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This blog site will feature essays, columns and musings that deal with the intersection of Christianity and journalism and the American Songbook.

The uniqueness of Covenant College (speech: Covenant College Parents Weekend)

Covenant Parents Weekend
October 10, 1998

As a parent and a college instructor, 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 Kathy and I didn’t think so, we wouldn’t have sent our daughters, Karissa, and Angela, 2700 miles from home to attend Covenant.

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 (it is already a very good college), but the best college to send our children.1 And that is because Covenant College is uniquely outstanding for several reasons:

1) Covenant College is unique because the denomination which helps fund this college, the Board of Trustees which oversees this college, the key administrators who direct the programs at this college, and the faculty who instruct at this college all subscribe and submit themselves to the same profound and godly theological statement of Biblical faith—Westminster Confession of Faith—written in 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 all the 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 respectable, Covenant College continues to decide, again and again, to re-commit itself to the orthodox Biblical truths and to the Reformational world-view that has been “entrusted” to Covenant by faithful men of old, as commanded by Paul to Timothy in 1 Tim. 6:20-21.

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 in their lives. As the secular state colleges continue to collapse, 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 subjection to the Holy Spirit, working through God’s Word, mediated by His ordained servants.

3) Covenant College is unique because it reflects 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.”2 The great colleges in the past have rested on the standards of rationality, 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–Christ (Eph. 1:10; Col. 2:3).

Yet in another sense, Covenant College is a Puritan college,3 in the sense that it was started only in 1956 as an act of faithful obedience by a tiny denomination of less that 5000 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“4 as they sought to define all areas of their lives with Christ being pre-eminent.5 Only 40 years ago this college was started as a new beginning by an old “remnant,”6 seeking intellectual and theological purity for it’s 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 dedication and sacrifice we have received from the great names of Covenant College who have prepared the way for our graduates.7 What blessings we have received from our Lord. This college is a living miracle!

When we parents send our children to Covenant College we should expect 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.8 We Christians continue to live through our children as we entrust to them the deposit of truth handed down by the Apostles.9 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 these Covenant brothers and sisters in the Lord to teach them the higher stewardship of their minds. So the faculty and administration should continue to press our children to the challenge of the sanctified mind in “a crooked and perverse society” (Phil. 2:15). The faculty and administration should set their academic standards high and keep them high for the sake of the Church. They should create traditions that honor our intellectual and theological and ecclesiastical heritage.10

Covenant’s program is designed to produce a different quality of individual. Because of its broadly humane and Christian education, the Covenant curriculum should require each graduate to come to terms with the ancient acquisitions of higher education. If it does so:

1) Covenant graduates should have a nodding acquaintance with the great thinking 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.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 the omnipotent-sovereign Creator.12

4) Covenant graduates should have creative imaginations and souls that harmonize with the beauty and wonder of God’s personal creation as expressed in their love of artistic achievement.13

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.14

6)Covenant graduates should exhibit integrity and ethical action as they seek to apply Biblical principles to everyday life.15

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.16

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.17

Our children will be told by society that change is the one fundamental truth of modem life. They will be told that to be effective, to be successful, to be relevant, they must be flexible, they must tolerate, they must adapt for the times.18

Let me suggest to you parents, our children’s Covenant College education should ground them in the “first things,”19 the unchanging principles, the “permanent things,”20 the eternal truths which will support them and secure them in today’s world.21

Covenant College will give them a “canopy of meaning stretching over the whole noisy human enterprise.”22

While those around them are bewitched by the new and consumed by the shallow, our students can root their lives in what they have learned at Covenant.23

Through classroom instruction, special lectures, mission opportunities, chapel services, and colleague interaction Covenant College should have exposed them to “the best that is known and thought in the world.”24

Jeremiah spoke to us when he said:

“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).

Our kids have been taught the “ancient paths” and the “good way” of the Lord God at Covenant College.
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 our responsibility for the needs of Covenant College. Let generosity characterize our commitment to this unique place. We parents are the battalions of support for Covenant. There is a bit of godly irony here. Many of our children who have attended Covenant and benefited most by its excellent education, are still in graduate school or are starting families and vocations with all the expense and time commitment these endeavors rightly take. And many of our children do not appropriately appreciate the outstanding education they received here. We parents, most of us not alums and therefore not recipients of Covenant’s education, we parents who paid for the private education fully realize how critical it was for our children to attend this place, even if for a season they don’t. We are the ones that have the sustaining obligation to repay the Covenant community for the education of our children. There are lots of ways to contribute to the educational mission of Covenant College and I would offer that it is our responsibility to be receptive to suggestions how we might help, but also to offer suggestions as to how we might, individually and as a group of beholden Christians, assist Covenant College in As God given task to educate the Church.
——————
1 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 (Westminster Larger Catechism, Q & A #3). We, you and I, are children of the ‘Book of Truth.’ (Dan. 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 contained in God’s infallible Word. 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, the Savior of the world, who is fully revealed to us only in God’s infallible Word (John 14:6, “Jesus said, ‘I am the truth.’”). 4) Fourth, convinced of these things, we orthodox Christians must send our children to a place where the infallible Word of God is honored and taught and explained and applied to all areas of life (Deuteronomy 6; 1 Peter 3:15; Titus 27-8).
2 docta pietas: The educational ideal of Petrarch (1304-1374), the great Italian Renaissance scholar who sought to synthesize classical and Christian learning.
3 See John Sanderson’s article on J. Oliver Buswell, “Buswell as Churchman,” Presbvterion, Vol. II, No. 1-2, p. 121.
4 Eph. 6:4.
5 Col. 1:18.
6 Rom. 11:5.
7 Buswell, Rayburn, Beiz, Young, Barnes, Sanderson, Soltau, Essenburg, Clark, Barker, and now Brock.
8 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 here.
9  Tim. 6: 20-21.
10 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 businessman or woman does not know our “true nature’ as human beings and our “duty” as human beings (“The Inhumane Businessman,” The Intemperate Professor, 1965).
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.” (Westminster Larger Catechism, 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 humanitatis), 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. I am indebted to Russell Kirk for this panoramic view of the humane businessman tradition.). But not in today’s business education climate.
11 Eph. 5:19; 2 Cor. 10:10-11.
12Col. 1:16-17.
13Eph. 5:19; 1 Cor. 14:26.
141 Peter 3:15.
15Ps. 26:1-7.
16As the great Warfield of Princeton said, “All truth belongs to us as followers of Christ, the Truth; let us at length enter into our inheritance.” Shorter Selected Writings of Warfield, 11, , p. 465. “You shall know the truth, and the truth shall set you free” (John 8:32).
17Acts 17:22-31.
18mutatis mutandis.
19 See Thomas Reid, Essay on the Active Powers of the Human Mind (1788), and Hadley Arkes, First Things (1986).
20 T. S. Eliot, “Thoughts After Lambeth” (1938), and Russell Kirk, Enemies of the Permanent Things 1969).
21 There is “nothing new under the sun” (Eccles. 1:9).
22 In the colorful words of David Wells, God in the Wasteland, p. 174.
23 You may not be as technically advanced as those contemporaries of yours who have graduated from vocationally-oriented colleges, but you know how to analyze ideas and 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.
24 Matthew Arnold, “The Function of Criticism at the Present Time,” (1869).

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