Charlie Self delivered the closing address at Karam Forum 2018, “Poets and Prophets for God’s People and World.” He cast a vision for theological and educational institutions to raise up Christians who can inspire and instruct in a polarized and embattled world. In seeking the shalom of the church and the nations, our institutions of higher learning will find their own shalom – a path out of their present troubles.
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Self opened his address with the story of a church that sought unity in the midst of Election 2016 by having local leaders from both political parties serve the Eucharist to one another and the congregation. Christian leaders contribute to local economic development, scholarly knowledge and much more by serving as poets and prophets of the kingdom.
Our world is facing two crises of paramount importance, Self observed. There is a crisis of anthropology, as the world forgets that human beings are made in God’s image. And there is a crisis of epistemology, as the world struggles for coherence and certainty amid the wreckage of worldly philosophies in both modern and postmodern movements.
The answer lies in whole-life discipleship – which, Self pointed out, is actually a redundant phrase. “Whole-life discipleship” is simply discipleship, because our God made and cares for all aspects of life. Living as disciples of Christ empowers us to “live the future now,” bringing a foretaste of the future consummation in to the present. “Connecting Sunday’s ecstasies to Monday’s ethics is of paramount importance,” he remarked.
Our theological schools strive to provide an “eschatological education” for this life, which is what sets them apart from departments of religious studies. Overcoming the mental and practical bifurcation that prevailed during the Enlightenment, privatizing religion, we integrate knowledge and take on tough issues from the standpoint of God’s present reign – and an awareness of our own limitaitons.
This integrative intellectual mission entails a role of “worldview leadership to the larger world.” We are able to think about the challenges of our time free from captivity to political and ideological polarization. Without common moral commitments or shared narratives, the world around us becomes less and less able to think outside its comfortable but ultimately enslaving mental boxes. Christian higher education can lead the way to fresh insights in such an environment.
With an abundance of examples and illustrations, Self showed how we can raise up poets and prophets to serve God’s people and God’s world. As poets, we discover the ways of life and worldview in the Bible, distill its insights with the help of history and the Holy Spirit in community, and disseminate them contextually and creatively. As prophets, we faithfully call people back to the principles and praxis of the covenant, stand fearlessly against idolatry, immorality and injustice, and provide visions of the future – ultimate, but also penultimate and culturally contextualized – in which God reigns.
Institutions are part of God’s plan, and Christian higher education has a tradition of innovation that can be called forth in our own efforts to steward the knowledge tradition handed down to us: “From the desert fathers to the Irish monks, from the early universities to our modern Bible colleges, God’s people have always preserved more than mere practical knowledge. We have a deposit of scriptural truth, and a deposit, providentially, of the truth of other sciences, and we’ve preserved it when the economies are up, when they’re down – because it matters, in the character and content of what we bring to the world”