What a great thrill to get to celebrate this day with you. I’m thankful for your presence here with us, especially each of those who have participated in the program today. With Rob Evans and Gerald Turner on this platform, we have a good portion of the LCC 1964-66 basketball team coached by my dad. Looking at Rob, I think they still might be competitive.
I’m especially grateful to share this moment with my three immediate predecessors in this role, Dr. Harvie Pruitt, Dr. Steven Lemley, and Dr. Ken Jones. LCUs second president, Dr. Joe Hacker, is not well enough to be with us today but I remember him with appreciation, as well. I admire each of them for the service they have rendered to LCU and for the moral integrity that has marked their lives. I’ve had the great privilege of knowing each of LCU’s five presidents and I’ve witnessed their effective leadership of the school. I don’t know how many new presidents of any organization actually know all of their predecessors, but indeed I do. And it is both humbling and inspiring. I am grateful for the sense of shared history I have with each of these men who have so ably filled this role.
F.W. Mattox, was a man of great vision, of deep faith, and endless optimism. He possessed a powerful imagination. As you heard from the video of him today, more than 55 years ago he stood in open cotton fields not far from where we are right now and imagined buildings that did not exist. He heard choirs that had not yet been formed. He envisioned a faculty and classes and athletic teams and saw the possibilities of a Christian college when there was nothing but fields. He fixed his eyes not on what his eyes could see, but on what was unseen, for he knew, as the apostle Paul reminds us, that what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen lasts forever.
This eternal perspective has always been at the core of LCU’s identity. As we celebrate our past and give thanks for God’s providential care for this institution since its founding, we look to the future with a sense of the greatness of our cause, a renewed devotion to LCU’s distinctive mission, and a commitment to achieve her significant promise.
Almost two millenia ago, the early Christian apologist, Tertullian, posed this question: “What indeed has Athens to do with Jerusalem? What concord is there between the Academy and the Church?” Tertullian’s query about the relationship between the reason of Athens and the faith of Jerusalem is perhaps more important today than ever before.
There is a healthy ongoing conversation in the academy about the proper place of faith in higher education. Many argue that faith is a purely or largely private matter and that the demands of religious faith inevitably constrain one’s search for truth, making it impossible for rigorous intellectual inquiry to take place. The dominance of this view over the course of the last generation or more led one Christian scholar to write a book titled, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (George M. Marsden, The Outrageous Idea of Christian Scholarship (Oxford University press 1997)). He was giving voice to a widespread common assumption that the idea of a “Christian intellectual” is at best an oxymoron or perhaps the punch line to a joke.
During the last five days, we have participated in eight deep and stimulating sessions about the integration of faith and learning and have been reminded of the vitality of this topic. Perhaps it is not such an outrageous idea after all. Indeed, one Christian commentator, who himself is a serious Christian thinker, describes life as a Christian intellectual as a grand adventure. And I think the same thing should be said about Christian higher education.
It is a grand enterprise, a noble endeavor, I believe, both because of the first order claims it makes on the lives of those who participate in it and because of the way it challenges prevailing presuppositions about the nature of truth and the conditions required for serious scholarship.
I do not have time this afternoon to fully consider the question of the role of faith in higher education or in the work of serious scholarship.
We will seek to live up to our high calling as a Christian university. This is indeed our first and most important task. We refuse to "separate the sacred from the secular, believing that Christian faith must be woven through the life of learning so that there, as everywhere else, Jesus Christ is Lord.” Cornelius Plantinga, Jr. Engaging God’s World: A Christian Vision of Faith, Learning, and Living. (Eerdmans Publishing 2002).
I am deeply grateful for LCU’s heritage in the Churches of Christ. Indeed, my great grandfather, FL Young, was a pioneer Church of Christ preacher in the state of Texas in the late 1800s and early 1900s. Thus, I hope you will excuse me in taking a special kind of family pride in having the privilege of serving in this role at LCU, a place that shares my religious heritage. Lubbock Christian University was given life by Churches of Christ and we continue to walk with, to serve, and to be sustained by that fellowship in vital ways. We will strengthen our commitment and contribution to that heritage of faith and we will welcome and embrace all 2,000 of our students who come to us from many different faith backgrounds, each one a precious child of God. We live in a post-modern age in which brand loyalties are less pronounced and so we may have a unique opportunity to make progress toward the great Restoration ideal of Christian unity. I pray that LCU might be a force for reconciliation in a way that is consistent with the best instincts of our heritage.
In this way, we have a particular lens, a particular viewpoint, in understanding our work and the world, just as does everyone else, though we are a bit more up front about it.
There are many examples of how our distinctive vision for higher education manifests itself in the life of the LCU community. I will briefly mention four in the time I have with you today.
First, it means that students come first because our bold mission is to prepare our students to be agents and witnesses of the Kingdom of God. We seek to provide students with a transformative educational experience. We want our students
We guide our students
In short, we seek to teach and to touch the minds, hearts, and souls of our students.
The second implication of our Christian mission is our commitment to rigorous and serious intellectual inquiry in every discipline.
Luke Timothy Johnson of the Emory University Candler School of Theology has said, “All scholarship should be witness.” We teach and research not to defend our orthodoxy, but with the desire to explore and better understand our world and the human condition. Indeed, we believe that regardless of the subject or the question, the Truth, with a capital T, will withstand our close examination. We are committed to the highest standards of excellence in our teaching and in our scholarship. There are no excuses for mediocrity in this sacred work. Our desire for excellence is an act of stewardship of the many gifts, resources, and opportunities with which we have each been entrusted.
During the previous academic year, the LCU campus community explored poverty as part of a multi-disciplinary, campus-wide initiative that informed, challenged, critiqued, questioned, inspired, and ultimately empowered students to think critically about the problem of worldwide poverty. This year the focus is on civic engagement. In a presidential election year, students are being asked to think critically about how Christians should engage with the political process. These are excellent examples of what we must do, of what we are capable of doing. We seek to create a “grace-filled, convictional community,” to use a term coined by David Dockery and Timothy George. The Great Tradition of Christian Thinking: A Student’s Guide (Crossway 2012) at p.89.
A third implication of our mission is that we will prepare and equip students for lives of service and that they will have opportunities to engage a hurting world locally, nationally, and internationally. We will seek to expand opportunities for student engagement with the world, opportunities for students to serve those Jesus called “the least of these.” Whether it is a campus-wide service day in the Lubbock area, engagement with Lubbock’s homeless population, a spring break campaign in Honduras, a medical mission trip to Peru, an internship in Washington, DC, with a governmental or non-profit organization, a summer spent in Kenya working with our own Jim Beck, or something else entirely, every student should leave LCU with a clear sense of the call to serve those in need that Jesus places on those who would follow him.
A fourth implication of our mission is that we will have a strong sense of connectedness to each other, to our alma mater, and to LCU’s mission. The term “Community” is, I think, overused today, frequently employed to describe all kinds of groups of people. I’m guilty of it myself. Perhaps we would be better off to think of LCU faculty, staff, students, alumni, parents, friends, and board members using the language of family. In the broadest sense, a family is a gathering of people “with strong ties of loyalty and emotion, and an experience of a history and a future.” (J. Peoples and G. Bailey. Humanity: An Introduction to Cultural Anthropology (Belmont, CA: Thomson Wadsworth, 2006), at p.22.) We fit the definition in that our ties are strong.
I was not one of those pioneering students of the early days, but I came here as a student in 1980 when the college was only 23 years old. As is true of so many others who have passed through these halls, it was a formative time for me. We had a tradition of gathering for a devotional each Monday night on the steps of the McDonald Moody Auditorium. Our practice was to close each devotional by singing the old classic hymn which opens with the words, “blessed be the ties that bind our hearts in Christian love.” We are indeed bound together and our connection is as strong as our common convictions and our shared experiences.
I’ve witnessed the extraordinary sense of family we have at LCU with the passing of my mother last month. I’ve seen—again—how we are deeply connected to each other, how we “share each other’s woes, our mutual burdens bear,” in the words of the hymn. I have been reminded all over again of the healing power of such a family. Our ties are strong and sure.
As we look forward, it is impossible to predict what the future might hold. What might happen if we moved into that future while placing our faith in the One who is the creator of all things, the One who is able to do more than we ask or imagine?
There will be challenges ahead, of that we can be sure. Yet, when I stand here and close my eyes and unleash my imagination, I see a future that is as great as the One we serve, and I pledge to you my best efforts to make that vision a reality, to the glory of God. May God bless each of you and may God bless Lubbock Christian University.