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COMMENTARY | Chase Abner

Note: This article originally appeared on Collegiate Collective, a new resource that features articles, podcasts, and videos designed to equip leaders to advance the gospel on college campuses.

Chase_Abner_calloutI’ve been around collegiate ministry for about eleven years. In those years, I’ve been witness to all sorts of public hubbub on the world stage of evangelicalism. At first, there was the challenge posed by Dan Brown’s “The Da Vinci Code.” Then there was a lot of back-and-forth about the Emergent Church and how post-modernism was going to erode all of Christendom. And that was just a precursor to Rob Bell’s “Love Wins” and the battle for the doctrine of hell. And Mark Driscoll has been the subject of his fair share of controversies. Throw “The Shack” and Calvinism into the mix and you’ve got yourself enough blog fodder to last you until the other side of eternity.

Early on, I somehow got the impression that a big part of my job as a campus minister was to help students be on the “right side” of all these public controversies. I read a lot of blogs and way too many blog comments. I sought out what side my heroes were on. I studied the Bible hard and I tried to provide my students with all the right answers.

However, there was one big problem.

They weren’t even asking the questions. Most of them didn’t even know who Brown or Driscoll or Bell or Calvin was. They were more concerned about passing their biology test or paying tuition in the spring or what they were going to say to their roommate struggling with depression.

So I gave up. I stopped trying to be up-to-date on the controversy of the day. I decided that if it wasn’t something that was directly impacting my students, then I wouldn’t bother with it.

And guess what? I found that I had a lot more time to hear from God, rather than about Him from someone on a podcast. I found that I was freer to hear the questions the students actually had, rather than the ones I forced on them. And I found that it’s a lot easier to follow Jesus when you’re not fighting over Jesus.

So last week, a video of Victoria Osteen made the rounds. If you didn’t know, she is the wife of America’s most famous mega-pastor Joel Osteen. The clip is from a sermon in August wherein Victoria makes some…how do you say…provocative claims about proper motivation for obeying God. (If you haven’t seen it yet, then count yourself blessed and forget I mentioned it.)

Here’s what naïve Chase would’ve probably done in response to this clip if it had come along in my early days of ministry: I would’ve torn the thing to bits, shared all the parody videos, and read every blog that critiques the Osteens’ errant theology. I might’ve even used one of the parody videos in our weekly gathering or taught an entire lesson in response. In other words, I would’ve wasted a lot of time doing battle against something that had virtually zero influence on the people in my care.

Let me suggest this template for responding to public Christian controversies in your collegiate ministry context.

  1. Pray for the individuals caught in sin or espousing false teaching.
    • Example: Pray for the Osteens and those influenced by their teaching ministry.
  2. Examine yourself in light of Scripture.
    • Example: Ask God to show you where you have selfish motives in your obedience to him. Repent as necessary.
  3. Listen to your students. Respond when necessary.
    • Example: If your students aren’t being influenced by the controversy, then press on in your disciple-making as if nothing has happened. If they have questions about it, then address the controversy.

You see, as you focus your energy on developing mature Christians who believe and apply the gospel to all of life, they will be equipped to address the counterfeits on their own. If at times, the controversies catch their attention and your students have questions, then embrace those as teachable moments. But remember, they are just that—moments—and not the normal pattern for your ministry.

Most of all, avoid the temptation to define yourself and your ministry by what you’re against. Is the gospel exclusive? Yes. Does God draw some hard lines in Scripture? Yes. But most clearly, he reveals himself in the person and work of Jesus Christ who gave most of his energy on earth to proclaiming the good news of the Kingdom.

Chase Abner is Collegiate Evangelism Strategist for the Illinois Baptist State Association.

One in five Americans reported experiencing a mental illness in a single year; one in 10 takes an antidepressant.

One in five Americans reported experiencing a mental illness in a single year; one in 10 takes an antidepressant.

“…The day that I’d prayed would never happen, happened.”

In an interview last month with CNN’s Piers Morgan, Rick Warren recalled standing with his wife, Kay, in their son’s driveway in April, waiting for police to confirm their worst fears – Matthew, 27, had committed suicide after a long struggle with mental illness.

“We were sobbing. We were just sobbing,” Warren said.

The interview was the Warrens’ first since their son’s death, but the couple has been vocal on social media and from Saddleback’s pulpit about Matthew’s life and their grief. They’re also speaking out about the long-held stigma against mental illness in the church.

“It’s amazing to me that any other organ in your body can break down and there’s no shame and stigma to it,” Warren said in his first sermon back at Saddleback after a leave of absence. “But if your brain breaks down, you’re supposed to keep it a secret. …If your brain doesn’t work right, why should you be ashamed of that?”

Following Matthew Warren’s death, his parents created a fund in his name, in part to help develop resources for churches to use as they reach out to struggling families in the community and in the congregation.

There are many people in churches suffering from mental health issues, says Hal Trovillion, a former counselor and current pastor of First Baptist Church in Manteno, Ill. “The thing is that those people tend to feel as though others look at them badly, because of whatever their situation,” he says.

“The church needs to just turn that around. What many of them need is simply love and acceptance and a welcoming heart and help to deal with the issues at hand.”

Read the full cover story from latest issue of the Illinois Baptist and access the e-reader edition here.

Wife of Amish schoolhouse shooter shares hope in new book

Marie Monville’s quiet life crumbled violently in 2006, when her husband shot 10 young girls in an Amish schoolhouse in Nickel Mines, Pennsylvania. Her new book, “One Light Still Shines,” tells her story since that day, with a focus on how God sustained her family.

“Within the eye of the storm, the presence of God came and settled upon me,” Monville writes on her blog, whisperandwonder.wordpress.com. “Although I ‘knew’ God all my life, this moment of desperation propelled me to now KNOW him like never before.”

“One Light Still Shines” was released Monday, September 30, by Zondervan. Read more about on CNN’s Belief blog.

Missionary family trapped in Kenyan mall during terrorist attack

When terrorists seized a mall in Nairobi, Kenya, on September 21, a Southern Baptist missionary couple and their five children were inside. Baptist Press reports International Mission Board missionaries Chris and Jamie Suel and their kids had walked into Westgate Shopping Mall shortly before the terrorists. The Suels separated to shop before the attack began, and were reunited after five harrowing hours. The seige lasted three days and resulted in as many as 200 deaths. Read more at BPNews.net.

Jewish prayer book believed to be oldest ever found

The Green Collection, a biblical archive headed by Hobby Lobby president Steve Green, has identified what their scholars say is likely “the oldest Jewish prayer book ever found.” The manuscript is dated circa 840 C.E. and is in its original binding, the Green Collection reported in a press release. The prayer book will eventually be displayed at a Bible museum in Washington, D.C., scheduled to open in 2017. Read more at ChristianityToday.com.

 

Are you religious, spiritual or secular? College students weigh in

A new study found college students are pretty evenly divided on how they describe themselves spiritually, ChristianPost.com reports. The email survey was conducted by the Institute for the Study of Secularism in Society and Culture at Trinity College (Hartford, Conn.), whose researchers asked: “In general, would you describe yourself more as a religious, spiritual or secular person?” 32.4% answered “spiritual;” 31.8% said “religious;” and 28.2% identified themselves as “secular.”

The research is based on the responses of 1,873 students representing 27 states and 38 colleges. Read the full story at ChristianPost.com.