Thinking of Penn as an unreached people group

In salvation, God miraculously transforms the heart of the Christian. As believers, we possess a newfound affection, desire, and zeal to love, revere, and serve our Lord. Through Him, we have a newfound love for others—Christians and non-Christians alike. 

Taking the truth of the gospel—the good news that the Lord Jesus Christ has decisively conquered sin and death by His own death and resurrection—outside of Christian community and into the world is the best way we can love non-Christians. Through the gospel, God “has blessed us in Christ with every spiritual blessing” (Ephesians 1:3). The message of the gospel is not only the greatest blessing we have received, but also the greatest blessing we can share with others.

The believer is one who takes seriously Jesus’ command to “let your light shine before others” (Matthew 5:16). We carry forth the good news of Christ’s death and resurrection, inviting all men to “repent and believe the gospel” (Mark 1:15). The apostle Paul expresses a longing to “preach the gospel… not where Christ has already been named” (Romans 15:20). 

Like the apostle, we have been sent to a people who have not heard the name of Christ.

Many missionary organizations will label a people group as “unreached” or “least-reached” if less than five percent of its members profess Christianity. The culture of the United States is no longer an “Acts 2” culture—one that generally professes religion in a nominal sense—but an “Acts 17” culture, marked by unawareness of Christianity’s most basic truths.

Our friends around us broadly fall into this “Acts 17” category. The Barna Group estimates that only four percent of Generation Z—those born between 1999 and 2015—have a Christian worldview. Consider the additional factor of many Penn students hailing from nations outside of the gospel’s reach, and this percentage may be even lower on our campus. We would do well to recognize our present mission—proclaiming Christ to an unreached people group.

In place of Christ, secularism has become the pervasive influence among college students. Even if they profess a commitment to some system of faith, most of our classmates will state that religious beliefs—Christian or otherwise—do not belong in the classroom or the public square. Some may assert that all religions essentially teach the same moral lessons and are otherwise not useful. Many will further profess atheism or agnosticism—a denial of God’s evident existence.

Though secularism may be Penn’s dominant worldview, its dominant religion is hedonism—the pursuit of pleasure above all else. Sorrowfully, many Penn students attempt to use worldly pleasures—hookups, substances, lucrative jobs on Wall Street—to fill the chasm in their hearts. 

Unsurprisingly, these efforts are unsuccessful. Instead of lasting peace, hedonism yields misery. In a recent survey, ninety-five percent of college counseling center directors in the United States reported that the number of students with significant psychological problems is growing on their campuses. Anxiety, depression, and suicide are epidemics within Generation Z and among our peers. Penn’s secularist, hedonist culture—through one snare or another—tends to worsen the existential despair so common among members of our age group.

As Christians, however, we know that lasting pleasure, contentment, and joy can be found only in right relationship with our Creator. As Augustine famously wrote in his Confessions, our hearts are restless until they find their rest in the Lord. 

Our classmates search fervently for the benefit associated with knowing Christ—meaning, contentment, inner peace—but either do not know or fail to acknowledge that Christ alone can provide the peace that “surpasses all understanding” (Philippians 4:7). True peace flows from the joy of knowing God, who Christians can now approach with confidence, because our sins have been forgiven in Christ.

If the light of God is not present in the life of a man, how dark is his night! We often turn a blind eye to the oppressive darknesses of secularism and hedonism—systems out of which many of us were saved, and from which all of us were spared by the grace of God.

As our Father’s adopted sons and daughters, called as heralds of His truth to a lost and dying world, it is our calling to confront this darkness with the light of His gospel.

Our desire to see the gospel proclaimed at Penn is derived from our broader desire to see God’s name magnified—a longing we are encouraged by our Lord to express in prayer. If our wills are aligned with God’s will, we ought to look upon our classmates with compassion, even as Jesus looked and had “compassion for them, because they were harassed and helpless, like sheep without a shepherd” (Matthew 9:36). Accordingly, we would do well to recall Jesus’ words to His disciples: “the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few; therefore pray earnestly to the Lord of the harvest to send out laborers into his harvest” (Matthew 9:37-38).

Our desire to see God’s name magnified ought also to manifest itself in a disdain for false worship. In Athens, Paul’s “spirit was provoked within him as he saw that the city was full of idols” (Acts 17:16). Everyone engages in idolatry—sinfully worshipping created things rather than the Creator (Romans 1:25)—even if they erect statues in their hearts rather than statues of gold, wood, and stone. All humans worship something, especially those who claim that they worship nothing at all. In response to provocation from idolatry, Paul immediately began to preach the gospel; he “reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the devout persons, and in the marketplace every day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17:17). 

Are we earnest in prayer? Are we provoked by the idolatry we see around us? In answering both questions, are we driven by a longing to see Christ’s name extolled among all peoples? Are we willing to be bold—to invite our cherished unbelieving friends to church; to raise our hand in lecture and give an answer that unashamedly accords with biblical principles; to talk to a stranger in a dining hall about our faith, for the sake of our great King?

What a tremendous opportunity we have to shine the light of Christ in this deep darkness! Brothers and sisters, let us fulfill our calling by plucking branches from the fire. Against all human expectations, may the gospel advance throughout the University of Pennsylvania—for the glory of His name, now and forever.

4 Comments

  1. Excellent article Ben. Really awesome to see there are people like you at a school like Penn. Your article includes an excellent exhortation for students at Penn as well as Christians in America on the whole. Keep up the good work!

  2. Great article and faithful analysis of how we need to change our perspective of mission and discipleship in our country presently.

  3. Your article is right on point. It is so encouraging to see there are Christians on the college campus who have a concern for their fellow classmates. Truly it is a dark place with so many pressures on the students to conform to the world around them. Thank you for being an ambassador for Christ. It is not easy, but so rewarding. God bless you for your boldness.

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