December 2021 News Perspective Online Top Story

Letter from the Dean: “For such a time as this”

When Mordecai encouraged his daughter, Esther, as she faced a critical and frightening situation, he wondered if God had brought her to that unique moment “for such a time as this.” (Esther 4:14)

The phrase is widely quoted. The time in question was troubled, but God had already provided the means to meet the day’s challenge.

I feel strongly that Perkins is similarly called “for such a time as this.” Our institution is a vital means by which God is meeting deep needs today. It goes without saying that we live in a highly polarized society. Regrettably, this is increasingly also the case in theological education. A great many schools have a uniform party line. You know the day you matriculate what you are expected to think the day you graduate. That has never been true at Perkins.

This legacy is precious, and at no time more so than the present. For one thing, it is simply right. No single group or faction is perfectly righteous and therefore has the authority to exclude all others. No one can say truthfully that they have nothing to learn from all with whom they might legitimately disagree. More than that, it is sub-Christian. Jesus continually scandalized religious leaders by his association with those they regarded as outsiders. He explicitly extended the Levitical commandment to love neighbor to include non-Jews—even the despised Samaritans. Loving others is not optional.

It is also the best and most honorable way to educate. In a setting with a diverse faculty and student body, students have the opportunity to get to know a range of people as people, and not simply as stereotypes. They hear from them why they think the way they do, which more accurately informs all and, quite often, creates mutual understanding. It thus equips students to lead congregations in which disagreement of one sort or another is inevitable, and to reach across divides and to see beyond barriers. It also encourages humility, which is one of the most essential Christian virtues.

Let me put it another way. I quoted in my October online Perspective article the famous line from the jurist Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr.: “For the simplicity on this side of complexity, I wouldn’t give you a fig. But for the simplicity on the other side of complexity, for that I would give you anything I have.”  The goal of a Perkins education is not to make everything hopelessly complicated. The goal is to walk students through the complexities so that they might come to a much clearer (and, yes, often simpler) understanding of their faith. Such a faith has not dodged the complexities of history, interpretation, science, and other domains of human knowledge. It is for that reason all the stronger.

The favorite comment I’ve heard about Perkins from an alum is this: “Perkins is a place of unlikely friendships.” At no point in my lifetime has the value of unlikely friendships been greater. Perkins is doing something increasingly unusual and countercultural—and therefore all the more important.

Perkins School of Theology has faithfully served the church since its inception. In that sense, it has always been at work at “such a time.” I do believe, however, that at no moment has the mission of Perkins been more vital, more essential, than it is today. That energizes me and, I hope, encourages you.