category: Campus News

“The Soul of a Christian University”

by Dr. J. Randall O’Brien, president of Carson-Newman University

(March 5, 2015) – As nations require a constitution to establish jurisdiction, so religions depend upon a canon to provide jurisprudence. A nation which nullifies its constitution will descend into chaos, as will a religion which annuls its authoritative verse.

Sadly, in some quarters today, rejection of Scripture as a divinely inspired record of God’s revelation is in vogue. Some prominent modern scholars insist: The Gospels are not literally true, but history metaphorized; the Bible is not divine, but a totally human product of two ancient communities; there was no virgin birth and no bodily resurrection. Jesus was a Jewish peasant, certainly not divine. The Bible is not the word of God. There is no God external to life. The Gospels contain embarrassing moral and intellectual concepts. So runs the hermeneutic of cynicism.

Many today view the Bible along the lines of grandfather’s clock: cherished and given a place of honor, but certainly not depended upon to perform the service it once provided. Thankfully, others hold the line. Richard B. Hays, Dean of Duke Divinity School, insists Scripture is norma normans, the norming norm for Christians, meaning Scripture is authoritative for the church. Martin Luther, the Father of the Protestant Reformation cried, Sola Scriptura, Scripture Alone, as authority for Christian faith and practice.

James D. Smart (The Strange Silence of the Bible in the Church), warns, “When the book [Bible} is no longer read and understood by Christians, they have been cut off decisively from the roots of their distinctively Christian existence.” In short, “No Scriptures, No church! No Scriptures, No revelation!”

Does Smart mean to say that all revelation is limited to the Bible? No, God reveals God’s self on the stage of history and to us personally, still. Jesus instructed, “I have yet many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of Truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth;” (John 16: 13)

Faith is a flowing river, not a stagnant pond. Admittedly, the river flows faster in some places than others, for some people than others. Surely, however, we will not turn our spiritually cracked lips and parched souls away from our life-giving stream in the desert.

Sadly, rejection of the authority of God’s word appears to be common to humankind , as the biblical story of Adam and Eve shows. Not surprisingly, the words, authority, and author, derive from the same Latin root, auctor, meaning, “writer, or progenitor.” To rid ourselves of the authority of Scripture is to rid ourselves of its author. Hmmm, who might that be?

Although the Written and Living Word of God form the soul of the Christian university we dare not commit the sin of bibliolatry, worshiping the Bible rather than the One to whom the Book points. That would be akin to eating the menu rather than the cuisine to which the menu points.

Yet, the Bible is an antidote to all forms of idolatry. When Jesus becomes Lord there is regime change. Whoever, or whatever, has been king, queen, boss, most significant other, addiction, or god, is dethroned. Jesus is Lord. Caesar is not. Mammon is not. ________(Fill-in-the-blank)_____is not.

What does Jesus mean, when He says, “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life?”

Jesus taught his disciples that the secret to greatness was found in serving others. His calling to His disciples was holistic: mind, body, soul, devoted to God, service rendered to others, all wrapped in unselfish, unconditional love. “If anyone would come after me,” he challenged, “let him deny himself, take up his cross, and follow me.” Self-denial, self-sacrifice, self-surrender, He taught, is His Way and the Way of His followers.

All truth is God’s truth. In the Christian university, all inquiry, thinking, speaking, behaving, serving, relating, discovery, teaching, learning, integration, application, creating, writing, counseling, playing, coaching, producing, designing, planning, performing, and working, serve Jesus, our Lord.

We are called to be Christ-centered, academically rigorous, and service-oriented, especially attuned to the needs of the poor, the marginalized, the needy. While we seek to glorify Christ by reaching our full potential as educated citizens and servant-leaders, our desire and calling is to serve others. Of course, we are an academic institution, a learning community, a school. So we read, think, question, research, present, dialogue, listen, write, create art, music, and literature, exercise, play, pray, worship, do good work, and make friends in gratitude to God.

Our life is ordered by The Way of Jesus Christ. His teachings, such as the Sermon on the Mount, which features a radical call to enemy-love, forgiveness and purity of heart, his sayings, parables, and example become normative. The cross of Christ saves us mystically, yes, but also practically. We live in light of the cross, ourselves given to God and others. Yet, there is more than Christ’s selfless example in play. There is empowerment to live the Christ-life thanks to the gift of the Holy Spirit given to us and all believers. Game changer!

Both the integration and interrogation of our faith are vital to Christian critical thinking, learning, and living. Jesus questioned much in His day, especially entrenched religious belief and behavior. Should we not question all things, too? And why not? How else do we separate the wheat and the chaff among truth-claims? Surely truth will stand. Falsehood should not and will not stand. Why not ask, “What is good? What is true? What is the common good? What does God desire?” One devout scholar noted, “The faith that is afraid to think is not faith at all, but unbelief hiding behind a mask of piety.“

To journey from a non-questioning stage of faith, to a questioning stage, on to a place of commitment is a pilgrimage in maturation. Ideally, Christians are thinkers, questioners, disciples, evangelists, revolutionaries courageously confronting falsehood, hypocrisy, ignorance, oppression, and evil. The daring Christian calling must not be lightly accepted. Jesus sternly warned the curious, “Count the cost.” Once he probed, “Can you drink from this cup?” Frankly, not everyone can, or will. Yet, Christ calls each of us, and all of us, personally and communally, to come follow Him, learn from Him, to die to self, be changed, then, in His power and love, boldly go and change the world.

Few people I know would argue with the critique of our world today as “messed up,” a place where things have gone terribly wrong. Crime, war, terrorism, disease, hunger, poverty, greed, addictions, discrimination, human trafficking, promiscuity, torture, homelessness, child abuse, domestic abuse, rape, and countless other unspeakable expressions of evil spread like aggressive cancer throughout humankind. I am not naïve enough to believe that Christian universities will somehow transform earth into a planetary Garden of Eden, where we all live happily ever-after in Paradise Regained.

However, I do believe a Christian university and her followers of Christ can make a huge difference in this world. Can we make well the hurting and the hurters everywhere? How I wish! So we can’t change the whole world? We can change the world for one person, can we not? Feed one child? Then another. And another. And another.

The Christian university is a home, however imperfect, for pilgrims of the Way, the Truth, and the Life, a sacred place to come to, to become a transformed, educated child of God, as well as Holy Ground to go from to touch other lives in the loving Spirit of Christ Jesus, our Lord and hope.

O, Bless the Lord, and others, O my soul! Yes, bless all, sweet soul, of the Christian University! Bless all!

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