The college I graduated from changed my way of thinking and imagining the world in ways I didn’t see coming. At an apologetics conference in Atlanta, I would fully realize what my college experience had planted in my heart, and it was ugly.
In the middle of June, I attended the RZIM summit, which is a world-class Christian apologetics conference featuring Christian intellectual speakers–many of whom are Oxford scholars. They didn’t carry themselves like the most brilliant people in the room. My sister and I held a few lunch and dinner conversations with individuals we didn’t realize were speakers until it was their time to lecture (they didn’t have a green room?!), some of whom are well-known authors. I made a second surprising observation in worship. Every morning before the lectures would begin, John Lennox, an Oxford Mathematician, would lead every devotional and raise his hands in worship. My impression of intellectual Christians, especially from what I picked up at my college, is that being emotional about God is cheesy and overdone. It was powerful to see rows in the Georgia Tech lecture hall full of the brightest minds gathering together in worship and singing with passion. Unfortunately, I have not encountered many Christian intellectuals who love the Lord with their mind and heart. The leaders and speakers with RZIM were very knowledgeable, yet humble. Their knowledge challenged the attendees, not tear them down. They didn’t focus on how not to be like other Christians who can’t share the Gospel effectively. Sure, points on how Christians have failed to reach their culture were made, but no one was coerced to feel demeaned, uneducated, uncultured, or stupid for the kind of background they may have come from (such as a conservative Christian background). The atmosphere of this conference held positive incentives to build each other up as the body of Christ, no matter what denominational background, disagreements, or different convictions each person chose for him/herself. I was able to diagnose what was happening inside my heart: I am trained by my college to focus on being a particular kind of Christian.
Moving out of NYC after graduation and coming home for the summer was a culture shock in itself. Attending a Baptist church is another. I grew up in a Baptist church all my life until leaving for NYC to attend the King’s College. There, Baptists and evangelicals are made to look like ignorant, irrational, irrelevant, legalistic monsters. Needless to say, I bought into it (and trying to deprogram that concept now). Even though evangelicals have weaknesses like the rest of the Church, professors and students ridiculed them as if it’s the solution to solving the problems of Christians engaging culture.
I am aware that conservative Christians are often too concerned with their outward appearance by abstaining from tattoos, alcohol, and cursing, to not be ‘affiliated with darkness’ and act as if those are absolute commands rather than lifestyle preferences. However, there is a difference between holding convictions to please God and having rules to maintain a reputation.
I believe my college is taking another form of focusing on the outward appearance rather than the heart. Instead of pursuing Christ, it is more concerned with not looking like another group of Christians than it is growing spiritually. Of course, this issue is only the symptom of the problem. In the four years of my experience at King’s, I can only speak on one of the observations that I believe is a root: many of the staff and students are frustrated at the form in which pop Christian culture, ultra conservative culture, and prosperity Christianity are presenting themselves. Many of the staff and students are hurt by American Christianity, from both liberal and conservative denominations. The younger generation is still recovering from a Christ-against-Culture approach from the church: this is the angle of which I have witnessed professors and students make sarcastic remarks about their frustration and desire to change that. Even I am burdened with the same concerns. The question is, is there a way any of us can be the change without mocking a particular group of Christians? Is there a limit as to how much we can laugh at ourselves to the point where we belittle one another for not being the right kind of Christian? What is the idealized Christian The King’s College has in mind?
To be clear, King’s vision of the idealized Christian isn’t inherently wrong. Most of The King’s College’s big picture mission statement has a unique vision of equipping their students to make a difference in areas of influence, where believers are desperately needed. The mission statement, its location, the house system, the degrees offered, the quality professors, and the overall community is what makes King’s a solid college. But like any human institution, the King’s community and their vision of the good life, has problems.
The idealized Christian, from my impression of the college, is someone who is well-rounded, cultured, involved in almost all social activities non-Christians are but can still be a Christian (on gray issues like drinking, smoking, clubbing, cursing, etc.), and is not irrational about faith. This kind of student is a moderate savvy Christian, who sports out the business casual outfit, is well grounded in philosophy and economics, is expected to have an internship in a strategic institution, and God-forbid be emotional about their faith (because that would just ruin the reputation of Christians being irrational believers). Engaging NYC with the message of Christ hardly gets outside a scholarly discussion.
As a reminder, Jesus didn’t come through an earthly strategic institution. He was born in a barn to a peasant woman and a carpenter from Nazareth (a town that was anything but significant to the Roman Empire). Jesus crossed paths with powerful people in both Jew and Gentile circles, but he was clear that his kingdom is not of this world. Some of Jesus’ disciples came from uneducated backgrounds. They would be considered unfit to influence strategic institutions because being fishermen doesn’t make the cut (some fit in better with the redneck believers today than the intellectuals). Nevertheless, their eyewitness records and oral teachings are changing the world. Without their testimony of Christ, the King’s College would cease to exist (Paul, the educated apostle, depended on the disciple’s testimonies). May believers in Jesus and a Christian college never forget their humble beginnings.
There are many instances where God has placed people in influential positions in the history of Israel: Joseph, Moses, David, Solomon, Esther, Daniel, Paul etc. God has used people from all walks of life to fulfill his purposes and ultimately bring glory to Him. I remember going to fall retreat as a sophomore (2013) and hearing one of the staff members kindly console the student body, saying that the pressure is off to influence strategic institutions. He confirmed that it’s not every student’s ambition or calling. I’m thankful someone stated this timeless truth.
How can King’s improve? Should the college continue promoting their anti-legalistic anti-emotional approach on the church’s problems? Or would the solution be to acknowledge the church’s problems with grace? Only a movement of the Holy Spirit can redirect people’s hearts. It is not my place to dictate what the next generation of students or current professors are to do; I can only speak of what I have seen.
There are believers in the college who sincerely don’t see anything wrong with activities like drinking or smoking. In other words, their motivation for doing is not for the outward appearance or giving Christians a well-rounded reputation. I respect their preferences and freedom in Christ. What I ask of them is to not ridicule students or stereotype those who don’t drink or smoke, etc. Students with stricter convictions are simply following their conscience.
I have one request to the next generation of students and present professors. Please don’t give each other a hard time for having different convictions. Let a student think cursing is wrong. Allow people to express their excitement for Jesus. Don’t pressure students to loathe the Bible Belt (since when were we taught to hate others?). There are plenty of people who speak Christianese, who have made an impact on strategic institutions, (whether you respect them or not). Every member of the body of Christ is wired differently. Some are outspoken and passionate while others are stoic and quaint. To silence the passionate personality from campus is to say no to diversity. I am not asking anyone to agree with individuals with lifestyles that appear dry. I am asking that we have disagreements peacefully and respect one another on personal convictions with the common goal to pursue truth.
Although The Kings College is a school and not a church, it is made up of members in the body of Christ (assuming the majority are professing Christians). Remember, when one hurts a part of his/her body, the rest of the body becomes weak. It’s the same with the church! I am also preaching to myself.
This scripture is what I pray for myself and for the future of The King’s College.
“Finally, all of you, have unity of mind,
sympathy, brotherly love,
a tender heart, and a humble mind.”
1 Peter 3:8 ESV