If you do not know Jesus, you will not go to Heaven when you die, you will go to Hell and that is a place most to be avoided. Imagine living in Newark, New Jersey without the charm while stuck in conversation with Vlad Putin without the wit. . . for eternity. Jesus came to save our souls, but His work is so mighty that He also brought His Kingdom to Earth now. Jesus has come, is coming, and will come again. His Kingdom was, is, and will be fully manifest.
These truths are not quite self-evident, but plainly taught in Sacred Scripture. Our salvation from damnation is to a Kingdom with a ruling King now. Of course, our main job is to work out this rule in our own lives, helping others when we can and ought. A job of the University is to aid the state, church, and family in working out how each student is to live in the present love of God.
Salvation to Something
Not every Christian college takes up this job. Some do not because they have reduced Christianity to party manners, but others make a more fundamental mistake. My boss, HBU’s President Robert Sloan, gave us a vision of what Christian education is. As provost, my job is help him make that real which is a joyful challenge. My first reflections dealt with the nature of the job and the second on avoiding mere niceness.
Here in the third reflection, we consider whether the Kingdom of Heaven discourages care for this present age.
Thucydides, the first great historian, says cities collapse into revolution and chaos because in a crisis a demagogue makes being sensible sound wimpy. The budding tyrant sees the problem and knows the solution, but shouts to the people that he will serve up the solution on steroids. When the moderate man points out that too much medicine can kill as surely as too little, then the demagogue accuses the good man of not really embracing the cause.
Robespierre kills the moderate man in France. Lenin kills him in Russia.
Christian colleges fail for lack of Biblical truth and when we see that this is so, the temptation is to reduce all truth to Biblical truth. The Bible is true, but it does not contain all the truth we need to live. Dr. Sloan has met at least one Christian “educational” leader secretly using college merely for evangelism. The “books and the classes, the knowledge and the buildings . . . are really not all that important.” Christian colleges are “just a front to tell students about Jesus.”
The Bible is accurate on what it intends to say, but it doesn’t have something to say about every detail of life. The Christian demagogue can shout that this is just like the schools that ignore the Bible, but making the Bible do every job is not Biblical.
The minute I say this, my street preaching self shouts: “There is no mere evangelism.” and this is true. Believe it: Evangelism is a great good. Evangelism is a great good. Evangelism is a great good, but it is not the only good.
A University does evangelism—HBU sees students become Christians every semester—but this is not the only good work an educational institution can do. It is not even what we mostly do. But don’t forget: Dying and “going to Heaven” as the whole purpose of life is “a truncated view of the Bible and theology,” because Heaven is not all that matters.
And yet we do not really believe the lie that this life does not matter. Dr. Sloan pounds home the truth that to a parent of a dying child, medicine and theological sophistication from their pastor matter. We don’t believe, we cannot believe, the lie that only the “by and by” counts as we live. I could not when my dear wife seemed to be dying at the birth of our first child. I am so thankful for the good nurses, doctors, and staff of Saint Mary’s that saved her life and enabled Lewis Dayton Reynolds to grow to manhood with a mother.
Something being best does not make everything else bad: making a mistake about this will frustrate happiness. My best meal is not my daily bread. My best evening is not my average evening. My best activity, seeing God in the Word and prayer, is not my only activity. The lesser goods and pleasures have their place and to attempt to do without them is arrogant. Only God can both be best and sustain that level of awful splendor.
God gets glory from our accomplishments because Father delights in the success of His children. When scientists discover what God has done in Nature, God exults. When philosophers hone an argument to elegance, Father applauds. He sustains our existence and gives us grace. To see this grace as “nothing” is impiety. God made men and women in His image to create life when we come together. The artist, the poet, the filmmaker imitate His artistic wonder.
Creation matters. God loves His cosmos and says it is good. And it is here that President Sloan turns to Colossians 1, pointing out: “For by him were all things created, that are in heaven, and that are in earth, visible and invisible . . . ” This is not “nothing” and in fact reconciling every idea, every thought, every person, and every bit of creation to Christ is a good work God allows us to do. It is true the job will not be finished in us, in our thinking, in our works, or in creation until God completes all things at the End, but that does not make our education meaningless.
An education is a higher education precisely when it trains us to live, move, and have our being in Jesus now and in the perfected age to come. That glorious hope gains substance every moment at a place like HBU when students, faculty, staff, and parents turn our focus to Jesus. That cannot happen just in a Bible class, but in every class. President Sloan presents that vision in the peroration of his talk.