Paul Conn: Never Bring a Knife to a Gunfight


President Paul Conn |

That’s a bit of common-sense advice that I never expect to use, in a literal sense. I hope never to be in a gunfight, with a knife or otherwise. But I get the message: make sure your weapons match up to the situation, or more particularly of your opponent. The cultural wars of the 21st Century are a gunfight, for sure. Not that we should be surprised, as Christian believers. The relationship between the people of God and the forces of secularism has always been more a battle than a waltz. Scripture warns us: “we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities. . . “

For a young follower of Christ, whether called to full-time vocational ministry or not, the life one faces in 2012 will be a constant challenge to maintain and advance the claims of a Christ-centered life. The question is what kind of intellectual and personal training will best equip the believer for the fight? What kind of schooling? What kind of campus and classroom? In my opinion, the best place to train for Christian living in a dark world is the Christ-centered liberal arts college or university. Some of the other types of preparation – the traditional Bible College, the parachurch “boot camp”, or many others – have lots of positive qualities, but ultimately send young people into the gunfight with a knife. Underequipped.

An older Christian once told me, when I was a college student, pondering how best to prepare for ministry: “Know the message; know the audience; know why it matters.” As I think back on that good advice, it strikes me that “knowing the message” means knowing the Bible; “knowing the audience” means knowing the culture; “knowing why it matters” means knowing God for oneself in a deeply authentic way.

I was the product of a good Bible College. My undergraduate transcript is filled with biblical studies, theology, and Greek. It was a traditional training for ministry, and it taught me “the message” quite well. But when I graduated, and began to preach and serve as a local youth pastor, I realized that I knew a lot more about what I was trying to communicate than I did about the people to whom I was speaking and the culture in which the dialogue was occurring. As I considered what kind of education I needed next, I automatically applied to seminary, but without much enthusiasm. Eventually, I enrolled instead in a graduate program in psychology, and earned a M.A. and a Ph.D. in that area. That program taught me nothing about God – not intentionally, at least – but it taught me a lot about people and indirectly about ministry. So after eight years of full-time study, I felt better equipped for my calling, but I always regretted the fact that my intellectual training had come in two separate silos, and I missed the integration and cross-pollination that I knew was an indispensable part of a complete education.

Later, I went to Lee University to teach psychology, and there I saw that integrated, real-life combination of biblical truth with the arts and sciences which I now believe to provide the optimal training for a life of Christian discipleship. I saw this model not just at Lee, but at many other wonderful Christ-centered institutions around the country which offer accredited degrees. I have now been president of Lee University for many years, and I have handed thousands of diplomas in commencement ceremonies to students graduating in dozens of fields from history to premed to French. For all of them, regardless of their academic major, I know that they have also taken courses in Bible, in Christian ethics and worldview, and have learned the demands of Christian service and global servanthood. Now they are ready to go out there into the battle – not with a knife, but with a gun. They have explored the message of the Bible, alongside fellow believers, and at the same time have explored the culture of which they are a part – all in an environment which affirms faith rather than destroying it. I believe it is the best possible preparation for the
life to which God has called them.

Reprinted from Charisma’s Best Christian Universities, Colleges and Schools

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