On Friday, April 17, 2009, Dr. Alistair Brown was inaugurated as the tenth President of Northern Baptist Seminary. President Brown came to Northern on September 15, 2008. Before becoming president of Northern Seminary, Dr. Brown was the General Director of the Baptist Missionary Society with headquarters in Didcot, Oxfordshire, UK. Alistair Brown was born near Edinburgh. He is a New Testament scholar. His Ph.D. thesis examined the metaphors of baptism in the Pauline literature.
During the Ceremony of Inauguration, Dr. Ian Chapman, a retired past president of Northern Baptist Seminary gave the charge to the new president. The address below is Chapman’s charge to President Alistair Brown.
NORTHERN BAPTIST THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY
INAUGURATION OF DR. ALISTAIR BROWN
CHARGE TO THE CANDIDATE
Dr. Ian M. Chapman
In one of her poems, Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote:
Falls from the sky a meteoric shower
Of facts…they lie unquestioned, uncombined.
Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill
Is easily spun; but there exists no loom
To weave it into fabric.
These words were penned in 1939 in a “dark hour” when the menacing clouds of war were “falling from the sky.” In that year Nazi Germany invaded Poland. Great Britain and other countries declared war on Germany. The Manhattan Project began work on the atomic bomb. With these events the world was plunged into a monstrous conflict that was to destroy the lives of millions. To make matters worse, there existed no loom to make any sense of this tragic fabric.
Today some might say we live in a “dark hour”. A world-wide economic disaster is destroying the lives of millions. The specter of terrorism and piracy looms over the free world. Even the Christian faith has fallen upon hard times. A recent edition of USA Today reported that in America “faith is shifting, drifting or vanishing outright.” Newsweek’s Easter edition carried the article, “The Rise and Fall of Christian America.” “This is not to say that the Christian God is dead, but that he is less of a force in American politics and culture than in any other time in recent history.”
If we wish to be pessimistic we might conclude that in this present time there “exists no loom to make any sense of this fabric.” But that would not be true. A theological seminary is God’s loom. It is the seminary’s mission to make sense out of the madness of the world; to bring meaning and purpose to the emptiness that often daunts life; and to give perspective to those who have given up or simply lost their way. In short, the seminary, that is, the president, Board, faculty, staff, and students are called to weave the fabric of biblical faith in order to transform the church and the world.
It is my deep conviction that if a seminary did not exist, it would be necessary to invent one. A seminary is that vital to the church; it is that crucial for the nurture of every believer. It is that essential for the sake of the world. Our dear friend Brimson Grow [Northern Seminary’s former trustee] who served Northern faithfully for so many years often said, “Theological education is the greatest investment we can make for the cause of Christ.” I believe that to be true.
Alistair, God has gifted you and called you to weave the fabric of biblical faith on Northern’s loom. This is a high and holy privilege and a daunting responsibility. As you are installed this day as Northern’s Tenth President, I offer you these challenges from the early church.
1. The early church paid attention to the biblical text. You see this in the church’s deep commitment to preaching and teaching. Peter’s sermon to the Passover crowd in Jerusalem in the second chapter of the book of Acts was based on two portions of the Old Testament. In Acts 2:42, we learn that the believers “devoted themselves to the Apostles teaching….”
In 2 Peter 1:16 the author writes, “We did not follow cleverly invented stories when we told you about the coming and power of our Lord, Jesus Christ.” But sadly in today’s evangelical church Scripture is rarely read and preachers rarely exegete the biblical text. They preach sermons to amuse and entertain or offer therapeutic pabulum to satisfy the congregation’s self-centered needs.
Mr. President, I challenge you to infuse in this community a love and commitment for the biblical text. The church needs more, much more than “cleverly invented stories.”
2. The early church had a story to tell. In a recent meeting the guest speaker said of the Gospel of Jesus Christ, “This is really important stuff. It’s worth our lives.” What struck me was his voice. It throbbed with passion. It was obvious that the Gospel meant everything to him. When you study the biblical record you quickly discover that the early church throbbed with a similar passion.
The passage I referred to earlier in 2 Peter continues with these words: ‘but we were eyewitnesses to his majesty.” Jesus. He was the priority of the early church and they told his story over and over again. None of us here were eyewitnesses to the “majesty of Jesus Christ.” but we can tell His story and tell it with passion and conviction.
Mr. President I challenge you to infuse in this community the passion to tell the story of the life, death, resurrection, ascension and coming again of our Lord Jesus Christ. This is really important stuff. It’s worth our lives.
3. The early church persevered. When you read the events of the early church you cannot help but be moved by the courage of these believers. When ordered by the religious authorities not to speak further of Jesus the disciples replied, “We cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.” Where did these believers find such courage? What was the secret of their confidence? They were, as scripture says, “ordinary, uneducated people.” Surely they were not the kind of people we would choose as the founding leaders of His church. The secret of their confidence was their intimate relationship with Jesus. As we read in the book of Hebrews (12:3) they followed Jesus who “endured the cross, scorned its shame, and sat down at the right hand of the throne of God.”
Mr. President, you have already been confronted by many challenges since you came to Northern. And no doubt there are more to come. During WW 2 Winston Churchill singlehandedly became the loom that weaved the fabric of hope for the British people. He encouraged, he persevered, he sacrificed, and he risked his life. In a dramatic radio address he uttered these memorable words: “Never, never, never give up” and the British people stiffened their upper lips and marched to victory.
Mr. President, I challenge you to infuse in this community the courage to endure for the sake of Christ. I believe the fabric of text, story and perseverance in Northern’s loom will design a new future for the seminary church and the world.
May God bless you.
I want to thank Dr. Ian Chapman for the permission to publish his Challenge to the President. His address describes well the theological task of a seminary.
Professor of Old Testament
Northern Baptist Seminary
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