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Interview by Todd C. Ream


Leadership for Christ and His Kingdom

A conversation with Philip Graham Ryken.

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There are a variety of issues to touch on here, but it's widely recognized that we need to do better in making global connections to prepare students for global service. I believe we need to continue pressing forward with making Wheaton a more culturally, ethnically, and internationally diverse community. This was a huge area of growth under Dr. Litfin's leadership: there are three times as many students of color on this campus now as there were when I was a student. Roughly a quarter of our incoming class will be either international students or ethnic minority students from the United States. Our on-campus makeup is looking more like the worldwide body of Christ. But having said that, we need to do much more. For example, we need a much stronger representation from the Latino community on Wheaton's campus. I personally desire to see more ethnically international students. We've grown in that area, but we can't just say we're at the place where we would like to be.

I am excited about the possibility that our review of general education will refresh and renew our commitment to the liberal arts. I'm looking for a liberal arts curriculum with a simplicity and unity that will inspire our faculty and also help our students make sense of their college education. We've tinkered with our general education requirements over the years, and there's been a little adjustment here and a little adjustment there, adding up to an unintended cumulative effect; I think we're in danger of having something that's less than the sum of its parts because of that. There are a number of areas where we'd like to grow our facilities, and I'll be touching on that in the green paper as well, but for future fundraising for the college, a major priority is doing everything we can to keep what is a very costly kind of education to provide affordable for as broad a range of students as possible. Keeping Wheaton accessible to a broad range of students, having a need-blinded admission policy—so that this won't become a school that you can attend only if you're wealthy—requires effective development work. Any future fundraising we'll be doing for the college will include a strong dose of student scholarship support.

Last question. One day when you announce your intentions to leave the presidency, what contributions do you hope will mark your legacy?

You gave me these questions in writing, and I have to say that when I came to that question I was a little teary, just at the thought of leaving a job I love as much as this job and a place I love as much as Wheaton College. Of course I am aware that a day will come when I need to leave, and I pray from time to time for my successor as I often did in pastoral ministry, pray for the person who will follow me. There's a sense of being part of something that's much bigger than you are, and I look with huge admiration at the men who have preceded me in this office with unique abilities, just the right person for the right era of Wheaton College.

"Legacy" is the kind of thing that you leave to others to assess. I want to be found faithful in what God has given me to do at Wheaton College, and as I consider what it means to be faithful, the model for me is Christ-like leadership, which I think of in terms of the three-fold office of Christ: his kingly ministry, his priestly ministry, his prophetic ministry. So there's a kingly aspect of presidential leadership, that is to say there's the proper exercise of authority, there is the way that you represent the institution in your own person, and that leadership should be clear, it should be decisive, it should be benevolent, and it should inspire the affection and loyalty of the people in that community. There's a prophetic dimension of the presidential work, particularly in a Christian college campus, where you're teaching and preaching regularly in chapel. I'm often running out the door with my Bible in hand to speak to this student group or that student group and bringing some part of divine revelation to bear on that. And it's prophetic in another sense, in the biblical sense, not just of speaking God's Word but also speaking God's Word to your situation. What's happening in your community and in the world at that moment and also how do you prepare for what's coming, I mean that's all part of prophetic ministry. So being faithful to teach and apply God's Word to the needs of this generation. And then there's a priestly dimension, which is partly a dimension of intercession and prayer, but it's also living with and in the community. The Old Testament priests did not live in Jerusalem by and large; they lived scattered among the places where the people of God lived all over Israel, and they were there so that when they carried the burdens of God's people into the holy place and offered prayer on God's altar, they could really stand for those people they lived among. And so our desire—I use the plural because this comes out of our marriage partnership and our family life—is to live in this community, share our lives with this community. We live right next to campus, we have lots of people into our home; this is our community.

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