Second steps: Theologically informed—
For me, the truth is that we need to think carefully and theologically about all this. In fact, I think the task I am really talking about is a theological task. It is a task that assumes something about who we are as persons, who our students are as persons, the imago dei, the Trinity, relationships, sacred text, the role of the Spirit—all of which we often bundle in the phrases Christian and Christ-centered. Personally, I think it is the operative qualifier; it qualifies each of the following statements of the mission: Christ centered is a discrete and a pervasive description: Not only one but also all; not only liberal arts but also Christian or Christ centered liberal arts…. What in the heck does that any of that actually mean?
• In one of the most thoughtful, troubling, and hopeful books I’ve ever read (Brueggeman, Walter. (1986). Hopeful imagination. Prophetic voices in exile. Philadelphia: Fortress Press), Walter Brueggeman invites us to think about re-imagination. He’s talking about prophets, truth, and the people of God and asking how hope returns. I think what he writes relates to the time in which we live and work and move and have our being. As I said, I think our task, together, is finally a theological one.
Brueggeman invites us to remember that [biblically, newness always] “grows out of the memory of Israel…not [out of] personal invention. Rather these poets probe and mine the tradition in ways that cause the old tradition to articulate a newness…” (p 2). I think this defines our task.
“These poets [prophets] not only discerned the new actions of God that others did not discern, but they wrought the new actions of God by the power of their imagination, their tongue, their words. New poetic imagination evoked new realities in the community…” (p 2). I think this defines our task.
“…[creating] hope for a community so deeply in crisis that it might have abandoned the entire enterprise of faith” (p 3). I think this defines our task.
He believes that “The reception of a new world from God is also under way in our time.… It is apparent in the staggering, frightening emergence of new communities, which we experience as revolutionary, with dreams of justice and equity. Those dangerous emergences are paralleled by dreams of justice and mercy in our culture that dare to affirm that old structures may be transformed to be vehicles for the new gifts of God. Thus we are at the risky point of receiving from God what we thought God would not give, namely a new way to be human in the world” (p 6). I think this defines our task--and our hope.
[But] “Our vocation is to relinquish and receive [that which] cut through every dimension of life, for such moves entail nothing less than dying in order to be raised to new life” (p 7). I think this defines our task.
[And, finally,] “My sense is that the ministry of the American church [read, Christian higher education; read the name of your own school] is in many ways fatigued and close to despair. That is so because we are double-minded. On the one hand, we have some glimpses of the truth of God’s gospel of relinquishment and reception, and we see where it may lead us in terms of social reality. On the other hand, the church [read, Christian higher education; read the name of your own school] is so fully enmeshed in the dominant values of our culture that freedom of action is difficult. In any case, it is evident that ministry [read, Christian higher education; read the name of your own school] will be freed of fatigue, despair, and cynicism only as we [read the name of your own school] are able to see clearly what we are up to, and then perhaps able to act intentionally. Such intentionality is dangerous and problematic, but when and where the church [read, Christian higher education; read the name of your own school] acts with such freedom and courage, it finds the gift of new life is surprisingly given…” (7). I think that could define our outcome.
Can we do this? If you’ll pardon my intentional plagiarism, “Yes, we can.” I’ve seen it before; there is no reason to think that it cannot happen again. If we care enough, we can. If not—well, we won’t.