This week for convocation, I had the opportunity to explain to the students the relationship between the Gospel and the academic portion of their experience at New Hope Christian College. I followed the simple Sunday school color-coordinated articulation of the Gospel: Green, Black, Red, White, and Gold.
God created. The most important implication for education is that God, as creator, has established the reference point for reality. Education, particularly theological education, ought to be the pursuit of understanding and reckoning with reality and all the goodness of God.
Our primary source, of course, is the Bible. Roger Olson asserts, “The Bible depicts ultimate reality—the highest, best, final, eternal reality upon which all else is dependent” (53).
Accordingly, Bible and theology are core elements of the curriculum of every program at NHCC.
But the end goal is not just knowledge for the sake of more knowledge; the end goal is to know intimately and accurately the personal God who created (Rickabaugh 205), for as the Apostle John has declared, to know God is eternal life (John 17:3).
Man sinned. While humankind was created to know God intimately and accurately, humankind sinned—and continues to sin. Ronald Habermas describes sin this way: “Sin is anti-creation. Sin deforms the image of God in us. Sin makes us less human when compared to the pre-sin lives of our first parents” (Habermas 25).
Life is like a Slinky: uniquely designed, finely crafted, and able to accomplish fascinating feats. But sin entered the world through Adam, and we are all born with this small bend that inevitably affects all Slinkys. We are bent, and deep inside we know it, so we try all sorts of ways of fixing ourselves. The world offers all sorts of advice, which is really just like a sibling looking over our shoulder giving unwanted, unsolicited suggestions not just on how to untangle our slinky but how to manage our lives. The result is disastrous; we end up a tangled mess that requires the intervention of God to sort it all out.
Sin infects every one of us and messes us up inside. It tangles up our relationship within our own selves, our relationship with creation, our relationships with others, and most damaging – it tangles up our relationship with God.
Sin also permeates our entire world, so not only are we messed up from the inside, but we are also messed up from the outside: deceptions and distractions. Deceptions and distractions abound, and it is our responsibility, both as teachers and as students, to cast off sin and pursue an intimate and accurate knowledge of God and his will for our lives, which is available by the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Jesus saved. The implications for education here at New Hope Christian College are many.
First, Jesus untangles us; Jesus frees us from sin’s rear-necked chokehold on us. When we surrender to Jesus, and admit that we are powerless over our lives, over our sin problem, and we cry out to Jesus, he breaks the rough and evil arm of the devil and embraces us with gentleness and care. Jesus has secured for us the ability to live up to our designed purpose.
Second, this is our motivation. We are no longer flailing about with our arms and legs thrashing about trying to free ourselves or fix ourselves or even feed ourselves. Now with all our energy, all our efforts we worship! We are compelled by the love of God; our efforts are a response to the grace of God in Christ Jesus.
Third, Jesus has provided the example par excellence of self-sacrifice.
Fourth, we are called to the ministry of reconciliation, which we take seriously here at NHCC; ministry formation through actual ministry experience is essential.
Christians mature. Some might have expected the Sunday school version that white represents Jesus washing us white as snow. But there is so much more that happens between redemption and glorification—sanctification. Consider ecclesiology and pneumatology, the study of the capital C church and the study of the Holy Spirit, two fundamental fields of Christian doctrine that primarily cover the period of between redemption and glorification, the period of sanctification. It is the responsibility of Christian leaders to marry ecclesiology and pneumatology, to do life-on-life discipleship with folks in church and to foster encounters with the Holy Spirit—the Spirit of Truth.
Again, we do not just dispense knowledge here; people can go to Siri or Alexa for that.
“Truth is revealed by God. It is not constructed or invented by individuals or communities. Various beliefs may be the result of human invention and group construction, but truth comes from the disclosure of a personal and moral God who makes himself known” (Groothuis 65).
Teachers, then, are called, equipped, and empowered by God and have the responsibility to design those Holy Spiritual experiential encounters with Truth that will take students higher than they can imagine. We see their potential and seek to scaffold together a curriculum that will incrementally take them from glory to glory. We prayerfully partner with God and provide formative feedback to help imagine and realize their designed purpose…because we have eternity in mind.
Eternity awaits. The cross of Christ is our intrinsic motivation, the pull from the inside; the rewards of heaven are our extrinsic motivation, the pull from outside. Francis Chan once used a balance beam for a great illustration. He stands on it and explains how crazy life can get, and that causes us to crouch down, straddle the balance beam, and then just hug the balance beam. But when the routine of life is over, and we stand before the judge, what is the Judge supposed to do?
We will be judged. We want students to stand before the Judge after a routine of excellence. Personally, I want to increase my eternal rewards by increasing others’ rewards…and I am willing to grade accordingly. Again, we will provide formative feedback to help students accurately recognize their performance and realize their potential. They might call it homework, but we call it spiritual preparation and part of the routine of life that the Judge is watching.
A core value of New Hope is the Gospel presented simply and creatively. So there is the Gospel in simple terms; I have boiled it down to ten words: God created, man sinned, Jesus saved, Christians mature, eternity awaits. And we test our students on it because we recognize the eternal significance of the Gospel.
Groothuis, Douglas. Truth Decay: Defending Christianity against the Challenges of Postmodernism. InterVarsity Press, 2000.
Habermas, Ronald. Introduction to Christian Education and Formation: A Lifelong Plan for Christ-centered Restoration. Zondervan, 2008.
Olson, Roger. Essentials of Christian Thought: Seeing Reality Through the Biblical Story. Zondervan, 2017.
Rickabaugh, Brandon L. “Eternal Life as Knowledge of God: An Epistemology of Knowledge by Acquaintance and Spiritual Formation.” Journal of Spiritual Formation & Soul Care, vol. 6, no. 2, 2013, pp. 204-228. DOI: 10.1177/193979091300600205. Accessed 28 August 2022.