The Encouraging Thoughtful Christians to be World Changers are difficult courses. On purpose.
Wheaton College Professor Mark Noll in his seminal book, The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind (1994), opens his book with these prophetic words: â€œThe Scandal of the evangelical mind is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.â€ TouchÃ©! This author defines evangelical as â€œemphasizing salvation by faith in the atoning death of Jesus Christ through personal conversion, the authority of Scripture, and the importance of preaching as contrasted with ritual (Miriam/Webster).â€ Concerning evangelicals and intellectualism, perhaps we evangelicals have no doubt dropped the ball in the past.
Noll traces the collapse of the evangelical mind to the mid 1800s, about the time that Stephen Crane was finishing Red Badge of Courage. Then, Noll argues, evangelicals proverbially became in and of the world instead of in the world and not of it. In other words, they wed themselves to the prevailing world views. It was about that time, too, as scholar George Marsden in The Soul of the American University: From Protestant Establishment to Established Non-Belief ( 2000) explains, that evangelicalism abandoned the American university. Marsden laments, we all lament, that today, the once pervasive influence of religion in the intellectual and cultural life of America’s preeminent colleges and universities has all but vanished. For financial reasons, or other reasons, t he vast majority of evangelicals attend secular universities. Letâ€™s face it: the secular university, at least, is a hostile place for evangelical Christians.
But that is changing. For several reasons, the present generation of evangelicals is reclaiming the university and all other gates to culture creation. Alistair McGrath, Evangelicalism and the History of Christianity (1995) has a very optimistic vision. He, and other scholars like Os Guinness, argue that within a few years evangelicals influence will be preeminent if most professions. Much as the evangelical Puritans captured the American elite from 1620-1700, today evangelicalism is captured the elite decision makers of this culture. Obviously this bodes well for the future of this great nation.
Let me put it this way: there are about 12 million college freshman each year. What if suddenly 1 million or so of those freshman were spirit-filled, smart, well-equipped academically, freshman? Would not our government, our industries, our arts, and our churches look a lot different in 5-10 years? I think so.
The Encouraging Thoughtful Christians to be World Changers series is committed to equipping these culture creators, world changers for Christ, to make a difference in American culture. This series is committed to the glorious goal established by Henry Newman’s The Idea of a University Defined and Illustrated (1852). Newman’s Idea of a University grew out of Newman’s struggle with the rise of scientific learningâ€”a struggle that continues today. Newman, it seems to me, is a 19th century Evangelical trying to come to grips with his culture. Likewise, it is the desire of this author to help your students to comes to grips with their culture.
What is this culture to which this generation is called to share Christ? The first great spirit of the times is the notion of subjectivity. The only authority in a person is that thought or notion that originates in that person. Next, that subjectivity has led most Americans to conclude that truth is not attainable. Therefore, a plurality of truths is most desirable and the tolerance of them is a virtue. S. D. Gaede, When Tolerance is No Virtue (1993), argues there is only one conviction that is deemed legitimate and worthy of public displays of passion, and that is the conviction of uniform tolerance. Finally, the net result is, as stated by the scholar Kenneth J. Gergen, The Saturated Self (1991), is a series of clashing relativities where the very ground of meaning, the foundations and structures of thought, language, and social discourse are crumbling. The very concepts of personhood, spirituality, truth, integrity, and objectivity are being demolished and replaced by a sort of â€œdo-it-if-it-feels-good-and-does-not-hurt-anyone-elseâ€ world view.
Ironically, the Christian evangelical G. K. Chesterton retorts, â€œTolerance is the virtue of the man without convictions.â€ The future, if these guys are in control, in other words, is pretty bleak. It is doubtful, in my opinion, that a free people can live together and prosper in this sort of free-wheeling, self-serving nihilism. That is where your students come in.
They are coming, ready or not, millions strong. Smart, free, filled with the Holy Ghost. Not afraid to rock the boat, willing to die, even, for their faith. They are coming. That is the people for whom I have written these difficult courses. A people who are the new elite, the ones whom God has called forth to write a new chapter in history. They understand that culture creation is not about high SAT scores, or good grades, or high paying jobs. It is about obeying God at all costs.
This series, then, is committed to equipping your young people to be world changers for Christ in a hostile, even dangerous place, among a hungry, needy people. To that end, this book is dedicated to the ambitious goal of preparing our young people to be 21st century world changers for the Christ whom John Milton in Paradise Lost called â€œthe countenance too severe to be beheld.â€ (VI, 825)