Last summer I received a letter from a Biola dad whose son graduated that year. John, the dad, is an investment broker from the East Coast whose son David graduated through our Torrey Honors Institute. David’s now thriving in graduate school in Philadelphia.

John wrote me about Biola’s biblical centeredness.

Had I been asked five years ago, “What do you think of Biola?” My response would have been, “Never heard of it. Where is Viola?” Five years later my response is, “I love Biola. … I’m a huge fan.”

When I dropped David off for freshman orientation I had the chance to ask him two questions: What was he most excited about? And what was he most concerned about? He said he was excited to study the Bible with friends and faculty who take the Scriptures seriously and who acknowledge the Scriptures’ authority over their lives. But he was concerned that this important academic work would undermine his ability to read the Scriptures devotionally — that the Bible would become dry. …

When I came for his graduation I had a chance to ask him [again and] was pleased, but not surprised, to hear his response. His excitement was rewarded as he studied the Bible with scholars who did in fact take the Bible seriously and who do acknowledge its authority over them. And his fears were NOT realized, as this rigorous academic work did not squelch his devotional life, but rather made it richer and fuller. I think there could be no greater testimony for Biola’s … faculty than that.

At Biola he has been discipled to know that it is more important to persuade than to prevail. He has been nurtured to make his case in a way that is not about winning arguments for ego’s sake, but winning people for Jesus’ sake. He still has a passion for the Truth, but now much better tempered with Love and Grace.

This is Biola. We are a university where we want our students to have firm centers and soft edges. Rooted in the truth of God’s Word and God’s world, we are called to engage the culture with a deep conviction but in a way that is meek, loving, graceful and with an attractive fragrance. We need a firm center and soft edges. No saber rattling. No fist shaking. No scowled conversations. No voice raising.

I see our students and graduates engaging the culture with temperate tones by serving alongside rather than throwing stones from pedestals. It’s the “gentleness and respect” language the disciple Peter used about defending our faith through conversations with the others God places in our lives, “But in your hearts set apart Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect” (1 Pet. 3:15).

For centuries, Christians addressed the world’s brokenness with a Christlike love, and only in recent decades the approach of some turned acidic and angry. But just as some want to pick a fight, others err by leaving their convictions at the conversational door for the sake of niceness. The indictment goes both ways. Not long ago I made a note of a Christian leader I heard discussing the Lutheran scholar Martin Marty who wrote in one of his books: “People today who are civil often don’t have very strong convictions. And people who have strong convictions often are not often very civil.” We need both civility and conviction.

I spend my days within an educational community where these thousands of students, committed to following Christ and making a difference in their world, are rising up to become the next generation’s leaders. Their future will look a lot different 10 and 20 years down the road. With a world that is more accessible, with a nation that is more ethnically diverse, with religious pluralism more at our doorstep than ever, cultural complexities and global realities are the future into which these students are growing.

What keeps me believing I have the greatest job in the world is getting to know Biola students, watching their transformation in mind and heart. As I have come to know these outstanding students — scholars, artists, musicians, athletes, leaders and writers who are creative, hilarious, adventuresome, loving, compassionate, occasionally mischievous and usually wise — I see in them what the world needs.

Firm centers and soft edges.

This happens in Biola students as they make room for spiritual depth, for contemplative thought, for idealism, for examining their character, for moral reasoning, for pondering deeply on the meaning of the good life as described in the Scriptures.