Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

A Red Letter Campus: What Do the Words and Witness of Jesus Demand of a College That Calls Itself Christian?

Magazine article Sojourners Magazine

A Red Letter Campus: What Do the Words and Witness of Jesus Demand of a College That Calls Itself Christian?

Article excerpt

TRY AS I MIGHT THROUGHOUT MY TEENS and early 20s, I could not reconcile God the parent having sent God the child to die. My parents would have come themselves rather then sending my brother or me. It was only after becoming a parent that I began to grasp the ineffableness of God's sacrifice in that great act of passion. That part of my spiritual formation led to an ever-deepening hunger to apprehend the overwhelming love of God. The Holy Spirit's response to that hunger has been to focus my devotions in the "red stuff" (those words of Jesus in crimson ink in some Bibles), leading to a growing awareness of how fully Jesus revealed the heart and ways of God.

What does it mean for a college to be called Christian? More important, what should it mean? I respectfully suggest that it should mean that both the college's epistemology--its theory of knowledge--and its ethos--its character and behavior--must reflect the mind and ways of Christ.

A GODLY KNOWLEDGE. At Eastern University, for example, where I am president, we hold the view that knowledge is best attained through the integration of faith, reason, and justice in a mentored process of interpretation and formation. That is our epistemology. The ultimate expression of such knowledge was in Jesus Christ, who was completely devoted to God, learned, insightful, prudent, righteous, just, and equitable. In the earliest chapters of Proverbs, those seven qualities of knowledge and wisdom are twice presented as what seem to be laddered components.

The first component, called fear of the Lord in Proverbs 1:7, is the beginning of knowledge. It means total devotion to God and God's goodness, resulting in a reverential awe and a visceral grieving of evil. It is a foundational quality that was demonstrated throughout Christ's life and in his death. Knowledge built on any other foundation, though powerful and even constructive, would not be truly Christian.

A similar observation can be made about the second component, learnedness. People were astounded by how much Jesus knew, even though he was a carpenter's son who did not serve as a student to any known rabbi. He combined remarkable quantities of data from both his own human discovery and supernatural revelation. To be learned in a Christlike way today would imply a construct of the same two sources.

The third component, insight, which aligns with the first two, is an ability to perceive the very nature of things. Jesus could see right into people's situations and conditions. He understood them. Luke 24:45 describes Jesus as opening the disciples" minds so that they, too, could understand. The Lord's "second mile" teaching in this regard is captured well by a Cherokee proverb that we should walk a turn of the moon in another's moccasins. That is a much longer journey than a mile. The Jesus who wept was the Christ who understood deeply.

Prudence, the fourth component, requires the exercise of sound judgment in matters small and large. Jesus often demonstrated such discretion, as when he decided to remain in Ephraim with the disciples rather than entering Jerusalem "before his time" and encountering those planning to kill him. Prudence grows out of devotion, learning, and understanding. It is an objective of a sound liberal arts A education that teaches analysis, synthesis, and judgment.

Similarly, the fifth component, righteousness, builds on the others. With inspiration and strength from the Holy Spirit, we are to make "right-doing" a habit of mind and character. Jesus modeled righteousness while teaching it. A college identified with him must include righteousness in its standards and expectations.

Justice, the sixth component, is certainly a Christlike quality. Jesus' statement of mission in Luke 4:18 declared that "the Spirit ... has anointed me to preach good news to the poor ... sent me to proclaim freedom to the prisoners ... to release the oppressed. …

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