The following article was written for Evangelicals Now and published in their news publication for February 2014.
JM: What do you love about Wheaton College?
PR: Honestly, I love almost everything about Wheaton College. I was virtually raised on this campus – my father taught English Literature here for almost 50 years – and I have a life-long love affair with this community.
I love the way our faculty pursues the life of the mind, in a context where learning is integrated with faith and life. I love the breadth of our liberal arts curriculum, which invites all of our students to study great books and pursue learning across a wide range of disciplines in the arts and sciences. I love the music we make in our exceptional conservatory. I love our nationally-ranked sports teams. I love our close association with the evangelism of Billy Graham and the martyrdom of Jim Elliot. And I love the natural and architectural beauty of our residential campus.
What I love the most, however, is our student body. Every day I have conversations with gifted young men and women who love to learn and want to offer their lives in service to Jesus Christ. The vast majority will be transformed by their time at Wheaton, becoming more and more the people God is calling them to become.
JM: What are the key opportunities for Wheaton College?
PR: The main opportunity for Wheaton College is to prepare gifted young men and women to build the church and benefit society worldwide. Year after year, we are blessed with one of the most intellectually-gifted student bodies in the United States. They will study with us for a season, and then they will go anywhere in the world – literally.
Educating these students is a precious stewardship, which at present we seek to advance through four strategic priorities. First, to globalise a Wheaton education by building international partnerships, welcoming growing numbers of students and scholars from overseas, and doubling the number of students (from 40% to 80%) who receive academic credit in cross-cultural settings. Second, to deepen ethnic diversity by pursuing the biblical goal of unity in Christ and fostering a truly welcoming environment for people of colour (presently 25% of our student body).Third, to promote academic excellence through a new general education curriculum that better introduces students to the history and practices of the Christian liberal arts. And, fourth, to enhance music and the performing arts by planning and constructing a new music building and concert hall.
JM: What are the main challenges for Wheaton College?
PR: The main challenge for us is the same as for any Christian community: to remain faithful to Jesus Christ from one generation to the next.
The history of higher education in the United States is littered with colleges and universities that were founded on solidly biblical principles but have long since abandoned any semblance of vital Christianity. My aim is to do what a president can do to defend theological orthodoxy, nurture spiritual vitality, and promote academic excellence at Wheaton College.
My predecessors have been faithful to that high calling, and I hope to be as well. On the sad day when I retire from the presidency, I want Wheaton’s well-known motto: ‘For Christ and his Kingdom’, still to ring true.
JM: How can EN readers pray for Wheaton?
PR: We are deeply grateful for the strong influence that British evangelicalism has had on our community over the years. I think immediately of John Stott, who spoke at Wheaton many times, and also of C.S. Lewis, who would be our ‘patron saint’ – if we had such a thing. So the thought of believers in Great Britain continuing that link today by praying for us warms my heart.
As a performance-oriented community, we need prayer for deeper humility and a growing love for Jesus Christ. In order to stay on mission, we need wisdom to make good decisions about which scholars we invite to teach on our faculty. And we need the living presence of the Holy Spirit, who alone has the power to make what we do count for the kingdom of God.