The “Positive Way” of Grace University

MiracleIn his 1949 account of the founding of Grace Bible Institute (now Grace University), C. H. Suckau wrote,

We have committed ourselves to a positive rather than a negative program. . . . We are not devisive [sic]. . . . From the very outset it was made clear that the new organization and school was not to indulge in fighting modernism, nor to run competition to other existing institutions. It was agreed that it should be the avowed purpose of all involved to rather present in all activities the fundamental and sound truths in a positive, rather than a negative way (A Miracle of God’s Grace,5,16-17).

With these words Dr. Suckau voiced a conviction that placed him and his fellow founders in agreement with other Christians living in the United States during the 1940s. Dr. Suckau’s use of the phrase “negative way” refers to the divisive, combative spirit that had come to characterize certain segments of “fundamentalist” Christianity in the 1940s.

In the early decades of the twentieth century conservative Christians in the United States believed that it was necessary to take a strong stance against “modernism.” The then-preeminent expressions of modernism included: Marxism, Darwinist evolution, theological liberalism, and significant shifts in social morality. Too often, when it was believed that fellow fundamentalists had not gone far enough in their militant stance against modernism, separation from fellow fundamentalists became necessary. As a consequence, by the 1940s significant segments of fundamentalist Christianity in America had become tragically fractured. From Dr. Suckau’s words, we might gather that the founders of Grace University were wearied by and wanted to steer clear of the fragmented, combative negativity of certain varieties of Christian fundamentalism.

The founders of Grace University did make the conscious decision to take a conservative stand on theology and lifestyle. At the same time, “the fundamental and sound truths” were to be held “in a positive, rather than a negative way.” As a nineteen-year member of the Grace University family, I can testify that this “positive” attitude has been a defining feature in the school’s DNA.

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The Founders of Grace Bible Institute, circa 1943

As one reads A Miracle of God’s Grace one also observes that the founders of Grace were committed to bridge-building with fellow Christians, both in the Omaha area and throughout the Midwest. As historians of American evangelicalism have noted, Bible institutes became “nondenominational” denominations. These schools, with their corresponding radio stations and printed media, became rallying centers where pastors and parishioners in specific geographic locales could share commonality of belief and mission. Instead of creating a school of “fighting fundamentalists,” the founders of Grace wanted to create a Gospel ministry training school that would serve as a unifying catalyst for Christians in the Midwest.

Christians expend considerable energy today in culture wars. It is believed that the stakes are high. And they may well be. Unfortunately, much of this cultural engagement is done in a negative fashion, a fashion not unlike the fundamentalism of the early twentieth century. Social media and the blogosphere provide ample illustrations of negative cultural engagement. Today divisions among Christians are still strong. Some matters of division seem to never go away.  As then, so it is today: Christians often view each other as either too conservative or too compromised in their doctrinal convictions and lifestyle choices. There is a crying need today for an uncommon unity among Christians that is Gospel-centered and Holy Spirit-empowered.

In light of the present discord of conviction and the passion with which contemporary convictions are held, the founders of Grace University have imparted a precious, yet often forgotten, legacy. They were committed to living out their convictions truthfully, yet graciously and in “a positive way.” It is my belief that conservative convictions can be embraced, yet presented in a warmly gracious and fervently loving way. Seventy years after its founding, Grace University still upholds the “fundamental and sound truths in a positive, rather than a negative way.” This means having a robust life of the mind, and requires a courageous engagement of culture. But it also means loving people well.This kind of graciousness and truthfulness can only be achieved through the power of the Holy Spirit.

May God grant that the “positive way” of Grace University’s  past and present continue to characterize its future.

Grace University: As Then . . . So Now

We are convinced that in the Bible we have the source, the root, the foundation, for all knowledge and wisdom. Hence, we go back to the Bible in every course which is taught at Grace Bible Insitute, and point out, emphasize and demonstrate as far as possible, that each course is definitely related in its origin, growth, and development to its sacred pages.

However, all this does not satisfy the soul’s need of salvation, nor its hunger for spiritual growth. Therefore, we believe and accept not only the profound academic truths in the Bible, but also unequivocally affirm our faith in its divine inspiration and above all else, stress the need of searching out and applying its spiritual values to our everyday life and walk. For this reason we teach our students to study the Bible, not only from the merely academic, but especially and emphatically from the deeper spiritual viewpoint. The Bible is the very word of God. As such it throbs with supernatural life, and therefore has the divine power to produce in sinners faith unto salvation, and is to them who are saved, that food by which their souls grow into a spiritual state of maturity.

The aim and purpose of the Grace Bible Institute is to instill in young people this attitude of love and reverence to the Bible. We aim to send our students forth with an unshakable faith in God and His blessed Word. This alone can and will lead them into a closer union with Christ and thus enable them to ever to continue to grow in their spiritual lives.

C.H. Suckau (1881-1951), President of Grace Bible Institute, 1943-1950, “A Miracle of God’s Grace,” 6-7.

Following After the God “in Disguise”

12451513_sMary sees the Apostles flee, but she herself remains faithfully at the foot of the cross. Torn by wounds and disfigured with spittle though he was, she knew him as her son. Indeed his bleeding, battered body increased her love and adoration of him. The more viciously blasphemed, the more she venerated him. The life of faith is the untiring pursuit of God through all that disguises and disfigures him, and as it were, destroys and annihilates him. Look at Mary; from the stable to Cavalry she stayed close to that God who was despised, rejected persecuted. So it is with all faithful souls. They have to pass through a steady succession of veils and shadows and illusions which seek to hide the will of God, but they follow and love . . . [Him] even to death on the cross. They know they must leave the shadows and run after the divine sun which, from its rising to its setting and no matter how thick and dark the clouds hiding it, illumines, warms, and sets aglow the loyal hearts who bless, praise and contemplate it as it sweeps along its mysterious course. Let us, then, as faithful souls, happy and tireless, advance after the beloved as he moves with giant strides across the heavens. He sees all things. He walks above the smallest blades of grass and the cedar groves, and treads the grains of sand as well as the mountain peaks. Wherever we have trodden he has been, and if we constantly pursue him we shall find him no matter where we are.

Jean-Pierre De Caussade, Abandonment to Divine Providence, 39-40.

“There were also quite a few women watching from a distance, women who had followed Jesus from Galilee in order to serve him. Among them were Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the Zebedee brothers” (Matt. 27:55-56) (The Message).

Photo Courtesy of: backyardproduction / 123RF Stock Photo

Is the Holy Spirit Your Companion?

holy-spirit-colleen-shayI have many people who are already in my life: friends, colleagues, family. Some of these people I care for very deeply, and I want a fuller and stronger relationship with them. So I ask for them, I seek them, I knock at their door. I ask them for more of their time, their story, their memories, their thoughts, their feelings, their life.

So it is, I believe, with the Spirit. The Holy Spirit is already present to us, but often as a stranger, or at most a distant friend. I think Jesus encourages us to ask for more than this. If you . . . are seeking to take a few tentative steps into experiencing the Spirit-empowered life, I would encourage you to begin in prayer, simply by asking the Spirit to come more fully into your life. Don’t come seeking the gifts, nor the vivid spiritual experiences. Don’t come hoping for an emotional rush, or a spectacular miracle. Seek instead just the companionship of God’s Spirit. Ask to be drawn more deeply into his life, his thought, his feelings, his love. Get to know the Holy Spirit.

Christopher S. Webb, “Becoming Like Jesus: Spirit-Empowered Life,” 11.

Artwork by Colleen Shay

Beware of Fake Meekness

. . . we must learn to recognize true meekness. Do not be deceived into thinking that a soft-spoken voice indicates a gentle will. Often an iron will lies hidden behind the softest voice. Stubborn inflexibility is in the hidden nature of our character, not in the voice. Some appear outwardly to be more gentle before others, but they are inwardly just as inflexible and obstinate before God. For them there can only be the severity of His dealing until they dare not act presumptuously. God designs external dealings to touch us at the core where our toughened wills hide out. Never shall we be able to raise our stubborn heads in these particular matters. It is irrevocably determined that in these kind of circumstances, we cannot disobey the Lord by insisting upon our willful opinions. It is fear of the Lord’s dealing hand that restrains us. And it is the fear of God that makes us meek. The more we are broken by God’s dealings, the meeker we become. To see true meekness is to behold inner brokenness.

Let us illustrate: After contacting a certain brother, you may sense that he is truly gifted. But you discover that he is not yet broken. Many are like that—gifted but unbroken. Their unbrokenness can be easily detected. As soon as you meet them, you sense an undertone of inflexibility in them—you can feel their obstinacy. Not so with one who is broken; there is a Spirit-wrought meekness. In whatever point one has been chastened by God, there he dare not boast. He has learned to fear God in this and is transformed into meekness.

. . . meekness, born out of the fear of God, is the Holy Spirit’s sign for brokenness. One broken by the Spirit naturally possesses meekness. His contacts with people are no longer marked by that obstinacy, hardness, and sharpness which are the hallmarks of an unbroken man. He has been brought to the place where his attitude is as meek as his voice is gentle. The fear of God in his heart naturally finds expression in his words and manner.

Watchman Nee, The Release of the Spirit, 99-100.

The Face of Self-Deception

Evading self-acknowledgment of our faults enables us to avoid painful moral emotions: guilt and remorse for harming others; shame for betraying our own ideals; self-contempt for not meeting even our minimal commitments. We also bypass the sometimes onerous task of abiding by our values and manage to sin freely and pleasurably. We avoid the need to make amends and restitution for the harm we do. And, above all, we maintain a flattering self-image while pursuing immoral ends, often in the name of virtue.

 Mike W. Martin, Self-Deception and Morality, 37-38.

Photo courtesy of iStockphoto.com

How to Become a Better Listener

holy_listening_1503_webpgListening that evokes spiritually free speech in the other

  • does not interrupt but rather creates lots of space for the person to discover and express what they need to say
  • refrains from using evaluative phrases such as “Oh, that’s good” or “How terrible!”–responses that merely communicate how we feel about what they are sharing, rather than giving them the opportunity to describe in depth how they are responding
  • waits on what the Spirit desires to reveal rather than rushing in with one’s own thoughts and interpretations
  • asks questions that continually seek to unlock the deeper reality of the other person’s experience, gently offering them permission to explore, own, and integrate their experiences into their spiritual experience–questions like “What was that like for you?” “How did you experience God (or not) in the midst of that experience?” “What happens when you pray about that?” “What questions does that raise for you?”
  • encourages the person toward mature faith–in other words, to discover God’s presence and trust God’s purposes in all aspects of life (and they themselves have to discover it; we cannot force this kind of insight upon them)
  • invites the other into creative participation in God’s redemptive purposes in the world: a greater connectedness with what God is doing in the world, a clearer sense of one’s place in it, and a generous response to God’s calling according to the gifts one has been given

Ruth Haley Barton, “Emmaus among Us: Listening to God on Behalf of Others,” Conversations 13:1, 36.

artwork Courtesy of anselmianum.com

Manipulative Tendencies I See in Me

  • I use charm and tell people the things that they want to hear.
  • I pretend to be incompetent, play the victim, act helpless, or admit too often that I am not smart to get what I want
  • I pretend to be ignorant or “confused” to avoid responsibility for my choices
  • I say “let’s do it your way” when I don’t really mean it
  • I lie about how I feel to get what I want.
  • I act overly concerned to get what I want.
  • I promise to change my behavior knowing full well that I don’t want to change to get what I want.
  • I blame others for my problems to get what I want.
  • I act ignored, forgotten, hurt, wounded, unloved, or uncared for to get what I want.
  • I act angry to get what I want.
  • I act depressed or engage in self-pity to get what I want.

The reasons behind my manipulative tactics include, but are not limited to:

  • the need to advance my purposes and personal gain at virtually any cost to others
  • a strong need to attain feelings of power and superiority in relationships with others
  • a need to feel in control
  • a desire to gain a feeling of power over others in order to gain a better sense of self-worth
  • boredom; I’ve grown tired of my surroundings, seeing life situations as a game more than hurting others

I suppose it’s the default bent of the fallen human heart to manipulate in all of our significant human interactions and relationships, especially where we stand to gain or lose. My only hope is the Gospel. Only the Gospel can begin and sustain the radical renovation of my heart. My need for power has to be put under the power of the Holy Spirit. My selfishness needs to be identified. My past has to be healed. I need to own my sin. I need to acquire greater self-awareness. I want a heart of humility and relational holiness. A biblically-informed, Spirit-filled community must speak into my self-delusion and willful self interest. My desires must be changed. Only the Gospel can do this–not self-help, not religious virtue, not secular virtue, not karma, not well-intentioned morality  . . . nothing . . . but the Gospel of Jesus Christ. It is only the Gospel that can turn human hearts–my heart–into a heart like Christ’s.

artwork courtesy of tun-ping-wang/images.fineartamerica.com

Christian Organizations and Self-Deception

round-table4In 1972 research psychologist Irving Janis coined the phrase “groupthink.” According to Janis, groupthink occurs in highly cohesive groups when they are under pressure to make a quality decision. When pressures for unanimity seem overwhelming, members are less motivated to realistically appraise the alternative courses of action available to them. These group pressures lead to carelessness and irrational thinking since groups experiencing groupthink fail to consider all alternatives and seek to maintain unanimity. Decisions shaped by groupthink are not likely to produce successful outcomes in the long haul of life.

Janis suggested that the following points are defining features of “groupthink”:

  • Illusion of invulnerability –Creates excessive optimism that encourages taking extreme risks.
  • Collective rationalization – Members disregard warnings and do not reconsider their assumptions.
  • Belief in inherent morality – Members believe in the rightness of their cause and therefore ignore the ethical or moral consequences of their decisions.
  • Stereotyped views of out-groups – The group’s negative and false assessments of others prevents wise decision making from happening.
  • Direct pressure on dissenters – Members are under pressure not to express arguments against any of the group’s views.
  • Self-censorship – Doubts and deviations from the perceived group consensus are not expressed.
  • Illusion of unanimity – The majority view and judgments are assumed to be unanimous.
  • Self-appointed ‘mindguards’ – Members protect the group and the leader from information that is problematic or contradictory to the group’s cohesiveness, view, and/or decisions.

From Janis’ research one could easily infer that churches and Christian organizations are vulnerable to self-deception. Especially is this so in instances where key decisions need to be made in high-pressure circumstances. But it seems that group self-deception can occur in normal, low-pressure circumstances as well.

Is your church or organization self-deceived? Probably so, especially if we can agree that each one of us is self-deceived to varying degrees–from mild to severe. This is the point that Gregg A. Ten Elshof makes in his thought-provoking book I Told Me So: Self-Deception and the Christian Life.

For safeguards against group self-deception, I highly recommend a prayerful reading of Chapters Six and Seven of Ten Elshof’s book. He recommends three strategies for dealing with Self-Deception:(1) Die; (2) Have groups without group think; and, (3), Live being present and responsive to the Holy Spirit. He concludes with three warnings: (1) Beware of Hyper-Authenticity; (2) Beware of Undue Suspicion of Self-Deception in others; (3) Beware of Undue Self-Doubt. He concludes his book by pointing out that “we do battle with self-deception, in part, by eliminating those aspects of our lives that require it” (116).

I Really Don’t Want to Repent

st-isaac-the-syrian-6I have no broken heart to start me on the quest for thee, no penitence, no tenderness . . . . I have no tears with which to pray to thee.? My spirit is in darkness . . . my heart is cold.

I know not how to make it warm again by tears of love for thee. But thou, Lord Jesus Christ, my God, do thou give me complete repentance, the breaking of my heart, that with my whole soul I may set out in quest of thee. Without thee I should be without all reality. May the Father who . . . begot thee in eternity renew in me thine image.

I have forsaken thee. Do not thou forsake me.

I have wandered far from thee. Do thou set out in quest of me. Lead me back to thy pastures with the sheep of thy flock.

Feed me together with them on the fresh grazing of thy mysteries where the pure heart dwells, the heart that bears in it the splendour of thy revelations . . . through thy grace and by thy love for humankind, O Jesus Christ our Saviour, for ever and ever. Amen.

Isaac of Nineveh, Ascetic Treatises, 2