by Dr. Barry Creamer, President & Professor of Humanities, Criswell College
Language is incredibly powerful, especially when it is ambiguous. Most of us learn that ambiguity is bad from an early age, but thats because most of the people who influence us confuse it with vagueness. Poets cram expansive meaning into minuscule phrases through ambiguity. So do sloganeers.
A little while back key leaders from every part of Criswell College sat around a table and looked for a phrase to catch and communicate our deep-seated commitment to following Jesus, educating students, mentoring disciples, serving churches, and impacting the community and culture around us. After our goldilocks committee had tasted and rejected every too-long, too-hot, too-narrow, too-cold, and too-already-taken option set before us, we found one that works: Engaging Minds. Transforming Culture.
Being a relaxed (in my opinion) grammar maven, I suspect it is not obvious to everyone why this participially weighted slogan is just right for us. Participles provide one of the simplest ways to add ambiguity to a phrase. They have two meanings prima facie; that is, as adjectives and as verbs. (Of course, given the right context, a participial form might even be more; for instance, a gerund.) Having a lot to say and very little space to say it, as in a slogan, just begs for a participle with ambiguity. What does that mean for Criswells slogan? Glad you asked.
When I began as a student at Criswell ages ago, I was stricken by the high level of intellectual engagement in the classroom. Contrary opinions were welcomed and responses, while just as vigorous as the challenges, were courteous and winsome rather than forced. I was challenged (read, required) to read authors with whom I know my professors agreed, and just as many with whom I know they disagreed. It wasinvigorating. Similarly, since I began serving on faculty at Criswell over a decade ago I have found discussions at lunch, in public forums, and in meetings to raise the level at which I have to think and function. Indeed, I still find the theological or philosophical question a student raises in the hallway enough to drive me to re-examine important ideas. The point is simple: Criswell College is filled with engaging mindsthose of alumni, students, faculty, and staffconnecting on topics of the deepest significance, but, believe it or not, with kindness and even for fun. It is one of the main reasons people love being part of the school.
But engaging also serves as a verb. When God sends a student to Criswell, we see it as our job to do more than indoctrinate. Now, we are a confessional school, and our professors sign our statement of faith every year. Each and every one of us is committed to producing leaders who care about the broad strokes and the details of that confession. But the essence of our existence as a school is about more than persuading or controlling. It is about educatingengaging minds in a fearless and rigorous pursuit of truth, understanding that wherever truth may be found, it belongs to its master. We challenge the nave to travel all the way around the skeptic and back to a much more grounded faith. We drive the stubbornly mature to realize that for a believer neither learning nor growing should cease in this lifetime.
Again, adjectives first. Criswell College is a transformative place. We hear all the time that some of the most important relationships of a lifetime begin on campus at Criswell. Lives are impacted by a lecture in class, prayer in an office, service on a mission trip or during a practicum, or a discussion in the coffee shop or on the parking lot after chapel or before class. The point of all of those relationships, ideas, and activities at Criswell College is faithspecifically faith to follow Jesus. Our people, curricula, events, plans, and hopes are all wrapped up in following Him. We cling to that faith so that every person we influence can be transformed by its objectby Jesus. To be univocal rather than ambiguous for a moment, Criswell College is a transformative culture.
But verbs still matter. And so does the culture around us. We want the faith culture of the school to impact students as much as we want the faith of our graduates to impact the culture in which they will live and work.
When Criswell College began, our denomination was on the doctrinal skids. The purpose of the school was to produce and equip leaders who could reverse that declineand it worked. Obviously, our school was not alone in that reversal, but we were instrumental if not downright essential. And I do mean we literally; some of the most influential professors from that time are still producing leaders today. The nature of that work demanded the best of biblical studies, theology, and ministry training. Neither that need nor our commitment to meet it will decline in any way as we continue to educate men and women to lead in the context of churches and ministries.
But what we see now is an entire culture in decline. The Wests rise in material prosperity is matched only by its decline in spiritual awareness. For the time being, it appears that the most influential leaders among us are content to exchange virtues birthright for a pot of money. Thats why we are committed at Criswell College over the next few years to provide the same grounding in scripture, theology, and vocational ministry that restored our denomination, but also to add to that content specialized training in disciplines which can influence business, government, education, and media. By grounding students in at least a majors worth of biblical Christianity, then providing them professors who are not only at the top of their academic disciplines but also ardently committed to our statement of faith, we believe we can produce the kind of leaders this culture needs in order to be turned from its current trajectory.
Ridiculously ambitious? Well, yes. But, if the Lord tarries and we dont, there is time and real potential. If a brief phrase can mean more than its words, then it seems likely a small community can move more than its parts. We dont just think God sends us students so we can influence them. We believe God sends the college students so He can send the culture leaders.