What’s in a
Knowing What’s Going on in the World and Embracing the Christian Story: Two of SPU’s Distinctives
People have a hard time reading my signature. I sometimes look at what I have written and wonder where in the world that came from. I am absolutely certain I didn’t learn it from my third-grade penmanship teacher. I am not sure I am proud of my signature. I tried to change it one time, and it just wouldn’t budge. I try to write it out legibly sometimes, but then it’s just not my signature anymore.
One of my mentors was a college president who said he would never hire anyone without seeing his or her signature. He claimed he could tell things about a person you might not see in an interview. Now, that's a scary thought. What in the world could he be seeing?
Is it possible that an organization has a sig- nature? Aren't we in fact looking all the time for the signature of a company, a church, a community, even a nation? When we finally locate that signature, we say, so that’s what they are all about, that’s the way they sign their identity.
I have been pressing us at Seattle Pacific to talk about our distinctives, another word, I suppose, for signatures. What are those things that define our special identity? I feel very strongly that any organization, to be successful, indeed to flourish, must define and declare and deliver something very distinctive. These are the promises an organization makes to the world: We declare this is what we have to offer, this is who we are, and we will deliver on those promises.
I want to see us at Seattle Pacific become even more clear about our identity, to search deep down for our signatures. What do we really stand for? Who are we and what promises are we making to our world? And if we are making those promises, how do we know when we have delivered?
For example, I believe our mission to engage the culture and change the world is a firm and steady signature. In just the way we live out this mission, I am not sure this signature really fits anyone else as comfortably. We make a promise in this signature to be relevant, to be responsive, to interface and encounter the world. That’s our identity, as a learning community. That’s why we learn. In other words, learning for us is not an end in itself.
And then beneath this overall mission signature, as we dig down into the layers of what we are all about, we find some other parts to our signature, other distinctives that all contribute to a very unique kind of Christian university. What if we say, for example, that we seek to know what’s going on in the world? What if our goal, without hesitation, with joy and enthusiasm, without fear, is truly to engage the issues of the day, equipping ourselves to be at the table of what’s happening? I think this kind of posture toward the world is one of the signatures of Seattle Pacific.
And then what if we add another dimension to our signature? In addition to knowing what’s going on in the world, what if we commit ourselves to embracing the Christian story, deeply and profoundly, seeking in all we do to become biblically and theologically educated?
There are, of course, other distinctives, but these two, to know what’s going on and at the same time to embrace the Christian story, are at least two parts of our signature, our idetity, our promise. There is something about that combination I find so attractive.
This past spring, as part of our yearlong President’s Symposia on cultural engagement, we hosted the extraordinary New Testament scholar N.T. Wright on our campus. As I have read Bishop Wright’s work throughout the years, and as I sat listening to him address our packed-out audiences, I thought, yes, here is a model of these two parts of our signature. Here is a scholar, a teacher, a man of the church, who seeks to know what’s going on in the world, indeed, but then with intellectual exuberance and rigor, he aggressively engages our world with the power of the gospel of Jesus. You come out of Tom Wright’s lectures, and the world never looks the same. Indeed you walk out into the world, and the Bible looks new and fresh and profoundly relevant.
I am fond of quoting a passage from Wright’s fine book called The Challenge of Jesus.
He says there that “our task, as image-bearing, God-loving, Christ-shaped, Spirit-filled Christians, following Christ and shaping our world, is to announce redemption to the world that has discovered its fallenness, to announce healing to the world that has discovered its brokenness, to proclaim love and trust to the world that knows only exploitation, fear, and suspicion. … The gospel of Jesus points us and indeed urges us to be at the leading edge of the whole culture, articulating in story and music and art and philosophy and education and poetry and politics and theology and … biblical studies, a worldview that will mount the historically rooted Christian challenge to both modernity and postmodernity, leading the way … with joy and humor and gentleness and good judgment and true wisdom.”
What a signature. Live in the mix, to be sure, right out there where the world loves and suffers and thrives and fears. But then, too, “with joy and humor and gentleness and good judgment and true wisdom,” equip ourselves to “mount the historically rooted Christian challenge.” You can’t have one without the other. It’s the combination that is our signature.
— BY Philip W. Eaton, President
— Photo by Greg Schneider
Back to the top
Back to Home