Sunday, June 26, 2005

Where we at (in the Church), plus saving John Sanders through xanga.

Last night I had the opportunity to talk with friends about the Sanders fiasco, the will of God, and how completely awesome grace is. Somewhere along the line I floated on idea I've had for a while, and even though we didn't speak of it for long, it's still floating on gossamer wings in my addled, little head -- and I can't get rid of it.

Mainly, the idea is this: I want someone to do a study. I want someone to do a post-graduation study with BR and Ministry students at HC who had Dr. Sanders during his tenure at the college. Then I want that same person (or persons) to study Religion and Ministry students at a few other Evangelical schools, say Wheaton, Taylor, Asbury, etc. Then I want to see some hard data to support my working hypothesis that HC alumns (who've studied under Sanders) have a greater propensity for existential crises, especially concerning their "calling" as it relates to Christian ministry. Then I want to write a paper about how this could be a good thing -- and not just a good thing, but a brilliant thing. A thing of beauty and honesty and authentic Christian faith.

Jake wasn't sure it was just "the Sanders factor," and I would tend to agree. It was also the Bergdall Factor -- presenting opposing viewpoints and letting them rise and fall on their own merits. The Fairchild Factor -- a vigorous defense of the near-infallibility of the inductive method of Biblical Interpretation. And perhaps even the "Empty Annex Factor" -- those circumstances that lead EM/YM majors to have a bit of trouble daily connecting with their profs when their profs are criss-crossing the country. There are more factors, most likely. These are listed just to get the ball rolling.

So here we are -- former BR and Ministry majors, trying to make some sense of our place within the Church-catholic. And I don't just mean us folks at Midwest Mindset, I mean others as well -- young pastors not sure if full-time ministry is their passion; Youth pastors who struggle feeding their students "the answers" when they know "the answers" don't really satisfy; None-of-the-above types trying to make sense of what it means to follow Christ when they're not too fond of the church-politic. Maybe it has something to do with studying under Sanders. Maybe not. But I'm ready to bet that because we studied at HC, we are less prone to go to the stock answers when struggling along side our brothers and sisters in Christ. And when we do, we do so with reservations, knowing that what we say is "truth" might not be all that true.

And these existential troubles -- these what the hell am I supposed to do with my life? type-questions -- that seem to shake our faith and make us seem "less-Christian" than our counterparts from other schools -- in fact, make us stronger. We are more willing to admit we don't have all the answers to the problem of pain and the security of biblical inspiration and the destiny of those who've never heard the Gospel message. The fact that we struggle with these things, and don't write them off with simple answers, while making us seem weak in the eyes of some evangelicals, in reality, only serves to make us stronger. Which in turn makes the Church a stronger body. Which in turn proclaims the reality and power of the Gospel -- not because we're always right -- but because we struggle just like everyone else.

Plenty of evangelical colleges are producing critical thinkers, but because of the unique combination of professors and controversies at HC in the past few years, I think that the college has produced, perhaps unwittingly, a unique crop of would-be ministers and theologians. In my meager experience, I've seen that we are less-prone towards dogmaticism, more open to theologies that upon first glance might seem unorthodox, and more willing to accept the secular critiques of modern evangelicalism.

I'm not sure I see this trend continuing in the future for HC (or HU) alumns because of the turn of events concerning Dr. Sanders' forced departure from the college. Not only will his unique point of view no longer be available in the classroom, his exit could possibly mark a sea change in how HU professors present unorthodox views in any area of study. Where there was once a spirit of openness and free exchange of ideas, there seems to be a creeping sense of suspicion, fear and mistrust. Not to mention the afterglow (in certain circles) of those who might feel vindicated now that Sanders' is no longer a "problem" for the college/university.

So anyway, I want to see this study. And I want to understand why so many of my HC friends have so many unanswered questions. And why we're not afraid to admit (at least, amongst ourselves) that the answers available just don't quite satisfy.

And I also want to be the first to claim that the Body of Christ is stronger because of it -- that the people we minister to will see the humility of Christ through us. And if we are certain of one thing, let it be this: God is real, and we are able to know of his great love through his son, Jesus Christ.


At 6/28/2005 9:44 PM, Anonymous joey said...

I'd like to see that study too, me being on the cusp of it all.

At 6/28/2005 9:56 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

As a fellow HU EM alum from the Sanders era, I completely connect with your post, Jonny. I went in to college with no doubts and all the answers. I left college with doubts and few answers. I agree with Jake that it's not all Sanders' fault. The general open and questioning environment, combined with a series of personal events, drove me to a place of deep questioning that has changed my brand of Christianity forever. Sometimes I long for those days of simplicity and blind faith. I felt closer to Jesus in those days. I think I am more cynical now, more reserved in the amount of truth I'll bank my life on. I still love Jesus, don't get me wrong. Perhaps my faith is more real now. The faith I offer to others isn't in a sealed tight package. Maybe they can connect better with genuine honesty about the ups and downs of a relationship with God. I don't know if I'm better or worse now, but I know I am different.
- Jen Dakin

At 6/28/2005 10:32 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thanks for the reminder that my own current crisis in faith is neither the end of the world, nor unique to me. I don't know where I stand or what I can do in the church when so often I find the actions and words of people within the church morally repulsive. My sensitivity to this probably does have alot to do with the profs at HC, and not just Bible/Philosophy faculty either. I'd throw at least history and physics into the mix as well. (coming from an ignorant non BR person) I'm just not sure where my place in the church is after what happened last year. My belief has always been that loving people is the highest calling of the church. If what happened was an example of the church loving its own members, I want out!

On a more positive note, the few classes I took with Sanders and Bergdall led me to theological places that I would have been horrified of before I started. I consider that I am sure of less, but certain of more, if that makes any sense. My faith is less cliche and more mine. To know that my questions are ok is a blessed relief.

~Victoria Hall

At 6/29/2005 1:20 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Sanders-era Bible major here. Living in the Christian Reformed capital of America (Grand Rapids, Michigan), I have seen a HUGE difference between my education at Huntington and those of my peers at Hope College, Calvin College, and Cornerstone University. All too often in these schools the theology and Bible departments seek to indoctrinate rather than educate. My experience at Huntington was very much the opposite. HC faculty (BR and beyond) like John Sanders, Chaney Bergdall, Mark Fairchild, Del Doughty, Jeff Webb, David Woodruff, and Norrie Freisen daily challenged me to check my presuppositions and allow my faith to deepen and grow.
There's no question that living in the mystery is a better place to be than sitting and marinating in stubborn ignorance.
I'd like to spearhead a study like you mentioned, but I fear I would be guilty of a rather biased disposition.
-Amos Caley

At 7/04/2005 3:21 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

I STRONGLY resonate with this...

Amos said it very well

Call me a relativist but in truth our best Answers are often only presuppositions


At 7/05/2005 5:24 PM, Blogger jonny said...

Jen, thanks for your comment. I too sometimes look back on my early days of faith and wonder why it can't be that way for me today. But in studying at HC, I feel like I've gotten to know who this man Jesus was even better than I ever did before. Of course he's still God, but he's also so much more than that these days ((More than God!?! Yes!!)). And I really do feel better off because of it.

Victoria, I'm excited (yah, excited!) that you've come to a place where questions are okay. It seems like the heroes of the Christian faith -- the original disciples -- were ALWAYS asking Christ questions, and he never reproached them for it. And yes, yes, yes, it's hard to stick with the church when the church constantly fails to live up to it's calling. I could go on and on about this, so I'll quit before I get going and just encourage you to keep loving people until you're sick in the stomach. And then love a little more!

Amos, it's encouraging to hear that my little rant has (at the very least) a little bit of evidence to back it up from your own experiences. It's mind-boggling to try to comprehend how God was working in such subtle (and unsubtle) ways to bring the right mix of faculty and students to HC over the past few years. It's sad that the University has decided to move in another direction by "tightening the noose" as it were, just when God seemed to be on a roll. But once again, that's the church for you. It's just as fallen as everything else.

At 7/06/2005 2:15 PM, Blogger adam said...

jonny, share your insights and others on this post. my question stemming from it is when does a person stop being evangelical and start being something else? ditto for me: i surely am not a mainline catholic, so what allows me to define my self as catholic at all? this is not pertaining only to specific beliefs (though it may be related to some), but to my overall worldview and its differences to the worldviews of other catholics around me. I always wondered why Sanders defined himself as evangelical (I know his answer, but I still wondered). And I wonder the same thing about Hans Kung or Richard McBrein and Catholicism. also there is the obvious question, do these labels matter, or do they only get in the way?


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