Bantu Addresses Culture and the Gospel

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Vince Bantu, visiting professor of missiology at Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis, said diversity is necessary for unity. Bantu spoke in Union University Chapel Sept. 7.

“God is a God of Unity, and you can’t have unity without diversity,” Bantu said. “You have to have different things to unite…We are united in Christ, but we’re also different. That should not be ignored or passed over, but it should be celebrated.”

Bantu said modern Americans often talk about moving beyond racial and cultural differences in an effort for equality, but he said equality is not achieved through racial colorblindness.

“God doesn’t want us to get beyond it,” Bantu said. “This is part of how he made us.”

He said the gospel is uniquely positioned to be translated into every culture, and the Bible offers many examples of this in the book of Acts. He said when the context of the dominant culture is added to the gospel it adds an unnecessary barrier to those in other cultures.

In addition to his chapel address, Bantu gave an evening lecture Sept. 6 titled “Culture and Context: Church History, Orthodoxy and #blacklivesmatter.” He said missions is how the gospel interacts with culture and is contextualized, and understanding current social issues is vital for Christians on mission.

“The gospel is universal in absolute truth, but it’s relative in how it hits us,” he said.

Bantu compared the gospel to a stage play. He said each person in a theater is watching the same play, but each person has a different perspective of the play based on where he or she is seated. He said when Christians recognize and embrace different perspectives of the gospel, it gives a more complete picture.

“Cross-cultural experiences are like an intermission,” Bantu said. “We get to hear about other perspectives and what other people have seen.”

Bantu encouraged students who are interested in mission work in other countries to first interact with other cultures in their own cities. He said the gospel embraces each person equally, and this is obvious when it is seen in an unfamiliar culture.

“We’re not bringing God to heathen nations,” Bantu said. “He’s already there at work, revealed in creation. We aren’t civilizing people or teaching them anything. We’re sharing good news.”

Story by Nathan Handley

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Dr. Vince Bantu’s evening lecture in the Bowld Student Commons

Thirteenth Annual Campus & Community Day

Today marks Union University’s thirteenth annual campus-wide service day. This is a time when faculty, staff, and students join together to give thanks to God for His protection over our campus during the 2002, 2003, and 2008 tornados. Most projects this year took place off campus, but a few groups of faculty and staff members worked around campus.

Members of Chi Omega chat with residents of Recency Retirement Village during a game of bingo.

The ladies of Chi Omega visited Regency Retirement Village to play bingo and visit with the residents.

“Volunteering, helping the residents is really fun, and they appreciate it so much…It’s really cool to get to come back and see people that you’ve seen before and get to talk to them and just to build relationships with the residents.” – Abigail Hamblen, sophomore nursing major

Abby Cox, a member of Chi Omega, gets to know residents of Recency Retirement Village during a game of bingo. Members of Chi Omega chat with residents of Recency Retirement Village during a game of bingo. Member of the cheer squad work on preparing art therapy materials at The Star Center

Members of the cheer squad volunteered at The Star Center by helping prepare art and music therapy materials and washing windows.

“Doing this shows people that great stuff is going on here is Jackson, and we’re here just to help in any way possible…Having these few friends with me to just kind of fellowship and get to know them more is really fun.” – Marcellous Jiles, junior education major

“I think that it’s so great and important because it’s tying Union back into the community…Not only are we helping the community and helping out the Star Center a little bit, but it’s also great to get to have that time to volunteer with friends.” – Sydney Fly, junior education major

Members of the cheer squad wash windows at The Star Center. Members of the cheer squad wash windows at The Star Center. Members of the cheer squad make labels for the music room shelves at The Star Center

A team of students led by the golf team refreshes a US map on the sidewalk outside of Alexander Elementary.

A group of students led by the golf team refreshed a US map on the sidewalk outside of Alexander Elementary.

“It’s just a great way to get in touch with the community and make sure that we’re involved just as much as they are with us.” – Trey Whitnell, senior accounting major

“For the community to come help Union the year we had the tornado, to come back out and help the community and us as a golf team to get together and work for others is pretty amazing. Working with my team and the few others that joined in with us is pretty fun too. We don’t always get to get together like this a lot.” – Joy Cooper, junior business management major

A team of students led by the golf team refreshes a US map on the sidewalk outside of Alexander Elementary.

A team of students led by the golf team refreshes a US map on the sidewalk outside of Alexander Elementary.

Gaye Christy works with fellow staff members to plant flowers at the West entrance of campus.

Faculty and staff members worked on campus planting flowers, weeding and trimming trees.

“What we are doing today is one of the basics for us. It’s part of who we are as a university — serving, giving, showing compassion.” – Dub Oliver, president of the university

Karen works with fellow staff members to plant flowers at the West entrance of campus. Dub Oliver helps trim trees along the Great Lawn.

Members of the executive council pose together after trimming trees along the Great Lawn

Story by Nathan Handley, Photos by Kristi Woody

Lest We Forget: A New Tradition

Post by Jared Dauenhauer, assistant director of student leadership & engagement 

One of my favorite places on campus is the Carl Grant Events Center. It houses one of the best places I’ve found to meditate and reflect, Heritage Center. Most of us at Union may take a glance or two at this place, and I believe many of us, myself included, have failed to recognize its significance.

Heritage Center contains a visual timeline that spans three walls and almost 200 years of Union University history. I look at the faces and think of the stories of a time past at Union. When I look at the faces of past leaders and past students, I’m instantly reminded of a scene from one of my favorites movies: Dead Poet’s Society. In this scene, Mr. Keating has his students look to the students of the past and try to understand their legacy.

It is incredibly important to remember the past and the legacy that has been passed down to us. It makes us think about what legacy we will pass down. It’s the same question I ask myself when I visit the halls and annals of Union’s storied past. When I look at that timeline, I wonder what keeps us going? What is so important that we must continue to keep our doors open to generation after generation of students? Why have we rebuilt from fires, wars and tornadoes? What legacy or what story is really being told here?

Recently I sat down with students and staff members to answer these questions. Together we poured through old newspapers, yearbooks and documents trying to ultimately determine what legacy is being whispered to us. As in that scene you just watched, I believe there came about a moment in each of our journeys that we leaned into our past and heard: “Lest We Forget.” In research of this phrase we found homages to old poems and many wartime references to soldiers that had fallen in wars. While the phrase does not find it roots in our direct past, Union has certainly adopted it.

Unfortunately, we do the very thing that this phrase tells us not to do. We forget that the legacy Union plays a role in didn’t start in 1823 with the creation of the Jackson Male Academy. We fail to see the timeline that stretches beyond our almost 200-year history. Union’s story has always been the story of God’s faithfulness through Christ. Yes, there have been many faithful men and women in the legacy of Union, but they want us to look at the faithfulness of God as seen through our institution. They want us to see God’s work here, God’s faithfulness that was in place before Union University existed.

The thing about stories and legacies is that they are forgotten when they are not frequently read or expressed. Inspired by this reflection on Union’s past, an event was born that is to be held at the beginning of every academic year. What did we call it? You guessed it… Lest We Forget.

During this new tradition, we practice, we remember and we set ourselves up to continue to remember what the Lord has done for us. The details of this tradition are for those who have the honor of ever being a Unionite, but the message is for everyone reading this post. When we look to Union, when we look to our past and look to our future, we see the hands of God pointing us to Christ. As members of this institution we join in Union’s legacy and in the greater story propelled by our Creator, and we tell it to the world. When we forget, as we are apt to do, we see the loving words of our Lord echoing, whispering through the men and women who came before us, saying “Lest We Forget.”

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Convocation Service

It is a tradition that we open the academic year with Convocation, a more formal chapel service to mark the beginning of the semester. Faculty process in wearing their regalia, and the service is more ceremonial than an average chapel. We enjoy coming together as a university to commemorate the start of the year, and we were especially excited to hear from Dr. Dub Oliver at his first Convocation as president.

Please enjoy the photos from this event as well as the Convocation address delivered by Dr. Oliver.

Dr. Richard Addo waiting for the faculty processional. Dr. Van Neste waits for the faculty processional at Convocation Dr. Poe, faculty member of the year, prays during Convocation. Dr. Mathews leads the congregation in singing "How Great Thou Art" Dr. Jeanette Russ reads scripture. Faculty members sing Dr. Ben Mitchell introduces new staff and faculty Dr. Addo leads in the reading of the Apostle's Creed. Faculty and Staff members on the stage at convocation. Steven Aldridge reads scripture. Student body president, Jenaye White, addresses students at Convocation Chris Mathews leads the University Singers Musicians play at Convocation Dr. Dub Oliver delivers the convocation address

Convocation – August 22, 2014

“Liberty and Integrity”

Our convocation is a formal gathering. It is a time for reflection, for resolution. We are at the beginning of the academic year. This is a good moment to think about where we are, what we intend to do, and why we intend to do it.

Allow me to say a little about where we find ourselves as a Christian university (and as a community) in this 21st century that races along.

What is the purpose of a university education? At one time institutions would speak of their graduates as a Harvard man or a Vassar woman. To say that would mean that the experience of education at those places must impart some qualities to the students. In our context, what does it mean to be a Union man or woman? A Unionite? Some things we have said to you up front in bold letters. Excellence-Driven, Christ-Centered, People-Focused, Future-Directed. At Union, we have an overriding desire for you to be a Christian, to have an active, vibrant, ever growing and ever deepening relationship with Jesus.

We hope that you have professional goals, family goals, and other kinds of things you want to do, but more than that we hope you will see yourself as someone who is actively engaged in the work of the Kingdom of God. What else might we say? Two themes occur to me as I think about what it means to be educated here. They are liberty and integrity.

I think of liberty because learning has to do with freedom. We are citizens, not subjects of a throne. We participate in our own government because we are free. A free man or a free woman should also strive to be knowledgeable and articulate. I think about integrity because liberty does not simply stand alone. Liberty can mean just being free from restraints. And that is important. But liberty can also mean being free to pursue certain goals.

Liberty can walk hand in hand with integrity. We don’t choose the times in which we live. It happens that this is an especially important time for Christians when it comes to matters such as liberty and integrity. The social arena has shifted in ways that put conviction on a collision course with political passion. For example, the nature of marriage was long taken for granted, but now is hotly disputed. Our society thinks differently than it did even when President Obama himself declared in 2008 that marriage is between a man and a woman. It may now be the case that a majority disagrees with that point of view, including that same president. Those of us who uphold the authority of Scripture find ourselves increasingly in the minority.

Marriage is not the only ground of controversy. By issuing the HHS mandate regarding employer-provided contraceptives, the U.S. government extended its reach in ways that seemed to many to be more intrusive and commanding than had previously been the norm. One of the consequences of these developments is that Christians have had to become much more aware of the issue of religious liberty. Generally speaking, we haven’t worried too much about our constitutional freedom because we could take it for granted. The big court cases tended to involve religious minorities such as the Amish, Jehovah’s Witnesses, Seventh Day Adventists, and practitioners of Native American religions. But with the HHS mandate and other issues percolating through the courts, we have seen government action impinging directly upon matters of Christian concern.

Specifically, we see citizens compelled to participate in activities they do not wish to endorse and organizations required to pay for products and services they view as contrary to their faith and conscience. Religious liberty has suddenly become the kind of thing to which serious Christians must address themselves. I had the opportunity to participate in a small way in one of the controversies I have mentioned. In my role as the president of East Texas Baptist University, I fought against the HHS mandate because it threatened our exercise of conscience and religious liberty. Dr. Ben Mitchell, now serving as Union’s provost, went to Washington, D.C. to testify against the mandate for similar reasons.

I am glad to tell you that Baptists have not just recently developed an interest in religious liberty. Putting an emphasis upon liberty of faith and conscience is part of what Baptists have always done. Baptists have championed religious freedom for centuries. Baptists have fought for the right of individuals to participate or not participate in the church because of our belief that the body should be regenerate in nature.

What does it mean to be regenerate? To be regenerate is to be spiritually reborn. Baptists wanted people to freely decide to join the church and to become part of the community of faith. It is a choice that must not be coerced. And just as Baptists have emphasized the liberty of the individual with regard to religion, we have also argued for the independence of the church from the state and vice versa. The pastors of the church shouldn’t be civil servants. Nor should they be paid with taxes. And the state should not tell the church what to believe or try to marginalize the church’s voice or keep it from participating in the life of the community. There was a time when this view of things was pretty radical.

Our history gives a lot of credit to people like Thomas Jefferson and James Madison for emphasizing religious freedom. As we sit here in the chapel of a Baptist university, I am happy to make the case that we should be thanking generations of Baptists before Jefferson and Madison whose same opinion sometimes brought persecution. I know that professors Ben Mitchell and Jim Patterson could tell us more about that. And there are others, too, I am sure.

The interesting thing about religious freedom is that it works in a counterintuitive fashion. Many thought the church needed to be supported by tax money and granted a monopoly over the allegiances of citizens. The Europeans persisted in the state church model well after we largely gave it up. But all you have to do is to look at the state of the Christian churches in Europe relative to those in America to see which model helps the Gospel flourish. While we certainly face our challenges here, the church is far more vital where it has been a free church.

While Baptists pursued religious liberty for the believer and the unbeliever alike, they weren’t motivated by a desire just to be left alone. The freedom they wanted (and that we want) is a freedom “for” rather than a freedom “from.” This freedom “for” is a freedom for faithfulness. It is a freedom to believe and a freedom to live out those beliefs as long as they don’t threaten the basic peace and safety of the community.

As the debate over religious liberty has developed in the past few years, there have been those who would whittle down freedom of faith and conscience to a more modest freedom of worship. With this smaller freedom the church would be able to count on the government not monitoring church services or trying to mandate the rituals, the music, and the content of the sermon. That is not a small thing, but it is simply not enough. The freedom to live out one’s beliefs has to do with integrity.

To have integrity means to be honest and to be true to one’s principles. Another definition of the word really drives the point home. To have integrity is to be undivided. It is to be a whole rather than a collection of parts. “Freedom of worship” doesn’t take adequate account of the requirements of integrity.

If you want to know why various Christian organizations and businesses have drawn unwelcome attention to themselves by resisting government regulations, the answer goes back to integrity. Nobody really wants a big hassle with the federal government, especially with an enormous and powerful agency like the Department of Health and Human Services. We aren’t looking for a fight. If we have integrity, we don’t choose our conflicts in an opportunistic or calculating way. We resist when we think we have to do so. We resist out of the courage of our convictions, not on the convenience of our complaints. These moments are Acts 5:29 moments when we declare, like Peter and the other apostles, that we must obey God rather than men.

People who are involved with Christian higher education as faculty, as staff, as students, as parents of students…Almost all of these people over the years have heard a lot of discussion about integration. You could hardly have spent any time at a serious Christian college during the past two decades without hearing people talk about “the integration of faith and learning.” As you hear the word “integration” you might notice the similarity of it to the word we have been talking about. To have integrity is to be an undivided whole. To have integrity is to be integrated. This conversation about integration is very familiar to me.

During my years at Baylor, there was a lot of soul searching about the integration of faith and learning. There were some professors who resisted the idea, but there were many others who welcomed it. Some very fine academics, world class in their fields, came to Baylor because they were Christians and they liked the idea of fulfilling their vocations as teachers and scholars in a way that is undivided. They wanted to be whole instead of two halves. Our professors here at Union feel the same way.

But integration is not just for college professors. Nor is it just for faith and learning. I believe that every Christian is called to have an undivided life. While you are here at Union, I hope that you will have an experience that is undivided in nature. I want you to experience integration of faith and learning as you move across campus, as you sit with your professors, as you participate in student life activities, as you eat together in Cobo, as you study together in Barefoots or in the library. At no point should you feel that the things you do are disconnected from your faith and your core convictions. Your mind, your will, your body and the different uses to which you put them…they should all be submitted to the lordship of Jesus Christ in an undivided way.

This process of living in an undivided way is something that works best within a community. The Christian church is a community. Union University is a community. In strong and committed Christian communities, iron sharpens iron. People hold one another accountable. The stakes are high for us. We can no longer just rest easy in a nation that largely defers to Christian sensibilities. We cannot just live on autopilot. We have to choose our words and actions carefully. That has always been true, but it is much more obvious now.

We are looking at life and after life. We live among people with eternal destinies. We submit to the discipline of the Christian faith in the way we study and in the way we treat each other. We urge one another forward to press on to the prize. We support each other in trials. We pursue holiness together, both so we can be sanctified and so that we can spread the blessing of faith in Jesus Christ.

My hope for you as you embark upon the journey of this year is that your life becomes ever more integrated as a faithful follower of Christ. As you develop in this way, as we all develop in this way, you will find that it becomes difficult to be a cultural chameleon. There is a real cost to that. You may have to resist social tides and sometimes draw unwelcome attention even as you try to follow Christ in humility and love. But perhaps we can learn together to be the kind of witness who helps people to think about instead of just rejecting and dismissing what we have to say. Perhaps we can learn together how to avoid the easy “cheap grace” that Dietrich Bonhoeffer so earnestly rejected.

It is a good freedom that we seek for ourselves and for others. Let us defend it and make use of it while there is still day and we have the benefit of the light.

But in all cases, whether we have the blessings of freedom in partnership with our earthly citizenship or not, let us always be found faithful. Let us always be found undivided.

May the favor of the Lord our God rest upon us.

– Dub Oliver

Dr. Dub Oliver delivers the Convocation address. Convocation audience sings Convocation audience sings Convocation audience sings Dr. Dub Oliver leaving Convocation

Video from Fall 2014 Convocation

University news release