Seek Truth – the theme for 2013-14 at BFA. This post is an excerpt from Scott’s message at the opening ceremonies of the school year on this theme.
Veritas – the Latin word for truth – appears in many university mottos, signifying the pursuit of truth. It is the motto of Harvard University among others. Truth is not in our motto, but it is BFA’s first core value. Additionally, we have a theme at BFA each year. This year, as you can see on the banners in the auditorium, the theme is focused on truth. “Seek truth” is the theme.
It is important that we ask the question, “What is truth?” and seek to grapple with the answers to such a profound question. What is true and what is real are very important questions in a virtual world. What is real? What is true? It is becoming more difficult to discern. We cannot always believe the media. Years ago, a company that produced cassette taps had a slogan, “Is it real, or is it Memorex,” suggesting that the quality of the tape was so good that one could not discern a live performance from a recording on a Memorex tape. However, today’s technology far surpasses anything Memorex could do in the 1990’s. CGI, or computer generated imagery, is quite impressive these days. The first CGI movie was created in 1995, Toy Story. Today, hundreds of movies are created using CG. One that I saw recently that was visually impressive was Life of Pi. It is virtually impossible to tell what is real and what is not visually. In a world in which virtual reality is reality, what is real? What is true?
It is often not consistent with our human nature to seek truth. We are more apt to seek comfort. Truth can be uncomfortable, so we can tend to avoid it. Yet questions about truth are core to our worldview, our thinking, our very being. Because our worldview shapes who we are and what we do, thinking deeply about these questions and assertively seeking truth is really essential.
The idea of truth is countercultural within our postmodern pluralistic society. The fact that it is a BFA core value and is in fact the very first one on our list could be perceived as arrogant by some. Postmodern culture views truth as relative, so an organization or individual that values truth may be categorized as elite, exclusive, or even intolerant. There is a misperception that truth is restrictive, that those who believe in an absolute truth are in bondage. However, the biblical view of truth is the opposite – the truth shall set us free. Research is telling us that today’s students are craving answers to difficult questions; they are seeking truth. A Christian worldview and a biblical understanding of truth provides a mooring in the midst of a sea of relativism.
Philosophy and science both involve the quest for truth. British physicist and theologian John Polkinghorne writes about the scientist’s thirst for truth…
“Doing research in science is quite hard work, with its fair share of routine and frustration. Why do we do it? We do it because we have a thirst to understand and we believe that we can gain truthful understanding through the quest for well-motivated beliefs. Sometimes these beliefs turn out to be very surprising, in a way that we could not have anticipated without the nudge of nature pushing us in a wholly unexpected direction. I worked in quantum physics and in the subatomic quantum world light sometimes behaves like a wave and sometimes like a particle. In terms of everyday thinking that sounds an absurd possibility. Any philosopher in 1899 would have ‘proved’ such behaviour impossible. Nevertheless that is how light actually behaves and after 25 years of intellectual struggle the physicists eventually came to understand it.”
The quest for truth involves a process of learning. Truth and learning are two of our core values here at BFA. We also have a core value of community. We believe the quest for truth and the process of learning occur best in a context of community. We are a learning community, and a community of learners. All of us, students, teachers, dorm staff, we are all engaged in a process of seeking truth.
Truth often leads to transformation. That transformation occurs when we renew our minds. It occurs when we learn and understand truth. It occurs when we think about who we are and who God is. When we align our thinking with the truth, our behavior changes. Intellectual transformation – understanding truth – can lead to emotional and spiritual transformation. Change and transformation occur beginning with the renewal of the mind.
It has been a BFA tradition for many years for the director to share a brief biography of an individual who exemplifies in some way the theme or value of the year.
Last year in the context of the theme of transformation, I suggested the historical example of St. Augustine, born in the year 354 in a small town in North Africa, and a man who was seeking truth. Augustine experienced some of his teenage years in a school away from home. He struggled with his identity. He studied philosophy, struggling to find truth and to find faith. He was a popular teacher and even started schools, but was not satisfied that what he was teaching was truth. He was seeking, but not yet finding that which was truth. When he was encouraged to read the writings of Paul, Augustine began to see that the philosophies he had embraced in the past were empty and bankrupt and that the way of Christ was the truth. He finally recognized the truth and embraced it fully. That truth transformed him and he became extraordinarily influential because of his understanding of truth. God had transformed him from a man of pride and vanity to a man of humility and modesty. He became a leader and a bishop and his influence on that era was significant. He took care of the poor, was a prolific writer, was an ardent defender of truth. Augustine is recognized as one of the greatest Christian leaders, scholars, writers, and thinkers in history.
There are many examples throughout history of individuals who earnestly sought truth. Martin Luther was one of those. Born in 1483 in Eisleben, about 650 km from here, he was born to the son of a peasant who had worked his way into becoming a successful copper mine owner. We don’t know a lot of detail about Martin’s early childhood, but we do know that he went away to boarding school in various cities during his teenage years. Then going to university at age 17, he completed his bachelors degree in one year. Though Martin initially was pursuing the path to law school, upon completion of his master’s degree, he instead entered a monastery and began pursuing God. He struggled trying to please God and seeking to find peace with God. In his quest for truth, he received several degrees in biblical studies and theology, continuing his struggle with understanding truth. In the midst of this quest, he came to find inconsistencies between that which seemed to be true according to scripture and that which was common practice in Christianity and culture at the time. At some point in his search for truth, as he was studying the book of Romans in the Bible, he grappled with the concept of the righteousness of God. In some ways, he hated that phrase, was afraid of God, and often said he hated God. As he kept searching for truth and understanding, he came to see the righteousness of God in a different light. He saw that salvation was not about earning righteousness with God through good works, but it was about God granting that righteousness as a gift that could never be earned. Luther pointed to this new understanding of truth as a significant moment of discovery and a critical turning point in his thinking. He wrote that the very phrase, “the righteousness of God” which he had hated before was the one that now he loved the best of all. His transformational understanding of this truth and the truth of salvation was life-changing. He wanted to share this new discovery of truth. This began to get him into trouble. In 1517, he outlined 95 theses regarding his understanding of truth regarding God’s free forgiveness, salvation, and the sale of indulgences which was common at the time. He wrote these arguments and nailed them to the door of the church in Wittenberg. Nailing arguments to the door of a church was a common way that a professor would inform others that he was interested in having a discussion or debate on a specific topic. In this case, nailing these arguments was not only an invitation for debate, it became a turning point in history and Western civilization. His arguments were translated from Latin into the common German and printed on the newly-developed printing press invention. Instead of the typical intellectual debate resulting from a list of arguments nailed to a church door, in this case these theses became widely distributed and read by thousands. The ensuing controversy encouraged him to even more intensely seek truth as the pressure mounted. Many authorities tried to surpress Luther’s views and he was labeled a heretic. He was called upon in multiple formal settings to defend his views and was opposed by the church and the state. He was actually in significant danger because of the intense opposition. After three years of intense conflict, he was called upon by authorities to publicly renounce his statements in 1521 at the new emperor’s first parliament, the Diet of Worms. Luther prepared, studied, and prayed, earnestly seeking to stand for that which was true. He was convinced of his understanding of scripture, and famously stated, “ I cannot and will not retract. Here I stand. I can do no other.” By standing for the truth, he was literally putting his life at risk. Soon thereafter he was taken into hiding by some friends, and was kept safe in exile at the castle of Wartburg for the next year, where he spent his time working on a German translation of the Bible, all in the effort to put the truth into the hands of the people. His translation of the New Testament, published in 1522, was the very first edition of the Bible published in the dialect of the German people. Luther was blunt and earthy. He was rash and rough around the edges. He was controversial and often said things that he had to later retract. He is often criticized and misquoted. However, there is no question that his quest for truth led him to God. History is clear that his quest for truth and his willingness to put his life on the line for truth changed the course of history. Despite the volatile decades that followed in the mid 16th century, Luther’s thinking, his earnest quest for truth, and the resulting Reformation that arose, not only transformed religion and the church, but it transformed education, business, science, literature, art, and literally all of Western society, culture, and thinking. BFA is part of that legacy as this one man sought truth.
Seek truth. It is our theme for the year. Truth is a core value here at Black Forest Academy. BFA exists to provide a quality international Christian education that equips its students to influence their world through biblical thought, character, and action. This first descriptor in our mission statement is the word quality. Excellence is one of our core values and we believe in high standards. Our community and our education are international and we seek to understand the world through a global lens. Finally, our education is Christian. We believe that all truth is God’s truth and we seek to integrate biblical truth into all disciplines in our effort to develop Christian scholars. We believe that students are best equipped to influence their world by being provided with rigorous and challenging academic training. In addition to the value of excellence, we also believe that a quality education must occur in community. Furthermore, we embrace and live out other core values including ones we have mentioned today: truth, excellence, learning, and community, as well as others including internationalism, partnership, faith, integrity, creativity, and congeniality.
In just a few moments, some of our leaders will issue charges to various groups within this room. Take seriously these charges that are printed on the back of your program. Embrace your calling and where God has placed you within the context of this truth-seeking community. Stop and try to get your mind around the incredible community that is in this room today. Look at the flags and consider the nations represented here. Enjoy this moment and recognize that there is no other time during the year when this many of us from the BFA community will be gathered together in the same room. Recognize that though this room is packed full with standing room only, there are thousands of others who are not in the room today yet are part of the BFA community – people who are supporters and partners, people who have spent time here as students, teachers and staff members.
Our vision in this BFA community is globally-minded Christians changing their world for Christ. We see people transformed by truth, equipped to have a transformational impact through biblical thought, character, and action. We invite you, whether you are a student, parent, relative, friend, teacher, staff member, or friend of the school, to join us in embracing this vision and participating with us as we seek truth and allow it to transform our thinking, our relationships, our lives, our world.