Why a Building?
Why do you need a building? Why incur such big costs for a new and unproven ministry? To understand why The South Carolina Study Center is committed to being a place, not just an organization, it is important to understand the concept of a “social imaginary.”
Our house - 1711 Pendleton St
For good reason, Christians have long talked about the faith in terms of a distinctive “worldview.” “These men,” complain the leaders of a mob in Thessalonica, “have turned the world upside down” (Acts 17:6). Christians see reality through the lens of the cross, making their view of the world unquestionably unique.
Yet the concept of a “worldview,” as some have pointed out, is not without downsides. It can tend to over-intellectualize the faith, as if belief or unbelief is primarily caused by rational reflection or decisive arguments. This minimizes the role of intuition and a basic moral sense that most people rely on to shape their view of reality, which is conveyed to them not through systems of thought but stories, images, and the lives of specific people. This is what Charles Taylor dubs the “social imaginary,” the way popular stories and esteemed figures in a particular culture make the world feel a certain way before we think critically about it. This collective imagination exerts an intuitive pressure on what people come to view as plausible or implausible beliefs.
Living in a culture where the social imaginary cuts against the grain of the Christian faith is a genuine challenge. The fundamental truth claims of Christianity have not changed, but the stories and images that dominate our culture, along with the thoroughly secular lives so many lead, make Christianity seem strange and untenable. This distaste is only heightened at cultural centers such as universities.
Two failed responses to this challenge have tread a well-worn path for decades: capitulation and retreat. Some propose we sue for peace, and give up or at least significantly soften the claim that Christianity is objectively true, locating its significance in a more immanent, less threatening domain. Others argue that the best way to protect the faith is to take it out of the public domain—which is a lost cause anyway—and let it thrive among distinct communities of the faithful, however small. Unfortunately, both have lost the conviction that has sustained the church throughout the ages, that there always has been and remains “an eternal gospel to proclaim to those who dwell on the earth, to every nation and tribe and language and people” (Rev 14:6).
Our first event on Oct 26th
But how do you change a social imaginary? The Apostle John may have something to teach us in the way he opens his first letter: “That which was from the beginning, which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we looked upon and have touched with our hands, concerning the word of life” (1 John 1:1). John is utterly committed to the concept of truth, culminating his gospel with the universal and exclusive claim of Jesus that “everyone who is of the truth listens to my voice” (Jn 18:37). Yet in his first letter he shows that the truth of Christ is not only to be heard and comprehended, but also seen and touched. As purely an idea, Christianity is perhaps unimaginable. In the person of Jesus Christ, however, it has invaded human history and collided with our daily existence. True Christianity remains something to be heard, seen, and touched in the real world.
This is why a physical space at USC, filled with a vibrant Christian community, is such an important investment. Far too many young people have imaginations trained to consider Christianity as intellectually and socially impossible. The best remedy is a dose of the real thing, embodied and spoken through a person or a community of people. In an academic environment, this witness needs to promote the best of Christian thought—that great tradition of Christian thinking forged through the ages by those who have sought to deeply understand the truth they believe. This makes the truth of Christ real, then desirable, and when fully embraced it can turn a person’s world upside down (Acts 17:6). Churches are ground zero for this mission, but they also must invest in strategic places where a first contact can be made. In this way, study centers have been described as front porches—places that offer a warm and credible introduction to the faith.
While this may appear to be a simplistic solution, the reality is it is hard, generations-long work. But it is important work. We don’t know the times or seasons when God will turn the tide of our social imaginary. But while we wait, Scripture and the Christian tradition guide us to maintain the resolute and joyful conviction that Christianity is true, along with a determination to be a visible and tangible witness in places where so many cannot see it.
We hope you will come alongside us in this endeavor, and humbly ask you to consider investing in our mission at USC.
I look forward to updating you on the details of our fall semester in the next month.