Tuesday, October 11, 2016

Fighting Deceptive Philosophies

As we have been discussing during the Colossians sermon series, believers have been fighting battles against deceptive philosophies since the time of Jesus. 
In preparing our students for their college years, the church has long thought of apologetics – which is the defense of faith through reason – as the means by which we fight such philosophies. Though apologetics is still of great importance, the intellectual spirit of the age has shifted the focus of the battle to a new – or, rather, additional – front.  
We are seeing that today’s intellectual climate is now not just making claims over reason, but is also making claims over and controlling the realm of personal passions and desires. It teaches students that the best way forward is by listening to themselves over against things taught by existing structures and authority figures. It also tells them that once they have set foot on the path they have chosen, they can do so only so long as they do not try to persuade or influence another’s actions and decisions (unless their path aligns with the mainstream intellectual milieu, then it feels that persuasion is welcome). 
The result of all of this is that students are being formed and shaped into individualistic worlds. They are taught to make choices that are ‘right for them’ without consulting external environments, particularly those that teach restrictions or limits on personal choice, and even without having open and honest conversations with peers on campus.
A student with whom I spoke just this week lamented that she does not feel that she and some of her like-minded peers have space to discuss what they really think about pressing issues. She said, “we receive the ‘ideals’ promoted by the university and we see all around us the ways our classmates live, but there is no common space for us to talk openly and honestly about what our ideals are (and by “our ideals” she means those unvoiced views that differ from the university’s and from those held by some of her schoolmates).  
In response to sensing this general spirit of the university as characterized in the exchange I just described, our Center has begun to create spaces that offer open conversation for students. This semester we are offering a “Life Worth Living” seminar that focuses on how the ideals of the university and the typical practices of today’s college students create an environment that sometimes aligns, but many times conflicts with a kingdom-vision for living. I am happy to say that this class includes the student whose lament I just shared, along with 16 of her schoolmates. In the spring, we will be offering a class on biblical wisdom for contemporary living which will be a different approach towards the same end. We hope to keep this type conversation consistently present the university’s academic life.
Our hope through these seminars is not just to cultivate an intellectual understanding of Scripture but also to cultivate a love and desire for the Lord. In his essay, “The Weight of Glory,” C.S. Lewis is concerned because he finds human desire not too strong, but too weak. He wants us to see, experience, and enwrap ourselves in the immeasurable riches of God’s grace and to know how long, how wide, and how deep is the love of Christ. In a world that is telling students to love whatever you will and follow what you love, cultivating relationships of deep love between our youth and Jesus will form a rootedness and firm foundation that will better enable them to withstand the hollow and deceptive philosophy of individualistic desire that characterizes this age and draw them more fully into the One who is the only true and proper source of our love and desire. 
Edward Dixon
COTA Member & Director, Center for Christianity and Scholarship, Duke University