To the Board: Be the Right Kind of Reckless
Doug Wilson, one of New Saint Andrews College’s founding members, exhorted the board of the college. We consider the exhortation’s vision of leadership, ambition, and ethics to be a model for our college’s students and faculty. His remarks also convey our conviction to remain a school of evangelical integrity.
[To the board:]
“And Jesus answered them, saying, The hour is come, that the Son of man should be glorified. Verily, verily, I say unto you, Except a corn of wheat fall into the ground and die, it abideth alone: but if it die, it bringeth forth much fruit. He that loveth his life shall lose it; and he that hateth his life in this world shall keep it unto life eternal. If any man serve me, let him follow me; and where I am, there shall also my servant be: if any man serve me, him will my Father honour (John 12:23–26, KJV).
“Now is the judgment of this world: now shall the prince of this world be cast out” (John 12:31, KJV).
Jesus teaches His “up is down” ethic in multiple places. It can in fact be considered a central theme of His teaching. But it is a particular kind of up-is-down approach. He is giving us a way of pursuing our ambitions; He is not telling us to annihilate our ambitions. He does not tell us to rip out the places of honor at banquets (in the interests of egalitarianism), but rather shows us how to get into those places of honor. The way up is to go down. The way of resurrection and life is to die first. And this is what makes the risk worth it. Ambition is frequently fueled by lust, but the grave is the detox center for all our lusts.
Now the prince of this world represents a particular way of making decisions. That means groups and the culture of groups. Remember the quarrels the disciples would have. We would all do well (we think) if Jesus had only one disciple, and we were that one disciple. Those other disciples clutter things up and get in the way. Now the disciples knew what Jesus would say about their squabbles, which is why they were so quiet when Jesus asked what they had been discussing on the road. They knew the right answer but had not yet internalized the right answer. But this is where we must note the claim in John 12:31. Jesus came to dismantle the devil’s way of doing business, the world’s way of getting ahead.
The world (and every institution in the world) tends to believe that survival and growth is the great value. And this is how so many colleges and universities have gone astray—there was a pivotal moment when the people making the decisions decided to themselves that it would be better to survive in a compromised state than to be faithful and go out of business. Every last one of them did this—this is where faithlessness arises. But it would have been better if Harvard had closed its doors than to be what it is now. It would have been better for Yale to close its doors than to be what they have become. And that fateful moment passed, and certain men, not yet fully corrupt, decided to let it pass.
And so third, this means that we must preserve the mission of NSA by being the right kind of reckless with it. There is sinful risk and there is sinful conservatism. God spare us from both. The way to survive properly is to not have survival as our highest good. The way of life is the willingness to die. Followers of Christ are summoned to take up their cross daily and to follow Christ.
As I said earlier, this is a central theme in the Lord’s teaching. One of the reasons why I love Chesterton so much is that he gets this central thing. He gets it like few others do. This is from his great book Orthodoxy:
“Take the case of courage. No quality has ever so much addled the brains and tangled the definitions of merely rational sages. Courage is almost a contradiction in terms. It means a strong desire to live taking the form of a readiness to die. ‘He that will lose his life, the same shall save it,’ is not a piece of mysticism for saints and heroes. It is a piece of everyday advice for sailors or mountaineers. It might be printed in an Alpine guide or a drill book. This paradox is the whole principle of courage; even of quite earthly or brutal courage. A man cut off by the sea may save his life if we will risk it on the precipice.
“He can only get away from death by continually stepping within an inch of it. A soldier surrounded by enemies, if he is to cut his way out, needs to combine a strong desire for living with a strange carelessness about dying. He must not merely cling to life, for then he will be a coward, and will not escape. He must not merely wait for death, for then he will be a suicide, and will not escape. He must seek his life in a spirit of furious indifference to it; he must desire life like water and yet drink death like wine. No philosopher, I fancy, has ever expressed this romantic riddle with adequate lucidity, and I certainly have not done so. But Christianity has done more: it has marked the limits of it in the awful graves of the suicide and the hero, showing the distance between him who dies for the sake of living and him who dies for the sake of dying.”