulmonary Rehabilitation: AACVPR) has been productive. I’ve been networking to meet new people, reconnecting with people I’ve known for years, and sitting through numerous scientific presentations and an awards banquet. There was an industry-sponsored reception with amazing food (“filet sliders…like little hamburgers but with filet mignon!”) and top shelf liquor (I had to have some Petron).

 

All this epitomizes the kosmos. Bright lights, big city, friendly faces (all the restaurants have a window sticker announcing “Indianapolis welcomes AACVPR!”), great food/drink, clean city (not too many homeless bums begging food), and lavish accommodations are everywhere. I’m staying at the Canterbury Hotel, which costs the same as a big brand-name hotel, but which is really old and cool (on the national historic register). Also has free wi-fi and valet parking. Even the weather cooperated, with mid-70’s temperatures, constant sun, and no need for even a light coat.

 

The kosmos whispers “everything is fine…don’t worry…you’re having a good time…” It is very subtle at times, and in-your-face in other contexts. This is not Vegas, it’s not a sin-city. It’s the heartland of America, smiling and winking at you to remind you that it’s all going to be OK. Meanwhile CNN is freaking out over the stock market and enormous government bailout of our financial institutions.

 

This time around, I’m strangely disinterested in the conference itself. This week I missed CrossRoads Project, a C&C hosted by my home church, and CT. I miss my kids. I miss my wife. I am acutely aware of the enormous value of the body of Christ after the “Multi-site exposed” conference, and it sucks to be gone.

 

Would I do it again? Well, yes. Everyone works, sometimes you travel. To use an agricultural metaphore, my wheat has to grow just as high as every other farmer’s. But I don’t have to like it, and I don’t have to listen. The kosmos is a cruel master. Although it claims to have everything systematized and programmed to run smoothly and provide a fun and safe alternative to the dangerous adventure of Jesus’ new and living way, it is more like slowly setting cement underfoot. When you look down to realize that you’re trapped in the solid cement, suddenly they’re breaking the sidewalk up into blocks and throwing you into the sea to sink with all the other victims of “the system.”

Why I do not attend Christian Faculty Conferences—Part 2

The three themes in Christian ministry among the faculty that most concern me are: academic integration, spiritual disciplines, and kingdom theology applied to the university. Unfortunately, academic integration is overrated, spiritual disciplines are stupid, and recapturing the university for Christ is a fool’s errand. Because these are common themes of Christian Faculty Conferences, I don’t go. But the interesting blog is in why I would be so cynical, mean-spirited, and contrary to these contemporary currents in evangelical Christianity.

 

Let me mention, before I began to criticize in earnest, that J.P. Moreland, Dallas Willard, and William Lane Craig are my heroes. They are among the most prominent Christian faculty alive, and they have been very active in championing the Christian faith in the University. I probably will not amount to much as a Christian missionary to the campus compared to them. Still, I am about to argue that these great men of faith who have come before me are misguided on some tenets of their public minsitry. I am not trying to make ad hominem attacks, and it makes me very sad to part ways with certain aspects of their ministry philosophy, but here I go.

 

Academic Integration is Overrated

Everyone has to do academic integration to some degree, especially in philosophy. But very few people are going to be at the leading edge of integration (e.g., Philip Johnson, Behe). Most attempts at integration by Christian faculty would be “pretend minsitry” in my view. That is, it is simply not that important that Bob the biologist at your university focus his research career on integrating evolution and creation, or championing creation science.

 

It is not useful because what is more important is being a missionary to the campus. Other eminent scholars already tackled the integration issue in key fields, and in my opinion it would be better to be a missionary than to strive to resist modernism or postmodernism in my discpline (for me, health psychology). True, some integration is necessary at a personal level, and is helpful to be able to defend Christianity in a one-on-one exchange with students, but it is a diversion as a research career for most Christian faculty. A research career in academic integration would be most possible at a religious institution, and would be in the category of “not scholarship” at most public and private universities.

 

Furthermore, in my view “academic integration” lets faculty off the hook for “Christian service” that affects no one’s lives. It’s like singing in the choir at church—if that’s your great work of ministry you ain’t doing much. It’s what you like to do for fun anyway, and it does not win the lost. Try pouring your life out for others—that’s authentic minsitry. Dennis McCallum just said at the 2008 Xenos Summer Institute that the “worship theory of evangelism” is possibly the dominant strategy the church in America uses to win the lost, and that it has simply not worked. That is, non-Christians simply do not come to a worship service, see a rockin’ band, and start thinking “I should be a Christian.” It is a very sad tale, and the thousands of men and women giving their efforts for music ministry have been diverted from strategies that are proven to work. So show me the evidence that, on the whole, academic integration is an effective ministry tool. And the phrase “on the whole” is critical here because I am well aware that there are notable exceptions. In the field of philosophy, theism has made a dramatic comeback documented by J.P. Moreland and others. Some scientists have turned academic integration into wonderful opportunities (e.g., Behe). But I still believe that the typical Christian faculty member should spend their time in evangelism, discipleship, church planting, and other people-oriented ministry efforts.

 

Again, a caveat is in order for this objection. First, everyone has to do some academic integration on a personal level. Compartmentalizing one’s life into “secular” and “sacred” has terrible consequences. Furthermore, anti-intellectualism is a scourge of modern Christianity, and I am not advocating ignorance or a refusal to think through one’s area of scholarship. Rather, a concentrated focus on academic integration as a staple of ministry efforts is a distraction from more pressing matters.


So why do people do it? I think that this is an effect of reformed/covenant theology, which comes up below in my third major subheading.

 

Spiritual Disciplines are Stupid

 

I’v e blogged about this before in my review of J.P. Moreland’s “Kingdom Triangle,” the second side of which is spiritual disciplines. So here goes again.

 

Spiritual disciplines are groundless in the Bible and we are warned that they are useless. Yet they are a major focus of Christian faculty conferences and retreats. The argument that J.P. Moreland makes in their favor is from passages like Romans 12:1. He takes Romans 12:1, Romans 6:11-13, Colossians 3:5, and 1 Timothy 4:7-8 to be passages about our physical bodies and how we should use our physical bodies to engage in physical actions that bring about sanctification. “Flesh” in these passages is supposed to mean “the sinful tendencies or habits that reside in the body and whose nature is opposite to the Kingdom of God” (p. 151). So the sin nature is supposed to be in my physical body. For example, he asserts that anger is often in the stomach, gossip in the tongue, and lust in the eyes (why not in the penis?). According to Moreland, the solution is to engage in spiritual disciplines. A spiritual discipline is “a repetitive practice that targets one of these areas in order to replace bad habits with good ones” (p. 153). As a metaphore he uses tennis, in which bad tennis habits (your “tennis flesh”) are cured by submission to a tennis instructor and practice that strengthens better tennis habits and thus “tennis righteousness.” Moreland advocates the typical spiritual disciplines of engagement (e.g., study, worship, service) and abstinence (e.g., solitude, silence, fasting, and sacrifice).

 

I think that Moreland is wrong. I think he takes Romans 12:1 out of context. He asserts that “presenting our bodies to Christ” means exercising parts of the body to become less sinful and more Christlike. Rather, the passage starts with ‘therefore’ which refers back to Romans 1-11, and the context makes clear that Paul is writing to believers to remind them that the entire world is condemned (Jew and Greek) but that we have now received the astonishing gift of grace through faith in Jesus Christ, and can be justified before God and declared righteous. What is our response? The metaphore in Romans 12:1 is the thank offering, which is a burnt offering in the Old Testament. In the New Testament, we are the offering our entire selves, given freely to God in thanks for what he has done for us. That’s our reasonable act of worship. This is not at all the same as exercising to become sanctified.

 

Second, the sin nature (i.e., flesh) is an aspect of our human nature that we inherited from Adam as part of being human beings. The “flesh” is only one word the bible uses to describe the sin nature, and others include “the sin which indwells me” (Romans 7:7-25), “heart” (Jeremiah 17:9), and “outer man” (2 Cor. 4:7-18). The Greek word “sarx” is translated flesh, and although it can refer to the physical body (Galatians 2:20), it is also used in ways that do not refer to the physical body. For example “flesh” is used to refer to human accomplishments in Philippians 3:4.

 

Thus, the sin nature is all-encompassing, and a false dualism suggesting that the sin nature resides solely in the physical body and not in the rest of a person is mistaken. In fact, this view sounds like weird mysticism, and is strangely similar to a view typical of gnostics. The gnostic heresy that John addressed in 1 John included the idea that the body is bad and the spirit is good, so anything the body does is irrelevant (e.g., orgies). Moreland says the badness is in the body, so the body has to get reformed. But, the flesh described in the bible doesn’t map onto parts of the body as Moreland suggests when he says that the flesh is “the sinful tendencies or habits that reside in the body and whose nature is opposite to the Kingdom of God” (p. 151).

 

Another problem with Moreland’s argument is the fact that rightousness does not replace the sin nature by getting into the body through exercising these parts of the body. There is not enough time here to discuss the theology of sanctification (it is complicated), but self effort does not work, and in fact is offensive. Galatians 3:2-3 says “The only thing I want to learn from you is this: Did you receive the Spirit by doing the works of the law or by believing what you heard? Are you so foolish? Although you began with the Spirit, are you now trying to finish by human effort?”  That is, sancitification is by grace through faith, just like salvation. Good works, even when repeated and prolonged, do not sanctify.

 

In fact, targeting the physical body to produce righteousness is a wrong-headed idea. If targeting the physical body were a good approach to sanctification, then the Buddhists and other religions that use body-focused techniques would have a great strategy. Physical exercise should also do wonders for unrighteousness. Obviously, none of this produces sanctification or lasting character change of a Christian nature. On the other side of this argument, why are so many spiritual disciplines unrelated to parts of the body? What part of the body does frugality strengthen, fortify, or relax? What about submission? Fellowship? Study? If a spiritual discipline is “a repetitive practice that targets one of these areas in order to replace bad habits with good ones,” then the commonly practiced spiritual disciplines should involve using specific parts of the body.

 

Of course, the most important objection is that spiritual disciplines are not commanded by the bible. Bob DeWaay of Critical Issues Commentary tackles this point in earnest (http://cicministry.org/commentary/issue91.htm). He pionts out that Dallas Willard’s primary text supporting the practice of spiritual disciplines, which is Matthew 11:29-30, does not actually teach that spiritual disciplines should be practiced (from Willard’s The Spirit of the Disciplines). He also notes that even Willard agrees that spiritual disciplines are not found elsewhere in scripture. Furthermore, DeWaay reminds us that “they had ascetics in Paul’s day and he rebuked them”  (Colossians 2:20-23). This passage is worth quoting here in its entirety:

 

“If you have died with Christ to the elemental spirits of the world, why do you submit to them as though you lived in the world? ‘Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!’ These are all destined to perish with use, founded as they are on human commands and teachings. Even though they have the appearance of wisdom with their self-imposed worship and false humility achieved by an unsparing treatment of the body – a wisdom with no true value – they in reality result in fleshly indulgence.” (Colossians 2:20-23).

 

So, accoring to scripture, activities that would be indistinguishable from today’s spiritual disciplines look like they would be a good idea, bu they actually are without value and are merely human inventions. In fact, they are worse than benign meaningless activities, and rather have the potential to cause real harm (“result in fleshly indulgence”).

 

Problems associated with spiritual disciplines are numerous. In my view, they are:

 

·         Legalistic, amounting to a Christian self-help program when the Bible is clear that we cannot help ourselves.

·         Unbalanced, elevating self-indulgent practices (e.g., solitude, silence) to equal prominence with critical teachings of the bible (e.g., committment to the body of Christ, sacrificial service).

·         Distracting, letting Christians off the hook when they’re doing self-focused navel gazing even though they neglect the clear mandates of Jesus Christ (e.g., make disciples). People can feel that they are making real progress by having spiritual retreats despite doing little actual service for the Lord.

·         Non-relational (e.g., silence, solitude) when the Bible clearly emphasizes love relationships in the Body of Christ.

·         Formalistic, when the scriptures condemn religious formalism. For example, Jesus taught against formalism on many occaisions, including the famous “Lord’s prayer” passage which has somehow been converted into religious formalism by many religious people. In fact, prayer is not a “spiritual discipline” at all, but rather communication with a real person.

 

Back to the point of this soap box—spiritual disciplines are a major theme of Christian faculty retreats, as well as the ministry strategy of Campus Crusade and Intervarsity for faculty. I find this unhelpful to campus ministry (and a generally problematic thread in contemporary Christianity).

 

Recapturing the University for Christ is a Fool’s Errand

 

My final point of contention with Christian Faculty ministries is the idea that we should try to recapture the university for Christ. This idea seems to come from the belief that the church should be placing Christians in places of prominence in culture in order to redeem culture, combined with the alarming secularization of the university that has rapidly taken place. Therefore, we should retake lost ground to stem the tide of spiritual decline threatening the church.  The logic seems inescapable, and the crisis is so greivous that the proposed solution feels compelling.

 

            The University has Gone Secular

There is no doubt that the university has become secular. There are a number of very scholarly and convincing treatments of this topic, such as George Marsden’s “The Soul of the American University.” This book explains how the American University went from “Christian” to completely secular in about one generation.  I completed a postdoctoral fellowship at Duke University, which is a good example.  Originally a Methodist university, a plaque by a statue near the glorious chapel reads “The aims of Duke University are to assert a faith in the eternal union of knowledge and religion set forth in the teachings and character of Jesus Christ, the son of God.” Since Duke started in 1924, there has been a complete abandonment of any religious faith by the institution of Duke University, and it is now completely secular. The revised statement issued by the administration in the 80’s makes this clear; “Duke cherishes its historic ties with the United Methodist Church and the religious faith of its founders, while remaining nonsectarian.”

This is only one example, but I believe that any examination of the evidence whould reveal a nearly total revolution in universities in this country from centers of Christian education to secular institutions committed to atheism or agnosticism. To quote George Veith “The university was a Christian invention” and “Universities once devoted to the pursuit of truth are, ironically, the very institutions that are denying there is any such thing.” (Veith, 1999, Can We Recapture the Ivory Tower? World Magazine).

            But the University is the Center of Culture!

I also understand that universities are absolutely central to culture. Universities create culture. Universities define what is true, what constitutes knowledge, and what is good. Every leader in society is university educated. Every young person of sufficient means and aptitude leaves home for the university. The university is where individual’s worldviews coalesce as they individuate from their parents and become independently functioning adults. The influence of the university in America cannot be understated. Therefore, the university is an extremely strategic context for Christian ministry. Nevertheless, I do not believe that recapturing the center of culture is an appropriate strategy for Christian faculty.*

 

            Covenant Theology applied to the University

I am not a theologian, and I don’t fully understand coventant theology vs. dispensationalism. However, I am becoming more aware how dominant covenant theology is in major seminaries and churches in America. For more background, see http://neozine.org/inside/the-reformed-restless-reformed/ and http://neozine.org/inside/the-dawn-of-covenant-theology/.

 

Applied to the university, covenant theology would imply that the institution of the university should be reclaimed for Christ. To be succint and blunt, I believe that this is possible because the devil still has authority over the kosmos. For example, history demonstrates that every time the church has become the government, atrocities result (e.g., crusades). The devil’s sphere of influence is man-made institutions and systems that the bible refers to as “the world” (i.e., kosmos). The university was a man-made institution that was originally intended to serve the church, but it has been co-opted by the devil and turned into yet another structure in the world system that promotes the values of the kosmos. We cannot win back the structures of the world system, but we can help to rescue the captives of the kosmos and bring them into the church. The body of Christ is organic, based in loving-relationships and empowered by the Holy Spirit. It is as far from institutional as you can get. The difference between the implication of covenant theology and dispensationalism, when applied to the university, is like the difference between trying to repair the titanic after it struck the iceberg and working to convince people to board the life rafts as it goes down.

 

To be fair, I know I’m not supporting my assertions on this last point very well. There’s just no space or time to argue covenant theology vs. dispensationalism. All I have done was to point out the major implication of these very different theologies when they are applied to the university. I think that winning the institution of the university for Christ goes hand in hand with academic integration, and together these strategies are not focused on winning the lost people in the university.

 

This blog was far too long. All this to say, I do not attend Christian faculty conferences.

 

 

*As an interesting aside, as education becomes more expensive and prima facia irrelevant to the consuming public, there is a chance that Universities will lose their grip on society (see C. John Sommerville, The Decline of the Secular University). For example, my friend took classes called “Comics into movies” (about the conversion of graphic novels to full-length motion pictures) and “I want my MTV,” only to find that his education did not provide any credentials necessary to get a job. The public is noticing that the university is plagued by high cost, lack of accountability, uneven quality, and the proliferation of fluffy curricula…a backlash may be coming! In Ohio there is a clear “business-ification” of education underway. The state legislature is enacting reforms that will attempt to make the state universities contribute to the state economy. So much for idealistic values like “truth” and “knowledge!”

More insights from Daniel in Babylon: Honor and Courage

As we read in my blog from awhile back, Daniel and his friends were forcibly marched about 800 miles from Jerusalem to Bablyon in about 605 BC to start a three year program of study prior to entering the job market as employees of the royal family. He was caught on the horns of a dilemma; should he cave into the pressures of the system or curl up in a fetal position and die? He didn’t want to abandon his faith and dive headlong into the Babylonian religion and culture, but the only alternative appeared to be a miserable death or perhaps isolation in some filthy refugee camp.

 

Daniel’s choice is not that different from the dilemma facing every Christian university student. We understand that “friendship with the world is enmity toward God” (James 4) and that we are to “love not the world” (1 John). We also know that we are “in the world but not of the world” (John 17) and that we are to live as “strangers in the world” (1 Peter 1). We know that “the world hates you” because “you do not belong to the world” (John 15). Furthermore, Jesus prays for his disciples in John 17 “I am not asking you to take them out of the world, but that you keep them safe from the evil one.”

 

So how do we live in America? The pressure of our culture is enormous. Materialism, power, sex, ego, career, and other “carrots” are all clamoring for attention. But the ‘withdraw into a Christian ghetto’ approach is nearly as deadly as succumbing to the temptations that surround us. The Christian ghetto rejects Jesus’ command to “GO” to all the nations, and treats the living-dead sin-slaves all around us as enemies instead of captives to be pitied and freed. The ghetto approach of separation into “safe” institutions is as futile as Jerusalem’s attempt to withstand the seiges of Nebuchadnezzar. The Babylonian empire was in total control of the known world at the time, and the walls of Jerusalem would not keep them out. Similarly, there is no church that will protect us or our children from the influences of the world system (kosmos). Most youth abandon their faith (read Barna’s research), and although I can’t prove I believe that the “protected” youth are most at risk. The minute they grow up and step outside the confines of censorship land (e.g., the home and Sunday school room), a naïve Christian boy or girl is woefully unprepared to withstand the onslaught of our adversary and the world system he controls. Withdrawal is futile.

 

I would like to discuss the third option that Daniel took. He responded with honor and courage. Honor means living in the world as an upstanding citizen, respecting authority, working hard at our studies and careers, and treating everyone around us with dignity and respect. However, this has to be combined with courage—the determination to stand up to evil and proclaim the gospel of Jesus Christ even when it’s scary to do so.

 

Honor

 

Daniel treated everyone with honor. He followed the chain of command, he didn’t lie/cheat/steal, and he never took advantage of his position to back-stab his captors. He probably could have taken revenge when no one was watching. He earned the respect of three kings (Nebuchadnezzar, Belteshazzar, and Darius), despite the fact that he was a slave his entire life. He was aware of the letter Jeremiah sent to the captives in Babylon, which had been dictated to Jeremiah by God.

The prophet Jeremiah sent a letter to the exiles Nebuchadnezzar had carried off from Jerusalem to Babylon…the letter said: “The Lord God of Israel who rules over all says to all those he sent into exile to Babylon from Jerusalem ‘Build houses and settle down. Plant gardens and eat what they produce. Marry and have sons and daughters. Find wives for your sons and allow your daughters to get married so that they too can have sons and daughters. Grow in number; do not dwindle away. Work to see that the city where I sent you as exiles enjoys peace and prosperity. Pray to the Lord for it. For as it prospers you will prosper.’” (Jeremiah 29:1-7)

This letter continues and makes other points, but what is astonishing to me about this letter is that God did not want the captives to rebel, to give up and die, or to complain and gripe about living in Babylon! Rather, he wants them to keep on living their lives, to work hard, and to support the country where they live! I think that somehow Daniel understood that God’s plan had always been for Israel to be a “light to the Nations” (Isaiah) and that “all the people of the earth will be blessed” through Abraham’s descendent (the Abrahamic covenant in Genesis 12). So far from commanding or condoning hatred and rebellion toward a Godless world, Daniel and company were asked to play along enthusiastically. God wants us to treat the powers of this fallen kosmos with honor. Daniel’s plan from the beginning of his 800 mile death march was to show his captors the love of God, because God loves everyone—even evil people. And Daniel’s love made a huge difference—Nebuchadnezzar eventually converted and Darius supported Nehemiah’s return to Jerusalem to rebuild the city walls.

 

We see the same thing in 1 Peter 2:11-17—“Dear friends, I urge you, as foreigners and strangers in the world, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us. Submit yourselves for the Lord’s sake to every human authority: whether to the emperor, as the supreme authority, or to governors, who are sent by him to punish those who do wrong and to commend those who do right. For it is God’s will that by doing good you should silence the ignorant talk of the foolish. Live as free people, but do not use your freedom as a coverup for evil; live as God’s slaves. Show proper respect to everyone, love your fellow believers, fear God, honor the emperor.”

 

So God clearly wants us to live in this world, to work hard, to show people respect, and to honor authority. This means you should do your homework, don’t cheat in class, make plenty of widgets at your job, etc. My dad says “the Christian farmers’ wheat should grow just as high as any that of any other farmer.”

 

But there is a danger that people will misinterpret this to mean that they can make a truce with the devil and live at peace in the world. We are at war, and there is not going to be peace. Daniel knew he was a slave and not a free man, or he would probably have packed his bags for a return trip to Jerusalem! This is where courage comes in.

 

Courage

 

My other blog describes how Daniel took serious risks to remain undefiled by the King’s food. Over and over in Daniel we read how Daniel and company would not compromise when it came to their faith. Thrown in the lions den, cast into the fiery furnace, whatever—they weren’t going to compromise. They believed that God would save them, or that it would be worth it to die instead of compromise.

 

This reminds me of a song in Les Miserables by Enjolras:

            It is time for us all to decide who we are. Do we fight for the right to a night at the opera now? Have you asked of yourselves what’s the price you might pay? Is it simply a game for rich young boys to play? The color of the world is changing day by day…” (The ABC Café—Red and Black).

 

The context is different but the tone is the same. Enjolras and company were going to defy the government of France by building a barricade in the streets. They had a meeting in the Café to decide…are we willing to die for this cause? Nearly all of them did die on that barricade. How sad—there was not a dry eye in the Palace Theatre in London on the night I saw Les Miserables.

 

But our cause makes theirs look trite and foolish. I am reminded of an address by C.S. Lewis in 1939 to a group of new students at Oxford entitled “Learning in War-Time.” There they sat, eager nervous frosh at Oxford about to embark on a program of study during WWII. It might have seemed to them odd to go to school during a war, but C.S. Lewis made the point that the war is trival compared to the real war we all face. Lewis asks are we “fiddling while Rome burns?” No, rather we “fiddle on the brink of hell.” He explains further “how is it right, or even psychologically possible, for creatures who are every moment advancing either to heaven or to hell, to spend any fraction of the little time allowed them in this world on such comparative trivialities as literature or art, mathematics or biology?”

 

His point is that WWII did not present a new situation, and neither did Daniel’s captivity in Babylon, nor our life in 21st century America. We are not to withdraw from culture and hide in caves just because things are going badly. Our duty is to rescue the lost in our fallen world, and withdrawing into some super-spiritual exclusively religious existence is wrong. It is very tempting to survey the darkness around us and start thinking our “present predicament more abnormal than it really is.” According to Lewis “War threatens us with death and pain” but “there is no question of death or life for any of us; only a question of this death or of that—of a machine gun bullet now or a cancer forty years later. What does war do to death? It certainly does not make it more frequent; 100 per cent of us die, and the percentage cannot be increased. It puts several deaths earlier; but I hardly suppose that that is what we fear. Certainly when the moment comes, it will make little difference how many years we have behind us.”

 

Perhaps this is how Daniel felt. His life in Bablyon hung by a thread, but his life with God was eternal and secure. What did it matter if he were killed for refusing to defile himself? He had the courage of a man living in God’s kingdom, already dead to this world.

 

And so we will live like Daniel. We arrive at Kent and Akron this fall to launch a Campus Bible Study. We know that the University hates us because we are Christians (see my other blog “what we are facing”). We will lives characterized by honor—respecting authority, doing our work, and participating in life in the University. We will also courageous lives; like strangers and foreigners in the world, already dead to the world and whatever defilements it offers. This means we will not become entangled in ordinary affairs to the exclusion of our mission—to win the world for Christ. There is little chance that we will actually be killed for our faith, but fear remains a great enemy of boldness. So let us recall the words of Jesus “In the world you have trouble and suffering, but take courage–I have conquered the world.” (John 16:33b).

Why I do not attend Christian Faculty Conferences—Part 1

 

One of my favorite articles in psychology is entitled “Why I do not attend case conferences” by Paul Meehl (1973). In this humorous and sometimes biting essay, Paul Meehl explains the apparent discrepancy noted by his students that, despite decades of continuous clinical practice, he almost never attends case conferences in which students are required to present and discuss their clinical cases. His answer is that the intellectual level is so low that he cannot bear to attend, and he then ennumerates a list of offenses such as the idea that all evidence is equally good, the tendency to reward every student for even the lamest efforts, and other types of generally unscientific thinking.

 

The article is provocative and intentially offered as a polemic. Meehl is funny. For example, he offers “Uncle George’s pancakes fallacy…a patient does not like to throw away leftover pancakes and he stores them in the attic. A mitigating clinician says, ‘Why, there is nothing so terrible about that—I remember good ole Uncle George from my childhood, he used to store uneaten pancakes in the attic.’ The proper conclusion from such a personal recollection is, of course, not that the patient is mentally well but that good ole Uncle George—whatever may have been his other delightful qualities—was mentally aberrated” (p. 239). However, Meehl is not simply writing a humor column. He has a number of points to make, because he does care about the competent practice of psychology.

 

His points are not interesting here, but I am writing in the same spirit as Meehl to explain my paradox. I consider myself a fairly zealous Christian, but I do not attend Christian Faculty Conferences. I have a long history of trying to become a Christian professor in the secular university. After 5 years on the faculty, as I prepare for my tenure review, I have been reflecting on what I’ve done to get here and attempt to establish myself as a missionary to the campus.

 

I felt called to minister in the secular university before I finished high school, although I could not have articulated any coherent reason at the time. I chose to be educated at a Christian University (Biola University), so that I could learn to articulate and defend my Christian worldview. This is where my quest to obtain a position on the faculty of a secular university began. I have not wavered from this mission, and during my graduate education at Colorado University, Colorado Springs and The Ohio State University I remained active in my local church and tried to become equipped as a Christian worker. At Ohio State I tracked down the very helpful and kindly director of the Faculty ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ. I have read (among others) J.P. Moreland, Dallas Willard, and William Lane Craig, and I have heard them all speak in person and via mp3 from various internet resources. I am acutely aware of the decline of Christianity in the University. For a real-life example, the director of Campus Crusade at Kent and I searched for Christian faculty and staff to start a prayer meeting. We found only about 6 people who were clearly Christians among the nearly 900 tenure-track faculty. So far as I can tell, they are doing very little to advance the cause of Christ in the University. I have continued to work in my local church, and now help to lead a home church and men’s bible study (comprised of mostly post-college twentysomethings with no children). I am a deacon in my church, an ordained minister in the state of Ohio, have performed several weddings for members of my home church, and am a trustee of my church. In addition to being in the teaching rotation for church and bible studies, I have preached in the main church service on several occaisions.

 

I consider myself a tent-maker missionary to the secular University. I invite graduate students and undergraduate students to my church, my home church, and outreach events sponsored by my home church. I share the gospel in my office with unsaved students. My efforts have not been fruitless, as a several students (and non-students) have received Christ during the course of my ministry efforts. Some become incorporated into my local fellowship and are discipled. Some leave Ohio when their education is finished. Others attend other churches, but continue to speak with me regarding spiritual matters. Together we plan coordinated outreach efforts targeting faculty and students whom we long to see receive Christ. I have not yet succeeded in building a home church of actual college students from my university, but I am working on it.

 

I have tried to work with local para-church missions organizations on campus such as Campus Crusade for Christ and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (during a very brief attempt to plant a local chapter). I have referred undergraduates to their meetings, and I have attended these meetings to observe them. I meet with the local director of Campus Crusade periodically, and started a faculty/staff prayer meeting with the former director (discontinued when he left and was replaced). I have also become familiar with the faculty ministries of Campus Crusade (Christian Leadership Ministry) and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship (Intervarsity Faculty Ministry). I signed up to be a faculty mentor with Intervarsity’s “Emerging Scholars Network.” I have read Leadership University (http://www.leaderu.com/), have read the websites of Christian Leadership Ministries and Intervarsity’s Graduate and Faculty Ministries, and have downloaded ministry resources. When Campus Crusade sent some ambassadors from Indiana to meet with the faculty, I was one of the only Christian tenure-track professors to show up. When a Christian professor at another university hosted a back-to-school prayer breakfast, I’ve attended every year I was invited. When the new director of Campus Crusade showed up, I made a point of meeting with him as soon as his schedule would allow.

 

For all this, I have not attended a Christian Faculty conference or retreat. I will not be at “The Heart of the University” sponsored by Campus Crusade for Christ in Washington this year. I will not be at “Spiritual Formation and the Academic Life” sponsored by Intervarsity Faculty Ministry. How can this be? Why would I choose not to avail myself of these resources when I have diligently sought out so many others?

 

In a nutshell, I have come to the conclusion that Campus Crusade and Intervarsity Fellowship are barking up the wrong tree(s) in their faculty ministries. They do have some valuable resources online, but in terms of practical help and instruction/equipping, I think they have the wrong focus. Thus, their conferences are probably not that helpful. In fact, I think that the emphasis on conferences as a ministry tool is unfortunate. First of all, I don’t have money for conferences. Second, I would prefer practical help right where I am trying to minister. Third, conferences are a high intensity, low frequency approach to assisting faculty. High intensity—probably very inspiring, motivating, and stimulating. They are probably very exciting and emotionally rewarding. But low frequency—they are only once a year. Try sustaining a marriage on one fantastic vacation a year with minimal interaction in between! It doesn’t work. What is required is fairly frequent, but less emotionally intense, encouragement and support. The demands on faculty are so strong and compelling that one pep rally per year probably does not lead to sustainable ministry efforts that are hard work, every week of the year.

 

In all fairness, these conferences are perhaps very enlightening for the large group of Christian faculty who are doing nothing. In my experience, most Christian faculty are too enamored with the kosmos. Work in the secular university can be so enriching and/or grueling, and the academy has become so decadent/indulgent or hectic/draining that the temptation to give 100% for career is overwhelming. This has been a great struggle for me. The “carrot” of a chance to feather a very nice nest, combined with the “stick” of being fired for failing to receive tenure are powerful forces that compel most Christian faculty to put their job first. So the Christians in academics who are totally “asleep in the light” would probably benefit from a kick start of any kind—including a national conference.

 

However, these objections are minor compared to the three themes in Christian ministry among the faculty that concern me. They are: academic integration, spiritual disciplines, and kingdom theology applied to the university. Unfortunately, academic integration is overrated, spiritual disciplines are stupid, and recapturing the university for Christ is a fool’s errand. However, these are the three aspects of ministry that Campus Crusade and Intervarsity Christian Fellowship seem to emphasize for faculty. How sad, given that both of these para-church organizations appear to have solid missions strategies for reaching the undergraduates. If it were me, the only priority would be to involve faculty in the mission!

 

In my next blog (Part 2), I will try to explain my objections to academic integration, spiritual disciplines, and kingdom theology applied to the university.