Theology professor recounts his faith journey and how the Lord has led him to teach at Liberty

Some stories are so powerful that the author of the script could be none other than the Lord — this is how professor Chris Gnanakan likes to describe his roller coaster life.

Gnanakan has been a professor of global theology for over 10 years. But before that, he grew up in poverty and spent much of his time playing in the streets of Southern India. His faith journey started with his mother pawning her gold chain to send him to school so that he could learn English, but he ended up gaining much more than another language.

The school Gnanakan attended was also a Christian school. Growing up under Hindu influence and being immersed into a belief system that believed in many gods had turned his heart against Christians. However, he couldn’t turn away from one thing — Jesus.

The relational and sacrificial character of Jesus drew Gnanakan to Christ around age 13.

“Coming from India, it’s karma, or cause and effect. You reap what you sow,” Gnanakan said. “But then I heard this concept called grace. How can you get everything for nothing? And then I realized grace is free, but it’s not cheap. Someone else paid the price.”

Photo by Brynne Smith

Gnanakan spent four years as an electrician in India during a time when Christian missionaries were barred from entering the country. He realized that if people from outside India could not reach his people, he would have to reach them himself. One of his church leaders sent him to the Word of Life Bible Institute in New York so he could study the Bible and be better equipped for ministry.

After continuing in higher education in the United States and the U.K., he returned to India to plant churches. While he was planting churches, he faced persecution from opposing forces that detested Christianity.

“Persecution actually strengthened my faith. Affliction has a way of strengthening, while affluence weakens your faith,” Gnanakan said.

During this time of affliction, he was asked how long it was going to take him to reach the entirety of the one billion people in India.

“And what got me thinking was the word ‘strategic.’ How can I do this (ministry) exponentially? In other words, I had to train trainers,” Gnanakan said.

Gnanakan said that he was most inspired by 2 Timothy 2:15, which states, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.”

This verse also motivates his work as the director of leadership development for the organization Christar, which works in over 80 countries to take the gospel where it has not gone before. Gnanakan has found that his background in India has helped him to minister to people in Eastern countries.

Recently, in Bhutan, he worked to train ministry leaders. At one of his training sessions, a leper named Golong came to learn how to share the gospel with those who also had leprosy. From the training that he received, Golong was able to plant a church in his colony.

“Every member in that church is a leper. Every leper member in the church tithes out of what he begs. And every member in that church who is a leper has led another leper to Jesus. That’s beautiful,” Gnanakan said.

Photo Brynne Smith

In the time he spends at Liberty University, Gnanakan teaches hundreds of students per day about theology. He loves teaching theology because he believes it should become the foundation for all people to live upon.

“I love to teach students how to defend and contend for the Christian faith with reasons for the hope that we have in Christ alone,” Gnanakan said.

No matter what major you may have, he believes that by knowing the Bible and theology, you can bring God glory and make him known.

“Don’t live a fragmented life,” Gnanakan said. “Theology is for the whole of life, every aspect of living. It’s not just in our Sunday worship. It’s in our Monday work, and so on.”

Gnanakan teaches his students that the glory of God should be their goal as they pursue knowledge, mission and ministry alike.

“I define education as loving God with all your mind so that no matter what you do, you become missional,” Gnanakan said.

As he reflects on his journey from street kid in India to professor of theology, he continues to bring it back to one central idea.

“I am a great debtor to grace to what God has done,” Gnanakan said. “Anchor your faith in absolute truth. Go back to the Bible, the truth that sets people free.”

Graeber is a feature reporter for the Liberty Champion

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