Learning About Justice in San Luis Obispo

This is a report on Teaching Fellow Colin Chan Redemer’s debut event for the Davenant Institute in San Luis Obispo. 

I worshiped God last week in San Louis Obispo with a small group of leaders from the University of the Pacific Intervarsity chapter. If you looked in on us it wouldn’t have looked like worship; our instruments were books, paper, a whiteboard, and pens. The sheet music was mostly the letter of Ephesians. But we worshiped. We had met to look deeply into three questions, to help them get ready for the next season of ministry on their campus. What is the relationship between Justice and Evangelism? What is distinctive about the Christian understanding of Justice? What is the role of the life of the mind in the life of a Christian? They had chosen the questions, I chose the music.

I was struck that of all the things that we could have been studying to steady the leadership team these were the three things they wanted to cover. These questions are telling. Perhaps it is just California evangelicals but I believe they touch a broader nerve in the American zeitgeist. The number of people who openly affiliated with Christianity is dropping at the moment and has been for some time. In response nearly every Christian community I know of is thinking about how to re-evangelize the post-christian world. Meanwhile there is a sense that the church, like the country at large, has made mistakes in the past which we must not fall into regarding our treatment of our fellow man, and that the church needs to get on board with the culture’s broadly defined work of justice.

All this has left the average Christian lay person a bit bewildered. Evangelism sure looks a lot like a marketing and sales strategy. Justice looks a lot like picking sides and playing politics. These are activities we already do in our roles as employees and citizens. What does Christianity have to offer this lay person? Even assuming it has something distinctive, heaven, perhaps, which even the likes of Google can’t offer its citizens, then if the particular lay Christian also has a collegiate affiliation the insistent call for action, to share the gospel or care for our brother man, sure seems like it would require a whole lot less studying. I’d not blame them for wondering if they should drop out of school entirely.

What is missing from all this is the particularity of worship.

In worship we catch a glimpse of God and share that glimpse with the rest of the church. We are ennobled and lifted out of our petty lives at least enough that we might go out and offer what little we have to a neighbor who is suffering. It doesn’t much matter, from the point of view of worship, if that suffering is spiritual, mental, or physical. It is the worship of the one true God that has promised to set the world right again that sets us apart from a people that plan to set everything right themselves. It is worship that helps us see a God compelling enough that we can’t but share about Him to whomever we run into. And worship opens our heart and connects our intellect to our actions through our sentiments.

At the start of the weekend with these students I told them that this weekend, even though I’m far from a gifted musician, we would be worshiping together as we studied. And by the end it was clear to everyone that through worship we can finally achieve the right ordering of our loves which set us free from the incessant demands of our days. I sent those leaders back to their campuses and I prayed over them that there would be a flowering of conversions and a rising tide of justice, but that these things would come clearly from the God they were worshiping, and that they would worship Him who died that they might live.

Ultimately that is what the church needs, perhaps what it has always needed, to return to the altar and worship. When we do this the God who has promised to bring justice to earth, and to provide the workers, the words, and the converts, will act, and we will see Him act. And in seeing we will be compelled to return to the altar to offer praise, thanks, and worship.