By Rev. Blake Altman (c) 2008
Manna Christian Fellowship is an inter-denominational, evangelical chaplaincy at Princeton University dedicated to developing and engaging a gospel worldview, reinvigorating the witness of the Gospel of Jesus Christ in the life of the academy. When we say the Gospel is a worldview, we mean that the Kingdom of God is not limited to personal transformation; it is rather a holistic way of re-envisioning everything by the Spirit through the life, death, resurrection and glory of Jesus Christ. This understanding of God’s work in redemption through Christ leads us to engage not abscond from public life nor partition our lives into “sacred” and “secular” categories as though certain tasks are done Christianly while others were done without reference to the Gospel.
How do we know this? The Gospel is the gospel of grace. Saving grace belongs to those who personally believe the Gospel, but this existential aspect of salvation does not imply that God’s gracious work ends with “my personal relationship with Jesus.” There are elements of God’s common grace in all sectors of our fallen world and it is Christ’s intention to one day put to right all that was wronged by the Fall, to make all things new in Him, to re-pristinate a once pristine world where creature existed in harmony with creation and Creator. Being called to this living hope Christians are to be agents of reconciliation by fulfilling the Great Commission -- making disciples (Matthew 28:18-20) -- and the Cultural Mandate -- subduing the earth (Genesis 1:27).
Traditionally in the West, conservatives have over-emphasized the personally transformative aspects of the Gospel (to the neglect of cultural renewal from within) while liberals have over-emphasized culturally transformative aspects of the Gospel (to the neglect of personal conversion from without). We believe both parties have something to say to us.
To this end Manna Christian Fellowship perennially re-thinks how to prepare Princetonians to embrace a nuanced and comprehensive understanding of the Gospel in a fallen world where competing institutional powers (e.g., government, university, corporation, self, etc.) chip away at personal commitments to faith in the classroom, extracurricular life, and workplace.
With an undergraduate population of 5000 Princeton University becomes a training ground in which students learn to integrate faith and work in a stressful academic environment, viewing themselves not as conservative or liberal, but rather as a Christians in search of new ways to apply the Gospel in their various projects, sports teams, classes and extra-curricular organizations. Upon graduation the students take four years of experience developing and engaging a Gospel worldview into their respective professional or academic fields. By teaching a comprehensive understanding of the Gospel and the doctrine of common grace we hope to send students from Princeton to renew culture for the glory of the Triune God and the common good by executing Gospel-centered principles of justice, solidarity, and civil society.
Manna equips students to fulﬁll the Cultural Mandate and the Great Commission through a variety of undergraduate initiatives that target the heart, the community and the world. Daily prayer meetings, weekly Large Groups, discipleship programs, and roundtable dinners conversations facilitate the Spirit's power to renew individual hearts. Weekly small groups, servant team training, Coffee House, fall, winter, and spring retreats focus on the Gospel’s power to renew communities. Finally, Manna demonstrates the Gospel’s implications for world renewal through public events like Manna’s Annual Public Lecture Series, SEEK Justice Campaign, GospelSpeak (gospel and the vocal arts), and Princeton’s only Christian journal, Revisions: A Journal of Christian Perspective once a semester with topics ranging from technology to sexuality to academic faithfulness.
Simply put, the developing aspects of our ministry equip students with a Gospel-centered approach to public policy and discourse. The engaging components of our ministry provide channels for students to express the nuances of the Gospel in all spheres of Princeton’s institutional and cultural life.
To support our students after graduation, Manna has a growing network of Manna Alumni in the areas of science, finance, medicine, business/finance, law, family & parenting, the arts, and the academy. The alumni convene at Manna’s annual Alumni Retreat on Presidents' Day weekend. This is a wonderful time of refreshment, reconnection, and training for the alumni. There is much work to be done in this area but the Manna Alumni are currently meeting in regional meetings with the hope of creating a network of like-minded Christians who work through their vocation and local churches to extend the Kingdom in a growing number of cities.
In the end our task is simple but significant: to help students embrace the Gospel for themselves and then provide students and alumni with a robust, coherent framework for living out the implications of the Gospel in the Public Square for the common good, integrating their faith and work. The implications for the Gospel in public life are powerful to bring about lasting change in all spheres of civic life, and Manna is committed to equipping the next generation to apply the Good News of Jesus Christ in a broken but redeemable world.