A Missiology for the Academy (2): Five Reasons the Universities Matter

1. The Universal Nature of Christ’s Lordship

Jesus Christ is Lord over the academy, just as he is Lord over everything else, and this Lordship is best understood in relation to three great truths. First, God created us as the type of beings who teach and learn. He endowed us with the spiritual, moral, rational, creative, relational, and physical capacities necessary for education. Repeatedly Scripture emphasizes teaching and learning (e.g., Deut. 6:4-6; Rom. 12:1-2; Eph. 4:11-12).

Second, academic activity is marked by a great antithesis. After the fall, humans have lived in the midst of a great struggle between the kingdom of light and the kingdom of darkness, between Christ and Satan, and between truth and error. These invisible realities, represented by certain principalities and powers, are manifested in visible, tangible cultural realities such as relativism in ethics, Darwinism in biology, or Marxism in economics. This great struggle between light and darkness cuts across the entire creation and every human culture. Christians should resist this comprehensive assault on our shared cultural life. We should fight it tooth and nail, not only from the pulpit, but also from the lectern.

Third, academic activity takes place within ordered realms which have their own creational design. Human cultures can be divided into a variety of realms—such as art, science, business, politics, and education—which have their own creational design and God-given integrity. These realms correspond to the various disciplines within the university. Because we live in a fallen world comprised of sinners, these academic disciplines (and their corresponding cultural counterparts) will be to some extent corrupted and directed toward wrong ends. In each academic discipline, we should ask three questions: What is God’s creational design for this realm? In what ways has this realm been corrupted and misdirected toward wrong ends? How can I bring healing to this realm by redirecting it toward God’s creational design in Christ? To the extent we engage our academic disciplines with those questions in mind, we glorify God and provide our neighbors a preview of God’s future rule over a renewed and restored creation.

In other words, academic activity should take place under the absolute Lordship of Christ. Christ is the creator and King over all things, and one day will restore all things. He is not merely the Lord over my quiet times; he is Lord over my work, my leisure, and my civil life. He is not merely sovereign over local church gatherings; he is the Lord over artistic, scientific, political, entrepreneurial, and scholarly endeavors. No piece of our (“secular”) life is to be sealed off from Christ’s lordship. Every square inch of it belongs to Christ and ought to be made to honor him. Missional Christians not only proclaim the gospel with words, they promote it in their academic and cultural lives.

2. The Powerful Influence of the University

In the United States and in many other countries, the university serves as the environment in which many or most of the country’s leaders are shaped. These future scientists, filmmakers, Supreme Court justices, journalists, and billionaire entrepreneurs often receive their most formative “worldview moments” as they are students on a college campus. In many countries, including our own, these 18-year-olds are taught by faculty members who seek consciously, carefully, and consistently to undermine everything that Christians hold true and dear.

3. The Readily Receptive Mind-Set of University Students

The third point overlaps with the second. Universities are full of students in their late teens and early twenties who are waiting to be instructed and inspired. Very likely, the path they choose in college is the path they’ll remain upon for the rest of their lives. Osama bin Laden embraced jihadism largely because he found himself mesmerized by Professor Abdullah Azzam when bin Laden was a young student at King Abdul Aziz University in Saudi Arabia. Friedrich Nietzsche forsook Christ during studies at the University of Bonn. Hundreds of thousands of students continue to reject Christianity, or never encounter the Christian faith, precisely because the professors who capture their imaginations and who shape their worldviews are unbelievers.

4. The Breadth of Christ’s Atonement

Evangelicals sometimes embrace a sort of reverse snobbery directed towards the cultural elite, especially against professors and students in Ivy League schools and top-tier major state institutions. Because we’re not included in their “club,” we say in effect “to hell with ‘em.” But Christ died on behalf of the cultural elite, just as he died for the middle and lower classes. In fact, when we take an anti-elitist mentality—and Baptists often have adopted this mentality—we’re being quintessentially American, but not quintessentially Christian.

5. The Danger of Split-Level Christianity

At the university, young impressionable students study under opinionated and brilliant professors. These professors shape their students’ worldviews in ways the students don’t even notice. Even if these students are believers, or if they later become believers, they may unconsciously hold a non-Christian worldview while at the same time professing Christ as Savior. When talking about “spiritual” matters, they will sound like Christians, but when talking about anything “cultural” they’ll likely sound like their professors. This sort of split-level Christianity is exactly what we must avoid. If Christ is Lord, then he is Lord over everything; he is not just Lord over our prayer time and church attendance, but also our university studies and future vocations.online mobi

Global Context Series (Central Asia): Ghost Wars

Ghost Wars

Ghost Wars

A wise man would refuse to lug even the paperback version of Steve Coll’s Ghost Wars to bed, for fear of being crushed to death if he dozes off in mid-sentence. However, despite being 712 pages long Coll’s volume is well worth the read for anyone interested in U. S. involvement in Afghanistan beginning in 1979 and spanning more than two decades.

Coll’s book is not a history of Afghanistan, per se, but rather a history of American interaction with Afghanistan from 1979 until September 11, 2001. The drama that unfolds includes a cast of actors that include presidents, generals, mujahedin, the Taliban, Osama bin Laden, the Soviet army, and the Pakistani and Saudi Arabian intelligence agencies.

The first part of the book deals with the Soviet-Afghan War (Nov 1979 – Feb 1989), and begins just before the Soviet invasion, as the U. S. began using Afghan warriors to embarrass the Soviet Union. The Americans funneled cash and arms through Pakistan into Afghanistan and managed to succeed in sending the Soviets scurrying back to their borscht. However, the Americans were not alone in funding the war: The United States’ contributions to this campaign were matched and possibly exceeded, however, by those of Pakistan and Saudi Arabia.

The second part of the book deals with the factious aftermath of the Soviet expulsion (March 1989 – Dec 1997). After having covered in detail the humiliating defeat and withdrawal of the USSR, Coll turns to the intramural warfare that followed, including the rise of the Taliban from small faction to ruling party. The reader is given a well-researched and well-written account of Bin Laden’s emergence as a force with which to be reckoned, and of his escape to North Africa.

The third part of the book concentrates on the CIA’s attempts to capture bin Laden (Jan 1998 – Sept 11, 2001). Coll details bin Laden’s return to Afghanistan, where he marries himself to Mullah Mohammed Omar and the Taliban, allowing him to use Afghanistan as a base from which to plan attacks on American assets.

Ghost Wars is crammed full of great stories. Coll’s well-crafted character sketches cover a wide range, including major figures (Mullah Omar, Gulbuddin Hekmatyar, Ahmed Shah Massoud, bin Laden) as well as more minor characters: (secret agents, warriors, generals, diplomats, suicide bombers). Without Coll, there are many things that we would not now know. How would we have known that Nawaz Sharif was “an unusually dull, muddled politician” who “seemed to offer a bovine, placid gaze in private meetings where he sometimes read awkwardly from note cards“? Or that , at a meeting with Americans, “None of the Taliban wore shoes or sandals. They picked continually at their feet, the Americans could not help but notice“? Or that Ahmed Shah Massoud (the warlord who refused to be controlled by the USSR, the USA, or the Taliban, and who, by the time he was 30, had fended off six direct assaults by the world’s largest conventional army) “had written his thesis on the battle of Gettysburg” when he studied at Pakistan’s elite officer’s college?

Or how would we have ever known that our own CIA was a publisher and distributer of the Qur’an? During the early stages of its proxy war against the USSR, Coll tells us, William Casey and the CIA sought to smuggle books about Central Asian culture and Soviet atrocities into the USSR, hoping to incite a revolution. The Pakistani ISI, however, argued that copies of the Qur’an would be even better, so “The CIA commissioned an Uzbek exile living in Germany to produce translations of the Koran in the Uzbek language. The CIA printed thousands of copies of the Muslim holy book and shipped them to Pakistan for distribution to the mujahedin.” Oh, dear. I think I’ll leave that one alone.

But perhaps the best sketch of all is Mullah Mohammed Omar. The reader is perhaps already aware that Omar had a big beard, wore an eye patch, and was the political and spiritual leader of the Taliban regime. What they might not have known are the details. Omar, Coll tells us, was an expert with rocket-propelled grenade launchers during the Afghan-Soviet war. He was struck in the face by shrapnel and lost his right eye. (Legend has it that he used a knife to cut his own eye out of the socket.) He believed that his dreams were prophetic guides for Afghanistan and used them to make strategic decisions. In fact, Omar said that Allah had appeared to him in a vision and told him to lead the believers.

And “lead the believers” is exactly what he did. In the spring of 1996, Omar summoned over 1,000 Pashtun leaders and scholars to Kandahar for an assembly. In the background stood the Mosque of thegame online rpg mobile