MARY REICHARD, HOST: Coming up next, an excerpt from Listening In. This week, host Warren Smith visits with pastor and college president Philip Ryken. Over the last 10 years, he’s led Wheaton College through a handful of controversies.
MEGAN BASHAM, HOST: In this excerpt of their conversation, Warren asks Ryken how he helps the school stay faithful to its legacy while casting a vision for the future.
PHILIP RYKEN: You know, there aren’t that many schools that were founded in the 19th century which maintain their distinctively Christ-centered mission today. There, there are a handful, but most of the colleges that were started all over the country in the 19th century were denominational schools. They were founded on Christian principles. I mean, if you had to visit Wheaton college and the University of Chicago in the year 1900, you would have said, “yeah, these are very similar schools.” They have a very similar kind of mission.
The trajectory that our two schools have gone in the 20th century is so radically divergent, and that’s just one little example of what we’ve seen in higher education. Generally, I think the more touch points people have with your alumni, with your legacy, it definitely strengthens your ability to attract students. Having said that, you can’t just kind of point to a historical legacy. It’s really about the kind of education that you’re providing today, the kind of spiritual community you have, the academic opportunities. It’s very much about the now, not just the then.
WARREN SMITH: What do you want history’s judgment to be of you as the eighth president of Wheaton [College]?
PHILIP RYKEN: Yeah, so I don’t think so much about that question. I will circle back to it. From day one, when I came to 10th Church and from day one when I came to Wheaton college, I was thinking about what kind of foundation will be laid for my successor. And my commitment at both places was not to leave one day before I was supposed to leave and not to stay one day longer than I was supposed to stay. And I often challenge my cabinet. We want to be making the decisions now that people 10 years, 20 years, 30 years from now, will look back and they won’t just say: “I understand why they had to do that. But they will say, I’m so glad they made that decision.”
When I think about legacy, frankly, what’s much more important to me is my family connections, what God is doing in the lives of my children, and Lord willing, my grandchildren and whether they have seen lived out a consistent, flawed, and yet faithful Christian testimony and witness.
BASHAM: That’s Philip Ryken talking to Warren Smith. To hear their complete conversation, look for Listening In wherever you get your podcasts.