As I asserted in my previous post, it is relatively easy to recognize mission drift when institutions overtly jettison historic commitments. I’m afraid this may be happening currently in some sectors of North American Christian higher education in the forms of moral accommodation of cultural erosion and uncritical appropriation of conventional notions of educational excellence. Mission drift, however, can occur when the opposite is true: when institutions ossify in their confusion of means with ends. I think the danger for the Bible college movement may lie more in the latter than the former.
The Church has left the building …
You are likely aware, even if you haven’t a name for it, of the massive and relatively precipitous North American shift we have undergone in scarcely a generation from the so-called Christendom paradigm to a missional paradigm. Christendom describes the situation in which Christianity enjoyed a privileged, if relatively benign, position at our cultural, political, societal center. Though Christianity that is biblically faithful in belief and practice has never accurately described the majority of Americans (and Canadians, for that matter), the reality of Christianity’s cultural residue and hegemony among what sociologist James Davison Hunter calls society’s “reality defining mechanisms” (e.g., the established press, judiciary, legislative and executive, educational institutions) is really indisputable. Now, however, we live and minister in a missional paradigm. Believers, churches, colleges, and religious non-profits operate on the cultural and political margins. We are compelled to live and proclaim the Good News in an often hostile environment.
Awakening or Disestablishment?
Despite several astonishing and well authenticated religious awakenings that have occurred in post-colonial North America, the place of Christianity has largely experienced an inexorable impetus away from its location in society’s center. Historians observe that a third great disestablishment of religion has occurred in our lifetimes. The first religious disestablishment involved the constitutional framers’ decision to explicitly reject the establishment of a state church. The second disestablishment came as immigrants flooded North America’s shores and Protestant Christianity’s cultural exclusivity gave way to other major religions, notably Judaism and Roman Catholicism and, to a lesser extent, Islam. Whether we are prepared to acknowledge it or not, we now live in the wake of a third great disestablishment, one in which secularism has ascended to the forefront while formal religious affiliation is increasingly abandoned by the emerging generation and barred from public discourse, civil policymaking, and jurisprudence.
We can’t afford business as usual
These realities compel those of us in biblical higher education to undertake a critical examination of the extent to which our institutional systems and educational practices are rooted in Christendom thinking. Do our admissions policies account for the emerging generation’s nominalism and disaffection with the institutional church? Do our student development programs rest on outdated assumptions that ignore what Tim Elmore calls Artificial Maturity born of broken family systems? Does our Biblical and theological studies curriculum account for the biblical illiteracy and syncretism our students carry with them in their intellectual backpacks? Do the “ministry” roles for which we prepare students actually exist? Are we equipping students not only with the tools of biblical exegesis but also the tools of cultural exegesis? What would an institution that operates on missional assumptions look like? I don’t know the answers to all these questions, but I’m convinced we can’t afford business as usual.
Stay tuned for upcoming posts discussing more shifts to which we must adapt–and how we might do so.
Fresh gleanings to fuel your leadership awareness, reflection, and conversations …
I am utterly astounded regarding the Donald Trump phenomenon in America’s 2016 Republican presidential sweepstakes. I’m not astounded by Trump. I’m alarmed by how utterly duped so many self-described “evangelical” voters appear to be. In a recent New York Times OpEd, Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission president, Russell Moore, offers some of the best Kool-aid testing I’ve read on this subject. It’s more than worth a read.
MD Philip Hawley, Jr. offers a well-reasoned and well-documented tour of the Looking Glass fantasy that comprises the abortion rights judicial house of cards. Share this one with your students.