Interview with John Stonestreet of Summit Ministries - Part I
What do you see as the biggest challenge(s) facing students today?
The biggest challenge in my mind for students today is the overall deluge of information. Students today must navigate, daily, an unprecedented amount of information. We have never expected more from any generation that has ever lived, in terms of processing information.
Of course, none of this information is neutral - information contains, argues, and at times subtly assumes and embodies ideas. Ideas can be true or false, genuine or counterfeit, helpful or harmful. And, as Richard Weaver and the 20th century taught us, ideas have consequences. They are not aloof from reality - they shape the world in which we live, and how we interpret that world!
I also think that the most consequential idea that comes through the current deluge of information is the concept of humanness. Who are we? What gives us value? How do I fit in the world? Every major social issue today is centered, and finds direction, from how we answer this question: from cloning to fashion, from human trafficking to celebrity worship, from economic policy to euthanasia, from plastic surgery to gender identity.
The reality is this; if we are wrong on what a human being is, we will be wrong on literally everything else currently being debated and shaping our culture. Unfortunately, our Darwinian roots and addiction to materialism have firmly established in our culture, so we determine human value in much the same way we determine animal value: (1) usefulness and (2) appearance. It's devastating to students: girls are thoroughly convinced that their value lies in their looks, education teaches we are human doings not human beings, and the concept of who we were designed to be is not even considered.
So, in my view, if we ever hope to disciple this generation, we have to teach them (1) how to discern in a world of information and (2) who they are in the image of God.
Since you interact with young people quite a bit, how would you grade the church on how they are doing training students to follow Christ as they head off to college?
Well, the statistics are not encouraging. The studies done through the Higher Education Research Institute show a casualty rate of nearly 50%. Barna suggests that only 20% of students who are highly churched in their teens will remain spiritually active in their 20's. But, the most devastating indication is that even the students (and eventually adults) who are maintaining their faith often segregate it from 90% of their life.
I think there is often a deep-seated gnosticism in the church. The impression given is that my faith has to do with spiritual stuff, but should be kept separate from the rest of life. Chuck Colson put it this way: "I have good news and bad news. The good news is that there are more Christians than ever before. The bad news is that is doesn't seem to be making any difference."
I am encouraged, however, from recent developments in the church to a more holistic approach to discipleship. Worldview education seems to be catching on. My fear, on the other hand, is that it will be the next fad - like The Prayer of Jabez or Purpose Driven, etc.
Explain a little about bit about who you are and what the vision of summit ministries is.
I am a lifer in the Christian community - but one who is unworking much of this same gnosticism I mentioned earlier. My understanding of the Christian life was profoundly segregated from the life of the mind, cultural concern, or the world of ideas. I am blessed that God used my experiences at Bryan College, with Summit Ministries, and through key mentors to open my faith up to a fuller understanding of the Christian worldview.
For the last several years, I have spoken, taught, and written on this idea of the Christian worldview and cultural concern as a professor at Bryan College and a speaker and staffer for Summit Ministries. Currently, I serve the role of Executive Director where I try to make our ministry as effective as possible in training students, parents, pastors, and teachers to champion the Christian faith in the broader culture by thinking from a Christian worldview, understanding comparative worldviews, and applying the truth of the Gospel to the key cultural issues of our day.
Readers can learn more by visiting www.summit.org or picking up the book I revised and co-authored with Gary Phillips and William Brown: Making Sense of Your World: A Biblical Worldview.
Stay tuned for part II of the interview.