Sunday, March 14, 2010

Wheaton's Eighth President

Three weekends ago, the Board of Trustees announced the election of Dr. Philip Graham Ryken ’88 as the eighth president of Wheaton College. Dr. Ryken is currently the senior minister of the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia. I did not know much about Dr. Ryken prior to this announcement, but I know my way around the Internet, The Record (Wheaton’s student newspaper) published a special issue, and one of my roommates’ and his family are members at Tenth Presbyterian, so I had plenty of resources at my disposal to learn about the president-elect. Please read more about the selection process and Dr. Ryken’s profile at the Presidential Selection Committee’s section of the College website. I would like to here respond to the content of two particular items from the president-elect.

In an interview with Christianity Today soon after the announcement of his election, Dr. Ryken stated, “I want to cultivate a campus-wide community of grace.” I could not be happier to hear our next president so clearly express that desire. Wheaton College has very high standards for its students, and as a result alumni from all disciplines are leaders and innovators in their fields. I am extremely grateful that my professors hold me to such standards. My mind has been stretched so much in the last two and a half years. And I believe that God pleased by our tradition of excellence.

However, because of our standards, Wheaton is inherently susceptible to the temptation to make excellence the ends rather than a means to something greater – the glory of God and the advancement of His Kingdom. My fellow Conservatory students and I are particularly vulnerable to this temptation. Furthermore, our relationships with God often suffer because we find our identity in our craft rather than in Christ. I am blessed to have learned that lesson early in my life (though I admit I still struggle with it at times), but my heart goes out to my friends and acquaintances who have to learn it the hard way while in college. Dr. Ryken said in that interview, “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 look forward to Dr. Ryken’s initiatives on this important issue and how the quality of spiritual life on this campus might increase as students, faculty, staff, and administrators refocus on the Cross.

Secondly, I was intrigued when I found out that Dr. Ryken has written a book on the arts. I secured a copy of Art for God’s Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts and read it over my spring break. This short but thoughtful book is a response the indifferent and sometimes negative view of the arts in modern Christendom. Dr. Ryken begins by acknowledging that in our society, the arts have many manifestations that Christians rightly reject. He then points out that it is impossible to completely avoid using art in daily life (e.g., almost all vocations have some application with an element of creative design). Dr. Ryken writes,
The question becomes, therefore, whether as Christians we will aspire to high aesthetic standards. All too often we settle for something that is functional, but not beautiful. We gravitate toward what is familiar, popular, or commercial, with little regard for the enduring value of artistic excellence.

Dr. Ryken warns that our low standards of excellence is dishonoring to God, undermining of the church’s calling, prophetic of the future of Christianity, and detrimental to our spiritual lives. He writes,
What we need to recover (or possibly discover for the first time) is a full biblical understanding of the arts – not for art’s sake, but for God’s sake.
This last statement is the connection I see to Dr. Ryken’s comments in the Christianity Today interview about excellence and grace.

In the rest of the book, Dr. Ryken lays out three core components of art for God’s sake: goodness, truth, and beauty. I highly recommend that any Christian in any art or art-related discipline read this book. He finishes the book by saying,
We are living in a fallen and broken world; yet for all its ugliness, this world was made by God and will be saved by his grace. Therefore, we should devote our skill to making art for the glory of God, and for the sake of his Son – our beautiful Savior, Jesus Christ.

In summary, I am quite pleased with what I have learned about Dr. Ryken, particularly these two items. I look forward to spending my senior year at Wheaton under his leadership, and also to having an alumnus’s view of his administration in the years after.

This is Rubio, over and out.

*Block quotations from Ryken, Philip Graham. Art for God's Sake: A Call to Recover the Arts. Phillipsburg, New Jersey: P&R Publishing, 2006.