Fall 2011 Opening Convocation - August 31st
August 31, 2011
Knowledge, Empires, the Kingdom & You
On behalf of the Board of Trustees, the Faculty and University Staff of Northwest Nazarene University, I welcome you to the 2011—2012 Academic Year and this, our Opening Convocation!
In particular I want to welcome those of you who are new to our campus—both transfer students and members of the Class of 2015. Would you please stand?
Also, this year over 50 students from countries outside the United States join us; I would like to ask all of our international students to please stand.
The annual Opening Convocation of NNU is a time of beginning. Seated behind me is the faculty of Northwest Nazarene University; you’ll be pleased to know they have been preparing for your arrival their entire professional life. Indeed, we have eagerly anticipated your coming and now it is time to begin.
Whether you are brand new to NNU or entering your senior year we seek to offer you a unique educational experience. For you see:
The mission of Northwest Nazarene University is the transformation of the whole person. Centered in Jesus Christ the NNU education instills habits of heart, soul, mind and strength to enable each student to become God’s creative and redemptive agent in the world.
This mission shapes who we are and what we do. Consequently, it will shape your NNU educational experience. In fact, it is so important, I want you to commit it to memory. When you leave chapel today, you’ll be handed a copy of the mission and four core values of NNU. Come and recite the mission and values to me from memory and I’ll give you $5. As cheesy as this may sound, we want you to grasp the identity of the place of which you are now a part—memorizing the mission will help you understand the nature and importance of your NNU educational experience.
The Quest for Knowledge, Meaning & Reality
You see people come to college for various reasons and with different expectations. For me, the Opening Convocation is a time in which I have the privilege of helping us remember and understand the nature and essence of a college education at Northwest Nazarene University.
To that end, I want to share several insights and findings from my 33 years in higher education (25 as a faculty/administrator, 8 as a undergraduate/graduate student) and from my recent reading.
This morning I want to familiarize you with an important study of emerging adults in America. The study was entitled: National Study of Youth and Religion. It is a mirror that reflects your generation’s views on religion, faith and God. Christian Smith, Soul Searching: The Religious & Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers.
As a result, the study’s authors, and those of us who have been reflecting upon their findings, have been able to better understand the nature of this current generation of college student and young adult. For instance, when your peers were asked about the importance and value of a college degree, they indicated that: What really matters to emerging adults is getting the credits, earning the diploma and becoming certified as a college-educated person so that they can get a better job, earn more money, and become a good salary earner and supporter of a materially comfortable and secure life. (Smith, Lost in Transition, p. 102)
The value of a college education is seen as a means to an end, “it promises to help secure for individuals more rewarding jobs, higher income, and, thus, greater. . . personal prospects for material and psychological well-being, security and happiness.” (Smith, Lost, p. 103) This is what is known as an “instrumental” view of education; it is a tool for personal, material progress—the acquisition of information and skill to do things. This is the dominant mindset of both parents and students, regarding why one should pursue a college degree. This approach provides a certain type of meaning and a certain
view of reality.
But before we go any further. Let’s take a pop quiz. Watch the screen.
Question: What do these three film clips have in common?
The Wizard of Oz (“Toto, we’re not in Kansas anymore.”)
Harry Potter & the Sorcerer’s Stone (Entering Track 9 ¾ to Hogwarts)
The Lion, Witch & the Wardrobe (Lucy enters Narnia thru the wardrobe)
Answer: Each scene depicts the characters entering and living in a new and different reality.
Invitation to a New Reality
I want to invite us to consider the nature of reality, to talk and think of “Knowledge, Empires, the Kingdom & You”. The “instrumental”, materialist view of the nature and purpose of a college education, though widely held on secular campuses and in homes across America, is woefully lacking. It represents a concept of reality based solely in terms of material things, addressing only the physical world. Our Western culture promotes this view of reality and defines success in terms of the power, prestige, possessions and pleasure one can acquire and experience in life.
Yet I stand before you this morning to declare that there is another way. Another view of reality. Listen to these words from the Apostle Paul:
I appeal to you therefore, brothers and sisters, by the mercies of God, to present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship. Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God—what is good and acceptable and perfect.
Romans 12: 1, 2
Don’t let the world squeeze you into its own mold, but let God re-make you so that your whole attitude of mind is changed.
J.B. Phillips translation
"Reality" in the World
Though written approximately 2,000 years ago, at the height of the Roman Empire, the Apostle Paul’s critique of that world’s reality is still very telling today. I want us to take a moment and consider what people are saying about members of your generation, and the cultural reality you find yourself living in and being squeezed and molded by.
Author and social commentator Tim Elmore says in Generation iY, you are a part of the most eclectic and diverse generation in our nation’s history.
Society in general and your parents in particular have paid close attention to you; so much so that to describe your generation is an exercise in paradox and contradiction.
Adventurous yet Overprotected
Generous yet Self-absorbed
Diverse yet Harmonious
Ambitious yet Anxious
High Achievers yet High Maintenance
As is the case with any generation, you are not solely responsible for the world in which you’ve grown up. Rather, you are the products of the world you inherited. Consider these cultural realities identified in the study I referenced by Christian Smith in Lost in Transition: The Dark Side of Emerging Adulthood. This is our nation’s emerging cultural DNA; ask yourself if you or your friends have had to deal with any of these conditions.
Cultural Realities for Emerging Adults
- Morally Adrift—highly individualistic and relativistic approach to morality; there is no objective moral truth; therefore each individual has the opportunity to construct their own morality.
- Captive to Consumerism—people measure happiness and well being based upon what they own; people receive pleasure from shopping and buying.
- Intoxicated—“The Fake Feeling of Happiness”—the perceived sense of individual freedom is artificially reinforced in the pursuit of a fake high, reinforcing the addictive tendencies of our consumer culture.
- The Shadow Side of Sexual Liberation—the free love experiment of your parents’ generation has taken its toll, sexual freedom has brought hurt, confusion, loneliness and regret.
- Civic and Political Disengagement—the millennials, despite a larger turnout in the last national election, are cynical, disengaged, disempowered and apathetic in civic and political matters.
Emerging from these cultural realities are the findings of the National Study of Youth and Religion. Your peers, by virtue of the world and culture in which they live, have coped by creating a particular approach to matters of God, faith and religion and life. The study summarizes the American youth’s view of and participation in matters of faith and religion by identifying a fairly common set of beliefs and practices, which the study’s authors have called Moralistic Therapeutic Deism (MTD). Consider the five primary tenets of this culturally evolved view of reality.
Guiding Beliefs of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism
- A god exists who created and orders the world and watches over life on earth.
- God wants people to be good, nice and fair to each other, as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.
- The central goal of life is to be happy and to feel good about oneself.
- God is not involved in my life except when I need God to resolve a problem.
- Good people go to heaven when they die.
For those of us who have answered Christ’s call on our lives, we sadly realize that MTD is a bland and bankrupt view of Christianity.
Yet though we are saddened by this flimsy, hollow view of reality we must not ignore it or its effects, for it is the prevailing approach to life in America, particularly amongst emerging adults ages 18-34.
In the book Sex and the iWorld, author Dale Kuehne skillfully identifies the fact that we live in a society based upon and organized around extreme individualism. Individual freedom has become this culture’s non-negotiable. Indeed, rules of conduct, what’s acceptable and unacceptable in our culture, revolve around individual rights and choice.
Rules of Conduct in the iWorld
- One may not criticize someone else’s life choices or behavior.
- One may not behave in a manner that coerces or causes harm to others.
- One may not engage in a sexual relationship with someone without his or her consent.
In essence we are witnessing the establishment of The Empire of Individualism.
The Empire of Individualism
As Kuehne writes, “we are only beginning to perceive where all this is leading, and we do not yet understand all its implications for human life. We do not even know if the personal freedom the iWorld promises is sustainable or if the attempt to deliver an unprecedented amount of individual freedom will lead to a breakdown of order.”
(Kuehne, Sex & the iWorld, p. 93)
This secular reality of self is so prevalent and pervasive that it is creating its own myths about humankind; it is the story of man and woman being the independent, self-directing end of all things.
Ironically, this sounds a great deal like the empire Paul wrote about when he described the Roman culture of his day and the actions of those in it. Though they knew God, they refused to acknowledge him as God, and were not thankful he was God. They let their imaginations run wild and the light of knowledge went out in their hearts. Romans 1: 21
We stand here, as the faculty of Northwest Nazarene University to say that we hold such a view of reality in this world and the knowledge sources that have shaped the way things are to be misguided, incomplete and false. We contend that there is another way of knowing; there is another view of reality.
Listen to this passage from Romans 11, the passage that immediately precedes the Romans 12 rebuke of worldly conformity and the call to godly transformation. I stand amazed at the fathomless wealth of God’s wisdom and God’s knowledge. How could man ever understand God’s reasons for action, or explain God’s methods of working?
For who has known the mind of the Lord?
Or who has been his counselor?
Or who has given a gift to him, to receive a gift in return?
For everything began with him, continues its existence because of him, and ends in him.
Romans 11: 33-35
Reality in the Kingdom
There is something else out there, another way of looking at life and meaning and purpose. Something other than what the Empire of Individualism has to offer. Consider this quote:
I believe in Christianity as I believe that the sun has risen: not only because I see it, but because by it I see everything else.
Though we live amidst times when the “religion of secular individualism” purports to be the possessor of knowledge and the arbiter or what’s right and proper, we want you to know that we have come to NNU to delve into deeper matters. Though we are conversant in bodies of knowledge within our specialties and disciplines we teach here because we want to join you, our students, in pursuing the knowledge of God and the good life God intends for us to live.
And though secular universities do not have departments that deal in the pursuit of what’s real and good and true, such a quest is at the heart of each of our callings and the mission and vision of Northwest Nazarene University
Knowledge in the Kingdom
I am indebted to Christian philosopher Dallas Willard author of Knowing Christ Today:
Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge, who notes that though religion has recently been excluded from the domain of knowledge, “modern discoveries have not shown that Christianity’s central teachings do not or cannot form a body of knowledge accessible to capable and responsible inquirers.” (Willard, Knowing Christ, p. 10) “No one has demonstrated or proven that there is no moral reality or no teachable knowledge of it, or that it should not be taught as such in our institutions.” (Willard, p. 82)
We contend that there is a God-centered body of knowledge; for instance, we are a faculty who believes that “the physical universe was produced by something that is not physical”. And that “there is something other than nature that accounts for nature and the regularities of nature.” (Willard, p. 127) “We presume that there is at least one self-existent, nonphysical, state of being radically different from those that make up the physical or ‘natural’ world”. (Willard, p. 107)
Furthermore, we have come to know that the creative power just alluded to is indeed God, the center and source of all human existence—in God all things came to be and in God all things hold together.
Let me say this another way. We believe we possess a body of knowledge about reality that secular universities do not possess. As Christians in the Wesleyan tradition we have received this knowledge through Scripture, reason, tradition and experience. It is a body of knowledge focused primarily on persons and relationships, awaiting our consideration and exploration. I want you to be keenly aware of this fact, because like us, you are being asked to be aware of two realities and to be conversant in two languages: the empire of individualism and the Kingdom of God. During your tenure here at NNU we
will repeatedly highlight the paths of the Empire and the Kingdom as you daily choose which path to follow.
It’s not that we’re being redundant, it’s that we know you are in a critical stage of personal development. In her insightful book Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church, Kenda Creasy Dean highlights the season of Emerging Adulthood, the allure of the world, and its tendency to squeeze you into its mold. This continual temptation must be counterbalanced with an awareness of the Kingdom of God and the righteous life we are called to lead.
Emerging Adults & Choosing Reality
Today’s culture, with its obsession with youth and individual choice, has postponed the move from adolescence to adulthood. The study showed a Postponed Generation:
A Postponed Generation
What do Generation Y/Millennials perceive as the doorway to adulthood?
a. Driver’s license
b. High School diploma
c. College diploma
d. Full-time job
f. Answer: First Child
Average Age of Parent when First Child is Born—Age 27
Final transition to Adulthood—Age 34
These emerging adults are the same individuals who live according to the gospel of Moralistic Therapeutic Deism. They haven’t discarded God, they’ve just domesticated God. When asked about their view of God and their commitment to faith, those who acknowledge God fit into the following categories:
American Youth & God
12% The Disengaged
17% The Sporadic
27% The Regular
8% The Devoted
This 8% is a key group. For we think the vast majority of the NNU student body is made up of students who belong to the 8% category, young people who are highly devoted to God. In fact, if you want to know if you fit the “highly devoted” profile ask yourself if these criteria describe you:
NNU Students are the 8%
Highly Devoted Emerging Adults Possess
- An articulated God-story
- A deep sense of belonging in their faith communities
- A clear sense that their lives have a God-given purpose
- An attitude of hope that the world is moving in a good direction because of God
Let me say it another way. Have you come here to put your life in conversation with the gospel of Jesus Christ?
Seeking the Kingdom
Have you come here to join us in living out the NNU motto, to seek first the kingdom of God? When you walk across the platform and receive your diploma we want you to not only be competent and knowledgeable in your chosen field of study, but of equal, if not greater importance, we want you to have chosen to be citizens of the Kingdom of God, capable of living in this world without being of it.
To come to embrace the knowledge that ushers you into the reality that the Kingdom of God is where we’re called to live and grow and serve is a wonderful, frightening, exciting thing. You see, moralistic therapeutic deism is safe, and saccharin and tame. We’re talking about, inviting you to be a part of, something beyond the design of an empire based upon individualism:
It is the story of God’s kingdom being launched on earth as in heaven, generating a new state of affairs in which the power of evil has been decisively defeated, the new creation has been decisively launched, and Jesus’ followers have been commissioned and equipped to put that victory and that inaugurated new world into practice. (N.T. Wright, Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church,
In each and every major, in each and every class, we want you to not only be grasping the lessons and the craft and art of your discipline of choice, but we also want you to be developing Christian muscles. You see, God’s plan to change reality is linked directly to us. God enters the world through people like us. Jesus said:
The Kingdom of God never comes by looking for signs of it. Men cannot
say, ‘Look, here it is’, or ‘there it is’, for the Kingdom of God is inside you.
Luke 17: 21
Today, this day of beginning, we celebrate the fact that you have come to join us in learning and living in God’s Kingdom reality. Not only are we ourselves being transformed, we are becoming his agents of transformation, called to establish the Kingdom of God on earth as in heaven.
If you indeed cry out for insight,
And raise your voice for understanding;
If you seek it like silver,
And search for it as for hidden treasures—
Then you will understand the fear of the Lord
And find the knowledge of God.
Proverbs 2: 3-5
Dean, Kenda Creasy. Almost Christian: What the Faith of Our Teenagers is Telling the American Church. N
Elmore, Tim. Generation iY: Our Last Chance to Save Their Future. Atlanta: PoetGardner, 2010.
Kronman, Anthony T. Education’s End: Why Our Colleges and Universities Have Given Up on the Meaning of Life.
Kuehne, Dale S. Sex and the iWordl: Rethinking Relationship Beyond an Age of Individualism. Grand Rapids: Bake
Smith, Christian with Kari Christoffersen, Hilary Davidson & Patricia Snell Herzog. Lost in Transition: The Dar
Smith, Christian with Melina Lundquist Denton. Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Te
Stearns, Richard. The Hole in Our Gospel. Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2009.
Willard, Dallas. Knowing Christ Today: Why We Can Trust Spiritual Knowledge. New York: HarperOne, 2009.
Wright, N.T. After You Believe: Why Christian Character Matters. New York: HarperCollins, 2010.
Wright, N.T. Surprised by Hope: Rethinking Heaven, the Resurrection and the Mission of the Church. New Yo