Raising a Testimony in the University
UESI, a major university movement in India, plays a crucial role in ministering to the minds as much to the hearts of our students. It calls us to engage both with the academic and non-academic worlds of the University. However, how much of our ministry has influenced the academia is to be critically evaluated. Perhaps, as a ministry of students reaching students, we have been content to minister amongst the student body of our universities because it has historically been our comfortable space and seemingly within our control. But we need to remember that UESI is called not only to evangelise but also to raise a testimony to the historic Christian faith and present its message as a solution to the problems of mankind. A ministry that influences the academic world not only broadens the scope of witness, but also gets into the core of the University.
Do we have an authority for such an engagement with the Gospel? Yes! It is purely based on the fact that the Church has always confessed that Jesus Christ is the one in whom all created reality ‘holds together’ (Col.1:17) and through whom all created reality came into being and will finally be redeemed (Col.1:18). Jesus Christ thus has unrestricted primacy over every area of life and thought. Believing this Gospel therefore commits every Christian to a comprehensive view of the world. Students who are not exposed to such a view will find it difficult to move to a point where they see “how their academic studies, social engagements, political attitudes or economic behaviour have anything at all to do with the Gospel”. Hence if we are really pursuing truth, we should be grateful for biology and chemistry and physics and all the other beautiful tools for understanding God’s world. And if we believe Scripture is true, we should have no fear of exploring truth through science and other scholarly pursuits. This indeed is the Creation mandate given to us (Gen 1.26-28). The implication is that every kind of study has a thread connecting it right back to the cultural mandate.
The scope of this article, then, is to comprehend what could be the challenges for us as UESI, in engaging with the various disciplines as taught in the University. Scholars see a twofold challenge as Christian faith dialogues with Learning (the academic world);
- Instead of generalised discipleship, the Christian community in the university will pursue a specific Christian formation which relates Christian thought and practice to academic fields of inquiry. Such discussions will test the reigning paradigms of academic disciplines and the university itself.
- Hermeneutics takes for granted the authority of Scripture, but we also need to use the social sciences, such as sociology, psychology, politics, economics and so forth, to help us expand our knowledge of both individual and corporate human life. Hence a dialogue with the academic disciplines will always bring in hermeneutical challenges. In positive terms, it creates an openness in the way we frame our theology.
There is a creational purpose in science, technology, design, music, the arts, manufacturing, engineering and so forth — and participating in these is part of our primary calling as human beings made in God’s image. ‘These fields of study are human traditions, but we receive them as divine gifts, expressions of common grace and so we are able to dedicate ourselves to them in wholehearted pursuit of the truth’. Such an effort to engage the heartland of the University definitely calls for more preparedness, which at some point in history the evangelical mind was averse to. Let us pray that the students and seniors in UESI constituency will rise up to fulfil the vision of the movement: making an impact in the campuses, Church and society.
Satish Simon Joseph