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Lessons Learned

The following text comprises the notes used to deliver an address to the Bethel College community at the opening convocation of the 2019-2020 academic year on August 21, 2019.

 

Thank you President Gering. It is wonderful to be back. Thank you for your support during my absence. Thank you also faculty and staff members. I am most grateful for your encouragement and prayers. And, students, it is fabulous to see you, for you are why I am here. So, students, both new and old, on behalf of the faculty I welcome you to Bethel College. May this experience be all you dream and hope for it to be.

 

Tuesday, July 2, my wife, Gail, and I traveled to Houston to visit my son. Paul had a doctor’s appointment for July 3, after which we anticipated a few days of rest and fun. We had no idea what actually would occur.

 

Paul experienced liver failure and, then, kidney failure. The kidney failure could be treated with dialysis, but he could survive the liver failure for only a matter of weeks. After three weeks, Paul was told he would not live. But, he wanted to fight for life. Three weeks later and two more hospitals later he graciously received a new liver from a donor. He is now in recovery. He has a very long road ahead, but things are much more hopeful than they were at the outset of his journey.

 

The story so far has gone for seven weeks, with many ups and downs. During this roller coaster ride, I have learned many important lessons, several of which have application to you and your time at Bethel College. Continue Reading »

Enjoy this short, inspiring video from the 2019 Bethel College Opening Pep Rally for new students.

We Are Threshers!

Enjoy this short, inspiring video from the 2018 Bethel College Walk of Welcome. Try to guess the identity of the speaker whose voice is playing in the background!

The following reflection appeared in The Mennonite blog at this address on February 22, 2018, the day after Billy Graham’s death.

Billy Graham was first and foremost an evangelist, someone who proclaimed the Gospel. And, Dr. Graham was an outstanding example of one who did so boldly. What about Anabaptists? Anabaptists are right to “win over” others “without a word,” but “by conduct” (1 Peter 3:1). However, there also is a place for “proclaiming the Gospel,” for “it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who has faith” (Mark 1:14; Rom 1:16). May we Anabaptists take inspiration from the example of Billy Graham and then dare to discern when and how to share the Gospel boldly with a world in desperate need of it.

The following text comprises the notes used to deliver a meditation to the Bethel College Cabinet on December 18, 2017.

 

Anyone who has been to a number of weddings has heard the words from 1 Corinthians 13, including this conclusion: “Faith, hope, and love abide; and the greatest of these is love.”

The reason 1 Corinthians 13 is a favorite at weddings is due to its theme of the superiority of love, even to faith and hope. But, what actually makes love possible is faith or allegiance. But, allegiance is not possible without hope. Hope may not be the greatest of these three attributes, but it is primary, because it is foundational; it is truly powerful. For example, it keeps me engaged through every baseball season. It corralled my attention through nearly the entire Packer game yesterday. And, it is the theme of the Christmas story. But, hope in what?

In Luke’s Gospel, Mary uttered the following words to Elizabeth about God during her pregnancy: “His mercy is for those who fear him from generation to generation.” Why? Because, “he has shown strength with his arm; he has scattered the proud in the thoughts of their hearts. He has brought down the powerful from their thrones and lifted up the lowly; he has filled the hungry with good things, and sent the rich away empty.”

Soon after Mary voiced these words, Zechariah, Elizabeth’s husband spoke of God in this way: “He has raised up a mighty deliverer for us, that we would be delivered from our enemies and from the hand of all who hate us. Thus he has shown the mercy promised to our ancestors, that we would be rescued from our enemies. By the tender mercy of God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to guide us in the way of peace.”

No wonder the angels proclaiming the birth of this deliverer, Jesus, said to the shepherds, “On earth peace among those whom he favors.”

Likewise, at the circumcision of Jesus, the old man Simeon said to God, “My eyes have seen your deliverance.”

In line with all these words of hope in mercy through deliverance, John, preparing the way for Jesus, rebuked the rich, the tax collectors, soldiers, and the evil of the King, Herod, a move which cost him his freedom and eventually his head.

Finally, Jesus, at the outset of his ministry, affirmed that he was commissioned by God to “bring good news to the poor,” “to proclaim release to the captives,” “to let the oppressed go free,” and “to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.” And what was the year of the Lord’s favor? Perpetual Jubilee, an ongoing time of deliverance from all oppression. Continue Reading »

The following text comprises the notes used to deliver an address to the Bethel College community at the opening convocation of the 2017-2018 academic year on August 23, 2017.

 

On the face of a massive building in the center of the University of Minnesota, the purpose of that school, my alma mater, is inscribed with the following words:

Founded in the Faith that Men are Enobled by Understanding
Dedicated to the Advancement of Learning and the Search for Truth
Devoted to the Instruction of Youth and the Welfare of the State

In these words we note the primary goal of colleges and universities across our land that may be summarized with these words: Teaching that produces learning for the betterment of society.

The core content of this teaching remains constant from one age to the next, but much of the rest of it changes due to advancements in learning in pursuit of truth.

The University of Minnesota was founded in 1851 in Minneapolis by people descended from immigrants harking mostly from the Scandinavian lands of Norway and Sweden. It started as a preparatory school, but stalled until wheat-milling entrepreneur, John Pillsbury, worked to secure the school’s future. And, Pillsbury’s efforts bore fruit as students finally graduated with baccalaureate degrees in 1873, twenty-two years after the school’s founding.

Fourteen years later, in 1887, another group of immigrants, this time from what is now known as Ukraine, had similar aims in establishing a college, Bethel College, one that would provide teaching that produces learning for the betterment of society.

The place? A piece of prairie North of Newton, Kansas on slight rise of land they named Hebron and bordered by a stream they called Kidron, names, like that of the College, reminiscent of biblical locations. The founders likewise were interested in wheat, Mennonites, with names like Goerz, Warkentin, and Krehbiel.

So, here, on this site, the first Mennonite College in North America was started. The founders saw the importance of providing higher education for its youth, but not only Mennonite youth.

The original intent of the Newton College Association was a “nonsectarian, but religious college.” And, the successor to this association, a corporation named The Bethel College of the Mennonite Church of North America aimed to follow this direction. For, the First Annual Report of the Board of Directors, 1887-1888 invited students who were not only Mennonites, but those coming from other religions or cultures as well. By extending this welcome, the College sought to “pay the debt of gratitude to other denominations by opening wide the doors of the institution, so that all may have an opportunity to partake of whatsoever advantages may be offered by it.”

Not only were youth from all faiths invited, but those from across the country as well. Bethel historian, Peter Wedel, writes that Bethel College “was not to be just a local institution.” “Its courses were to be sufficiently comprehensive to attract students from great distances.” An example of this commitment comes from the observation that, according to Wedel, the first board consisted of “five members from Kansas and four from other states as the new institution should serve the largest constituency possible.” Indeed, the residences of those who served on the board over the first decades included people not only from Kansas, but also from Nebraska, Oklahoma, Minnesota, Iowa, Illinois, Ohio, Pennsylvania, California, Idaho, and Washington.

Like the University of Minnesota, Bethel, at first was a preparatory school. It eventually, however, graduated six students with baccalaureate degrees in 1912. A very significant event followed four years later, 1916, when the school became accredited by the Kansas state board of education, an event celebrated with the unveiling of a flag bearing the school colors adopted nine years earlier in 1907, maroon and gray. A liberal arts college was born!

What can we learn from this story? Continue Reading »

The following text was delivered to a gathering at the Mennonite Church USA Convention in Orlando on July 5, 2017. A hard copy of this text may be downloaded at this link.

 

The goal of this presentation is to provide a description and definition of Christian formation that reflects an Anabaptist perspective. Corresponding to common usage, the term “spiritual formation” is used here synonymously with “Christian formation.” In addition, and in accord with common usage, “spiritual formation” is the primary term used, until conclusions are drawn at the end of the presentation.

There is a compelling need for the treatment of this topic. Models deriving from two streams dominate literature on spiritual formation emanating from authors identifying with the Western Church. One stream is medieval pietism, which focuses on the believer’s relationship with God. Examples found in this stream include the works of Roman Catholic moral theologians as well as the writings of Richard Foster, Dallas Willard, and A.W. Tozer. The other stream is Reformed theology, which focuses on one’s behavior toward God. Flowing within this stream are writings from Calvinist authors like J. I. Packer and John Piper. However, this stream also includes works by authors who retain the “two-step” paradigm introduced by John Wesley. This approach to spiritual formation stems from the teaching of Lewis Sperry Chafer, founder of Dallas Theological Seminary, and has been propagated by his students with dogged effort. This presentation proposes that spiritual formation from an Anabaptist perspective is not so much a third stream, but a coherent theological and historical bridge between the two prevalent streams of thought. In other words, it provides a more than satisfactory option for one to consider.

The presentation proceeds along the following path: First, following a brief recitation of Anabaptism’s origin and significance, the author explains what he means by an Anabaptist Perspective. Second, from a position within that perspective, the author gives the features of an Anabaptist model of spiritual formation. In so doing, it will be necessary to consider the topic of discipleship, and the place of disciplines in this scheme. Finally, the author will propose a definition of spiritual formation based on the contributions coming from an Anabaptist model of spiritual formation.

A BRIEF HISTORY OF ANABAPTISM’S ORIGIN AND ITS SIGNIFICANCE

Contemporary Anabaptists trace their origin to the 16th century Reformation movement distinguished by its insistence on believer’s baptism, hence the moniker Anabaptists or re-baptizers. In addition, these reformers advocated a radical imitation of the life and teaching of Jesus as recorded in the Gospels, with special attention given to the Sermon on the Mount. They based this conclusion on the conviction that Jesus had inaugurated the promised messianic kingdom during his earthly ministry, crucifixion, resurrection, and session.

The Anabaptist insistence on a “believer’s church,” though, put its adherents in direct conflict, not only with Roman Catholics, but also with Protestants, both Lutheran and Reformed. This conflict, in turn, boiled over into opposition from these three groups’ governmental protectors, with whom, in practice, they were effectively merged.[1] When this opposition came to a head in the form of persecution, Anabaptists’ radical adherence to the teaching and example of Jesus prohibited them from active resistance, resulting in widespread deaths.[2]

This brief account of the origin of the Anabaptist movement reveals in seed-form the two most apparent ways in which the practices of its members differ from that of members of contemporary Protestant faith traditions: Anabaptists maintain that the New Testament requires of disciples a level of commitment to Christ’s Kingdom mandating (1) strict separation of church and state and (2) non-resistance or pacifism.

Contemporary Anabaptists are represented primarily by Mennonites and by most groups with the word Brethren in their name.[3] However, their influence can be seen among Baptists and most free-church groups.[4] Evidence for this influence exists not only in the widespread practice of believer’s baptism and in various expressions of the separation of church and state, but also in the adherence to Anabaptism’s teaching on the symbolic nature of the ordinances and the visible nature and autonomy of the local church.

AN ANABAPTIST PERSPECTIVE

The preceding account identified two Anabaptist distinctives: separation of church and state, and pacifism. These, and other, distinctives arise from a particular theological perspective.

The perspective, or story, an interpreter inhabits and, therefore, from which the interpreter reads a text profoundly influences one’s interpretation.[5] Put another way, Continue Reading »

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