Intellectual and spiritual growth
2019 Convocation ChapelSeptember 03, 2019 - Ben R. Sells
Good morning, and welcome to this 2019-20 academic year. I hope you had a wonderful
summer, and I also hope you’re excited to be on campus. At Ouachita, we have fun and
don’t take ourselves too seriously. But we’re serious about intellectual and spiritual
growth, and I want to spend a few moments introducing this year’s theme.
Loving God with our minds
Earlier this month, songwriter Marty Sampson, well-known in contemporary Christian music for his work with Hillsong, stated that he was walking away from his Christian faith. He shared several examples of his theological struggles and each time concluded with the phrase, “no one talks about it.”
I think he means that no one talks about the difficult issues of being a human and a Christian. How might we respond? We pray that the Lord would help him in his unbelief. Some have also responded by respectfully pushing back on his opinion that, “no one talks about it.”
For more than 2,000 years, intelligent and thoughtful Christian people have studied, thought, wrote, and talked about what it means to be a person of Christian faith in a complex world. They’ve written millions of words on difficult issues, cultural challenges, and the evil within and around us. People have “talked about it” because we have minds that can reason and think. Sampson isn’t the first person to say, “Hey, what about this?” And, he won’t be the last.
Our faith teaches us that the mind is important because it’s one of the ways we can come to love God. Indeed, Jesus’ great commandment is: “you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind.”
God gave us minds that have the ability to “talk about it,” to think deeply and honestly about what it means to believe, and why such belief matters in a world that hungers for love and justice. From the beginning of Christianity, we’ve been encouraged not to let our minds remain parked in neutral, but to actively develop and shape our minds so we can see the world as God sees it, and be engaged in extending His kingdom on this earth.
The writer of Romans 12:2 reminds us that we can be “transformed by the renewing of your mind, that you may prove what is that good and acceptable perfect will of God.” Christians have thought it so important to love the Lord with our minds, and then transform our minds to His will, that they started educational institutions. Universities like Ouachita are part of a long Christian tradition of studying, thinking, writing, and “talking about it.”
We study the Bible and the created world
At Ouachita, we call this “intellectual growth.” Intellectual growth, rightly pursued, cannot be separated from spiritual growth. To help us love Him with our minds, the God of the universe gave us two significant resources: the Bible, and the created world. Christians study both.
At Ouachita, we believe the Bible is God’s word, and that it speaks correctly and divinely to all people in all times and cultures. We believe the Bible is true and an authoritative guide for our lives. In the words of the Book of Common Prayer: “We believe that through the Holy Spirit, God’s word can be written in our hearts to our everlasting comfort, to reform us, to renew us according to God’s own image, to build us up and edify us in the perfect dwelling place for Christ himself.” It's why we have a School of Christian Studies, require two Bible courses, and offer many opportunities to engage scripture.
At Ouachita, we also believe that God created the world for us to live in, to study and understand, to care for, and to be actively engaged in making it better. We study the world in all of its dimensions, those created by God and by people – the social, the natural, the physical, the invisible, the manufactured, and more.
We’re not fearful about studying the created world. We might learn things that are difficult to understand, but ultimately we won’t learn anything that contradicts or diminishes our belief in and our commitment to God. Just the opposite – the truths we discover, when rightly understood, will provide more evidence for our Christian faith.
The world we study is complex, and its people and problems are complex. As people of Christian faith, we understand that the world is broken because of sin. The good news is that God sent Jesus to redeem us, and the world we inhabit. He involves us in that ongoing work of redemption.
The importance of the liberal arts
To help solve complex problems, we need intellectual growth that is broad. It’s why we have a CORE curriculum that invites you to have a comprehensive understanding of the world. Our faculty, drawing on the wisdom of others, developed a broad set of courses.
To help you flourish as a human, and as a contributing member of society, and as a Christian, the CORE’s educational goal is to help you excel at communicating with people, analyzing information, applying critical thinking and reasoning skills, engaging in society, learning from people who are different from you, appreciating creativity, caring for yourself, and more. This is the essence of being a Christian liberal arts university.
Ouachita draws upon a two-thousand-year-old Christian tradition of exploring and knowing and thinking about this world, of learning what it means to be a created being on a created planet, and being able to “talk about it.”
Sure, we want to prepare you for the kind of work that specifically interests you, but you’ll have many jobs over your lifetime, technology will change your jobs, some jobs will disappear, and others are yet to be created. At Ouachita we believe the liberal arts is the best way to broadly prepare you for your first job after graduation and all the ones that follow.
“Being smart” and spiritual growth
Smart people fill this room. Behind me are faculty who are incredibly smart in the sciences, business, humanities, education, social sciences, fine arts, and education. Before me is a student body made up of smart individuals. You’re smart academically, athletically, how you engage people, lead others, and in a host of ways.
We believe you can become smarter, and that you need to be smarter to live and work effectively. As we begin a new academic year, you’re stepping into the Christian liberal arts tradition that also places “being smarter” in the realm of spiritual growth as well as intellectual growth.
Who do you think is the smartest person who ever lived? Have you ever considered that it’s Jesus Christ?
Dallas Willard in his book “The Divine Conspiracy,” notes that Jesus, who is fully human and fully God, was by design the most intelligent, perceptive, and brilliant person who ever lived.
Willard writes, “At the molecular level, He knew how to make water into wine. He knew how take a few pieces of bread and feed thousands of people. He knew how to transform the tissues of the human body from sickness to health. He knew how to suspend gravity, interrupt weather patterns, and by a word eliminate unfruitful trees.”
Jesus was an outstanding student of ethics and a master teacher. He too had studied the Bible and the world. Whether He engaged religious or secular people, He was wise and winsome. He was brilliant, but frequently misunderstood and suffered wrong. He was the best but also the humblest. He was an unparalleled leader, yet He lived to serve and sacrifice.
The faculty who are teaching you, and the staff and coaches who are working with you, are smart people. From your books and other resources, you’ll learn from smart people. But none was as smart as Jesus.
So consider this line of thinking: If Jesus was the smartest person who ever lived, and the Bible tells us that He grew in wisdom and stature, and if being a person of Christian faith means developing Christ-like qualities, then becoming smarter should not be isolated from becoming more spiritual. For Christians, they are deeply connected. Becoming smarter is certainly intellectual growth, but it’s also spiritual growth.
Intellectual growth. Spiritual growth.
Each year we select a theme, taken from our mission statement, to help us focus on the purpose of the Ouachita education and experience.
This year it’s “intellectual and spiritual growth.” To help remind us, the theme is on a patch and given to students, faculty, and staff. It’s already on my backpack; you can take a patch as you leave.
During your time at Ouachita, we want you to grow purposely towards the person God made you to be. In all of history, there’s never been and never will be someone just like you. Arkansas Baptists founded Ouachita to be a place where students come, during a formative time in their lives, and live together in community to “talk about it.”
Each of you have so much God-given promise and potential. It’s going to be a great year!
Allow me to close with this prayer: “Almighty God, by your gift alone we come to wisdom and true understanding. Look with favor upon this University – that knowledge may be increased among us, and wholesome learning flourish and abound. Bless those who teach and those who learn; and grant that, in humility of heart, they may ever look to you, the fountain of all wisdom, through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.”
By Ouachita Baptist University President Ben. R. Sells, PhD
- Luke 10:27, The Bible – English Standard Version, Good News Publishers, 2016.
- Romans 12:2, The Bible – New King James Version, Thomas Nelson, 1982.
- The Book of Common Prayer. 1979. Church Hymnal Corporation, New York.
- Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy: Rediscovering Our Hidden Life in God. HarperCollins Publishers Inc., New York, 1998.
- The Book of Common Prayer. 1979. Church Hymnal Corporation, New York.