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In this episode of the Saturdays at Seven Podcast, Todd interviews Walter Kim, president of the National Association of Evangelicals (NAE). Walter shares his faith journey which began with an inspiration from Star Wars, lead to serving congregations all over North America, and now drives him in his role as president of NAE. He and Todd discuss what it means to be evangelical and how Christian colleges can serve as examples to evangelical churches in engaging and transforming society.

Full Transcript

Todd Ream: Welcome to Saturdays at Seven, Christian Scholar’s Review’s conversation series with thought leaders about the academic vocation and the relationship that vocation shares with the Church. My name is Todd Ream. I have the privilege of serving as the publisher for Christian Scholar’s Review and as the host for Saturdays at Seven. I also have the privilege of serving on the faculty and the administration at Indiana Wesleyan University.​

Our guest today is Dr. Walter Kim, president of the National Association of evangelicals. Thank you for joining us today, Dr. Kim.

Walter Kim: Oh, what a pleasure to be here. Thank you, Todd, for having me on, and please call me Walter.

Todd Ream: Our, your bio indicates that God used a conversation in a parking lot after you viewed Star Wars to plant the seeds of the Gospel. Would you please offer a few more details about that and where it led you both in the short term and the long term?

Walter Kim: Yeah, well as with many Korean immigrant families, we did attend church, in New York City where I was born. But there was a period of time where I would have to say that was more of a kind of a social commitment of being with other Korean immigrant families, rather than a, a deeply convicted faith that formed us as a family.

But in my middle school years, I’d encountered this local youth pastor who had invited me to a Bible study. And as I was going through that Bible study, particularly the summer before ninth grade, I really began to discover that there was something in the Scriptures, in its description of Jesus that was becoming more and more compelling.

And the summer ended by going to see Star Wars with him and a few other kids. And as he was dropping me off from the movie, he struck up the question, you know, when Obi-Wan Kenobi gave his life so that others could escape does that remind you of anything we’ve been talking about? And of course, Jesus was the answer.

But it wasn’t simply an answer about the movie. It was really an answer about my life. And literally before we got home, I pulled off the, the, he pulled off in a parking lot and went through the four spiritual laws with me, you know, a Gospel presentation. At the end of it, this makes sense. This is what I want. So I prayed to receive Christ there in the parking lot, and I am grateful for Star Wars ever since.

Todd Ream: That’s, that’s a, that’s a wonderful story. Something I think George Lucas actually should add to his own bio here too.

Walter Kim: That’s right.

Todd Ream: The power of Star Wars in, in, in any number of ways. So, wonderful story. You’re a graduate of Northwestern, Regent College, and Harvard University. In what ways did God use those experiences to prepare you for a life of ministry and a life of leadership?

Walter Kim: So after that coming to faith moment I actually went off to a, a boarding high school for a few years and that time period, I tried as best as I could to grow in my faith. It was only in the latter half of that time my junior and senior year that I discovered a youth group that began to introduce me more deeply into the study of the Bible.

But it really was college at Northwestern University when I was involved with what’s now called Cru and back then Campus Crusade for Christ, where I began to learn about the discipleship of the Christian faith in terms of my personal character, spiritual disciplines, how to share my faith have a sense of what it would look like to have Jesus form aspects of my life.

That led to a decision to leave this medical program that I was enrolled in to go into ministry and, which I proceeded to do after the Northwestern years served as a chaplain with Cru for a few years and then went off to Regent College along with my wife.

And if I would say my Northwestern years was a, a discipleship of the heart my Regent college years was a discipleship of the mind. It expanded my sense of what Scripture sought to encompass. It gave me this more comprehensive view of Biblical faith, like an imagination for the arts, connection to the long history of Christianity. It didn’t begin with C.S. Lewis, it actually went before that.

And so this imagination that expanded, this discipleship of the mind, led to a decision to study ancient Near Eastern languages at Harvard University. And so if there was a discipleship of the heart during my Northwestern years, discipleship of the mind during my Regent college years, there was a discipleship of mission during my years at Harvard simultaneous to my Harvard studies, I was involved with a church called Park Street Church, and eventually both my wife and I came on staff there.

And that church gave me a, a vision for what God could be doing in the context of a local church in a largely post-Christian urban setting seeking to present Jesus in word and deed. We’re, we were as likely at Park Street to have a world-class physicist sitting next to a homeless person coming off the street. As we were to have people from deep, deep Christian backgrounds from various parts of the country and others who are just discovering Jesus for the first time, having been raised in a completely secular household.

And that sense of this comprehensive and historic approach really gave to me this call that I could in fact marry the different parts of my life. The heart, the mind, a, a sense of mission that was engaging with all aspects of society and all types of people, able to ask really, really hard intellectual questions, simultaneously seeking to present Jesus to those in the most desperate human circumstances. And so that, that period was a, a period of a convergence I would say for me.

Todd Ream: Thank you. And if my history serves me correct too, leadership at Park Street Church in previous generations was very much involved in the establishment of the National Association of evangelicals. Is correct?

Walter Kim: That’s right. Park Street Church is 200 plus year old church and its history is something of a microcosm of the history of evangelicalism in America. And during the mid 1900s was instrumental in the founding of the National Association of evangelicals, a number of seminaries, publications, and, represents kind of this resurgence of this evangelical, neo-evangelical movement.

Todd Ream: Yeah. You’ve served congregations in almost every region of the United States, and even parts of Canada too, Pacific Northwest, obviously the Northeast here, the Midwest, the South. In what ways though, did serving say congregations in college towns such as Boston and Charlottesville in what ways, if any, did it differ from serving congregations in those other communities?

Walter Kim: Yeah, I, I would say my experiences both in the Northeast and Northwest bear some strong similarities in the Vancouver, Seattle region and in the Boston region. By and large, these are places that are post-Christian in the sense that the Church exists. They’re actually vibrant Christian communities. But the dominant cultural context is one in which the Church is much more in the margins. And you have to think missionally. You know, during the years that I was 20 years in Boston, we didn’t have a single FM Christian radio station. There was a AM radio station that would carry some church services, some Christian shows, but even then wasn’t 24/7 Christian radio.

And that was a similar situation out in the Northwest. Having to navigate those types of environments of really taking on this mentality of this, this is a mission field. We can, we don’t think of Christianity being in the middle anymore. It’s on the margins. And that’s a different mentality. I, I would say some ways, in some ways in Charlottesville, there is a bit of that with the influence of University of Virginia but it’s also in the middle of rural Virginia as a whole.

And moving from Boston to Virginia, I, I was shocked by the fact that I went from a place that I couldn’t find any Christian radio station to coming to Charlottesville and there were like six Christian radio stations. There’s like the one with more country music Christian radio or pop Christian radio or talk Christian radio.

And that was mind blowing to me to enter into a different context. And so there there was a sense of Christianity maintaining something of a, a, a cultural hold. But even so, a cultural hold that was tenuous at best and maybe more historical than actual. And so these experiences in different parts of the country, I, I think, have been extremely important for my work at the NAE but also very insightful for what mission looks like when you have different contexts within America.

Not only sending people out globally, but even within our own shores, recognizing that there are vastly different cultural contexts, that require some different ways of approaching life and ministry.

Todd Ream: Yeah. For our listeners who are unfamiliar with the details of the National Association of evangelicals, what work would you argue then is most central to your efforts?

Walter Kim: The NAE from its beginning in 1942, and even now, I think, a thread that has been most central is serving as connective tissue for evangelicalism, connecting across different denominations. About 40 different denominations: Baptists, Pentecostals, Presbyterians, brethren, Methodists, Wesleyan traditions, holiness, so forth.

But also scores and scores of Christian nonprofit institutions and ministries that are vital to expressions of evangelical faith. So it serves as connective tissue within evangelicalism, even regionally. It’s increasingly serving as connective tissue for what I see unfolding is the great diversification of evangelicalism.

One of the fastest growing segments of evangelicalism is immigrant churches. The Jamaican evangelical church, or Haitian evangelical church, or Cambodian, or in my case, Korean- American evangelical churches.

And then the historic Black church that in many ways has evangelical beliefs. But for sociological and historical reasons would very understandably be reluctant to connect to evangelicalism. And yet here, I think there is a moment as we consider some of the deep cultural changes that’s happening in America. There’s a moment not only of challenge, but of reconnection.

So there are some historic connections between denominations and Christian organizations. There are some new connections that are being fostered across some different demographic lines that historically were not present with, I think the broader evangelical movement.

But there’s also, I think, a connection to society as a whole. And that’s one of the additional elements of the NAE is what does it mean to connect to other institutions, secular institutions in a pluralistic society? And how do we navigate that connection, simultaneously holding to deep convictions of our faith in Jesus, while having a charity with respect to our common life? So I’ve been talking about, you know, the NAE, we wanna have a comprehensive Gospel for our common life in complex times.

Todd Ream: Hmm. Amongst the variety of demands on your time which, which ones do you find most fulfilling in relation to your calling as a minister of the Gospel?

Walter Kim: I love the fact that there is an opportunity now to make fresh connections. The historic connections are absolutely important to maintain and many of those historic connections such as the 40 ish denominations that are part of the NAE, they themselves are experiencing this cultural transformation.

You know, the, those 18 and younger first minority, majority, majority-minority, generation and the rise of immigrant churches, this is impacting many denominations. So this fresh connection, this fresh Gospel opportunity, I find really invigorating.

The other thing I find invigorating is we, we live in a pluralistic society. Some areas of the country, more post-Christian than others. I think because of my coming to faith outside of evangelicalism and mainly living in spaces or having studied in spaces in which this was a minority view, or maybe not only a minority view, but an unwelcomed view in the marketplace of ideas, it’s made me incredibly comfortable with the complexity of our moments without fear that our conviction about Jesus is somehow threatened by that complexity. It, it’s an opportunity to find fresh connections.

So I think there are connections that it need to be made in this greater diversity that we are seeing in America but there’s also fresh missional connections to be made in this increasingly secularized society that still has a deep rooting in some Judeo-Christian worldviews and values and it forms a beginning point. But I want to take that beginning point, not in a combative fashion but a fashion in which like a missionary, we are looking to build something positive.

Todd Ream: Yeah. I think one of the greatest benefits of serving as a teacher for me has been what I learned from students. And so along the lines of what you were just talking about, a student who I got to know very well over the last course of the last two years, his family fled Nigeria. And it was an evangelical Nigerian church in just inside the north loop of Chicago that welcomed them to the United States and is a vital anchor to that community.

And just the conversations, you know, that Israel and I had over the course of the time that we got to work with, you know, each other most closely, that absence of fear and that seeing life as more of an opportunity and the hopeful dimension there, you know, to me was, you know, incredibly instructive and yeah, I think serves as a great resource for the evangelical Church as we, we find ourselves and we find our way, you know, moving forward here in the US and it’s the credit of his family and those who welcomed him and, and welcomed them to the United States that I was able to learn that lesson, in a most direct and personal way.

Walter Kim: That’s, that’s very beautiful.

Todd Ream: You began your tenure as president of National Association of evangelicals in January 2020. So speaking of complicated times and complicated seasons, ’cause as we all, we all know, within three months, the world looked very different with the spread of Covid 19. In what ways, if any, would you offer that Covid 19 impacted evangelical churches in America?

Walter Kim: I think one of the strengths of evangelicalism is its kind of ability to renew and innovate. And there were some deeply innovative uses of technology to maintain worship services. I think those were really helpful, powerful assets of evangelicalism that right now we’re still sorting through what are the implications of these technologies for the ways that we do church? The notion of fellowship, however, has been deeply challenged even as those technologies have come into play. The kind of weakening of the social fabric in our country just generally has also occurred in churches.

So there are complicated, situations in which folks are not coming back to church quite in the same way or looking for different things in churches than they had been before. This is couples with deep fractions and fractures that have been unearthed. And so when I think about the pandemic, it’s not simply a, a virus, biological virus. It was also a social virus. It was all the tensions that existed within our society: racially, politically, even in different parts of the country regionally, how one part of the country viewed the issue of the pandemic versus another part of the country.

And a lot of those fractures, I think, had always existed previous, but came to the fore in some very pronounced ways, and ways in which the human contact that would normally enable us to work through conflict was not available. So it accentuated the, the challenges because some of the remedies, in other words, let’s sit down and talk with one another. Let’s remember all the things that caused us as churches and as communities to be in deep friendship with one another. Those things were less available. And so we were less equipped to deal with some of the fractures that arose.

The challenge will be what will it look like post pandemic when we as a country and many churches included, are still working through these issues, are seeking to reintroduce the kind of deep friendship in Christ that would be part of the solution, but not yet have a comprehensive understanding of how does Biblical faith apply to all these social issues. So one, we we’re recognizing this is in fact a weakness of much of evangelicalism. This kind of populist form of faith is great with our personal salvation, but the public implications of faith, how faith plays out in institutional life and social concerns, those, those are not a strong point of evangelicalism. Segments of it may be strong in it, but as a whole, as a movement, it’s not a strong point. But it is the point of concern that is pressing on us right now, the, these social issues, while again, maintaining the vibrancy of the personal relationship with Jesus, which is I think a genuine and rich and important contribution of evangelicalism.

Todd Ream: If I may, I wanna go back to what I think is fascinating insight you just offered that when these, lines of social division that may have existed or likely existed, you know, before the pandemic were accelerated and forced to the surface during the pandemic, we were living in a space where we couldn’t come together in ways that we had.

And so thus, you know, those, you know, sorts of those means of finding, you know, commonality, reconciliation, et cetera, were sort of taken, were taken from us. Moving forward, you know, what optimism do you have that the Church can play that role again? Bringing people together. And what sort of practices would you encourage us to look at anew maybe that, that the Church has always depended upon?

Walter Kim: Yeah, I think one of the ways in which, conversion to Jesus is so transformative, is it accentuates all that we actually have in common. We have the Scriptures in common. We have this faith in Jesus in common. Many of us will sing similar worship songs or are quick to learn worship songs even from other traditions that share this kind of DNA of personal connection to Christ.

Those strengths are incredibly important. One of the things, however, that the pandemic revealed is that we are not all the same. That communities actually different, have different histories and different kinds of ways of reading and applying the Scripture, same Scripture but the questions that are asked by immigrant communities or African-American or Asian-American, Hispanic, Native American, and regional, rural communities versus urban communities, same Scripture, often times same worship songs, but the way we read the Scripture, the kinds of questions we bring to it, the kinds of answers we want from it can be quite different.

And post pandemic, the challenge will be not only what can we have in common that would draw us together. But how can I dignify the differences and have a love that actually encompasses not just our commonalities but encompasses our differences. Encompasses the real hurts of a different community without being threatened by that.

It seems that this is the part that we in so many spaces, are unable to love in this way. And Jesus would talk about this, right? What benefit is it to you if you hate your enemies and love those who are like you? I mean, tax collectors can do this, you know? The real challenge is to love your enemies, to pray for those who persecute you.

So yes, let’s recover all the things that we have in common in Christ. But let’s now learn what it means to encompass the differences that we have to dignify those differences and to enter into those differences with deep compassion and curiosity. And that that’s something that I think the church could and should and must offer.

It’s in our DNA. He breaks down to dividing walls of wall of hostility between Jew and Gentile in Ephesians 2. But the fact that it had to be put in Scripture, implies just how difficult that job was for the early Church and will be for us right now.

Todd Ream: No, that’s, that’s beautifully stated and I think a critical opportunity before the Church and hopefully we will prayerfully embrace that opportunity moving forward.

I’m gonna shift our conversation a little bit to talking about a more writ large evangelical and evangelicalism in those terms and what they mean.

Historically the term evangelicals proven far more difficult, for example to define than say what may be at the heart of a particular denomination that you mentioned that there are a myriad of denominations that make up, you know, the membership of the National Association of Evangelicals. And that’s part of the opportunity but it’s also perhaps, you know, part of the challenge here too. So in what ways do you and your colleagues define evangelical?

Walter Kim: Well, at the heart of it, as many of the listeners may know it, the, the, the word evangelical comes from ultimately the Greek word euangelion which is the Greek word for the Good News. So essentially, we’re Good News people. But this could be said of any Christian in that regard, that we are Good News people, people who’ve been touched by the Good News of Jesus Christ.

So there are some more specific elements to it. David Bebbington, the Bebbington Quadrilateral as well used and I think very helpful, high view of Scripture as being authoritative. The need for a personal conversion to Jesus. The centrality of the cross and its atoning work and this sense of activism, that there is produced within this transformed life, a desire to make a difference in the world.

I think those represent well, maybe a further refinement of evangelicalism, than just saying we’re Good News people. But even beyond that I, I’ve begun to take, more seriously that, the evangelicalism is a movement. It’s a movement of people. And when you think about people, they’re defined not simply by their belief structures, but they’re also defined by their practices. They’re also defined by their language.

You listen to evangelicals pray and it sounds like they pray in a certain type of way. When you listen to evangelicals give testimonies, it doesn’t matter if they’re Anglican or Pentecostal evangelical, Presbyterian or Baptist evangelical, their testimonies of conversion sound a certain way. There’s certain types of words that get used and this often cuts across even ethnic backgrounds.

So there’s not simply certain set of theological principles that would define evangelicalism. I would say there’s kind of a cultural posture to evangelicalism. It’s very pragmatic what works. It’s very entrepreneurial in that pragmatism. It’s constant renewal movement. It’s a populist movement, and I’m not using that term in any political sense. I’m saying it, it’s a movement of the people. It’s kind of this is why revivals occurred, within evangelicalism. This is why Billy Graham was often thought of as kind of this central defining figure of evangelicalism, right? old adage that wasn’t evangelicalism. Well, if you like Billy Graham, you’re evangelical. There, there’s a certain kind of populism toward that or pragmatism. There’s a sense of being a renewal movement, very pietistic. These are some of the features of evangelicalism.

This last piece that I’m gonna introduce is one that is somewhat conflicted and that is evangelicals have been trying to get this issue of how to relate to culture, and have vacillated on it. One of the features of evangelicalism that shows up in its pragmatism, the populism and pietism, is that, it often will connect to cultural issues. I mean, evangelicals love using illustrations from pop culture in their sermons. There’ll be types of music that exist in culture that show up in the Church now.

So evangelicals produce, you know, the Christian rock scene. And that kind of engagement with culture on the one hand can also be coupled with a deep sense of suspicion of culture, a rejection, a repudiation of culture. Feeling like culture is a threat that’s imposing itself upon the purity of the church. But whether it’s a capitulation to culture and then just embracing it and absorbing it, or whether it’s a critique and suspicion of culture, there’s always the question of how we are to relate to culture. And that I think is also another feature of at least North American evangelicalism.

Todd Ream: Yeah. Someone who was introduced to H. Richard Niebuhr’s work on how Christians engage culture here, I’ve often found myself in church on any number of occasions thinking we’re in multiple categories as Niebuhr described them at the same time. We’re not, we don’t cleanly fall into necessarily Christ above culture, Christ against culture, or Christ of culture sort of working between those categories or embracing whether it’s intentional or it’s just implicit in terms of how we’re operating, but yeah.

The public in general, how, however, one defines it, but I’m just gonna use that term, writ large here for the American public here has all sorts of perceptions of what evangelical and evangelicalism is. Some of them perhaps more accurate than others or some of them perhaps less accurate than others. What perceptions of evangelicals would you like to see become more central in terms of how the public perceives evangelicals and evangelicalism?

Walter Kim: You know, as as I said, having lived in Boston, I, I’ve often understood my time there as being in a setting that’s missional in nature, post-Christian in many ways. And that’s only partially true. During my time in Boston, there was something of quite revival that missiologists talk about.

So between 1965 and 2015, Boston eventually gradually became one of the least Bible reading places in America. American Bible Society, Barna had produced some state of the Bible studies and around two 2014, 15, you know, Boston was always ranked and as well as a couple of other New England cities as the least Bible reading areas of the country. That, that, that was true.

But also between 1965 and 2015, the number of churches in Boston actually doubled. From 300 to 600 in Boston proper. How do you make sense of those dual realities? Becoming the one of the least Bible reading cities in America to simultaneously becoming a city that had experienced this quiet revival of 300 to 600 churches.

Many of the churches were immigrant churches, immigrant evangelical churches, as we talked about earlier. One of the things that I would love to see about evangelicalism going forward is a recognition that there, there’s a richness that not only represents the future of evangelicalism, but it is in fact the present of evangelicalism.

That there is this amazing vibrancy and richness and rejuvenation that is actually occurring right now in forms of evangelicalism that sometimes the church itself, but certainly media often does not recognize. So it’s often described in political terms or in racialized white evangelicals believe this.

Todd Ream: Mm-hmm.

Walter Kim: Not recognizing that right now evangelicalism is in this massive revitalization. Though there is genuine decline in white religious affiliation, there is a robustness that exists within these diverse immigrant communities. And then there’s the historic African-American Church, which again, we’ve alluded to the earlier the conversation that has evangelical beliefs, but for historic reasons, has not affiliated with evangelicalism. Again, for very understandable reasons. But even within evangelicalism, there is a rich history, committed to the abolition of slavery, committed to a comprehensive application of good, that Jesus would bring about.

And so I would wish to recover not only the breadth of evangelicalism that we have right now, but the depth of evangelical history that really does contain some compelling moments of engagement in social transformation. Not social war, but social, blessing, you know, being Jeremiah 29. Bless the city, and God that God has called you to live in even during exile. I, I would love this form of evangelicalism to be the form known in the future.

Todd Ream: Thank you. That, that insight about how, Boston changed over the course of that period of time that, you know, is one that I not heard before but is fascinating and I wonder if in some ways it’s not being replicated in, in another, in other metropolitan areas across the country.

Walter Kim: Yes. In fact, I, I shared this at a CCCU event. And actually had some administrators from different colleges, Christian colleges across the country saying that very dynamic is actually happening in the cities that we’re in as well. So there’s some powerful movement right now as to whether or not evangelicalism, we’ll learn to do the John 17 learning really how to be one in Christ, love one another in Christ. That the compelling nature of our faith would be made known. That, that remains to be seen, if we’ll really come together in that way. But the opportunity does exist for us.

Todd Ream: Yeah. And again, a beautiful opportunity.

Well, speaking of the CCCU and the Christian College, then, if I may shift again what contributions do you believe the Christian college offers evangelicals, and perhaps it, it plays a role here in the dynamic we’re talking about right now, or it can.

Walter Kim: Yes. I think Christian colleges, they have the capacity to provide a Biblical frame of reference for all domains of life, that you would study economics, the arts, literature, biology, physics, that you would enter into human psychology and sociology, all the domains of exploration. From a Christian perspective, I think this is one of the things that’s, deeply lacking within evangelicalism as a whole, this comprehensive application of Biblical faith to every aspect of life. That, that I think is amazing contribution that if the kind of educational formation that is occurring in this comprehensive way in Christian colleges could be replicated within churches, that would be remarkable.

This, this is even specific work that’s not necessarily occurring in most of our seminaries. You know, most of our seminaries are not navigating how to get future economists ready, how to get future sociologists or social workers. I mean, they’re, they’re focusing on how to educate folks who by and large be in some form of professional Christian work.

So the kind of comprehensive aspect that you have playing out in Christian colleges, that’s unique. The, the, the fact that many Christian colleges also take seriously: formation. What does it mean to intentionally form people? You also, and having been a staff worker with Cru, I recognize that, that those college years are essential.

You, you have access to students in a way that you will never have access to people again. As a pastor, I can say what I had access to as a pastor was never the same as what I had access to when I was living life as a campus worker with students and seeing them day in and day out in a very defined social setting.

That’s really powerful opportunity for discipleship. And that sense of deep life on life discipleship and corporate nature of being formed with one another is something I’d love to see churches grow more deeply in. You’re not gonna be able to replicate four year college experience in a, in church setting but you can certainly learn from it and what works well in that.

How do we understand community transformation? So those are a couple of areas I think would be fantastic contributions, unique contributions from CCCU institutions, for the Church more broadly.

Todd Ream: In what ways do you see the mission then of the Christian college being comparable to that of the Church and in what ways do you see the mission of the Christian college being different? You know, part of what, you know, from an educator standpoint, we spend a decent amount of time talking about how the Christian college is not the Church.

But oftentimes, I don’t know that we get far enough along in thinking about what it is in distinction to the Church, but also in relationship to the church. So any insights that you can offer, in what ways are they comparable? In what ways are they wholly different? In what ways do they relate to one another?

Walter Kim: Yeah, I would say rather, let’s begin with it is a part of the Church writ large in the sense that it is a part of the community of Jesus, the Body of Christ, the Temple, the House that God is building with respect to every believer. So all those who are faithful followers of Jesus, and even those who maybe are attending colleges, not Christian colleges, not as Christians, but have been a part of this inquisitive, open enrollment, recognizing that there’s something distinctive and attractive with a Christian education that represents the Church that is a part of the Church.

And so all the responsibilities of moral formation of engagement with the Scriptures, I think are what are reflected in the beautiful chapel services that are occurring in so many of the Christian colleges. So that formation as part of the Church. Comparable to the local church and distinct from the local church, I mean the sacramental nature of the local church in terms of its ecclesiastical responsibilities, baptism, the Lord’s Supper, the specific multi-generational mission of the local church, the ways in which family, the, the nuclear family, nuclear family is being formed in local churches that’s distinct from Christian colleges. And so there, there are some distinctions. but again, wanna circle back to the instrumental way in which Christian colleges can form a more holistic view of what discipleship entails.

In other words, the Christian college has the opportunity to do what I had to acquire over decades and in stages. Discipleship of the heart in one place, discipleship of the mind in another place, discipleship of mission in yet a third place. It required three educational institutions and three different social settings for me to acquire that.

I think one of the contributions of a Christian college is you can bring all those three aspects of discipleship. The discipleship of, heart, mind, and mission together. And I wanna add this third element, a fourth element, and a discipleship with the comprehensive nature of Biblical faith. Again, this is an aspect of weakness within the evangelical church. Not just having integrity at work but what is work itself? What is the nature of economy? Not just avoiding cheating on your taxes, but what is the nature of government from Christian perspectives?

And, you know, you add the issue of race and immigration and stewardship of creation and, and you begin to see that many churches are very ill-equipped to address the challenges that exist, right now in working out our faith, and, and Christian colleges. This is kind of your job, you know, understanding and exploring in a way that promotes curiosity. Like the marketplace of ideas where you actually have to learn things that you will disagree with, and work out what can I actually learn from this even if I ultimately disagree, with the whole argument, there are parts of it that I should learn from.

And that kind of, you know, bold, courageous curiosity, I would love for the Church to have. Hold onto its convictions. Absolutely. There shouldn’t be a wishy-washyness about our commitments to Jesus and Scripture. But to have a fundamental curiosity and charity, is something that I think Christian colleges by educational models have to produce and that I would love to see multiplied, within the Church, local churches, writ large.

Todd Ream: One final question for our time together today then perhaps, is how could the Christian college and the Church partner together with one another moving forward at a deeper level to cultivate that kind of comprehensive Biblical view?

Walter Kim: Yeah I think some of the initiatives that I’ve seen in different places that have been very fruitful is ways in which Christian colleges are reaching out to local pastors and providing further educational opportunities for them. Hosting events that take advantage of the greater resources of a college in terms of facilities.

Introducing mentoring relationships, student church, you know, adoption programs. I mean, there are a whole host of things that can be done from the university’s side in reaching out to the community. And when I see Christian colleges do this, I, I, I will often hear from pastors who say. You know there are professions that have continuing education requirements.

Doctors have continuing education requirements. Psychologists you, you, you have this in many of the trades, that you have to have just kind of ongoing certificates in order to learn a new skill as an electrician. For many pastors, there aren’t these ongoing continuing education requirements and in the tyranny of the urgent that ministry represents, it’s very easy to go years without really being developed, intellectually stimulated, relationally stimulated, challenged by interaction with the next generation and the fresh ways that they’re asking questions.

And I’ve heard from some pastors who have talked about their interactions at Christian colleges where Symposiums were being offered or opportunities to connect as their version of continuing education that keeps them fresh. I think that’s a very tangible way, that could be a, great benefit to the, the Church more broadly.

And, and then again, making, professors available to teach in local church contexts and seeing that as a legitimate expression. I mean, what would that look like to not only have requirements for publication in order to get tenure, but to incorporate some kind of ecclesial commitments as a part of what we understand to be normative for the life of an academic?

Todd Ream: Yeah. Not only a legitimate expression of service, but a welcomed and embraced expression of service you know, in that. Thank you. Now that would, that would be wonderful.

Our guest today is Dr. Walter Kim. President of the National Association of Evangelicals, thank you for your willingness to share your time and your wisdom with us today.

Walter Kim: Todd, it’s been a pleasure and blessing to you, the many listeners of this podcast.

Todd Ream: Thank you.

Thank you for joining us for Saturdays at Seven, Christian Scholar’s Review’s conversation series with thought leaders about the academic vocation and the relationship that vocation shares with the Church. We invite you to join us again next week for Saturdays at Seven.

Todd C. Ream

Indiana Wesleyan University
Todd C. Ream is Honors Professor of Humanities and Executive Director of Faculty Research and Scholarship at Indiana Wesleyan University, Senior Fellow for Public Engagement for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, Senior Fellow for Programming for the Lumen Research Institute, and Publisher for Christian Scholar’s Review.  He is the author and editor of numerous books including (with Jerry Pattengale) The Anxious Middle: Planning for the Future of the Christian College (Baylor University Press, September 15, 2023).