What kind of God? – a look at the work of UCCF earlier this year

What kind of GodOver 800 students each day in February heard compelling presentations of the Christian faith.

Richard Cunningham (Director of UCCF: The Christian Unions) spoke at the university mission in my first year as an undergraduate in Cambridge 17 years ago, and the student evangelism bug that I caught back then hasn’t left me. So it was especially thrilling to see him welcomed back by the Cambridge Inter-Collegiate Christian Union (CICCU) to speak at their ‘What Kind of God?’ mission event from February 4-8, alongside Os Guinness (respected author and social critic).

Preparing the ground

As with many Christian Unions around the country, the university was introduced to the mission speaker, before Christmas, when nearly 2,000 students heard Richard speak across the two CICCU Carol services at Great St. Mary’s Church. A specially commissioned Cambridge edition of John’s Gospel and an invitation to the mission events were produced for every undergraduate in each of the Cambridge colleges. All of this — undergirded by many months of prayer and planning — focussed attention on the launch of the CICCU triennial mission.

The Main Event

Over the course of five days, in St. Andrew the Great Church in the heart of Cambridge, Os Guinness gave apologetics talks (with Q&A) at lunchtimes, and Richard Cunningham gave evangelistic expositions from John’s Gospel in the evenings. Furthermore, each night the events were enriched with live music from a stunning jazz trio lead by Bill Edgar (professor of apologetics at Westminster Theological Seminary and world class jazz pianist), with Ruth Naomi Floyd (vocals) and Randy Pendleton (bass). The first evening saw the trio take centre stage with a longer sequence of heart-rending songs interspersed by brief explanations from Bill as to the gospel roots of jazz. The climax was a powerful talk by Richard, continuing the theme of slavery and freedom.

Graham Shearer (UCCF Team Leader for Central region) commented on this more holistic approach to the mission: ‘The Main Event was shaped by a desire to address students as whole, integrated people, just like Jesus does in the Gospels. Os Guinness’s talks dealt with the most profound questions human beings can ask; Richard demonstrated from John’s Gospel that only Jesus meets our deepest longings and most pressing needs. The inclusion of high-quality jazz from Bill Edgar and his musicians came right under the guard and touched students in a deep and profound way’.

What was so distinctive about the lunch-time apologetics talks was the modesty of their aim. Os was committed to slowing the conversation down, working hard to take each student with him, and encouraging his listeners to take the next step in their quest for Truth. The vast majority of today’s students are a country mile away from a Christian worldview, meaning that just getting someone to stop and ask some of life’s big questions is a cause for celebration. And so, like an experienced rugby player, rather than attempting to score an unlikely try whenever he got the ball, Os’s primary concern was simply to advance the game line. Over the course of the week, more and more ground was gained, as students were urged to make ‘Time for Questions’, ‘Time for Answers’, ‘Time for Evidences’ and ‘Time for Choices’. As Socrates famously said: ‘The unexamined life is not worth living’. It was wonderful even to hear that unbelieving students were inviting their own unbelieving friends to join the discussion!

The lunchtime talks were predicated on the conviction that they were just one part of something bigger, under God’s sovereignty. The background was year-round friendship evangelism — witness through life and lip — and in the foreground were Richard Cunningham’s powerful evening talks from John. Combining gripping exposition, vivid illustrations and urgent appeal, this was gospel preaching at its finest. A number of students asked Richard for booklets at the end of his talks and indicated that they wanted to become Christians. Many others stayed around and chatted and signed up for the ‘Just Looking’ follow-up course. Mark Lewis, outgoing president of the CICCU, added: ‘It was great to have a rich and varied programme each evening, with jazz, interviews and dramatic readings, and a clear and passionate presentation of Jesus right at the heart. The gospel was explained straightforwardly in a welcoming and warm environment with hot drinks and cake following each evening event — delicious!’

Students intrigued to find out more

The ‘What Kind of God?’ mission has been a huge encouragement to many members of the CICCU. Students were emboldened throughout the week by the truth, beauty and power of the gospel, and thrilled at seeing so many of their friends engage with Jesus: ‘The lunchtime talks were so easy to invite people to because they were just so accessible. Free food, a really stimulating talk from Os, heaps of time to ask him questions and all over in 50 minutes. People became really keen to find out what all the hype was about!’

‘I really enjoyed the opportunity to stretch out in evangelism and share Jesus with others. The whole week made me more aware of how wonderful it is to know the living God.’

The work continues

Of course, the follow-up to such an event is vital. Charlie Butler (UCCF Staff Worker for Cambridge University) commented: ‘One of the best things about the week was how it prompted many people to begin thinking about Jesus. Christians have been following up on initial conversations with friends in all sorts of different ways — bringing them to the CU’s weekly apologetics talks, reading and discussing passages from John’s Gospel together, and inviting them to ‘Just Looking’, a five-week course to investigate Christianity in a bit more detail. We’ve been encouraged to see around 30 non-Christian guests at the course so far, and it’s growing each week!’

Partnership with churches

Students from at least nine different churches in Cambridge were involved in the mission, with many of these churches participating in the project in all sorts of ways: hosting, planning, sending people to give training seminars at the pre-term CICCU house party, changing their weekly schedule to accommodate the week, running evangelism training days in their churches, sending people to assist as CU guests and organising additional follow-up courses! Russell Winfield (senior student pastor at Holy Trinity Church) observed: ‘This year’s mission was a wonderful event from beginning to end. Many students were able to invite their friends to consider the claims of Christianity, as both Os and Richard expounded the truth in compelling ways, sparking conversations that otherwise may not have happened. Students working together from many different churches is proving to be a fantastic witness to the message of Jesus Christ’. Alasdair Paine (vicar of St. Andrew the Great Church) added: ‘Praise God for the CICCU, with students working so hard for their friends to hear the gospel.’ These are indeed exciting days. Please pray on!

Dave Gobbett is the Associate Pastor at Eden Baptist Church and was CICCU President 1997-98. 
To watch all this year’s CICCU mission talks for free, go to http://www.WhatKindofGod.co.uk

(This article was first published in the April 2013 issue of Evangelicals Now. For more news, artciles or reviews, subscribe to EN or contact us for more information.
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