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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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In that same book, Stephens and Giberson refer to Wheaton as the premier Christian college in America. What role or roles does or should Wheaton play among other Christian colleges and also within the larger evangelical community?

I am very careful about claiming any leadership role for Wheaton College, and I made that clear even in the presidential search process. In life in general, we shouldn't be quick to claim for ourselves any kind of leadership position. We prove our leadership through our service—we see that lived out in the character of Christ. A great example for us is what the Apostle Paul says: insofar as I imitate Christ, imitate me. He's recognizing that his leadership is not perfect, that the true leadership comes from Christ, but if there is anything that is Christ-like in that leadership then it should be followed and it's healthy to embrace that role. I hear again and again from people in higher education, faculty members on other campuses, people in the community generally, who are looking to Wheaton College for leadership. So to the extent that people do that, then we want to provide a Christ-centered leadership that others can follow if they choose to follow it.

I like to remind us all here that there's no campus in the world that needs the gospel more than Wheaton College does, and I want to encourage us to have a very healthy self-criticism that we are free to exercise because we know that we're accepted in Christ. We don't have to prove our worth in comparison to other institutions or try to justify who we are by our own works; we've received the grace that God has for us in Christ. We can then pursue excellence with everything we have, being honest about the areas where we fall short and seeking God's help in those areas.

What are the qualities that define faculty members here?

The ideal Wheaton College faculty member is a teacher, a scholar, a mentor, and a servant. It's a very demanding calling to pursue excellence in all four of those areas over a sustained period of time. But I see many, many faculty on our campus excelling in all of them. One of the things that thrills me as a college president is to talk to students and ask the question, "Tell me about your favorite course this semester," and have them typically want to tell me about two or three or four courses and what they're learning. When we are looking at awards of various kinds, we don't get nominations for the same handful of faculty every year. We get a wide variety of nominations for a wide variety of faculty.

How does the out-of-class experience at Wheaton—residence life, student activities, leadership programs, intramural sports, and so on—relate to what happens in the class, and vice-versa?

If you were to talk to our trustees and to our student development leaders and to many at least of our faculty, there would be widespread recognition that the learning that takes place outside of the classroom is a huge part of spiritual formation and of what happens in college. That's one of the reasons why residential college education has a unique place in discipleship and development. Whether you're talking about what students are doing in music, or student organizations, or athletics, or ministry, it's very important to have leadership that understands the centrally academic role of a Christian college and can support that mission while at the same time recognizing the spiritual development that takes place on the practice field, in the rehearsal hall, at camp, and in the city of Chicago, which is a kind of laboratory for us as well.

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