21 Nov Your campus – why should you care ?
I have spent the last 36 years on college campuses – first as a student and later as a teacher. Over the years, I’ve had my view of the campus altered by God (primarily through His Word). What began as a place for me to get a degree and leave, has become my home! What began with a compartmentalized view – where my studies and my involvement in “God’s work” were in separate compartments – has now changed to see all of my life on campus as doing God’s work. The process has been slow, partly due to my slowness to grasp how God views my life and the campus, and partly because there was very little input into my life both before college and also during my college years regarding these matters. It was only after I left the country, during my PhD, that I came across the idea that my work (studies) matters to God! I discovered that ‘this is my Father’s world’, as the hymn writer puts it and so His Sovereignty runs through the whole of creation including my research! I began to realize that, while sharing the good news of the saving grace of Jesus was important work, so was my engineering. I could not miss classes to ‘do God’s work’ – my being in class was ‘doing God’s work’ in that time and place. Even today, many tend to take exception to the idea that faithfulness to their studies is as important as faithfulness to their involvement in the EU. The reason, as many others would agree and argue, is that we have this sort of a compartmentalized view that has to do with poor theology – a poor understanding of Scripture and of God! Of course, over the course of history, many have grasped the relationship between the ordinariness of our lives and the extraordinariness of God’s interest in it! To quote Abraham Kuiper (former prime minister of the Netherlands and a theologian), “There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry, Mine!”
If that is true, then how should we as Christians live out our lives on our campuses? The particulars may (and actually, should) vary from campus to campus since each of our campuses is different. But the basic ideas remain the same. Does God have something to say about what is happening on our campus? Is the Bible relevant at all in our 21st century campuses? It is often amusing, but mostly depressing, to see how poorly understood the 3rd Aim of UESI is! At best, we seem to latch on to the phrase, “raise a testimony” and then instruct people on how to share their testimony on campus! That is so far from the intent of the 3rd Aim, for if that was indeed what our forefathers in UESI envisioned, then what do we do with the 1st Aim? The word, testimony, as used here is perhaps better understood as testimonial or remembrance or monument (thus, raise a testimony!). To what is the student or staff or graduate called to raise a testimony? To the historic truths of the Christian faith – nothing fancy, nothing novel, nothing innovative – but the basic historic truths of the Christian faith! Our presence on campuses and our lives should cause people to know and understand what the gospel is! But we are not to stop there! We are then called to take those truths and apply them to the whole of life and the problems of mankind.
That brings me to two important issues. If we are to truly show that the Bible does have answers for the problems of mankind today, then first of all we need to know what those problems are!
How many of our fellowship students are really aware of the problems on their campuses?
What are the burning issues on your campus? Maybe we can talk about a few things that affect us personally. But do we really have our fingers on the pulse of the campus? How could we do that? Perhaps by reading the campus newspaper or blog and keeping an eye on the social media platforms. Even better, participate in these forums actively.
Secondly, in order to offer the solutions of Scripture to the problems of mankind (as manifested on campus), we need to be involved deeply in the lives of our fellow students and colleagues. Let me ask you, how many really close friends do you have who are from another faith or do not profess any faith at all? Or do you avoid such friendships lest they influence you negatively?
One of the ways we can bring the solutions of Scripture to bear on our campus problems is by learning to speak about God without always mentioning the Bible. We use too much “Christianese” in our speech – terms and language that would sound strange to our friends! Another way is to really listen to what the other person is saying before we rush in with Scripture. We don’t need to use Biblical words or quote verses or mention God and Jesus in every conversation. But instead, we need to allow the wisdom of Scripture to seep into our lives (as we meditate on it) and then seep out of our lives into all the conversations around us. We need to learn to talk like Jesus did! We need to learn to enter into the homes and hearts of people like Jesus did! We need to offer grace and healing to others like Jesus did! The gospel should so permeate our lives that when people encounter us they should smell the aroma of Christ!
While this sounds fairly straightforward, there are many obstacles to our witness. Let me list a few:
- Poor witness academically: I find so many Christian students who don’t take their studies seriously or faculty members who fail to teach well or do good research, all the while busy with Bible studies, programs, committees, etc. Your voice cannot be heard when you seek to address issues on campus.
- Poor lifestyle: Many a student or faculty fails to find a voice to share because of his or her lifestyle! It is difficult to be prophetic when you are one with the world!
- Fear of rejection: Many a student or faculty succumbs to peer pressure due to fear of rejection. Our desire to be accepted and be part of the crowd overwhelms our desire to make a difference.
- No salt – no light: Many are unsure of their own faith! A shaky faith leads to shaky witness! If you do not have salt or light, how can you make sense of what Jesus is saying that you are the light of the world or the salt of the earth!
- Isolation in fellowship ‘ghettoes’: We often isolate ourselves with our Christian friends and fail to spend time with others and understand what is going on in their lives.
Poor readers –poor thinkers: Many of us do not really read much – at least not anything deep. Unless we develop the habit of serious reading, we will never develop as serious thinkers.
Let me close by offering a few practical suggestions. As students, seek to be involved in the academic life as well as in other areas like sports (on one campus, about half the football team including the captain were from the EU!), student government, music (participating in the College Fests), hostel life, etc. This calls for a sacrificial life – sacrifice of time and money! It calls for a listening ear – to hear the heartbeat of your campus. Also, here are some areas that you could grow in your understanding: Artificial Intelligence and the Christian faith, Economics and the Christian Faith, Policy Making, Sexuality, Mental Health/Suicide, Drugs and their impact.
As faculty, do good research that benefits society, choose research areas that have societal impact and relevance, have a sound work ethic, be a peacemaker, demonstrate humility rather than the arrogance so common in academia, especially when dealing with students, and colleagues, etc.
I fear to use the phrase, Engaging the Campus, for much has been written or spoken about it and it has almost become a buzz phrase! While dealing with our disciplines of study and addressing the structures of academia intellectually are important (and have been addressed by others), my experience shows that the problems of the campus are not always cerebral or intellectual. Thus, while we need to learn to look at our fields of study from a Biblical perspective and bring the gospel to bear on the academic structures of our disciplines, we should realize that the people we deal with on campus are just that – people! And they have similar issues like the rest of the world beyond the campus – fear, rejection, uncertainty, etc. The ideas in my colleague’s head are important – but so is his headache. So, look at the campus and your studies through your mind, but do not forget to let your heart be touched by the brokenness around you. In offering the balm of the gospel, you will bring healing to your campus!
Here are some resources for further exploration. My listing them does not mean that I endorse everything on these sites or in these books. Use with discernment.
John Stott, The Radical Disciple: Wholehearted Christian Living (Nottingham: IVP, 2021). (available through UESI: IVP India)
John Stott, The Contemporary Christian: An Urgent Plea for Double Listening (Nottingham: IVP, 1992). (available through OM Books – christianstore.in)
John Stott, Issues Facing Christians Today, 4th ed., revised by Roy McCloughry (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 2006). (https://www.amazon.in/Issues-Facing-Christians-Today-4th/dp/0310252695/)
Mark Greene, Thank God It’s Monday, 2nd edition (Scripture Union, 2017) https://www.amazon.in/Thank-God-its-Monday-Workplace/dp/1785066587/
Chacko Jacob is married to Lori and they have two girls in college. He has been involved with UESI from his student days. He is currently a professor at an engineering institute. He enjoys reading and playing football!