Recent blogs and conversations have prompted me to publish this ancient commencement address of mine at Covenant College in l996. It is a bit dated and I might not write the same address today, but it does reflect my appreciation for Covenant. The honor of giving it was a high point in my life and I am thankful to those at Covenant who instigated the invitation.
MAY 4, 1996
President Brock, Distinguished Guests, Parents, Family Members, and Graduates:
Grace and peace to you in the Lord from the Great Northwest. The saints who have preceded me as Covenant College commencement speakers are a distinguished group of God’s elect, and I am truly humbled to be numbered among them.
For this occasion, permit me to share a few experiences and desires which illustrate why I am so committed to this unique “company of prophets” (2 Kings 2:3, 7) called Covenant College.
It was late September, 1968, Kathy and I were on the Costa Brava in Spain vacationing from our duties with Campus Crusade for Christ in London, England. I was really looking forward to this time on the Mediterranean. I had been battered by humanism in my campus work, and I found myself no longer intellectually capable of ministering effectively. I could not defend my faith, and so I was becoming ashamed of myself; for you see, here I was, a university graduate and a professional campus evangelist and I was just realizing how uneducated I was. Our leader had repeatedly told us that “a person with an experience is never at the mercy of a person with an argument,” but I no longer believed him.
To this day I don’t have a human explanation for what went on inside of me but I determined while on that Spanish beach almost 30 years ago not to be weak-minded and at the mercy of my secular culture concerning my faith in Jesus Christ. I believe the Scriptures teach that intellectual redemption should accompany spiritual redemption. The first purposeful step in my intellectual and spiritual renaissance was to buy and read the novel The Shoes of the Fisherman by Morris West. Now, it’s not much of a story, but it was a revolutionary book for me, for it signaled to me that I was serious about his intellectual and spiritual rebirth. I have treasured that novel for almost 30 years as a turning point in my spiritual life.
This Spanish rebirth of mine would eventually carry me to L’Abri in Switzerland later in 1968, where Kathy and I would spend our first wedding anniversary with Francis and Edith Schaeffer. It would carry me to Covenant Theological Seminary, where I joined the first wave of young Schaefferians in the late 60s and early 70s to enter CTS. And it continues to animate my life to this very day. My Spanish enlightenment was this: It was the desire to redeem my mind as well as my soul and to present my thought-life to be enrolled in the church of my Savior to advance His Kingdom. This is my response to the shield of Covenant College.
Why do I share this private and somewhat embarrassing episode with you? It is because I have spent my adult life trying to get what you Covenant College graduates have already had the blessed opportunity to get—an integrated Christian world-life education. I didn’t come to realize the importance of the mind to the Christian until I was 25 years old and had already finished my undergraduate education. And I realized only then that I had gained little in the way of true education. Rejoice, young brothers and sisters, in your good blessing to be Covenant College graduates who have already begun to craft a Biblical grid through which to view the world.
The Uniqueness of Covenant College
It is my fundamental assertion that Covenant College provides the promise of a uniquely great education. Is it perfect education? Of course not. But it holds the promise of a great education! If I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t have sent my graduating daughter, Karissa, and my freshman daughter, Angela, 2700 miles from Washington State to attend Covenant.
In the summer of 1991, the Case family was visiting several prominent private colleges in the East and Southeast with a view towards enrolling Karissa. We had received very encouraging reactions from these distinguished colleges. We were impressed by the various campus facilities, by the rigor of their curriculums, and by the variety of their programs. And we were at Covenant as our last college before returning to the Northwest. Having been warmly and graciously received by these highly regarded private colleges, Kathy and I hoped and wondered if Covenant would be as impressive by comparison. Well, we quickly and dramatically got our answer, for as soon as Karissa stepped out of the car in front of Carter Hall on that August morning tears of joy came to her eyes. She had found her college home. The other campus facilities, their reputations, their programs, their warm receptions–none of it seemed to matter to Karissa, for she was on hallowed ground, on consecrated ground, on prayed-for ground, when she stepped onto the campus of Covenant College. And the Holy Spirit bore testimony to that fact. Continuing that reaction, not too many weeks ago, your younger daughter, Angela wrote us saying, “Thank you for making it possible to attend Covenant. Covenant has been the best thing to happen to me.”
I believe Covenant College offers the promise to be the best college in America for young Christian scholars. The promise is to be the best, not just a good college, but the best college to send our children. My conviction is based on several premises:
1) First, we orthodox Christians believe that the Bible is the inspired, inerrant and infallible Word of the living God, indispensable for directing our lives in matters of faith and practice (WLC, Q & A, #3). We are children of the “Book of Truth’ (Song 10:21). And we look to that book for the ‘words of eternal life” itself (John 6:68; Rev. 21:27).
2) Second, we orthodox Christian parents believe that it is our obligation to bring up our children in “the discipline and instruction of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4). We frame our family resources around this divine directive.
3) Third, we orthodox Christians believe that all truth, wherever it is found, is God’s truth, and that truth leads inevitably to Jesus Christ, Savior of the world, who is fully revealed to us only in God’s Word (John 14:6).
4) Fourth, convinced of these things, we orthodox Christians must send our children to a place where the Word of God is honored and taught and explained and applied to all areas of life (Deut. 6; 1 Peter 3:15; Titus 2:7-8).
Covenant College is just such a college and it is unique for the following reasons:
1) Covenant College is unique because the denomination which helps fund this college, the Board of Trustees which oversees this college, the administration which directs the programs at this college, and the teachers who instruct at this college all subscribe and submit themselves to the same profound and godly theological statement of faith–Westminster Confession of Faith (WCF)–which has inspired the Body of Christ since 1646! In addition to this confessional standard, all the students who attend this college must profess an active faith in our living Lord. These commitments make Covenant College unique among colleges in America.
2) Covenant College is unique because the Spirit of our living God is obeyed at this college. While other Christian colleges in our county are deciding that accommodation to our secular culture is more profitable and intellectually respectable, Covenant College continues to decide, again and again, to commit itself to the orthodox Biblical truths and to the worldview that has been “entrusted” to Covenant by faithful men of old, as commanded by Paul to Timothy when he wrote,
“Timothy, guard what has been entrusted to your care. Turn away from godless chatter and the opposition of what is falsely called knowledge, which some have professed and in so doing have wandered from the faith” (1 Tim. 6:20-21).
This fight for continued orthodoxy is not easy, but these Covenant men continue to deepen their commitment to the historic faith, to the “entrusted” revealed Word of God, and to making faithfulness to orthodoxy a living reality. As the secular state colleges continue to become frivolous, the private colleges continue to degenerate and our sister Christian colleges continue to capitulate to the secular cultural orthodoxies of our age, Covenant might very well stand alone as a college which takes seriously the redemption of the mind, under the subjection to the Holy Spirit, working through God’s Word, mediated by His ordained servants.
3) Covenant College is unique because it is founded on the medieval model of a university that has served our Lord and our civilization so well, for so long. This is the academic community which was formed to fulfill the godly goal of “learned piety.” (docta pietas, The educational ideal of Petrarch, 1304-1374, the great Italian Renaissance scholar who sought to synthesize classical and Christian learning). The ancient model of the university was built on the Biblical notion that there is an independent, true Reality outside of us. And that education, if it is to be “higher,” must be engaged in the continued search for knowledge of and understanding of that independent true Reality. Furthermore, our claims to truth and knowledge can be tested in the crucible of our God-given rationality. In short, the great colleges in the past have rested on the standards of rationality, knowledge, truth and objectivity. Only a Christian college committed to a God who exists and who has spoken in a propositionally infallible way concerning Reality can lay claim to that grand intellectual heritage. As the Apostle Paul told us, to know God is to move towards “bringing all things in heaven and on earth together under one head, even Christ” (Eph. 1:10; cf, Col. 2:3).
In another sense, Covenant College is a Puritan college (cf, John Sanderson, “Buswell as Churchman,” Presbyterian, Vol. 11, No. 1-2, p. 121) in the sense that it was started only in 1956 by a tiny denomination of less that 5,000 people in fewer than 50 congregations who felt compelled to found a college to train their children in the “fear and admonition of the Lord” (Eph. 6:4) as they sought to define all areas of their lives with Christ being pre-eminent (Col. 1:18). Only 40 years ago this college was started as a new beginning by an old “remnant” (Rom. 11:5) seeking intellectual and theological purity for its young Christian scholars, and yet today it successfully competes with the most prestigious, well-funded and ancient colleges and universities in this country for its students. What blessings we have received from our Lord! What dedication and sacrifice we have received from those who have prepared the way for you graduates! The great names of Covenant College have reverberated around Christian circles for much of this century — Buswell, Rayburn, Belz, Young, Barnes, Sanderson, Soltau, Essenburg, Clark, Barker, and now Brock. This college is a living miracle.
A plea to the Covenant College administrators and faculty
Continue to press for greater orthodoxy in your teaching, a sharper focus on the redeemed mind, and a constantly reforming commitment to living a life of truth. Continue to press our children to the challenge of the sanctified mind in “a crooked and perverse society” (Phil. 2:15). Set your academic standards high and keep them high for the sake of the Church. Create traditions that honor our intellectual and theological and ecclesiastical heritage. The intellectual focus on godliness should be the primary focus of this unique place. Budget your gifts and our contributions to train articulate defenders of the faith.
When we parents send our children to Covenant College we should expect from you a first-rate education that challenges their minds, stirs their souls, and feeds their spirits. In a real sense, our children are our bequest to the Church. Plato tells us in his Symposium (#206) that some parents look to their offspring to give them eternal life. We, of course, reject that Greek pagan notion, but there is a Biblical element of truth in it. We Christians continue to live through our children as we entrust to them the deposit of truth handed down by the Apostles (1 Tim. 6:20-21). And so a place like Covenant College is an eternal incubator for the propagation and maturation of our own testimony. We parents are entrusting our children to you to teach them the higher stewardship of their minds.
A plea to you Covenant College parents (and grandparents)
God has blessed us with a place to train the souls and instruct the minds of our children. So, let us not forget the burden of responsibility for the material needs of Covenant College. Let generosity characterize our giving to this unique place.
The testimony of a Christian businessman
Before I went into business I did a couple of other things. One of my callings was as a young pastor in the old RPC, ES. I served under Bill Leonard, as Village Seven Presbyterian Church was being raised up in Colorado Springs. And then I was one of Don MacNair’s boys in church planting, in my case, in Phoenix, Arizona. After several years I left the pastorate because I no longer sensed a calling, and so I took the opportunity to become the national director of the Christian Action Council in Washington, D.C., in 1976. Eventually, I joined my father’s real estate brokerage firm in Ellensburg, Washington, where my family has lived for the past 16 years.
President Brock asked me to give a sense of how I integrate my Christian faith and convictions into my calling as a businessman. As I thought about his challenge I wasn’t sure where to begin because life is a whole cloth. But let me say this:
*My Christianity affects the way I hire untrained people to give them a fresh start in a new career and to give them an opportunity to provide for themselves. Many times the people don’t work out, and even when they do, it often takes a long time for them to become productive for themselves and the company. And when they do become productive some leave for competitor offices leaving me to hire more new people. It costs me to have this policy but I believe it is my Christian duty to provide an opportunity for some to fulfill the “cultural mandate” (Gen. 2:15) and support themselves and their families (2 Thess. 3:10-12). Five years ago I hired a woman as my secretary who had been on welfare for 8 years without a job when I employed her. She had 3 children by 3 different men and had never been married, and she had a past cocaine problem. As she said at the time, “It was a high risk hire.” Today that lady is my office manager and basically runs my company. God blessed that decision, but it could have turned out otherwise. Even so, I would still need to put myself at risk because my Savior first made Himself vulnerable for my sake.
*My Christianity impacts the active commitment I have to community service and philanthropy and public policy issues.
*My Christianity affects the days my company is open for business — “Never on Sunday.”
*My Christianity impacts the way I share my personal customer and client base with my agents.
*My Christianity impacts the way I press my co-workers to further their education and training, and to take paid time-off for their families.
*My Christianity tells me not to “pant after the possessions of others” (Calvin, Institutes, II viii, 45). Therefore, amazingly we Christian businessmen should seek to help our competitors keep their possessions, and are not to seek their elimination from the marketplace. So I share with competitors when they have a need that I can fill (cf, Also, WLC, Q & A 140-142, Rom. 13:7; Gal. 6:10; Luke 6:30).
My Christianity chastens and comforts me when I “grieve the Holy Spirit” (Eph. 4:30) by failing to practice Biblical Christianity in my workplace. The Christian world-view is a matter of deep and costly integrity, and often it is not easy or profitable. And yet I must remember that my ultimate accounting is not in the marketplace but in the holy place.
Several years ago I was reading Russell Kirk, the Roman Catholic philosopher, essayist and political theorist, and I was moved by his lamenting that in the American business community, which is so very practical and technical and prosperous, there is no group of business people being equipped for intellectual and political leadership. Kirk said this educational deficiency resulted in the American business person being “inhumane,” in that the contemporary business person does not know our “true nature” as human beings and our “duty” as human beings (“The Inhumane Businessman,” The Intemperate Professor, l965).
Well, Covenant’s entrusted gospel tells us that our “true nature” is defined by our bearing the image of God, and our “duty” is to “glorify God and fully to enjoy Him for ever” (WCF, Q & A, 1). The Bible instructs us as to who we are, where we are, what is out there, and how we are to relate to it. The model Christian businessman of old was a leader schooled in both the best Christian literature (studia divinitatis), as well as the great classical literature (studia humanitatis). The businessmen knew the Scriptures, the Fathers of the Church (i.e., Augustine, Anselm, Aquinas, etc.), the great theological formulations (e.g., Westminster Confession of Faith, Heidelberg Catechism, Canons of Dort, Apostles’ Creed, Nicene Creed, Augsburg Confession, Thirty-nine Articles, etc.), and an application of all this transcendental and ethical teaching. These ancient captains of the marketplace gained this deep and humane perspective because they knew their Aquinas, Anselm, Augustine, and their Dante, Virgil, Cicero and Plato, to say nothing of their Paul and Moses. But not in today’s business education climate.
I teach both an upper division business principles course and a business ethics course at a state university in Washington and most of my student are seniors. I use some of Covenant’s Dick Chewning’s book on business ethics. These young men and women, in my classes are just months, even weeks away from the post-graduate workforce, and, more often than not, they are not even acquainted with their Plato or Aristotle or Locke or Adam Smith, to say nothing of their Luther or Calvin, or even more tragic, of their Jesus. These are not “humanely” educated people fit for leadership–they are vocationally trained technicians, programmed for prosperity but not posterity.
Covenant’s program is designed to produce a different quality of individual. Because of its broadly humane education, the Covenant curriculum should require each graduate to come to terms with these ancient acquisitions of higher education. The results will be the following:
1) Covenant graduates should have a nodding acquaintance with all the great thinkers in the Western tradition, as well as an intimate knowledge of Biblical thinking.
2) Covenant graduates should be able to write decent prose, like business letters and reports, perhaps a guest editorial or essay, or even a poem or a play (Eph. 5:19; 2 Cor. 10:10-11).
3) Covenant graduates should possess an orderly and logical mind that has been trained to appreciate and understand the created world’s order and its coherent relationship with its omnipotent Creator. In short, Covenant graduates should recognize the cause and effect relationship God has instituted in His creation (Col. 1:16-17).
4) Covenant graduates should have creative imaginations and souls that harmonize with the beauty and wonder of God’s personal creation as expressed in the love of artistic achievement (Eph. 5:19; 1 Cor. 14:26).
5) Covenant graduates should know how to communicate the gospel of our Lord to their generation in a dialect that is winsomely and cogently reasoned and modeled (1 Peter 3:15).
6) Covenant graduates should exhibit the guarantee of integrity and ethical action as they seek to apply Biblical principles to everyday life (Ps. 26:1-7).
7) Covenant graduates should have an unquenchable curiosity and desire for the truth, wherever it might be found. For to find the truth is to find the Lord of Covenant College (John 8:32; Warfield, “All truth belongs to us as followers of Christ, the Truth; let us at length enter into our inheritance.” Selected Writings, 11, p. 465.)
8) Covenant graduates should know the human race, as well as themselves, which will give them a historical and philosophical and theological perspective about current affairs (Acts 17:22-31).
To the Quest graduates
Many of you Covenant graduates are not traditional graduates because you are older and have family and vocational responsibilities. You Quest graduates, above all, know the God-given privilege of holding in your hand that very special document signed by President Brock and Chairman Belz attesting to your intellectual competencies and perseverance. I salute you because this day was not easy; the sacrifices were great and the rewards may have seemed intangible at times. But I say again, Rejoice, you have been found worthy. You should know President Brock takes special pride in you. I know because Frank told me,
“Bob, not all our graduates are of the traditional age and circumstances. We have many graduating in the Quest program who are older and have chosen Covenant College from among many alternatives. I am particularly proud of these folk.”
To the traditional graduates
Of course many of you graduates are the traditional type that have to come to Covenant right out of high school and have stayed the course for 4 years. Many of you owe a great debt of gratitude to your parents and to your local congregation and to your PCA presbytery for helping you get through. It is you that I envy the most, for you young graduates have a unique Christian framework from which to view the world around you–and an entire life time to work it through.
When I was in graduate school, I came to a thinker who was very difficult for me to understand at first reading. I went to my professor lamenting that I feared I would never understand this philosopher. My professor said to me, “Don’t worry about it. The study of great ideas and great thinkers is a slow process that takes a lifetime. It is as if you meet this thinker on the street for the first time, and all you can do is quickly shake hands with him, saying, “Hi, my name of Bob Case. Nice to meet you, Thomas Aquinas.” And you go your way, having met this thinker and having established a superficial relationship. But you have met him and it is a start on a lifetime relationship that may get more intimate as time goes on and you meet again and again.”
You are singularly blessed because you, like my daughters Karissa and Angela, have been offered a consistent and coherent Christian world-view from many different teachers during your four year Arabia interlude (Gal. 1:17-18) at Covenant College.
To all the graduates
A word to all you graduates–whatever your major. You will be told by our society that change is the one fundamental truth of modern life. You will be told that to be effective, to be successful, to be relevant, you must be flexible, you must tolerate, you must adapt for the times (mutatis mutandis). Let me suggest to you, your Covenant College education grounds you in the “first things” (cf, Reid, Essay on the Active Powers of the Human Mind, 1788, and Hadley Arkes, First Things, 1986). the unchanging principles, the “permanent things” (T.S. Eliot, Thoughts After Lambeth, 1938, and Russell Kirk, Enemies of the Permanent Things, 1969), the eternal truths which will support you and secure you in today’s world (There is nothing new under the sun, Eccles. 1:9). Covenant College has given you a “canopy of meaning stretching over the whole noisy human enterprise” (In the colorful words of David Wells, God in the Wasteland, p. 174). While those around you are bewitched by the new and consumed by the shallow, you can root your lives in what you have learned at Covenant. You may not be as technically advanced as those contemporaries of yours who have graduated from vocationally oriented colleges, but you will know how to analyze ideas concepts and how to decipher the “signs of the times” (Matt. 16:3). You know the unchanging condition of the human heart and mind, and the permanent power of the created world.
Through classroom instruction, special lectures, chapel services, and colleague interaction, Covenant College should have exposed you to “the best that is known and thought in the world” (Matthew Arnold, “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time,” 1869). I join that great Jewish father in the faith, Jeremiah, when he spoke to you thusly,
“Stand at the crossroads and look; ask for the ancient paths, ask where the good way is, and walk in it, and you will find rest for your souls” (Jer. 6:16).
You have been taught the “ancient paths” and the. “good way” of the Lord God at Covenant College.
Finally, a plea to you Covenant graduates
Covenant College has introduced you to an extraordinary array of great and profound thinkers all within a Bible framework, whatever your major. It is a unique and “awe-inspiring” education you have just received. You have learned to make scholarship serve the cause of Christ and truth. Covenant College has fulfilled its mission to you. The mission is now yours.
Continue to bring all your “thoughts captive to the obedience of Christ” (2 Cor. 10:5) as you attempt to be an “aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing” (2 Cor. 2:15). Come forth and join us as we, together, seek to live our lives pleasing before the face of our sovereign God.
God bless your efforts (Numbers 6:25).