In the next few months I will be contibuting articles on each of our new Core Commitments. I want to underscore the importance of the document and to spell out ways that it can help as a ministry anchor and as a starting point for our strategic planning process.
The twelve Core Commitments focus on three facets of our ministry:
Context: colleges and universities
- Formation: scripture, prayer, spiritual formation, community, discipleship of the mind, leadership development
- Expression: evangelism, whole life stewardship, ethnic reconciliation and justice, church, missions
Core Commitment #1
The first of our Core Commitments is to college and university: “We are called to be a redeeming influence among its people, ideas and structures.”
Taking a few liberties with Reinhold Niebuhr’s classic typology, I will address three ways that campus ministries interact with the university (for a full development of Niebuhr’s five views, see his book, Christ and Culture):
Christ Against the University
This perspective holds that the university is corrupted by an anti-Christian world view, intellectual arrogance and idolatry. Campus ministries operating under this paradigm seek to rescue students from enemy territory. Military terminology – “attack, war and conflict” – is commonly utilized.
Campus ministries following this model see little conflict between the university and the Kingdom of God. The basic aims of both – building character, intellectual inquiry, preparing students for meaningful lives – are viewed as being consonant. Campus ministers work in harmony with the university to develop intellectual constructs and the next generations of leaders.
Christ Transforming the University
This perspective recognizes some shortcomings of university culture but also its role for God’s transforming work. Those who follow this view are neither naïve about the inherent goodness of the university or overly fearful of its ideology and influence. Rather, they seek to proclaim the lordship of Christ over the university.
InterVarsity emphatically embraces the third model. Regarding our relationship with the university, “we are called to be a redeeming influence among its people, ideas and structures.” As such, we seek to transform its people by building witnessing communities of faculty and students; its ideas by raising up Christian faculty, publishing biblically informed books and monographs and holding Christ-honoring, academically respectable conferences; and its structures by indirectly influencing curriculum, resource allocation and public policy.
Former president Steve Hayner used a helpful analogy to illustrate this perspective. Comparing the university to a pond, he noted that some ministries seem to be only concerned about pulling fish (students) out of a polluted system. At the other extreme, other ministries focus upon the pond – improving the university – to the neglect of students.
At InterVarsity, we are concerned about both. We want the university to prosper. We care about its people, ideas and structures. At the same time, we are deeply invested in students. We desire for Jesus to be recognized as Lord of the pond as well as of individual fish.