Opening Convocation – Grove City College – Hon. Paul J. McNulty ’80

Editor’s note: On August 28, 2014, Grove City College’s new president, the Hon. Paul J. McNulty ’80, delivered the 2014-15 Opening Convocation that offered students, faculty, administration, and staff a renewed vision of the College. You can listen to the address or read it below.

The 2014-15 Grove City College Opening Convocation

Hon. Paul J. McNulty ’80, President of Grove City College

Introduction

Good morning to all of you – students, faculty, administration, staff; good morning friends of Grove City College.

What a great and beautiful morning this is. Joanne, thank you so much for sharing your gift with us and reminding us of how faithful God is to us. A morning like this is definitely a reminder of that.

Today we finally mark the beginning of another new year with this convocation, this assembly from across our academic disciplines. And I try to survive my second week as president of this remarkable institution.

Wow, it has been a busy and memorable beginning!

I’m already missing the easy days of prosecuting terrorists and fighting the Democrats on Capitol Hill. Although I will say having a few criminal suspects running around our campus did make me feel at home.

How soon is the fall break, anyway?

Words are truly inadequate for expressing how thankful Brenda and I are for the warm and kind reception we have received.

This is an incredibly welcoming community.

I’m also extremely appreciative of Dr. Jewell’s leadership and for the College’s strong position in what are undeniably challenging times for higher education.

In fact, just last Friday I enjoyed the great pleasure of having lunch with Dr. MacKenzie, Dr. Moore and Dr. Jewell, and sharing together their memories and having an opportunity to honor them for their extraordinary stewardship.

We have been richly blessed.

Washington Connections

So, now, I’m from Washington and I’m here to help. That usually means hold onto your wallets…but not in this case.

Washington, D.C. is a town consumed with being connected. It’s all about who you know. Connections are the currency of the realm in our nation’s capital.

Good connections can help you get a job. I never had more friends than during the two months I ran the Justice Department’s transition from President Clinton to President Bush – I received many phone calls from dear friends. The right connections can help you win an election or get a bill passed or killed by Congress (it’s nearly a miracle to get a bill passed these days).

Yes, it’s all about connections.

GCC Connections

But what has drawn us home to Grove City after 31 years in Washington is an entirely different type of connection.

It’s a connection I first discovered here as a student in the late 1970s. It’s a connection that changed the course of my life and impacted my work in law and public policy, my marriage, my parenting, my life in the church and community. In fact, this connection shaped and determined my calling for life.

What is this powerful Grove City connection of which I speak?

It’s the connection between Christ and everything, particularly the connection between faith and learning.

Please go back when you have a moment and review those verses that Ethan just read to us. I know it was long, but when you start reading through Colossians it’s hard to stop. It’s hard to say “oh, let’s not include that point.” It’s very rich and if you have a bulletin, stick it in your Bible and read those Colossians verses over the course of the semester.

— Christ is the firstborn over all creation;

— By him all things were created;

— All things were created by him and for him;

— In him all things hold together so that in everything he might have the supremacy;

— And through Christ’s blood shed on the cross God reconciled all things to Himself.

Could the connection be any clearer; could it be any more transformative for how we should think and how we should live!

And this amazing connection between God and us through Christ, which our College founders knew so well, should unite us as a community. It transcends denominational differences. It invites all of us to explore the vast riches of God’s creation, to learn what it means to be fully human.

Now I suggest to you that the connection between Christ and everything should impact our mission here at Grove City College in at least three ways:

First: The Connection between Christ and the Life of the Mind.

The academic excellence and rigor for which we are known must include a passion for the life of the mind. Why? Because if we say we are connected to the Christian tradition, we are aligned with Christ, in whom all things hold together and through whose redemptive sacrifice God has renewed our minds.

In his book, “The Life of the Mind,” Professor Clifford Williams describes the calling to learn all we can about Christ’s creation as “living largely.”

Dr. Arthur Holmes puts it this way, “Everything in nature and in history plays its part in carrying out his purposes and in manifesting his glory. For the Christian neither nature nor history is self-originating, self-operating, self-sustaining, or self-explanatory. We therefore approach the works of God, probe their mysteries, and harness their potentialities with humility but with boldness as well. The natural and social sciences lay before us old vistas and new horizons.”

Old vistas and new horizons. Over the years, we’ve visited Acadia National Park many times. And when our family goes to Acadia National Park, we have several places that we always go back to – the top of Cadillac Mountain, Ocean Drive – I hope many of you have had a chance to see that gorgeous park. We go back to the same vistas, the old vistas, and we look out at the same scenes, again and again. But each time we look at them, they are as beautiful as the last time we saw them, and we perhaps observe something that is just a bit different – but we enjoy just as much that which we have seen before. That’s the old vistas. And then occasionally, we’ll hike a new trail, and we’ll see a new horizon.

That’s what Professor Holmes is talking about in relation to learning – it’s the old vistas that we know but which are still so fascinating and interesting to us. And it’s the new horizons that we can learn together.

And speaking of old vistas and new horizons, we must continue to explore the critical relationship between faith and freedom so we are better equipped to defend them both.

Listen to what Dr. Os Guinness says about faith and freedom in his new book, “A Free People’s Suicide, Sustainable Freedom and the American Future.” It’s a book I read this summer.

Dr. Os Guinness says: “Contrary to the founders – and in ways they do not realize themselves – Americans today are heedlessly pursuing a vision of freedom that is short-lived and suicidal.” He takes that from Abraham Lincoln’s warning regarding the responsibility of free people to preserve liberty or perish by suicide. “Freedom without virtue, leadership without character, business without trust, law without customs, education without meaning, and medicine, science and technology without human consideration can end only in disaster.”

He also writes: “Spiritual freedom is in fact a vital part of political freedom and its requirement for self-control, self-restraint and self-government.”

The life of the mind is the heart of our vision because we have been graciously blessed with the eyes of redemption to look upon all of God’s creation and learn the amazing truths He has revealed to us. Old vistas, new horizons.

The second impact on our mission is that we are connected together.

The Apostle Paul instructs us that the connection between Christ and everything should radically affect how we connect with each other. Again, in Colossians we read that in Christ we are new people, and we are called to put on compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, patience and love. Paul says let the peace of Christ rule in our hearts as we care for one another.

Our goal at Grove City College is to be known not just for the strength of our minds but also for the character of our debate.

Respectful disagreement sharpens our thinking and forces us to work harder in the pursuit of truth.

Many of the faculty recently read an essay by John Webster, Prof. of Divinity at the University of St. Andrews. The essay is entitled, “On the Theology of the Intellectual Life”.

Here’s what Professor Webster says: “Our neighbors may sometimes view Christian conceptions of the intellectual life with amusement, disdain, or even hostility. There is no surprise in this: it is an axiom of Christian faith that ‘the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God’ (Rom. 8:7) and Christians, trying to map the world with a firm eye on their confession will endure a share of that hostility. It is important to respond to this state of affairs prudently: neither anxiously nor with belligerent zeal, but with tranquil confidence that the gospel outbids the world; with modesty, because the gospel can look after itself; and with charity, because the gospel seeks our neighbor’s good and not just our neighbor’s defeat. To this end, calm exposition of first principles serves the gospel best. The truth will establish itself; we must simply let it run on its own path.”

The third impact on our mission is our connection to the world.

As we consider and discuss abiding truths, we must seek to make a redemptive impact on the world. Our greatest contributions to the world are the approximately 600 extraordinary graduates who leave here every year prepared to be leaders in their communities. This is the heart of our mission: to equip young men and women to transform culture with wisdom, faithfulness, courage and integrity.

We can also connect to the world with our writing and research, the valuable fruits of our intellectual labors. Connecting with our alumni on this level should be an especially important priority.

Faith and freedom will encounter formidable challenges in the years ahead, and Grove City College must be a prophetic voice for all that we hold dear.

Conclusion

So to conclude: last month I was in Paris for a meeting with a client and I had an afternoon free. So I paid a quick visit to the Musee Rodin, a small palace that houses many of the sculptor Auguste Rodin’s most famous works. One of those works, entitled “The Three Shades,” was inspired by Dante’s “Divine Comedy” and depicts three identical life-size figures standing together at the entrance of Hell with their heads turned down so far that their necks and shoulders form a horizontal line. These three souls of the damned point to an inscription declaring, “Abandon hope, all ye who enter here.”

In a moment we will sing the college hymn, confessing that God is our help in ages past, our hope for years to come.

Washington may be all about connections, but Grove City College, this sublime Christian liberal arts college tucked away in Western Pennsylvania, should be all about hope: the hope of the gospel. The hope that we will be a source of light in this dark world. And ultimately the hope that after we have lived faithfully and true to our great calling, we will be connected to Christ and each other for eternity.

Father in heaven, fill us please with this transforming hope.

Amen. And thank you very much.