Westmont Magazine Restating Our Faith
‘Why would you want a new statement of faith?” That was the question I asked in spring 1996, while candidating for the provost position at Westmont. It was provoked by two things. First, my reading of the Long Range Planning Report of 1995, which suggested that Westmont’s statement should be reviewed. And second, by my own gut-level sense that an institution shouldn’t change its faith statement. After all, our core beliefs don’t change. So why should we change our description of those beliefs?
My question was asked with prejudice, but it was still a good one. We live in a time when too many people find it easy to adapt their beliefs to their circumstances, trading in their understanding of the truth for a little more flexibility in living. That’s not a good trend — it’s worth resisting.
Within a short time, however, I had my answer. It came in the form of a conversation between two people next to me in the airport, one of whom was liberally quoting the Bible (King James version) without a clue as to what it meant. The words were known but its message was missing. Sometimes familiarity breeds not contempt but indifference. And that may be even worse.
Westmont has had the same statement regarding its articles of faith since the early days of its incorporation. They were penned with care by those who gave birth to this college, reflecting both our commitment to the authority of Scripture as well as some of the theological concerns of the day. They weren’t inspired, but they were important to the future of the college. Knowing that, the founders stipulated that the articles could not be changed without the unanimous consent of the board of trustees. This was a college that would remain Christian in word and deed.
In fall 2002, Westmont’s Board of Trustees approved a new statement of faith with precisely the same intent. In many ways, it’s a better statement than its predecessor. It’s theologically richer. It’s more easily understood, especially for today’s reader. And it is artfully written, inspiring the reader who affirms its intent. But in the end, it remains faithful to the core vision that brought this college into being some 66 years ago.
And in the process, I have completely changed my mind. In fact, I think every Christian college should revisit its statement of faith with each new generation. Because such statements are not meant to be showpieces but active agents in the life of the community. It may sound good to say we’ve never changed our statement of faith. But it’s much better to actually be a school of Christ, knowing what we believe, expressing it with joy and conviction, and living as if it is true.
I am deeply grateful to Dr. Jonathan Wilson, who chaired the Articles of Faith Task Force, along with the trustees, faculty and staff who made up the committee. I am equally grateful to President Winter for having the courage to take this step more than two years ago when he established the task force. The entire Westmont community participated constructively and energetically in the process, and our community has been strengthened. But I am especially grateful to God for leading us through this process, reminding us of who we are and to what we are called. Great is thy faithfulness, oh God, our father.