Upstream/Downstream

You are sharing the Gospel. They give you a response you’ve heard before, but you know they didn’t come up with that. Wouldn’t it have been nice if someone else before hadn’t negatively influenced them?

Dr. Greg Ganssle is a professor of Philosophy at Talbot School of Theology and former staff for many years in the NorthEast Region. He talks about a conceptual tool, “Upstream/Downstream”.

He frames it this way. Having grown up near a polluted river, sometimes the pollutants were particularly bad and there would be considerable “fish-kill”. You can do two things. 1. Go downstream to try to save the fish. Or 2. Go upstream to stop what is killing them.

Greg writes:
“Any culture is like a river. Whatever happens upstream has a great effect on what happens downstream. Downstream, we find the individual person and her relation to the Gospel. Upstream, we find all of the things in the academy and culture that affect her responsiveness to the Gospel—all of the things in the environment that make certain things obvious and other things ludicrous.”

This was why Greg got into philosophy. He wondered about the prevailing assumption that moral truth is relative. Students didn’t make it up. They absorbed it from education. But where did this come from? Everything that happens upstream affects the downstream. The ability of a person to hear the Gospel as good news is affected by what happens upstream.

Now, Greg admits this is simplistic. Culture and those who influence it aren’t that linear. But it does help to diagnose what is happening. We look downstream, and consider why is there resistance. We look upstream to see what we might do there to influence those downstream.

When I talked with Greg last week about referencing this work, he also mentioned that “not just our beliefs and assumptions about what is true are affected. What is more important is how what we love or what we want is shaped. This can be a huge issue. Lots of what happens today pushes people away from the Gospel. As Friedrich Nietzsche said in The Gay Science, ‘What is now decisive against Christianity is our taste, no longer our reasons.’ P. 132.”

“But the Lord said to Ananias, ‘Go! This man [Paul] is my chosen instrument to carry my name before the Gentiles and their kings and before the people of Israel.’ ” Acts 9:15, NIV. “…and their kings”. Perhaps you will have some extended time on location this summer to think and work on projects that you don’t normally have time for during the campus year. Why not make a list of faculty, administrators, grad students, RA’s, Greek presidents, club presidents, and those in student government who impact the river your incoming freshmen will drink from and swim in this fall.

There is an article on Cru.org about Surveys and Questionnaires. If you download the resource, you will find a Student Leadership Questionnaire on page 3 to use with students.

I used this same leadership interview for years with fraternity presidents at the University of Rhode Island. Sometimes those conversations opened doors to speak to pledge classes or to do other events in the houses. This was an example of going upstream to touch someone influencing the responsiveness of our audience downstream.

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