There is a decidedly ironic and humorous typo on the Northland website that will probably be corrected soon, but Dissidens has been quick to provide a satirical commentary. (A screen shot of the post is below. Notice the last line: “grow thin Christ likeness.”)
It is our desire that this endeavor will create and strengthen interactions between students and staff members, leading to opportunities for Gospel-centered conversation and mutual encouragement toward grow thin Christ likeness.
Thin Christlikeness. Certainly this is probably an honest albeit unintended assessment of what results from discipleship while watching March Madness. Though clearly the ambition is nobler and the aspiration true growth in Christ, it does afford an opportunity to discuss the culture of American Christianity, particularly in the places where future leaders are being trained.
I must say that while I am an enthusiastic amateur bracketologist currently being destroyed by my wife and eleven-year-old daughter and barely ahead of my five-year-old son, I find myself wincing in agreement with Dissidens, a person that I very much enjoy disliking. I personally think (and don’t we all want to know what I personally think?) that the whole month of activities surrounding the NCAA tournament sounds like a lot of fun for a bible college campus, and if I were there I would probably be first in line to try a half-court shot for a free sweatshirt or whatever the prize may be. I have always had a huge addiction to free anything.
I take no umbrage with fun. Even at bible college.
But, let’s be real. If anything shows “thin Christ likeness” it’s the American evangelical bible college gaggle of spirituality. Bible colleges are too often the epitome of the church youth group in which the naive youth director feels it is his calling in life to prove to young people that they can be Christian and have fun too.
My college years were spent in both a secular environment and in bible college. While in Toulouse, France I clung to Christian fellowship and discipleship was all about prayer, resisting the wiles of the Devil, pursuing purity, witnessing in hostile environments, fasting, and spiritual affections. In bible college I metamorphosed from borderline mystical ascetic to class clown, becoming class and student body president and advancing frivolity with all the zeal of Saul of Tarsus. I was a Christian and having fun too.
Discipleship on the bible college campus was hanging out at the professors’ homes eating pizza and enjoying a few more liberties than were allowed in the men’s dormitory. Before I went to bible college and while I was in a secular environment I shared the feelings of Jim Elliot.
No ascetic, Jim enjoyed to the full all that he believed God had given him to enjoy, but he felt it wisest to exclude from the sphere of activity anything which had the power to distract him from the pursuit of the Will. . . . He believed Christ to be utterly sufficient for the entire fulfillment of the personality, and was ready to trust Him literally for this.
But as college kids often do, I got drunk. I got drunk on American silliness and in my delusion actually thought it sounded very cool to justify every recreation as a “fun and discipleship.” Jesus said, “If you would be my disciple, take up your cross.” Giggle, giggle.
Thin Christlikeness will get offended by this, of course. It will be assumed that anyone who agrees with Dissidens on this matter is cynical, bitter, judgmental, and anti-smile. They might even assume that I am against all the festivities at my alma-mater surrounding the NCAA Championship. This, however, is a simplistic analysis. I’ve actually filled out two brackets and am intensely engaged in this hugely entertaining month. (I’ve picked Michigan State to go all the way.) But I think we do ourselves a disservice when we insist that we have to put a spiritual spin on everything: fun AND “discipleship.”
Serious minded Christians actually think you can have fun as a disciple, but that fun is not discipleship. One has famously said that there is no difference between the sacred and the secular. The problem is that there is.
We also do ourselves and our young people a huge disservice when we take sacred concepts and insinuate frivolity. The word “chapel” is meaningless now. Why not call it what it is: “school assembly”? But when you have “chapel” (understood by most in the world as a place of, or designated service for, worship) in which the sports guys discuss their brackets it undermines true seriousness about real discipleship and worship. And are all students required to go to the silly chapels?
I say this as one who personally orchestrated circus atmospheres that burst through the previous ceiling of frivolous “chapels” at Northland. I didn’t have good sense then. And I still don’t mind a good party. But I think 19 year olds aren’t really understanding what the real world is like where, in most places, discipleship is not fun.
I can’t help but wonder if there are not some students on these bible college campuses that are like Jim Elliot, the student at Wheaton many years ago:
My spirit is all a ruffle again at the vast, inexplicable complexities of humankind, and the careless, ineffective manner we fool ‘fundamentalists’ use in answering the cry of hearts which cannot understand themselves.
We American Christians cannot understand ourselves. But we understand March Madness. And we have just enough knowledge of ourselves to know that if discipleship is not fun we probably want none of it.