First Step: Peter’s Vision

"Surely not Lord..."
“Surely not Lord…”

When I started teaching in Christian Colleges three decades ago, I was a fan of the Christian Worldview motif. It draws upon a number of scriptural references: “Let this mind be in you…“, “Think on these things“, “Be transformed by the renewing of your mind” and, of course, contrasts between the “foolishness of God” and the “wisdom of men“. I now recognize, as I didn’t in my younger days, that almost none of those verses actually speak to issues of education unless they’re taken out of context. But they fit into a Christian mindset that was focused on separation from The World, an important theme of the founding of many Christian colleges.

Rather than starting with the stark contrast between church and world, the first chapter of my book begins in a very different place. In place of working from theological presuppositions, I begin with what I think is one of the most amazing passages in the book of Acts: Peter’s vision in Acts 10. We aren’t stringing together verses to make a patchwork conception of worldview. We’re trying to understand a very strange life event and its even more remarkable interpretation.

Peter is in Joppa and has an amazing vision. A sheet is unfurled before him containing all kinds of animals and unclean things (when looking at pictures on Google, there are lots of images of giraffes and camels — I honestly never thought about them when the verse says “all four-footed creatures“). A voice tells Peter to kill and eat. He says “Surely not, Lord. Nothing unclean has ever entered my mouth“. Three times the sheet comes down but Peter maintains his purity. Immediately after the third sheet, the Spirit tells Peter that three men were coming to see him and will take him to the Roman centurion Cornelius. He goes with them and baptizes Cornelius and his entire household.

The separatist perspective of Christian worldviews struggles over contrasting issues: faith and science, good and bad literature/movies, relativism and absolute truth. These contrasts and conflicts play out today across Facebook, Twitter, Christian magazines, and popular preaching. They speak fearfully of slippery slope arguments and too often make education something to be feared.

Peter’s vision takes us to a different place. The voice says to Peter, “Do not call anything impure that God has made clean.” The message is pretty clear — God is in control and nothing we come in contact with is beyond his scope. Take and eat.

Maybe in education, it should be take and read. Explore that idea. Look at things from another perspective.

Peter is listening to the Spirit and is willing to consider what faithfulness means to him. He is living in obedience to God’s call even though it’s taking him in directions he was initially unwilling to go.

As fascinating as I find Peter’s vision in Acts 10, I’m blown away by what happens in ¬†chapter 11. When he gets back to Jerusalem, the apostles and believers want to know what in the world was going on.

They were probably writing nasty posts on Facebook calling out Peter for his irreligious actions: click “like” if you think the we should stay away from uncircumcised men.

So he tells his story. He explains what he was thinking and what was in the vision. He tells of the leading of the Holy Spirit, both when he goes with the men and again at the baptism.

The other apostles listen to Peter, consider his integrity and testimony, and reach a conclusion: “So then even to the Gentiles God has granted repentance that leads to life.” They not only endorse what Peter did, they view it in the larger more theological terms. They learned vicariously through Peter’s vision and obedience.

This is the image I hold in considering how students should engage their new experiences in college. They shouldn’t come in fear, worrying that they’ll come across things that are challenging. They are listening for the Spirit leading them to new and deep understandings. They are sharing those understandings with those around them: other students, faculty, staff, parents, pastors. Those others listen carefully to the students and to the Spirit and help them put their new learning into a larger context. Faith and learning are not opposed to each other but both lead us all to new depths of understandings.

It requires a lot of faith, a lot of patience, and a lot of growth. But in the end, it results in students not constrained by the polarizing topics of prior generations. It results in students able to articulate faith to an increasingly postmodern, religiously unsophisticated culture.

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