“God’s concern is worldwide. How the church has responded to that mandate is also clear in the light of history. All too frequently the Church has fallen into lethargy in relation to its world-wide obligations. But God does not leave Himself without a witness. Whether it be a Nicolas Von Zinzendorf, a Samuel Mills, a C. T. Studd, a Robert Wilder, a John Mott, a Jim Elliot or a hundred others who could be named, God singles out a man to prophesy to His church. And with remarkable frequency that man has been a student.” – David Howard
Out of the 17 million college students in the U.S. (90 million worldwide), a growing number of freshmen would identify themselves as being Christians, by which they sincerely mean “Christ followers,” not “Our family has a Christmas tree instead of a Hanukkah bush.” Yet, however you want to quantify it, or whatever metric you use, this growing number has not translated into a growing influence for Christ. On most campuses our heads rarely rise above sea level to be recognized as anything more than another club or subculture, listed in the student activities manual under “Christian Groups,” sandwiched between “Chess Club” and “Cross-Country.” It would be more accurate to say that we, who ought to be the salt of the earth, have instead become its vanilla extract.
As I move from campus to campus, I look for revolutionary Christians who will stand up and say they are committed to living for Christ, no matter what the cost and no matter what they might have to sacrifice. But it is hard to find such Christians. I’ve been to more worship services than I can count, and I’ve heard students voice vehement conviction in the lyrics of their praise. I just don’t see the follow-through. And I’ve been in the follow-through business. When students said they wanted to go and serve Christ around the world, I’ve set up the trips and witnessed firsthand the discontinuity between the worshiping multitudes who claim “I’ll sing your praises to the world” and the handful who actually get on a plane.
Well, it wouldn’t take much effort to keep things on autopilot and continue to grind out mediocrity. But let’s not. Instead, I want you to pause and honestly ask yourself: Is there revolutionary Christianity on my campus? Is there an immense amount of spiritual power being released where I attend college?
First Corinthians 4:20 has exploded like a bomb in my mental and spiritual life. It says, “The kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power” (nasb), meaning, unlike every other human club or activity, the Christian life is not defined by its terminology (saying or singing the right words), nor can it be reduced to a program (doing the right activities). The Christian life is primarily about spiritual transformation through spiritual power, manifested in spiritual community—a work of God’s power, not ours.
In light of 1 Corinthians 4:20, here are the questions to ask if you want to diagnose the spiritual vitality of your Christian group on campus: Is spiritual power being manifested in answered prayer? Is there spiritual power at work, leading others to Christ and energizing students to witness? Is there spiritual power to resist temptation and overcome evil? Is there spiritual power to move others for God and move God down to us through prayer? Is there spiritual power to disciple others in a way that is life changing? Is there spiritual power to love enemies, to pray for them, to do good for them, and to draw them to Christ? Is supernatural power being exerted?
On most campuses the honest answer to those questions would be that the evidence of supernatural, life-transforming power is severely lacking.
Living with Impotence
When we look at life on campus, what we see are students immersed in sexual relationships, enslaved to pornography, and obsessed with dating (appearance, exercise, clothes, and so on). That’s not some finger-wagging accusation but simply a statement of fact; the majority of those engaged in this sexualized lifestyle lack the capacity to withdraw even if they desired to. Against this backdrop I wish I could say that Christians stand as shining beacons of purity, but you and I both know that’s not true. The degree to which, and the percentage to which, Christians struggle with these issues are not remarkably different from those for nonbelievers. Not only is there missing power to fight such temptation, but our sexual dalliances drain us of the limited spiritual reserves we do have. Lust, sex, and pornography have diluted and neutralized our spiritual power.
When there is a lack of spiritual vitality, joy, and zeal, Christianity drifts toward legalism: adherents define themselves by what they don’t do rather than by what they do and what they are—Christ followers. The result is that on many campuses we are not perceived as a radical community of transformed individuals but as the local “abstinence club,” refraining from all activities fun and enjoyable and judges of those who participate.
Many are straddling the fence for Jesus Christ, with one foot in the world and one foot in the kingdom. One student volunteered, “I’m not sitting on the fence. I’m lying on top of it.” We lack the spiritual power to immunize us to the heart disease of materialism, choking off our souls like arteries clogged with mayonnaise. We smuggle in the American dream, cleverly packaged in Christian/family verbiage to avoid guilt detection—going in quest of a Christian spouse, Christian house, Christian car (fish on the bumper), Christian computer (Bible verse screensaver), parental and peer approval, financial security, and travel. Dress it up in Sunday church clothes, but it’s still the American dream: the pursuit of happiness … materialism.
This may seem harsh, but as you look around, it seems Christians have done the one thing to Christianity that even Christ’s enemies could not do. Christ’s enemies scourged Him, mocked Him, beat Him, tried Him falsely, hung Him on a cross, jammed a crown of thorns on His head, stuck a spear in His side, and finally sealed Him in a stone-cold tomb. Centuries after His resurrection, His enemies denied that He ever existed. But with all this, we Christians have dealt Christ a more damaging blow. We have not killed Him, but we have made Him boring.
Our Need for Power
I don’t say any of this as an alarmist, pessimist, or cynic. Lamenting our witness, critiquing the Christian subculture, or berating our failures does none of us any good. In fact, I’m rather optimistic: I truly believe that we could have an impact for Christ beyond anything we have ever experienced. But the journey toward that destination must begin with truthful analysis. It does not begin with our Christian witness as we would like it to be, or wish it were, but as it is currently being lived out on campus—clearly with a lack of spiritual power.
Several million Christian college students around the world have a desperate need for power, holiness, and New Testament vitality to characterize their lives. The changing of these students’ lives would have a profound impact on the millions who do not know Christ, no doubt resulting in the entrance of hundreds of thousands into the kingdom. We must ask, then, what is the solution to our spiritual impotence?
In reality there are a number of things. But the most comprehensive answer, the one I’m proposing in this book, is that what we need, what we really want and long to see, is revival and awakening on our campuses and in our lives—a holy fire bringing heaven down to earth. We long, as the prophet Habakkuk did, to see and experience God’s power: “Lord, I have heard of your fame; I stand in awe of your deeds, O Lord. Renew them in our day, in our time make them known” (Habakkuk 3:2).
Would it not be amazing to see God renew His awesome deeds in our day? I’m not sure what that would look like, but--oh, God!—what I would give to see it. And deep within my heart, I honestly believe we are going to see it, if we will meet God’s conditions for revival. I believe God wants to move across the world’s six thousand-plus campuses, sweeping them up into a holy fire, causing believers to get off the fence and live passionately for Him and bringing multitudes of new believers into His kingdom. I think He wants to take the inverted university world and turn the entire system right side up.
-From "let’s turn the college campus right side up" in Fireseeds of Spiritual Awakening by Dan Hayes. To order the book, click here or ask a Cru staff member for a copy.
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