This I Believe
Over the past two years, faculty members have been sharing in chapel beliefs that they hold firmly but that are secondary to the core commitments we all hold at Covenant. As people of faith who happily agree on the same first principles, we can legitimately disagree in secondary areas. Our faculty members model the discussion of secondary beliefs well for our students, alumni, and wider community. Rather than first-order beliefs essential for salvation, the ideas that follow are secondary beliefs of a few of our faculty members—well researched, carefully thought out, and strongly held. Listen to full-length chapel lectures on secondary beliefs from these and other professors here.
I Believe in Institutions
by Dr. Jay Green, professor of history
I want to state my thesis right at the outset: I believe in institutions. They are the human structures that God has provided so that we can respond faithfully to the creation mandate and the Great Commission. Institutions produce and distribute values, justice, shelter, knowledge, and a host of vital human services, without which human civilization is unthinkable. It’s important that, at a place like Covenant, we think carefully about institutions and the vital role they play in our lives.
As Americans, I find that we typically love the values that stand behind institutions, even as we often hate their institutional forms. We love the idea of educating all children so they can succeed in society; we hate the public school system. We love the idea of a free people enacting laws to promote peace, security, prosperity, and the common good; we hate the federal government. We love skilled and compassionate care for the sick and dying; we hate hospital bureaucracies and insurance companies. Perhaps you have had reason to feel cynical about this institution. Maybe the institutional realities, inefficiencies, and hypocrisies of Covenant College have at times tarnished the ideal of Covenant College you once held in your minds.
As I’ve grown older, I’ve grown more deeply troubled by our broadly American distrust of institutions, and although I understand that there are real problems with some of the ways institutions operate—and the rot that resides within so many of them—I think it’s important that we remind ourselves that we simply can’t do without them. As human beings, we desperately need institutions. I would also argue that all of us have a basic Christian responsibility to participate in them faithfully and to promote their overall health.
I believe in institutions, and I believe that Christians should be radically committed institutionalists. I believe in institutions, not because they are perfect or unproblematic. Not because I’ve never found them frustrating or abusive. Not because I’m a middle-aged white guy with a personal stake in their survival. I believe in institutions because I believe they are the deeply flawed means that God uses to produce human flourishing in the world. They are the instruments He has chosen to extend His ministries of mercy, grace, stability, and shalom to the hurting masses in our world. I believe that any good and sustainable work we hope to do in the world will only be achieved through the support and structure of these inadequate “jars of clay.” And I believe value can only ever be meaningfully dispensed through the mechanism of institutions. We can no longer speak of values in a dreamy, abstract way, as if they float out into the culture on the wings of fairies or through strategic poofs of moral pixie dust. Values require the framework and the machinery of institutions.
If we’re ever going to become faithful, effective stewards of God’s creation in this age—if we ever hope to translate biblical principles into responsible action—we need to re-energize our commitments to institutions. And, as Christians, we need to become radically committed institutionalists.
I Believe in Conviction & Civility
by Dr. Steve Kaufmann, professor of education
I do not intend to engage you in political philosophy. Rather, I want to tell you some stories.
Let me tell you first about Grandpa Kaufmann. He was a Mennonite and a farmer. In some ways my grandfather was self-sufficient: working the soil, raising livestock for food, repairing his own farm implements. But in many ways he was not an individualist, for he was part of a community sharing a common faith and lifestyle. The mutual support of the Mennonite community provided a social safety net for all its members.
Politically, Grandpa Kaufmann was a conservative. He believed that government which governs least governs best. In his view, the government should build roads, punish criminals, provide for the common defense, and, most of all, give him the freedom to fulfill his responsibilities as a farmer, a husband and father, a church member, and a community member. As I reflect on his life now, I can see that he had little need for the state because his social space was well settled.
My other grandfather, Grandpa Auten, was a coal-mining Methodist. As a boy of twelve in 1908 he saw his father struck and killed by lightning as they were bailing hay together in the fields. Within a week he began what was to be fifty-three years of labor in the coal mines, working his way up from water boy to ultimately operating a coal shovel. When he began working in the mines, his wage was barely enough to sustain a hand-to-mouth existence. Coal miners in those days were the poorest of the poor, and worked in conditions where accidents and fatalities were not uncommon.
All of that changed when the government legalized collective bargaining in the coal mines, and Grandpa Auten became a leader in the movement to unionize the miners in his area. Through his efforts and the efforts of others, the miners won a contract with the coal company that eventually brought miners out of poverty and into the middle class. Grandpa Auten never forgot that it was the government that played a key role in making possible his escape from poverty. And he was particularly good at pointing out that it was the Democrats and not the Republicans who were on the side of the working man.
What, then, is the moral of the tale of the two grandfathers? They understood what they experienced, and perhaps dismissed too easily the viewpoint of those whose experience was different. It’s too easy, isn’t it, for us to believe that the other guy has the bad ideas, and that all the sinners are on the other side of the issue.
The issues that dominated the fifties and sixties are long past, replaced by new ones. But holiness, peaceableness, the honoring of others, gentle and reverent defense never go out of style. These are the tools with which we ought to engage others in the social issues of our day. May the Lord be pleased to make us skilled users of these biblical tools as we speak to one another.
I Believe in the Virtues of Brokenness
by Dr. Kevin Eames, professor of psychology
I have chosen this topic today because of the death of our son, Daniel, last May. Daniel had a chromosomal disorder which involved a form of autism that made him unable to speak with his mouth, though his condition was only indirectly related to his death. He went in for dental surgery and suddenly went into cardiac arrest, then died twenty-eight hours later. We were with him and, as a multitude of people in scrubs worked frantically to save him, we watched him die. The death of a child is a grievous wound, one from which we will not fully heal this side of heaven.
Before Daniel died, my sense of my brokenness was like looking in a mirror with a single crack. Now, the mirror is shattered. Why? Because brokenness isn’t about just our own sin, though it is that. It is also about our helplessness, finiteness, and our inability to control the destiny of ourselves or those we love.
I would like to make three observations about knowingly broken people. First, broken people are realistic. Second, broken people are humble. Third, broken people are hopeful.
First, broken people are realistic. When we experience death personally, it forces us almost violently to face the reality of the Fall and the consequences of Adam and Eve’s disobedience. All of a sudden the academic discussions about the creation account fade with the implications for each one of us of the choice they made to rebel against God. Because of this we will know sorrow, we will mourn, and we will suffer and die.
Second, during these times, we must remember this fundamental truth: we serve a good God, and in acknowledging this goodness, we also acknowledge our own humility, because our good is not always His good. Do not mistake ease and pleasantness for goodness. I know that people die, some, like our Daniel, younger than others. God’s goodness can sometimes be inscrutable, much like the catastrophe that befell Job.
My third observation is that broken people are hopeful. Our whole ability to admit to our brokenness is bound up in the hope of complete restoration. There is in us a primal longing for something other than this world. A sunset or a piece of music can evoke in us at once a sense of our incompleteness, a longing for something just out of our reach, and the hope of becoming complete. We could not have buried our son without this hope. We committed him to the ground because we unwaveringly believe that, at the sound of the last trumpet, Daniel will be raised.
As I mentioned, our son Daniel could not speak with his mouth, but whenever he needed help with something, he would come to one of us and take our hand and look us in the eyes to come and help him. On the last day, it is my fervent prayer that in the new heaven and earth, my son will come to me, take my hand, and say as clear as a bell, “Daddy, look!” This illustrates the hope we have in our redemption. There will come a day—soon, I hope—when our faith becomes sight, and we will indeed be together in a place where there are no tears, no curse, no light other than the light of God to illuminate us, and we will stand before Him blameless with great joy.