Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will. (Rom 12:1-2)
This past September, I was asked to speak during Orientation Week to the incoming class—the class of 2020—about one of the core values of a Redeemer education. I used Romans 12:2 as a way of thinking about the Redeemer education they were just embarking upon. The word that Paul uses for “transform” in this verse is metamorphosis, a term that refers to “the process [with insects and amphibians] of transformation from an immature form to an adult form in two or more distinct stages.” It dawned on me that today, with the Class of 2017, we get to see the result of what I promised on behalf of Redeemer to the incoming class. Not very flattering to be compared to insects and amphibians, but it could be worse, right?
“Do not conform to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” Whatever our place in life, of course, we are all called not to conform to this age. But the command to non-conformity and transformation seems particularly relevant to the sphere of higher education, to what we might call “intellectual pursuits” or “the life of the mind.” And this call has two sides to it, a negative and a positive, so that doing the one is effectively doing the other. What does it mean for an academic community like Redeemer not to conform to the pattern of this world and to be transformed by the renewing of the mind? I want to highlight just two ways that the pattern of this academic age and the transformed, renewed mind are profoundly different.
The transformed, renewed mind explores the material world with an eye on transcendence and it pursues knowledge with a hope of eternity. For business majors, this means that marketing, finance, and accounting are not about maximizing profit but about wise management of resources that is equitable and just. For kinesiology majors, this means seeing the human body as fearfully and wonderfully made, even when it is prone to weakness and to idolization. For environmental studies majors, this means that tackling global food issues or monitoring the local watershed is creation care with a view to the new creation. For history majors, this means narrating the past with honesty and integrity, looking to the culmination of history in Christ’s return. Later, when you look through the graduation program and then hear all the different degrees, with all conceivable configurations of majors and minors, leading to different careers and callings, know this: these graduates are competent in highly specialized skills and are knowledgeable in specific content areas and they share the same transcendent vision and the same eternal hope.
“We are all being shaped into the creatures that God intends us to be.”
“Be transformed by the renewing of your mind.” I said earlier that today we get to see the result, the product, the completion of this stage of the metamorphosis. I like Paul’s metamorphosis metaphor. There is something organic and dynamic about it. I like, too, that the verb in Greek has the sense of an ongoing metamorphosis: we are all being shaped into the creatures that God intends us to be. This puts me in mind of one of the Reformed confessions of faith, the Westminster Catechism, which describes justification as an act of God but sanctification as a work of God. The transformation by the renewing of the mind for all of us is on-going. I don’t want to diminish the importance of this day or the significance of this rite of passage, but the Class of 2017 is merely morphing into the next stage of its maturation. And not only is the transformative renewal on-going, it is the work of God.
As faculty, today we will look on with an almost parental pride as these students cross the stage to receive their degrees. For us, it’s like seeing our children leave the home, with its complex of feelings. Gratitude for how much they have matured in the four years that they shared our space, but also with twinges of regret for opportunities missed to talk things through better. We admit to ourselves—and to you—that we haven’t always been successful in identifying the patterns of this academic age or in showing the mind of Christ in our academic disciplines. Today, though, as we sit on the stage, we’ll be feeling mostly gratitude for the way the Holy Spirit has been transforming and renewing our minds together these past four years. And we’ll be praying for you, as you leave this place we call home, that God will continue to transform you into the radical non-conformists He wants you to be.
May 27, 2017