Saturday, March 26, 2011

Summing up Seminary

This past Thursday, I had the distinct privilege of speaking at the Calvin Theological Seminary Annual Scholarship Donor Appreciation Dinner.  This year was unique because, in addition to allowing donors and recipients to get to know each other, it also honored outgoing President Dr. Neal Plantinga who is leaving that post at the end of this academic year.

The theme for evening was, “Communicating the Gospel” – something that Dr. Plantinga is (and has been) passionate about and committed to throughout his entire career in ministry.  The 600 or so guests included seminary students and employees, scholarship donors and various other supporters, members of the board of trustees, and friends and family of Dr. Plantinga.

My task was four-fold:  (1) Incorporate the theme of the evening, “Communicating the Gospel”; (2) thank the donors and supporters that were present for their support; (3)  thank Dr. Plantinga for his service to seminary; (4) be brief – no more than 5 minutes.  So I set to work and did what I could.  Below are my 562 words spoken in 4.5 minutes. 

I decided to share it here because I think it’s a good summary of what a seminary education is all about -- at least as far as the preaching ministry aspect of that education is concerned.  I’m sure that are many other good ones as well, but this is my attempt.

One note of explanation – the reference to the ‘infamous four pages’ about halfway through is a reference to the sermon construction method that Calvin Seminary employs and trains its students to use called the “Four Page Method”.  I’ll explain the four pages method more some other time.  Right now, just suffice it to say, it’s kind of an inside joke.

Here is the text of my speech if you’d care to read it:

CTS Friends, Donors, Supporters, Students, Faculty, & Staff,

Thank you for the privilege to speak, to communicate, to you this evening.

There is a quote, commonly attributed to St. Francis of Asissi, that goes something like this, “Preach the Gospel always, and if necessary use words.” While we can all appreciate the sentiment of this axiom, if it were always true, as a person studying to be a preacher of that same Gospel, I’d like to ask for my money back. In fact, I would contend that it is primarily through words that the Gospel is communicated. The Gospel is THE Word made flesh and communicating its truth requires actions, yes, -- but perhaps even more so, words – thoughtful words, careful words, convicting words, powerful words, eloquent words – words that move us to action.

It is to this belief, that the faculty, staff, administration, supporters, and students of Calvin Theological Seminary have dedicated themselves. Tonight is a night in which we come together in gratitude to God for your support to the cause of communicating the Gospel.

Effective Gospel communication requires a unique combination of knowledge and insight -- both biblical and cultural -- as well as creative, confident, and effective communication skills. Translating and interpreting the power of the Gospel of grace for a world in desperate need of hearing it is both a privilege and a challenge. Indeed, it is something that no one in this room takes lightly.

Effective Gospel communication requires that we, as students, learn about hermeneutics and homiletics, ecclesiology and eschatology, we must study prophets and poetry, literature and letters, find trouble and bring grace…and then, by some miracle of the Spirit, fit it into those infamous four pages.

All of this takes time. As is the case with so many of my classmates, God’s call to pursue this task has meant that my family and I have had to leave behind a job, a home, and a community (and for some a country) to come to this community to study our craft and hone our skills. As donors, your generous commitment to the CTS community by providing scholarships and in myriad other ways is what makes my commitment, our commitment, possible.

So tonight, I say thank you, on behalf of all of us, for your commitment to producing effective communicators of the Gospel. And in that vein, a special word of thanks to Dr. Neal Plantinga for his years of service to this institution, whose passion for communicating the Gospel effectively is contagious. A quote from you in the institutional mission section of the CTS website says, “Calvin Theological Seminary helps students to speak with wonder, with assurance, with faith.” It’s the hope and prayer of everyone in this room that we, as future preachers, teachers, musicians, counselors, or missionaries will be empowered to do exactly that. Thank you for your dedication to the craft of communicating the Gospel and for sharing that passion with all of us over the last ten years.

Communicating the Gospel means standing with the apostle Paul in the synagogue saying, “This Jesus I am proclaiming to you is the Christ” In so doing, the invisible is made visible, the hidden is revealed, and the mystery and grace of the Good News is proclaimed, on earth as it is in heaven to the glory of God the Father. Thank you.

1 comment:

Beth TenHaken said...

Great job and meaningful words, Michael. Thanks for posting your 'speech'. It brings us a taste of your work.
Love you, Mom