Toward a Future Different from the Present, Part 2
By: T.M. Moore|Published: March 12, 2009 11:57 AM
The Crisis of Evangelical Vision
This article appeared in BreakPoint's Findings Journal.
Vision in Education
The crisis in American education is further compounded by the fact that so many educational consumers are beginning to opt for alternative routes in preparing their children for life. Private and sectarian schools continue to thrive, and a “home schooling” movement now involves millions of students all across the land. Pressure for vouchers, tuition tax credits, and other attempts to improve parental control over the education of their children have met with resistance from teachers, teachers’ unions, and politicians, who fear that such efforts portend the ultimate undoing of the entire educational system.
Meanwhile, test scores for America’s children continue to fall; what many would regard as basic literacy skills are sorely lacking; politicians continue to argue over who should control the education of children—local communities or governmental agencies; and the entire educational enterprise longs for renewed vision and casts about for something in which to hope. 
American colleges and universities are a microcosm of the entire educational system, where today, as Bill Readings and many others insist, an educational crisis has settled in, threatening both the integrity of the higher education enterprise and the well-being of the republic.  Higher education’s sense of itself and its mission has entered a state of flux and uncertainty.  Currently among the nearly 4,000 colleges and universities in America there exists no common vision of the higher education enterprise; rather, as Robert O. Berdahl and Philip G. Altbach observe, a variety of competing models of what higher education should be can be found at work.  If there is a common vision currently operating among leaders of the higher education community, it may perhaps best be described as a kind of laissez faire pluralism, in which a wide range of models is in operation, and participants are carefully observing one another to discover ways of improving their “product” and attracting more “consumers.”  What all these models have in common—apart from those models active among explicitly evangelical institutions of higher education, which are busily pursuing their own visions and missions—is that they presuppose “exclusively naturalist premises for understanding human belief and behavior.”  The vision of higher education, and of education in general, in Americais thus predominantly secular and pluralistic; the jury remains out on whether or not this vision will be able to renovate the crumbling edifice of American education in the decades to come.
Vision in the Arts
Over the past generation postmodernists have been busy—in the pages of Art Forum and other journals of the arts, as well as in museums, galleries, catalogs, symphony halls, and poetry journals—espousing the virtues of their seemingly endless variety of arts.  Not everyone, however, is enthralled. The various scandalous exhibitions that have been forced on the public’s attention in recent years—from Mapplethorpe to erotic performance art to the lunacy, and even blasphemy, of what can only be described as junk art—create the impression in many people that postmodern art is a swamp or a cesspool. Similarly, atonal music and confessional poetry simply do not resonate with everyone, and many are offended by certain of postmodern art’s themes and messages.
Yet the postmodern vision of the arts persists. Arthur C. Danto’s After the End of Art is an apologetic for the many and—to many observers—confusing forms and genre that have seized the mantle formerly worn by painting and that today pose as art. Though his book focuses exclusively on the visual arts, his comments might just as well be applied to much of postmodern music, literature, and poetry. Three factors in particular identify the postmodern vision of the arts.
The first is the heralding of a new day in the arts. In Danto’s view, art as we have always known it in the Western world has come to its end. New forms of art have appeared as expressions of the belief, championed by the pop artists of the sixties, that literally anything can be art and, therefore, probably is. The narrative that representational art pursued for over 500 years, namely, the effort to find newer and better ways of expressing reality, has been superseded by the subjectivism and emotionalism of our postmodern era. Art no longer has a story to tell. There is no longer any truth to declare. Whatever of these exists is to be found in the intentions of the artist and in the individual reactions of the viewers of art, who must make of these strange and confusing new forms what they will.
Second, postmodern art has shaken free from any bonds of truth or history. Danto celebrates postmodern art’s liberation from the idea of truth as it existed for the first half-millennium of Western art. Whereas in the past, artists—primarily painters and sculptors—were expected to follow the lead of the masters and to work hard at perfecting the way of representing the real world, today’s artists are free to do and to “say” what they will. In postmodern art there is nothing that does not fit . . . there is in consequence no possibility of a narrative direction . . . So the contemporary is, from one perspective, a period of information disorder, a condition of perfect aesthetic entropy. But it is equally a period of quite perfect freedom. Today there is no longer any pale of history. Everything is permitted. 
Art today is no longer shackled to previous epochs of art history. This has come to mean that “artists, liberated from the burden of history, were free to make art in whatever way they wished, for any purposes they wished, or for no purposes at all. That is the mark of contemporary art.”  In such an environment the only standard that art acknowledges is toleration: “Ours is a moment, at least (and perhaps only) in art, of deep pluralism and total tolerance. Nothing is ruled out.” 
Finally, postmodern art represents a period of experimentation in the arts, in terms of media, genre, and themes. The philosophy of relativism in art is actually more important than the quality of any individual piece of art. Danto sees the present moment in the arts as quintessentially a time for reflecting on the philosophy of art. The question can no longer be, concerning any particular piece of art, Is it good according to the history and traditions of art? Instead, the question can only be, What kind of art is it? As he puts it, “[T]he true philosophical discovery, I think, is that there really is no art more true than any other, and that there is no one way art has to be: all art is equally and indifferently art.” 
Such a vision of the arts will not sit well with all art lovers; however, gauging from current art magazines, advertisements for art exhibits, journals of poetry, and new book offerings in the arts, the postmodern vision appears to be the most widely accepted view of how Americans ought to regard the arts in our day, at least among those who are laboring to articulate a contemporary vision for the arts. Evangelicals have also begun to enter the dialog about the nature and purpose of the arts, although at present conversation is confined within a relatively small group of cognoscenti.
The Nature and Functions of Vision
Clearly, a great deal of intellectual and emotional energy has been and is being spent on the concept of vision and its role in personal and institutional development, indicating its importance in shaping the future and activities of any particular enterprise. It should not surprise us, therefore, that the question of vision is so much on the minds of evangelical church leaders today. For renewal of vision to proceed with maximum benefit among evangelical churches, it will therefore be necessary to define what we mean by this term, and to identify the critical aspects and functions of a vision. From there we will be able to outline what we mean by evangelical vision.
Definition of Vision
First, vision provides a view of reality as it is. It seeks to give an account of the way things are, to provide “insight into the way the world works.”  Statements of vision should be regarded as attempts to describe a model of reality.  Visions can thus be disruptive, as they tend to challenge people’s cherished assumptions about the way things are to help them see reality more clearly and according to a different framework.  In order to gain such insight, visions must be grounded in history, in the study and understanding of past experience, so that they might “provide foresight with insight based on hindsight.”  The most successful visions—those that actually lead to futures different from the present—do not spring full-blown from the head of leaders, that is, without thoughtful consideration of past experience to discover insights about the way things are and, therefore, the way we might believe and hope them to unfold in the future. Successful visions seek to explain present experience in the light of the past and, at least partly on that basis, to project future scenarios describing what it is reasonable to expect for the days to come. A vision that is grounded only in ardent passion, present need or opportunity, a sense of urgency or necessity, or the good intentions of a charismatic leader is not likely to persuade people to alter their own perceptions about the way things are. Without clear insight into the nature of reality, based in part on a careful assessment of the past, visions will appear as little more than pipe-dreams and groundless hopes, and are more likely to disappoint, if not mislead, than to mobilize people in the pursuit of a future hoped-for scenario.
Because visions are concerned with the nature of reality, they must take into consideration all aspects of reality as it concerns the enterprise in question. That is, they must be grounded not only in the past, but in the present as well. The larger the scope of the vision—and, in any organization or institution, vision can exist at various levels—the more present reality will need to be accounted for and incorporated into the vision. A vision of a renewed social order will need to give account for and take into consideration many more variables than a vision of, say, a renovated building. In the latter, taking into account personal or community taste—in colors, styles, furnishings, and so forth—as well as a consideration of available resources may be sufficient in planning for a major renovation. In the former, the vision of a renewed social order, the vision must seek to encompass everything from the nature of humankind and the way knowledge is acquired and disseminated, to the social processes, traditions, and institutions by which a society defines itself, to the symbols used to reinforce and transmit that self-understanding to other societies and to future generations.  Similarly, an organization’s overall vision will need to account for more of reality than the vision of an individual department within that organization. A successful vision must be able to speak and give shape to every aspect of present reality within the scope of its concern. But for this to be possible, that reality must first of all be clearly understood as to its nature and role in the larger scenario with which the vision is concerned.
Successful visions, therefore, are concerned with providing insight into the nature of reality. Second, vision seeks to account for reality as we believe it will be. Visions are necessarily focused on the future. A vision “is a clear mental image of a preferable future.”  It seeks to tell “stories about the way the world might turn out,” to describe “the way things could or should be in the days ahead”, or to create “an emerging consensus” concerning the future state of things. As Peter Schwartz puts it, using the language of “scenarios,” “The purpose of scenarios is to help yourself change your view of reality—to match it more and more closely with reality as it is, and reality as it is going to be.”  This is the aspect of vision with which we are perhaps most familiar, and which most often comes to mind as leaders begin the work of fashioning or refashioning vision statements. In a certain sense a vision attempts to predict the future and to guide all concerned with the vision in how best to manage their time, resources, and opportunities to bring their present reality into line with reality as it is coming to be, or, at least, as they believe it will be.  Thus, while vision takes the past as its reference and the future as its focus, it is very much concerned with the present, with helping people learn how to make the best use of their time, energy, resources, and opportunities to achieve a future different from the present.
A statement of vision, therefore, is an attempt to describe a future scenario of how we believe reality will unfold—what shape it will take, or what it will be like—in the light of how we understand the present reality of which we are a part. A statement of vision thus constitutes a kind of confession of faith about reality as it is and as we believe it will be.
Aspects of Vision
A statement of mission or purpose is so important to the successful functioning of vision that, together with the statement of vision, the two should really be regarded as part of the same process of reshaping an organization’s or movement’s present toward a more desirable future state. A statement of mission describes the specific purpose of an endeavor, its peculiar reason for being or its unique task, its basic approach to achieving its vision, or what it hopes to accomplish as an organization or movement.  The mission should be described in terms sufficiently “broad, fundamental, and enduring” to allow the endeavor to grow and flex with changing circumstances and opportunities. Further, the full realization of an organization’s mission—its specific approach to realizing its vision—will always remain somewhat elusive. “Indeed, a visionary company continually pursues but never fully achieves its purpose.”  The mission describes what the organization does—its most basic activities or products—in pursuit of its vision. The mission can be described in terms of services rendered, products manufactured and distributed, or impact on a market niche or a particular community. The mission defines the most basic commitments of an organization or movement, those activities that most fundamentally describe its approach to realizing a future different from the present.
Vision and mission give rise to values, commitments, and operating systems, including strategies and goals, which define the parameters and protocols of the organization as it pursues its vision. The core values or commitments are translated into practices, or, agreed-upon behaviors for day-to-day operation.  These practices are regarded as crucial to achieving the vision; indeed, they may be said to embody the vision as they are expressed in the lives and activities of those concerned with it, as well as in the operation of their common endeavor. As such these practices constitute something of a foretaste of the vision, expressed and realized in the day-to-day lives and relations of those who have united together in pursuit of the vision, and serve not only to help realize the vision but also to reinforce its importance and viability.
Those practices are organized according to certain operating systems, which include ways of determining strategies, setting goals, assessing progress, maintaining accountability, communicating results, and so forth.  Such systems help to ensure the consistent performance of the core practices and keep the organization’s resources directed toward the pursuit of its mission and the realization of its vision. Without such systems there is no way of effectively marshaling and reinforcing the core practices toward the achievement of the organization’s mission and vision. Clearly understood and carefully adhered-to systems—ways of working, relating, assessing, being accountable, communicating, and so forth—are thus crucial to achieving the vision.
A statement of vision by itself will not bring about the desired future. Unless it is accompanied by a clear and compelling mission, an agreed-upon set of core practices, and operating systems sufficient to ensure the proper functioning of those practices in the light of that mission, a vision will be nothing more than a wish. It will not accomplish the kinds of functions that a thorough statement of mission can be expected to achieve.
Functions of Vision
In the first place, a clear and compelling statement of vision serves to create aspirations and hopes. That is, it holds out promises that the future will be different from the present in ways sufficiently desirable to motivate all concerned to whatever exertions will be necessary to achieve those aspirations and hopes. A vision thus engages the affections, creating emotional excitement and energy. The clearer and more compelling the vision, and the more firmly people are convinced that it faithfully expresses reality as they experience it, the stronger will be their hopes and the greater will be the likelihood that the statement of vision will accomplish its other functions as well.
Second, because a statement of vision describes a future scenario that creates hopes and aspirations for a group of people in a common venture or endeavor, it can also serve to create community, that is, to generate a shared sense purpose, shared values, common practices, and so forth. A compelling vision can bind people together, help them to appreciate one another’s role in the endeavor, lead them to encourage and affirm one another, create unique traditions and conventions, and enable people to exercise meaningful and edifying accountability with one another. It can forge widely diverse individuals performing disparate and only marginally related tasks into a team or a community, devoted to one another and to the pursuit of their common vision.
Third, out of such hopes and sense of community, a vision can generate energy—intellectual, emotional, and physical—toward the fulfillment of the organization’s mission. When they are led by a clear and compelling vision, people can be motivated to work harder, work smarter, work longer, and make sacrifices they might not otherwise make. Believing that the future they long for is worth the effort, they look for ways to bend present reality into the shape of things to come, and they exert themselves toward that end tirelessly.
Fourth, a clear and compelling vision can serve to focus and coordinate effort. It is a means of creating organizational efficiency and effectiveness, of ensuring maximum use of resources and time, and of leading to better problem-solving. The statement of vision, with its reifying statement of mission, provides a framework and focal point for determining activities, allocating resources, marshaling effort, and coordinating activities. The more clearly and compellingly a statement of vision is described, and the stronger the common commitment to the practices entailed therein, the sharper will be the focus and the more efficient will be the use of all available resources.
Finally, a clear and compelling statement of vision allows the members of the endeavor to realize progress, thus providing a cumulative record of reinforcing results. Visions give rise to goals and objectives, which the organization pursues through its practices and operating system. Achieved goals, in turn, serve further to solidify the vision, strengthen the hopes and aspirations, firm up the practices, maximize the operating systems, and generate even bolder goals in pursuit of that which progress indicates is actually within reach.
Because statements of vision can perform so many useful functions, it would be irresponsible of evangelical church leaders not to be exercised about this concept. So far, however, the work of articulating a new vision is being done in isolation in various disciplines of the evangelical community, and little, if any, of that work has come together to impact the people in the pews. Therefore, it is important to make sure we understand the broad parameters of a vision that does justice to the evangel, the Gospel of Jesus Christ, which is its central component, and to the work of building up the Church, which is His body.
As is clear from the preceding discussion, evangelicals have begun to think seriously about new visions for the life of faith across a great many disciplines.  While the most pointed discussions of vision are being undertaken by church leaders, members of the evangelical community are acutely aware of the need to articulate the implications of the Gospel of Jesus Christ for all aspects of human life and interest. As individuals, and as a community, evangelicals are thus bearing witness to the belief that a truly evangelical vision must be as comprehensive as the evangel itself.
A proper understanding of the Gospel requires that evangelicals address the question of vision according to a broad range of interests. These include the personal, communal, cultural, social, and historical dimensions of life, and require a statement of evangelical vision that describes reality as it is and as it is coming to be according to each of these categories. Such a vision will be necessarily eschatological and ascetic. That is, it will speak to realities personal, communal, cultural, social, and historical according to the broad parameters of the
In the first place, evangelical vision must be personal. It must describe a vision of the Christian life, of the individual life of faith. The Gospel of Jesus Christ is addressed to persons, to men and women from every walk of life, in every nation and culture, and at all stages in life. What it offers—justification, forgiveness of sins, new life, sanctification in the Spirit, and eternal life, among others—is the same for every person. Those individual believers must know what to expect—both here and now and in the hereafter—if their experience of the life of faith is to be as full as possible. No statement of evangelical vision can be regarded as complete that does not address the impact of the Gospel on the lives of individual persons, that is, how the Gospel affects the reality, the day-to-day experience, of persons both in the present and for the age to come.
Second, a truly evangelical vision must be communal. It must be concerned with the experience of Christians together in the Church. Since all believers are members of the Church, which is the body of Christ, regardless of their denominational affiliation, evangelical vision must account for the reality of that life-in-community, both as it should be in the present and as evangelicals believe it will be in what they look forward to as the new heavens and the new earth.
Third, evangelical vision must be cultural. It must describe the ways that Christians as individuals and communities identify, sustain, and enrich themselves in society through their use of various artifacts, institutions, and conventions. Further, it must explain how their approach to culture relates to and contends with surrounding cultures. Culture is an inescapable reality for every human being. An evangelical vision will seek to account for the phenomenon of culture and demonstrate the difference the Gospel should make in the ways that one who has entered into that reality participates in the cultures of which he or she is part.
Fourth, evangelical vision must be social. It must explain the ways that the Gospel concerns the various institutions and conventions by which people relate to one another in society, as well as how Christians participate in these social networks. Since no society will ever be completely Christian, much less evangelical, an evangelical vision must account for the various ways the Gospel affects how evangelicals approach social institutions and conventions, and to how those who live within the society of the
Fifth, evangelical vision must be historical. It must offer an explanation of the pattern of history and its denouement. A truly evangelical vision will seek to help those who embrace it to understand the nature of history, the relationship between history and the
Therefore, evangelical vision will be necessarily eschatological. It will provide a description of the life of faith and the community of believers in progressive and culminating terms. But such a vision will also be ascetic in that it will explain the various disciplines by which the progress of the Gospel, and of the
Finally, evangelical vision must be ecclesiastical. That is, it must be developed in, by, and for the work of building the
While many evangelicals are offering visions for various aspects of experience, it is the leaders of evangelical churches whom we should expect to have the most impact on the evangelical community as a whole. Unless they become involved in addressing the crisis of vision currently facing the churches, the situation as it stands today will remain largely unchanged—little more than moving the furniture around but something less than a dramatic renovation of the house. As the vision these church leaders embrace comes to inform their preaching, guide the development of their ministries, and shape the direction of their churches, the evangelical community as a whole will be affected, more than by evangelical visionaries in any other discipline, and will enter into a future different from the present. Those who are working on the crisis of vision in evangelical churches must work hard to bring together visionaries from all disciplines to talk about how what God is showing them can help to revitalize local churches, inspire church members, and lead the evangelical out of his present morass into a new era of revival and renewal.
T. M. Moore is the editor of Findings, a Fellow of the Wilberforce Forum, and Pastor of Teaching Ministries at
Notes for Part 2:
 Cf. the brief history of reform efforts in American education in Jeannie Oakes, “Normative, Technical, and Political Dimensions of Creating New Educational Communities,” in Jeannie Oakes and Karen Hunter Quartz, eds., Creating New Educational Communities (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), pp. 1?9.
 Cf. E. D. Hirsch, Jr., Cultural Literacy: What Every American Needs to Know (New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1987); Jonathan Kozol, Illiterate America(Garden City/New York: Anchor Press, 1985); Geoffrey Wagner, The End of Education (South Brunswick and New York: A. S. Barnes and Company, 1976).
 Cf. Allan Bloom, The Closing of the American Mind: How Higher Education Has Failed Democracy and Impoverished the Souls of Today’s Students (New York: Simon and Schuster, 1987); Annette Kolodny, Failing the Future: A Dean Looks at Higher Education in the Twenty-first Century (Durham and London: Duke University Press, 1998); Bill Readings, The University in Ruins (Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1996); Clarence C. Walton and Frederick deW. Bolman, Disorders in Higher Education (Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1979).
 Cf. John S. Brubacher, On the Philosophy of Higher Education (San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 1982), pp. 1-27.
 Philip G. Altbach and Robert O. Berdahl, Higher Education in America(Buffalo, NY: Prometheus Books, 1981), p. 7.
Cf. Jacques Barzun’s succinct description of the higher education enterprise in America in Begin Here: The Forgotten Conditions of Teaching and Learning (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1991, 1992), pp. 156 ff.
 George M. Marsden, The Soul of the
 For a thorough introduction to postmodern art, see Irving Sandler, Art of the Postmodern Era (New York: HarperCollins, 1996).
 Arthur C. Danto, Art After the End of Art (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1997).
 Ibid., p. 12.
 Ibid., p. 15.
 Ibid., p. xiv.
 Ibid., p. 34.
 Cf. the discussions that regularly occur in Image, Mars Hill Review, and Mars Hill Journal. Cf. also such books as Jeremy Begbie, ed., Beholding the Glory: Incarnation Through the Arts (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2000); Frank Burch Brown, Good Taste, Bad Taste, and Christian Taste: Aesthetics in Religious Life (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000); H. R. Rookmaaker, Modern Art and the Death of a Culture (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1970, 1994); Gene Edward Veith, Jr., State of the Arts: From Bezalel to Mapplethorpe (Wheaton: Crossway Books, 1991); and Nicholas Wolterstorff, Art in Action (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans, 1980, 1996), to name but a few.
 Sowell, ibid., p. 14.
 Kuhn, ibid., p. 23.
 Schwartz, ibid., p. 9.
 Kaku, ibid., p. 6; Cohen, pp. 98 ff.; Kuhn, pp. 1-8.
 Barna, The Power of Vision, p. 28.
Cf. Sowell, chapters 3 and 4; Cohen, pp. 108, 109.
 Barna, ibid., p. 28.
 Schwartz, ibid., p. 3.
 Barna, ibid., p. 29.
 Kaku, ibid., p. 5.
 Schwartz, ibid., p. 9.
 Kaku, ibid., p. 14.
 Cf. Senge, ibid., pp. 223, 224; Collins and Porras, ibid., p. 77.
 Collins and Porras, ibid.
 Cf. Senge, ibid., p. 224; Collins and Porras, ibid., pp. 8, 9, 74; George Barna, Turning Vision into Action: Defining and Putting into Practice the Unique Vision God has for Your Ministry (Ventura, CA: Regal Books, 1996), chapter 2.
 Cf. Hesselbein, Goldsmith, and Beckhard, Organization, pp. 362, 363; Hesselbein, Goldsmith, and Beckhard, Leader, pp. 82, 252; Malphurs, p. 31.
 Besides the disciplines mentioned, evangelicals are also engaging in dialog about vision in many other areas. Cf. the discussions that regularly appear in such journals as Christian Scholar’s Review, Christianity and Literature, Fides et Historia, First Things (although primarily Catholic in orientation, a journal featuring articles on social policy by a variety of evangelical thinkers), and the Wilberforce Forum’s online journal, Findings.