In God’s providence, this year’s Trinity Evangelical Divinity School Alumnus of the Year receives his recognition in the midst of another celebration.
The 2013–14 academic year marks the fiftieth year of the beginning of the transformation from a small, denominational seminary into a large, internationally recognized evangelical theological institution. It was during the early years of this time that our recipient both graduated from (1967) and taught at Trinity (1969–78).
Born in 1939 in Bulawayo, Southern Rhodesia (now Zimbabwe), Dr. David F. Wells spent most of his childhood running around the bush and playing rugby. The second of two children, David’s father, Archie, served as a district commissioner and also sat on the High Court there (the equivalent of a governor and Supreme Court judge in the States), while his mother, Jessica, managed their house situated in the vast grassy woodlands of southern Africa.
“There was no civilization there,” Wells says. “My mother sometimes helped in my dad’s office, but there were no businesses or anything like that around. We were really out in the bush and, in fact, never had electricity or indoor plumbing. Cooking was done on a wood stove.”
In 1957, after graduating from boarding school, David went off to university in Cape Town, training to become an architect. It was there, as a radical student flirting with Marxist thought, that he found himself confronted with the gospel of Jesus Christ.
In those days, many universities would put on a “mission” and invite a “commissioner” to make a case for Christianity, during the course of which the speaker would deal with the various pressing questions of the day. On this particular occasion, John Stott was the mission’s representative, and it was through his preaching and teaching that God called David Wells to follow him. Almost immediately, Wells recalls, his vocational desires shifted toward the ministry, particularly toward missionary work.
This desire prompted David’s move to the United Kingdom in order to pursue a bachelor of divinity (today’s master of divinity) at the University of London. Shortly after his arrival in the city, David sought out the man whom God had used to change his life’s direction, and Stott promptly invited him to stay with him in the rectory of All Souls Church during the course of his studies. This mentoring relationship, which deeply affected Wells throughout his life, is what also led David to Trinity.
After being ordained in the Conservative Congregational Christian Conference and finishing his divinity degree at the University of London in 1968, David and his American wife, Jane (they married in 1965, having met at Francis and Edith Schaeffer’s L’Abri), moved to Chicagoland to attend Trinity, per Stott’s recommendation. By this time, Wells’ desire to serve as a missionary abroad had been supplanted by a desire to serve the church through academia. David often found himself at the top of his class at the University of London (competing regularly with his classmate and longtime friend Os Guinness), and so he discovered his giftedness in doing theology. At Trinity in 1966–67, David fondly recalls the faculty being “really extraordinary,” from whom he received a “terrific education.” While focusing on church history in his master of theology program, Wells spent the majority of time working on John Calvin’s doctrine of predestination.
From Trinity, Wells went on to Manchester University in England, where he completed the requirements for a PhD in an astonishing three years. While at Manchester, David received an unexpected call inviting him to teach at TEDS.
“I never thought that I would get invited back to Trinity,” Wells says. “But it was a welcomed surprise.”
Just a few years before the second round of Kenneth Kantzer’s hand-picked team came on to teach at TEDS in the early 1970s, Kantzer, with John Warwick Montgomery’s blessing (then head of the church history department), asked Wells to teach in 1969 (first as professor of church history, then as chair of the church history department, then finally as chair of the systematic theology department in 1977). In so doing, David joined the ranks of those who, with Kantzer, Arnold T. Olson, H. Wilbert Norton, and Harry Evans, dreamt of and put into the practice the great experiment that would become Trinity Evangelical Divinity School.
Wells resonated deeply with that vision of an academically superior graduate seminary that was unswervingly faithful to orthodox Christianity, where gospel-centered instruction was at the heart of the curriculum, where godly and well-trained professors formed students to be faithful preachers and committed to the evangelistic mission of the church. It was a broad ecumenical vision, in line with the central convictions and priorities of historic Christianity, as found in the Bible, the early creeds, and the doctrinal confessions of the Protestant Reformation.
“Both as a student and especially as a faculty member, there was a deep sense of exuberance about a Trinity education,” Wells recalls. “It was attempting to accomplish something that had not been tried previously, at least among evangelical free churches.”
“And there was no guarantee that this experiment in service to the evangelical church at large would endure.”
This broad ecumenical vision—service to the global evangelical church that cut across denominational lines—has perhaps influenced David’s work more deeply than anything else. His academic career, which spanned nearly a decade at Trinity before he went on to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in 1979, has seen a commitment to institutions that exist to advance the kingdom of God across the world, regardless of denominational affiliation. His writing career, in which he has authored more than twenty books and co-authored or edited many more, embodies this same spirit.
Fewer names are more closely associated with incisive and critical analyses of the intersection of evangelical Christianity and culture than David F. Wells. Yet, he does not consider himself primarily a critic of evangelicalism.
“I see myself primarily as a proponent of reformational Protestantism,” Wells says. “I see a waning and a denying of the very elements that have always been important to evangelicals.”
And so we see the impetus for the trajectory David’s writings have taken. With the publication of No Place for Truth, or, Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? in 1993, Wells sparked a coalition of like-minded reformational Protestants to face the challenge of the evangelical church in America—the abandonment of its historical and theological roots for the pragmatic naturalism of the world.
That coalition generated a conference and eventual declaration of faith—the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals (1994) and the Cambridge Declaration (1996). From No Place for Truth, Wells went on to publish in this “series” God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (1995); Losing Our Virtue: Why the Church Must Recover Its Moral Vision (1998); Above All Earthly Pow’rs: Christ in a Postmodern World (2005); and, finally, The Courage to Be Protestant: Truth-Lovers, Marketers, and Emergents in the Postmodern World (2008). All of these served to critique the evangelical landscape, with the express purpose of calling his beloved church to return to the historic faith of classical evangelicalism—one marked by doctrinal seriousness, as opposed to the new movements of the marketing church.
But this was not to be his last word on the subject. Just this year, Wells put the capstone on his long-running critical call to action with the publication of God in the Whirlwind: How the Holy-love of God Reorients Our World (Jan. 2014). To his mind, this book is his most important work to date.
“God in the Whirlwind was in a way a response to the critics that criticized me for never offering a solution,” David says.
At first, Wells was seeking to answer the question, why is the theological character of the church disappearing? No Place for Truth was his answer. But more work was to be done. How has the culture shaped our horizons? The other books mentioned above continued to unpack his answers to that question. But with God in the Whirlwind, “the hardest book I have ever written,” Wells sought to provide some sort of way forward from the potential analysis-paralysis.
When focusing only on the analytical, you may feel like you are mastering the subject, and thus you can keep your distance from it. “But when you’re writing on the greatness of God and his character—the more you think about and formulate it—the more you realize there are depths you will never plumb,” says Wells. “I found myself always standing before God as a pauper.”
What is more, a renewed vision of God’s character is the “cure for the shallow theology we find at times in evangelicalism, with its weightless God and sentimental gospel,” Wells says. “The way forward is for evangelicals to recapture a God-centered, God-fearing, and God-honoring life of the church,” he explains. “Nothing else gives better shape to the Christian life than the holy love of God.”
Today, David serves as distinguished senior research professor at Gordon-Conwell since 2008, after serving as the Andrew Mutch Distinguished Professor of Historical and Systematic Theology for seventeen years prior to that. In addition to teaching and writing, Dr. Wells has served on the boards of several international ministries, including The Rafiki Foundation, an organization that establishes orphanages and schools in Africa, with the express purpose of helping Africans know God and raise their standard of living. For a number of years, he was a member of the Lausanne Committee for World Evangelization, its theology working group and its planning committee for the World Congress that was held in Manila in 1989. He has also worked to provide theological education and basic preaching tools for pastors in developing countries for some time.
With more than fifty years in service to Christ and his church, Dr. David F. Wells was selected for the TEDS Alumnus of the Year award because he by God’s grace embodies the core values of Trinity International University: Christ-centeredness, Comprehensive Education, Community, Church Connectedness, and Cultural Engagement.
Please welcome the Chicago Suzuki Institute to TIU starting on Saturday, June 28th for their 29th year on campus! The camp will be in the following buildings; McLennen, Gundersen, Waybright, Carlson, Trinity Hall, ATO Chapel, ATO classrooms, Kantzer 141 and Aldeen. The last day of camp will be Sunday, July 6th.
Please email Katherine Goehrke, Director of Conference Services, at email@example.com or by phone at 847-317-6406 with any questions.
The Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) held its annual meeting in Baltimore on June 10–11, and Trinity President David S. Dockery was honored with two awards during the course of events.
On Wednesday morning, LifeWay Christian Resources President Thom Rainer presented Dockery with the Holman Christian Standard Bible Award, the highest honor that LifeWay bestows—and a rare occurrence, as well. This is the second HCSB Award that LifeWay has given, doing so only when they find that “rare individual who has honored the Word of God in a significant way.”
Rainer, speaking during the LifeWay report on the Convention Floor, said the award recognizes Dr. Dockery “for a life dedicated to serving the Lord, his churches, and the Southern Baptist Convention, through the preaching and teaching of the gospel.” He went on to say that Dockery’s “speaking and proclamation of the Word are uncompromising. And his academic and statesman leadership is known across the country and around the world.”
Later that day, during its alumni luncheon, Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary (MBTS) announced that Dockery has been named the recipient of their annual Distinguished Denominational Service Award, which is given to individuals who have shown extraordinary leadership within and tireless service to the SBC. Additionally, award recipients have proven to be faithful supporters of and dear friends to Midwestern Seminary (Dr. Dockery has served at MBTS as distinguished professor of theology and Baptist studies, occasional lecturer and conference speaker, as well as a “dear friend” to President Jason K. Allen).
President Allen went on to say that “in this generation, Dr. Dockery has emerged as a leading statesman in the Southern Baptist Convention. He is a gifted theologian, an accomplished leader in Christian higher education, and, most especially, a man of God. He is exceedingly qualified for this high honor, and it is my honor to bestow it on him.”
Dockery said these recognitions were “incredibly humbling and most meaningful. I want to express my genuine appreciation to all of those at LifeWay and Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary who were involved in these decisions.”
During his first official week as Trinity’s president, David S. Dockery brought his first major report to the Board of Regents during their meetings on June 5–6. In that address, he shared his understanding of the president’s role and the role of the Board, and talked through the initial phases of a new vision for the University moving forward. The goal for this discussion was for the Board to affirm and bless Dockery’s vision for Trinity so that the work of developing a new strategic plan can begin.
“We trust this plan will have some connection and continuity with the plan that was presented in 2012,” Dockery said. “Though it will be a rather different plan, one that I expect to be bold and far-reaching, one that only the Lord can help us accomplish.”
Inspired by William Carey‘s challenge—”Expect great things from God; attempt great things for God”—Dockery expressed his desire to “take the lead, initiate ideas and plans, articulate a compelling vision with a clarity to develop shared vision, shared goals, and a shared future.” This led into a further unpacking of the importance of having a vision, the role a strategic plan has in the enacting of that vision, identifying effective planning processes that serve the vision in the University’s day-to-day operations, and, the first step in all of this, thinking creatively and strategically about how to frame a plan for Trinity’s preferred future.
The dreams for Trinity that followed in his board presentation ranged across eight large sectors of the University: strategic initiatives; institutional identity and mission; the role of the Board of Regents; administration and operations; academics; student life; advancement and university relations; and facilities. Several of the highlights include:
- Prioritizing enrollment, retention, and support services.
- Creatively, consistently, and coherently communicating the Trinity story.
- Exploring a new, clear vision for Trinity’s future—one that can be embraced by all.
- Establishing and articulating with clarity the identity of Trinity International University.
- Investing in institutional research, which will help guide decision making in a way that is primarily, though not entirely, data driven.
- Strengthening the administration through mission-focused and collaborative leadership, looking to ensure effective and efficient oversight of the University.
- Conceptualizing Trinity’s academics afresh so as to better reflect the reality of what it means to be a comprehensive university.
- Exploring dual appointments for some faculty across the University.
- Looking at the possibilities for developing new academic programs and centers of focus.
- Strengthening student life programs.
- Beginning the work to plan a large and major comprehensive capital campaign.
- Deepening and expanding the work with alumni.
- Exploring opportunities to improve the quality of facilities and enhancing the look and function of the Deerfield campus for the good of the students, staff, and faculty.
These are just a handful of the forward-looking ideas for Trinity that President Dockery outlined during the board meetings this week, and hopefully provide a small taste of the sorts of things that he will begin speaking about across the many aspects of the Trinity International University community.
Please join us in prayer for Trinity’s students, faculty, staff, board, and administration as we all seek to advance the mission of the University to “educate men and women to engage in God’s redemptive work in the world by cultivating academic excellence, Christian faithfulness, and lifelong learning.”
This summer, we will be doing a series on TIU Student Hangouts. Get to know Alex, Michael, and Megan—our student contributors who will share about why they love these places!
by Michael Smith, Digest staff writer
“Dona nobis, dona nobis pacem.”
“Grant us peace” softly concluded Schubert’s Mass No. 2 and first half of the TIU concert choir’s spring concert on Sunday, May 4. The concert was the last of the year for Trinity’s school of music.
The mass, which comprised the entire first half of the concert, is separated into six movements (spanning about a half hour). The choir was accompanied by an eleven-piece orchestra and featured five soloists: TIU seniors, mezzo soprano Kyrri Schober, soprano Naomi Sorensen, and baritone Steve Durgin, and TIU juniors, bass Connor Drewes, and tenor Shawn Selagea.
The second portion of the concert featured pieces from the choir’s tour repertoire, including a motet by Bach, a modern piece by Eric Whitacre, and a hymn setting arranged by TIU concert choir conductor Dr. Paul Satre.
The last concert of the year tends to be a bittersweet time for members of Trinity’s three music ensembles. While they are glad to be able to share what they have worked on all semester with their friends and families, it is also affected by the imminent departure of the seniors in the group.
Durgin, who has been in choir since his freshman year, valued his time in the ensemble.
“Choir has been, for me, a family within the family of Trinity,” Durgin said. “I feel a special bond with this body of worshipful musicians. Choir has given me an opportunity to train as a minister and to travel around both the country and the world. It provides an opportunity to cultivate discipline, pursue unity, and commit to something beyond ourselves.”
For Durgin, choir was well worth the hours of practice, and the experience helped to define his Trinity experience.
“I felt deep joy and thankfulness to be a part of something so beautiful,” Durgin said. “I will miss finishing our concerts by giving the benediction through song.”
The choir was also honored to be a part of the celebration of God’s work through the seminary school as they had the opportunity to sing in the TEDS 50th anniversary service on May 1. They will finish their year with performances at both the University Convocation Service on May 16 and the Undergraduate Commencement to be held the following day.
Click here (and then the “On Demand” tab) to watch a recording of the concert choir’s performance from May 4 as well as past concerts from the school of music.
Professor of Church History and the History of Christian Thought Doug Sweeney delivered the following address at the December 2013 TEDS Commencement. Given that this academic year is just a week from fading away, graduates, faculty, and staff alike would do well to remember that “the Word of the Lord endures forever.”
Congratulations, friends. This is a marvelous accomplishment. I know I speak for everyone who is dressed like me tonight when I say that we are supremely proud of you. We understand how hard you’ve worked. We’re the ones who piled it on! And as we’ve helped you reach this goal, our respect for you has grown, our gratitude to God for your gifts and diligence has deepened, and our excitement about how God will use your life in years to come is nearly impossible to contain. Thanks be to God for his provision during your time here at Trinity—and his willingness to employ you as laborers in his vineyard.
You’ve learned enough by now to know how much you don’t know, right?
If I had a dollar for every time a first-year student here at TEDS confessed her fears about fitting in, or his feelings of inadequacy to thrive as a scholar here, or a sense of insecurity when sitting next to peers who seemed more gifted or prepared, I could pay for tonight’s buffet. First-year students often feel as though they’re drinking from a fire hose, and sitting next to people who seem to be getting every drop. You graduates have learned by now that no one gets it all. Your anxiousness has waned. But I wonder if even now you feel intimidated, overwhelmed by the study of God and his world. You’ve learned enough by now to know how much you don’t know, right? You may have entered Trinity feeling pretty good about yourself and your knowledge of divinity. You may have been pretty sure about what was wrong in the church you came from, how you were going to fix it and improve upon your elders. If you majored in Bible in college, you may have arrived pretty sure that you were right about theology and that your friends were wrong. But now you’ve probably realized what a friend of mind likes saying to me: “You’re pretty dumb for a smart guy.” You really don’t know it all. You don’t even know the half of it. In fact, you’ve barely scratched the surface of the knowledge of God and the world.
If I’m right about your sense of intellectual humility (and even if I’m not, and you’re now too high on yourself), I hope you’ll listen closely to what follows. I have some parting words of encouragement that I really want you to hear. And I’m confident that I’m speaking for nearly everyone on the faculty.
FIRST, remember what Dean Tiénou said to you when you began. Not even those in the MDiv, the so-called “masters of divinity,” are meant to master divinity. You’re to be mastered by divinity, conformed to the mind of Christ. You’re to take His yoke upon you, to live your lives and do your work beneath the cross of Christ—under the Word of God. The artists of Reformation Germany depicted this notion beautifully. They painted dozens of pictures of Martin Luther, Philip Melanchthon, and other evangelical leaders kneeling beneath the cross of Christ, often with Scripture or their most cherished theology books in hand. They illustrated what Luther called the “theology of the cross.” “The cross alone is our theology,” Luther declared boldly on behalf of Protestant pastors, insisting that believers kneel humbly at the condescension of God in Jesus Christ and holy Scripture. Many are tempted to make an end-run around the cross of Christ, seeking allegedly higher, seemingly more sophisticated routes to so-called genuine spirituality (“theologies of glory,” as Luther liked to say). But as Paul wrote in the second half of 1 Corinthians 1, there simply is no other route to God than Jesus and the cross. “[T]he word of the cross,” Paul wrote by inspiration of God,
. . . is to those who are perishing foolishness, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and the cleverness of the clever I will set aside.’ Where is the wise man? Where is the scribe? Where is the debater of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of the world? For since in the wisdom of God the world through its wisdom did not come to know God, God was well-pleased through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For indeed Jews ask for signs, and Greeks search for wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to Jews a stumbling block, and to Gentiles foolishness, but to those who are the called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.
Paul continued in this vein,
When I came to you, brethren, I did not come with superiority of speech or of wisdom, proclaiming to you the testimony of God. For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified. And I was with you in weakness and in fear and in much trembling. And my message and my preaching were not in persuasive words of wisdom, but in demonstration of the Spirit and of power, that your faith should not rest on the wisdom of men, but on the power of God.
So what does this mean for us? It means that evangelical ministry has always been made effective in the most important ways by the gospel and the Bible, not scholarly pretension. You’re not smart enough to advance the kingdom of God by cleverness (or good looks, or winsomeness). You never will be smart enough. “We have this treasure in jars of clay,” as Paul reminded the Corinthians, to demonstrate that the light we share of the knowledge of the glory of the Lord in Jesus Christ has come “from God and not from us.” We’re not meant to be smart enough to take the spotlight from the Lord. Efforts to steal the gospel limelight lead to disaster.
“We are beggars. This is true,” were Luther’s final words.
Did you know that some of the greatest thinkers in the history of the church died with feelings of intellectual inadequacy? Thomas Aquinas, for example, had a vision near the end of his life that put an end to his scholarship. He left his massive Summa Theologica unfinished. “The end of my labors has come,” he said. “All that I have written appears to be as so much straw after the things that have been revealed to me.” Implored by his secretary, Reginald, to resume his life of scholarship, Thomas replied firmly, “I can write no more. I have seen things that make my writings like straw.” Martin Luther’s final words, “we are beggars, this is true,” carry much the same message. In a note about the profundity of the things of the Word of God, Luther scribbled this from his deathbed on the day before he died: “Let nobody suppose he understands holy Scripture well enough if he has not served the church for a hundred years alongside such prophets as Elijah and Elisha, and alongside John the Baptist, Christ, and the Apostles . . . . We are beggars. This is true.” That is, the best position for people who would know and serve the Lord is on their knees, depending on God for love and wisdom. The list of great theologians turned silent before the Lord could be extended for quite a while. And if these doctors of the church, these intellectual prodigies, felt inadequate at the end of lives of theological scholarship, perhaps it’s not so bad if we feel stupid now and again.
The second thing I want to say is that the Lord is not finished with your education yet. Don’t let feelings of inadequacy inhibit you from living a long life of Christian discipleship. We’re meant to be life-long learners, as we often say at Trinity, life-long disciples, life-long students of the Lord, his Word and his world. I hope you’ve caught the learning bug. I hope you’re humble enough to recognize you still have much to learn, but eager enough to grow that you’ll continue to apply yourself to the study of God and the world. Please don’t rest on your diploma, well-deserved though it may be. Please don’t overreact to the hardships of graduate education, or your own insecurities, behaving as though the habits you’ve developed here at Trinity are unimportant out there in the “real world” of ministry. “The church must always be learned,” Philip Melanchthon once professed, “or it will be greatly afflicted.” This was not the snooty comment of an academic elitist, but the heartfelt groaning of a godly Christian teacher. And don’t we modern evangelicals know just what he meant? How many times have you been bothered by a famous Christian leader who seemed to wallow in his ignorance and lead his people astray? Don’t exacerbate this problem. Be part of the solution. As Jonathan Edwards preached, the pursuit of divine things—whether in Scripture or in the world—is not reserved for academics, but is for all who love the Lord. God calls everyone to seek them, both the “learned and unlearned, young and old, men and women.” Not even the brightest theologian ever begins to find them all. In fact, the ones who “studied the longest, and have made the greatest attainments . . . know but little of what is to be known.” The knowledge of God “is inexhaustible,” for God “is infinite, and there is no end to the glory of his perfections.” Edwards drove this point home by recommending that his people give as much of their time to seeking the things of God as seeking Mammon. “Let it be very much your business to search” for the things of God, he said, “and that with the same diligence and labor with which men are wont to dig in mines of . . . gold.” Or as he put this in different sermon, “He that has a Bible, and don’t observe what is contained [in] it, is like a man that has a box full of silver and gold, and don’t know it, don’t observe that it is anything more than a vessel filled with common stones. As long as it is thus with him, he’ll be never the better for his treasure.” Scripture is rich enough in the things of God “to employ us to the end.” Even at death, he said, we “shall leave enough” of divinity “uninvestigated to employ . . . the ablest divines to the end of the world,” or better, “to employ the . . . saints and angels to all eternity.” Do you share his sense of wonder at the greatness of the Lord? Please don’t lose your fascination or you’ll lose the will to grow.
The third and final thing I want to say to you tonight is that the Lord has given you all you need to minister words of life to those he places in your care. It’s true: you don’t know it all. You have a lot yet to learn. The things of God are very deep. But you can be confident in the Lord, for he has condescended to give us what we need for our salvation and for godly Christian living. Be sure of the main things. You can stake your life upon them. You should ground your ministry in them. In the words of one of our early modern Protestant confessions: “All things in Scripture are not alike plain in themselves, nor alike clear unto all: yet those things which are necessary to be known, believed, and observed for salvation, are so clearly propounded, and opened in some place of Scripture or other, that not only the learned, but the unlearned, in a due use of the ordinary means, may attain unto a sufficient understanding of them.” So spend your life as a disciple, but remember what you’ve learned. You’re entrusted with the gospel. You’re a servant of the King. You have the written Word of God. Please use it to advance God’s kingdom purposes in the world. In the words of the classic hymn, “God’s Word Is Our Great Heritage,” composed in 1817 by the Dane, Nikolai Grundtvig.
God’s Word is our great heritage
And shall be ours forever;
To spread its light from age to age
Shall be our chief endeavor.
Through life it guides our way,
In death it is our stay.
Lord, grant, while worlds endure,
We keep its teachings pure.
Throughout all generations.
May this be so in our time. May we live beneath the Word of God, and minister its words of life to those within our care. May we plant ourselves in the gospel, teaching others to do the same. Do you remember the leading slogan of the German Reformation: Verbum Domini Manet in Aeternum? “The Word of the Lord endures forever.” This is our great heritage, one that is lived out much more faithfully by evangelical Protestants in the global south today than it is in German lands. It was the motto of Frederick the Wise, the prince and protector of Luther’s ministry. It soon became the slogan of the German Schmalkaldic League, the alliance of Protestant princes who promoted the Reformation. They printed it as an acronym—VDMIA, sometimes just VDMA, “The Word of the Lord endures forever”—on the coins, medals, flags, cannons and guns within their territories. In Saxony, Hesse, and Württemberg, leading Protestant officials wore it (literally) on their sleeves. People engraved it on their churches, sometimes even on their church bells. I pray tonight that God has engraved it indelibly on your heart.
In one of Luther’s classic hymns, penned in the early 1540s, people sang—and still sing—this related prayer to God:
Lord, keep us steadfast in Your Word;
Curb those who by deceit or sword
Would wrest the kingdom from Your Son
And bring to naught all He has done.
Lord Jesus Christ, Your pow’r make known,
For You are Lord of lords alone;
Defend Your holy Church that we
May sing Your praise eternally.
O Comforter of priceless worth,
Send peace and unity on earth;
Support us in our final strife
And lead us out of death to life.
Will you pray this ancient prayer? May God keep you always steadfast in His Word.
Brothers and sisters, Trinity graduates, you’re not supposed to master God. You’re meant to be mastered by him, spending the rest of your life pursuing him and living as he says. The effectiveness of your ministry is not meant to be based upon your cleverness, your winsomeness, your entrepreneurial skills (as important as they will be). It is meant to be based squarely on the Lord Jesus Christ and the written Word of God. You’re not good enough, or smart enough, or skilled enough as a leader to render people right with God and grow them up in sanctification. But God himself has given you all you need for this to happen—and has promised to stay with you to the very end of the age.
Edwards spoke at several commencements, and always did so well. But my favorite of his speeches is the one he gave at Harvard College in 1731, during a time in Harvard’s history when he felt as though its people had grown too high on their own gifts, skills, and attainments. He spoke on 1 Corinthians 1, the passage I read for you tonight, and he focused on the verses at the very end of the chapter: “that no one should boast before God. It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: ‘Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.’” Edwards argued to the Harvard boys that God is glorified through our dependence on him for all. We have everything that is truly good, everything we really need, everything that saves, sanctifies, and beautifies “of,” “through,” and “in” God. “The saints have both their spiritual excellency and blessedness by the gift of the Holy Ghost, or Spirit of God, and his dwelling with them. They are not only caused by the Holy Ghost, but are in the Holy Ghost as their principle. The Holy Spirit becoming an inhabitant, is a vital principle in the soul: he acting in, upon and with the soul, becomes a fountain of true holiness and joy, as a spring is of water, by the exertion and diffusion of itself.”
That’s my favorite commencement speech. Please don’t use its exhortation about God’s sovereignty as a crutch, or an excuse, for spiritual laziness. Work hard. Apply yourself. Invest the gifts he has given you. Share them liberally with others. But do so from the foot of the cross, under the Word of God. Depend on the Lord for everything. Meditate on his Word. Live your life in ceaseless prayer. Grow into the mind of Christ by the power of the Spirit. If you commune with God himself, he will fund your life and work, helping you spend yourself according to his purposes for you.
Don’t let your personal insecurities get in the way of this. God wants to help you get over yourself so you can share his love, grace, and mercy to those he brings your way. He gives you like-minded Christians for encouragement and support. He’s given you countless tools at Trinity for carrying out his plan. Your Trinity family will be here for you. We hope you’ll stay in touch. We want to encourage you and help you with the work that lies ahead. Most importantly of all, God has condescended to speak to you in Jesus and the Bible, and his Word has all you need to live for him.
The grass withers, the flower falls, your beauty will fade with age, your youthful energy will wane. But the Word of Lord endures forever and ever. This is your inheritance. Thanks be to God. Amen.