Trinity Western University Jonathan Raymond, President 14 October 2006

TELLING THE NEXT GENERATION

DR. PAUL A. RADER

Printable transcript available here

President Raymond, Chairman Hedberg and members of the Board of Governors, distinguished guests, faculty, staff, students and friends, it is a special joy and privilege for me to share in this auspicious occasion. Not only because of my great respect for Dr. Raymond and my delight in a friendship across the years, but because of all I know his leadership promises for this institution in a time when the contribution of Christ-centered institutions like Trinity Western to higher education and to the cause of Christ is more signally significant than ever. In anticipating this occasion I encountered an apparently simple statement of commitment by the Psalmist -- a commitment that lies at the heart of the human experience and the grand salvation story. It is this: "We will tell the next generation!" Telling the next generation is, after all, a distinctively human activity. It is unique to the human species to accumulate information, to remember and record experience, to reflect upon it and give it creative expression and then to convey it to the next generation and to preserve it for future generations. Whatever evolutionary psychology may have to offer to human understanding it relies after all upon this divinely imaged and unique human capacity for accumulation, reflection and communication. Part of the creation mandate is to remember, relate, reflect and continuously reclaim the best of the human experience, and then to relate it to present reality while building upon it for the future. It is of the essence of our humanity to concern ourselves with the next generation. Admittedly, when attaining a certain age and suffering no little disillusion with one's own generation, there is an ever growing fascination with what the next generation (indeed, this NOW generation) might promise for the future. Each generation is charged with recounting to the next generation the great redemptive acts of God that anchor the human salvation story. Psalm 78:4, "We will tell the next generation the praiseworthy deeds of the Lord, his power, and the wonders he has done." And there is more. The statutes and laws revealed to prior generations were commanded to be taught [so that] the "next generation would know them, even the children yet to be born, and they in turn would tell their children. Then they would put their trust in God and would not forget his deeds but would keep his commands" (78:6,7). God reveals his purposes of grace across time as he calls each successive generation into redeeming fellowship with himself. The Scriptures point steadily forward toward the unfolding of God's salvation purposes. Yet the promise of the future is anchored in the acts of the past -- the Exodus, the Cross, the empty tomb, the ascension and session of the Savior at the right hand of the Father, and the outpouring of the Spirit at Pentecost recorded authoritatively in Scripture. This is the story each generation is charged to tell to the next. Trinity Western University, grounded though it is in the authority of Scripture, is after all not a Bible college. True, as a Christ-centered university this mandate to tell the next generation of the mighty saving acts of God must continue to inform the curriculum. But the task of the university is a broader one. A necessary dimension of the liberal arts project is the rediscovery in every generation of the best of human experience and expression with a view to enriching the understanding, strengthening the character and increasing the capacity of students for creative human endeavor. This broader mandate requires a commitment to a rigorous exploration of the rich heritage of the past, exposing students to great minds and great ideas and the excitement and rewards of the life of the mind. It also anticipates the promise of the future, setting foundations, providing the tools for critical thinking and creative reflection out of a scripturally informed world-view, aiding students in acquiring the wisdom required for living faithfully in a world of dizzying change, economic disparity, intractable animosities, and moral confusion. Clara Yu sets the challenge at the Aspen symposium on the future of higher education:

Our lives today are complex, hypermediated, fast moving, multisensory, and driven by devices that enable and encourage multitasking. We are asked to make decisions not only on issues of personal well-being, but on ethical and existential issues involving our global society and human destiny -- from the protection of the environment, to the clash of civilizations, to decisions about whether to ban human cloning, to the contemplation of posthumanism. Today, the bar set for a ‘liberally educated’ person is particularly high.

This broader mandate requires a renewed commitment to addressing the unique promise and peculiar challenges presenting in the Now generation [for Next is Now and Now already so yesterday!]. It is not just that, try as we may, most of us find ourselves digital immigrants [to borrow Marc Prensky's striking metaphor] striving to learn the language and culture of the new technologies while our students are born to it -- digital natives wholly comfortable in a digital cyber environment. We no longer control cognitive input. Information (of more or less value!) is everywhere readily available to students (Google or Ask.com). And the technologies of instant access make every classroom potentially an open forum for parents and pastors and other interested persons who may or may not fully understand the processes of facilitating learning in a liberal arts environment. Quite apart from the changing paradigms of pedagogy, the social sophistication of this generation in an increasingly sexualized culture presents its own problems for Christian campuses. An occasion like this offers an opportunity to commit anew to addressing these challenges wisely and well while eliciting the remarkable capacity of this generation of students for disciplined learning, humanitarian concern, faith understanding and commitment to Christ and vital Kingdom values. In fulfilling the distinctive mission of a Christian university, no outcome is more critical as an indicator of faithfulness than the development of Christlike character in our students: God centeredness, selflessness and compassion, moral discernment, generosity of spirit, courage of their convictions, humility, constancy and grace. And above all, love which binds all these together into a winsomely distracting whole that baffles human understanding. Arthur Holmes reminds us, "It is not reason, evidence, or logical skills that will lead students to the truth, but the moral power inherent in the personal influence of faithful mentors who model the character of the Christ they serve" (Building the Christian Academy, p. 98). In this the president is charged with setting the bar toward which all of the institution will aspire. I know and respect the leadership gifts and broad experience in both public and private Christian higher education that Dr. Raymond brings to his presidency of this institution. But to my mind, in a world where competency is too often divorced from integrity, nothing qualifies him more for his task than the qualities of Christian character and the sense of spiritual vocation that he brings to his calling. Jonathan Raymond has written in his DNA the call to holy living -- personally and corporately. And in these sacred moments as he assumes the insignia of his office as the servant leader of this great institution, I have no doubt that there will be written fresh upon his heart and spirit: "As he who called you is holy, so be holy in all you do, for it is written: 'Be holy, because I am holy!'" And let us note that these words from 1 Peter are intended not only as a call to private piety but to corporate godliness within the community of faith. Over the past six years I have been intrigued with the perception of persons as to what the president is or should be up to from day to day. The tasks are myriad and the responsibilities onerous. Overall it is an incredibly exhilarating and privileged role -- or at least I found it so. Not without its daunting challenges, to be sure. Traveling back from New York by car recently with our daughter and grand daughter we stopped at a Starbucks. I was fascinated by a recruitment poster for employees [Being currently unemployed one does have an eye for such things!]. It seemed to suggest something of the essential task of the president. It read: "'Create Community!' When you work at Starbucks you can make a difference in someone's day by creating an environment where neighbors and friends can get together to reconnect over a great cup of coffee." We don't make coffee. We make a difference. We create community! Suffer me yet another reference to the venerable Arthur Holmes in The Soul of the Christian University, "Faith and moral formation are acquired usually and best, not by force of argument or weight of objective evidence, but by entering into the life of a community and making its heritage one's own." The president's task is to preside over the creation of just such a community -- a community of faith and learning, a setting for rigorous academic discipline and the discovery, in the wonderful phrase of novelist Pat Conroy, that learning itself can "carry the sting of divine inextinguishable pleasure." It is creating a climate of faith where the voice of God is heard with clarity, where godly character is daily modeled, where the Word of God finds ready lodging in hearts hungry for truth. It is a community where 'thoroughly Christian minds' are being formed. It is a community that in acknowledging that Jesus Christ is Lord of all, refuses to dichotomize faith and learning. It is a community in which there is freedom to celebrate and embrace our uniqueness as persons in all our diversity and to rejoice that we are one body in Christ. It is a community where we welcome one another as Christ has welcomed us. It is a community that models reconciliation, even at the cost of the Cross. It is a community that looks beyond itself to the global community in which our vital participation is increasingly inevitable -- a world more of webs than of walls -- a world where access makes us increasingly accountable -- or complicit. For two decades and more, Nicholas Wolterstorff has explored the mission of higher education that is distinctively Christian in terms of the biblical vision of Shalom. A number of his essays and lectures have been collected in a volume entitled, Educating for Shalom: Essays on Christian Higher Education. Clarence Joldersma, in an introductory essay summarizes Wolterstorff’s thesis [a thesis with which I resonate and with which I believe your president will, as well]:

For Wolterstorff, the goal of Christian higher education is to energize students for a certain way of being in the world here and now -- to encourage them to struggle for shalom. . . . The goal is to prepare students for the life and work of the Kingdom, for struggling for human flourishing where justice is the ground and responsible action is the vehicle, where delight and joy are intrinsic features of right human relationships with God, the natural world, the self, and others. (p. xix)

In a chapter entitled, “Teaching for Shalom,” Wolterstorff outlines a Shalom Model for Collegiate Education that reflects the richness of our shared cultural heritage while also responding to the wounds and tears of humanity.  While affirming the teaching of history, art, the sciences and occupational practices, “I propose that the moral wounds of the world also find a place in our curricula, and that we ask how we ought to respond to such wounds -- a shalom model for our curricula that finds ways to open our students to those wounds” (pp. 24-25). In creating community where such an awareness is inescapable we touch the wounds of Jesus and all that is done here in his name becomes in its way sacramental. Ultimately, this noble project is not just about classes taught and papers written, projects completed and courses taken, or even degrees earned; It is about the quality and character of the persons who emerge from the process and their capacity to serve their generation, engage their culture, and touch with healing and hope the wounds of our world. So this occasion challenges not only our president but all of us to yet a higher standard of faithfulness, to walk worthy of the vocation with which we have been called, enriched by the past, drawn in hope toward the future, and rejoicing in the privilege of this present hour. What a time to be alive! What a calling! President Raymond, God engrace you and energize you for every demand of your office and ever fill your days with a lively sense of His presence and serendipities of His unfolding grace.  God bless you, President Raymond. And God bless Trinity Western University.