Sailing into the Storm: Philip Ryken and D. Michael Lindsay on the Challenges in Christian Higher Education
There's always been a desire on behalf of some for institutional leaders to draw the borders and defend the borders. Do you feel that pressure?
Lindsay: I don't feel the need to police the boundaries. I do feel pressure for us to articulate our distinctives in a way that is compelling yet winsome. The things that most people associate with Christian higher education is what we are known to be against, not what we are for. Having an identity based upon negation as opposed to affirmation is something that I want to change. Both Wheaton and Gordon care about the arts. That represents an area where we can be affirming.
Ryken: We strengthen the center of our evangelical commitment more by what we are for than simply by what we are against. I do feel more definitional pressure, and that may be the role that Wheaton has had in the evangelical community. Most of my time is spent not policing boundaries but articulating vision and strengthening convictions. Evangelical Christianity is not so much a bounded set as an overlapping set or a shared set.
Do you as presidents believe that helping to establish Christian unity is part of your calling?
Lindsay: Sometimes the Christian community is the worst about working together. Nothing has the ability to draw a movement together like a common enemy. Some of the cultural challenges that Christian institutions are going to face are going to demand that we work together. Outside challenges have a tremendous way of unifying the community.
Ryken: This is a question people had for me coming to Wheaton because my Reformed and Presbyterian convictions are well known. I was living those out in a confessional context as a pastor of a local church. But I was also raised on the campus of Wheaton College. I celebrate the evangelical diversity we have on this campus. Wheaton self-identifies as an evangelical Protestant institution. We're not trying to be the entire body of Christ, but we come out of this evangelical Protestant tradition that has roots in the Reformation. Within that context, the connections that we have with Roman Catholics are significant. We have common cause in those issues that affect even our ability to function as Christian institutions. On a campus like Wheaton, we read Catholic authors in the same way we would want to read evangelical authors—sympathetically but also critically, testing things according to Scripture.
There is new dialogue between Mormons and evangelicals and between Muslims and evangelicals. Is your institution joining in or opting out?
Lindsay: We have to be in conversation with people who don't agree with us. There is no other way for us to be part of the wider intellectual milieu. What we hope to do is help our students embody the ideal of how John describes Jesus as being full of both grace and truth. John was a careful enough writer that I think the order of those words matters. People came to know the grace of Jesus before they necessarily knew the full truth. The temptation, however, is for that conversation to begin to modify your identity.
Ryken: There's a certain kind of conversation that is really about covering up important distinctions in order to make a connection. But there's another kind of conversation that I think really respects people more. That is to say, "Here are the things where I think we disagree, and here's why this is important to me. Now, what do you think?" People really desire conversation where you're honest about differences.