Dordt College News

Soundings: A faculty reflection

May 24, 2013

Reflecting on Dordt College’s academic work

God’s Word has something to say about our academic work at Dordt College.

Proverbs 29:18, in the King James Version, puts it this way: Where there is no vision, the people perish; but he that keepeth the law, happy is he.

The first half sounds like an injunction to keep in mind for our academic mission and for shaping our ideas, policies, and practices so that they’re in accord with it. Excellent advice for all of us to follow; that’s what drew me to the text in the first place. But why is vision and flourishing connected to keeping the law?

The NIV gives us something different to ponder: Where there is no revelation, the people cast off restraint; but blessed is he who keeps the law.

This opening phrase doesn’t nudge us to think about game plans or long-range mission statements. It seems to say that we’ll fall into some sort of unrestrained revolutionary trouble-making if we have no prophetic vision or revelatory message from God to direct us. Does that mean we should pay more attention to the Bible, since that’s where prophetic revelation is housed today? Staying close to Scripture is good advice. But valuing revelation still seems a bit disconnected from the rest of the proverb. Plus, the final parts seem to move us into a sort of legalism that might be thought out of place today for people living in an age of Christian freedom. What links the two parts of this Solomonic proverb?

Psalm 1 offers helpful elaboration.

Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the law of the Lord, and on his law he meditates day and night. He is like a tree planted by streams of water, which yields its fruit in season and whose leaf does not wither.
Whatever he does prospers.

I doubt that the Psalm intends for all of us to become absorbed in monastic meditation on the Decalogue or the ceremonial laws of Leviticus, important though those things were in setting out God’s covenant with Israel. It’s a bigger, grander task we’re called to. The law of the Lord orders our whole lives and that of the entire cosmos, weaving it into a harmonious unity, into a world that in the beginning God pronounced good. God’s sovereign ordinances—his Laws—make possible the periodic orbiting of planets and comets, the growth and cultivation of seeds for food, the industry of ants and honey bees, the frolicking chatter of dolphins, the maturation of children into adults, the growth of sophisticated social structures and institutions, the development of a multitude of cultures, the blossoming of arts and sciences—even the ability to uniquely factor all whole numbers into a product of primes. God reveals his intentions for life through his holy spokesmen and in the canonical writings but also and most pervasively through his wise governance of the creation he made and loves deeply, so deeply that he gave his only Son to redeem it. We are called to meditate on God’s ways with all his creatures, throughout his domain, growing in knowledge and understanding, bringing him glory as we live and learn in accord with his Law. This broader and deeper meaning of Law is reinforced by the way the NIV translates the last part of the proverb: Blessed are those who heed wisdom’s instruction.

Such reflection is central to our academic work at Dordt College. Isn’t this what academic discipleship in the kingdom of God is all about? Aren’t we to engage in this as scholars and bring others along as student apprentices? We have different tasks and unique ways to organize and pursue and unfold this collective wisdom, but we contribute to living the way God intended from the beginning, to advancing the ongoing reclamation project of shalom, to bringing about blessing rather than succumb to the curse of disintegration and futility. The whole creation awaits the final consummation, for God’s sons and daughters to be revealed in their lives and actions, so that it too can be reconciled to God and released from its bondage to sin.

Proverbial blessing and joy will be ours if we remain faithful to this calling.

Dr. Calvin Jongsma offered this devotional at the opening faculty meeting this semester.

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