Revisiting an Alma Mater

Riverdave’s Journal

May 27, 2010

In May 2010 I applied for a Graduate School Assistantship at Montreat College in Western North Carolina where I once studied as an undergraduate in the 1970s.  As part of this recent job application, I was asked to “submit a faith statement, addressing the college’s mission and the four points of the college’s faith statement,” as is required of all who apply for staff and faculty positions at this Presbyterian college. The Montreat College faith statement is as follows:

Montreat College is a Christ-centered institution of higher learning, grounded in the Presbyterian (Reformed) tradition. While students are welcomed regardless of religious affiliation, all of our trustees, faculty, and staff support the following faith statement: 


1. We believe the Triune God is sovereign in all matters of creation, life, salvation, and eternity. 


2. We believe that Scripture is the inspired, authoritative, and completely truthful Word of God, and should govern the conduct of Christians in every aspect of their lives. 


3. We believe Jesus Christ is God the Son, whom God the Father sent into the world to become a man, to die for sin, and to rise from the dead on the third day for our salvation. Thus, Jesus Christ is the only way to be reconciled to God. 


4. We believe that, after the ascension of Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit was sent to believers to enable them to walk in obedience to the Word of God as set forth once and for all in the Scriptures.

I submitted the following personal faith statement and addressed the college's with the following response but was not chosen to receive the assistantship:

As for the college’s mission, “Christ-centered, Student-focused, Service-driven,” I fully support the college’s commitment to seek a strong spiritual perspective to inform and nurture an environmental ethic.  I also appreciate that a small college like Montreat allows it’s mission to be student learning focused, as opposed to faculty publication oriented.  By service driven, I understand that the primary purpose for advanced education is not to aspire to the accumulation of wealth, but to be of service to humanity and all other life forms in the great community of Creation. 

In respect to the college’s faith statement in the Triune God, the inspiration and instruction of Scripture, the centrality of Jesus of Nazareth, the empowering of the Holy Spirit - these are spiritual truths that I have sought to embody in my personal life since my days as an undergraduate student and consequently in sixteen years of Biblical research and translation work overseas.

I must affirm that through my many years of engaged, cross cultural encounters in Asia, Africa and Latin America, the borders of my spirituality have expanded, allowing me to respect and learn from other faith traditions as well.  At present I am comfortable with a universal understanding of spirituality.  By this I mean that I have become confident that God has been at work to reconcile broken humanity through many different paths, including the non-written book of Nature, through the lives and spiritual practices of indigenous peoples who still relate closely to the natural world, and through the examples of the great prophets, reformers and activists of many diverse cultural traditions.  

In my early years in Montreat, I came to know a number of senior Presbyterian missionaries who had returned from lifelong work in China, Korea and Brazil and retired in Montreat. When I was an undergraduate student and just beginning to formulate my own overseas mission pilgrimage, it often seemed to me that these elder Presbyterian missionaries had somehow compromised their Biblical perspective through all their years of wrestling with non-Christian perspectives.

Through my own years of mission work overseas, I have had  experiences that were strikingly parallel to those of my respected Presbyterian missionary elders.  I have wrestled with human suffering on a grand scale in third world settings, raised three children overseas to speak a foreign language and exposed them to numerous dangers, expanded the limited theological horizons of my early days in Montreat and even had my life seriously threatened on several occasions. 

Since returning to my hometown of Durham in 1990, I have now had two decades to contemplate and integrate my former mission commitment and behavior. At present I find myself feeling VERY SIMILAR AND AKIN to those senior Presbyterian missionaries in whose faith I was once so critical. I have now come to fully realize that neither they nor I have compromised our Christian faith - BUT HAVE INSTEAD BROADENED AND EXPANDED IT AND SIMPLY BECOME MORE INCLUSIVE. I have learned through experience that Divine love does not necessarily maintain the borders that I had so fastidiously drawn in the zeal of my youth. I therefore remain a seeker and a learner that I ultimately believe we are all called to be ...