The Times They Are a Changing (Institutions on the Move)

In a strange coincidence, I received notification today that two of the graduate schools I have studied at (and taught at) are selling their buildings. Both have been trying to sell their buildings for a while, and both have now found buyers.

I received both notifications by email today, with links that pointed to online postings from the day before.

Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School

First, I heard the news about Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (Rochester, NY).

I attended Colgate Rochester in the eighties as an M.A. student, while serving as Protestant Chaplain at the University of Rochester, and then I moved back to Rochester in the nineties for a tenure track faculty position in Old Testament.

It was as a student at Colgate Rochester that I was first introduced to the writings of Walter Brueggemann, whose vision of the relevance the the Old Testament has shaped my understanding of Scripture. And Brueggemann sent me a nice note of congratulation when I started teaching there.

I lived in the dorms for my first semester as a student at Colgate and then again for a semester when I began teaching (before my family had moved to Rochester).

But for a long time the beautiful buildings on the “Hill” have been underused, ever since the other theological partner schools that shared the campus (Bexley Hall and St. Bernard’s) moved to other locations, and the largely residential student population shifted to primarily commuting students.

So with all those empty buildings, including dorms and the large cafeteria, it makes sense that the Divinity School plans to move to a smaller facility in the city, sometime over the next two years. It would be a significant cost savings, while allowing them to invest the funds from the sale in the future of the institution.

Institute for Christian Studies

Later in the day I heard the news about the Institute for Christian Studies (Toronto).

I attended the ICS in the late seventies for my first graduate courses, before I transferred to the University of Guelph for my M.A. in philosophy. While studying at the ICS and during my time in Guelph I worked for the ICS teaching non-credit worldview courses on university campuses in southern Ontario.

It was at the ICS that I received an in-depth exposure to thinking about a Christian worldview, through the institution’s intellectual heritage that could be traced back to the life and thought of Abraham Kuyper.

During my studies at ICS my wife and I lived in a small apartment on the top floor (with roof access), which came with the position of being in charge of janitorial work for the entire building.

I later returned to the ICS in the nineties for my PhD, and taught many adjunct courses in Biblical Studies and Worldview Studies in the Master’s programs. At this point we didn’t live in Toronto, but I commuted to the ICS from St. Catharines a couple days per week.

It was during this time that I was introduced to the work of N. T. Wright, who spoke at the ICS on a number of occasions. Wright’s serious historical and theological interpretation of the New Testament has impacted my vision of the text, including its rootnedness in the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism.

Between the two times I attended the ICS, the school moved from the fourth floor of the building (where I first had classes) to the second floor, and then to the first floor, having sold the greater share of the five-story building they owned in downtown Toronto to investors.

But now, with the investors going out of business, and the option to buy back the entire building being too much at this time (given the price of real estate in Toronto), it makes sense to sell the entire building (including their own share), while continuing to rent one floor. Just as with Colgate Rochester, this would allow them to invest the funds from the sale in the future of the institution.

A Future Orientation

What do these two similar stories tell us about the state of Christian higher education today? What do they tell us about what is really important?

Yes, institutions need buildings with adequate space and facilities to pursue their mission. But these two stories point to the very real need to cut costs and become leaner and more efficient for the sake of the mission.

I have all sorts of fond memories of these two buildings (the beautiful stone towers of CRCDS and the old fourth floor of ICS). But it simply won’t do to focus nostalgically on the past. To be effective and faithful, institutions need to be aware of what serves the mission. So while being deeply grounded in tradition (never forgetting the past), faithful institutions need to be oriented to the present and to anticipate the future.

I am a grateful recipient of the formative intellectual traditions I inherited from both these graduate schools. And I am fully supportive of these ways in which each is preparing to meet future challenges.

The E-Word: Evangelicals and Evolution

I just watched an excellent TEDx Talk (17 minutes long) by a Christian biologist, April Maskiewicz, of Point Loma Nazarene University, on evangelicals and evolution.

She tells her own story of first rejecting Christianity because of the popular narrative that she had to choose between God and evolution (as competing worldviews), then coming to faith in Christ, while being an evolutionist.

She lucidly explains, then compassionately dispels, three myths often held by evangelical Christians about evolution.

Myth #1: All Christians think the same way as I do about evolution.

Myth #2: Evolution means “without a creator.”

Myth #3: If humans evolved from a common ancestor, this makes us less special.

It’s well worth watching.

This is the link to the talk.

Earth Day in the Bible

Today is Earth Day, when we attend to the health of our earthly environment. The first Earth Day was observed in 1970, when the environmental movement was born in the wake of Rachel Carson’s Silent Spring.

The Original Earth Day

But there’s a sense in which Earth Day goes back to Genesis 1, when God looked at what he made and saw that it was good. We could say that was God’s “observance” of Earth Day.

But then came human sin, which brought ruin to the world. We today can understand very well how human evil can taint our earthly environment. But it’s quite an achievement for the ancient author of Genesis to understand how inextricably humans are bound to the earth.

We see the human effect on the earth when we read on in Genesis.

Take the contrast between Genesis 1 and 6. Whereas God had looked at the initial world he made and saw that it was very good (Genesis 1:31), later we are told that when God looked he saw something quite different—that human evil was great on the earth (Genesis 6:5), and that the earth had as a consequence become become corrupted or ruined (Genesis 6:12).

Later, in the New Testament, Paul can talk about not just human beings, but creation itself, groaning in bondage to futility and yearning for liberation (Romans 8). This is something we today can understand with perhaps other levels of meaning than first-century Christians could—we who live in a world of global warming, melting icecaps, toxic waste, bleaching coral reefs, and rapid species extinction due to habitat erosion.

The Pain that Plagues Creation

Just yesterday I was listening to an old song (from the eighties) by Mark Heard, called “The Pain that Plagues Creation.” It’s very appropriate for Earth Day.

Mark Heard was what we might call an alternative Christian singer/songwriter, who was not quite in the mainstream. He died young, and Bruce Cockburn wrote and recorded a song about him called “The Strong Hand of Love” for a tribute album.

Here’s a recording of “The Pain that Plagues Creation,” and you can follow along with the lyrics below.

As this planet falls around the sun
Trapping us in the orbit
Creation groans in unison
Like a race of frightened orphans

The darkness of this raging storm
Is covering up our portals
But a yearning for the light is borne
In the heart of every mortal

Day to day we ache
With the pain that plagues creation
Night to night we lie awake
And await its restoration

Heaven knows our lonely ways
Heaven knows our sorrows
And Heaven knows things that we don’t know
And the joy of eternal tomorrows

But through this glass we dimly see
This world as it was made
Oh and the good we know must surely flow
From the heart of a kind Creator

Refrain

So hold on in this restless age
And do not fear your shadow
Your alternating tears and praise
Are prayers that surely will matter

Refrain

Mark Heard, “The Pain that Plagues Creation”
From the 1983 album Eye of the Storm
© 1983 Bug ’n Bear Music

New Earth Day

Yes, there is a pain that plagues creation—both human beings and the earth and its varied lifeforms. But the Bible envisions a great change coming, an end to pain when tears will be wiped away.

In the book of Revelation, John tells us: “Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth” (21:1). He sees the New Jerusalem (representing the renewed community of believers) descending from heaven, and he hears a voice from the throne declaring God’s permanent dwelling with us on earth, since the curse is removed.

Then comes the amazing announcement: “Behold, I am making all things new” (21:5).

For those (ancient or modern) who know the ruined earth, its hard to take this seriously; so the voice adds: “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.”

Since I’m preaching this Sunday at Community of the Savior (my home church), I’m aware that Revelation 21:1-6 is one of the scheduled lectionary readings, along with Acts 11:1-18, Psalm 148, and John 13:31-35.

It isn’t exactly clear how all these texts fit together—and it isn’t every week that those who organized the lectionary intended all four assigned texts to mutually illumine each other.

But in this case I think the lectionary texts fit together remarkably well.

And that’s what I’m going to try and communicate in my sermon for this Fifth Sunday of Easter (a.k.a. Earth Day Sunday).

And for my Jewish readers this Friday afternoon, Shabbat Shalom!

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Click here for the audio of my sermon (“Enlarging Our Vision: God’s Plan for All Creation”), and click here for the written text.