Faith In Focus

Faith in Focus: The Flame is Still Burning

By Dr. David Wheeler, October 31, 2019

I did not have the privilege of attending Liberty University; however, I like to tell people that I arrived here as quickly as I could. For the last 14 years, I have taught over 30,000 students how to share their faith and how to engage a largely unsaved world through the power of the Gospel. It would be an understatement to say that I love what I get to do at Liberty.

Dr. David Wheeler teaches Christian Life and Evangelism on Sept. 4, 2019. (Photo by Luke Bobbey)

Let’s be honest for a minute. Not to be critical, but in this present time of seeking entertainment and emotion over mission in many churches across North America, the idea of evangelism is not a popular concept.

This is one of the reasons why I am so passionate about the fact that Liberty University continues to require a Christian Life and Evangelism course for all incoming freshmen. It may appear to be countercultural to some, but emphasizing evangelism and the Great Commission has been part of Liberty’s spiritual DNA from the very beginning. This goes hand in hand with our motto, “Knowledge Aflame.”

Anyone who knew our founder, Dr. Jerry Falwell Sr., can affirm how passionate he was for evangelism. His ultimate desire was to build a world-class university and, at the same time, raise up well-educated professionals who would intentionally view themselves as Christian missionaries regardless of their vocation. Some people might consider that to be a little old-fashioned and out of touch, but not Dr. Falwell. He once said, “While I have no problem with the church adapting to the culture, we must ensure that we remain painstakingly true to the Gospel of Jesus Christ and that we remain obedient servants to His truths.”

He firmly believed, and I concur, “We can only change the world if we evangelize the world!” And by the way, just in case you are wondering, this same passion remains very much alive and well on campus through our classes, Convocations, student leadership, campus community, and faculty.

Recent statistics related to this generation of Christian students reveal why it is so important that we continue to provide a strong foundation in evangelism and the Great Commission. In a recent 2018 article by George Barna titled “Translating the Great Commission,” when asked if they had previously “heard of the Great Commission,” half of U.S. churchgoers (51 percent) said they did not know this term. This was a particularly disturbing revelation for this generation of college students.

Wheeler prays before Liberty hosts University of Maine for Homecoming Weekend at Williams Stadium on October 19, 2019. (Photo by Andrew Snyder)

When asked if they “have heard of and remember the Great Commission,” only 10 percent of millennials responded in a positive manner. And if these statistics are not alarming enough, consider that in a 2019 article, Barna revealed that “Almost half of millennials (47 percent) agree at least somewhat that it is ‘wrong to share one’s personal beliefs with someone of a different faith in hopes that they will one day share the same faith.’”

I recall visiting a sister university a few years ago and speaking with the campus pastor who also served as a vice president related to spiritual growth and discipleship. Somehow we ended up discussing the use of the word “evangelism” in our modern church culture and especially as it relates to the students on our campuses. While I defended the term “evangelism” and the deep theological implications that I feel go along with it, he simply blew it off and told me that he felt the word “evangelism” would be too “negative” for his students. I remember thinking, “Wow. How could they stop mentioning the word evangelism and still call themselves evangelicals?”

I am proud to say that this is NOT the situation at Liberty University. While many Christian institutions no longer understand the importance of emphasizing evangelism and the Great Commission as part of their required curriculum, trust me when I say that the flame is still burning brightly on Liberty Mountain.
Every semester, I speak with students who come into these classes a little apprehensive, but they change when they see their friends and family come to Christ as they boldly share the Gospel.

One of my favorite stories occurred a few years ago when one of my 18-year-old freshmen who had been praying for his grandfather’s salvation for many years took the challenge of Scripture and called his 83-year-old grandfather on the phone. Believe it or not, after nervously asking him about his spiritual beliefs and eventually stumbling through the Gospel, the Holy Spirit blessed his efforts and his grandfather responded by surrendering his life to Christ! Can you imagine how life-changing that was for this young man, his family, and especially his grandfather?

I often deal with the question, “What makes Liberty different from other universities?” To me, this student’s story exemplifies the difference.

While I can assure you that Liberty students receive a world-class education from some of the most influential thinkers in our culture, what makes Liberty different is that we do not stop at seeking to influence the students’ minds. Because we are all more than just intellectual beings, our sincere hope is to impact the whole person — not only the mind, but also the students’ hearts and hands to live out the Great Commandment of Jesus as stated in Matthew 22:37-39: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself.”

This approach of passionately living out our faith in the marketplace, being on fire for God and unashamed of the Gospel, has always defined the spiritual focus of Liberty University — and it still does today.

Dr. David Wheeler is a professor of evangelism in the John W. Rawlings School of Divinity and is the senior executive director of LU Shepherd under the Office of Spiritual Development. He has served at Liberty University since 2006.

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