In the last post, I shared how the biblical doctrine of judgment stabilized my own spiritual imbalances and insecurities, thus welcoming me, a sinner, into the presence of a righteous God who treated me better than I deserved. I shared Hamilton’s scholarship, showing God’s glory as revealed in this salvific work of judgment as THE core theme of scripture.1 I also suggested this biblical theme can curb our penchant for judgmentalism and cancel culture. As we see in the intention of the divine process of atonement—the opportunity for repentance and such respectful treatment—we are liberated to extend such redemptive judgment to others.
In this post, I offer two metaphors, along with several principles and practices, for bringing this biblical doctrine of judgment increasingly into the core of our campus cultures.
Healing metaphor: Healing has been the metaphor I see associated most with this fresh understanding of divine judgment as salvific and redemptive. Most members of my family of origin and my current family work in healthcare, as nurses, doctors, dentists, optometrists, and physical therapists. I see their work in diagnosing as investigating and truth seeking. I see their goal as healing. This truth-seeking is driven toward the ultimate goal of healing, and parallels God’s work of judgment revealed in the Psalms:
Search me, O God, and know my heart: try me, and know my thoughts: And see if there be any wicked way in me, and lead me in the way everlasting.(Psalms 139:23, 24, KJV).
Be gracious to me, God, according to Your faithfulness; According to the greatness of Your compassion, wipe out my wrongdoings. Wash me thoroughly from my guilt And cleanse me from my sin. For I know my wrongdoings, And my sin is constantly before me (Psalms 51:1-3, NASB).
Far from avoiding the facts or truth, a healthy judgment uses both in diagnosis and in planning a remedy. Campus leaders framing the intent of judgment in this way help foster a culture of vulnerability and honesty—or a “come as we are” culture that celebrates “repentance and change” as a way of growth. In doing so, practitioners serve as mentors offering assurance that “we don’t have to stay the way we are.”
Formative and Summative Evaluation Metaphor: A similar metaphor in education comes as formative and summative evaluation. As we “test” students, desiring to address their weaknesses and needs, we often do so by scaffolding their learning. Such evaluation is inherently formative. Seen within a Christian framework, this practice is our attempt to prepare our students for a final summative evaluation. Supports are packaged to help students meet even the highest standards that are set. Thus, investigatory or formative feedback cultivates growth by empowering learning with a spirit of support, high ideals, and joyful growth. We become trustful of our mentor, and we begin to image a joy in facing summative evaluation: “Now to Him who is able to protect you from stumbling, and to make you stand in the presence of His glory, blameless with great joy” (Jude 24).
With these metaphors as a backdrop, several principles and practices can help:
Principle one: We are called to judge. Non-judgment is NOT a viable option. Some Christians, tired of the legalism and nastiness of judgmentalism plaguing some Christian communities and churches, imagine a Christian community free from judgment. This is an impossible aspiration, and even if it were possible, unadvisable. We need the service of other’s judgment in our lives and we need to serve others with our redemptive work of judgment. Paul chides: “Or do you not know that the saints will judge the world? If the world is judged by you, are you not competent to form the smallest law courts? Do you not know that we will judge angels? How much more matters of this life?” (1 Corinthians 6:2,3).
Some will raise Jesus’ command: “Do not judge, so that you will not be judged” (Matthew 7:1) as a call to avoid judgments. I believe Jesus is referring here to an unhealthy, non-healing, non-formative approach of judgment. He rejects the knee-jerk reaction, the superficial and vindictive judgmentalism and cancel culture that hangs on biased evaluation. Five verses later we can tell he is NOT rejecting judgment: “Do not give what is holy to dogs, and do not throw your pearls before pigs, or they will trample them under their feet, and turn and tear you to pieces” (v. 6). Here, Jesus is not changing the topic from judgment to pet care; rather, he is metaphorically referring to the need to “evaluate” people. He wants to arouse our evaluative skills so we are prepared to be “wise as serpents and harmless as doves” (Matthew 10:16). We can still stay redemptive in judgment. What is more, Jesus then gives strategies for doing so (self-examination, therapy of the self, healing intent toward the other).
Principle two: Judgment is continually a force in our lives and roles. We regularly move between the many roles involved in any judgment: witnessing, judging, advocating, and defending—often doing all simultaneously. We gather information to prop up this or that idea or this or that behavior. We engage in evaluating candidates for work, and we work on judgments both personally and in groups. Accepting the call and inevitability of this aspect of our lives makes us more intentional in controlling these roles.
One of the breakthrough moments in my own life of following and leading was to determine when I was to be a witness and when I was being called to make the judgment call. As a witness, I needed to learn to come to the witness stand when called and leave just as fast. I didn’t need to fret about other people’s roles. But when I was the judge and had the responsibility to make the decision, I had to scramble to seek out multiple witnesses and contradictory views, to shape the most creative judgment possible. Getting right about the role you play is crucial in establishing a campus culture of judgment.
Principal three: We can improve our judgments. The letter to the last of the seven churches in Revelation 3 was to the church of Laodicea (i.e. “people of law” or “judgment”). They were chided for their lackadaisical engagement despite having a name of judgment. They lacked intentionality, healing focus, and truth-seeking engagement. After diagnosing their problem, the remedy is offered: “I advise you to buy from Me gold refined by fire so that you may become rich, and white garments so that you may clothe yourself and the shame of your nakedness will not be revealed; and eye salve to apply to your eyes so that you may see. Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline; therefore be zealous and repent.” (3:18, 19). These are strongly proactive invitations for engagement with justice and love. Like the calling to heal, judgment is a call to help others. The supports and remedies offered in this passage are very similar to the ones listed in Matthew 7:1-5. They deal with our internal motivation and distorting biases, lack of loving engagement, avoidance of conflict, etc. A “church” can improve their work of judgment and can do so by intentional engagement with this biblical doctrine of divine judgment.
Closely related to these metaphors and principles are some best practices.
One of the practices throughout scripture is the need for due process. Throughout a tour of biblical judgment, we see a deliberative God who is meticulous about due process and passionate to bring salvation to people. From his questioning of Adam and Eve about the tree mishap (Genesis 3) to his “discussion” with the seven churches (Revelation 2 & 3), we see a relational and conversational strategy designed to pull out discovery, raise awareness, and bring difficult conversations to redemptive conclusion.
Central throughout any good process is the need to rely on multiple true witnesses. The repeated warning to rely on multiple witnesses shows this (Numbers 35:30; Deuteronomy 17:6; 19:15; John 8:17,18; Acts 10:16; 2 Corinthians 13:1-2; 1 Timothy 5:19; 1 John 5:7,8; Hebrews 10:28; Revelations 10:7; 11:3-6). You can’t have good, moral deliberation with either false witnesses or witnesses from only one limited viewpoint.
Given our vulnerability to make bad judgments, we MUST RELY ON WITNESSES TO JUDGE PROPERLY. Our limited experiences will fail us, and we will develop poor policies and make administrative faux pas. I am sure most readers have a bitter memory of a judgment made on trusting false witnesses or listening to too few voices. This invitation to find “2-3 witnesses” is not primarily an issue of numbers but of scope, diversity, and variety. Polarization can be turned into creative synergy if we pull the various witnesses together. Solomon gained fame for his ability to turn a tense standoff, a true polarization, into a revelation of hearts and a solution (1 Kings 3: 16-28). We need more campuses engaged in God’s judgment to creatively engage tensions.
Mutual submission is closely related to this drawing from witnesses. Drawing from others says to them: we need your voice. It is like drawing money from several other person’s bank accounts instead of relying on your own; in doing so, you create wealth you didn’t have before. A loving judgment culture appears when mutual submission runs deep in campus cultures. Mutual submission values all voices, especially of those traditionally marginalized.
Some of us will have the added privilege AND responsibility to be decision-makers, judges of sorts, for groups: families, organizations, clients, cities, states, and nations. As James 3:1 reminds us, “you know that we who are teachers will incur a stricter judgment.” I have seen this especially evident as leaders have had to work through Covid-19 policies. Listening and sifting through the many voices and witnesses—and subsequently shaping decisions and policies that influence many—requires a high level of the godly work of judgment. As decision-makers mirror the Trinitarian model of shared leadership, their judgments are more wise, loving, and redemptive. They show an intention of kindness (Ephesians 1:5, 9). Such postures prove central to creating cultures capable of revealing God’s glory operating through salvific judgment. It is my hope that Christian college campuses can live in the light of God’s judgment and be agents of change to bring more redemptive views and encounters with divine judgment into a world in desperate need of that healing and salvific experience.