Over the last few weeks I have been considering my experience at Wheaton College, as both a student and an adjunct faculty member in the Graduate school for twelve years. I have intentionally focused upon the role the church has in Christian education. I am using Wheaton College as a model in order to interact with modern American evangelicalism. I do this for two reasons. First, it is a school I know well and love. I have lived my entire adult life inside and around, or at least very near, Wheaton College. Second, Wheaton represents some of the best ways I’ve experienced evangelicalism. Thus is represents several reasons why I still use the term “evangelical” to describe my own journey in faith. (The modern use, in the culture wars context, has lost me totally.) But Wheaton’s weaknesses are also those of modern evangelicalism, at least in my view. I am asking this question: “What are the essential goals and purposes of an evangelical Christian education in terms of how we actually live faithfully in our modern context?”
I believe we need to reconsider the role culture plays in how we think and live the Christian faith. This will inevitably lead us to thinking more deeply about the church, the Kingdom of God and the American experience. It will not give us simplistic answers which are all too common to my generation, but it can help us think and go further in our love for the Kingdom.
My intent is to draw you into thinking carefully about “Christ and his Kingdom.” How is Christ and his kingdom experiencedin real time and real places? How do we see the Kingdom of God in our neighborhoods? In our businesses? In our social and political relationships? I believe that the church has actually failed us here in massive ways by branding and selling itself as if it was the Kingdom. Wheaton College helped to pull me out of the dualistic separation between the secular and the sacred and thus drew me towards the Kingdom that is already here.
Over time this Wheaton influence led me to a richer understanding of the Kingdom of God. Jesus tells us to: “Seek first the Kingdom.” Wheaton helped me to act on this command when the church very often did not. And the churches of our time are not doing much better than when I was a student in the 1960s and 70s. As I interview many people who are leaving the institutional church in significant numbers, including many who have been pastors, I think they are leaving because they have experienced the church as a product, not as a community. They were taught to “consume” religion and the church is there to offer them what they believe they need. A friend wrote on a Facebook post of mine a few weeks ago: “It is often hard to find both parts of ‘for Christ and His kingdom’ being experienced right where we work and live. So many churches have a lot of programs for their people but keep the full equation totally off balance. Megachurches are the worst in my opinion.” Is she right?
My travels across America for the last twenty-seven years have convinced me that this writer is correct. The denominational churches, which were historically so interesting and important to the Kingdom, are so often a distraction from the beautiful reality of the church of Jesus Christ. The church is the reality that should be understood as the whole visible community of all Christians (gathered in specific communities) in a city. This means ecumenism and city vision are rooted in the presence of Jesus and his Kingdom, the core truth Wheaton taught me. For this I am so grateful.
A friend in the United Kingdom recently said to me, “John, I attend a fine local church where the Word of God is well taught and the music is wonderful. The people are lovely and the programs are just fine.” But, and he makes a shattering point in my view, “this church has no idea how to serve with the entire body of Christ in this city so that it can actually answer the prayer Jesus gave to his disciples when he said for us to pray, ‘Your kingdom come, your will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.’”
How are we to see the Kingdom come to our locale when we are isolated inside our places and programs and unable, or unwilling, to become real kingdom of God ecumenists who see the church as the whole visible people of God in our city?
ACT3 This Week
Costly Love is finally available from Amazon and other online booksellers. There was a delay in delivery but orders should be filled this week if you buy online at amazon.com. Check out the website atwww.costlylove.com for personal engagements, book endorsements, some book content and video material.