A Mission to the University: Part 2 of Engaging the University

Tom Grosh IV —  June 5, 2013 — Leave a comment

Dr Vinoth Ramachandra serves on the International Fellowship of Evangelical Students (IFES) Senior Leadership Team as Secretary for Dialogue & Social Engagement.

Part 2 of Vinoth Ramachandra‘s Engaging the University (21:22) is packed. After exploring the broad topics of funding’s push toward instrumentalism, the fragmentation of campus academic life by global communication, and the lack of “any coherent master narrative for a central point of reference . . . to evaluate the relationship of . . . parcels of knowledge to other parcels or to weigh their relative importance,” Ramachandra considers three challenges which Christians face in engaging the university:

  • Evangelistic/pastoral challenge: “There are many outstanding thinkers in our university with a global influence who have never been exposed to a robust Christian faith which they can respect intellectually either because they’ve never come across Christians in their universities who love God with their minds and engaged them in serious thinking about God or they have never been exposed to the best Christian learning in their particular academic field of study.”
    • Comment: As a campus minister for the past seventeen years, I found Ramachandra’s exploration of Jonathan Rowles’ loss of faith during World War II particularly convicting. Please continue to share with the Emerging Scholars Network how we may pray for, encourage and equip you (and your colleagues) in this area by email and/or commenting below.
  • Raising a Christian voice not only with intellect, but also with charity: “The various disciplines of the academic university are best thought of as enduring social practices into which students are inducted and to which some of them may contribute if they stay long enough to do research. . . . As social practices that constitute human traditions which are open to reshaping and growth through complex processes involving both internal debates and external criticisms. Christians receive these academic disciplines as gifts from God to humanity. They are expressions of His common grace. ‘If we hold the Spirit of God to be the only source of truth,’ wrote John Calvin in his Institutes, ‘we will neither reject nor despise the truth wherever it may reveal itself, lest we offend the Spirit of God.’ If Jesus Christ is indeed the Lord of the university, then those who submit to His Lordship have a distinctive voice to bring to all of these traditions of discourse. This implies that Christian professors and students take the trouble to undergo a Christian formation and sensibility immersing themselves in the Biblical Christian tradition as well as familiarizing themselves with a history of Christian thought that bears on their particular discipline. An alternative would be to have regular relationship with an academic theologian who can guide one in this process. . . .”
    • E.g., “Interrogating the taken for granted assumptions about human nature and human flourishing and opening up space for alternative voices to be heard. . . . questioning the standard story that is told in undergraduate classes about the historical development of the university and its disciplines.”
      • Comment 1: Don’t miss Ramachandra’s consideration of human rights discourse and the challenge to academic theologians “to converse across the boundaries that are set-up in the university.” Let’s “take the trouble to undergo a Christian formation and sensibility immersing themselves in the Biblical Christian tradition as well as familiarizing themselves with a history of Christian thought that bears on their particular discipline.”
      • Comment 2: I find too large a credibility gap between Christians in Christian educational institutions (colleges, universities, seminaries) and the larger academic culture (including Christians faculty, ministries, and students at ‘secular’ institutions). This must be spanned and I desire the Emerging Scholars Network to be a part of such an endeavor through blogging, Facebook, local hubs, seminars, and special events/conferencing. As you have recommendations and/or a desire to participate in such endeavors, please contact me.
    • E.g., “Universities not only enable creativity and foster love for learning, but they also promote isolation and compartmentalization, prideful ambition, one-upmanship, snobbery, petty jealousies, and bitter rivalries. And Jesus Christ judges a scholar based on these temptations, even more than on the excellence of his overall intellectual achievements. This means that we must attend to what is happening to our souls, our characters even as we are shaped by the culture of the university and for this we often need those outside of the university, particularly the local churches to speak to us honestly.”
      • Comment: Father, forgive us. May we as Christ-followers spur one-another on in embracing the narrow way of salvation, running the way of God’s commandments with expanded hearts and unspeakable sweetness of love; so that never departing from His guidance and persevering in the Body of Christ in His doctrine till death, we may by patience share in the sufferings of Christ, and be found worthy to be coheirs with Him of His kingdom. To God be the glory!*
  • Defending the human: Resisting the biological reductionism which combines neurological imaging of the human brain with the popular pseudoscience of evolutionary psychology.
    • Comment: A significant topic which spills over into Part 3. I encourage you to invite others to listen and discuss.

More from the 2012 Henry Martyn Lectures coming. If you have not already done such, I encourage you to download, listen to and discuss with Christian colleagues/friends the presentations by Dr. Vinoth Ramachandra.

*Note: Currently running a Christian Devotional Classics series on the ESN Facebook Wall, the most recent post is No murmuring, drawn from The Rule of Saint Benedict.

Tom Grosh IV

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Enjoys daily conversations regarding living out the Biblical Story with his wife Theresa, four girls, around the block, at Elizabethtown Brethren in Christ Church (where he hosts the Christian Scholar Series), on campus as part of InterVarsity Graduate & Faculty Ministry (serving fellowships such as the Christian Medical Society/CMDA at Penn State College of Medicine), online as the Associate Director of the Emerging Scholars Network, in the culture at large, and in God's creation.

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