This guest blog is by Dr. Justin Cooper, former president of Redeemer University and former executive director of CHEC (Christian Higher Education in Canada). He also served as the chair of the board at Global Scholars Canada for many years. Among other things, he now serves on the board of Langham Partnership Canada, a mission that is part of a larger global movement to equip better preachers, founded by the late John Stott. Read more of his biography here.
Whenever someone has the opportunity to serve in an organization over a longer span of time, this experience can be personally impactful along with important ways that the organization itself grows and develops. My ten years of service with the GSC board is no exception on both counts. Reflecting on my involvement with Global Scholars Canada, I have grown in several important areas of my own understanding of the mission of Christian university teaching and scholarship, while also working through and learning from changes in GSC’s understanding of its mission and vision over the last several years. Let me convey this in relation to three signature Biblical texts that have been foundational for my understanding and the work of GSC and then explore the differing paths that GSC and its partner organization in the United States, Global Scholars-USA (GS-USA), have taken more recently in building on this foundation.
I came to the Board as someone with a fairly typical Reformed Christian view of the academic enterprise as finding its meaning and basis in the comprehensive claims of Christ’s redeeming work–the “every square inch” understanding put forward by Abraham Kuyper. In Biblical terms, this is powerfully expressed in Colossians 1:18-20 and the language of “all things,” created and being reconciled by Christ. This reality undergirds a robust view of the Christian academic mission that includes all areas of creation, all academic disciplinesand not just theology and ethics. And I was heartened to see that in both GSC and GS-USA, this vision was embraced and encouraged.
As I encountered and was impacted by the mission of GSC and the work of its scholars in various parts of the world, I came to see that what I had taken to be a cosmic and universal perspective on Christ’s Kingdom was in fact missing a crucial global dimension and needed to be expanded. I had long known and celebrated that the fruit of the Gospel was a growing and increasingly diverse church across the world. But this realization that his Kingdom is not just “all things” but also “all peoples” was given a fresh impetus for me in the academic arena itself as I saw what was taking place in the missions of GSC and GS-USA.
A Rich Global Tapestry
Revelation 5:9-10 expresses it so clearly: Christ’s kingdom includes those drawn from “every tribe and language and people and nation.” This is the fullness of the reign of shalom that Christ is bringing–a rich tapestry that is not complete unless and until it embraces all things and all peoples and celebrates all of these voices. At this point in God’s plan of redemption, when the non-Western church is by far the majority church and is rapidly increasing in numbers and scope, we in the West certainly need to reframe our perspective about our relation to Christians in the majority world, not only in the church but also in other areas, including the academic enterprise. And this is precisely what began to develop, first in GS-USA, and then extending to GSC as well.
But before engaging more fully the important shift in their view of mission as it related to the majority world, let me first make reference to one more positive dimension of both organizations that was personally impactful. Around this time, the board of GS-USA developed a revised description of its mission that included the phrase, “missional Christian academics,” as a deeper way to convey the identity of its scholars. This idea of being a missional Christian academic made me reflect more deeply on the mission of GSC and also the Christian academic mission in general.
To my mind, the word “missional” better captures the full reality of who Global Scholars are as they serve the Lord in their teaching and scholarship and in the personal relationships they establish outside of the classroom. They are witnessing to the vital relevance of a Christian worldview in their disciplines, as well as impacting interested students and colleagues with the reality of Christ in their lives. In short, a missional Christian academic is both an academic witness to the renewing work of the Gospel (teacher/scholar) and also a personal presence in word and deed of the renewing power of Christ that touches and transforms lives.
Both Minds and Hearts
This, in turn, has led me to a third foundational passage, namely, the so-called Great Commission in Matthew 28:18-20. I have come to see that this charge to the apostles and to us brings together the two themes of “all things” and “all nations” in what might be better called Christ’s All-Encompassing Commission. Clearly, Christ’s primary focus here is preaching the Gospel and making new disciples, the task of the church in this age. However, his charge of teaching “all things” and “making disciples” can also be understood more comprehensively to include what missional Christian academics are about: reflecting Christ’s claim over their disciplines and in that process relating to others in ways that not only shape minds but can also speak to hearts and transform lives. These academics also play their part in making disciples as the Spirit leads.
This fresh understanding of the mission of GSC has brought me to a place of deeper understanding of the Christian academic mission and its place in the missio Dei, the mission of God in Christ. As Christ is reconciling all things and those from all nations and guiding history toward its culmination, this will not come until the fullness of time when people from every nation have heard the Gospel. Missional Christian academics answer the call to be his witnesses to all nations through their academic vocation, as it touches minds and hearts wherever the Lord leads them, from down the street “to the ends of the earth.”
At the same time, as noted earlier, given that the peoples of non-Western nations constitute the majority world and church and have their own emerging leaders, both GS-USA and GSC began to consider a shift in their missions away from a focus on equipping and sending Western academics “overseas,” recognizing that the increasing numbers of majority world Christian academics should be the principal means for this educational task in each of their respective regions and countries. This approach is not only more stewardly, but also more empowering and a more effective way to provide contextualized teaching and scholarship.
Multiplying Pathways to Service
Recognizing this, the two organizations began to take different paths in redefining and expanding their missions. Taking the initiative, GS-USA made the bold decision to eliminate its organizational support for sending new Western scholars to the majority world, to phase out support for existing scholars and to focus instead on supporting non-Western scholars and assisting them in their development by means of a web-based association called the Society of Christian Scholars (SCS). This initiative, led and shaped by non-Western scholars, seeks to provide a wide range of academic resources for Christian perspective, pedagogy, research and publishing.
In this context, GSC’s reflections have taken it down a different path that has proven to be innovative and fruitful in its own right. Again, this has also opened fresh perspectives for my understanding of the variety of ways that missional Christian academics can be equipped and engaged in the global reach of Christ-centred teaching and scholarship. This path has involved affirming some continuing role for Western Christian academics in the majority world and also opening up multiple avenues by which they could engage. It also led to a recognition of a new and potentially fertile source of non-Western Christian academics in Canada itself.
GSC is well aware that majority world Christian academics have developed in numbers and expertise in many countries and are leading growth in Christian higher education, as well as an increasing presence on public university campuses. Yet it has also recognized there is still an unmet need for Christian academics, such that academics in the West continue to be sought after. They can play constructive roles, provided they are attuned to cross-cultural contextualization. Thus GSC is taking a more gradual approach to changing this aspect of its mission and currently supports and is open to sending additional Christian academics to places of need.
Innovation Through Intentional Relationship
In addition, Christian scholars are also developing innovative ways to answer the call to provide students in the majority world with Christian teaching and learning without the expense of having to relocate on a permanent basis. GSC has been approached by Christian academics about two other opportunities–teaching summer courses and also teaching courses online. This is opening new opportunities for Christian academics who can take on an additional course in connection with their full-time position or for those who are retired. And via online communication one Global Scholar has taught full-time, going once a semester to meet students in person, while another is teaching both single courses in institutional settings and also speaking at conferences and seminars, where he is highly sought after.
Perhaps the most innovative approach that GSC is exploring is networking with Christian professors and international graduate students at Canadian universities who are interested in becoming more self-conscious and better equipped missional Christian academics, particularly those in the latter group who are already planning to seek positions in the majority world. This could involve partnerships with various Christian groups linking faculty and also organizations like Inter-Varsity Christian Fellowship and its graduate student fellowships. These avenues could open up ways to share with interested professors and students the power of a Christian approach to their disciplines and the reality of being a missional academic, as well as connecting them with the Society of Christian Scholars and its global network of members and resources for Christian teaching and scholarship.
“It has been a faith-building experience to be part of this journey…”
– Justin Cooper
This expanded vision of who can be recruited and equipped and how they can engage in the mission of bringing the renewing work of Christ to the campuses of the majority world is lending new vitality and impetus to the work of GSC. And the capstone that breathes spiritual life into all these ventures is the increasing sense of community that is being formed in GSC in two ways: by online gatherings of many board members, staff, scholars and retired scholars who come together for fellowship at special times in the church year to seek God’s blessing and direction both for personal and organizational concerns; and in addition, whether by Zoom or in person, events are that are also open to supporters of GSC, bringing together all those involved in GSC’s mission to celebrate and raise awareness of the various ways the Lord is at work through GSC.
For me, it has been a faith-building experience to be part of this journey and to deepen my vision beyond Christian higher education in Canada and the United States to include the more extensive educational work the Spirit is accomplishing among the nations across the world. This process has been enriched all the more by being involved in an organization that is becoming more of a close-knit community even across different continents. My thanks goes to my fellow board members and to the staff and scholars of GSC for making this a reality, and especially to our Executive Director, Peter Schuurman, for his leadership. May the Lord continue to bless GSC as it develop new ways to serve him through its expanding cadre of missional Christian academics.