Filling Key Presidency in Christian Higher Ed

Wheaton of Illinois names a new leader -- at a time the college enjoys greater prominence and faces some criticism.
February 22, 2010
 

The next president of Wheaton College of Illinois will be Philip Graham Ryken, senior minister at the Tenth Presbyterian Church, in Philadelphia. Ryken is an alumnus and trustee of Wheaton, where his father has taught in the English department for more than 40 years.

Wheaton, a nondenominational Christian college, is extremely influential in the world of Christian higher education, and is seen by many as an intellectual leader, called the "Harvard of Christian higher education." But the college has also faced questions over its handling of issues of science and sexuality -- and a sense by critics that it is too doctrinaire.

Via e-mail, Ryken answered a few questions about Wheaton, giving no sense of major changes on the way.

Of Wheaton's role in American higher education, he said: "We share many commitments with other liberal arts colleges: a love for great books and the life of the mind; the development of critical skills for reading, writing, and speaking; academic study that is not narrowly vocational but offers broad preparation for service in a democratic society.”

But he added that "at Wheaton there is always this distinctive, which pervasively and systemically affects everything we do: we believe that the person of Jesus Christ is the ultimate source of truth and thus we seek to understand everything from the perspective of a Christian world view.”

Ryken said he was impressed with the quality of recent faculty hires and increasingly high ambitions for academics. He said that a new science facility was "one example of our ever-deepening commitment to academic excellence," and that the new building "will enhance our work in the hard sciences by providing ideal spaces for faculty and students to do collaborative research.”

Some have criticized the college for, to date, seeming to resist the teaching of evolution -- even while improving laboratories and focusing more on science.

Ryken said that the college's views on these issues shouldn't surprise anyone familiar with the Wheaton Statement of Faith. He said that "we are fully committed to exploring the evidence of the natural world as part of the truth that God has revealed," but he also said that "we do not believe that science is the only way of knowing."

He added: "On the basis of biblical revelation we also believe in a supernatural Creator who made everything in the universe, including the first parents of the human race. Such theological convictions do not deter us in any way, however, from looking with rigor at the best contemporary data and theories of science in our enthusiastic search for truth and in confidence in our shared and God-given capacity to know ever more truly the created order.”

On issues of sexuality, the college has been criticized for not allowing the hiring of faculty members who suggest even the possibility that monogamous gay relationships may not be immoral.

Here Ryken said: "With respect to sexuality, we seek to practice what we believe to be biblical standards. This is not a matter of coercion, but the voluntary commitment of a spiritual as well as an intellectual community. Part of that commitment is to refrain from sexual relations outside the bounds of marriage between a man and woman. While embracing together this biblical standard, we strive to serve as a compassionate community for students who want to understand the biblical perspective on human sexuality, while striving and sometimes failing to keep it.”

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