Becoming People of Wisdom
Knowledge is Transformed to Wisdom by the Renewing of Our Minds
By Philip Eaton, President
Taking seriously the life of the mind requires courage, says President Eaton. "The Christian
community has often been too timid when it comes to ideas....Let us rise above our fears and our
small differences and seek the unity that can
As we continue to work on a Comprehensive Plan for the 21st Century at Seattle Pacific University, some fresh thinking and fresh language have begun to emerge that will guide us well into the future.
Let's start at the beginning. We must first be very clear about our foundations. At Seattle Pacific, we ground all that we do on the transforming Gospel of Jesus Christ. We have a starting point, a foundation, a first principle.
George Marsden, a leading voice on the history of American higher education, has said, "Probably most academics do not even try to deal with first principles. Knowledge today is oriented increasingly toward the practical." In the broader scheme of American higher education, to define a first principle like ours is profoundly distinctive and sometimes disturbing. Jesus Christ makes all the difference.
Let me add quickly that the practical should indeed be important. We train our graduates to excel in their chosen careers. We provide for them the confidence that comes with competence. We seek for them the ability to make a difference in the world.
But at SPU, the practical is transformed by the eternal. Incarnational faith means that we discover dimensions of the sacred everywhere. As Paul says in I Corinthians, "a spiritual person can judge the worth of everything" precisely because "we possess the mind of Christ." That is indeed an extraordinary standard and an exhilarating challenge. Practical matters are profoundly changed.
Now comes the fascinating part. Given our starting point, we are actually in the business of transforming lives. Of course, all universities believe in some form of transformation. An author in the Chronicle of Higher Education recently made this astonishing assertion: "The whole point of a college education is to teach an appreciation for skepticism." This is a kind of "new orthodoxy" for the modern academy, he contends. Transformation into skeptics - can that truly be the real purpose of a college education?
What then does SPU mean by "transformation"? In part, we can answer this way: We seek to become people of wisdom. Prompted by the reflections of Provost Bruce Murphy, our faculty are currently discussing what it means to be engaged in a "scholarship of wisdom." What does this mean? It means first of all that our community gathers around ideas. Ideas matter. Ideas change people. Ideas change the world. We believe that thinking well is critical to the health of our society and the church. We enjoy the delight of discovery and the deep satisfaction of understanding.
But the deeper question is how ideas are transformed from knowledge to wisdom. In Romans, Paul reflects on this very point. "Be transformed," he says, "by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God - what is good and acceptable and perfect."
Once we have our starting point, our first principle in Jesus Christ, we then engage very intentionally and intensively in the renewing of our minds. I believe Paul is talking about the discipline of learning, the rigor of education, the building of theological foundations for faith, indeed ultimately the opening up to the possibilities of wisdom. I believe as well that those who have invested in the discipline of renewing their minds are the ones who will make a difference in our churches, in our city, and in the world.
One final note: As we commit ourselves to the life of the mind and seek our path toward wisdom, courage is required. The Christian community has often been too timid when it comes to ideas. Fearful of not fitting into the secular community, we have backed away from the controversy of thinking Christianly. Fearful of offending our brothers and sisters in the church, we have backed away from thinking boldly or thinking at all.
I want to issue this call to our broader SPU community. Support us in this bold venture. Support our faculty as they lift up their extraordinary gifts of reasoning, language, insight and wisdom. Give us the support necessary to be radically committed to the renewing of our minds. The church needs wisdom. Our broader community needs good thinking that is grounded on wisdom. Let us rise above our fears and our small differences and seek the unity that can come with wisdom.
Remember then with Proverbs that "The Lord by wisdom founded the earth." Our faith gives us this penetrating insight that God's wisdom is the foundation of everything. Let us live faithfully and joyfully as we seek to become people of wisdom.