Why Do Students Come To Faith At All?

I heard Kenda Creasy Dean speak several years ago in Indianapolis and I was impressed by her ability to articulate some uncomfortable truths. I have taught a course in student ministry and I used one of Dean's books as a required text. Her new book, 'Almost Christian' has received press on CNN and elsewhere. As usual, she backs up her observations with solid research and questions status quo with intelligence and grace--the status quo inside and outside the church. You can find some of her reactions to the recent press on her blog. Now, stay with me a moment because I am going to switch gears a bit. After all, this is a blog that speaks often of globalization and of the interconnected world in which we live in as people of faith. 

What happens if you take the research of Kenda Creasy Dean and now read it with a global eye, particularly in light of the now famous statements made by Philip Jenkins, such as, “Global denominations are going to have to figure what to do when the bulk of the power and money is in the North and the bulk of the people is in the South.” The moral decline of the West has been well documented and the rise of China and India as ecnomic powers has also been well documented. Dean speaks to the weak faith or no faith being inherited by our children. An ever growing Biblical illiteracy that is teamed with an expanding social network that allows us to make 'friends' with people from around the world. A rather large percentage of new marriages are now happening between people who meet online and this will likely increase as current students age. And in a world of increasingly virtual relationships, we are now concerned with the virtual disapperance of intimacy within the church between parents and children, between children and God, and between parents and God. Let me just ask this: why do students come to faith at all?

Recent books like UnChristian and Almost Christian sound some alarms, loud enough for CNN to notice, but these books are also aimed at people inside the church and to many churches, this is hardly news. No doubt there are concerns abounding all over about the shallow faith of so many families in the West. Most of us fight against pain, sacrifice, and patience with great vigor and civil rights. Yet, remember Jenkins and remember that most of the global, worldwide, body of Christ doesn't live in the U.S. Now, what are your thoughts? Do you see a church in decline or a church on the move? Do you see young people falling away or standing strong in the face of epic poverty and disease?

There is now an estimated 150 million University students in our world today and over 120 million of them live outside of the U.S. Perhaps, Dean and others are correct in that many young people are leaving the church in record numbers due to their apathetic parents and pathetic preachers they are sitting under week after week. I won't disagree. Yet, this isn't the whole picture anymore. The whole picture must include the whole world because the whole Bible speaks to the whole world. After all, the authors of Scripture probably looked more like the immigrants fueling contemporary debate than the middle class, white children leaving church. It is true, many young people need to be taught a more robust, more Biblical, and more grounded faith in the West. And part of that teaching should include the sacrificial example of young people in the global south and east. We may now be living in a time when the U.S. will continue to ask 'why do students come to faith at all?' while young people from the other side of the world set their sites on North America as the next great mission field. I am guessing we're in a transitional phase where we are sometimes almost chrisitan, post christian, or pre christian, but at the end of the day, we will have to have a more global view of what it means to be Christian if we're going to follow Christ.

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Exporting Credible Hope

Paul Collier, author of the Bottom Billion and of the more recent, The Plundered Planet, uses a phrase entitled 'credible hope' that seems to me to speak directly to the task before many Christian people both inside and outside of the U.S. Now, this is not a critical comment, rather it's simply to retierate that our hope must be indeed credible. And there are two parts then to explore: first, the credibility of our hope and secondly, the certainty of our hope.

Let's initially reflect on the credibility of our hope. In the Bible, Job investigated the credibility of his own hope with these words: 

Job mourning
12 They make night into day: ‘The light,’ they say, ‘is near to the darkness.’
13 If I hope for Sheol as my house, if I make my bed in darkness, 
14 if I say to the pit, ‘You are my father,’ and to the worm, ‘My mother,’ or ‘My sister,’ 
15 where then is my hope? Who will see my hope? 
Job 17:12-15
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Thinking About Global Poverty While In Church

Any effort to end poverty will take significant human resources and an adequate strategy to engage people to not only seek change, but become change agents. As a faith based non-profit with Christian convictions, the Bible guides our strategy to mobilize people and the Bible is a book primarily about relationships. The Bible itself says much on stewardship, but clearly it is not an economics text. The Bible has much to say about mobilizing people, but clearly it’s not an HR manual.

So, at the core of mobilizing people is the gospel itself as the key motivator. People mobilized by guilt or gratitude will not last as we are flawed human beings and our guilt often paralyzes us and our gratitude ebbs and flows. This document is meant to spur on a discussion about how we mobilize people that is gospel centered and that effectively erects a small army to end poverty worldwide.

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A Room With A Worldview

When we say the term a Biblical worldview, do we truly mean a view of the entire world? In other words, does our ‘worldview’ stand up to the test of being more universal than cultural; more global than local?

While in Nicaragua a few years ago, I recall giving a presentation to some Christian leaders and the word ‘worldview’ didn’t translate directly. Instead, my Latin American brothers rendered it, ‘cosmo view’ and in a very real way, that made more sense than what I was trying to convey. Our worldview and in particular a Biblical one, should consist not simply of truths from our own local contexts, but truths that make sense universally. Michael Horton, in his book the Gospel-Driven Life, makes the following comment that is relevant to this discussion:

Michael HortonThe gospel is unintelligible to most people today, especially in the West, because their own particular stories are remote from the story of creation, fall, redemption, and consummation that is narrated in the Bible. Our focus is introspective and narrow, confided to our own immediate knowledge, experience, and intuition…
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Fear and Loathing--Period



Hunter S. Thompson wrote a series of articles in 1971 in Rolling Stone that eventually were turned into the book Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas: A Savage Journey to the Heart of the American Dream. One of the more memorable quotes, in my opinion, is as follows:

Hunter ThompsonHallucinations are bad enough. But after a while you learn to cope with things like seeing your dead grandmother crawling up your leg with a knife in her teeth. Most acid fanciers can handle this sort of thing. But nobody can handle that other trip—the possibility that any freak with $1.98 can walk into Circus-Circus and suddenly appear in the sky over downtown Las Vegas twelve times the size of God, howling anything that comes into his head. No, this is not a good town for psychedelic drugs. Reality itself is too twisted.
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Cynicism, Like a Drug, Feels Good for a While

-Ism's in my opinion are not good. A person should not believe in an -ism....

My son was born on the very day that George W. Bush decided it was prudent to invade Iraq. I remember being distraught at the lack of evidence revealing weapons of mass destruction and I remember feeling a bit, well, cynical that my son would know anything but a violent world. Who is going to teach him peace? That was one of my journal entry questions that night. At the end of the day, his mother and I would have to teach him peace, but one day he will need to learn that global peace is difficult and my prayer is that he won't become jaded or cynical in his quest to simply live out his faith in a fractured world. Let's be honest, cynicism can be a drug at times. It feels good for a while, but after all is said and done, it's a let down. 

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Can We Afford to be Multicultural in Education?

In the next 30 seconds, a little boy or girl in Africa will die of malaria.[1] Other research tells us that nearly 1 billion people in the world are illiterate[2] and another 1.4 billion can’t get to clean water[3].  So, what would those stuck in poverty have to add to a discussion about education and what could they possibly teach those of us who not only have drinking water flowing from a faucet, but who also sleep free from mosquito nets, with the ability to read ourselves to sleep? Let me pose the question a different way: are there universal methods of education that transcend cultural and socioeconomic lines to the point that we can articulate a core set of principles that may guide educators around the world, thus forming an international set of ideals that blurs the lines of the literate and illiterate and transcends the borders of East and West, North and South?

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A Biblical View of Vomit

Does God get sick of the whole world? At first glance, it seems like indeed there is a link between events in the world and the anthropomorphic description of God getting ill. On one particularly slow Sunday in church (confession here: I do sometimes take notes on the sermon and when the sermon doesn’t lend itself to notetaking, then I still write some things down anyway) and so I began to think to myself, ‘is there really something that makes God sick to the point of actually vomit?’ And, to my surprise, I actually found out that there is a whole bunch of verses on vomiting in the Scriptures. In fact, there are 13 separate occasions in which the act, what we call throwing up—getting seriously ill to the stomach, whatever you’re comfortable with, is not only mentioned, but actually references God on more than one occasion. Which leads me to conclude that yes, God gets sick at times.I won’t recount all 13 passages. They are graphic to say the least, particularly the one in Job 20:15 that has Zophar speaking and talking about the treatment of the poor. Ok…never mind, I will share it and it goes like this:

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Violence and the Fall of Man

What has always been striking to me is the fact that the first children (Cain and Abel) mentioned in the Bible resulted in the first recorded murder. Cain kills Abel in cold blood. It's clear, unmistakable, evil, and violent. What is also clear is that in recent decades, we have argued and debated not simply our rights to have firearms, but also the rights to go to war. Violence seems to be something naturally a part of fallen humanity and something that seems to be here to stay.

Despite the increased violence found in public schools, the 'right to bear arms' is defended to an almost fever pitch. And more than this, let's simply reflect a bit behind the headlines. Since September 2001, terrorism has been in the news almost daily, the threat of nuclear war seems to also be creeping back into the mainstream mindset with the recent summit meetings with Russia and sanctions against Iran. And yet, there has been a rise in violent video games and horror films the likes of which we haven't seen in quite some time. Either the world is indeed becoming more violent or violence is simply surfacing as an integral part of what it means to be worldly.

A recent story about violent crime on the streets of Chicago had some amazing and alarming stats. The direct quote is as follows: 

So far this year, 113 people have been killed — matching the death toll of U.S. troops killed in Iraq and Afghanistan during the same period.

The Chicago Sun Times - Daley: National Guard only a 'Band-Aid' solution to crime
This article actually challenges me to wonder if pacifism and non-violence really is the Christian or most Biblical way to counter the violence wrought by our own collective hearts. To have more murders in a calendar year than two wars says something striking about our own sense of community. Many of us aren't really living life with a vision of something new or better or different, many of us are simply surviving life, hoping the next paycheck will come in and hoping we'll be alive to spend it on something more than our food, lodging, and transportation. Yet, the conservative crowd is clamoring not for gun control, but for gun rights. This doesn't seem right. Shouldn't we have a deeper, broader, and more comprehensive vision of life? Shouldn't we invite people to a better life and not just a life of survival?
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Is there a Christian Activism?

A few years ago, I was speaking at a college event in New York City and I was introduced as being a 'Christian activist'.

This gave me pause and made me think about a variety of nuances on the topic of activism.

For example, can you be a Christian and not be active? Is there such a thing as a Christian 'non-activist'?

Of course, being introduced as an 'activist' sounded better than being introduced as a non-activist, but what is activism?

So, the -ism for this week is activism and it's in the news in a myriad of ways. In a recent op-ed piece in the New York Times, Bono, co-founder of the advocacy group ONE and (Product)RED, writes these words:
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As a University director of study abroad in Central Texas, ideas and stories matter. These reflections are for pilgrims making progress.