Westmont Magazine A Family Matter
Sometimes privilege is only appreciated in retrospect. At least that seems to be the case with me. I grew up in a church that came out of the peace tradition but was, at the same time, firmly rooted in American evangelicalism. This meant that, from day one, I was in the midst of debates about non-resistance and just war, the sovereignty of God and free will, eschatology and the last days (to name a few). In fact, every Sunday, after church, the entire extended family would gather together at Grandma’s house for chicken dinner and engage in lively debate about the issues of the day. We argued passionately. We laughed heartily. And we loved each other deeply, regardless of what position was taken on any particular Sunday afternoon.
And I got an education in the process. A theological education, to be sure, as I had to figure out what I believed and how it applied to the events of the day. But I also learned what it meant to be apart of a family that cared about the truth. And, on the one hand, it meant being rather unflinching in one’s pursuit of the biblical story, figuring out what the Word had to say, and how it applied to politics, relationships, science or society. But it also meant loving and respecting those with whom you disagreed. Why? Because they were members of the family — people created in God’s image, who loved the Lord with all their hearts, and were given to me for my comfort and correction. Disagreement wasn’t a sign of failure, in other words, but affection. And we knew it.
Eventually, of course, I discovered the privilege of dinner at Grandma’s house. And I learned it, not only in the culture, but in the church. Two theories seemed to under gird everyday conversations. For some, truth was all a mystery, unfathomable and therefore not particularly important. These folks took great pride in loving their neighbor but they didn’t know why. They had polite conversation, but without purpose or intent. And genuine learning was out of the question. For others, however, disagreement signaled disloyalty. Truth was assumed not only in the Word, but in the words of the interpreter. And if you questioned the application of truth, your faith was questioned as well.
These are just two sides of a relativistic culture, of course, where we swing from denying God on one day to denying our finitude on the other. What we are called to do, however, is quite different. It is to affirm the truth we have been given (the prophetic Word), and work out its implications for our life together. The local church is in this business, of course. And so is the Christian liberal arts college. It’s how we grow deeper in our understand of God’s Word while growing up in wisdom and good judgment. And, in the long run, it produces people of faith and character, capable of providing leadership in a world badly deficient in both qualities.
That is our ambition at Westmont, of course. And it means being a place pretty much like Grandma’s house on Sunday afternoon where the Truth is affirmed and pursued. Love is practiced. And lively debate is nurtured and enjoyed. You’ll see a bit of that in this edition of the Westmont Magazine, as our faculty discuss the thorny issues of war and peace in the Middle East. But to get the full picture, you’ll need to sit down for a full meal and see the family in action. Which, of course, is what I get to do on a regular basis. And it’s music to my ears, I want you to know. A rare privilege, in fact. Which I’m going to enjoy, this time around. While giving thanks to Grandma. Along with the God who put this family together in the first place.