During the Winter Break, I kept busy blogging several “so fars” for the Road Trip – themes that have proved prevalent across my exploration. I wrote about college ministers learning customization for the Millennial Generation, poor ministry communication, the joys of locality, and the prevalence of social justice activity.
Then I had the flu.
So I got a little diverted from that purpose. But there are a few more Collegiate Ministry themes from my trip so far, so here we go.
Today’s note is actually related to the last “So Far” post, where I mentioned the many examples of Social Justice in action I’ve seen.
While I’ve seen plenty of SJ in action, I haven’t often seen any theology behind Social Justice spelled out to students. (That doesn’t mean there aren’t plenty of Bible studies or other relevant teachings. I just haven’t been a part of any.) Behind the scenes, though, in conferences like Catalyst and Ivy Jungle, and in my interviews with College Ministry leaders, Social Justice theology has been a huge theme.
Specifically, the theological line I’ve seen is a “Kingdom Come” theology. As best I can summarize what I’ve heard, the focus is on God desiring to build His Kingdom on earth. Therefore, He is glorified as we work with Him to help that happen. We do that through bringing God’s justice, peace, beauty, etc., here, “on earth as it is in heaven.”
Yeah, it kinda sounds at times like classic Postmillennialism, and for some the ties are more than implicit. But regardless of eschatology, the point is this: Social Justice isn’t just good because “Jesus loves people”; it’s good because it is “what Jesus is doing in the world” – bringing His Kingdom to earth. “Kingdom Theology” is often the name applied, though that name has been used for other theologies, too. But I think this Wikipedia article gets pretty close to the “brand” of Kingdom Theology I’ve seen this year.
Now it’s time for a big, important, huge note.
Big important huge note: I’m not defending nor denying this theology. How could I, when I haven’t had the time to sort through the arguments? I’m just writin’ what I’m seein’, and I’m seein’ this all over the place.
That said, this is extremely prevalent theology that has been around for a while but is now showing up in the Collegiate Ministry world in force. Probably, some of you feel this is a big , fat “duh” because your church or denomination has been rockin’ this talk for years. But I know firsthand that’s not true for everybody!
Because Social Justice is a major theme throughout the colleges of our nation, most college ministers will need to grapple with this theology. Since Social Justice is attractive to students, any theology that “gives their passion greater meaning” will be attractive, too.
But that’s a little bit of a concern, right? Because regardless of what we believe on any particular theology, how we come to believe that theology matters a whole lot! (Words like “hermeneutics” and “epistemology” fit here.) Especially in Collegiate Ministry, we need to be very good about helping students come to theology honestly – through valid & wise searches for real-life truth. Since Millennials (and many of their leaders) are quite passionate about compassionate ministry, it can be tempting simply to pick a theology that “fits us” best.
Again, I’m not discounting this theology. I haven’t gotten a chance to do enough work on it, and I may ultimately accept it all-out! But I am discounting any theologizin’ that accepts a notion because we like it, before examining it for truth.
Think about the aspects of this newest generation that could “fit” with some great theologies OR could “fit” with some terrible theologies – things like compassion for the world, tolerance, consumerism, optimism, and openness could “fit” classic Jesus-Truth or crazy-ridiculous cults! So “fit-ness” may not be the best test.
After all, this isn’t eHarmony.
But in a good portion of the discussions I’ve heard about this theology, the focus seems to have been more on “the good this theology produces” rather than actual truth-searching.
I don’t want to believe this simply because I like it and I like its fruits.
Even if this theology turns out to be absolutely right, what happens if the next “passion-fitting” theology isn’t true? Are we teaching students (and ourselves) that our deep passions are meant to be met by the first suitor who seems to fit the bill? That’s big trouble for theology-picking, right?
Meanwhile, there is much opportunity for us and our students to “grapple” here. A couple of places to start could be this article by N. T. Wright and the book Kingdom Come by Allen Wakabayashi, an InterVarsity staffer I had the pleasure of meeting. Those are the first resources I’ve run across on this trip, but sorry I don’t have more right now. If you know of more (for or against, I guess), please let us know in the Comments!
written from California State University San Marcos