|Introduction||Goals||Situational Analysis||Theological Analysis||Strategic Recommendations|
Strategic RecommendationsIn this section I put forwarded my strategic recommendations for spiritual transformation within the undergraduate University context. Analysis of Joe, Matt and Brad's situation along with theological analysis about transformation has led me to conclude that the most strategic recommendation involves cultivating a subversive culture within the broader campus culture that enhances not just the spiritual transformation of individuals, but also the growth of the community as a whole. Environmental problems require environmental solutions. Thus, I argue for an emphatically ecclesial, as opposed to individualistic, response to the problem of spiritual transformation in the university context. In this section I identify some reasons for this recommendation and then develop the contours of my environmental solution, which includes the distinguishing nature, norms, values and practices of this subversive culture.
Reasons for an emphatically ecclesial response.
The fundamental importance of an ecclesial response to the problem of spiritual transformation in the University context gains support from every section of this essay. The emphasis the biblical narrative places on the role of the body, the people of God, and the church in spiritual transformation is overwhelming. The biblical message confirms that the church really does matter as we go about our business of trying to experience transformation. This flies in the face of the idol of independence and individualism that affect not only every American, but particularly the very competitive environment of the University culture. The interviews and local survey research confirms the presence of this prevailing independent spirit within this particular context. This evokes a strategic recommendation that places emphasis on the corporate element of spiritual transformation while not discounting the more private and individualistic elements. The insights of psychology that recognize the critical role of small groups in the formation of character and the conquering of addictions lend further support to the utility of an ecclesial response. In many ways my proposal is merely a microcosm of Hauerwas and Yoder's vision of the church in the world akin to a colony of resident aliens.
The Nature of this Culture
WTo be more specific, when I say that I am proposing an emphatically ecclesial response to the problem of spiritual transformation in a university context, I do not merely mean a social, relational and interpersonal response. I do want to challenge the independent spirit and champion the virtues of a more interdependent spirit. But, in addition to this interdependent emphasis, this situation evokes something more than just our college fellowship and "small group" structure. The alternative culture I propose includes a regular gathering of believers who express the needs, perspectives, experiences and testimonies of a fully orbed reality of life, e.g., the testimonies of the old sage, the vitality and innocence of the young child, the struggles of the single parent, the suffering of the chronically ill, etc. I am proposing the cultivation of a culture broader than the student fellowship that is engaged in gospel mission-a culture "living out" what is clearly revealed in the Bible and not just trying to understand what is not clear. Paul wrote to Timothy, "Retain the truth in faith and love that is in Jesus Christ (2 Timothy 1:13)." Beliefs cannot be "retained" without an environment of faith and love that is in Jesus Christ-a true living out of Christian community. Orthodoxy requires orthopraxy. Distancing students from these kinds of realities of life injures their soul. Keeping them grounded in this kind of reality is essential. It gives them a place where they can hear the testimony of transformed lives, where they can hear "the redeemed of the Lord say so," where they can see the profound relevance and beauty of the gospel as it addresses the harsh, and other times subtle, realities of life.
The kind of environmental solution I propose also involves a careful and thoughtful response to the "plausibility structures" dynamic. I have some reservations about a full-blown rejection of the "plausibility structures" of the world (or the academy) or the acceptance of what seems like Hauerwas and Yoder's retreat from the "world." The Scripture itself testifies to a general form of revelation. For example, the Proverb, "Go to the ant and learn," reminds us that general revelation, not just the church or special revelation, can disclose truth, wisdom and beauty (Proverbs 6:6; Romans 1:19). Additionally, the great commandment to "love God with all your…mind" (Matthew 22:37) along with the apostolic example of "reasoning," "persuading" and "proving" to those in the Athenian academy that Jesus was the Christ (Acts 17:2-4) inspire me to not only engage my own mind in critical reflection on ideas of the academy, but to attempt, as Paul did, to enter into their plausibility structures in order to engage the brightest minds in the academy in serious thinking about the truth and relevance of Christianity (its propositions, values, politics).
This does not mean, however, that I advocate a full-blown acceptance of the world's plausibility structures. Granted, I affirm the many virtues of empiricism and postmodernism. Not only science but also theology, even biblical studies, can benefit from adapting the principles and methods empiricism to its practices of scholarship. Postmodern, likewise, brings very helpful critiques against modernism, rationalism, foundationalism and language all of which rightly chasten an overly confident and even arrogant spirit-one that too often appears in my own life and among the religiously zealous. Nevertheless, this engagement will involve critical analysis of the prevailing plausibility structures of the academy, highlighting the distinctions between them, and calling attention to faith commitments embedded in each, exposing the virtues and liabilities that accompany each.
Perhaps the biggest mistake that must be overcome with respect to these "plausibility structures" involves breaking down the false dichotomy that one has to choose one or the other. Careful and thoughtful teaching can tease out how to be the best empirical Christian possible, as well the best post-modern Christian, the best communitarian Christian, and the most responsible biblical and theological Christian possible. In other words, how can a Christian take the very best from each and incorporate them into their approach to, and understanding of, Christianity in a manner that is consistent and coherent? Offering a form of critical realism (a way of "knowing" that lies between strong rationalism and full-blown fideism, between scientific naturalism and postmodern relativism) strikes me as the most promising path to explore.
Values of the Culture: Ingredients for Transformation
Small groups, constrained by loving commitment toward one another, provide one of the most essential elements of personal transformation. Truth, especially as mediated through an environment of love, transforms lives. As Henry Cloud says, neither a community of all love and no truth, nor a community of all truth and no love is a safe place, nor a likely place, for transformation. Time is a third core element of the theology of transformation. As a spiritual leader I must continually cast a compelling vision of building communities defined by these norms: grace, truth and time. Establishing certain relational norms (ways of relating with one another like a process for resolving conflict, a commitment to going to a person) that make our community a safe place to question the Christian faith is essential to spiritual transformation (particularly in this University context).
Specific practices of the culture:
In light of Jesus' statement "you cannot serve mammon," the fact that the top reasons students give for coming to college is to "become well-off financially" (see national survey under situational analysis) indicates that, as a part of the education emphasis, "the market" or "materialism" must be confronted as a possible idol that stands in the way of spiritual transformation. Similarly, the idol of individualism that may lie behind the statistic of 70% of students who think you can grow without becoming religious needs to be challenged.
Teaching about the meaning of the sacraments has potential for wedding truth with experience in a way that touches the mind and the heart and ultimately affecting the behaviors of the body (see Schmemann, Zizioulas).
This activist approach to transformation involves looking and taking opportunities to introduce the Body Politics of Yoder, particularly in the area of conflict, decision-making, sharing, empowering, and forgiving.
Emphasize that when small groups come together they come to live the Bible not just to study it.
The monocular vision of the college, specifically its almost exclusively academic focus, presents our campus ministry an opportunity to serve the students and the university by providing a place for students to:
Process information they are learning and relate it to their Christian values and beliefs.
Discern a personal calling in life.
Address the besetting sins, addictions that hinder spiritual transformation in their lives.
Referring back to the national survey (in the situational analysis section), the apparent disparity between the overwhelming spiritual and religious interests of students and the fact that few professors offer frequent opportunities to talk about the meaning of life provides an opportunity for our campus ministry. Why not platform Christian professors (e.g., have them serve as guest speakers, or arrange a luncheon discussion) from various academic disciplines, who, from the perspective of their academic discipline as well as their personal experience, can speak to the students about the issues of "life calling" and "meaning of life." Have them testify to the way that they live out their Christian calling in their field or integrate their Christian beliefs and practices with their profession or academic discipline.
Cast a vision for students' lives and for the value of a broad liberal arts vocation for the lifetime role of ministry.