| I am glad to have the
assignment of speaking to this question, but it does open up
profound and troubling issues about what we are actually doing
in our churches and in our schools, and about what we could
and should be doing. Barry Loy’s series of questions (attached)
goes into many of the deep issues. I can, at best, only make
something of a beginning toward answers to these questions,
and, frankly, I don’t think I have answers to all of them, if
to any of them.
Perhaps we should start by thinking about what
our goals now really are with respect to character formation,
and what we are now trusting by way of means toward those
goals. What is our current practice. My sense is—and please
correct me—that our goals are mainly to develop students
to the point that they will not fall into scandalous sins,
on the one hand, and, on the other hand, that they will be
successful in life and good members and possibly leaders in
our churches. We would like to see them have good scholastic
and artistic attainments and be outstanding in Christian activities,
and possibly in public service. We would be proud of them
if they turned out like that. But I wonder if we could say
that we seriously intend it as institutions.
The means we rely on to these rather
vaguely conceived goals are engagement in church activities,
sitting under the ministry of the Word, Bible study, being
generally a good student, and undertaking special acts of
service. We also hope that there will be a rich private
devotional life, meaningful personal interactions, and possibly
visitations of the Holy Spirit on campus that amount to revivals.
But these are not things which we have sufficient control
over to count them as instituted means to character formation.
Schools of particular traditions may have other
specific requirements or activities that they regard as means
to spiritual and moral development. But these tend to drift
off into legalisms of social conformity to the particular
group, in my opinion, and have little to do with the forming
of the inner person in Christlikeness. We do have to get over
the idea that spiritual formation in Christ means training
people to conform to the exterior shapes of our particular
"faith and practice."
Let us understand from here on that by Christian
spiritual formation—that is, character formation on a
Christian model—we will understand the process through which
the 'inner' dimensions of personality (will, thought, feeling,
body, social relations and soul functioning) increasingly
come to resemble the inner dimensions of Christ’s personality.
The natural outflow of this would be the increasing
regularity and ease with which the individual actually does
the things said and done by Christ.
Everything considered, there is much to be thankful
for in how our campus life as it stands is conducive toward
the goals as described. I, for one, can personally testify
that my life was saved in large part by what happened to my
inner life during three years I lived as a student on the
campus of a Christian college.
But one might reasonably wonder if the "success"
(as described) we hold before ourselves as Christian educators
and institutions, and the means which we count on to bring
it about, are really the ones emphasized by our biblical
sources and the ones adequate to the human condition and need.
Consider just three passages from the New Testament: Romans
5:1-5, Colossians 3:1-17, and II Peter 1:1-11. We could add
many others of like content. We might ask ourselves whether
this represents the actual goals and outcomes of Christian
education, and whether the means we employ with our students
on campus has a strong tendency to produce such outcomes.
If we do ask such questions, I think we would
have to say "No." Again, we gratefully acknowledge
the wonderful results that are actually achieved. But I think
we would have to honestly say that our efforts toward the
development of moral character after the likeness of Christ
are not generally successful. Measured by the kind of life
expressed in Matthew 5 and I Corinthians 13, for example,
we are not doing very well.
Perhaps we even think that such a life is unrealistic
and should not be attempted. That is a long theological
discussion which I shall not engage in here. (See Chapter
Five of Renovation of the Heart for some further thoughts.)
I will for present purposes simply draw upon what I find to
be a widespread and deep sense of need to live a much 'higher'
life than what is standardly found among sincere Christians.
I think that this sense of need is a valid one, and that our
training in Christian schools could and should do much to
meet that need.
So I shall proceed on this assumption, and if
you wish to reject it there will be a 'question' time after
Who are the "good people" we might
take as our goal at graduation. They will, of course,
be people who love God with all their heart, soul, mind and
strength, and their neighbors as themselves." (Mark 12:30-31)
They will be people of marked distinction in human relations:
"He who loves his neighbor has fulfilled the law. For
this, ‘You shall not commit adultery, you shall not murder,
you shall not steal, you shall not covet,’ and if there is
any other commandment, it is summed up in this saying, ‘You
shall love your neighbor as yourself’. Love does no wrong
to a neighbor; love therefore is the fulfillment of the law."
(Romans 13:8-10) "The one who says, ‘I have come to know
Him,’ and does not keep His commandments, is a liar and the
truth is not in him; but whoever keeps His word, in him the
love of God has truly been perfected." (I John 2:4)
Carefully laying aside all legalism, perfectionism,
and the idea of earning our position before and life
in God, these should be the kind of people we are talking
about when we speak of "Graduating 'good' people."
They should be people who easily and routinely do the things
that Christ said and did because they are permeated with,
pervasively possessed by, agape love.
Now a thoughtful person involved in Christian
Institutions might smite his or her brow and exclaim, at this
point, "Why didn’t I think of that!" Actually, that
is in itself a long and important discussion. The Christian
college or university suffers greatly from the Christian culture
it originates from and serves. And in that culture, for various
causes and reasons, being a ‘good’ person as described in
these and other scripture passages simply has no essential
connection to being a Christian. It is no part of the ‘gospel.’
And this is something any institution intent upon graduating
good people will have to come to grips with in its teaching,
organization and practice. Frankly, it represents a huge battle
to be fought.
But for now let us break "love" down
into some of its essential pieces, as it were, and see if
these, at least, could be adopted as a goal of Christian education
at our institutions and effectively promoted by means. Consider
just the following:
- Dropping anger and contempt. Living without them. (Matt.
5:21-26, Col. 3:8, Gla. 5:20, Eph. 4:26-27, Eccl. 7:9,
- Abandoning cultivated lusting and degradation of others
as objects of sexual phantasies. (Matt. 5:27-32, Col.
3:5, Eph. 4:19, etc.)
- Regarding others as better or more important than ourselves
and living to serve others. (Mark 10:33-37, Phil. 2:3-4)
- Not needing or wanting to manipulate people by the use
of misleading language. (Matt. 5:33-37, Eph. 4:29)
- Not "thirsting," not being dominated by our
unsatisfied desires. (John 4:14, Gla. 5:24, I Peter 2:11,
II Peter 1:4.)
We need not go further into the "pieces"
of love. Actually, if you just get a few of them down the
rest are easy, because love will take over the personality.
Hence I Cor. 13, which is about what love does, not
what we do.
Now let us ask the question, "Could we
take at least some of these as goals of growth on the Christian
campus, and, if we did, what would be means for realizing
these goals?" I will now hazard some responses to this
Let us grant at this point that changing from
the condition of fallen humanity with reference to points
such as 1-5 is something that cannot be accomplished in
human strength and cleverness alone. The Holy Spirit and
other supernatural agencies are indispensable, and one will
never be able to look at a change so made and say "I
did it." But then let us also acknowledge that the Divine
instrumentalities are abundantly available to the serious
seeker. We are not waiting on them.
And then let us recognize that personal transformation
in any domain, including "growth in the grace and knowledge
of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ" (II Peter 3:18),
has a regular and reliable pattern in three phases.
Vision, or a clear and vivid understanding
of the goodness or desirability of the condition to be attained,
e.g., 1-5 above, such that a strong desire is created
Intention, or a decision and settled resolve
to attain the condition in question.
Means, or institution of particular activities
and arrangements that are suited to carry the intention
into the reality of the vision.
Now this three phase structure is highly reliable,
and failure to succeed if it is not adhered to is also
highly reliable. The common failure to grow in Christlikeness
as seen among sincere Christians is almost 100% due to not
respecting this structure, and especially to inadequate vision.
This is what Jesus referred to when he explained the conditions
of successful discipleship to him in Luke 14:25-35 and gave
his parables of the treasure in the field and the pearl of
great price. (Matt. 13:44-46) Without adequate vision the
intention will waver, or may not really happen (the usual
case presently with regard to 1-5). Generally speaking we
do not at present operate under a version of "gospel"
that generates the requisite vision.
Now let us apply this to #1, dropping anger
and contempt. The vision of the goodness of a life
without them must be presented in word and example. This will
mean presenting the good news of the availability of life
in the kingdom of God now through reliance upon Jesus Christ.
What does it mean to be born into that kingdom (John 3:3 &
5) and live in its care and provision? Why are those who have
the kingdom of God "blessed," no matter what their
condition is otherwise? The vision of this was presented by
Jesus, and that is why people were clambering to get in, to
receive the kingdom. (Matt. 11:11-12 and Luke 16:16) The kingdom
of God is simply the range of his effective will, where what
God wants done is done. Those who repent and rely on him enter
a new world, the world of God, which is a perfectly safe place
for anyone to be, no matter what. This kingdom message is
what Jesus is presenting in Matt. 4:17-5:19. Acceptance of
this blessed life is the presupposition of the treatment of
anger, contempt and the other things dealt with up to Matt.
Then anger and contempt have themselves to be
seen and presented for what they are. That is an essential
part of the Vision. Anger is a will phenomena. We are angry
when our wills are crossed. It is a natural response which
alerts us to the need for something to be attended to, like
physical pain. But in coming into the kingdom by the birth
"from above" we have surrendered our will to God.
Anger then becomes merely an alarm bell, not a resolve to
"hurt back" or possibly even to destroy. It is not
a sin, but in the person apart from God it quickly becomes
that. In God, however, we find that everything that can be
done in anger can be done much better without it. And as for
contempt, which is always close by to anger, it is eliminated
by how we come to treasure others as God’s creatures and the
objects of his love. We see this from our place in the eternal
life now. To "dis" people in any way is clearly
a wrong to them and to God and not good for me. This is the
point of Colossians 3:10: "..and have put on the new
self who is being renewed to a true knowledge according to
the image of the One who created him, in which there is no
Greek and Jew.."
When the vision is clear and forceful—and that
takes teaching, time, example, experience—then to be without
anger and contempt becomes something strongly attractive,
and one no longer wants to be associated with them.
People long to be without them. One must not rush this, but
let it come under the administration of the Word and the Holy
Spirit. It works best if preceded by a clear decision to be
a disciple or apprentice of Jesus. But wanting to be done
with anger and contempt (or other matters under 1-5) can actually
lead one to become a disciple of Jesus and not just a "consumer"
Christian. In any case, for purposes of campus practice it
will be good to observe people under the teaching and help
them, at an appropriate time, to form a clear intention
and to reach a clear decision to be done with anger and contempt.
You rarely meet anyone today who has done this.
At this point means can become very effective.
The decision will not of itself bring the result intended.
There will be a period in which the automatic responses of
will, mind, body and soul still govern behavior. The teaching
and training here helps the individual not to become hopeless
or wallow in self-condemnation, but to find the causes of
the failure of intention and to utilize effective means for
defeating or removing those causes. This is the point at which
introduction of teaching about and practice of spiritual disciplines
is of vital importance. Solitude, silence, fasting, study,
service, etc. are tremendously effective, when rightly practiced,
as centuries of Christian experience have proven. We will
have to lead individuals into a right practice of a range
Of course when we speak of these things we are
referring to something applicable to all members of the campus
community. We cannot succeed with a "do what we say,
not what we do" model. It cannot be just for students.
Now a similar treatment of 2-5 above, and the
other matters of spiritual and moral growth, can be worked
out from the pattern I have illustrated here so sketchily
with anger and contempt. The pattern also applies to the positive
side of Christ’s teaching: the things we are to be and do.
Here I must leave details to you, though I have treated some
of them at greater lengths in my various books.
Let me say bluntly that to not understand these
things is, among other things, a simple failure of intellect
on the part of the church and its institutions. There is no
good excuse for our not knowing them. Jesus left it to us
to "teach disciples to do all things whatsoever I have
commanded you." (Matt. 28:20) You would naturally conclude
from that that we can do it, certainly with his aid, and that
we can understand how it can be done. I do not say it is easy,
but life without it is not exactly easy either.
Now just a final word about our corporate settings.
The Vision/Intention/Means pattern applies to our churches
and schools as well to individuals. The first step, if we
wish to graduate good (Christlike) people from our schools,
is to be thorough and honest with what our Vision, our Intention,
and our Means now employed actually are. To what extend does
our history and tradition deflect us into policies and practices
that cannot be reasonably expected to help our students become
or approximate to the ideals laid out in scripture, and which
we no doubt point to with some regularity?
And then we would need, thorough discussion
and decision from all parts of the school, to discern the
appropriate Vision/Intention/Means for routinely graduating
good people. And then of course there would have to be some
serious restructuring of corporate and individual life (the
Means part) to carry through with the intention of realizing
the vision. We must not deceive ourselves. We are talking
serious change that would require leadership and persistence
that is inspired in every good sense of the word. It would
prove to be quite painful.
I think the most difficult part of the change
would be that concerning the model of intellectual life and
course content and research that defines our faculties. That
model is exactly the one that prevails in any recognized secular
university in the Western world. It is one where acceptable
knowledge has nothing to do with God nor God with it. We ask
a simple question: Can the Vision of life that must underlie
any serious intention toward development of moral character
in students be projected and developed and sustained, given
the understanding and practice of professorial adequacy of
class content and research that is now accepted in the Christian
schools? What does "integration of faith and learning"
actually mean when it comes to relating course content and
research to the Vision of life in the Kingdom of God?