Friday, January 28, 2011

wheaton meanderings

I've been reading it three times a year for more than thirty years.

It is the magazine that goes to alumni of Wheaton College, among whom Barby (to whom I am married) is counted. It is just called Wheaton.

It always sparks a mixture of reactions as I read. One is admiration for the professionalism of the presentation and the sheer quality of the content. It makes me drool. The postage envelope is always ripped open immediately. Another response - borne out of my twenty years in theological education in NZ and now the almost monthly exposure to colleges in Asia - is one of jealousy. They have SO much money! For 150+ years they have stewarded their resources and established their foundations to the point where they talk in terms of millions of dollars as project after project flows. Sometimes I wonder what God thinks as he looks down from his heaven at his total mission in the world with all its need for resources ... is this concentration of resources in a single college the best and fairest way to get the job done? I confess that I remain unconvinced - but that is not why I am writing!

The latest issue of Winter 2011 issue of Wheaton has arrived (pdf available here). In it there is a full manuscript (listen and watch it here) of the Inauguration Address given by their new President (Philip Ryken) - just the eighth person to serve in this position. Do the maths for yourself because it is impressive.

A few comments in response to Ryken's fine address which was entitled "A World Servant in Christian Liberal Arts Education"...

1. The quote he uses right at the end has so impacted me, I have added it to my electronic signature in my email. Another little classic from Frederick Buechner: "The place God calls you to is the place where your deep gladness and the world's deep hunger meet".

2. We don't have 'Christian Liberal Arts Colleges' in New Zealand. The Wheaton College Foundation would love to receive a dollar from me for every time Barby and I have expressed "I wish NZ had a Christian Liberal Arts College for our kids" over the years!
Never be put off by the word 'liberal' in this context. As Ryken expresses it, "Here I use the word 'liberal' in its oldest and truest sense, as that which brings freedom. The liberal arts are the liberating arts: they give us the freedom to become everything God has gifted us to become".

3. In a bold paragraph, Ryken critiques the Wheaton heritage (well - that is how it reads to me - see for yourself) as he calls for a future marked by global engagement:

"We have not articulated a philosophy of liberal education that incorporates global engagement as an essential part of a Wheaton education, so that our students learn how to live, work, worship, and serve in a globalised society - not just preparing students for global engagement, but preparing them through global engagement. We have not developed long-term strategic alliances with colleges and universities overseas that enable us to learn and to teach collaboratively, strengthening both institutions through mutual influence."

WOW?! Did he really say that?
[Although his very next sentence seems to unpick the laudable idea of this 'mutual' influence by inferring that Wheaton will be giving more than it is receiving in such a venture: "We have not fully learned how to take everything that is exceptional about Wheaton as an institution of higher education and then multiply its global impact"]

I hope Ryken is successful. Having been someone who has immersed himself in the US as a student (and I cherish that heritage in my life), I worry about the US and the church there. While their generosity is unrivalled, so few conservative American Christians seem to have genuinely globalised worldviews. They run the risk of living in an un-globalised bubble. As I have expressed elsewhere this is something that troubles me about FoxTV with its deep support in the conservative Christian community.
[NB - earlier this week I watched 30 min of TV in which the host was a Baptist minister and the guests were Mary Beth and Steven Curtis Chapman, before Casting Crowns - the top Christian band in the USA - sang a song to close the programme. You would have thought it was some paid-for-TV Christian programming from a private church ... but, no, it was FoxTV! One day I am going to watch FoxTV for 24hrs straight and then write a blog about the dimensions of this bubble...].

Anyway I hope Ryken's courageous words will prove to be prophetic because from my limited and tiny vantage point it seems to be exactly what needs to happen.

4. Ryken speaks of the integration of faith and learning as something which characterised the Garden and so what is needed today is more the reintegration of faith and learning: "It was only when Adam and Eve pursued knowledge apart from trust in God that sin came into the world and learning was sundered from faith ... In the best and oldest traditions of American higher education, faith and learning belong together - not merely juxtaposed, but integrated."

nice chatting


Paul

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