What follows is an excerpt from my opening convocation speech this fall at Seattle Pacific University called The Upside-Down University. I am talking here about the deeper contributions the Christian university can make for our time of disintegrating culture. I think this applies to thinking Christians anywhere, not just to the university.
Here then are the excerpts:
Lesslie Newbigin says that “what we have to do [in our time] is what the Church Fathers and Augustine had to do in the age when classical culture had lost its nerve and was disintegrating.We have to offer a new starting point for thought.” What an extraordinary notion for us, that the deep purpose for the Christian university is “to offer a new starting point for thought” for a disintegrating culture.
Newbigin goes on to say that the “new starting point for thought” is found in the Scriptures, and that the “determining focus” of the Scriptures is found in Jesus Christ. We have to look deeply into the presuppositions of our culture, and we have to say, no, no, we have another starting point, and out of that we build new assumptions about human flourishing. We build new assumptions about leading our world forward.
Tom Wright says something similar: “Truth is something that happens when genuinely humble people pause long enough before their subject of study to hear and see what is truly going on, rather than inflicting their own theories on it. Truth then comes to expression when they . . . manage to say the new thing, whatever it is, in new and appropriate ways. Universities exist to foster the conditions within which that birthing of truth can take place.”
“To find a new starting point for thought,” says Newbigin. To “manage to say the new thing,” says Wright. What an extraordinary claim we can make for the work of a Christian university in our time. What an upside-down way of going about our business as a university.