Karam Forum 2017 closed with Oikonomia Network Director Greg Forster’s inspiring call to renew the vision of Christian higher education serving God’s people and God’s world. Forster emphasized that the church’s crisis of discipleship and the world’s public crises have a common root – the church needs to find new ways to infuse the holy love of God into daily life in our nations. That can’t be done without the unique integrative capacity of Christian higher education.
Forster began by recounting the origin of the Oikonomia Network in March 2010, as small groups of theological educators gathered for lengthy, open-ended discussions of what could be done to renew theological education. Whole-life discipleship was at the center from the beginning, which led to an emphasis on vocation and fruitfulness in our daily work, as well as the need for new wisdom about cultural systems such as economics.
The vineyard imagery of Karam Forum grew out of this concern to join God in tending the vines of his people. Forster unpacked the prophets’ eschatological vision of a flourishing vineyard:
Micah 4:4 “They shall sit every man under his vine and under his fig tree, and no one shall make them afraid, for the mouth of the Lord of hosts has spoken.”
Zechariah 3:10 “In that day, declares the Lord of hosts, every one of you will invite his neighbor to come under his vine and under his fig tree.”
This imagery reconciles the claims of the individual and the community. The more familiar image of Micah points to the dignity and importance of every individual; in God’s kingdom, every individual’s flourishing is protected, and “there is nobody who is nobody.” But the less familiar image of Zechariah shows the community interdependence of these individuals, as they invite one another to enjoy their flourishing together.
In the church and the world today, the claims of individual and community are increasingly pitted against one another. We want to be both radical individualists where everyone gets to decide for themselves the meaning of their own lives, and we also want to be radical collectivists who use political and economic power to seize things from one another and impose our preferred solutions upon diverse communities with diverse needs and perspectives.
The world seeks technocratic solutions to this problem, hoping to find a way we can all get rich together and live however we want, without the need for virtue or sacrifice. The increasing spiritual emptiness of technocratic society fuels tribalistic reactions, as people seek a source of higher meaning and purpose in fighting to defeat enemies (real and imagined) for the sake of their nations, religions, ethnicities, classes and other identity groups. And God’s people partake of this pattern all too often.
While the changes around us seem to be moving very fast, Forster explains their roots in long, slow cultural changes that have been unfolding for centuries. In modernity, ancient forms of social order based on elite power and enforced religious uniformity have dissolved under the weight of their own internal contradictions and injustices. However, adequate replacements for these ancient social orders have not yet emerged, and the result is the chaos we experience in our world.
Christian higher education, Forster argues, is uniquely positioned to help find the way to live as full-time disciples of Jesus Christ in this chaotic environment – and by so doing, help the world find its way to better social orders. If they are humble enough to admit they don’t have all the answers, and learn from Christians in all walks of life, Christian academics can play an indispensable role integrating the wisdom and insight of all the members of Christ’s body for the sake of forming the next generation.
A long, slow solution is needed for a long, slow problem: “The slow things are the important things.”
Forster points to II Kings 19 for an illustration of our moment. At a time of extreme danger, God asks his people to trust him to rescue them. As a sign of their trust, he tells them to leave their fields and vineyards fallow for a year – an extraordinary act of trust in an agricultural economy. He promises that if they trust him, he will rescue them and they will, one day, plant and grow again.
“And the surviving remnant of the house of Judah shall again take root downward and bear fruit upward” (verse 30).
The conversation will continue at Karam Forum 2018, Jan. 4-5 in Los Angeles, featuring Andy Crouch, Brian Fikkert, Mako Fujimura and many more. Register to join us at www.karamforum.org.