Following Jesus at the University: Our Four Ministry Commitments in Context, InterVarsity’s Graduate and Faculty Ministries

The beginning of the new academic year is a great time to revisit our core commitments and be renewed in our excitement about them. ESN is a ministry of InterVarsity’s Graduate and Faculty Ministries (GFM). We encourage students and faculty to live out GFM’s Four Commitments for ministry: Spiritual Formation; Community; Evangelism and Service; and Integration of Faith, Learning, and Practice. Today, GFM Campus Staff Member David Suryk shares his vision for how these commitments work out in the context of campus ministry in the university. Thank-you David. To God be the glory! ~ Tom Grosh IV, Associate Director, Emerging Scholars Network

Some of the Contexts include:

  • “In Christ” together as part of God’s One New Humanity
  • In the University and academic disciplines as Christian communities
  • In relationship with the other of our GFM Ministry Commitments: The Gospel is a royal announcement. It is the good news that the Jesus revealed in the Scriptures has been raised from the dead and reigns now as the world’s true Lord and King over everyone and everything. God thus summons all the peoples of the world—including all those at every university—to give allegiance to this Lord Jesus and to begin re-ordering their lives accordingly as members of his Church, as part of God’s One New Humanity in Christ for the sake of the world. This same Lord Jesus returns to Judge the world with justice and to renew all things “in heaven and on earth.” The Gospel is Good News because this Jesus is King.

1. Christian Spiritual formation. We continuously are being spiritually formed and shaped as persons by the many cultures that have made us who we are to this point in our lives. Our graduate and professional school education and our academic disciplines continue to shape us, consciously as well as unconsciously. Christian spiritual formation requires learning how we are being spiritually formed in ways that shape our loves and desires toward and away from the kingdom of God, toward and away from the love of God and our neighbors. Christian spiritual formation thus has a telos or final goal, which is Christlikeness in all that we are and do as members of God’s New Humanity. And so, it requires thoughtful intentionality in “putting on Christ” or the “new self” which is being re-created in the image of God’s Son as members of his One New Humanity.

2. Christian Community. We seek to establish Christian community among graduate and professional students, and among faculty members at the University. Our Christian fellowships are neither replacements for the local church nor are they para-church ministries. Rather they are para-academy Christian communities within the University that live out the new and alternative way of life in Christ together. We also seek to provide welcome space for both followers of the Lord Jesus and for those not yet his followers so that we might better learn who Jesus is and what it means to follow him as Lord. And so, we seek to be faithfully present in the University as distinctly Christian communities that bear witness to the good news that Jesus is Lord and how to follow him in a life of growing faithfulness.

3. Integration of faith, learning and practice. Lifelong following Christ requires bringing all aspects of our lives under Christ’s lordship as members of his One New Humanity and not least our teaching and scholarship. We are interested in doing evangelism largely in part so that those who study, do research and teach at the University will begin to integrate their faith, learning and practice “in Christ” as his followers. We might say that this means taking off the old academic self and putting on the new academic self. We are also interested in doing Christian scholarship that participates in bringing flourishing to the university and academic disciplines to participate in God’s will being done on earth as it is in heaven. And so, integration of Christian faith, learning and practice is a crucial aspect of who we are as followers of Christ in every academic discipline and calling.

4. Christian Witness. Christian witness involves being faithfully present in every corner of the University as followers of the Lord Jesus Christ. We believe that God is already at work in the lives of many of our colleagues and friends who are not yet followers of the Lord. We also believe that he desires to use us to help them learn who Jesus is and what it means to follow him as Lord in all aspects of life. Evangelism is thus an essential practice for God’s people at the University. And so, we seek to join the spiritual journeys of some of those in our departments and research groups with the goal of helping them become followers of the Lord Jesus for the first time with a view to being lifelong members of his Church, of his One New Humanity.

David Suryk [Rev. 08-09-17]

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David Suryk

David Suryk has served InterVarsity with Graduate and Faculty Ministries (GFM) since 1991 at the University of Illinois at Urbana where he also did his graduate work in philosophy. He says he’s a recovering analytic philosopher. He seeks to help GFM be faithful to our calling to the University among graduate students and faculty and especially in the area of the Gospel, Jesus and evangelism. He enjoys woodworking and home remodeling as well as using graduate students to help with these projects.

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    Kevin Offner commented on September 4, 2017 Reply

    As a fellow InterVarsity Grad-Faculty staff worker, I find this from David Suryk quite helpful. David has a great way of highlighting the truly GOOD news of the gospel!

    However, I find one piece strangely absent. There is nothing mentioned anywhere here of the call to “repent”. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is Good News, in part, because it is God’s antidote to the Bad News of our sin. Indeed, Jesus begins his ministry with the words, “The kingdom of God has come near. Repent and believe the good news!” (Mk. 1:15)

    So “repentance” should have a place in the different four ministry commitments that we have in InterVarsity. For example, in Spiritual Formation, part of our growth in Christ is “putting to death” our old selves (see Rom.6:12-14 and Eph. 4:22). And part of “Christian Witness” is calling people to repent of their idols and instead embrace the good news of Jesus Christ.

    In no way does this necessarily mean those of us who are Christians in the Academy ought to foam at the mouth, telling our non-Christian friends that they are going to hell! And I appreciate David’s attempt here to focus on the positive–the good news of the gospel–rather than the negative. But I think it’s not an either-or proposition here. The Good News especially stands out in light of the bad news.

    As we seek to hold to a creation-fall-redemption-consumation worldview, by all means let’s not major on the “Fall” aspect. This is what evangelicals-Fundamentalists of yesteryear have done in spades! But let’s not over-react to this imbalance, either, by downplaying sin and the imperative of repentance.

    I say all of this not as some rebuke to my friend David, but simply as a, hopefully, helpful addition.

    Kevin Offner
    InterVarsity Grad & Faculty Staff in Metro Washington, DC


    David Suryk commented on September 4, 2017 Reply

    Thanks, Kevin! Indeed, repentance is at the heart of the change Jesus summons all peoples too. The word “repent” wasn’t expressly mentioned but the full content of repentance and faith was definitely addressed: In light of the fact that this Jesus is the risen Lord, “God thus summons all the peoples of the world—including all those at every university—to give their allegiance to this Lord Jesus and to begin re-ordering their lives accordingly as members of his Church, as part of God’s One New Humanity in Christ for the sake of the world. This same Lord Jesus returns to Judge the world with justice and to renew all things ‘in heaven and on earth.’”

    So there is a summons to change allegiance to Jesus and to begin re-ordering their lives accordingly. This is what “repent and believe” means. Repentance and faith clearly have a central and vital place in our Four Ministry Commitments. Repentance is properly a change of allegiance to Jesus.

    Have you seen Matthew W. Bates’s excellent book, Salvation by Allegiance Alone: Rethinking Faith, Works, and the Gospel of Jesus the King? It’s a necessary corrective to the commonly-understood notion of “faith.” My only corrective to Bates’s excellent book is to draw attention that we give allegiance to Jesus and not to propositions about Jesus. We see this corrective for example in the Apostles’s Creed that says “I believe in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son, our Lord, who…” Repentance is switching allegiance to this Jesus, the one who is God’s only Son, our Lord who (and fill in the great predicates concerning our Lord).

    David Suryk commented on September 4, 2017 Reply

    I guess I’ll add one final comment. The words “repent” and “repentance” carry false content that I sought to avoid but not using the word. The false content has “repentance” meaning only confessing personal sins and receiving forgiveness for those. The biblical notion involves a change of direction with your entire life. In 1 Thessalonians 1:9-10, Paul doesn’t mention the word “repentance”: “For the people of those regions report about us what kind of welcome we had among you, and how you turned to God from idols, to serve a living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the wrath that is coming.” But repentance is exactly what Paul described.

    Kevin Offner commented on September 5, 2017 Reply

    Thanks, David, this is helpful, and I agree with what you write here.

    I think part of what you helpfully help us to do in your presentation of the gospel is to avoid the distinction that has plagued evangelicalism, at least here in America, for many decades in the past: Jesus as Savior or Jesus as Lord? I grew up with a kind of evangelicalism where one was encouraged to talk about Jesus as Savior…and then, later, begin talking about Jesus as Lord, but always careful to keep these two notions distinct and even separate.

    When talking about Jesus as Savior, it was all about getting one’s sins forgiven and restoring a right relationship with God through Christ. It tended to be forensic language, positional changes, imputed righteousness, etc. Then, once one got this straight, one could begin talking about Jesus’ lordship over one’s life. Repentance, when speaking of Jesus as Savior, had to do with getting sins forgiven, period; repentance, when speaking of Jesus as Lord, had to do with total change of allegiance and direction in life. There was the fear that mixing these two categories would lead to works-righteousness.

    But in understanding Jesus as both Savior and Lord (simultaneously!), we can then talk about “repentance” in the larger way, where the forensic and existential-practical are brought together.

    The Christ that we want to point our graduate students toward, and the One around whom our Fellowships should be ordered, is the cosmic Christ, the Creator of heaven and earth, the One in whom and for whom all things exist. The One who forgives our sins is the very Lord of the universe!

    Who knows, in this 500th year of the Reformation, maybe seeing Christ as simultaneously both Savior and Lord could help us see some of the Catholic-Protestant differences in a new light!

    David Suryk commented on September 5, 2017 Reply

    I remember reading the debate (decades after the fact) between John Stott and Charles Ryrie in Eternity Magazine, “Must Christ be Lord to be Saviour?” I didn’t grow up in an Evangelical denomination and avoided lots of the confusion you speak about. When I got involved in InterVarsity as a law student I started learning about the Lordship salvation issue. It seemed an odd debate to me. I of course sided with John Stott because he made the best case.

    Part of the problem, I later learned, was misreading Scripture, even systematically so. We start with our own understandings of words and concepts we see in the Bible and read those understandings into the Bible (eisogesis rather than exegesis). In the first-century world, to say Jesus is Savior was a challenge to the Roman claim that Caesar is Savior. What Evangelical Christians later did was take the word “Savior” and loaded it with personal sin and rescue content when in Jesus’s and Paul’s day, it meant something rather different and grander.

    The issue of Jesus’s day and ours too is still “Who is this Jesus?” And that question must be answered first from the horizon of the biblical world and culture and the cognitive environment of the people to whom the Gospels and letters were written. The Jesus we follow is the one who first come to Israel to accomplish all the promises Yahweh had made to Israel so that all the peoples (nations) of the world might experience the promises he had made to Abraham and receive the Spirit.

    Much of American Evangelicalism has seen Jesus and the Gospel as primarily getting individuals right with God. And with that content for “gospel” in hand they struggle to connect that to racial reconciliation and the environment, for example. Why the struggle? Well, it started with a misunderstanding of the biblical Gospel. I’ll end this with the closing verses of Paul’s amazing letter to the Romans (16:25-27) and pay attention to how Paul characterized the his gospel noticing its implications for us Gentiles–

    “25 Now to God who is able to strengthen you according to my gospel and the proclamation of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery that was kept secret for long ages 26 but is now disclosed, and through the prophetic writings is made known to all the Gentiles, according to the command of the eternal God, to bring about the obedience of faith— 27 to the only wise God, through Jesus Christ, to whom be the glory for ever! Amen.”

    Kevin Offner commented on September 5, 2017 Reply


    You raise something that I think could make for an interesting topic for discussion with others on this blog.

    Many of us have grown, over the years, to be passionate for “social justice” issues. Racial reconciliation, caring for the poor, seeking laws that are fair and just for all, etc.

    And yet for many of us, we don’t want to equate our strong convictions here with “theological liberalism”. We know some in the broader Christian community who also are committed to social justice, but who, along with this, also affirm positions that are outside of historic Christian orthodoxy: denying Jesus Christ as the only way to salvation, understanding the Bible as important but not the authoritative Word of God, affirming sexual ethics that follow contemporary culture more than Scripture, etc.

    The historic root of this divide came at the turn of the 20th century when the “Fundamentalists” broke from the “liberals”. If forced to choose between saving people’s souls or bodies, the conservatives went with the former, and the liberals with the latter. What many of us are saying more loudly these days is that it’s not an either-or choice, but a both-and affirmation. And our theological reason for affirming both is due to a deeper understanding of the gospel and what “salvation” in Scripture is really all about (as David has so helpfully explained).

    So my question for any who are interested in chipping in is this: How can we who are “Evangelicals” (and I realize more and more are not comfortable with this word!) in fact boldly and unashamedly hold to both evangelism and social action? How can we be unapologetically “conservative” in our concern for the soul–may we never get too intellectually sophisticated that we are afraid to talk about everyone’s need to be ‘born again’, repenting of their (our!) sins, throwing themselves in totality on Christ for salvation, etc!–while simultaneously “liberal” in our concern for social justice (and not in a way that merely mimics the Democratic Party in the kinds of social justice issues that are, and aren’t, embraced)?

    My experience with Christians in higher education is this. More and more Christian grad students are moving towards social justice concerns…but in the process, are moving away from strong convictions about evangelism. In their (right) desire to move away from an all-that-really-matters-is-the-soul mindset, they sometimes go too far in the other direction…and end up embracing more of the theologically-liberal mindset, in a way that downplays or ignores talking to friends about the need to be born again. (This movement sometimes corresponds politically in the following way: in one’s desire to be crystal clear that one can be an Evangelical and NOT a Republican, many are now making the opposite mistake in aligning themselves sometimes inextricably with the Democratic Party.)

    I’d be interested in hearing stories of folks who have found some success, or at least some inner peace and harmony, in holding firmly to a concern for BOTH another’s soul and body–in other words, a concern for the whole person. Our goal is not simply to get others to “pray the prayer to ask Jesus into their hearts,” but neither is it simply to seek out social justice in some generic, one-dimensional kind of way. Our goal must be to encourage everyone (ourselves included) to bow before the Lord Jesus Christ in his totality, which involves a “personal” getting right with God, but includes getting right with God on the social plane as well, in ways that are often termed, “social justice”.

    It would be great to hear from others on this, if you have time! (My bigger concern in this email is theological, not political. So perhaps we could focus our comments on the theological.)

    David Suryk commented on September 5, 2017 Reply

    Too much to interact with on this. But many of the issues raised involve missteps in what the Gospel (or, Paul’s Gospel, anyway) is. That’s been my point for many years now. For example, take this question/issue–”‘Evangelicals’ (and I realize more and more are not comfortable with this word!) in fact boldly and unashamedly hold to both evangelism and social action?” This assumes a particular understanding of evangelism. The assumption is that evangelism has to do with personal sins and salvation, whereas the biblical concern is about calling non-followers of the Lord Jesus to become his followers for the first time. Followers of Jesus is the payoff, not personal salvation. We are saved individually for the sake of a new life of obedience (obedience is, by the way, a hugely missing dimension of most “evangelism presentations”).

    This new life of obedience challenges the old life of disobedience (that’s a Pauline way of putting it). Social justice is one thing that followers of the Lord Jesus are to pursue IN THIS LIFE even as we look forward to the day when, in the renewal of all things, the Lord Jesus returns to put all things to right (see language such as bring down the haughty and raise up the humble, etc.). Evangelism is crucial to reorient disobedient non-followers of Jesus to becoming new obedient followers of Jesus in ways that reflect the new way of life for God’s people. Again, once evangelism is misunderstood to be about “saving souls” (that sounds very righteous and holy but actually is not), we miss out on the real goal of evangelism: creating new persons/creations who pursue the new life now and in the age to come.

    Think of evangelism more about redirecting persons from pursuing false gods and following false ways of life (idolatry) and toward living now as God’s one new humanity (that is, the new humanity that no longer is marked out as Jew and Gentile, male or female, slave or free) but by our common faith in the one Lord Jesus Christ and filled by one Holy Spirit, etc. This is all explicitly Paul’s understanding of the new humanity. Social justice is what followers of Jesus care about because they follow this Lord Jesus and not some Western (and typically white) cultural Jesus. There are so-called Christians who want to preserve the status quo (dare we say privilege? Yes! For that is why some people care about the status quo) by focusing the Gospel and evangelism on savings souls to avoid the messy work of following Jesus in a world of systemic injustice in a once Christian nation. Again, to confess Jesus is Lord is a political statement. And if Jesus is Lord, that means whatever in culture that opposes his rule will be judged and found wanting. We must carefully remind ourselves of Matthew 7:21— “Not everyone who says to me, ‘Lord, Lord’, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven.” Much of the American church has forgotten the “but only one who does the will of my Father in heaven” part because they worry about “works righteousness” which again, is a misstep in understanding the Christian faith, which misstep creeps into their evangelism (“it’s not about works but just believing in Jesus”). If the will of Father is what Jesus said it is, then woe (and literally, woe) to those who confess Christ as Lord but fail to do the will of the Father. I think that is my biggest worry about many of those who confess Jesus as Lord but who then publicly out themselves by their comments and actions that betray their real allegiance.

    A final thought. “Evangelical” is a Western cultural construct, by the way, and it baffles me why so many spend so much time trying to rehabilitate it.

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