Prophetic Hopefulness: Looking for a Renewed Earth

     It was immensely gratifying to have such a warm and enthusiastic response to my presentations at Summer Retreat a month ago. I was fully sincere when I expressed my distinct pleasure to be even loosely affiliated with the CCO. College campuses are a strategic place to do ministry; tomorrow’s leaders in industry, education, journalism, athletics and commerce are today’s students. You must not underestimate the significance of your work. In this very important field of endeavor, campus ministry, the Lord has graciously raised up the CCO and given us a particular calling, linked to a particular emphasis, which might generally be called Kuyperian.

     I needn’t retrace for you here the details of the Dutch revival of the late 1800s and how it generated remarkable cultural reformation under the extraordinary leadership of the Holy Spirited zeal of their statesman-journalist-educator-preacher, Abraham Kuyper. It was 100 years ago that Kuyper delivered the now-famous Stone Lectures at Princeton that insisted that Calvins emphasis on God’s sovereignty should not be limited to God’s role in electing some to salvation but rather should be seen as a world and life view. Calvinism understood this way should be seen in its vision for politics, science, art and the like. This very idea is now seen not only as a proper reading of Calvin (who was called a “constructive revolutionary” as he worked on issues of urban renewal, public health and civil law) but, more importantly, a proper understanding of biblical religion. Obviously, we have an immense way to get to the point where God’s people have some consensus on what that looks like and how to actually live faithfully in the midst of our crumbling culture. The point is that, while we may not have as many wise and radical prophets as we need, the urgency of a Kingdom vision is not nearly as rare as it once was. Not many Bible scholars call for a hard sacred-secular dualism these days and nearly everyone agrees that the Bible calls us to be relevant salt and light, “in the world, but not of it,” with some sort of culturally-transforming vision.

     One way to see this is to read the excellent work of Ron Sider. One-Sided Christianity exposes how evangelicals have tended to do evangelism without social change while liberal folk have tended towards social action without much appreciation for the need for personal conversion. Even his handbook on Christian living, Genuine Christianity, just throbs with a whole-life vision, with chapters on developing the mind of Christ in areas of public concerns. Not only are these exceptional books which I would commend to you, but they are written by one in the anabaptist [Mennonite/Brethren] tradition. He is, in my mind, one of the best Kuyperians we’ve got!

     Although I’ve discussed it before in this column, let me again mention that Kuyper’s role in this idea is told in the very important biography of him entitled Creating a Christian Worldview: Abraham Kuyper’s Lectures on Calvinism by Peter Heslam (Eerdmans). More than a biography of the man himself (he died in 1920), it is a great study of the Stone Lectures and just how faith relates to the arts and sciences. It really is a rich and important work. New staff, especially, who want to dig a bit into our roots, will find it very helpful.

     Kuypers perspective, this biblically-demanding and culturally-relevant insistence on the Lordship of Christ over this world, caught hold of the CCO to a large extent because of a wave of Dutch immigration to Canada after World War II; by the 1960s, worldviewish (“reformational” it was called, to express that it was more than merely “reformed theology”) scholarship captured the passionate hearts of godly men and women (like Pete and Jan Steen) who connected Pittsburghers with Torontos Institute for Christian Studies. ICS was one of the first Christian graduate schools in North America and was shaped by Kuyper’s notion that even scholarship is a battle ground for the spirits of the age and that philosophical presuppositions color every academic discipline. In light of specific biblical commands such as Colossians 2:8 and 2 Corinthians 10:5, these Dutch Calvinists insisted on “thinking Christianly” even at the foundational level of various disciplines. It is directly from these folks in Toronto that we got the idea for the Jubilee conference!

     Steen taught us how to do Christian critique of the forces of secularization and autonomous humanism which could be seen in various academic disciplines. The profundity of this worldview and the societal critique appealed particularly to students coming out of the counter-culture who were disillusioned with the direction of what we called “the democratic way of death.” Steen’s talk of Christian philosophers, godly artists, alternative businesses, radical schools and biblical politics shook some of us to the core. Pete didn’t last long at Geneva (he regularly used his flamboyant wit and colorful style to chide his colleagues who failed to yield to a radically Christian mindset in their departments) and CCO wasn’t the best place for him either. I hope you know what I mean (since we’ve been studying the last chapters of I Kings) when I say that Steen was the closest thing to an Elijah many of us ever met.

     And so it is that a firmly evangelical, Bible-believing, gospel-preaching ministry allows me to share your very special time of July Retreat, to have me rant and rave about the prophets, Walter Brueggemann (who Steen insisted I read), social justice and a holistic ministry of cultural change. Frankly, I do not know of any other organization that is as sure about its identity and yet so eclectic, so solidly planted within a particular, historical tradition, but so willing to grapple with the myriad implications of that tradition being worked out in a new time and context.

     Being with you very much reminded me of the ancient Hebrew people at their best: telling and retelling the story of the mighty deeds of God, reappropriating the images and metaphors of the grand Story, worshiping and repenting, praising and praying, all in an earthy, frank and rather tribal way. I hope that particularly newer staff feel integrated into the tribe and are equipped to pass on to the students they disciple this Kuyperian sense of the covenantal structure of reality and the God-centered nature of even (so-called) “secular” life. Knowing a bit about the early days of the CCO may also be helpful as you realize that God has put you here, not at another campus ministry or within a different tradition, where you are expected to proclaim this understanding of the full gospel.

     It is hard work, learning to discern spirits, so to wisely heed 1 John 5:21 about keeping away from idols and to help our students do the same. And so we gather, retell the story and remind ourselves that God reigns and that we find our hope in God. That truth shapes our consciousness, and, clinging to verses like Romans 12:1-2, we find ourselves, by God’s grace, new creatures in Christ. Evangelism and disciple-making become ways to advance the Lordship of Christ and we become the vanguard of the coming of the Kingdom of God “on Earth, as it is in Heaven.”

     Thank you for allowing me to encourage you to dream dreams about how this Kingdom newness might better break out in our world. Thank you for hearing me out as I invited you to say no and yes, to critique and envision, to protest and reform. As our campus ministry programs and the communities God creates through us become signposts pointing to the Kingdom (as Steen used to phrase it) let us try hard to bring these Kingdom sensibilities to fruition and have our students be characterized by prophetic boldness and Kuyperian wisdom.