With the individual’s spiritual life reinvigorated, and the culture of the church rightly oriented, we can now turn to engaging the world. For while the creeds and confessions primarily serve as resources serving the church, they are also declarations of public truth. They make claims and tell a story that encompasses everyone and everything, and this has implications for the calling of the church in the world.  

As J.H. Bavinck writes in his work on mission concept and reality:

 Mission is that activity of the church throughout the whole world through which it calls the nations in their diversity to faith in and obedience to Jesus Christ, demonstrates…how the salvation of Christ encompasses all of life…and teaches them to look forward to the perfection of the Kingdom, in which God will be all in all.”[1]

This quotation powerful articulates the twofold calling of the church in the world: reaching out as witnesses to the gospel in word and deed in all of life, and inviting in all peoples to enter into the great Christian story that is aimed at the coming Kingdom of God.

The confessions situate Christ in the redemptive story as redeemer and restorer of all God’s creation. He is the one who frees his people from slavery to sin, makes them new creations, and calls them to into service to God in every sphere of life under His lordship. In this way, everyone has a role to perform in His story. The gospel injects renewed meaning and significance to work in the world, and provides the foundation and fuel for our social action and the pursuit of justice.

 Each of these have proven crucial in my own ministry at the university. The students I interact with all have a longing to find their place in the world, and struggle with the significance of their current studies and future careers. They are passionate about the flourishing of people and the environment, and hunger for beauty, truth, and goodness. But, for the most part, they have written off the church and Christianity as having anything to offer for these longings and desires. The confessions have provided a starting point for some for seeing a more robust Christianity and the far-reaching scope of the good news. I believe the church is providentially positioned to shape our culture through these powerful truths and sacrificial service in ways that reflect the gospel.

 And this leads into the second aspect of the church’s engagement with the world: the invitation to enter into the great Christian story that is aimed at that Kingdom.  

Human beings are storied creatures. That is, we seek to form our understanding of what life is and how it should be lived in the context of what philosopher David Holley calls “life-orienting stories.”[2] Like food and water, we need stories in order to live; narratives that root us and give direction to our life’s end.[3] The question, then, isn’t whether we believe in life-orienting stories, but which one we believe and take on as our own. The longer I serve on the university campus, and hear the hollow visions presented by the various stories of the world, I am convinced of the need to capture the imaginations of the next generation with an alternative, compelling story—the Christian story of redemption punctuated by the gospel of Christ, the Kingdom of God, and the renewal of all things—a story that is both personal and cosmic, a story found in the pages of the creeds and confessions.

 I believe this Christian story (as articulated in the creeds and confessions) has this sort of potential to captivate the hearts and minds of many for three reasons:

1. The Christian story counters the disheartening visions for identity presented by modernism and
postmodernism by offering people a new identity in Christ, along with giving renewed meaning and
purpose to their lives’ work (vocation);

  2. The Christian story counters loneliness and disconnection by placing people in covenant relationship
with the Triune God and imbedding them in a new community extending across all boundaries of time
and space;

  3. The Christian story counters the empty promises of other ideological stories by providing a compelling
hope for the future that sustains us regardless of our present circumstances.

Rather than being turned off by confessional forms of Christianity, there are many on our campuses—and I surmise, our communities as well—who long for a more ancient faith, a cosmic story, and a deeper, richer, more diverse community and set of practices that the confessional church can invite them to enter into.

[1] J.H. Bavinck, “Zendingsbegrip  en Zendingswerkelijkheid,” p. 3.

[2] David M. Holley, Meaning and Mystery (Chichester, UK: Wiley-Blackwell, 2010), 3. 

[3] James K.A. Smith, Imagining the Kingdom: How Worship Works (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker Academic, 2013), 129-120.