Growing World Christians

 Growing World Christians in the Soil of Hope: A Vision for Hope College Campus Ministries

They are like trees planted by streams of water.” —Psalm 1:3 


The poet of Psalm 1 offers a guiding image for our philosophy of spiritual growth and formation at Hope College: “They are like trees planted by streams of water” (Psalm 1:3). We recognize that students are in the process of formation into a whole person, where the emotional, physical, intellectual, and spiritual grow organically without division. We use the image of tree growth to describe this process. In the life of every tree, a decisive moment occurs when a seed dramatically transforms into something new, a moment that the seed can take root and break through the darkness in the hopeful stretch for the light. Though Campus Ministries recognizes this sudden transformation in a seed, we also recognize that long-term growth towards maturity requires patience. It takes a long time to grow from a seed to a rooted tree.

We recognize that tree growth is shaped in the rhythm of light and darkness, rain and drought, season reaching into season, always growing deeper in order to grow taller. Tree growth does not happen overnight. It is never in a hurry. When you look at a tree, it appears that nothing is happening. But in reality a healthy tree is always growing, little by little, millimeter by millimeter. Christian growth is much the same: it is often invisible to the eye, the action taking place inside rough protective layers. But its growth is happening, all the time, in and out of season, despite what we see. The image of growth suggests that students are always developing their identity and their vocation or calling and reminds them of the patience required for being and doing.

Because this process does not happen overnight or at one event nor through one program, we recognize and celebrate that Campus Ministries does not make up the whole experience of a mature spiritual formation but is one part of a greater whole. The process of spiritual maturity happens in the entire college experience — in conversations with friends and faculty, in residence halls and the classroom, on athletic teams and trips abroad, in student activities and community service. Campus Ministries works intentionally with the entire Hope College community. We want to join Hope in creating an environment in which students grow in the conditions of a vibrant Christian community of study, worship, service, discernment, friendships, creativity, scholarship, and reflection.

Like the tree described in Psalm 1, we want our students to grow deep roots, sturdy trunks, and strong limbs that produce fruit and leaves in their season that offer food for the hungry and shade for the weary. Like the psalmist’s tree, we desire every student to be so rooted in good soil that they are free to spiral their canopy of hope towards the light. Campus Ministries seeks to discern which experiences, sermons, books, curricula, themes, resources, and training will encourage mature and steady growth over a lifetime. At a more fundamental level, we ask ourselves, whom are we encouraging students to grow into before they are graduated as agents of Hope?

World Christians...

We want to tend an environment that grows world Christians. World Christians take literally the statement in John’s Gospel that God loves the world, believing that the world was created and approved by love and, though twisted and spoiled by sin, has been redeemed by love. They believe that divine love, incarnate and indwelling in the world, summons the world always toward wholeness, which is ultimately reconciliation and atonement with God, humanity, and all creation. World Christians believe that this atonement and reconciliation happened once for all through the grace of the incarnation in Jesus Christ, God’s only Son. This transforming grace is activated by the power of the Holy Spirit as it is experienced in faith (Romans 3:21-26). Framed by the mystery of this faith, world Christians affirm, along with the cloud of witnesses, Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again. This confession sets their feet on a new trajectory in the way of Jesus.

From the perspective of a world Christian, the entire global creation is God’s campus. The world, with its diversity of culture, color, and community, is where we live out this redemptive way of Jesus. Thus, at Hope College we do not prescribe one Christian expression, denomination, or spiritual experience. Instead, we focus on what unifies the diversity of the kingdom of God with the early Church’s radical confession: Jesus is Lord. Though Hope College is self-consciously in covenant with the Reformed Church in America, and celebrates and honors our storied relationship together, we also celebrate and honor the reality that God’s forest is large, diverse, and spacious. As the “Vision of Hope” statement articulates, we seek to be “ecumenical in character while rooted in the Reformed tradition,” with an unashamed evangelical calling to be transformed by an experience of God’s grace through revelation.

World Christians seek to promote, in the words of Hans Frei, a “generous orthodoxy.” We desire to articulate an orthodox voice between Christian extremes, left and right, always holding to our central confession that Jesus is Lord, and we seek to promote a Trinitarian rule of faith that explains how the story told in Scripture bears upon our own story and the world’s. World Christians are generous in celebrating what God has done in Christ for saints in every “tribe, and language, and people and nation” (Revelation 5:9). To that end, Hope College seeks to serve others in Christ-like submission by inviting people from around the world to come to be celebrated and to teach us what God is doing in their home. We desire that our students graduate as citizens of “global village,” ready to serve, study, engage, worship, pray, and learn wherever they find themselves in the world, in a multiplicity of vocations, languages, and cultural settings.

World Christians are prepared and equipped to live out their calling to practice shalom, God’s holistic vision for the flourishing of all creation with God. To encourage our students to pursue the hope of shalom in various disciplines and vocations, we want to provide opportunities for them to engage and discuss the far-reaching issues that threaten shalom. We want to grow students with a global consciousness and critical discernment, able to think and respond to the big issues of the world from a Christian perspective that is grounded in Scripture, tradition, reason, and experience. For example, how are we to respond to the realities of poverty, structural racism, globalization, the AIDS pandemic, disparate views of sexuality, or environmental degradation? As Christians, how do we respond to the widening gulf between political ideologies fueled by the rhetoric from the right and the left? Campus Ministries wants to join with the entire Hope community in creating an environment that promotes and supports shalom, while at the same time refusing to let the gospel or Christian Church be framed or commandeered by political agendas — right or left — that often hinder the church from pursuing its mission to proclaim and incarnate God’s love in the world. To achieve this will require us all to think theologically out of our identity as Christians.

World Christians have their identity restored in God, through the vicarious communion and priestly act of Jesus the Son, by the power of the Holy Spirit. It is with this Trinitarian identity that we love the world as God loves the world, becoming last so others can go first (Philippians 2). This mutual submission to the other provides the basis for students to engage the world with a “renewing of their mind” (Romans 12:3). It is with this mind that we want to frame a theology of study, worship, witness, and vocation that can be transplanted into whatever context students inhabit after their Hope College education.

As world Christians, we want our worship life to experience a fusion of global voices, sounds, and songs that reflect the reality students will experience in their years after Hope College. We believe worship is critical for the formation of growing world Christians because in worship we experience the generous diversity of God’s world in preaching, song, and prayer, while at the same time confessing that what unifies and centers the world is the Lordship of Jesus Christ, who is, who was, and who is to come (Revelation 1: 3). This is the orthodox center that gives world Christians a generous circumference.

In the soil...

As we seek to grow world Christians, we recognize that growth happens in a specific context. The image of soil gives a specific geography to the global horizon. Growth takes place within a particular soil, each of which soil is the result of a long endowment of time: one inch of topsoil takes 500 years to accumulate. The build-up is slow and is always under threat of quick erosion if not protected. While soil is universal, it is also locally unique. Each tree thrives best in a certain soil; jack pines grow in sandy soil, while willows love water and wet soil. Thus, it is an imperative to pay attention to the kind of soil one keeps, including the minerals, microbes, and nutrients that give it a rich texture and health. Good soil has a depth for roots to sink into and requires nourishment.

This is also true of the soil of Hope College. The soil of Hope is composed of the abundant nutrients of committed faculty, staff, administration, and students; it has the endowment of loyal alumni, committed congregations, and an active local community. Hope has a rich soil that allows students and faculty to sink roots deep into the rhythms of study, worship, and relationships. The soil of Hope offers students, who live fragmented lives, a needed sense of place, providing a particular location, history, culture, and context for growing world Christians. To preserve and continue to nurture the soil at Hope, Campus Ministries seeks to be good stewards of this rich resource and to aid the campus in doing likewise.

Campus Ministries also recognizes that good soil grows an abundant diversity of life: flowers, trees, shrubs, fruits, and grasses of all kinds (Genesis 1:11-12). The plant life of a particular place is diverse, and, if the soil is healthy, is full in color, fragrance, and stature. Hope College seeks to cultivate a soil where each student who is transplanted into our soil of Hope will sink his and her roots into a rich geography that will allow them to grow deeper as they grow taller. Good soil is strong enough to take in transplants and help them to thrive.

While working to nurture good soil, we also acknowledge the humble truth that we cannot grow anything. Growth is a mystery, a power outside of our control. Growth is God’s jurisdiction. The best we can do is to provide the right conditions for the mystery of growth to take place. As Wendell Berry writes in A Timbered Choir, “Whatever is foreseen in joy / Must be lived out from day to day / Vision held open in the dark / By our ten thousand days of work. / Harvest will fill the barn; for that / The hand must ache, the face must sweat.” It is this call to ache and sweat to prepare the conditions for growth that continually calls forth a faith of Hope. But it is a faith that foresees joy.

Of Hope

We grow in the soil of Hope. This is, of course, a dual image. We want God to grow world Christians in the specific soil of Hope College. Hope is our local geography. But Hope College does not exist for its own self-promotion, nor does the world need another liberal arts college that serves as a pipeline to privilege. Rather, the mission of Hope College is to be a place where the totality of human experience is taken seriously within our historic Christian faith, so that generations growing in the soil of Hope are ready to engage and serve the world and the Church with “wisdom and revelation” (Ephesians 1:17). Thus, we look to the God of Hope who incarnated hope in the person of Jesus Christ. It is this incarnation that gives Hope a center. While students are here we seek to provide the necessary conditions for the ultimate Hope of all to be rooted in the gospel, and that Hope is the person and work of Jesus, mediated through the Spirit, by the will of God.

The mission of Hope is not easy. Hope is the longing we do not yet see fulfilled and so requires our faith in one another and in God. But it is possible in grace. Our chief Hope, as the Heidelberg Catechism puts it, is rooted in the reality that we are “not [our] own, but belong — body and soul, in life and in death — to [our] faithful Savior, Jesus Christ.”

Rev. Trygve D. Johnson, Ph.D.
Hinga-Boersma Dean of the Chapel
Hope College