Speaking at a college chapel, regardless of where it is, carries one of my biggest challenges. Iâ??m not sure why, but one thing comes to mind immediately: by and large, students are there because they have to be. It’s not an easy audience, and so it is necessary to have something to say. Yesterday, at John Brown University, my chapel address on the Jesus Creed seemed to click with the students. I wanted to be there and I sensed they did, too. What a delight, Iâ??ll tell you. Only speakers know this sensation, but I sensed at times they were talking back to me.
I must express my thanks to Stan McKinnon, Tracy Balzer, Dr. Brad Gambill and the incredible organization of Crystal Perry. Excellent people, and the future at JBU is in good hands.
My time at JBU began the evening before with two remarkable events. As we turned downward to land we suddenly pulled ourselves out of that descent and the pilot informed us that we would be circling around the Northwest Arkansas Airport because we were waiting for Air Force One and President George Bush to depart after his rally speech at the airport. What an oddity, I said aloud. The weekend before we were in Philly when they hurried us onto the plane, got everyone seated with rapid success, and told us we had to depart now or wait at least an hour â?? why? Air Force One was arriving with Laura Bush. I was met at the airport by a student, Andrew Bolger â?? and he asked me where I lived. I said, â??Libertyville.â? He said, â??I once lived in Bannockburn.â? Bolger, Bannockburn. Next I said, â??Is Eric your father?â? Sure enough, his father was a student of mine at Trinity Seminary.
Every college has a history and a culture. JBUâ??s culture is undergoing change. I found the professors and the president (Chip and his wife, Carey Hollard) wonderfully stimulating, probing about the emerging church and wondering what I was thinking of the state of evangelicalism, expressing delight in their discoveries of the Orthodox tradition and pondering how to point students toward a life that makes a difference.
Christian colleges face one question all the time: How to be like the scribe who brings out both the old and the new for a culture that is always changing?
Whenever I come to schools like this I walk away thinking I need a week to experience it genuinely. And time with students is never quite enough â?? but I enjoyed my interactions with a few students Monday evening in a conversation about the emerging movement, and then dinner later that night with Billy and Grant â?? two students thinking about seminaries, and then an interview with a student newspaper writer who wanted to chat about writing â?? which, of course, I was quite happy to do. And I met Sam Killens, son of a former fellow-student in our Trinity (student) days. Brian and Sheran are missionaries in Colombia.
DÃ©jÃ vu for me: I was asked by Professor Robbie Castleman to teach her Hermeneutic class on redaction criticism, a topic I hadnâ??t lectured on since I left Trinity. It was like returning to a favorite shelf of books, books undisturbed for a decade but still excited to show what they had to say.