The Theology of GPS

Stone Cross on top of hill

Global Programs and Studies has become a crucial part of preparing Wheaton students for a lifetime of faithful service to God's kingdom. But what is the theological basis for this program?

Global Engagement: Its Theological Rationale

Wheaton’s first President, Jonathan Blanchard (1811-1892), was an educator, pastor, social reformer, and abolitionist. Blanchard said that he came to Wheaton because “it is near Chicago, the gate city between the Atlantic and the Pacific, between Western Europe and Eastern Asia.” In our day, Chicago thrives as one of the most influential cities in the world, and its economic, political, and cultural connectedness make it an ideal learning context for Wheaton students to become involved in addressing complex global issues.

We continue to affirm and to celebrate Blanchard’s vision for the College’s worldwide influence and his anticipation of Wheaton’s connection to other parts of the world. We honor the work of grace in alumni such as Jim Elliot and Billy Graham, who devoted their lives to spreading the gospel to every part of the globe. In order for Wheaton College to continue as an institution of world service in Christian higher education, we need to build upon the best of this heritage, affirm historic biblical truths, and learn from the church and others around the globe.

What is the scope of our educational task?

“Wheaton College serves Jesus Christ and advances His Kingdom through excellence in liberal arts and graduate programs that educate the whole person to build the church and benefit society worldwide.” We aim to prepare students for a lifetime of faithful Christian service in the church and society everywhere that God calls them. Generations of Wheaton alumni have used their gifts to strengthen God’s church and to transform societies worldwide through cross-cultural work and service.

The global scope of the College’s educational task is acutely relevant in an era when we perceive that the world has grown much smaller, while at the same time our appreciation for God’s work through the global church has grown much bigger. Thus, a Wheaton education is situated at the intersection of two realities: the world’s increasingly connected political, economic, technological and social relationships, and the church’s growth and dynamism beyond the West, as the center of gravity in Christianity has shifted to Asia, Africa, Latin America, and Oceana. We recognize that preparing students for meaningful and wise Christian engagement within these regions should begin during their Wheaton experience. This preparation should include helping them to discern the differences between Christianity and their own culture, and to resist sinful tendencies toward ethnocentrism and paternalism.

What defines a world Christian?

The College’s aim to educate the whole person implies that students should be equipped to demonstrate the outlook of a “world Christian.” A world Christian is someone who embraces citizenship in the culturally diverse Kingdom of God through shared fellowship with others in the global church; whose vision for church and Kingdom is shaped by the teaching of Scripture; whose commitment to Jesus Christ surpasses all national, cultural, denominational, linguistic and ethnic allegiances; who humbly listens to and learns from others around the world; who bears witness to the Gospel sensitively in word and deed, in and across cultures; and who advances the interests of Christ’s Kingdom throughout the world through prayer, resources and action, as God enables.

What does God’s work in creation imply for global engagement?

We affirm that our work, study, ministry and play are rooted in the confidence that “the earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it; the world, and all who live in it” (Ps. 24:1). All humanity shares dignity and worth in bearing the image of God. The world that the Creator loves is the world Christians are called to serve together as representatives of God’s Kingdom in every sphere of society and every corner of the map (John 3:16; Acts 1:8). A primary task for all Christians is making “disciples of all nations” (Mt. 28:19-20). Our diverse vocations provide suitable opportunity for sharing our faith and for loving both our immediate neighbors and distant peoples. Doing so with godly wisdom and spiritual discernment calls Christians to the lifelong task of learning comprehensively from the experiences of the entire human family.

As stewards of the earth (Gen. 1:28) and new creations in Christ (2 Cor. 5:17), we have a mandate to care for the creation itself, which is God’s handiwork. Christian liberal arts education therefore should embody a global vision of learning, shaped by explorations undertaken both inside and outside the classroom. Such an education provides an excellent means for developing the range of understanding, skills and virtues needed to engage the complexity of God’s cosmos. A Wheaton education aims to provide opportunities for in-depth engagement with the world’s diverse peoples and cultures through the full range of disciplines in biblical and theological studies, the humanities, social sciences and arts, as well as the natural sciences. Because we confess our faith in the Creator God, faculty and students are called first to learn about, and then to care about, the whole of creation and its myriad life forms, cultivating knowledge and experience pertaining to the many facets of our world (Prov. 1:1-7).

What does the Lordship of Christ imply for global engagement?

Representing Christ is the privilege and calling of God’s people. We belong to a global church that serves the world’s true King and only Savior, Jesus Christ. The fundamental basis for globalizing a Wheaton education is the universal Lordship of Christ. He is the One through whom and for whom all things were created, who reconciles a sinful world to God through his death and resurrection, and who is the sole head of one body, the people of God, whom the Apostles’ Creed calls the catholic (i.e., universal) church (Col. 1:15-20).

Following Christ necessarily means belonging to God’s people and participating in his continued work throughout the world (John 20:21; Matt. 28:19). Early in the history of the Church, God pushed the apostles beyond their cultural boundaries, showing them that the Spirit of God transcended ethnic categories (Acts 10 and 13). The New Testament presents the Church as developing into a multi-ethnic movement that will reach its triumphant consummation when a great multitude from every nation, tribe, people and language worships Jesus, the Lamb of God (Rev. 7:9).

These realities should shape our deepest sense of identity as Christians. The universal scope of Christ’s saving work and his purposes for the church should cause us to reexamine our ways of thinking. Because we confess our faith in one Lord with one people, being a Christian means championing the fullness of Christ’s purposes while entering into the spiritual unity of the global church. The very motto of Wheaton College exhibits our ongoing commitment in promoting the aim of the worldwide Lordship of Jesus: “For Christ and His Kingdom.”

How should we engage the global community?

We affirm that the final consummation of God’s kingdom, when every knee will bow and tongue confess Jesus’s lordship, awaits the return of our risen King (Phil. 2:10). In the meantime, as we wait for his glorious appearing, we recognize the challenge as fallen sinners of learning to live humbly and lovingly in our particular social and cultural situations. Yet by God’s grace we are able to live as salt and light in a needy and broken world (Matt. 5:13-16). In fact, despite our imperfections we are called to serve the one true God who has sent us as his ambassadors to the world, empowered by the Holy Spirit to be imitators of our Lord who was a self-giving Servant.

As an institution of world service in Christian higher education, Wheaton College is committed to the flourishing of the global Church as well as all peoples (Gal. 6:10). This should extend to an active commitment to seeing the resources of God’s creation cultivated and made available not only within our own local communities, but also globally. This commitment also requires listening attentively and patiently to the testimony of spiritual sisters and brothers, teachers and mentors who love, serve, and worship Jesus in sometimes unfamiliar ways. Since we belong to one another, questions once distant become close, previously unknown sorrows are shared, and particular discoveries about the meaning of the Gospel carry widespread relevance. Further, understanding that “all truth is God’s truth,” we recognize that Christ calls us to loving and hospitable engagement with persons of different faiths or no faith, both for the sake of wisely learning from their strengths and gifts, and for the sake of vibrant Christian witness in word and deed (Ephesians 6:18-20).

Therefore, Wheaton College intends for educational opportunities for global engagement to be more than a mere change of location or superficial acquaintance with the unfamiliar. Such opportunities should foster a lasting change in Christian faithfulness and deepen the capacity for global service. By stepping out of our familiar situations, we can gain the wisdom needed for critical appreciation of cultures, including our own, and come to understand more about God’s work in the world. The theological, spiritual and cultural dimensions of global discovery challenge any assumption of cultural superiority and any habit of self-preoccupation. Genuine learning from the global community calls for the exercise of deeply Christian virtues. Following in the ways of Christ means striving to express Christ-like servanthood through intentional acts of humility and charity in our various relationships and interactions.

For these reasons, Wheaton College affirms that Christian liberal arts education must be intentionally global in its outlook, orientation and engagement.