Attentiveness: Both/And - Gordon Conwell

Attentiveness: Both/And

Dr. Scott W. Sunquist

I have observed the misery of my people who are in Egypt; I have heard their cry on account of their taskmasters. Indeed, I know their sufferings… (Exodus 3:7)

And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:14)

“Is Gordon-Conwell changing? Are you trying to change Gordon-Conwell?”

Well, yes, but it may not be what you think. We are not going to change our commitment to thorough and responsible study of Scripture; all of Scripture. We are not going to stop preparing people for God’s mission, serving cross-culturally. We are not going to compromise on our academic standards, or on our commitment to the city. We will continue to equip students to evangelize and to plant churches.

“Then how is the seminary changing?”

Very simply, we are going to break away from the either/or Evangelicalism that often removed our churches from engagement in cultural and social issues during the 20th century. Either/or Evangelicalism always chooses to hold to strict views of evangelism and the Bible but thinks that social engagement is less important or even a denial of the gospel. That form of Evangelicalism has often been taken captive to particular political agendas, and Evangelicals have been left without a witness to the poor and oppressed. Let’s say it clearly:

No more either/or Evangelicalism.

Healthy, biblical, Jesus focused Evangelicalism is quick to respond to social needs, oppression, poverty, homelessness, and the like. And this is the tradition of Evangelicalism from the 18th and 19th century: it is our heritage. But, and this is the point, there is no either/or to the Evangelicalism we are growing at Gordon-Conwell. We will recover our concern for issues of racial discrimination, poverty and the suffering of immigrants. And, at the same time, we will seek to lead people to faith in Christ, to plant churches, and to reach unreached people. So many people have never heard about Jesus in the world. Such a fully compassionate Christianity is winsome and needful. It is attractive, because it points others to Jesus.

However, I did not introduce this change at Gordon-Conwell, although I will help provide leadership in this direction. When I returned Gordon-Conwell in 2019, we already had faculty like Dr. Matthew Kim writing about awareness of cultures and cultural issues when preaching. We already had an Institute for the Study of the Black Christian Experience led by Dr. Emmett Price III. We already had the Mockler Center for Faith and Ethics in the Public Square led by Dr. Ken Barnes. We already had a Center for the Study of Global Christianity, studying demographics and social trends in the world, led by Drs. Gina Zurlo and Todd Johnson. And before I returned[1] to Gordon-Conwell, we had already produced graduates like Dr. Esau McCauley who has written the important book Reading While Black and Dr. Barbara L. Peacock who wrote Soul Care in the African American Tradition. Read more about their award-winning publications.

As we are finishing up the strategic plan for Gordon-Conwell, our trajectory will be both/and. I thank Dr. Dave Currie for giving us the expression of both/and for Gordon-Conwell.

Providentially, the two verses above were part of my Bible reading this morning. I think those two verses are a great reminder of the faith we profess, and the God we worship. All nations, and all sufferings express the extent of YHWH’s compassion and love.

Stay tuned: next week more on both/and.

[1] Returned because I am a 1984 MDiv graduate.

Scott W. Sunquist, the President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, writes a weekly blog, “Attentiveness” which is posted each Tuesday morning on the Gordon-Conwell web site. He welcomes comments, responses and good ideas.