The witness of the Student Christian Movement by Robin Boyd

Like I said before, I’m fascinated by stories. In particular, I like to know the whys and wherefores. Questions like those have this tendency to linger in the back of my mind, and then when opportunity comes to find the answer I leap. One of those questions was “Where the heck is the SCM? Why, in Australia anyway, do we see AFES still going fine, and EU lasting so long, and yet the SCM nowhere to be seen?” In my hunt to find histories for IFES and AFES, I found this book, and my interest was piqued.

This book is the story of the “SCM tradition” – how it began, evolved, fell off, and now curiously bobs up and down. Since most of you haven’t read any sort of history on campus christian work, here’s my summary.
About the start of the 20th century there is a great enthusiasm for mission work, related to the 1910 Edinburgh world mission conference. Mission groups start on campus, and then they figure they ought to be preaching the gospel, so more and more campus groups start (some already had been around a while, like at Cambridge). These band together to form what would become the Student Christian Movement. The SCM decides to be inclusive and ecumenical, at the expense of doctrinal unity. It grows to be one of the driving forces behind the World Council of Churches. However, during the period of student radicalism in the 60′s, it falls apart due to Marxist aversion to hierarchies and Marxist idea of forming a commune away from the university. It’s place on the campus becomes largely overtaken by denominational chaplaincies that have an ecumenical bent.

One of the philosophical dilemmas posed to us in Philosophy 1 was “What do we learn from history?” In regards to this, I learnt 2 things – the importance of doctrine, and the importance of words and meanings.

Campus student movements are quite susceptible to changes of direction within the space of a “uni generation”. Because of the natural turnover rate of a mostly completely different student body in 3-4 years, if you’re not careful, things can change a lot in a short space of time. If the generation after you does not share the same concerns or beliefs as you, then a line can shift radically in the blink of an eye. One of the things I noticed in the book was the insistence that the SCM doesn’t have doctrinal qualifications like the IFES does because churches don’t hold people to that standard. Firstly, Driscoll does it, though to be fair he wasn’t a pastor back then. Secondly, a good church should hold people accountable to the Biblical standard, as described by Paul in various epistles. The ordinary lay person is not expected to be completely nuanced in all the arguments about penal substitutionary atonement, but at least ordained Anglican ministers (in theory) sign on to the 39 articles. The reason we hold people to a line is because we believe that God has given us 1 way, and that any other way is not the way. If the campus christian group has no firm anchor, in a generation it can get swept away by the waves of every doctrine this world comes up with. That’s why doctrine is important.

Words are funny things. Perhaps it’s easier to explain what I mean by talking about the JW’s. They have a similar vocabulary to evangelical Christians – grace, mercy, faith, etc. But when they say does things, they don’t mean what we think those words mean. And so they can have nice sounding sentences, but underneath it is something completely different.
The Student Christian Movement runs Bible studies. Fine. But the book assumes you know what they mean by “Bible study”, and that the SCM and the IFES share this activity. One thing I did notice was that Bible study was described as being in accordance with the latest research and criticisms. I think what this means is according to things like the various text critical methods whose propenents decided to throw doubt on the historicity of the Bible. Don’t know if that is what is meant. But if it is, then the IFES and the SCM do not share this activity.

The author contends that the IFES needs the SCM. I disagree. The AFES has done fine without the ASCM for the last, what, 40 years? We don’t need them. I’m not sure what we share with them in common now. I think they share more with UCATSA (Uniting Church in Australia Tertiary Students Association) than with any AFES affiliated group. The AFES needs students to be praying a lot more, that’s what it needs.

I ridiculously highly recommend this book to anyone planning on working on a campus. I know that the UNSW MTS trainees read the CICCU history, so I recommend this as one of those books not meant to be in the comfort zone. Learn from history.

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