Dr. Scott W. Sunquist
Years ago, we sent some seminary students to Vietnam to teach Buddhist converts about the Bible. These new Christians were hungry to understand their new life in Christ. Our students came prepared to teach about the basic stories of the Old Testament and the life of Jesus. All this had to be done in only two weeks. What do you prioritize? The Gospels? Old Testament narratives? Psalms? We had long discussions about how to prepare.
I was at first taken aback when I found out that the young Vietnamese Christians only wanted to learn about Genesis 1-3! Buddhism doesn’t have a creation story. Everything is interdependent with no beginning and no end in Buddhism. In fact, in Buddhism, the idea of being “born again” is repugnant. The goal of life is to escape the endless cycle of rebirths, life, suffering, and death. Therefore, creation is an amazing concept to former Buddhists. Creation has purpose and a movement.
When our students returned, I remembered that some of the earliest Roman Catholic missionaries to Vietnam had the same experience, needing to talk a lot about the concept of creation. Fr. Alexandre de Rhodes, S.J. wrote a basic Catechism for Buddhist converts in Annam around 1650. His catechism begins with a long discussion about creation and how God created all “in the beginning.” Then he compares this with other religions in Vietnam, and finally he gets around to talking about Jesus.
I think we often forget how beautiful it is that God has not only told us that creation is good but also infused us with God’s very self (image). Furthermore, the concept of time—all of creation had a beginning in the mind of God, and it moves toward an end—is precious for human thriving. We have value, purpose, and hope. Time began, time has a center (marked by a cross), and time has an end (heavenly vision of the new heavens and the new earth).
I believe we need to meditate much more on how precious it is to be valued from our birth (creation) and to have an eternal value in serving our suffering Savior on earth, and in the future in heaven. Our life has supreme value in being part of the answer to Jesus’ profound prayer that his “kingdom will come on earth as it is in heaven.”
Our lives now, and certainly the Church, should live into the full meaning of that prayer. Thy Kingdom coming to earth can be understood as our working toward what is heaven: the heavenly vision. We have purpose and a goal. God has given us a vision to guide us.
At Gordon-Conwell, we also believe that the seminary should serve that beautiful vision. We see glimpses of that vision in many places, but especially in Revelation 4, 7, 21 and 22. In fact we have accepted this vision of Revelation 7 as defining for us, in our planning, teaching, fellowship, and even in our development work.
Guiding our calling as a seminary is Revelation 7:9-17. Heaven is where everything is redeemed. Everything has been rectified, where God has fully restored his creation. Heaven is where Jesus is worshipped, and praises are never ending! We will be meditating on the full meaning of this passage, but to summarize Gordon-Conwell affirms that in heaven there are:
What does this mean? In the coming weeks, as we unfold our strategic plan, we will talk about what this means. In general, it is a vision about mission and justice, a vision about theological integrity, and an ethical vision for the Church. It is good to meditate on a vision, especially one that is more true than anything we read or see today.
For heaven is what is really real, unto the ages of ages.
Scott W. Sunquist, the President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, writes a weekly blog, “Attentiveness” which is posted each Tuesday on the Gordon-Conwell web site. He welcomes comments, responses, and good ideas.