Saint Patrick and the Missional Future of Christian Higher Education

Part 5 in series: The Holy Spirit and the Liberal Arts: The Future of ‘Two Handed’ Higher Education

The patron saint of Ireland is rarely credited with what was perhaps his greatest achievement.

by Gary David Stratton, PhD • Senior Editor

“I am driven by the zeal of God, Christ’s truth has roused me. I speak out too for love of my neighbors who are my only sons; for them I gave up my home country, my parents and even pushing my own life to the brink of death. If I have any worth, it is to live my life for God so as to teach these peoples; even though some of them still look down on me.”

–Saint Patrick

Saint Patrick is credited with numerous extraordinary feats, both legendary and mythical. In fact, the myth and the man are so intertwined, it is often difficult to tell fact from fiction. Can you name which of the following common beliefs about the patron saint of Ireland are true and which are myths?

1) Patrick converted pagan Ireland to Christianity. Mostly true: When Patrick arrived in Ireland in c. 433 there were few if any known churches. When he died c. 461 his followers (and other missionaries) had established as many as 700 churches in more than 30 of Ireland’s 150 tribes.

2) Patrick drove away every snake in Ireland. Myth: There were never many snakes in Ireland. However, God did use Patrick to perform many other miracles in order to demonstrate the power of the Gospel over and against the dark powers of the druids.

3) Patrick and his followers saved the great texts of Greco-Roman civilization from distruction. True: As popularized by Thomas Cahill’s best-selling How the Irish Saved Civilization, most of the texts of classical antiquity were preserved in Celtic missionary communities during continental Europe’s darkest ages.

4) Patrick made the Shamrock a grand symbol of Ireland. True: He used the three-leafed plant to teach the doctrine of the Trinity.

5) Patrick invented green beer. Myth: But Patrick probably would have liked it. Beer and mead were the favorite drinks of the Celts and many monasteries became known for their excellent breweries. (I’m not sure what he would have made of green milkshakes.)

Patrick’s Greatest Achievement: Missionally Focused Liberal Arts

Ironically, while these achievements, both real and imagined, have made Patrick one of the most popular saints of the modern world, he is rarely credited with what was arguably his greatest achievement: the reshaping of monasticism into a missionally-focused liberal arts education movement.

Let me explain.

The liberal arts and the Christian faith were not immediately on the best speaking terms. While the classically trained apostle Paul treated philosophers in Athens as fellow truth-seekers (Acts 17), Greco-Roman philosophy and philosophers were as likely to be viewed as enemies of the gospel as anything else (1 Cor. 1:20; Col. 2:8). Many early Christian apologists used their liberal arts education to refute much of the Greek philosophy of their persecutors, the end result was often an entrenched anti-intellectualism in the church. Jean LeClercq notes that the general pattern for much of the era was that of “studies undertaken, and then, not precisely scorned, but renounced and transcended for the kingdom of God.”[3]

Following Constantine’s reforms (313 CE) churches began to formalize the catechumenal schools (children and teens) they had founded under persecution and established catechetical schools (college age) often attached to Roman rhetorical schools. Perhaps the most notable of which was the catechetical school and religious community was established by Augustine of Hippo (354-430) in the early years of the fifth-century. Trained in the finest higher education of his day—he held one of the most prestigious academic positions in the Latin world as a professor of rhetoric for the imperial court at Milan—Augustine’s philosophy of education formed the foundation not only for post-Rome Christendom, but in Christian Education and Instruction of the Uninstructed for the rise of catechetical schools and monasteries throughout the region.[4] Most importantly, Augustine found at least a “measure of compatibility” between Christian and classical thought in training priests and teachers. He devoted several sections of Christian Education to the liberal arts and even began (but never finished) a complete treatise devoted to the liberal arts.[5]

Saint Patrick’s Missional Educational Revolution

As the church grew in influence among the educated classes the commonalities of Greco-Roman liberal arts education, and Jesus’ more Rabbinic higher education model eventually led to the church subsuming the liberal arts academy into its larger project. Their common goals of truth-seeking and leadership training coupled with their nearly identical discipleship-based pedagogy helped calm the once stormy relationship. However, it was only after the fall of the Rome that Greco-Roman culture and its techniques of instruction were “woven into the texture of Christian Education in the middle ages.”[6] And the leader who helped initiate this revolution is none other than Saint Patrick.

Patrick’s mission to Ireland helped reshape monasticism into missionally-focused liberal arts education movement. Patrick arrived in Ireland not as a solo missionary, but as the head of a liberal arts embracing religious community comprised of masters and disciples.  Their methodology was the highly relational educational approach they had inherited from the monastic movement, now turned to a missional purpose.

Patrick’s relational approach to the life of the mind was crucial to his missional success. After making contact with the heads of various Celtic tribes, he sought permission to establish a community on the outskirts of the village. A grammar school where Celts were taught to read was one of the first projects in each village, instilling a love of learning where Christianity and the liberal arts were each held in high honor. The native Celts were then invited to take part in discussions, classes, artistic, and agricultural projects. Invariably this relational intellectualism slowly won the village to faith and a local Celtic church was established.[7]

Culture-making–contextualization, education, social justice, and the arts–were all key elements of Patrick’s mission. Patrick was very familiar with Celtic customs, and language due to his time spent as a slave in Ireland in his youth. He sought to redeem Celtic art and worship rather than eradicate them. He created what we now know as the “Celtic Cross” by superimposing the sun—once an object of worship—onto the traditional Roman cross, and recalibrated the use of bonfires in pagan worship by using them to celebrate Easter. Not surprisingly, Patrick was one of the first vocal opponents of slavery in church history. The Irish slave trade was virtually abolished in Ireland wherever Patrick established a church. Devastating social practices such as revenge murder and inter-tribal warfare were also greatly reduced.

Like all monasticism, the life of the mind was eclipsed only by devotion to the life of the Spirit. Prayer played a particularly critical role in Celtic learning communities. The strength of Patrick’s prayer life was legendary and his followers became known for their commitment to praying all 150 Psalms everyday. The strong Trinitarian elements of Saint Patrick’s Shield/Breastplate Prayer attest to the rich theological life of the mind that undergirded the prayer life of the movement.[8] Students learned to pray because prayer was “theology on fire” where they could experience the love of God, and learn to see God’s love set loose in the world. (See, With Prayer in the School of Christ.) Like Patrick, the graduates of his liberal arts learning community were fearless in asking the Spirit of God to intervene in the world in supernatural ways. And God answered those prayers with miracles, signs, and wonders far beyond anything the Druids could muster.

This Celtic synthesis Spirit, Mind, and Art in a communal approach to missions was nearly irresistible in its power.He was a true two-handed warrior,” who established a vast and vital community of Christ followers in a genuinely pagan nation in less than a single lifetime. His schools were so effective at training leaders that he was able to ordain over 1,000 Celtic priests. The Celtic spiritual awakening continued after Patrick’s death as Spirit-empowered missional learning communities under Colomba (521-597) and Augustine of Canterbury (597-604) converted most of Scotland and the English peoples. (Augustine was even warned by the Pope not to get too big a head due to all the miracles God had performed through him.)

In the process of winning the British Isles to faith, Patrick and his spiritual descendants succeeded in saving the liberal arts tradition as well. LeClercq chronicles howduring the long period when invasions were devastating Europe, Latin culture was preserved primarily in England.”  While invaders plundered and destroyed many classical texts, Celtic Christians gathered and preserved as many extant manuscripts from antiquity as they could.  And it was from England that missionaries carried Latin culture, books and learning back to a large part of the Continent.[9] God used Patrick to save the Irish and the Irish saved Western civilization.

Is it possible that Patrick’s missional approach to Christian liberal arts education might help save the future of American civilization as well?

How Patrick’s Missional Liberal Arts Education Might Save Civilization …Again!

Anyone following the work of the National Study of Youth and Religion (NSYR) knows that we need saving.While over three quarters of America’s youth identify their religious faith as “Christian,” virtually none of them actually follow Christ in any meaningful way. Last night I fell asleep reading Kenda Creasy Dean’s analysis of the NSYR data entitled Almost Christian: What the faith of our Teenagers is Telling the American Church[10]. I woke this morning with a single thought going through my head, “We’re in trouble.”

Indeed, if Dean is only half right, then the Christian faith in American is in serious trouble. Building upon the previous NSYR publications of Christian Smith, Melissa Lundquist DentonPatricia Snell and others, Dean warns that:

“American young people are unwittingly being formed into an imposter faith that poses as Christianity, but that in fact lacks the holy desire and missional clarity necessary for Christian discipleship…”[11]

What was so interesting to me in light of Patrick’s life is Dean’s assessment that it is precisely this lack of “missional clarity” that is so devastating the next generation of American believers. The Moralistic Therapeutic Deism[12] that defines the faith of America’s youth is “the unholy residue of a church that has lost its missional imagination.”[13] One of her proposed solutions for rescuing genuine Christianity from its imposter faith is to recapture that imagination.

Patrick and the Christian liberal arts community he founded were defined by their missional imagination.To Patrick, both the church and school existed to “live my life for God so as to teach these peoples.” He was driven by the zeal of Christ and the love of neighbor to direct his life—his relationships, his study, his teaching, and his prayers—in such a way as to make a difference in the world. Are we?

I would argue that for the Christian liberal arts College of the 21st Century to be of any use to God and to the world we must recapture our missional imagination as well. I do not mean by this “mission trips” (although such trips have their place), I mean “thinking missionally” about our mission as Christian colleges. Building upon the missiological thinking of Leslie Newbigin, Andrew F. Walls, Lamin Sanneh and contemporary “missional church” advocates such as Alan Hirsch, Dean asserts: “The point of God’s incarnation was mission, the sending of God-as-love into creation… created the template for church’s missional way of life.”[14] Genuinely Christian communities exist not for themselves, but for the world. Embracing God’s mission to the world is the “litmus test” for determining whether a Christian is really a Christian and a community is really Christian. [15]

If colleges are genuine Christian learning communities then aren’t we subject to this missional litmus test as well? Patrick certainly thought so.

Thinking MissionallyAbout Higher Education 

How might we do this? At the danger of losing the principle in the midst of flawed practices, let me suggest four ways that missional thinking might help transform our colleges into better world-changing institutions and more deeply transform our students in the process.

1) Think now! Nearly all Christian colleges express their “mission statement” in future-oriented language concerning what our graduates will eventually do someday. How odd this language would have sounded to Patrick.

Patrick’s relational intellectualism and liberal arts based apprenticeship-oriented pedagogy moved the “mission” of his educational community from the future to the present. Making a difference in the world was something faculty and students did together as part and parcel of their shared educational experience. Without detracting from the preparatory nature of higher education nor giving way to knee-jerk activism that too often serves largely out of a sense of guilt or self-congratulation, one way to reenergize our schools and our over-entertained and profoundly bored students would be for faculty to invite students into missional communities seeking to use their expertise to make a difference in the world now.

I like the way Gabe Lyons describes the hunger for the next generation of Christians to live out their calling beyond the walls of the church:

Brokenness exists within each channel of culture… We are called to find things that are broken and affect them in some positive way… Put simply, the next Christians recognize their responsibility not only to build up the church but also to build up society to the glory of God. From genetic scientists to artists, businesspeople to educators, these Christians are letting their gifts flood the world from the place they feel called to work. They have a keen eye to sense what is missing, broken, or corrupted and are courageous enough to respond.[16]

In other words, they need psychologists to help psychology students, philosophers to help philosophy students, economists to help economy students use their calling to missionally better the world now.

2) Think relationally! One of Kendra Dean’s primary findings is the profound lack of adults willing to dig in and do the messy work of helping students “translate” their faith from professed story to experienced story. Adults who will engage students in “catechetical conversations” that evoke what Walter Brueggeman calls a language of ‘transformative imagination.’[17] Students rarely get to transformation alone. “(T)heir faith is the legacy of communities that have invested time, energy, and love in them.”[18] If not us, who? If not now, when?

3) Think strategically! Business as usual will not cut it. If faculty, staff and executives are to lead students in the process of missional education then something has to change. For instance, schools might consider augmenting their stand-alone missions trips and/or service projects[19] by creating positions that serve faculty in the development of service-learning components in their courses and/or designing missional opportunities based upon faculty passions and talents. Faculty senates could redefine faculty tenure and promotion policies in such a way that peer-reviewed scholarly writing is coupled with student-shared scholarly engagement in culture. College executives could release strategic resources (i.e. funding) for visionary programming, conversations, and staffing.

4) Think big! Dean concludes her book with a note of hope. Students want to be part of something bigger than they are, something that really makes a difference in the world.  The real problem “may simply be that Christianity—or what passes for Christianity…—does not merit a primary commitment.”[20] A vision for preserving comfortable Christian subculture simply isn’t big enough to capture the imagination of a sensation-craving, but meaning-starved generation.  They want to change the world. A culture of video-games and CGI action movies has trained them to think in only two categories: “Go big or go home.” Will 21st Century Christian higher education rise to the challenge?

Patrick was over 45 years old, well past the life expectancy of his day, when he launched his mission to Ireland. His vision was enormous, maybe even foolhardy. It was also transformative. Patrick redirected the liberal arts learning communities of his day from their purely interior focused purpose to one that was truly missional.  In doing so he actually strengthened their spiritual vitality, and their intellectual firepower rather than diminishing it.

He also changed the world. If we followed Patrick’s example of missional liberal arts, perhaps we could change our world as well.

So, today whether you’re drinking a green beer, throwing back a Shamrock shake, or just wearing something green, thank God for Saint Patrick—one of the coolest Saints in history, and just maybe the future of missional Christian higher education.

.

Next: Do America’s Colleges (and Churches) Need ‘Revival’? The Liberal Arts and the Great Awakening  

See Also:

Shield’s Up! Saint Patrick’s Amazing Prayer of Spiritual Warfare

The Holy Spirit and the Liberal Arts: The Future of ‘Two Handed’ Higher Education

The Greco-Roman Liberal Arts: Education with Friendship and Heart

Rabbinic Higher Education: The Life of the Mind and the Word of God 

With Prayer in the School of Christ: The Liberal Arts and the Knowledge of God


[1] A Letter to the Soldiers at Coroticus, in The Confession of Saint Patrick, John Skinner, Translator (New York: Doubleday, 1998), p. 2-3.

[2] Perhaps only St. Nicholas and St. Valentine rank higher on the hipness chart.

[3] The love of learning and the desire for God: A study of monastic culture, 3rd Edition (New York: Fordham University Press, 2007), p. 12.

[4] J. Van Engen, Christianity and the University: The Medieval and Reformation Legacies. In J. Carpenter (Ed.), Making Higher Education Christian (Grand Rapids, MI: Christian University Press, 1987), p. 20.

[5] Cited in Alan Cobban, The medieval universities: their development and organization (London: Methuen & Co, 1975), p. 10.

[6] Ibid., p. 3.

[7] While somewhat simplistic and overstated, George Hunter’s The Celtic Way of Evangelism is a highly inspirational account of Patrick’s methodology.

[8] Or at least the prayer tradition he established. It difficult to know for certain if Patrick actually wrote the prayer personally or if it grew out of the Celtic prayer community.

[9] The love of learning, p. 38.

[10] Oxford Press, 2010.

[11] Italics mine, p. 6.

[12] Smith and Denton’s summary description of the faith of most American youth in the NYRS research. (See, “An Interview an Interview with Kenda Creasy Dean,” coming 3/23/2011.)

[13] Italics mine, p. 104.

[14] Ibid., p. 91

[15] Ibid, p. 90.  Dean notes that the missional “litmus test” argument was first proposed by Karl Barth in Church Dogmatics IV.3b (Edinborough: T&T Clark, 1962), 875.

[16] The next Christians: The good news about the end of Christian America (New York: Doubleday Religion, 2010), p. 120.

[17] Cited in Dean, p. 126.

[18] Almost Christian, p. 194.

[19] Often largely divorced from students’ academic experience and virtually identical to programs offered by high school youth groups.

[20] Almost Christian, p. 193.

 

Would Major TV Networks Be Interested In My Faith Based Show Idea? by Phil Cooke

Tips from leading Hollywood consultant

In Hollywood, nobody cares that you’re a Christian. They’re more interested in your ability to actually produce a popular television program.

by Phil Cooke, PhD • President, Cooke Pictures

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Strong Sunday prime time ratings for “A.D. The Bible Continues,” especially among 18-49 year olds, will only drive current interest in faith-based projects.

With the success of “The Bible” TV series, and “Finding Jesus” on CNN, I’ve been getting plenty of inquires from people who want to get other Christian ideas picked up by a secular network. In many cases, they’re starting from the wrong perspective. The first step isn’t getting your show idea on a network. The first step is finding out what the network is interested in programming. With that in mind, here’s a few critical principles about how to get a secular network to look at your Christian program idea:

1) Start by looking for cultural events that would make networks more open to a Christian influenced program.  For instance, a number of years ago, I realized the anniversary of William Wilberforce abolishing the slave trade in the British empire was about to happen. Since he was driven by his Christian faith, I pitched PBS on a one hour documentary on Wilberforce’s life. They loved the idea and not only did it get a national broadcast on PBS, but it was privately screened at the White House. So – what’s trending in the news right now that would make a network interested in your idea?

2) Think ahead.  My friend, movie producer Ralph Winter says that making a big budget movie isn’t about what’s popular now. It’s about what will be popular 5 years from now, because that’s how long it takes to make a major movie. It’s really not much different with TV projects. So look into the future. Once “The Bible” series was successful, I received a ton of proposals to do something similar. Likewise, once Noah hit theaters, I had a bunch of Noah projects pitched to me. But they’d already been done and networks weren’t interested. The question is – What’s next?

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An internationally known writer and speaker, Phil Cooke has actually produced media programming in nearly 50 countries around the world. In the process, has been shot at, survived two military coups, fallen out of a helicopter, and in Africa, been threatened with prison. And during that time – through his company Cooke Pictures in Burbank, California – he’s helped some of the largest nonprofit organizations and leaders in the world use the media to tell their story in a changing, disrupted culture.

Remembering Ten Black Christian Leaders, by Clarence B. Jones

Clarence B. Jones is the former personal counsel, adviser, draft speech writer and close friend of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. He is a Scholar in Residence at the Martin Luther King, Jr. Research and Education Institute at Stanford University. His personal, insider’s account of the 1963 March On Washington, Behind The Dream: The Making of the Speech that Transformed a Nation, was released last January by Palgrave Macmillan. Originally published in The Huffington Post.

by Clarence B. Jones

The Azusa Street revival under the leadership of William J. Seymour helped birth a worldwide spiritual awakening

In commemoration of Black History Month, I want to share my thoughts about the historical influence of major black religious figures on the movement for freedom and participatory democracy, without regard to race or color, in our own country.

What’s the relevance or connection? The movement for transformative change of those institutions and policies in our country supporting racial segregation was fueled by young people with core values and ideals of freedom and democracy. The same core values for participatory democracy and equal access to opportunity motivating the youth in the Middle East.

Black and white young people, principally college students, in the late 50s and 1960s in our country did not have the benefit of instant communication with one another by use of the internet and companion social network technologies of Facebook, Twitter, and smart phones. The tools of communication they had were only television, radio, and next-day newspaper reports by journalists on the scene reporting their stories.

The determination and persistence of their non-violent peaceful protests opposing racial segregation or the War in Vietnam were influenced by the religious teachings of their “elders”: persons who formed the basis or backbone of the protest religious theology. A theology that constituted the philosophical foundation of the non-violent Civil Rights Movement in our country.

As our nation commemorates Black History Month, it is fitting that we pay tribute to contributions of such “elders” to our own nation’s struggle for participatory democracy and the influence such philosophy and political doctrines had not only on the youth in our country, but also on those university students, especially English speaking and reading young people, in the Arab world.

Bishop Richard Allen

Widely considered to be the “Father of the Black Church”, Richard Allen (1760-1831) founded the African Methodist Episcopal Church (AME).

Born into slavery in Philadelphia, Allen was allowed to buy his freedom at the age of 20. Ordained a Methodist minister in 1784, he became increasingly put off by the racist segregation of the white Methodist community. He responded by founding the AME, first as a local congregation and then uniting with a group of churches from surrounding cities to form the first black denomination in the United States. Elected as the institution’s first Bishop, Allen was a major influence in the development of black cultural identity and an inspiration for future generations of leaders who would use the church as major force for organization and unification in the black community.

Bishop William J. Seymour

From 1906 to 1909, William J. Seymour preached his radical form of Christianity from a run-down building in Los Angeles. His church was the host to thousands of visiting ministers, many of whom incorporated Seymour’s teachings about experiencing the Holy Spirit when they returned to their own congregations. The event became known as the Azusa Street Revival and is largely credited as the origin point for the modern Pentecostal or charismatic movement.

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Act One Hollywood Screenwriting Program: Coming Soon to a Computer Near You, by Chris Dalton

Inaugural Online Cohort Begins February 19

“Mentoring Act One students is my way of encouraging and empowering the next generation of screenwriters.”  – Monica Macer, Writer, Lost (ABC), Prison Break (Fox); Producer, Nashville (ABC)

by Chris Dalton • Vice President, Act One: Training for Hollywood

Ralph Winter Act One QuoteThis spring, Act One is offering its world-class screenwriting course online. Over the course of 10 weeks, writers can immerse themselves in 40 plus hours of video courses, Skype group writing sessions, and interactive one-on-one exercises with a skilled master teacher. Our goal: to launch you on the path of becoming a top-notch screenwriter.

The program kicks off February 19 with a 3-day intensive writing workshop in Hollywood, California. Students will sit with Hollywood screenwriters, producers, and executives and engage in high-level discussions on film, story, faith and contemporary culture. Lectures and workshops will focus on the vision and creativity needed to succeed in today’s Industry. Participants will leave spiritually challenged and refreshed, ready to dive into the 10-week video-based, online courses running the week of March 2 through the week of May 4.

We are seeing amazing things come out of our online program. Here is what one alum had to say:

“Here’s my story… I left in the personal parts because they’re true. I was truly, truly blessed this summer to be part of act one and welcomed into the family of this amazing program…You guys were a life saver for me in a difficult time where the grief of losing my mom could have easily brought me to a dark place where I gave up my passion and dreams of writing for television, for good. Getting accepted into act one and taking part of the writing program this summer gave me hope, took my writing to the next level, and allowed me to get a glimpse of Hollywood. It also brought wonderful new friends into my life…All through act one. God is doing so much more through this program, this beacon of light than just reaching Hollywood, He’s doing a deep work in the people He chooses to take part of the program. For that, I say: thank you.” – Joey C.

Right now, Act One is offering a discounted rate on the tuition. Apply by January 30, get accepted and pay the tuition in full by February 10, and you will get $250 off the current rate. On top of that, the registration fee is waived.

Visit http://www.actoneprogram.com/writing-program/ for more information.

“If you were to walk into an Act One class, it wouldn’t feel any different than being at UCLA or USC. But from a Christian perspective, it’s a community where people can think out loud.”  –Kurt Schemper, Emmy Award-winning Act One Alumnus

“Whoever tells the best story shapes the culture. Act One is training Christian writers and producers to be the very best.” –David McFadzean, Act One Faculty, Co-Creator, Home Improvement with Tim Allen

Watch Act One Video

Partnership not Persecution: A Modest Proposal for the Future of China and her Christian Intellectuals

Why the current spiritual awakening on Chinese campuses may offer China with its best hope for a future of peace and prosperity.

If China’s political leaders forswore persecution and instead looked to partner with Christian intellectuals committed to a ‘faithful presence’ theology, the implications for China’s future could be earth-shaking.

by Gary David Stratton, PhD | Senior Editor

Obama’s current visit to China for the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC) Summit and his call for improved human rights in China at the same time when Chinese officials are in the midst of a crackdown on both student protests in Hong Kong and student-filled Churches in Beijing has thrown a media spotlight on the future of Christianity in China among its young intellectuals. (See, The rise of Christianity in China and Cracks in the Atheist Edifice.)

The Great Wall stretches for over 4000 miles, nearly as wide as the current divide between China’s government and her Christian intellectuals.

While the government has worked hard to erase public memory of the 1989 pro-democracy protests in Tiananmen Square, images of crowds and tanks continue to haunt Chinese officials, especially in light of the global phenomena of social media driven revolution. As reported by the Chronicle of Higher Education, “Political analysts have speculated that the government crackdown is a reaction to the protests across the Middle East, which leaders here fear could encourage similar uprisings.”

Since university students played a key leadership role in those protests, it is only natural to assume that Christian university students are a potential threat to political stability in China. However, as the number of Christians in China begins to surpass the number of communist party members, the broad spiritual awakening on Chinese campuses could actually offer a bright hope for peaceful engagement of Christian intellectuals in the future of Chinese culture-making. (See, Vibrant Faith Among Future Chinese Culture Makers: Christians Now Outnumber Communists, especially on Campuses.)

By working against a new generation of Christian leaders on many of China’s leading universities, the Chinese government may actually be working against the very intellectuals who might become their strongest allies against an Egyptian-style revolution.

A Call for ‘Faithful Presence’ Among Chinese Christian Intellectuals

While some Chinese Christian intellectuals may indeed choose to embrace “power-based” approaches to culture-making, many espouse the “faithful presence” advocated by University of Virginia Christian public intellectual James Davison Hunter. Based upon Jeremiah’s prophesy to the Jewish exiles in Babylon, Hunter calls for Christians to “Seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.”[1] (See, CT’s excellent interview with James Davidson Hunter below.)

While written for the American cultural context, Hunter’s ‘faithful presence’ theology clearly applies to China’s current political situation as well.

Hunter’s faithful presence approach to culture-making emphasizes cooperation between individuals and institutions in order to make disciples and serve the common good. As Hunter asserts in his Oxford University Press volume To Change the World:

“If there are benevolent consequences of our engagement with the world, it is precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world for the better but rather because it is an expression of a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth, a manifestation of our loving obedience to God, and a fulfillment of God’s command to love our neighbor.”[2]

While Hunter wrote ‘To Change the World’ for the American cultural context, his ‘faithful presence’ approach to culture-making is clearly applicable to China as well.

The presupposition that the goal of Christian intellectuals is regime change is as mistaken as it is foolish. Christians intellectual leaders primary concern is only that “the will of God be done on earth as it is in heaven.”[3] They serve to remind God’s people to follow the scriptural admonitions to: (1) “be subject to rulers and authorities, to be obedient, to be ready to do whatever is good,”[4] and, (2) pray “for kings and all those in authority, that we may live peaceful and quiet lives.”[5]

Do you not need such citizens to make China great?

A Call for Restraint Among China’s Government Officials

Sadly, the current government crackdown could force Christian intellectuals into the unenviable position of choosing revolution over cooperation. As former Wheaton College professor Dennis Ockholm asserts: it is not Christians but governments who force the church to choose between “Christ Against Culture” and “Culture Against Christ” positions. [6] The last thing the Chinese government should do at this time is force their Christian intellectuals into this a position of cultural opposition.

Crackdown or Cooperation? Police usher worshippers onto bus at the site of a planned outdoor prayer service led by the Shouwang Church so popular with Christian intellectuals and top university students

Instead, I would propose that the Chinese government pursue a different strategy altogether. When Jerusalem’s first century political leaders first faced the powerful social-disruption often caused by Christian spiritual awakening, their initial instinct was a crackdown similar to current events in Beijing–incarceration, inquisition, and threats.

However, Gamaliel—a wise and honored leader—proposed a different strategy: let the Christians alone. He said in essence, “If the Christians are wrong, then their movement will eventually collapse on its own. However, if they are right and we persecute them, then we may not only find ourselves on the wrong side of history, we will be the ones who lose in the long run.”[7] Sadly, Gamaliel’s counsel prevailed only the briefest season when Jerusalem’s leaders quickly returned to their reign of terror—a reign that only served to strengthen and spread Christianity across the Roman world. Still, Gamaliel’s counsel is very much in keeping with the wisdom of China’s ancient tradition of the responsibility of each regime to act virtuously toward their citizens lest they lose their Mandate of Heaven to rule.

Two hundred years of Christianity in China have only proven the wisdom of Gamaliel’s counsel concerning Christianity in China. When Mao Zedong made it his personal mission to eradicate the one million Christians in the Middle Kingdom, the intense persecution he sponsored only served to strengthen and scatter Christianity throughout China. Today there are no less than 87 million Protestant and Catholic Christians in China, and no reason to believe that their numbers won’t continue to grow.

A Partnership for Peace and Prosperity

If China’s political leaders forswore persecution and instead looked to partner with Christian intellectuals committed to a ‘faithful presence’ theology, the implications for China’s future could be earth-shaking. Under-girding Communist egalitarianism and Confucianism ethics with the soul-strengthening power of authentic Christian spirituality could result in exactly the kind of revolutionary society the communist party first envisioned when it came to power.

Contrary to current Beijing policy, the specter of 1989 pro-democracy demonstrations in Tiananmen Square is the best reason NOT to keep Christian intellectuals at arms length.

Such a synthesis might even form the foundation for the same kind of greatness that supported American society in its earliest days. The United States was not founded as a ‘Christian nation,’ so much as an unusual fusion of Christian ideals and Enlightenment intellectualism. America’s Christian/Intellectual synthesis (now nearly completely abandoned) helped form one of the strongest nations in history.

Might a similar synthesis be key to China’s future peace and prosperity?.

The World’s Next Great Nation

Western civilization is cracking under the weight of a rampant materialism made possible by our own failure to produce Christian citizens. It is a moral failure we invited upon ourselves by jettisoning our own Christian/Intellectual synthesis. And it is the same materialism that now threatens to devour China’s youth as well.

The moral strength provided by genuine Christian intellectualism could help shape the People’s Republic of China into the greatest nation on earth.

Yet in your very midst is the one community who might yet possess the key for a different future for China. Don’t destroy them. Embrace them. Foster an ongoing dialogue between government leaders and Christian intellectuals. Trust will be hard-won on both sides. But with so much at stake, it is trust that simply must be forged. Perhaps invitations to include top international Christian intellectuals might eventually enrich the conversation. [8]

No matter who the conversation partners might be, they need to listen carefully to one another in order to find the peace and prosperity so desperately desired by Christians and Communists alike. Who knows what fruit such a conversation might bear?

Who knows what a great nation might emerge from such a partnership?

 

————

Faithful Presence

James Davison Hunter says our strategies to transform culture are ineffective, and the goal itself is misguided.

Interview by Christopher Benson in Christianity Today

Over two decades have passed since Allan Bloom’s famous polemic, The Closing of the American Mind, shook up the American academy. The time is ripe for another shakeup. Enter James Davison Hunter, whose latest contribution, To Change the World: The Irony, Tragedy, and Possibility of Christianity in the Late Modern World(Oxford), promises to shake up American Christianity. An endorsement for Bloom’s book applies just as well to Hunter’s: It “will be savagely attacked. And, indeed, it deserves it, as this is the destiny of all important books … Reading it will make many people indignant, but leave nobody indifferent.”

Hunter, professor of religion, culture, and social theory at the University of Virginia, is author of Culture Wars: The Struggle to Define America and The Death of Character: On the Moral Education of America’s Children.

To Change the World comprises three essays. The first examines the common view of “culture as ideas,” espoused by thinkers like Chuck Colson, and the corrective view of “culture as artifacts,” as recently argued by Andy Crouch in Culture Making. Both views, argues Hunter, are characterized by idealism, individualism, and pietism.

Hunter develops an alternative view of culture, one that assigns roles not only to ideas and artifacts but also to “elites, networks, technology, and new institutions.” American Christians—mainline Protestant, Catholic, and evangelical—will not and cannot change the world through evangelism, political action, and social reform because of the working theory that undergirds their strategies. This theory says that “the essence of culture is found in the hearts and minds of individuals—in what are typically called ‘values.’ ” According to Hunter, social science and history prove that many popular ideas, such as “transformed people transform cultures” (Colson) and “in one generation, you change the whole culture” (James Dobson), are “deeply flawed.”

The second essay argues that “the public witness of the church today has become a political witness.” Hunter critiques the political theologies of the Christian Right, Christian Left, and neo-Anabaptists, showing that unlikely bedfellows—James Dobson, Jim Wallis, and Stanley Hauerwas—are all “functional Nietzscheans” insofar as their resentment fuels a will to power, which perpetuates rather than heals “the dark nihilisms of the modern age.”

The third essay offers a different paradigm for cultural engagement, one Hunter calls “faithful presence.” Faithful presence is not about changing culture, let alone the world, but instead emphasizes cooperation between individuals and institutions in order to make disciples and serve the common good. “If there are benevolent consequences of our engagement with the world,” Hunter writes, “it is precisely because it is not rooted in a desire to change the world for the better but rather because it is an expression of a desire to honor the creator of all goodness, beauty, and truth, a manifestation of our loving obedience to God, and a fulfillment of God’s command to love our neighbor.”

Christopher Benson, a writer and teacher in Denver, Colorado, spoke with Hunter about To Change the World. Benson’s work has appeared in The Weekly Standard, Books & Culture, Christian Scholar’s Review, Image, and The City. Mark Galli, senior managing editor of Christianity Today, assisted in the interview…

CT: How does your paradigm of cultural engagement differ from the others?

JDH: All the paradigms speak to authentic biblical concerns. Yet the desire to be relevant to the world has come at the cost of abandoning distinctiveness. The desire to be defensive against the world is rooted in a desire to retain distinctiveness, but this has been manifested in ways that are, on one hand, aggressive and confrontational, and, on the other, culturally trivial and inconsequential. And the desire to be pure from the world entails a withdrawal from active presence in huge areas of social life. In contrast to these paradigms, the desire for faithful presence in the world calls on the entire laity, in all vocations—ordinary and extraordinary, “common” and rarefied—to enact the shalom of God in the world.

Christians need to abandon talk about “redeeming the culture,” “advancing the kingdom,” and “changing the world.” Such talk carries too much weight, implying conquest and domination. If there is a possibility for human flourishing in our world, it does not begin when we win the culture wars but when God’s word of love becomes flesh in us, reaching every sphere of social life. When faithful presence existed in church history, it manifested itself in the creation of hospitals and the flourishing of art, the best scholarship, the most profound and world-changing kind of service and care—again, not only for the household of faith but for everyone. Faithful presence isn’t new; it’s just something we need to recover.

Continue Reading

 


[1] The Prophet Jeremiah: chapter 29, verse 7

[2] Hunter, James Davison.  To change the world: the irony, tragedy, and possibility of Christianity in the late modern world. New York: Oxford University Press, 2010.

[3] The Gospel of Matthew: chapter 6, verse 10

[4] The Apostle Paul’s Letter to Titus: Chapter 3, verse 1.

[5] The Apostle Paul’s First Letter to Timothy: Chapter 2, verse 2. (See also, 1 Peter 2:13-17; Romans 13:1-7)

[6] “Culture against Christ,” Evangelical Theological Society, San Francisco, November 1992.

[7] The Book of Acts: Chapter 5, verses 33-39

[8] Conversation partners as diverse as James Davidson HunterMiroslav Volf, Vishal MangalwadiGeorge Weigel, NT Wright, etc.

 

Four More (BIG) Reasons Young Adults Quit Church, by Christian Piatt

Part 5 in series A Place of Our Own: How Millennials Who Have Given Up on “Church” are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community

by Christian Piatt

There has been a surprisingly positive response to the article I published yesterday: “Seven Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church.” And as I noted, it was hardly a comprehensive list. There were several others I thought were worth noting if I’d had the room, so I thought I’d continue with the same theme today.

And as I said in yesterday’s article: 

  • Although the answer(s) vary from person to person, there are some general trends that I think apply in most cases, and;
  • In the list below, when I refer to “we,” “I” or “me,” I’m referring to younger adults in general, and not necessarily myself.

#8 – We Don’t Want to Be “Talked At” Any More

There’s a very strong case that can be made for the value of sermons. Jesus did it. There are times when someone in a position of expertise has something they need to share with a group, and the best way to do it is didactically. But what if people stop listening?

I asked a friend of mine, who is a minister, if he was planning to attend an upcoming conference. He said no, not because the content was off-base, but because he said he couldn’t tolerate more passive learning environments where he sat back and was a receptacle for more information.

Our daily realities are becoming more interactive. Compare the passivity of reading your daily paper with the engagement a blog offers. We expect to be able to take part in the learning process now, rather than it being so one-sided. More churches are going with a model that reflects this, dispensing entirely with the traditional sermon. I’m not sure this is the answer, but more active engagement in one’s discipleship is a must going forward. (See, J.R. Miller’s post on Flipping Theology.)

#9 – Christians Are Seen As Hypocrites

From the scads of TV evangelists busted for impropriety to Catholic priests sexually abusing children under their care, there’s a face on Christianity in the media that says one thing and does another. Though this is hardly the baseline for all Christians, there’s a phenomenon of human consciousness that tends to seek out examples that reinforce existing stereotypes. Things that don’t align with our prejudice get filtered out. The result: everywhere we look, we see examples that reaffirm what we already thought about Christians.

This may not be fair, but it’s reality. And the only thing that tends to change a social stereotype as embedded as this one is a concerted, collective effort to break the prejudice wide open, not with a competing media campaign or by shouting louder. Rather, it happens one person, one story and one relationship at a time. It’s the same way other stereotypes are dismantled, so why should Christians be any different?

#10 – Church Seems to Lack Relevance

We are swimming in the wake of a self-help tidal wave that swept through Western culture over the past thirty years. This, combined with the custom-built media universes we’re able to construct for ourselves now, reinforce the question: How does this affect me in my life today?

But at the heart of the Christian message is a counter-cultural theme, particularly in today’s culture: it’s not all about you. This can be a tough sell. After all, who really wants to hear that it’s not all about them? And there are plenty of pandering prosperity gospel types who will opportunistically affirm that it is all about us after all.

But it’s not.

That said, we still to have to be mindful in church about waxing theological, while neglecting to identify with the humanity of the people around us in our congregations. At the heart of this connection is story. Not just telling them, but also making space for others to share theirs. And when I say “story” I’m not talking about some inspiring anecdote you plucked form a forwarded email; I’m talking about your story.

If you haven’t already, go listen to the recordings that are part of National Public Radio’s Story Corps project. It is the narrative of a culture, longing for meaning, belonging and to feel something. Church can do the same; we just don’t often enough.

#11 – Nobody Looks Like Me

A young adult commented on my first post on this subject, published on the Sojourners website, that they tried really hard in college to find a faith family that felt right. But despite visiting many churches, she said that all she seemed to find were older people, families with children and a handful of youth, but no other young adults like her. After that it didn’t matter how good the music, the sermon or the coffee were. She didn’t feel like she belonged, so she left.

This long-standing chicken-or-egg conundrum has been a challenge for churches for a long time. It’s kind of like trying to get credit when you don’t have an established line of credit. Where do you start?

First of all, you don’t start by hoping they wander in on Sunday mornings and magically feel comfortable, surrounded by people unlike them. Look into concepts like the ministry of “third spaces” meeting off-site, or spontaneously organizing “hang outs” to help people connect. But I can tell you that we don’t have to look any further than ourselves when wondering why young adults feel marginalized.

My wife, Amy, and I published a book about young adult spirituality a few years ago called “MySpace to Sacred Space: God for a New Generation (clearly and outdated title now, but what can you do?). We were frustrated when it was labeled on the back of the book as a “youth” book. Why? Because there was no such thing as a Young Adult section in most bookstores and catalogs.

Still wondering why YAs feel ignored?

 

Next Post in Series: 15 Reasons I Left Church, by Rachel Held Evans

 

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Seven Reasons Why Young Adults Quit Church, by Christian Piatt

Part 4 in series How Millennials Who Gave Up on Church are Redefining Faith and Re-engaging Community.

by Christian Piatt

From time to time I revisit the question: why are young adults walking away from religion? Although the answer(s) vary from person to person, there are some general trends that I think apply in most cases.

In the list below, when I refer to “we,” “I” or “me,” I’m referring to younger adults in general, and not necessarily myself.

#1 – We’ve Been Hurt

I can actually include myself in this one personally. Sometimes the hurtful act is specific, like when my youth leader threw a Bible at me for asking the wrong questions. Sometimes it’s rhetorical, either from the pulpit, in a small group study or over a meal. Sometimes it’s physical, taking the form of sexual abuse or the like. But millions claim a wound they can trace back to church that has never healed. Why? In part, because the church rarely seeks forgiveness.

#2 – Adult Life/College and Church Don’t Seem to Mix 

There are the obvious things, like scheduling activities on Sunday mornings (hint: young people tend to go out on Saturday nights), but there’s more to it. In college, and before that by our parents, we’re taught to explore the world, broaden our horizons, think critically, question everything and figure out who we are as individuals. Though there’s value in this, it’s hyper-individualistic. But Church is more about community. In many ways, it represents, fairly or not, sameness, conformity and a “check your brain at the door” ethos. This stands in opposition to what the world is telling us is important at this time in life.

Perhaps an emphasis on a year of community service after high school would be a natural bridge to ameliorate some of this narcissism we’re building in to ourselves.

#3 – There’s No Natural Bridge to Church

Most teenagers leave home, either for college, to travel, work or whatever after high school. With the bad economy, this number is fewer, but it’s a general trend. But the existing model of church still depends on the assumption that communities are relatively static, and that the church is at the center of that community. Not so anymore. When I went to college, I was contacted by fraternities, campus activity groups and credit card companies, but not one church. The only connection I had with religion was the ridiculous guy who (literally) stood on a box with a bullhorn in the union garden and yelled at us about our sinful ways. I could have used support in how to deal with my own finances for the first time. I could have used a built-in network of friends. I would have loved a care package, an invitation for free pizza at the local restaurant or help with my laundry. What I got was the goof with the bullhorn.

#4 – We’re Distracted:

I shared a video by Diana Butler Bass in a recent post about a priest who took his Ash Wednesday service out onto the street. When people saw him, they reacted as if they had been shaken out of a deep sleep. “It’s Ash Wednesday!” they said with surprise as they asked for the ashes. “Lent is starting!” It simply wasn’t on their radar. It’s not that we don’t care; we have so many things competing for our limited time and attention that the passive things that don’t offer an immediate “interrupt” get relegated to the “later” pile. And we rarely ever get to the “later” pile, which leads me to the next point…

#5 – We’re Skeptical

We’re exposed to more ad impressions in a month today than any other previous generation experienced in a lifetime. I’m sitting in a hotel room writing this, and in this room (which I paid for in part to have privacy), I see more than a dozen marketing messages. If I turn on the TV, they’re there. Pick up my phone, they’re there. Online…you get the point. So whereas generations before us expended energy seeking information out, now it comes at us in such overwhelming volumes that we spend at least the same amount of energy filtering things out. This leads to somewhat of a calcifying of the senses, always assuming that whoever is trying to get your attention wants something, just like everyone else.

#6 – We’re Exhausted

I was lumped in as pat of the Generation X group, also known as the Slacker Generation. This implied, of course, that we were lazy and unmotivated. But consider how many of us go to college, compared to generations before us. And consider that the baseline standard for family economics requires a two-income revenue stream to live in any level of the middle class. Debt and credit are givens, and working full-time while also trying to maintain a marriage, raise kids, have friends and – God forbid – have some time left for ourselves leaves us with less than nothing. We’re always running a deficit. So when you ask me to set aside more time and more money for church, you’re trying to tap already empty reserves.

#7 – We Don’t Get It

Young adults today are the most un-churched generation in a long time. In many cases, it’s not that we’re walking away from church; we never went in. From what I can tell from the outside, there’s not much relevance to my life in there, and I’m not about to take the risk of walking through the door to find out otherwise.

I’ve tried to offer insight into what might be done about a few of these issues as I went, but I invite you also to sit with the tension of not having the answers. Better yet, seek some young adults out, ask them if they relate to these. And see if they have ideas about what you (maybe not even “church” but you) can do to help relieve some of the challenges.

I think the conversation that follows might pleasantly surprise you.

Next in series: Four More (BIG) Reasons Young Adults Quit Church, by Christian Piatt 

 

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Sony Strips Most Christian References from ‘The Vow’: Artistic Decision, or Biased Filmmaking?

Real-life couple from ‘The Vow’ says it ‘would have been nice’ to see Christian references in film

By 

#1 Box Office Surprise THE VOW "Inspired by true events" curiously stripped of their Christian context

Based on the love story of two devout Christians, the movie version of “The Vow,” starring Rachel McAdams and Channing Tatum, strips the tale of its overt religious themes, which has some Christian reviewers concerned.

The film is based on the true life story and book, “The Vow” by Kim and Krickitt Carpenter, which draws heavily on that couple’s Christian beliefs and the power of God to heal and shepherd a marriage through difficult times.

The book tells the story of  Kim and Krickitt, who met and fell in love over a long distance phone call in 1992, bonded over their Christian faith, and were married a very short time later. Just 10 weeks into their marriage, the couple survived a terrible car wreck that left Krickitt in a coma with severe head trauma. Upon waking, Krickitt experienced amnesia and was essentially married to a stranger, forgetting the last 18 months of her life.

Throughout the book, it is the couple’s religious belief in the unbreakable vow of marriage that keeps them together.

“You make a promise before God with your wedding vows,” Krickitt Carpenter told Fox411.com. “You have to take that seriously.”

The studio version of the Carpenter’s marriage, however, strips the couple of their Christianity.

“The movie doesn’t talk about faith significantly. It would have been nice to see more of it,” Kim Carpenter told Fox411.com. “The first book we wrote was extremely embedded in our faith, but I think the movie does depict the inspiration of the battle to hang in there. I think the audience realizes we are a people of faith.”

Some movie critics would have liked to see more overt references to the couple’s faith as well.

“It was a sweet story but it didn’t have any power to it,” said Ted Baehr, the publisher of TheMovieGuide.org, a Christian family guide to movies. “Making it more secular diminished the power of the movie. It didn’t make sense that it was so sublimated to secular values. The real world consists of the 82 percent of Americans who believe in god who want faith and values in their films.”

The movie version of “The Vow,” rated PG-13, was a huge hit over the weekend, raking in over $40 million, and another $11 million on Valentine’s Day alone. But it is hardly family friendly fare. There are innuendos that the couple in the movie, named Paige and Leo, engages in premarital sex. One of the characters in the film has an extramarital affair. The couple’s wedding is non-denominational. They also get a divorce in the movie, something that the Carpenters vowed not to do in real life.

Sony Pictures did not respond to a request for comment.

Hollywood has not been a stranger to Christian themes in recent years. The movie “The Blind Side” was largely propelled to success because of, and not in spite of, the Christian values that it embraced.

So what made “The Vow” different?

Continue Reading

Glee Faith Episode ‘Grilled Cheesus’ Explores Two Approaches to ‘Christian’ Faith

Glee Faith Episode “Grilled Cheesus” Explores Two Kinds of “Christian” Faith

by Gary David Stratton, PhD

I was deeply moved by Glee’s “faith” episode (“Grilled Cheesus” 10/8/2010). It was honest, awesome television, and the highest rated Glee episode of all time. I think they hit faith from nearly every possible angle: Judaism (Rachel), Christianity (Mercedes), some kind of Theism (Quinn), hedonism (Brittany), cynicism turned desperation (Puck), disappointed with God turned to atheism (Sue), narcissistic idolatry (Finn), sacred searching (Kurt), and even Sikh.

It definitely fit the broad community of postmodern tolerance show creator Ryan Murphy is shooting for. Plus, it clearly made the point that the separation of church and state is neither an excuse for ignoring the spiritual lives of teenagers, nor for allowing only anti-religious sentiment to be expressed.

I know some Christians were offended by Finn’s “Grilled Cheesus” storyline, but frankly, I thought his banal prayers were painfully close to the self-centered civil religion that often passes for Christianity in America.

While Finn prays self-centered prayers to a sandwich bearing the image of Jesus…

Worshipping God just to get what you want (a win, a girl, a job) is an all-too-common a reason to profess faith, but it has nothing to do with what Jesus taught his followers or modeled on the cross. I suspect the prophets of Israel would agree that “losing my religion” could be a good thing if it means I’m losing my idolatry.

 The episode’s moral premise rings true for people of every faith (or none): Everyone wants a direct line to God and hates the idea that we’re all floating around in space alone. But, “You’re not alone. The big questions are really big for a reason: they’re hard. But you know what, absolutely everybody struggles with them.” We all need something sacred in our life, so don’t close yourself off to a world of spiritual experiences that might surprise you.

..Mercedes respectfully invites her hurting atheist friend to her church for prayer

 Given the pain Ryan Murphy has experienced at the hands of (perhaps) well -meaning Christians, I was shocked that the episode didn’t end with a vicious attack on the church. While Kurt certainly gives voice to those wounded by organized religion, writing him into a positive experience in Mercedes’ church was, well, AMAZING!

If you can watch Kurt’s rendition of “I Want Hold Your Hand,” followed by a prophetic hand-holding in Mercedes’ dynamic Christian church with dry eyes, well, then you’re tougher than me.

…where a loving saint offers Kurt a hand to hold until his father wakes.

 In truth, I would have been disappointed if it had been a propaganda piece for or against faith. Instead it asked a lot of questions. Art is always better at asking questions than answering them. And, yes, Ryan Murphy’s questions were most prominent.

If someone from another worldview wants their questions to be the prominent ones on whatever becomes next year’s hottest show, then they’d better start working on creating something as special as Murphy’s gem.

I’m praying for them …whoever they are.

Actress Jenn Gotzon Skyrockets to Number Two on IMDB STARmeter

 

Frequent film festival award winner and now feature film star Jenn Gotzon.

Actress JENN GOTZON (IMDb) hit No. 2 on IMDb’s volatile STARmeter hot list this week. (Available online thru IMDb Pro or on IMDB’s Iphone or Android app).

 

 

 

 

The #2 STARmeter ranking is a popularity measure based solely upon who had the most IMDb profile views in a given week. Movie openings, DVD releases, news stories, trade magazine attention, and gossip columns can dramatically shift rankings from week to week. While not a measure of enduring “star power” or name recognition, it does give an idea of who is in the public eye each week.[1]

For the week of 5/15 Jenn came in #2 just behind actor Chris Hemsworth (Thor) and just ahead of 2011 Academy Award-winner Natalie Postman.

Jenn’s husband Chris woke her with the news on the morning of her birthday:

My first reaction was WHATTTT?!!… you gotta be kidding me, this is insane!  We were both super stunned and shocked. I’m still shocked.”

Only ‘Thor’ star Chris Hemsworth had more IMDB profile views than Jenn the week of 5/15

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

After minor roles in ‘Frost/Nixon,’ ‘The Hulk,’ and ‘Role Models,’ Jenn landed the lead in the feature film ‘Doonby‘ currently making the rounds at the Cannes Film Festival. The controversial film features real life Roe v. Wade plaintiff Norma McCorvey in a pro-life role, and highlights the depth of Jenn’s acting talent.

Jenn pointed to the blessing of being in ‘Doonby’ and the buzz it is generating:

“What a birthday gift to have my breakout feature film role garner so much attention at Cannes. I truly hope this story really continues to impact viewers across the world.”

According the Jenn’s manager Scotty Dugan Jenn’s increased notoriety began with a full-page article on ‘Doonby’ in The Hollywood Reporter’s Cannes issue. The Hollywood Reporter’s additional article on the marketing of Doonby, and a new trailer for Jenn’s mystery drama helped create a ‘perfect storm’ of interest in the bright new talent. So has the fact that Jenn has four films in which she stars due out this fall and winter.

Jenn was prepared for ‘Doonby’s’ Cannes buzz to give her ratings somewhat of a bump, but nothing like this!

“We were just excited to see ‘Doonby’ develop huge buzz, raising last week’s Starmeter rating all the way to #196! (Laugh). Neither of us would have ever imagined that this week’s result would be #2.”

Jenn with “Doonby’ co-star John Schneider.

Acting careers are notoriously meteoric–‘hot’ one week to ‘not’ the next–but for now, Jenn Gotzon’s star is up. Way up. Still, Jenn confided: “I’m a bit about nervous next week’s rankings, because I have no idea what to expect. I know I should anticipate a few zeros behind this weeks #2. (Laughter)”

Scotty Dugan acknowledges that Jenn’s #2 rating won’t last forever, but is confident that it is the first step in launching her career to a new level:

“Jenn may be knocked off by ‘Pirates of the Caribbean: On Stranger Tides’ lead Penélope Cruz. But STARmeter or no STARmeter, Jenn Gotzon’s ship has the wind in its sail.”

Please pray for Jenn and her husband Chris Armstrong as they navigate the turbulent waters of Hollywood.

.

See also

Jenn’s Two Handed Warriors report on the National Association of Broadcasters Show (NAB) and Faith ‘n Film Summit.

 


[1] IMDb’s description: “STARmeter rankings provide a snapshot of who’s popular based on the searches of millions of IMDb users. Updated weekly, these rankings also graph the popularity of people over time and determine which events affect public awareness.”

Ultimate Rob Bell ‘Love Wins’ Wrap Up: What Controversy Teaches Us About Christians, by Scot McKnight

10 things we can learn from one of Christianity’s biggest controversies.

Finally someone has written what I think is the ultimate wrap up of the Rob Bell “Love Wins” controversy. Not surprised that it is biblical scholar, best-selling author, award-winning blogger, and friend, Scott McKnight. Enjoy!

What Love Wins Tells Us About Christians

by Scot McKnight in Relevant

Beginning with dramatic over-reaction to Rob Bell's 3 minute promo video, the controversy surrounding 'Love Wins' may have taught us more about the current state of the American church than about heaven and hell.

Everyone knew in advance that Rob Bell’s next book, Love Wins, would surely raise eyebrows and create some debate. But no one, including the author and his agent, expected what did happen. From the momentJustin Taylor uttered that opening warning and John Piper tweeted “Farewell Rob Bell” until many of us had a week or two to read it, Rob Bell’s book was at the forefront of American Christianity’s sensational tabloids. I’ve never seen anything like it, and it may well be a one-of-a-kind brouhaha for the next generation or two.

But what can we learn from what happened? I want to suggest we can learn 10 lessons.

First, social media is where controversial ideas will be both explored and judged. We no longer read books patiently, type out letters to denominational offices, find common agreements and then summon the Christian leader behind closed doors to ask questions and sort out concerns. It’s all public, it’s all immediate and everyone weighs in because social media is about as radical a form of democracy as exists. To be sure, this means the uninformed heavy-handed can weigh in as easily as the patient, careful, critical and balanced reader. But social media is not going away, so we should realize what we are getting into before we walk into the room.

Second, megachurch pastors are being watched closely. “Who says what” has always mattered. But because of social media, the who-says-what takes on new significance: megachurch pastors—and this applies to Bill Hybels, Rick Warren, John Piper, Mark Driscoll, Andy Stanley and Rob Bell—are being watched, and their critics only need one off-line comment to stir into action. John Piper has been hammered for some of his comments, Bill Hybels has weathered criticism and Rob Bell is in the same world. Robin Parry, a skilled and careful scholar, wrote a book called The Evangelical Universalist. He was an editor at an evangelical publishing house. His book barely drew attention, but when Rob Bell said even less than Parry, Bell was scorched by many.

Third, tribalism pervades the American religious scene…

Continue Reading

See also:

Pastor Makes Time Magazine Cover! Reaction Mixed

Danger! Angry Blogger: The Apostle Paul’s Cyber-Theology Checklist

Bellapalooza: The Rob Bell ‘Love Wins’ Controversy and Civil Conversations

Love Wins?  The Irony of the Rob Bell Controversy

Does Love Even Have a Chance of Winning? by Margaret Feinberg

Good Will Hunting and the Rob Bell Controversy by Mike Friesen

Not Many of You Should Presume to Be Bloggers, by John Dyer in CT Online

 

 

 

Why my Christian education has troubled me, by Mike Friesen

Not everything that claims to be ‘Christian’ education is actually Christlike

Uber-blogger Mike Friesen

Mike Friesen is one of my favorite former students, 20-something bloggers, and friends.  He asked me to respond to his blog post yesterday (5/2). It fit so remarkably with the meetings I was in last week that I asked him if I could repost his thoughts and my reply.  Read us both and then jump into the conversation. I think it is a critical one for the future of the future of Christian higher education.

Why my Christian education has troubled me….

by Mike Friesen

In the fourth grade, I was sitting in Sunday School and my Sunday School teacher was teaching about the book of Revelation. During this time, he told us that God planned for a treacherous man that they call the anti-christ to come and murder all of the remaining Christians who were “left behind”. He said that God needs to destroy this earth because the people are so bad. I raised my hand in painful innocence, and, asked why God couldn’t just fix this earth instead of destroying it and planning that pain? My Sunday School teacher told me it was in the Bible, so I “better not question it”.

Not everything that claims to be 'Christian' education is actually 'Christlike'.

My freshman year of College, I was sitting in my Freshman New Testament class and my teacher told our class that if we weren’t tithing our time each day to God in prayer we were not living as “faithful followers of Christ”. She said that if weren’t dedicating 2.4 hours a day to God in prayer, and, more than 10% of our money to God, there was no way we could be right with God. She shamed the class with this belief the whole semester. I remember sitting in this class being livid, because, any person who needed to flaunt their “spiritual success” over another person to make them feel bad, doesn’t seem very Christ-like. Never mind that this “biblical teacher” with “biblical teaching” was teaching something that was clearly not biblical.

We need people to guide us in life, don’t we? There are people who are clearly more mature than we are. That’s why Churches need Pastors, Elders and Deacons. It’s why we need Counselors and Spiritual Directors. We need people who are further in the journey, to guide us deeper in our own. How can anyone who has not taken that journey themselves lead others to where they’re desiring to go?

It’s as if education has become a product of consumerism. We are told to believe certain beliefs. And, when we do this, we can get confirmed or affirmed. So, we’re told our worth as students comes from repeating the answers of our teachers back to them. So what if our teachers are wrong, then our worth as students comes from believing their wrong beliefs? And, if the teacher is right, and, we consume it, then is it a part of me, or, do I just know it?

It's as if education has become a product of consumerism.

In my short life, I don’t learn by being told to consume. I learn from being wrecked by reality. We learn by being present to God, to ourselves and others. Very few things will teach us more than the failures, pain and reality of who we are, and, being present to where others are at. In these moments, we are wrecked by bigger and better questions. And, these bigger and better questions alter our path, it narrows our path to God, but, the road becomes wider for ourselves and others. Bigger and better questions, will hurt us, but, only because it is tearing open new space for others, for ourselves and for God to move within us. This space feels like life and death, because, I am dying to who I was and being reborn into something more beautiful, more hopeful, more peaceful and more filled with love, more filled with God.

The best teachers in my life, are the people who create space for me. Their thoughts, their life, their questions, create a new reality for me, which points me to God. They aren’t troubled by my questions because their space can occupy the weight of it. They aren’t troubled by my pain and doubts, because their space can occupy the weight of it. The best teachers in my life have given me more space for God to occupy within me, because, the way God works within theirs, painfully and wonderfully opens its way into me.

My hope for you, is that you have good teachers in your life. People who will lead you to a bigger reality. People who will help you be filled with the life that is dying to be awakened within you and around you.

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My Response to Mike

Much of what passes for 'Christian education' today is neither.

Mike your ability to give voice to the cry of the heart of a generation never ceases to amaze me. In the process, I think you are also giving voice to the heart cry of many educators as well.

Much of what passes for ‘Christian education’ in America today is neither. It is not education, because it is only interested in indoctrination. It is not Christian, because it isn’t interested in the kind of educational practices Jesus to which Jesus devoted himself.

Like Morpheus in The Matrix, genuine Christian education seeks to “free minds” from false ways of perceiving the world. Getting students to parrot “correct” answers within a narrowly defined band of options is as dangerous as it is counter-productive. It either leaves students “enslaved” to limited ways of thinking, or terminally “skeptical” (another form of enslavement), because they intuitively know that something is wrong with their world as interpreted by those around them. That goes for most public education and its obsession with “political correctness,” and a great deal of church-sponsored education that is equally obsessed with “traditional correctness.”

Morpheus offers Neo the opportunity to free his mind from his false perceptions of his world.

Great education teaches students not so much WHAT to think, but rather HOW to think. The truth doesn’t need to be protected by limiting our conversation to “safe” answers. Truth needs to be let out of its cage so its dangerous questions can transform us.

Greco-Roman liberal arts education on the other hand, was specifically designed to be “liberating arts” that could “free the mind from traditional beliefs accepted uncritically.” Birthed in the life and teachings of Socrates, as recorded by Plato, and refined by Aristotle, a liberal arts education was consumed, not with the acquisition of information, but the pursuit of truth. Their aim was to help students examine their “opinions and values to see whether or not they are really true and good.” (http://bit.ly/k6S0ZP)

The Greeks specifically designed a liberal arts education to be “liberating arts” that could “free the mind from traditional beliefs accepted uncritically.”

While Jesus never established a brick and mortar school in the modern sense of the word, he taught his disciples using the same methodology as both Greco-Roman and Rabbinic higher education. (http://bit.ly/k6lMuq). He sought to lead his disciples into liberating truth, telling them,“You shall know the truth and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32). (http://bit.ly/inAp6G)

Both Jesus and Socrates sought to accomplish this liberation by means of a highly relational form of education. The Socratic method of instruction necessitated intimate relationships in tight-knit learning community. Socrates and his student, Plato, called their disciples “friends,” precisely because they “wanted a relationship that was characterized by shared community.” (http://bit.ly/kHGM7B)

Jesus was the one teacher in history who could have told his students “Sit down, shut up, and listen, I AM GOD!” This makes it even more astonishing that he developed such a dynamic interactive relationship with his students that they felt free to interrupt his “last lecture” with their questions no less than THIRTEEN times. (John 13-16). Try to imagine most modern teachers doing that?

 

Jesus was the one teacher in history who could have told his students “Sit down, shut up, and listen, I AM GOD!"

Instead, Jesus’ teaching method was also highly relational. It was centered on the creation of a learning community where master and disciples lived in close proximity to one another and forged a friendship. Like Socrates, he told his students, “I have called you friends” (John 15:13-15). (http://bit.ly/inAp6G)

I think that this is what your generation longs for so desperately. As you put so eloquently in your post:

“The best teachers in my life create space for me. Their thoughts, their life, their questions, create a new reality for me, which points me to God. They aren’t troubled by my questions because their space can occupy the weight of it. They aren’t troubled by my pain and doubts, because their space can occupy the weight of it. The best teachers in my life have given me more space for God to occupy within me, because, the way God works within theirs, painfully and wonderfully opens its way into me.”

"The best teachers in my life create space for me. Their thoughts, their life, their questions, create a new reality for me, which points me to God."

Yet, as you also note, contemporary “education has become a product of consumerism… if our teachers are wrong, then our worth as students comes from believing their wrong beliefs? …In my short life, I don’t learn by being told to consume. I learn from being wrecked by reality. We learn by being present to God, to ourselves and others.”

Socrates could not have said it any better!

Plus, I think you would be encouraged to know that you are not alone. Last week I spent two days at a elite gathering of Christian college presidents and academic vice-presidents who were voicing many of the same concerns you are raising. (Plus a few more.) We universally affirmed that our current consumer oriented, indoctrination obsessed, anti-supernaturally biased, and culturally irrelevant approach is failing. Our current way of doing “Christian Education” has done little more than produce a generation of “moralistic, therapeutic deists.”

 

We need a revolutionary movement of schools, and churches, committed, not to consumerism, but to equipping students to think and act throughout a lifetime of personal transformation into the image of Christ, and societal transformation in every realm of culture.

We need a revolutionary movement of schools, and churches, committed, not to consumerism, but to equipping students to think and act throughout a lifetime of personal transformation into the image of Christ, and societal transformation in every realm of culture.  Students who know the story of Scripture, have experienced that story in their own lives, and who can translate that story to a world in need of the kingdom of God.

Schools devoted to biblically faithful, spiritually dynamic, intellectually challenging, relationally connected, culturally resonant, and missionally directed higher education. Schools whose executive leadership, faculty, and staff strive to live and teach in a Christ-like manner. At the conclusion of our time together, the group decided to team up to write a document that could foster a worldwide conversation toward creating such a revolutionary movement among our peers.

So Mike, I beseech you and your generation not to give up on Christian education, but instead to join us in this conversation (your post is a great start). Without your help and the help of the best in your generation, this conversation is doomed to failure. But if we can pray, and seek the voice of God together, who knows what great and mighty things he might say to us. I believe that the cry of His heart is to grant us new approaches to education that are exceedingly, abundantly above all we could even imagine. Yet, I also believe that this new day will come only if we listen “to his power that is at work within US” together!

I love you, brother!

Gary

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Your response to Mike and me?