The Identity that Endures and Grows
What are the implications of the incarnation (God with us) for graduate students, one of the central doctrines of the Christian faith. What of their identity, their posture and their voice on campus? Incarnation is “where God’s eternity and creation’s temporality meet” (D. Stephen Long, Speaking of God, p. 86). There is no simple answer, but it is great territory to explore, good sod to turn over. There is a language to recover, golden insight and a new experience of self to be discovered.
Silence is clearly not the answer, although it is often our default position. We drop down into silence, dumb down our views and shrink inside. Sometimes, it seems that we need to offer one another the permission to think and speak religiously, biblically and theologically at UBC (while in language exile), to open the intellectual windows on a Closed World Order or ethos. Why is God talk so unpopular, so hush hush? What is the point of this? We propose to offer some resistance to the policing of the supernatural by a secular outlook in our language usage and thought processes. Do you feel that you have to self-edit your comments in seminars, lab and class—to avoid the offense of theistic references. Is this a good, appropriate or just situation?
Many university folks think that religious conversation should be kept to the private or personal sphere (keep it in church), since religious language is seen to be beyond reason (mere emotion/sentiment or for some superstition), while our university linguistic currency is evidence, reason, statistics and science. Is this a legitimate state of affairs or one to which we should submit? Many Christian students do just this; they believe that they cannot speak about God in a sophisticated world like UBC, University of Victoria or SFU without being marginalized by peers or professors. I sympathize; it happened to me as a first year undergrad in science at Queen’s.
But we want to ask: Why should Christian faith be labelled fideism (irrational or arational commitment, one that is not open to critical discussion and debate)? This is a harsh stereotype, one out of touch with the massive, available Christian scholarly reflection. We need to call into question this closed world positioning, the one that disallows speaking well and wisely the language of God in the university. How do we proceed to help one another to build a new conversation, a new discourse that does not eliminate God, but also takes other scholarship seriously? This is at the heart of the GCU quest.
In speaking with one UBC professor, he suggested that it is best that we let ourselves be known as a Christian believer among our colleagues, professors and even the students we teach at the earliest possible opportunity. We are aware of some of the discretion and alienation worries. As a Christian academic in English, he wants to know who the Christian students are at UBC, especially those in his classes. He also helps undergrads address any unacceptable prejudice or bias by professors against a Christian paper. The code of silence doesn’t work for him. He suggested that it was also pertinent for non-Christians to know who the Christian students are in their department and classes. Who would they go to if they had a religious question? This is a minimum to open the God conversation that rides below the surface, that so influences the history of the West and now the global community.
If in fact Jesus is the wisdom of God and the power of God, the reason, the telos or goal of everything, it would be wrong to keep this a secret. If we are able to say ‘Jesus is Lord’ with respect to our studies and our relationships (Romans 8), that will begin to transform them and give us fresh motivation, creativity and energy. This is a highly fruitful experiment to run. Opportunity to speak for God with confidence will arise.
N. T. Wright articulates this hopeful posture in his book Simply Christian:
Made for spirituality we wallow in introspection. Made for joy, we settle for pleasure. Made for justice, we clamor for vengeance. Made for relationship, we insist on our own way. Made for beauty, we are satisfied with sentiment. But new creation has already begun. The sun has begun to rise. Christians are called to leave behind in the tomb of Jesus Christ, all that belongs to the brokenness and incompleteness of the present world. It is time, in the power of the Spirit, to take up our proper role, our full human role as agents, heralds, and stewards of the new day that is dawning. That, quite simply, is what it means to be Christian: to follow Jesus Christ into the new world, God’s new world, which he has thrown open before us.
If we are able to say that ‘Jesus is Lord’ with respect to our studies, our lives and our relationships (Romans chapters 8 and 12), that will begin to transform us and give us fresh motivation, creativity and joy. It will take a lifetime to explore its implications to the full, but graduate school is a good place to start. We need wisdom and endurance every day to discern our research. Wisdom as articulated in the Proverbs is an intensely practical method of thinking and living more fruitfully. The cultivation of wisdom is continuously a valuable quest in all arenas of life.
We have been on a journey in this discussion to escape from nihilism’s grip, and now to discover our passion and re-settle our priorities in a more mysterious, beautiful and adventure filled world. Creation is the first and last word in the Bible and it is grounded in love. It is God’s creation and his renewal of creation that fascinates—a new heaven and a new earth is promised in John’s Revelation. We are called to climb this mountain, with full view of the virtues in front of us, while climbing the academic and career ladder. Our goal, over several decades, in Graduate Christian Union and the Graduate and Faculty Christian Forum at UBC, plus our wider network, has been to support and inspire the vision of graduate students. Many have gone on to great accomplishments while taking their faith seriously. They held onto their university ideals and carried the vision forward. They held on to both faith and reason.
Now the baton is passed to you as current graduate students. Test these ideas and claims, extend the concepts, run the experiment and become an entrepreneur of meaningful dialogue, character depth and strategic action. We are called to think and read deeply and widely. Find wise people to mentor you and wear out their doorstep, whether through reading their books or personal contact. It is also important to look for someone to mentor in agape love and incarnational humanism. Reflect often on what is good, excellent and praiseworthy. Live without shame, live vulnerably and wholeheartedly. Seek out joy and live with gratitude for the unique gift that is your daily opportunity. Learn the art of hospitality and become a great and generous soul like Dr. Hill, a faithful presence in your circle of influence, and a promoter of shalom. Go the extra mile in all your relationships, pursue the good and do the right thing, even if it is sometimes the hardest thing.
Relater Article from Kuyper Centre University of Western Ontario: http://www.cardus.ca/comment/article/3460/pursuing-holistic-discipleship-on-campus/
Further Help on Building Dialogue on Campus: The Great Escape from Nihilism: recovering our passion in late modernity. By Dr. Gordon E. Carkner