Attentiveness: Covenant - Gordon Conwell

Attentiveness: Covenant

This is the second blog post in the covenant series. Read part one

“President Sunquist, are you willing to make a covenant with Black church leaders of Boston?”

Not spoken so much as a challenge than an offer and a blessing, Rev. Dana Gonsal’s question sent my soul spinning. A covenant?

“Rev. Gonsal, we went to Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and so we know the seriousness of a biblical covenant.” Cutting a covenant is not to be taken lightly. Many other thoughts went through my head. It was a remarkable olive branch after months of tension and an evening of open and honest exchange.

Rev. Gonsal’s offer was the second grace I was offered that evening in April of 2022. The first came from Bishop John Borders. After over an hour-and-a-half of tense exchange, the good Bishop looked me in the eye and said gently, “President Sunquist, we do not hate you. You are not the enemy. It is just that you need to know how many decisions Gordon-Conwell has made have hurt us and our witness in the city. You are our brother in Christ and we pray for you and for Gordon-Conwell.”

I did not deserve this kind comment infused with grace either. This surprising exchange led me to pray, reflect, and visit more Black churches in the area. I needed to understand more clearly about these Black churches and their pastors. Last summer and fall I visited a number of Black churches: Baptist, Presbyterian, Pentecostal . . . and more Baptist churches. It was a great learning experience. Pastors showed great respect for Gordon-Conwell and for me as the person representing the school; for most of them, Gordon-Conwell is their alma mater.

This past September I went back to my Old Testament notes from seminary and refreshed myself on second millennial B.C. Middle Eastern treaty formulae. It may seem odd to write a twenty-first century covenant in the model of one from four millennia ago, but it was language—biblical covenant language—that we all commonly shared. And, that old treaty structure is still precious. I prayed that after a strong, honest exchange about what had happened in the past, and some confession and repentance, that we could have a new beginning from an ancient practice. Ancient foundations for present reconciliation and future renewal.

After writing a draft covenant, we went through six or eight revisions with a few pastors. Two of those pastors initiated this whole process by calling the meeting last April: Chairman of the Board of Advisors for CUME Rev. Dr. J. Anthony Lloyd and Dean of the CUME campus Rev. Dr. Virginia Ward. As you will see, we stayed close to the biblical and ancient structure: preamble (adding a repentance section), historic prologue, covenant stipulations (seven), periodic reading, witnesses, and blessings (no curses!). The final covenant between Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary and Black Church Leaders can be found on the Covenanting for Gospel Witness page of our website. This can be seen as an important milestone along the way, but it should also be seen as a new beginning.

So, this week, after nine months of discussions, repentance, prayer, more discussions, prayer and fasting, and even celebrating communion together, we gathered at the CUME campus of Gordon-Conwell, looked into each other’s eyes, and solemnly signed a document that marks this new beginning for Gordon-Conwell. And then we celebrated with a joyful feast.

Learn more about the signing in our announcement, and stay tuned for next week’s post on “Covenant Witness.”

[1] After all these years I clearly remember Dr. Meredith Kline’s approach to interpreting the whole Bible from his Biblical Hermeneutics class: covenant theology rooted in the second millennium B.C. form. Learn more in his book Kingdom Prologue.

Dr. Scott W. Sunquist, President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, is author of the “Attentiveness” blog. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.


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