Written by Tyler Lee
Montreat College recently held its annual Spiritual Emphasis Week, a time of spiritual formation that brings in a guest speaker to address a spiritual, biblical, or theological topic. This year, director of cultural engagement & immersion for Impact 360 Jonathan Morrow spoke and addressed how biblical authority is dealt with in our culture. After hearing Morrow’s message, I met with Montreat Chaplain David Taylor to get a better understanding about faith, culture, and spiritual emphasis week as a whole.
Tyler Lee: What is the intention of Spiritual Emphasis Week?
Rev. David Taylor: The purpose of Spiritual Emphasis Week is to take a moment to look at the deeper realities of our lives. We take a theme from the life of a Jesus follower and lift it up to help students focus in on why that’s so important. For example, this time around was the importance, power, and authority of scripture. In our culture today, we tend to be very suspicious of things we’ve ascribed authority to or things that tell us what to do. As people who are committed to knowing what is true and isn’t true, we recognize scripture has the unique authority to tell the truth about who God is and who we’re called to be. In this particular instance, we want people to look at their own lives and their relationship with scripture. We want people to ask themselves the questions we don’t always take the time to ask and be willing to go deep with that, to be honest and recognize there is something in scripture that they need.
Morrow described the culture of today as a “sound byte, slogan-filled culture,” one that values subjective truth. What kind of assumptions do a lot of students go into college with in our culture, whether they be Christians or non-Christians?
One of the assumptions that a sound byte culture brings is that why people come to college is to learn just enough to have what they need to get the job that they want; there’s no conception of this larger life lived out with God. I think students come with this sound byte Christianity that says ‘You just need to believe in Jesus. He’ll forgive your sins and then you’re good.’ But then they don’t take the next step to question what that looks like lived out. Students spend their high school years learning in a particular style, memorizing to pass the test. When you come to college, we ask you to start asking a different set of questions. We ask you to interact not just with memorizing information, but really digging deep. Why does this really matter? What are the implications? In a college that affirms that “All truth is God’s truth,” whether that be found in the business world, the English world, the music world, or the outdoor education world, what we are trying to discover is what it looks like to live life with God in that particular setting. I think a lot of students come never being asked to think about it more deeply than just getting a piece of paper to put on the wall so they can get a paycheck, when there is a much deeper, richer life that we’re called to live into with God. All we have time to think about is a Facebook post of information before we have to go to the next thing. We are simply just so busy. You add to it that our phones our buzzing multiple times an hour. We’re so distracted we don’t have what we need to go deep. Our attention spans our so short because we are so busy, that slowing down to take time to think a little deeper doesn’t come naturally to our culture.
How do we deal with our belief that “All truth is God’s truth” in a world that has all these different interpretations and subjectivity?
This is a big question because we’re talking about how we know what’s true. How do we know that what we know is true? How do we know that we can know anything at all? The broadest assumption about knowledge is that you have to be able to prove it scientifically in order to know something. We like that because it’s nice and neat. The problem with that is that’s actually a very small and basic understanding of knowledge. When people go to religious or moral claims, they say that you can’t put that into a test tube; you can’t reproduce that. But once you begin to think seriously about that, on a macro level in the order of the universe, when you consider the amount of ordered and structured information that’s in a DNA strand, when you begin to think about the moral inclinations that we feel, then we begin to see that there might be some things pointing to something bigger. In a sound byte culture that struggles to make authoritative claims, we’ve been taught that doing so oppresses people and boxes them in. If you claim this is true, you’re saying that something else isn’t true. I don’t think that’s the reality necessarily, I think what happens is that people take it personally because you’re challenging their deep assumptions, and then it becomes a different issue instead of asking the question ‘Is it true?’
For those that have faith coming into college, but have more of a basic understanding, why is it important to move beyond a kindergarten faith and have your faith grow up with you?
This question gets to the very purpose of human existence. A kindergarten faith is great for kindergartners, but most kindergartner’s generally don’t have to face the challenges that come with living in a broken world. As we grow into life, life doesn’t become as black and white as it is in kindergarten. As we discover how broken the world is and the brokenness in ourselves, we need a God who is not only equal to the task of ministering to that brokenness but offers a hope that’s even bigger than that. I think it becomes easy for us to treat Jesus like fire insurance. We’re sincere about Jesus forgiving our sins and going to Heaven, but we think that’s it, that since we’ve got Heaven secured, we can just bide our time and live life here to the fullest until we get to Heaven. I think that’s what happens to college students; they can check the ‘Christian’ box and maybe they even went to youth group, but they haven’t let their picture of God speak to the depth of the human need and brokenness of the world. Sadly, those who went to youth group probably weren’t even given permission to ask those bigger questions. What does God think about abortion or homosexuality? Since the church doesn’t have space to talk about that and explore that, we go back to sound bytes, which come from culture and media that has this distorted picture of love and personhood, not a true, rich picture of personhood that God created for us. We don’t live in a kindergarten world. We live in a world that is deeply fallen, where sorrow, loss, pain, and death are real. God is truly bigger than that and provides the one true response to that pain and death, if we would but speak the truth of that and invite people to wrestle with God in a way that meets their grown-up fears, doubts, and questions. When we do that, people find again and again that God is big enough for the doubts and questions and provides a hope even bigger than the most painful agonizing loss.
How does Montreat allow people to discern their faith and explore it more?
What Montreat College does well overall is relationships. Montreat is such a small school and the fact of the matter is that we are relational people. We’re created in the image of a God who has relationship within Himself (Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in perfect love). We’re made for relationship. What I love about Montreat is that you can’t help but be in relationship, and in being known in the best way, you have people who love you enough to ask the questions that matter and can do so in a loving way. The opportunities for meaningful relationships, the kind that build Christ-likeness, help discern vocation, and help look at ourselves in a way that we couldn’t do by ourselves are just abundant here, whether that be in classrooms, where students know faculty and vice versa, or in the halls, where you get to know your RD’s on a first-name basis and they get to speak into your life in ways that only someone who lives alongside you can do. As people made in the image of God, we’re made for that kind of relationship. A spiritual life is not a vague sense of happy, warm fuzzies deep inside; it is a fully relational life with God and with others. That’s the great commandment, ‘to love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, might, and strength’ and ‘to love your neighbor as yourself.’ Spiritual emphasis empowers that, the kind of kingdom relationships that are deep, loving, meaningful, and are ‘iron sharpening iron,’ that help us grow from kindergarten faith to real, grown-up faith in Christ.