A Missiology for the Academy (2): Five Reasons the Universities Matter

1. The Universal Nature of Christ’s Lordship

Jesus Christ is Lord over the academy, just as he is Lord over everything else, and this Lordship is best understood in relation to three great truths. First, God created us as the type of beings who teach and learn. He endowed us with the spiritual, moral, rational, creative, relational, and physical capacities necessary for education. Repeatedly Scripture emphasizes teaching and learning (e.g., Deut. 6:4-6; Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 4:11-12).

Second, academic activity is marked by a great antithesis. After the fall, humans have lived in the midst of a great struggle between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, between Christ and Satan, and between truth and error. These invisible realities, represented by certain principalities and powers, are manifested in visible, tangible cultural realities such as relativism in ethics, Darwinism in biology, or Marxism in economics. This great struggle between light and darkness cuts across the entire creation and every human culture. Christians should resist this comprehensive assault on our shared cultural life. We should fight it tooth and nail, not only from the pulpit, but also from the lectern.

Third, academic activity takes place within ordered realms which have their own creational design. Human cultures can be divided into a variety of realms—such as art, science, business, politics, and education—which have their own creational design and God-given integrity. These realms correspond to the various disciplines within the university. Because we live in a fallen world comprised of sinners, these academic disciplines (and their corresponding cultural counterparts) will be to some extent corrupted and directed toward wrong ends. In each academic discipline, we should ask three questions: What is God’s creational design for this realm? In what ways has this realm been corrupted and misdirected toward wrong ends? How can I bring healing to this realm by redirecting it toward God’s creational design in Christ? To the extent we engage our academic disciplines with those questions in mind, we glorify God and provide our neighbors a preview of God’s future rule over a renewed and restored creation.

In other words, academic activity should take place under the absolute Lordship of Christ. Christ is the creator and King over all things, and one day will restore all things. He is not merely the Lord over my quiet times; he is Lord over my work, my leisure, and my civil life. He is not merely sovereign over local church gatherings; he is the Lord over artistic, scientific, political, entrepreneurial, and scholarly endeavors. No piece of our (“secular”) life is to be sealed off from Christ’s lordship. Every square inch of it belongs to Christ and ought to be made to honor him. Missional Christians not only proclaim the gospel with words, they promote it in their academic and cultural lives.

2. The Powerful Influence of the University

In the United States and in many other countries, the university serves as the environment in which many or most of the country’s leaders are shaped. These future scientists, filmmakers, Supreme Court justices, journalists, and billionaire entrepreneurs often receive their most formative “worldview moments” as they are students on a college campus. In many countries, including our own, these 18-year-olds are taught by faculty members who seek consciously, carefully, and consistently to undermine everything that Christians hold true and dear.

3. The Readily Receptive Mind-Set of University Students

The third point overlaps with the second. Universities are full of students in their late teens and early twenties who are waiting to be instructed and inspired. Very likely, the path they choose in college is the path they’ll remain upon for the rest of their lives. Osama bin Laden embraced jihadism largely because he found himself mesmerized by Professor Abdullah Azzam when bin Laden was a young student at King Abdul Aziz University in Saudi Arabia. Friedrich Nietzsche forsook Christ during studies at the University of Bonn. Hundreds of thousands of students continue to reject Christianity, or never encounter the Christian faith, precisely because the professors who capture their imaginations and who shape their worldviews are unbelievers.

4. The Breadth of Christ’s Atonement

Evangelicals sometimes embrace a sort of reverse snobbery directed towards the cultural elite, especially against professors and students in Ivy League schools and top-tier major state institutions. Because we’re not included in their “club,” we say in effect “to hell with ‘em.” But Christ died on behalf of the cultural elite, just as he died for the middle and lower classes. In fact, when we take an anti-elitist mentality—and Baptists often have adopted this mentality—we’re being quintessentially American, but not quintessentially Christian.

5. The Danger of Split-Level Christianity

At the university, young impressionable students study under opinionated and brilliant professors. These professors shape their students’ worldviews in ways the students don’t even notice. Even if these students are believers, or if they later become believers, they may unconsciously hold a non-Christian worldview while at the same time professing Christ as Savior. When talking about “spiritual” matters, they will sound like Christians, but when talking about anything “cultural” they’ll likely sound like their professors. This sort of split-level Christianity is exactly what we must avoid. If Christ is Lord, then he is Lord over everything; he is not just Lord over our prayer time and church attendance, but also our university studies and future vocations.online mobi

A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 10: End Times)

A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 10: End Times)

Note: This series of posts deals with the relationship between doctrine and practice in general, and between theology and missiology in particular. It argues that sound theology should provide the starting point, trajectory, and parameters for missiological practice. It seeks a “theologically-driven” missiology both for the United States and international contexts.

Eschatology, as much as any other doctrine, undergirds the theory and practice of mission. As Russ Moore points out in A Theology for the Church, “All of Christian theology points toward an end-an end where Jesus overcomes the satanic reign of death and restores God’s original creation order.” Indeed, “In Scripture the eschaton is not simply tacked on to the gospel at the end. It is instead the vision toward which all of Scripture is pointing-and the vision that grounds the hope of the gathered church and the individual believer. In the face of death, we see faith, hope, and love. This is what we mean when we speak of Christian eschatology-the study of the last things or ultimate matters.”

The doctrine of the end times is broad-ranging, but because of the limited scope of this post, I will address only three aspects of this doctrine, and then point the way toward a missiological appropriation. We will begin with personal eschatology, speaking to the missiological implications of death, heaven, and hell. Next, we will treat cosmic eschatology, speaking to the destiny of the nations and the promise of a new heaven and earth.

The Great Divide

The Christian Scriptures instruct us about death, heaven, and hell. To be concise to the extreme, we may say that death entered the world because of sin (Rom 5:12) and is a tool of Satan’s (Heb 2:14-15). It is appointed to man once to die, and then the judgment. After death, he enters into either eternal damnation or eternal bliss. Eternal torment awaits for those who die apart from Christ (Mt 5:22; 8:12), while eternal bliss is the reward of those who are in Christ (Rev 21:2-4).

This is a difficult doctrine, but a necessary one as it is taught clearly in the Scriptures. Furthermore, it is a great motivator for the Christian and for the church. The Christian must hold three truths together in tension: (1) There is no name other than Christ by which men are saved, and all men who die apart from Christ abide in eternal torment. (2) There are countless millions of people who have practically no access to the gospel, and another two billion who have very little access. They could search for days, weeks, and months, and never find a Bible, a Christian, or a church. (3) We, as believers, have the awesome privilege and responsibility of proclaiming to them the good news. More to the point, those of us in the West have more capacity to proclaim the gospel than Christians in any other part of the globe or at any other time in history.

It is difficult to apprehend and affirm these three truths and choose not to act. Once we hold these three truths in tension, we are faced with a decision. Will we act on the implications of these three truths? There are those who have not heard the gospel; without Christ they will go to Christless eternity; we are able to take the gospel to them. Our response tends to fall into one of three categories: (1) We may change our belief system by rejecting the biblical teaching that salvation comes through Christ alone, in order to ease our conscience. (2) We may ignore these truths, so that our conscience may rest more easily. (3) We may take these truths to heart by offering ourselves to take the gospel to the nations, by building Great Commission churches and seminaries who will take the gospel to the nations, and by praying for and supporting those who do.

The Nations

The Scriptures also have, as a point of focus, the destiny of the nations. The teaching of Christian Scripture is that the gospel will be proclaimed to the whole world: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come” (Mt 24:14). But it is not only that the gospel will be proclaimed. It is also that this gospel is powerful to save worshippers from among all tribes, tongues peoples, and nations: “You are worthy…For you were slain, and have redeemed us to God by Your blood out of every tribe and tongue and people and nation.”

Th ingathering of the nations is not a tack-on to Christian doctrine; it is at the heart of God’s promises. The central promise in the Scriptures is that God would send Messiah, and tightly riveted to it is the promise that Messiah would win the nations unto Himself. God put His Son on the cross in order to purchase the nations. The ingathering of the nations is not an issue merely for the missiologists write about, or for professional missionaries to care about, or for churches to nod toward once a year during Lottie Moon. Rather it is central to all who are Christian because it is central to the work of Christ. We are to be instruments in God’s hands as He makes clear to the world that He is not a tribal deity. He is the Creator, King, and Savior of the nations and we will not know Him in His full splendor until we know Him as the King of the Nations.

The New Heavens & Earth

Finally, the Scriptures declare God’s promise of a new heavens and a new earth. Peter instructs us to “look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells” (2 Pet 3:13). John sees a vision in which there is a new heaven and a new earth, where there remains no pain or tears (Rev 21). And although this teaching does not get much air time in evangelical circles, it is no insignificant doctrine. Indeed, it is the doctrine of creation come full circle. The God who gave us the good creation of the Genesis narrative is the God who will give us a new heavens and a new earth.

In this new universe, God’s image bearers will experience neither sin nor its consequences. No longer will we use our rational capacities to speak falsehoods, or our creative capacities to construct idols. Never again will we use our relational capacities to suppress others and promote ourselves, our moral capacities to slander, rape, or murder. No longer will we live in an environment where tsunamis and floods destroy or where pollution poisons the ground and air. Never again will there be war or rumors of war.

Instead, we will live in unbroken relation with God, with others, with the new universe, and with ourselves. We will be “man fully alive,” man worshipping God in spirit and truth. But what does this doctrine of a new heavens and earth have to do with the mission of the church? Of the many implications, here are three:

First, we may use our God-given human capacities to glorify him in human culture, as a sign of what the new heavens and new earth will be like. We may flesh out the implications of the gospel for the arts, the sciences, and the public square. We may teach our children that it is an honorable thing to be an artist (writer, composer, singer, painter, graphic designer, etc.), a scientist (biologist, chemist, physicist, sociologist, anthropologist), or a participant in the public square (journalist, lawyer, politician, ethicist, educator).

Second, we may seek to glorify God in all of our callings. As Luther pointed out, the Christian has multiple callings, to workplace, family, church, and community. May we speak and live the gospel in all of those contexts so that the glory of God is not limited to the four walls of a church building, but instead is broadcast across every square inch of his universe.

Third, we may demonstrate that if there is anyone who cares about God’s good creation, it is the evangelical Christian. We do not care about it inordinately, or in the wrong way, but we do care. We have a different motivation than do most “environmentalists.” We recognize the creation as God’s good creation. We do not take the gift that God has given us and trash it recklessly. This is an insult to the God who made it and gave it to us to have dominion over it.


The promised Messiah has come, and He will come again to win the nations unto Himself and to reconcile all things unto Himself. He will do this because He loves the world (Jn 3:16-17). In His first coming, He provided the first fruits of that redemption and in the second coming he will provide the consummation of it.

We find ourselves living between those two comings, and the ramifications of this are multiple and significant. First, we must proclaim the gospel not only in Jerusalem, Judea, and Samaria, but also to the ends of the earth. Second, we must seek to glorify him in every facet of creation and culture, and in all of our multiple callings. This is because our God is worthy of worship, and that worship should not be limited or reduced to what happens once a week on Sunday mornings.

We look toward, and hope for, the day when we can join the chorus around the throne and sing, “Worthy is the Lamb who was slain to receive power and riches and wisdom, and strength and honor and glory and blessing!”

A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 6: Man)

A Theologically-Driven Missiology (Pt. 6: Man)

Note: This series of posts deals with the relationship between doctrine and practice in general, and between theology and missiology in particular. It argues that sound theology should provide the starting point, trajectory, and parameters for missiological practice. It seeks a “theologically-driven” missiology both for the United States and international contexts.

Apart from the Christian Scriptures, one cannot make sense of humanity. No religion, worldview, or philosophy is able to account for the unique nature, capacities, and ends of human existence. Inevitably, they tend toward either an enthronement or a denigration of humanity, unable to strike a proper balance. The atheists of the early Humanist Manifesto, for example, enthroned man; they spoke of him as if he is a god. Contemporary pagans, such as Peter Singer, denigrate man; they speak of man as if he is a mere animal.

The Scriptures, however, make clear that man has both a great humility and a great dignity. His great humility, on the one hand, is that he is not God; indeed, He is created for the express purpose of worshiping God. His great dignity, on the other hand, is that unlike the animals and the rest of the created order, he is created in God’s image. The significance of this is highlighted in the Genesis narrative. The writer signals to us that something of significance has happened-whereas every other living creature is created ‘according to its kind’ only man is created in the “image of God.”

Creation & Fall

At creation, we see a four-fold excellence in man’s relational capacity. He was in right relationship with God, with others, with the created order, and even with himself. There was shalom-a universal human flourishing, a right ordering of things, a divine peace. It was in this state of shalom that God instructed man to work the ground, to change and even enhance what God had made. Further, He instructed man to multiply and fill the earth. Man, therefore, is made to be both productive and reproductive.

However, after the Fall, man experienced the cataclysmic consequences of his rebellion; he was no longer in right relationship with God, with others, with the created order, or with himself. Beginning with Adam and Eve, every member of the human race has taken up arms and rebelled against God. The results have been devastating, wreaking havoc across the entire fabric of human life. All of our God-given capacities are corrupted by sin. Rationally, we have difficulty discerning the truth. Morally, we have difficulty discerning good and evil, and are unable to do the Good. Socially, we exploit others and seek our own good. Creatively, we use our imagination to create idols. The Fall, therefore, has caused a deep and pervasive distortion of God’s good creation.

One implication of this is that we should minister holistically. If God has given man manifold capacities with which to glorify Him (such as spirituality, morality, rationality, relationality, creativity, etc.) and if the Fall distorted and defaced these capacities, then we can take this into account in forming our understanding of the church’s mission. We may use all of our human capacities to minister to man in the wholeness of his humanity. We may seek to glorify God in the arts, the sciences, education, and the public square, as well as in the four walls where a church meets. We must teach our children to devote their intellectual and creative capacities to Christ, and not merely their spiritual and moral. We must teach them that “pastor” and “missionary” are not the only honorable callings for a godly child, that science, education, law, and journalism are also honorable callings.

As a result of the Fall, we no longer flourish in our relationships with God, with others, with the created order, and with ourselves:

Man and God

First our relationship with God is broken; we are serial idolaters, enemies of God, seeking goodness and happiness on our own, apart from Him. We are incurvatus se (Luther); we love ourselves inordinately (Augustine). Our wills are bent toward sin; we are dead in our trespasses. Of the many implications for our method, here is one:

If we are serial idolaters, enemies of God, and dead in our trespasses, then it will take something deep and powerful to save the people to whom we minister. If we are corrupted by sin “through and through”, then salvation is not a matter merely of intellectual assent. Therefore, we must avoid reductionist methods of evangelism and discipleship. We must proclaim the whole gospel of Christ. Salvation comes through Christ alone, and knowledge of Christ comes through the proclamation of the Scriptures. We must proclaim the Gospel according to the Scriptures as we seek to see God break up the ground of hard hearts.

Man and Others

Second, our relationship with others is broken; rather than serving and loving our fellow man, our relationships are marked by interpersonal and societal ugliness. There is hardly a more proven fact than the human badness found in our world-abuse, divorce, rape, war, incest, gossip, slander, murder, deceit, etc. The church should take note that her mission includes the modeling of a more excellent way; a watching world should know us by our love one for another.

Man and the Created Order

Third, our relationship with the created order is broken; rather than unbroken harmony and delight, there is pain and misery. One implication of this for the church is that we ought to use the brokenness of the created order to minister. Natural disasters are signposts that point to the brokenness of the natural order. We can use this signpost to proclaim the gospel, by teaching the gospel according to the Scriptures. In other words, we don’t simply tell hurting and suffering people “Jesus loves you.” We describe how the world was created without such evil, that such evil entered the world because of sin, and that one day there will be a new heavens and earth where there is no more sin and no more evil. We also act upon the privilege of ministering to the physical needs of our fellow image-bearers, demonstrating the love about which we speak.

Man and Himself

Fourth, we are alienated even from ourselves. We live in direct opposition to the purpose of our own existence, to the good that God has offered us. Man’s alienation from himself is another signpost that points to the brokenness of God’s good creation. Again, we can use this signpost to declare the gospel. Take, for example, the despair that many experience at the apparent meaninglessness of life. The person who despairs may be a philosophical nihilist, a victim of sexual abuse, or merely a person who senses that his life lacks purpose. The gospel answers this concern by showing man that he is created in the image of God, that his purpose in life is to glorify God, and that this purpose is not at odds with his own deepest satisfaction. Happiness, in its deepest sense, comes from being conformed to the image of the Son (Rom 8:29), who Himself is the image of God (Col 1:15). It is only in this manner that man can be fully man, and therefore, fully alive.


We must plant churches that seek to glorify God in every conceivable manner. These churches will realize the deep and pervasive effects of the Fall on the human heart, and preach a deep and powerful gospel message. They will use all of the God-given capacities they possess (moral, relational, rational, creative, etc.) to minister to fallen man. They will proclaim the gospel not only when the church is gathered (the church’s corporate worship) but when it is scattered (through vocation and through the various dimensions of human society and culture). They will seek to minister not only to the common man, but also to the educated, the affluent, and the powerful. And in doing these things, in proclaiming and modeling God’s gospel to His good world, they are glorifying Him and enjoying Him now and forever.