In the Australian outback, cattle are kept on a ranch by either building a fence around the perimeter or building a well in the center. The first approach operates on exclusion. Are the cattle in or are they out? The second works on attraction. Are cattle heading toward the well or away? The first is bounded, the second centered. This distinction is important for Biola. Our center is our soul. Our boundaries are not our soul.
We start our mission statement by saying our education, our scholarship and our service are biblically centered. They are not politically centered or culturally centered or philosophically centered. They are biblically centered, and therefore we are biblically centered. Our biblical commitment is rooted in Scripture understood by followers of Jesus throughout the ages. The uniqueness of this university is increasingly rare in higher education.
We must stand strong in a love and confidence in God’s Word as our center. We must instill in our students a Christian worldview strong enough to resist the entropy of a fragmented age and durable enough to stand strong amidst the gale force winds of secularism, materialism and other -isms. Proverbs 29:18 reminds us, “without a vision” — or literally without biblical revelation — “the people cast off restraints.” Our vision is rooted in Scripture that keeps us from casting off restraints.
As I read recently, if the risk for missionaries in early contexts was that they would be colonizers, the risk for “missionaries” in our current context is that they will be colonized. More and more well-meaning Christians set out to engage and impact culture and end up becoming more like that culture and less like Jesus. We cannot assume Biola students will shine as lights in the darkness just because they love Jesus and have missional passion. They must be grounded, centered, inspired and steeped in Scripture.
What is glorious about our center is also what is under siege. It’s increasingly hard for a university to remain biblically centered because of the stiffening headwinds blowing against our deeply held beliefs. These winds have picked up in the 11 years since I came to Biola. What it took to keep us centered a decade ago requires more intentionality and courage today. Holding to our center with resolve does not mean we are harsher or meaner or more combative. Quite the opposite. Holding firmly to our center frees us to be more loving and generous as we share in the glorious wholeness of a gospel-centered life.
It’s worth it to remain centered if we can fix our collective vision on the full, rich and wonderful life a follower of Jesus lives in this already-but-not-yet kingdom of God. Biola friend and former trustee Dallas Willard wrote, “You lead people to become disciples of Jesus by ravishing them with a vision of life in the kingdom of the heavens in the fellowship of Jesus.” Our common cause at Biola is a varied but shared movement toward the center, a full-throated affirmation of God’s glorious intentions for the flourishing of his creation.
Not only does it matter that we do this, it matters how we do this. At Biola, we undergird our intellectual quests with self-effacement and love. At Biola, the left does not need to convert the right, nor does the right need to convert the left. At Biola, the goal is for the Bible to convert us all, converting us to its truth, its vision for humanity and its authority to speak into issues of the day. We cannot bend the gospel to fit our politics, our views on immigration or refugees, our views on race or gender or the agenda of political leaders. We must bend our views on everything to fit the gospel. If God became fully human in Jesus then everything that is truly human is part of his redemptive concern.
I love Biola and what we stand for. I see a university filled with undergraduate and graduate students trusting us to form and shape their minds and character as Jesus’ disciples. This is a sacred trust we have, and we cannot tack toward any center other than one grounded in God’s truth. Never has fidelity to biblical moorings been more needed among historically faithful Christian colleges. Never has a clearly stated firm center mattered more than it does today. We can, should and will be the place to assume this holy task.
Barry H. Corey is the eighth president of Biola University. Visit his office online at biola.edu/president, or follow him on Facebook at facebook.com/presidentcorey, on Instagram @presidentbarrycorey and on Twitter @presidentcorey.