By Steven Kuipers | Contributor
“Chapel doesn’t even preach about the Bible anymore”, my friend told me freshman year. These were strong words indeed, but at the time I thought that he made a pretty good point. As a freshman, I was still orientating myself to Baylor’s rather “open” atmosphere, and I was confused why Chapel was that way it was. I thought to myself, “Why would Chapel of all things be so accommodating toward people of differing beliefs? Why isn’t it more ‘Christian’?” While these were simple musings at the time, this tension was actually reflective of a deeper problem I was wrestling with.
See, I came to Baylor as a fairly convicted, conservative Christian. My upbringing encouraged a healthy reverence of the Bible and a ferocity towards sin. Coming into Baylor, I felt like I was a man of conviction. Yet college softened the jagged ends of my faith, and I found myself being more empathetic toward others. Baylor introduced a flood of new ideas and perspectives, and I found myself absorbing all of it. At the same time, I was becoming more aware of my shortcomings and how much grace I needed from God’s love. Now, I was becoming a man of grace.
This was becoming a conundrum for me; was I to be a man of conviction or a man of grace? How was I to reconcile this paradox.? I felt as if I could not abandon the rich teachings of the Bible, yet I could not forget the experiences that softened my heart. Surely, I have seen the damage that has been done by those who are overly convictive, yet I have also seen truth become abandoned by those who advocate solely for grace. I was confused, and the confusion still sticks with me as I write this. I am pleased to say that at some point, I reached a point of peace when God gave me an answer.
It happened in Assistant Chaplain and Director of Worship and Chapel Ryan Richardson’s office. A friend of mine encouraged me to meet with him in person to discuss these tensions I was experiencing. So we coordinated a time, and about a week later I was sitting in Chapel Ryan’s office telling my story. As I explained myself, he appeared to be just as intrigued as I was. He asked me, “How do you work in between both conviction and grace?” I found myself saying, “I don’t know… perhaps our working through that is simply the hum of the Christian life.” He suddenly slapped the table and shouted, “My gosh, that’s exactly the right word!” And so my answer came: I was to hum.
See, I believe that Christians are meant to live in between both of conviction and grace, bouncing back and forth in tune to the rhythm of our lives. I believe that the vibration between conviction and grace generates the hum that is the Christian life. I also believe that Christians should have peace to not fully understand how that works because it humbles us before the Lord. It makes room for God to be God and to let the Holy Spirit refine the areas we aren’t strong enough to know. In this, we bounce back and forth between God’s truth and God’s compassion, generating a warm and steady hum.
I believe that the hum is the sound that the institution must make as well as the individual. Here, I am speaking about Baylor. Baylor was once a place of firm conviction, following the practices and traditions of the Baptist convention. Having separated itself later, it allowed itself to be an institution of openness, accepting people from all walks of life. Much has changed since simpler days of religious repetition and Baylor has now reached a critical point in its history. Given its national prominence in academics and athletics, as well as its role in Waco’s expansion, the institution is becoming increasingly observed by both higher education and the world.
It is my opinion that Baylor University of 2017 is not the Baylor of old. This is the new Baylor, and the work that is done now will become the foundation of Baylor’s new identity for the centuries to come (unless Jesus comes back any sooner, in which case none of this really matters). Which is why I charge the school with this: Baylor must hum alongside the Christians who live between both conviction and openness. It must not forget the truths of Christianity, and it cannot neglect the openness that is necessary to live in the 21st century.
The administration of our university must work through the tension that lies between both these things and must be willing to embrace that work. After all, that work is the very hum of the Christian life itself.