Education under the King
On September 3, 1979, Dr. Richard Mouw delivered the university's first convocation address. This speech has been reprinted from "Torchbearers for the King" by Harry Cook and William Vanden Born in honour of King's 40th anniversary.
I am both honored and humbled by the opportunity to speak at this significant celebration. Very few persons are granted the privilege of speaking at the very first Convocation of an educational institution; I dare speculate that this will be for me a once-in-a-lifetime experience. Needless to say, my assignment here is a very awesome one. Some of you have come today to celebrate the culmination of months and years of dreaming, planning, and praying – and to participate, as well, in a public display of the first fruits of those dreams and plans and prayers. But it is quite likely that there are others of you who have come as curious onlookers, bearing perhaps some portion of puzzlement, or even skepticism, about the nature and goals of the institution whose birth we are celebrating. If I am to be successful in fulfilling my assignment here today, I should speak words of wisdom to persons in each of these categories. To those for whom this occasion is one of joy and fulfillment, I should offer words of encouragement and inspiration. To the curious onlookers I should offer a plausible account of the vision which has led to the establishing of this institution.
That is, as I have already said, an awesome task. And there are very few precedents to follow, very few models to match one’s efforts against, in attempt to fulfill such an assignment. But, as I began preparing this address several weeks ago, I was aware of one example I could turn for inspiration. On October 20, 1880 – almost 99 years ago – Abraham Kuyper delivered his magnificent address on “Sphere Sovereignty” at the opening ceremonies of the Free University of Amsterdam.
I have read and re-read that address in recent weeks. Kuyper’s speech is not one that could be easily delivered on a comparable occasion in 1979. It is fairly technical in nature, and – on my calculations – it took at least an hour to deliver. I assume you that I am not determined to emulate him today with respect to either his style or his sense of his audience’s capacity for long suffering.
Reading Kuyper’s address did, however, confirm me in my original inclination to organize my remarks here today around of idea of the kingship of Christ. Kuyper was concerned to sketch out a framework wherein each basic sphere of life has its proper place, with its own unique patterns or authority – and he was especially interested in pleading for the integrity of an educational task which could be pursued without needless interference on the part of either church or state. But over and over again in his address Kuyper paused to point to the One who stood above all the spheres of human conduct, to the One who alone deserves to be called Sovereign Ruler over all things that exist. Over and over again Kuyper paid homage to King Jesus.
It is this same vision of the kingship of the man from Nazareth which has informed and inspired the dreams and plans and prayers which have led up to this celebration today. Indeed, it is significant that this vision of the kingship of Jesus is not merely an implicit assumption which underlies the educational enterprise whose beginning we are celebrating today but that it is emblazoned on the very door posts of the institution: The King’s College. This is, I think, a happy choice.
The kingship motif is a relatively common one in contemporary Christian piety. A few years ago a popular evangelical song ended in the refrain, “The King is coming/The King is coming again!” Christians sing songs of worshipping the King and walking with the King. I have seen, not only Roman Catholic churches, but Lutheran and Anglican ones as well, bearing the name “The Church (or Cathedral) of Christ the King.” Unfortunately, however, Christians are not always aware of the profound commitments which are implied by this language of kingship. References to Jesus as “King” often border on the metaphorical; they are intended as compliments which are less than literal. Attributions of kingship to Jesus are made by many Christians without a grasp of the concrete power and authority to which they actually point.
Viewed Biblically, talk about the kingship of Jesus is more than a bit of hyperbole or courteous exaggeration. In the context of the Biblical scenario Jesus is the fulfillment of the deepest yearnings of the human species with regard to authority, power, and kingship. In my own reflections on the relationship of Christianity to politics in recent years I have been very impressed by the relevance for understanding Christ’s kingship of a theme developed by J.R.R. Tolkien – of “hobbit” fame – in a fascinating essay which he wrote entitled “On Fairy Stories.” Tolkien there discusses the structure of the fairy tale; every proper fairy story has a catastrophe which is resolved by a happy ending. Toward the end of his discussion Tolkien tells why he as a Christian has a special interest in fairy stories; it is because, he says, the Gospel itself is a fairy story of sorts – indeed it is “a story of a larger kind which embraces all the essence of fairy stories.”
Like the fairy story the Gospel depicts a catastrophic turn of events. In the fairy tale there is often a curse of evil spell inflicted: Someone has been turned into a frog or a beast, or someone has been put to sleep as a result of an evil potion. Deliverance from this tragic situation seems virtually impossible – but, lo and behold, the rescuer appears on the scene. The beautiful princess stoops to kiss the ugly frog. The knight in shining armor slays the dragon. The spell of the potion brewed by the wicked witch is broken. “And they lived happily ever after.”
In the Gospel story the curse is especially tragic – the good creation is perverted by sin, and the benevolent plans of the creator God seem to have come to naught. But here too the mighty one mercifully and surprisingly stoops to kiss the ugly frog. Here too the dragon is slain. And here too the story ends on an optimistic note – “We will live happily ever after in God’s renewed creation.”
Now, in thinking of the Gospel as a fairy tale, Tolkien does not mean to deny the historical truth of the Biblical record. Indeed, he tells us: The Gospel “story is supreme; and it is true. Art has been verified. God is the lord of the angels, and of men – and of elves. Legend and History have met and fused.” The Gospel depicts the happy ending which exceeds all of those happy endings which have been manufactured by the human imagination. And this happy ending is the true account of the way things will turn out.
Well, what does this have to do with the understanding of Christ’s kingship? Allow me to explain. The relationship of the kingship of Christ to the messianic prophecies of the Old Testament can, I think, be understood as a kind of fairy tale that has come true. In the Old Testament the children of Israel experience a long series of political disillusionments. They have high standards and expectations with respect to the office of kingship, as can be seen in Psalm 72, where the king is described as being “like rain that falls on the mown grass, like showers that water the earth.” But these high hopes and expectations were regularly frustrated. Israel experienced many instances of political scandal and corruption. Her kings were all too obviously frail and sinful human specimens.
But in the midst of this kind of political disillusionment, an interesting thing happens. Rather than falling into utter despair over political prophets, the Old Testament believers, and especially the prophets, engage in a kind of imaginative wishing. They begin to weave a tale of political fulfillment and satisfaction. They begin to ask questions about what is the proper shape of political hope.
The process of questioning goes something like this. “What would it be like if one of these days the Lord God would send us a real king? What would it be like if we were to wake up some fine morning and find out that our political warfare has ended, that God has put a stop to political scandals and rivalries, that there will be no more Watergates or Koreagates or Ottawagates? What would it be like if some fine morning we would awaken to the announcement that unto us a child has been born, and unto us a son has been given, and that the government will rest upon his shoulders, and his very name will be Wonderful Counselor and Prince of Peace, and of the increase of his government and of his peace there will be no end? What would it be like if the Lord God would send us a real King, a king who, when he says he will make one thing perfectly clear, he goes on to make one thing perfectly clear, a king who when he insists that we can trust him, we can trust him, a king who when makes a promise, he goes on to fulfill that promise? What would it be like if the Lord God would send us a king who would feed his flock like a shepherd, who would gather the lambs in his arms, and carry them in his bosom, and who would greatly lead those who are with young?”
Jesus is that kings. Jesus us the promised one of Israel. Jesus is the fulfillment of the political fairy tale which is woven – under the guidance of the Holy Spirit – out of the political hopes and fears of the Old Testament-believing community. Whether we realize it or not, we are referring to, among other things, this fulfillment of the office of kingship when we address the town of Bethlehem each Christmas with the words: “The hopes and fears of all the years are met in thee tonight.”
But I do not mean here to focus primarily on the sphere of politics. The Kingly function of Jesus has a cosmic scope. The sovereign rule of Jesus is a universal rule. He was exercising his kingly authority, not only when he contrasted the patterns of his kingdom with those of the rulers of the Gentiles, who lord it over their subjects, not only when burst forth from the tomb, thereby breaking the seal of Pilate, whose soldiers lay dead men in the presence of the risen Lord – but he was also exercising his kingship when he stilled the angry waves, when he cast out demons, when he healed broken bodies, when he cleansed the temple, and when he taught his followers the fundamentals of the New Covenant.
The kingly rule of Jesus is universal in scope – it is a rule over all spheres of human life – and it is a present reality. This rule, of course, is not universally recognized today. There are still many – their numbers are legion – who do not recognize the presence of the kingdom of Jesus. But those who have tasted the first fruits of his kingly rule know that the day is coming when all that opposes his kingly designs will be eliminated from the good creation. We know that he will soon subdue all his enemies, and that every knee will bow, and every tongue will confess his Lordship. We know that all the forces and principalities and powers in the universe – whether the spirit powers which rule in heavenly places, or earthly powers which presently parade their authority in the garments and technical apparatus of government, education, entertainment, and the economic sector, or the powers and forces or nature; which dwell under the earth – that all of these forces and principalities and powers will be brought into subjection to the sovereign rule of Jesus.
The Christian community is called to show forth and to proclaim his present rule, and to give witness to the fact that the renewal of the whole creation is a certainty. And that is why it’s so important and necessary that we claim various spheres of activity for his Lordship. I have a friend, a black Christian, who recently began to work in an inner-city ministry. I saw him after he had been on the job for a week or so, and I asked him how his work was going. He replied: “For the first few weeks I’m just walking around the inner-city, claiming the territory for Jesus!” In that reply he gave expression to a profound insight into the Christian calling: we must claim the territory for Jesus – and we must do this in all spheres of human life.
And so, they have called this institution “The King’s College.” The use of this name should not be understood to imply that here alone in this tiny area of educational life is a piece of territory which belongs to King Jesus. Nor should we restrict the educational rule of Jesus to that larger network of Christian educational institutions of which this College has now become an important member. The patterns and processes and stuff of education, wherever they are found, belong to his rule. But this school, along with many other institutions of Christian education, is proclaiming, and giving evidence of, the reality of that rule. It means to bear witness to the fact that we can bring the deepest hopes and fears of educational and scholarly activity into subjection to the sovereign rule of Jesus.
How must The King’s College go about this task of bringing all the falls within its proper mission into subjection to the reign of Christ? There are at least two general aspects of this task which are important to underscore. The first can be described in the passive voice: The King’s College must be a place in which Christians are acted upon by the kingdom of Jesus. It must be a place where persons are shaped by the Gospel in ways which are appropriate to the educational and scholarly enterprise. This is not a “Bible school”, nor is it a church or a family or an encounter group. It is a place where liberal arts education and scholarship take place. And it is important that much attention be given to the ways in which the Christian Gospel can have a proper impact on all of the processes and procedures, programs and activities which are peculiar to an institution of this sort.
A Christian educational institution must be a place where educational sanctification takes place – where Christian persons are nurtured in such a way that the spirit of Christ is breathed into all that they do as educators, students, administrators, and scholars. This must be a place where the gifts of the spirit and educational, scholarly, theoretical, and administrative expression – where wisdom, following the list of gifts found in 1 Corinthians 12, wisdom and knowledge are given scholarly utterance, where intellectual faith is exercised, where academic healing is experienced, where administrative miracles are worked, where the gifts of prophecy, discernment of spirits, and the interpretation of tongues are brought to bear on questions of culture.
As a centre of Christian nurture, this institution should not restrict its educational efforts to young persons in their late teens and early twenties. It must also seek ways of offering its services and resources to the entire Christian community, as a place where persons from many vocations and situations can come apart for the gaining of a perspective on their work and play, their lives as consumers, parents, spouses, church members, and citizens. In these crucial times it is also important that this be a place where ecumenical and cross-cultural discussions take place, where Christians from different confessional, traditional, and cultural situations engage in the sort of dialogue that can build up the entire Christian body unto obedience.
The second aspect can be formulated in the active voice: The King’s College must itself be an agent of the kingdom, it must engage in activities which extend the visible rule of Christ, carrying the influence of that rule into the larger human society. The passive and active dimensions of this task are complementary. As persons who have been nurtured by Christ, we must in turn become sources of nurture in the world. As those who have been served by him, we must in turn become servants of others, especially of those who are oppressed. As those who have been shaped by the kingly rule of Jesus, we must in turn become shapers of culture in accordance with the demands of the Gospel. As those who have been acted upon by his kingdom, we in turn must be agents of that kingdom.
There are many ways in which The King’s College can contribute to the expansion of the visible rule of Christ. It can do so by cooperating with the variety of Christian organizations in Canada and elsewhere, and specifically here in the province of Alberta. It can promote sensitivities in this part of Canada to the cries of the oppressed of the earth, to the victims or racism, sexism, and political and economic injustice. It can provide a clear model for all to see of what it is like to be a community of scholars who are fearlessly wrestling with urgent issues from a posture of obedience to the Word of God.
Not the least of the contributions to the service of the King that this school can make is by promoting an awareness on the part of its students of the richness of the creation, of the brokenness of a cosmos tainted by sin, and of the full scope of the Gospel of grace. In a provocative address to the 1971 Jerusalem Conference on Biblical Prophecy, James M. Houston – now of Regent College in Vancouver – appealed to evangelical Christians “to use the whole range of their professional skills to speak prophetically about our times (reaching) into every professional area of life, just as in the past we have emphasized the geographical penetration of our world with the Gospel.”
Dr. Houston’s comparison of the cultural and scholarly calling of the Christian community today with the missionary enterprise of the 19th century is an illuminating one. Just as missionaries in the 19th century could venture into uncharted continents with the confidence that there are no cattle of any of a thousands hills which have not been formed by the Creator’s hand, and that there is no human being in any jungle thicket who has not been formed in the image of the God and Father of Jesus Christ, so we must enter into the difficult task of cultural exploration – of penetrating the professions and disciplines – with the full confidence that there is no economic or aesthetic or legal sin for which the Lamb of God was not a worthy sacrifice, and that – as Abraham Kuyper put it in his memorable words at the opening ceremonies of the Free University – “there is not an inch in the entire area of our human life of which Christ, who is the sovereign of all, does not cry: ‘Mine’!”
In spite of the fact that I sound like I am telling you what you ought to do, I hope you will receive these remarks of mine – not as the condescending instructions of an American imperialist who has travelled over the border to tell you how you must your business – but as the personal reflections of someone who is inspired by this happy occasion to join you in considering what are our common obligations as supports of the task of Christian education.
To all of you who have a stake in The King’s College, I want to wish you well as you pursue this complex task. As a former resident of this city, an alumnus of the University of Alberta, a representative here today of one of your sister institutions, and as one who possesses the same Christian educational vision which informs this enterprise, I have many reasons to pray for God’s blessing on this institution. But underlying our best wishes and our prayers for divine blessing is for all of us who love what is often called “the kingdom perspective,” the conviction that someday the kings of the earth – the bearers of the glory and the splendor of the nations – will enter into the New Jerusalem bringing with them the fruits of human cultural formation. It is my firm conviction as a Calvinist that someday the works of Plato and Shakespeare and Karl Marx, the sculpture of China and the paintings of Rembrandt and the Group of Seven, the music of Bach and Handel and Dolly Parton, the novels of Hugh MacLennan and Margaret Laurence, the Articles of Confederation, our films and songbooks, our therapy textbooks and sex manuals, our creeds and manifestos, our games and our TV Guides – all of these things will be laid at the feet of King Jesus, for reshaping, healing, and cleansing, in acknowledgment of the fact that they were explorations of territory that belonged to him all along. We are called to witness to the fact that that day is coming, and to give visible evidence here and now of the sovereign rule which will be universally acknowledged at the time of the gathering of the nations. It is my sincere hope on this joyous occasion that this institution, these humble beginnings notwithstanding, will be known on that day to be a faithful servant of the King.