Getting at the Heart of Transformation

At the core of the InterVarsity Vision Statement is our desire to see “students and faculty transformed.” I am grateful that this phrase is part of our vision. I support the desire and intention of this statement. It is concise, it is motivating and it concentrates our efforts.

Of course, it raises immediate questions: transformed from what, to what and how does transformation happen?

All kinds of groups on campus would like to see students and faculty transformed, campuses renewed, and world changers developed—Christians, Muslims, Marxists, Feminists, Young Republicans, Amnesty International or the Model United Nations. There are hundreds of student organizations and special interest groups at all the major universities who could embrace our vision statement.

This compels us to define what we mean by transformed.  And, of course, we have other core documents in InterVarsity to help us—our Purpose Statement and Core Values. But ultimately our search for clarity and definition brings us to our InterVarsity Doctrinal Basis, the theological framework that drives our mission.

What do we mean by “students and faculty transformed?” It must be more than simply a slogan or mantra for us. Unlike most other campus groups, we are not just trying to get people to change their mind about some issue. Nor are we just trying to get people to become activists for our cause.

When we say transformed, of course, we are really speaking of a supernatural, spiritual transformation. We are saying that people need to be radically changed in their inmost being, in their heart of hearts. We are talking about people moving from darkness to light, from death to life, from being lost to being found. It is a change of heart that proceeds from a changed relationship with the Creator God of the universe.

We are saying that, at the core of all major issues such as racism, hate crimes, war, human trafficking and substance abuse, there is a problem with the human heart. We are saying that there is a need for transformation in the form of repentance and conversion, a spiritual turnaround that results from a restored relationship with God. Now we are getting at the real meaning. Jesus taught that change comes from the inside out.

We believe that all people are made in the image of God, with dignity and value. But there is a problem. We have fallen from that harmonious relationship with our Creator. The world is a mess. At times people can be very caring, but often we are incredibly selfish and have a seemingly endless craving for our own pleasures and self-indulgences. The theological framework that underlies our mission follows the form of creation, fall, and redemption.

Yes, what people need is to be transformed—not just any kind of transformation, but a change of heart, a change in life direction. Our vision is to help students and faculty experience a spiritual transformation that only God can bring about. It is a transformation where people are made right with God.

So now we are talking about theology, about doctrine, because this is about salvation. We are talking about the power of the gospel to change lives. The problem with slogans and techniques is that they have no power or authority to change people. The power that is from God and his Word is the pure gospel of good news in Jesus Christ. So now we are talking about Jesus, who is fully divine and fully human, entering our world, suffering and dying that we might have life, and be made right with God the Father by placing our faith in Christ alone to save us.

So, what we mean by students and faculty transformed is that it is our desire that they will be brought into right relationship with their Creator God and will know the freedom of forgiveness and the joy of reconciliation with God. In Christ, they will find a completely new direction in life as well as the power to extend grace to other people.

This is a definition that clearly distinguishes us from the hundreds of other special interest groups on campus. We are not just a campus club; we are a work of the Almighty God on campus.

About the Author
National Theological Consultant
Dan Denk formerly served as the National Theological Director. He and his wife live in Grand Rapids, MI and have four married children, all of whom challenge his theological views on a regular basis. Dan has been with InterVarsity since 1978. He is a life-long follower of that great 20th century theologian, Bob Dylan.