Category: Reformed CHE


May 14, 2015: Ascension Day/Commencement Day

Final Charge to the New Saint Andrews College Class of 2015

Dr. Roy Alden Atwood
Past President and Senior Fellow of Humanities 

Members of the Class of 2015:

Congratulations.

As your former college president, it is my privilege to give you, as former college students, your final charge. Put another way, this is the final word of one has-been to the latest class of NSA has-beens.

You have been a good class and it should probably be you up here instead of me.

After all, you finished your work at NSA in about four years or less; it took me more than 20 years to finish mine.

But whether our Moscow captivity has been two years or 20, this is a glorious occasion, fittingly punctuated by the fact that today is Ascension Day.

The Ascension is, sadly, the most neglected, least understood, and least celebrated part of the redemptive story in the church today.

Tim Chester & Jonny Woodrow, in their delightful little book, The Ascension: Humanity in the Presence of God (2013), explain why, when they write,

“Let’s be honest: the ascension of Jesus is weird.”

It seems strange indeed to most of us that the final act of Jesus’s earthly ministry should be him floating off into the clouds and out of sight.

But it only seems weird until you realize that it was the capstone moment of Jesus’s earthly ministry that was absolutely essential for our redemption.

It was the Second Adam returning, with us who are in Him, to the fellowship and very presence of God the Father.

It was the Second Moses returning to the impenetrable cloud on the Mount.

Without Christ’s ascension there is no consummation to our salvation, no Holy Spirit, no great commission.

We’d be like the prodigal son returning, being forgiven, even given a new life, but then receiving our Father’s cold shoulder with no celebratory feast, no reconciliation. That would be even weirder.

So the ascension is weird, but only in the most redemptive and glorious sense.

And I believe there are some interesting parallels between the ascension story and our story here as those who have completed our work at New Saint Andrews today:

  • Just as it was not enough for Jesus to merely take on human flesh at his incarnation, it was not enough for you to have merely been admitted to NSA—more was needed.
  • Just as it was not enough for Jesus to merely suffer and die on the cross, it was not enough for you to merely suffer through all those classes, books, declamations, recitations, Disputatios, lectures, papers and a thesis —more was needed.
  • Just as it was not enough for Jesus to merely rise from the dead on the third day, it was not enough for you to merely complete your graduation requirements and to receive your diploma today—more is still needed.

One more thing was required of Jesus after the resurrection, just as one more thing is required of you after graduation.

When Jesus ascended into heaven, he took his incarnate-crucified-and-resurrected human body and restored redeemed humanity to full fellowship with our Heavenly Father. By his ascension we now have the full rights and inheritance as adopted sons and daughters of the Lord of the Universe.

In a similar way, if you were only admitted, studied and graduated from the College, then your story would be radically incomplete.

What you must now do is rise to the occasion as those who have been admitted-educated-and-graduated, and go forth faithfully and joyfully to serve our Ascended King and his Kingdom as alumni of New Saint Andrews. This is your ascension moment.

St. Paul put it this way, in Colossians 3

(1) If then you have been raised with Christ, seek those things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. (2) Set your minds on things above, not on things on earth. (3) For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.

So my final, three-fold charge to all of us who bid New Saint Andrews farewell today is this:

  1. Remember that, just as Jesus’s final act of ascending to heaven was to reconcile fallen humanity to God the Father, once and for all, so too you, as alumni of New Saint Andrews and the adopted children and heirs of the King of kings, must be busy doing the Kingdom work of declaring the crown rights of Jesus over every square inch of all that exists.

If you are in Christ, this is your call. If you are an NSA alumnus, this is your call.

If we fall short of that, then our NSA experience and your graduation today will have been in vain.

  1. Second, never allow any friends, spouse, child, family, clan, college, career, congregation, community, nation, ideology, or dream to displace our First Love and highest priority. Let nothing in our lives or devotions distract us from our chief end to seek first the Kingdom of God and his righteousness.
  2. And finally, be weird. That will probably be easy for some of you. But remember each Ascension Day, the anniversary of our Last Day at NSA, that what seems weird is sometimes the most important and necessary and glorious thing of all.

When everyone else is taking the easy road to success or fame, be weird by choosing a more faithful direction.

When everyone else is camping only where it is safe, and comfortable, and smugly self-satisfied, then be weird and pack up your tent and follow the path Abraham took.

Go where there is the greatest need, rather than where you can make the most money.

Go where your gifts and abilities can best serve the least in Christ’s Kingdom, rather than producing one more widget for some godless corporation.

And be shapers, not consumers of culture—for Christ’s sake.

In doing so, we will, together, fulfill the mission and capstone experience of New Saint Andrews, namely, to become “leaders who shape culture through wise and victorious Christian living.”

Class of 2015, I hope every Ascension Day hereafter will remind you of your chief end and greatest privilege.

Make this your own ascension moment. Rise to the occasion. Take your rightful place next to Christ’s ascended side and advance his kingdom to every corner of Creation.

May our Ascended Lord guide and bless you all your days. And may they be many, joyful, fruitful and wonderfully weird.

God bless you!

Closing Prayer

Let’s pray:

Holy Father,
Holy Spirit,
Holy and Ascended Lord,

We thank you for these graduates who worked so hard and faithfully these past few years. Bless them for their labors.

Go before them.
Guide them.
Protect them.
And most of all embolden them to serve you all their days without fear or faltering.

Make these graduates, as your adopted children, to be like their ascended Lord:

humble in spirit,
pure in faith,
self-sacrificial in love,
fervent in godliness,
steadfast in the truth, and ever joyful in hope, according to the sure promises of your Word.

Lord, thank you, too, for their families, especially their parents, who sacrificed so much that these graduates might be better prepared for service in your kingdom.

Multiple their blessings 10- and 100-fold for their faithful nurturing of these children you entrusted to them.

Now dismiss us with your Triune blessing, we pray,

In the strong name of our ascended Lord, Jesus,

Amen.

This was my exhortation to the New Saint Andrews College community, delivered at the 21st Convocation, August 15, 2014.

 

Congratulations are in order. As of today, New Saint Andrews College is 21. It has finally reached legal drinking age.

That means it is time for some sober reflections on what it means for us to be part of the second generation of our College family. We’ve turned 21. We have come of age. We are now legally dangerous.

Much like the generational transition described in Deuteronomy 6, the College’s Board asks you, the second generation of NSA, to remember and to honor the academic and institutional inheritance you have received and are receiving.

We all stand on the shoulders of our theological and intellectual forefathers: Augustine, Aquinas, Luther, Calvin, Kuyper, Edwards, Hodge, Machen and many more. We are in their debt. They were giants. We are their midget children. But we are heirs.

And like the heirs called to remember their great heritage in Deut. 6, the College Board asks faculty and students alike to remember well.

When someone asks,

Q:  Who are we?     [we should answer . . .]

A: NSA is an academic community centered on the Lordship of Jesus Christ over all things. [and when we are asked . . .]

Q: What are we  doing here?     [we should answer . . .]

A:  We are pursuing a robust liberal arts education in the classical Christian tradition in the context of real Christian community. [and when we are asked]

Q: Why are we doing this?        [we should answer]

A:  Our purpose is to graduate leaders who are eager to shape culture, living faithfully under the Lordship of Jesus Christ.

That’s our story. That’s our catechism.

How that story, that catechism plays out over time, of course, rests in your 21 year old—second generational–hands.

Will it play out with maturity and faithfulness over time or will it devolve into immaturity and folly? The answer will most clearly be found in the 3rd and 4th generations, as the fruit from our genealogical and spiritual tree.  But we know biblically and historically that certain lines produce some really rotten fruit.

I recently visited Albania, long one of the poorest and saddest parts of southern Europe. On the whole, Albania is still a mess, digging out from the rubble of its Communist past, which goes back to the end of World War II. For three generations, it was one of the most regressive Communist and totalitarian nations on the planet, second only to North Korea.

During the Communist era, Albania had all the laws and institutions of any other modern nation-state, but its guiding ideology was rooted in a culture of entitlement and self-centeredness. Citizens were taught that the state would take care of them, the state would meet all their needs, the state would provide all they desired. Albanians were there to be served, not to serve. Their institutions gave; the people took.

That may have worked for a couple of years, but like all Socialist-Communist regimes, with everyone on “the take” and no one on “the give,” eventually things ran out: the infrastructure broke down, the economy collapsed and the society crumbled. No Albanian had learned how to help others, to fix what was broken, to sacrifice for the needs of others. With no one to care for the needs of others, the nation imploded.

When Mr. Schlect read from Romans 12 a few minutes ago, you might have glossed over those very familiar words about being living sacrifices, blah, blah, blah. But sacrifice is not just a pious idea for other generations. It is the foundation of the Christian life. Christ gave his life for yours. If it is the foundation of the Christian life, then it is a foundation for all of life, the foundation for New Saint Andrews, and for everything else under the sun.

Think of it this way:  all the Christian schools and ministries you know about were once started by someone who sacrificed greatly to establish them. They gave of their time, money, energy, health, careers, sometimes their very lives, to build something they believed in deeply and wanted to give to their children and grandchildren and the kingdom.

Everyone recognizes and honors that kind of sacrifice of institutional founders. But for those institutions to endure and to thrive, the great sacrifice of the founders must be imitated, repeated, by each generation.

The great temptation of the second generation—that would be us–is to honor the sacrifice of others and to imagine no institutional sacrifice is required of us today.  We can be tempted to think that all those institutions that other folks sacrificed to create will continue indefinitely solely on the capital of their earlier sacrifices. We don’t need to give; we can simply take.

Thankfully, many schools and nonprofit Christian ministries, like New Saint Andrews, have endured and thrive precisely because the second generation of pastors and elders, faculty and staff, and many others continue to sacrifice for the mission and vision of the institution. We owe them, as much as the founders, a great debt of gratitude.

But the great danger for this generation is to imagine that these institutions are there simply to serve us, to meet our needs, to fulfill our desires. Sweat from our brows is not required.

Think again. Renew your mind, as Paul puts it.

Whenever a spirit of entitlement—a spirit that says an institution owes you something and not the other way around–be it scholarships or pay raises or honors or recognition or any other goodies—then we are on our way to turning that institution into another crumbling society drained by greed and self-centeredness.

This temptation common to the second and third generations is easy to understand. We’ve arrived at a place already built. The faculty is already in place. The administration is already leading. The board is already governing. It is easy to presume that no sacrifice or assembly is required. It is like our national or state governments that some imagine are simply there to meet their needs, provide their health coverage, and give them a check.  But we are never merely the beneficiaries of what institutions provide. There are no free entitlements.

A people can get away with being on the take for a few generations, while the capital invested by their forebearers lasts. But at some point, the coffers run dry, the bills come due, and the maintenance can no longer be deferred. Soon everyone is looking for a ladder to climb back up to bottom.

The point, the charge I want to leave with us tonight, as we begin our 21st year, is to guard ourselves against the temptation, common to the second generation, to believe that the age of sacrifice is over. It is not.

I call on you, the New Saint Andrews community, to let your lives–this student body, this faculty, this administration, this board–embody faithfully the call to selfless sacrifice found in the 12th chapter of Paul’s Epistle to the Romans:

(1) Present your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and acceptable to God, which is your spiritual worship.

Give yourselves away for others, not counting the cost.

(3) Do not to think of yourself more highly than you ought

(9) Abhor what is evil; love one another with brotherly affection

(13) Contribute to the needs of the saints and show hospitality

(16) Do not be haughty, but associate with the lowly.

(16) Never be wise in your own sight.

(20) If your enemy is hungry, feed him; if he is thirsty, give him something to drink;
(21) Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

God bless you & God bless New Saint Andrews College in this academic year and in all the generations to come.

And happy 21st!

Thank you.

“The study of antiquity is . . . not only of formal and practical value:  for the development of thinking, understanding Greek and Latin terms in our scholarship, understanding citations, and allusions in our literature, and so forth. Its lasting value also lies in the fact that the foundations of modern culture were laid in antiquity. The roots of all our arts and learning–and also, though in lesser degree, the sciences that study nature–are to be found in the soil of antiquity. It is amazing how the Greeks created all those forms of beauty in which our aesthetic feeling still finds expression and satisfaction today; in their learning they realized and posited all the problems of the world and of life with which we still wrestle in our heads and hearts.”

Herman Bavinck (1854-1921), “Classical Education”
Essays on Religion, Science and Society
Editor John Bolt
Translators Harry Boonstra and Gerrit Sheeres
(Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2008, p. 242)

John Calvin’s Commentary on 1 Corinthians 8:1:

“We must, therefore, lay it down as a settled principle, that knowledge is good in itself; but as piety is its only foundation,  it becomes empty and useless in wicked men: as love is its true seasoning, where that is wanting it is tasteless. And truly, where there is not that thorough knowledge of God which humbles us, and teaches us to do good to the brethren, it is not so much knowledge, as an empty notion of it, even in those that are reckoned the most learned. At the same time, knowledge is not by any means to be blamed for this, any more than a sword, if it falls into the hands of a madman. Let this be considered as said with a view to certain fanatics, who furiously declaim against all the liberal arts and sciences, as if their only use were to puff men up, and were not of the greatest advantage as helps in common life. Now those very persons, who defame them in this style, are ready to burst with pride, to such an extent as to verify the old proverb — “Nothing is so arrogant as ignorance.”

 

John Calvin’s Commentary on 1 Corthinians 3:19-20:

“. . . The liberal arts, and all the sciences by which wisdom is acquired, are gifts of God.”

This from John Calvin’s Commentary (which was really a series of lectures compiled) on the Book of Daniel, Chapter 1, Verse 4:

“Meanwhile, we observe, that learning and the liberal arts were not then so despised as they are in this age, and in those immediately preceding it. So strongly has barbarism prevailed in the world, that it is almost disgraceful for nobles to be reckoned among the men of education and of letters! The chief boast of the nobility was to be destitute of scholarship — nay, they gloried in the assertion, that they were “no scholars,” in the language of the day; and if any of their rank were versed in literature, they acquired their attainments for no other purpose than to be made bishops and abbots’ still, as I have said, they generally despised all literature. We perceive the age in which Daniel lived was not so barbarous, for the king wished to have these boys whom he caused to be so instructed, among his own princes, as we have said, to promote his own advantage; still we must remark upon the habit of that age. As to his requiring so much knowledge and skill, it may seem out of place, and more than their tender age admitted, that they should be so accomplished in prudence, knowledge, and experience. But we know that kings require nothing in moderation when they order anything to be prepared, they often ascend beyond the clouds. So Nebuchadnezzar speaks here; and Daniel, who relates his commands, does so in a royal manner. Since the king commanded all the most accomplished to be brought before him, if they really manifested any remarkable qualities, we need not be surprised at their knowledge, skill, and prudence. The king simply wished those boys and youths to be brought to him who were ingenious and dangerous, and adapted to learn with rapidly; and then those who were naturally eloquent and of a healthy constitution of body. For it follows directly, that they might learn, or be taught the literature and language of the Chaldees We perceive that King Nebuchadnezzar did not demand teachers, but boys of high birth, and good talents, and of promising abilities; he wished them to be liberally instructed in the doctrine of the Chaldees he was unwilling to have youths of merely polished and cultivated minds without natural abilities.

A 78-minute audio interview by Ken Myers with Mark Noll (The Future of Christian Learning), James K.A. Smith (Desiring the Kingdom and Imagining the Kingdom) and Norman Klassen and Jens Zimmermann (The Passionate Intellect):  http://www.marshillaudio.org/Catalog/AnthologyDetails/Anthology008.aspx.

“It needs to be remembered that Martin Luther [and several of the leading Reformers] had earned a doctorate in theology. According to the academic regulations honored in his day, that accorded him special privileges. Those who had only earned lower degrees could teach, but they were restricted to the enunciation of the major text–in biblical instruction, Scripture itself; in theological studies, Peter Lombard’s Sentences, the chiefhandbook of medieval theology in Western Christendom–and to the glosses which respected scholars of bygone days had added to the text. Such instructors were strictly prohibited from adding their own interpretations or glosses to the material presented to the students: that privilege was restricted to those who had earned a doctor’s degree [not just a master’s or “magister’s,” i.e. “teacher’s” degree]. Thus, when Luther set forth his perspectives, often enough in contrast to the words of earlier scholars, he was using the privilege he had earned by his extensive studies. . . . It is, consequently, difficult to make the charge of subjectivism stick for Luther: his degree and his position (as a professor of Bible) authorized a certain degree of independence in his teaching and assertions” [one that Lutheran, Presbyterian and Reformed churches have generally recognized since the Reformation: those ordained as pastors and doctors in the church have the office and authority for biblical interpretation that individual congregants do not possess].

—-James R. Payton, Jr., Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings (IVP Academic Press, 2010), pp. 137 (in Ch. 6: “What the Reformers Meant by Sola Scriptura“)

‎”For Luther, the Scripture was norma normans–the norm that norms. In comparison, the church fathers, the ancient creeds and the doctrinal decrees of the ecumenical councils were normae normatae–normed norms. As evaluated and approved from Scripture, they were authoritative. Sola Scriptura thus meant for Luther that Scripture was the only unquestioned religious authority. It did not mean that Scripture was the only religious authority–as has often been assumed or misunderstood in subsequent Protestantism. As church fathers, ancient creeds and the ecumenical councils’ doctrinal decrees passed the test of and thus stood faithfully with Scripture, they were regarded as subordinate religious authorities which must be respected and heeded.”

–James R. Payton, Jr., Getting the Reformation Wrong: Correcting Some Misunderstandings (IVP Academic Press, 2010), pp. 142 (in Ch. 6: “What the Reformers Meant by Sola Scriptura“)

An article in today’s Inside Higher Ed, “What we don’t know about student debt,” addresses the attempt by the federal government to rationalize student loans and inform “ed consumers” about the risks of their potential indebtedness. As the article indicates, the new federal calculus is missing some crucial information.

But Carl E. Zylstra, recently retired president of Dordt College (my alma mater) and now executive director of the Association of Reformed Institutions of Higher Education (arihe.org), has pointed out that the student loan default rate is probably the best available indicator of whether the average educational outcome from the institution is priced by the employment market at a level approximating its cost.

Default rates are a good indicator, but the statistics on default don’t necessarily correspond to the fiscal and  market realities that a college graduate will face in any given location or job. Default rate information certainly add helpful context, but it is still only a partial glimpse at the whole picture.
To find the default rate for any given college (that issues federal loans), you can type in the name of the college you’re interested in here. Then simply click on the college’s name link to see the default rates for its three most recent years of available data. Enrollments and the number of students repaying their loans are also listed in the reports generated.
The enduring student debt problem nationally remains the culture of Continue reading