Jesus’ Last Name

23 Apr

“Why was Jesus’ last name Christ?” a student asked me a few weeks ago during Lent.  Taken by not so much by the question, but I was dumbfounded by the student who asked the question.   Here was a very intelligent student (on a full academic scholarship) who had spent all his life in the church; however, the basics of the faith were missing.    While I tell students that there are no dumb questions to keep them seeking for meaning and truth, I am afraid the surprise on my face was revealing.

How can we as clergy and as a church fail so miserably to pass along the essentials of our understanding of the faith?  This young man represents so many – too many – students who are questioning and open to learning.   Yet students have been sent off to college unprepared for the academic challenges and life challenge of a faith which he had thought he was nurtured.

Here is the crisis of our young adults!   This crisis of no bedrock creed has arrived on campus (at least on my campus) and taken up residence.   Before my eyes are the results of the National Study of Youth and Religion* made while most college students were in high school.   It was the conclusion of this landmark study that “young people are being taught a bland, banal version of Christianity.”  For example the study summed up teens outlook as:  “God wants people to be good, nice and faith to each other as taught in the Bible and by most world religions.” and “The central goal of life is to be happy and feel good about yourself.”  still another “God is not involved in my life except when I need God to solve a problem.” While the vast majority of young adults report “religion is very important to them,” they have received a watered down theological understanding.   It is not surprising that the study found that organized religion does not matter much to them.

Campus ministry must reclaim the central role which was at the beginning our history on campus – the role of teaching.  While recreating “Bible Chairs” of last century on our state campuses may not be the solution today, taking seriously a pedagogy of campus ministry is vital.   Upping the ante on our Bible studies and educational discussions must happen.  Maybe it is time to offer academic classes on Christian theology, history and Biblical studies through our campus ministry centers.   The hard work to find teachers with academy credentials to teach these classes, the struggle with university administrators for acceptance and selling the concept to the church needs to be explored.   Perhaps it may be time for innovative ventures with church related colleges to partner with campus ministry to offer serious academic offerings.

A simple tactic, suggested by Kenda Creasy Dean (in her book Almost Christian: What the faith of our teenagers is telling the American Church) speaks to the heart of our natural ministry on campus.   Dr. Dean advocates for the necessity of conversation about Jesus.   It is a “particular kind of conversation.”  In her words, “To state it bluntly: conversational Christianity requires Jesus-talk, not just God-talk.  If talking about faith is something Christian teens seldom do, talking about Jesus is something they almost never do – which has crippling effects on Christian identity.”

Let’s at least perfect our art of Jesus-talk on our campuses!

*The National Study of Youth and Religion summary is available online and in the book: Soul Searching: The Religious and Spiritual Lives of American Teenagers by Christian Smith and Melinda Lundquist Denton, Oxford Press


Bill Campbell is the United Methodist campus minister at the Wesley Foundation at Middle Tennessee State University in Murfreesboro, TN.   He has hung around the college campus for many years hoping some youth would rub off and somebody, out of sympathy, would throw a degree his way.   When the weather is nice Bill can be found driving around with the top down on his Miata, teaching his daughter Eryn to drive a stick shift.  Other times, his wife Trinace, has him working on projects around the house,  while his son-in-law, John, patiently teaches him to fly fish.   Bill received a B.S. in Social Work & Psychology from Lambuth University, and a Master of Theology from Southern Methodist University.  A D.Min from Wesley Theological Seminary awaits a project (when it is finally safe to write) on General Conference and campus ministry.


One Response to “Jesus’ Last Name”

  1. Maggie Gillespie April 23, 2012 at 1:01 pm #

    Right on, Bill! Jesus talk!

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