GCTS Vision: Loving
DR. SCOTT W. SUNQUIST
President & Professor of Missiology
[Note: This is part II of a seven-part series on the community vision for Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary.]
Love never fails. But love never stands alone, for God is love. This is why love never fails.
Is it possible that a seminary, with four different campuses, many degree programs, teaching online, hybrid and on-site classes, and with programs in different languages can set “loving community” as an aspiration? I think it must, even though it is more complex than just learning to be nice to one another.
Love is from God. Therefore, if we would grow as a community to be more loving toward one another, we must individually and corporately grow in our love for God. Such love grows as we worship with greater devotion and self-emptying, and as we spend more time in Scripture (for love increases only as we learn more about the subject of our love).
A loving community is a community that values rhythms of work, reading, study, conversation and silence. All of this must be centered on the cross because our love grows as we meditate on the much greater love of God. The cross reveals the depth and extent of God’s love. It is a love we can never attain to, but which we are allowed to enter into through worship and reflection.
All the great saints throughout Christian history have known this. I find it in John Cassian, Thomas Aquinas, John of the Cross, Ephrem the Syrian, and St. Augustine. However, the centrality of love in theological reflection and theological education was chastened in the 17th and 18th century through Enlightenment approaches. I was taught and greatly respect a philosophic approach known as “Scottish Common Sense Realism.” It was a philosophy that developed in reaction to the skeptical philosophy of David Hume and others. “Common sense,” is rooted in Aristotelian philosophy and empirical observations. It was an Enlightenment approach based on rational thought and observations of the physical realm.
However, a loving community often acts in ways that are not “common sense,” that could be considered irrational, but which are consistent with God’s character in Christ. A loving community is not actually “irrational;” it is “super-rational,” not weighed down by only what we can reason. What do I mean?
A loving community embraces the love found in the Trinity without having a satisfactory explanation for the Trinity, nor for love. A loving community worships together and the love that flows out of worship spills into the surrounding community. Love overflows. A loving community finds students staying up late helping other students, and faculty discipling students on their own time. A loving community grows in love as it grows in truth-telling and thoughtful study of Scriptures. A loving seminary community will make a difference in the lives of all those working at the seminary. But even more so, the loving aroma of Gordon-Conwell should spill out to local neighborhoods surrounding our campuses.
Can we make ‘loving community’ one of our standards? Only if we understand that this value is connected to our thoughtful study, our worship, our personal disciplines and centering all our work on Jesus Christ. If we understand this, then, yes, Gordon-Conwell can become a seminary known as a loving community.
“If the life of the mind is the illumination of knowledge and this is born of love for God, then it is well said that there is nothing greater than love.” (Maximus the Confessor in “Four Hundred Chapters on Love,” #9.)
Scott W. Sunquist, the new President of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, writes a weekly blog, “Attentiveness” which is posted each Monday morning on the Gordon-Conwell web site. He welcomes comments, responses and good ideas.