Campus Christians are eager to discuss

Part three of a five-part series on university spirituality

Come Feb. 25, or sometime thereafter, you might be invited to witness a gruesome, horrifying execution – in a film produced by Mel Gibson.

Who’s doing the inviting? Maybe a follower of the guy who gets executed. Yes, thousands of his followers populate our classes, dorms and labs, right here at the University.

Most identify themselves as “followers of Christ,” or Christians. They eschew denominational labels. Most ethnic groups on campus are represented, especially the Koreans and Chinese.

Christian faith is more about a relationship with God than a formal religious ritual. Campus Christians don’t want a dead faith; they go for what they sometimes call “real life” or “abundant life.” Theirs is a zesty faith.

As Christ’s followers, they are learning to find their places in his story, including the gruesome part. They take biblical teaching very seriously, such as the idea that humans are innately and originally evil. This bleak assessment, most will say, comes from taking an honest look within themselves.

The good news Christians are so eager to share is that God has provided a way out of the cul-de-sac of selfish ambition, arrogance and ignorance masquerading as knowledge: Jesus Christ, as God’s son, voluntarily gave his life to pay the penalty of our evil rebellion. It’s this very story of grisly death on a Roman cross you will witness in Gibson’s “The Passion of the Christ.”

Of course, this brings up the issue of evangelism. Some call it proselytism. Campus evangelical and charismatic Christians like to share the Gospel story because it’s made a qualitative difference in their lives. They don’t want to cram divine love down your throats because doing so would be oxymoronic.

The campus Christian community is not monolithic, however. While about 40 registered student organizations identify themselves as evangelical or charismatic, about five groups carry a “mainline” message. Theirs is more about the Christian tradition as an agent of social empowerment, and you’ll find them emphasizing dialogue over evangelism. The largest, the Catholic Campus Ministry, is part of the Roman Catholic Church.

Christ’s followers on campus, of course, have their problems. Some are clueless about relating their private faith to public issues. Most keep their heads low in the classroom, as most professors don’t give academic credence to religious claims. Some, especially new converts, are overbearing about their new faith (as I once was), although exuberance in service to a compassionate savior seems polite when compared to the exuberance of hundreds of drunken, plastered University students every Friday night.

Jesus’ followers are also very committed to truth, a miserably underrated notion on our campus. History matters, because the Christian sacred text – the Bible – is excessively focused on events, such as Jesus’ resurrection, that purport to be history. A commitment to truth combines with a sense of justice and compassion for many. Whether attending lectures, such as the one the MacLaurin Institute recently sponsored on just treatment of the unborn, or building Habitat for Humanity homes for the poor, many Jesus followers are eager to make a difference because it matters.

While many need to learn to be better listeners (who doesn’t?), Christians’ focus on getting at the truth makes them interested in others’ ideas. One graduate student said that “although (the University) is often an adverse environment for Christianity, that is good because it causes me to grow in what I believe. I like talking to other students about my faith and hearing their views.” Thus, followers of Christ are often eager to learn the belief systems of, and become friends with, many of their Jewish, Buddhist, Hindu and Muslim classmates.

One big shocker is that campus Christians generally have great relationships with atheists, and occasionally co-sponsor debates. Why? Both love to discuss the truth, though they reach radically different conclusions.

Will you be invited to Gibson’s controversial new film? If you are, your friend might be a Jesus follower. If not, check out the film anyway, and find out by whose hand Jesus was nailed to a cross.

Robert Osburn is director of the MacLaurin Institute. Send comments to [email protected]