Q+A: Philip Ryken, Wheaton's Next President
Wheaton College chose from one of its own when it appointed Philip Ryken, pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, as its next president. Ryken graduated from the college in 1988 and has served on its board of trustees since 2006. Ryken received his M.Div. from Westminster Theological Seminary and his doctorate in historical theology from the University of Oxford. He is on the board of trustees at Westminster Theological Seminary, and a council member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals and the Gospel Coalition. Ryken will begin on July 1 after president Duane Litfin retires in June. Ryken spoke with online editor Sarah Pulliam Bailey about his plans for the college.
You chose to leave a very prominent pulpit. What is the role of Christian colleges, Wheaton in particular, in shaping evangelicalism?
I see Wheaton College as a definitional institution that in so many ways helps to clarify evangelical commitment for the wider church. Because Wheaton prepares so many young people for kingdom service worldwide, it tends to have a church-shaping influence generation by generation.
Do you think the parachurch drives evangelicalism?
No; however, an institution like Wheaton, which is an interdenominational college, provides an intersection, a meeting place of evangelical commitment that helps the wider church understand the core commitments of evangelical faith.
What do you think the role of college president will demand from you that being the pastor of a large church didn't?
One of the main things is a much wider and deeper understanding of higher education than I presently have. Although I've been very actively involved in various boards at Wheaton College in the past decade, I have so much to learn about higher education. There certainly will be a learning curve for me to serve at Wheaton. One of the unique challenges of a college presidency is the complex and constant demands from different constituencies of the college. In pastoral ministry, I primarily need to have a listening voice to the congregation; there is a complexity on a college campus of listening clearly to faculty, students, staff, and alumni.
You have had no significant experience in academic administration. What would you say to critics who question your ability to judge things like tenure, given that you've never gone through the vetting process or something similar?
I think it's a big advantage that I have served on the academic affairs committee on Wheaton's board. I have already been involved in the process of tenure review for academic hiring. These are not unfamiliar areas to me.
What are the areas of concern in Wheaton's current makeup that you would devote your energies to strengthening?
I'm a keen enthusiast for Wheaton College and the extraordinary work that our faculty, staff, and administration do. Whenever I'm on campus, I have a huge joy in interacting with our students. I do not come to Wheaton with any particular reforming agenda. One thing that I told the presidential selection committee that I want to cultivate campus-wide is a community of grace. I believe that true excellence, whether in academics or in other areas, is best inspired by a deep awareness of God's love for us in Christ. I want to live and serve with a deep awareness of that in my own life and seek to cultivate it in whatever Christian community I belong to, and that now includes in a very intentional way Wheaton College.