InterVarsity’s vision is to see students and faculty transformed, campuses renewed, and world changers developed. The second component — campuses renewed — will be the focus of our triennial National Staff Conference on January 5-9, 2011, in St. Louis. In a recent communication to staff I shared my thoughts in order to launch a Fellowship-wide conversation.
Sovereignty and Common Grace
Our sovereign God is actively influencing people and events on every campus. Right now. Everywhere. He is at work impacting leaders who hold key positions — both believers and non-believers. Via common grace, He brings good to all.
In this light, we do well to remember the words of the great Dutch theologian and politician, Abraham Kuyper: “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”
We do not join those who scorn or fear the secular university. While not being naïve about many less-than-positive aspects of today’s campus culture, we regard ourselves as insiders who care deeply about the well-being of the entire academic community.
Campus Renewal Strategies
Campus renewal is developed through a variety of means. It is our vision to see the culture, climate, curriculum, research, and policies of each institution renewed by the Gospel.
We long to see revival on campus. When the Holy Spirit moves, not only do people change, but institutions do as well. After the Great Awakening of the eighteenth century and the East African revival of the 1930s, for example, universities were deeply changed by the ripple effects. May we see a similar move of the Spirit this decade.
Reaching faculty is central to campus renewal. After all, they are “permanent” campus residents. I am deeply thankful for our 47 faculty chapters at schools like Ohio State, Stanford, and MIT, and for about another 17 chapters currently in the planting process.
Over the next two decades, nearly two-thirds of all current professors will retire. This represents an unprecedented opportunity to increase the number of Christian faculty. One of our most significant strategies is to identify, prepare, and network graduate students who sense God’s call to the professorate. May the Lord continue to use the Emerging Scholars Network — all 3,500 members — as a feeder system to bring missional believers into academic positions.
In addition, we participate in a wide-range of events that generate campus-wide spiritual conversations. Prayer vigils related to difficult topics, such as racism or injustice, allow the voice of Jesus to be heard. Veritas Forums, which draw well-known speakers to debate hot topics related to faith, serve a similar role.
Last year, I visited one of my former law professors who is now president of the University of Texas. When I explained the broad multiethnicity of our work at UT-Austin, he was quite impressed. Suffice to say, such diverse communities are the exception rather than the rule on most campuses today.
Engagement with other student groups — for example Muslims, LGBT and Humanists — also promotes renewal. Why? Because while universities say they are committed to pluralism, many back away from a robust exchange of strongly held views. Tolerance has become less about civil discourse than about not offending others.
Campus renewal includes demonstrating how to simultaneously hold distinctive beliefs while respecting others with differing views. And, of course, it is always our hope to share the Good News with all who will listen.
Connecting with Campus Administrators
Caring for the entire campus, our chapters seek to establish solid relationships with administrators. By doing so, the influence of the gospel spreads not only from person to person but to the broader campus community — into its culture, systems and structures.
A few years ago, our two chapters at Georgetown were de-recognized. Over the course of the following year, InterVarsity student leaders acted with integrity, warmth, and firmness. When the chapters’ status was restored, the student-administration relationship was actually stronger than before.
Likewise, when our chapter at Rutgers was re-recognized in 2003 in the midst of a lawsuit, a joint public statement was co-drafted with the administration to demonstrate our good-faith cooperation. Rather than drafting a separate memo — the equivalent of a victory dance — we opted for civility and partnership.
At National Staff Conference 2011, we will explore these ideas and more.