Life in the Marketplace of Ideas
The New "Game-Changer" President of Gordon College
Your mother heads a school, the Jackson Preparatory School. Your father was once the president of the PGA. And you've developed a deep specialty in the study of leadership. Has God been preparing you for this calling?
I would not have expected the turn of events that has brought me to Gordon at this particular juncture. It's very unusual for someone to go straight from being a faculty member to being a college President. At the same time, I can look back and see how there have been a number of fundamental steps along the path, ways in which I feel God indeed has prepared me for this moment.
I began a career in higher education not as a faculty member but as a staff assistant, working in the President's office at Dallas Baptist University. In that role, I got to observe a highly effective college president, Gary Cook, up close, day in and day out. I learned the ebb and flow of a college president's life and the many different responsibilities involved in leading a Christian university.
Then I had the opportunity to focus for many years in my academic research on American evangelicalism, and reached conclusions about some of the most effective leaders and leading institutions within American evangelicalism. In my assessment, Gordon College was one of the very best. So it's a tremendous serendipity that my research brought me to the institution that I will now be given the chance to serve.
Mark Noll calls this "the right choice for the right college at the right time." What does it mean for Gordon (as it says in its vision statement) "to prepare the people of God to do the work of God" in a postmodern twenty-first century?
Committed Christians in our culture will have to do a more effective job of bearing witness to their faith in a compelling, convincing manner. That requires us to be, as the Bible says, full of both grace and truth. The order of those terms (from John 1) is actually very significant. We have to be gracious in our interactions with people of different faiths and of no faith at all. They have to know that we are genuinely interested in the truth and advancing human understanding on a range of academic questions.
Gordon is uniquely positioned within American Christianity to bring that commitment to intellectual inquiry and academic rigor, joined to devout Christian commitment and fidelity to the Christian tradition. There are few institutions that have done it as well and for as long a time as Gordon has. Going forward, we're going to have to build on that legacy and build more bridges to institutions that do not share our Christian convictions, and to scholars who don't agree with us theologically. They have a lot to learn from us, and we have a lot to learn from them.
Gordon is multi-denominational and broadly evangelical. You take the helm of a leading evangelical institution of learning at a time when many question whether the center of American evangelicalism can hold. Some wonder what will be the institutions that hold American evangelicalism together. What is the role of educational institutions like Gordon in shaping the future of American Christianity as it evolves and faces its present challenges?
Christian colleges and universities are ground zero for Christian engagement with wider society. There is no institution in the country more focused on the interaction between faith and culture than Christian institutions of higher learning. It's woven into the DNA of what we have to do as educational institutions.
Dr. Timothy Dalrymple is the Associate Director of Content at Patheos, and writes weekly on faith, politics, and culture for Patheos' Evangelical Portal. Follow him at his blog, Philosophical Fragments, on Facebook or on Twitter.