I sat at a breakfast table a few months ago overlooking lower Central Park in Manhattan. Across the table was Lamar Vest, president of the American Bible Society. A Tennessee-raised preacher, Lamar looked me square in the eye that morning and spoke about his passion for people worldwide not only to possess a Bible but to read and under- stand it and live by it.
He went on to share his dismay when God’s Word moves from the center to the margins of God’s people. I knew his concern was heartfelt.
He told the story of a church leader from a denomination that is now quite distant from its evangelical roots. That church leader la- mented to Lamar about drift, reflecting it this way, as my breakfast companion remembered it: “We applaud ourselves for the social work we have done, but we forget why we have done this in the first place. And that is because of God’s commandments in his Word to do so.”
God’s Word compels us to be people of compassion and care about human suffering. Why? Because God so loved the world that he sent his Son to give hope to those who are hurting, that they might have a better life. And God’s Word compels us to be people of compassion and care about eternal suffering. Why? Because God so loved the world that he sent his Son for sinners to put their faith in him, that they might have eternal life.
This year, 2012–13, our theme at Biola University is “From this Place: Proclaiming the Good News in a Changing World.” The gospel’s proclamation was and will be at the heart of Biola, in word and in deed.
God’s Word makes it clear that we care about the body and mind and well-being of others because we care about their souls.
Students, or anyone else for that matter, if not guided thoughtfully through the Scriptures can develop the understanding that social responsibility is our ultimate calling as Christians. This is not our ultimate calling. Our calling, as Jesus said, is to let our “light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” Our good works must point others to see in their sinfulness the saving love of Christ. And this will lead them to worship and glorify the Lord. Good works are a means, not an end.
I see in Biola students a deep passion for helping those who are desperate, whether assisting inner-city children with homework or serving the homeless or standing in opposition to sex trafficking. This makes me as president deeply proud. They are taking on these injus- tices out of their calling to be like Jesus, voices of redemption in a broken world.
I wrote about this in my monthly column this past year in our student newspaper, The Chimes:
Social justice is not an end. It is a means. For those of you who study history, you know that over the past few centuries the church that saw social justice as an end and not a means drifted from its original focus. It drifted from the unique saving work of Christ. It drifted from the spiritual lostness of sinners. It drifted from the authority of the Bible. It drifted from the impera- tive of world evangelization. We need to learn from history that we must love the world in word and deed, and in loving we shall not drift from our deeply held convictions.
I’m incredibly proud of our students who are doing right by doing good. And it gives me hope for the future that the good they’re doing is because God’s commandments in his Word compel them.
In this, Biola remains strong in the convictions with which it was founded more than 100 years ago. Our founder Lyman Stewart desired that Biola students and faculty commit to impacting Los Angeles, the Pacific Rim and the wider world to bring “Honor and Glory to ... Christ.” His burden was great for the less fortunate, the immigrants, the neglected, the abandoned, homeless, jobless and hopeless.
From the day he arrived in L.A. in 1884 to the day he died in 1923, Stewart was a leader who confronted growing social problems resulting from the urbanization and industrialization of Los Angeles. But the good he did was because of the God he served. Writing to a leading advocate of progressive reform who enjoined Stewart to embrace the programs of the “Social Gospel,” Stewart responded directly:
I do not lose sight ... of the fact that reformation is man’s work, but regeneration is God’s work. The former is valuable to society, but counts only for a time. The latter is not only valuable to society, but counts for eternity.
Lyman Stewart believed there was much to do as stewards of God’s creation to maintain a proper foundation for society. He also believed that man’s sinfulness could not be remedied by societal redemption. In this we have not changed.
Barry H. Corey is the president of Biola University. Visit his office online at www.biola.edu/president, on Facebook at facebook.com/presidentcorey and on Twitter at twitter.com/presidentcorey. He is particularly indebted to Paul Rood, a historian and grandson of Biola’s third president, whose research and writing contributed greatly to this article.