By Frederick W. Norris
Earthquakes, a Pacific tsunami that reached California, shifting yet continuous wars, shaky economies. These events grab our attention with ghastly pictures of eroding life.
There are, however, flashes of light that remind us of our abiding hope in Christ. God is not dead; neither does God sleep. The loss of schools for educating church leaders in the 1930s during the Depression, cultural secularism, and movement toward world war provided the conditions for the birth of our colleges. We made it then, and we can make it now, because God still rules.
The courageous people who backed our colleges were convinced we needed faithful preachers who could inspire the flock, and missionaries who could take the message worldwide. Constantly aware of the cracked globe, our educational institutions have resisted many things.
The March 13 issue of Christian Standard listed our schools and noted how they remain strong. All have experienced changes without losing the path. Various disciplines of human understanding are investigated now; their good, as well as their ill, are included in our studies. Religion, history, sociology, math, science, literature, music, art, etc., are not to be avoided. To catch people’s attention and keep their interest, we should know much more about the kinds of knowledge that moves them.
Even early on at our institutions, professors with doctorates were included on faculties. Now professors with doctorates are quite common because we grasp that earning such degrees need not destroy faith. Most of our teachers have been ministers in some capacity. We know the priesthood of all believers provides a great pool of talent for witnessing to the faith.
Vitriolic criticism of each other still exists, but killing our own troops does little to turn the tide. There are reasons for adopting different approaches, so long as God, Christ, and the Holy Spirit are in the center. Criticizing one another in Christian love can be healthy.
Remarkable teaching skills and scholarship within our institutions continue to be recognized by colleges and universities outside our heritage. These are gifts that open up all kinds of learning, either to enhance the academic world by staying rooted in the gospel, or to question different developments that seem to hinder solid education. The same teacher noted in scholarly circles can teach adult education in church.
The Eyes of Christ
As well as we have done in the past, both with unexpected victories and the handling of cruel defeats, we need to see the world and the church through the eyes of Christ. Mission has been important to us and will remain so. But the world is continuing to shift. Secularism clearly is stronger than when our colleges began. There are religion departments in a number of universities that can wring the life out of any faith, including Christian. General publishing has been drawn to volumes that find God both stupid and cruel. Our approaches have to be warm, but cannot be fuzzy.
To reach those goals and to stay Christian we need to pay close attention to world Christianity. Christians who live as minorities in their countries, who have seldom known a time without persecution, are often not enamored with “First World” views or education. Bible study, prayer, Christian virtue, and life together keep them rooted and flowering.
Although I am retired now from teaching at Emmanuel School of Religion (just renamed Emmanuel Christian Seminary), it is still my joy to see students with open faces and glowing hearts. Over the years, groups within the student body came from Africa, Asia, Europe, and South America, as well as the United States and Canada. A good segment of them come from churches our missionaries planted. The name “Emmanuel” attracted others. In so many ways, these students can look at our faith and practice, observe our American culture, and both claim it as well as be wary of it. Solid views of what is right and what is questionable arise from their presence among us. Like other traditional Christian areas, we will be able to face present developments only with a world Christian perspective.
I was having difficulty getting students to grasp the breadth of the doctrine of the family of God. Without any prior discussion, I asked a Kenyan student how many people were in his family. When he said 2,000, the class came alive. When the son of one of our graduates developed deep psychological problems, two international students who had cast out demons in their countries went to his home and prayed with him. In their view, there were no demons infesting him. His therapists were treating him successfully. These students are now studying counseling in the state university, not to get all the answers but to broaden their views.
A Romanian student and her American husband are back in Romania ministering among the regularly mistreated Gypsy people. She was chosen to study in one of the finest economic programs in England. Her master’s degree from that school has prepared her to deal with the Romy people’s broader problems. Her husband continues his concern with chemistry, fearlessly taking the good and questioning the rest.
Our colleges have moved into these world experiences both in terms of faculty hired and students accepted. Because the world gospel is wider and deeper than what we have been used to, these institutions will grow more adept at facing the global challenges of the 21st century. With warm hearts, but less fuzzy thinking, we will rely on the Father, the Son, and he Holy Spirit to assist the growth of the gospel. And this is exactly what we need.
Fred Norris is professor of world missions, emeritus, at Emmanuel School of Religion.