"Hinges of History"

Like David, SPU Prepares to Run at the Challenge

By Philip Eaton, President

At its autumn meeting, the SPU Board of Trustees affirmed the "Comprehensive Plan for the 21st Century" spearheaded by President Eaton. See the "Into the World" feature for a summary of the plan.

In a fascinating little book titled How the Irish Saved Civilization, The Untold Story of Ireland's Heroic Role from the Fall of Rome to the Rise of Medieval Europe, Thomas Cahill talks about the "hinges of history," those "essential moments when everything was at stake." He focuses in on that grand and dark moment when Rome was collapsing at the core. This great empire, the culmination of all classical culture, in its late stages reshaped by the power of the Christian gospel, found itself weak, whimpering, and finally humiliated, before the crude, relentless force of the barbarians.

Just then, says Cahill, "when the mighty stream that became Western history was in ultimate danger and might have divided into a hundred useless tributaries or frozen in death or evaporated altogether," then came, quite surprisingly, amazingly, St. Patrick and his Irish monks. They gathered books, artifacts and art. They sought to preserve the best of Christian classical learning and philosophy. In all of this they hoped to lift up the light of the gospel of Jesus Christ against the chaos spreading across Europe.

These monks were among the "great gift-givers" of history, those who step up to the challenge at the hinge-points, "arriving in the moment of crisis," and providing "for transition, for transformation. . . ." Focused by an urgent and intense need to engage and preserve the culture, understanding that this was the only way to spread the gospel, these bold Irish monks ran right at this daunting challenge and saved European civilization.

We read about another hinge of history in the biblical story of David and Goliath. The Israelites are confronted by the loud and presumptuous Philistines, another crude force that threatens to snuff out the light of Jewish culture. Fear is in the air. Cowering, "shaken and deeply afraid," the Israelites sense the urgency: Is it possible that God, here in this rocky Valley of Elah, may lose his ability to speak in the world?

Coming out of "a century or two of moral disintegration," Eugene Peterson says, "compounded by political chaos, Israel was at the point of losing its identity as a people of God, losing touch with its history, losing hold on the theme of salvation, which provided meaning and coherence to life itself." This was indeed a hinge point.

Just then a new and unlikely voice speaks up. Curious, full of energy, skilled and competent, naively bold, shaped by memory, empowered by a new perspective on reality, David steps up to the challenge. His boldness is fresh, nothing less than breathtaking. He has vision and he has an attitude: How dare this thundering, nine-foot giant threaten to silence the children of the living God?

Then comes the all-critical sense of purpose that drives him: I will take on this challenge, David says, so that "the world will know there is a God in Israel." Then he does something that is also critically important: He runs right at the giant.

Breathtaking! Go with skill to be sure. Go with confidence that is shaped by remembering. But be sure you are empowered by a profoundly important purpose: Remember, you speak and act so that the world will know there is a God. And then secondly, run right at the challenge. No sitting around. No good just claiming that God is with you. Do something. Act. Move. Run right at the challenge. I believe we find ourselves at just such a hinge point of history. I believe Christians have a narrow window of opportunity left to be effective voices for the gospel of Jesus Christ. Our culture grows more indifferent and more hostile as the days go by.

I know it is often dangerous and presumptuous to claim historical urgency, but I believe we face the dark prospect of barbarian or Philistine victory. It is critical for the "gift-givers" to step up.

At Seattle Pacific University, we are attempting, perhaps with David's naive kind of boldness, to engage the culture and make a real difference in the world. We have a vision and we have a plan. We are now developing and gathering our gifts, selecting the smooth stones of engagement. We are seeking others to invest with us in this vision. Most of all we have an attitude: Quite simply we will run right at the challenge! Boldly, perhaps a bit naively (though I hope not foolishly), with passion and confidence, we are going to take a run.

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