Dr. David Norman will complete his term as president of Erskine at the end of June. Reflecting on his time in office and on the recent agreements between Erskine trustees and the General Synod of the ARP Church, he offers these words to the Erskine and ARP communities.
The first few words of Erskine’s mission are “to glorify God as a Christian academic community.” We are united in that mission. What has been difficult these past several years is our passion and diversity with regard to what we mean by the word ‘Christian’ in “Christian academic community.”
As I look back over my tenure as Erskine’s president, I have much to be thankful for. But there is more to glorifying God as a Christian academic community than merely meeting or exceeding measurable goals.
I came to Erskine in a season of intense discord between and within the Erskine and ARP communities. By God’s grace we have experienced much healing and restoration, but one of my biggest regrets is that I have not been able to do more to help Erskine unite behind a shared understanding of the importance and scope of Christian community.
As an administrator, I want focus. As a philosopher, I want simplicity. As a departing leader, I want closure. I want these things, but they are not my highest priorities for Erskine. They weren’t in the beginning, and they aren’t now. What Erskine needs most is what Scott Mitchell prayed for at my inauguration — love.
In the midst of our passion and diversity regarding our definition of ‘Christian’ we need to remember that Jesus himself claimed that the world would know his followers by their love (John 13:35).
If I speak in the tongues of men or of angels, but do not have love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have a faith that can move mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give all I possess to the poor and give over my body to hardship that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing. Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs. ~ 1 Corinthians 13:1-5 (NIV)
Are you refusing to forgive someone who has offended you? Have you followed through with your plans to apologize to someone you have offended? Perhaps more importantly, do you have personal and political agendas that need to be abandoned for more Christ-honoring pursuits? Do you seek to control rather than to give? Are you seeking to protect your selfish or sinful hopes and dreams under cloaks of cynicism, skepticism, or anger? I know I struggle in these areas — as do many of the people I most respect — so I suspect that you do too.
No amount of money can alleviate true poverty. True poverty can only be alleviated by love, and true love comes only (and it comes in exceeding abundance!) from the Triune God of the Christian Scriptures. It flows from Him to us, and then it overflows everywhere, bringing reconciliation, prosperity, and restoration.
May He come quickly.
Therefore if you have any encouragement from being united with Christ, if any comfort from his love, if any common sharing in the Spirit, if any tenderness and compassion, then make my joy complete by being like-minded, having the same love, being one in spirit and of one mind. Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.
In your relationships with one another, have the same mindset as Christ Jesus: Who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage; rather, he made himself nothing by taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness. And being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to death— even death on a cross! Therefore God exalted him to the highest place and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue acknowledge that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.
Therefore, my dear friends, as you have always obeyed—not only in my presence, but now much more in my absence—continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. Do everything without grumbling or arguing, so that you may become blameless and pure, ‘children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation.’ Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life. ~ Philippians 2:1-16a (NIV)