The Marks of a Christian Scholar

Address given at the commencement exercises of Potomac University, May 22, 1958.

Walter R. Beach, Secretary, General Conference oi Seventh-day Adventists

I consider it indeed a signal privilege to participate in the exercises of this hour. From my viewpoint we share today the honors of an epoch-making event. Let me explain.

Since the early days of the Advent Movement we have been committed to a program aimed at providing a complete Christian education within our own denominational educational system. In pursu­ance of this concept the church undertook in 1934 to meet the increasing requirements of theological training and to provide courses in advance of those offered theretofore at the senior college level. The Seventh-day Adventist Theological Seminary was founded. Our think­ing and planning advanced further. At the spring meeting of the General Conference Com­mittee of 1956 the leadership of the church faced squarely the fact that our most promising and dedicated youth were forced to attend non-Adventist institutions of higher learning in or­der to provide our denominational institutions with the required skills and qualifications. The implications were disturbing. We felt compelled by duty to make this advanced training available within the framework of Christian education. Thus at the 1956 Autumn Council the devel­opment of a university-type educational institu­tion was agreed upon, and Potomac University was organized. The first courses offered in the School of Graduate Studies began with the 1957 summer quarter. Now the first degrees are to be granted.

This, indeed, is an epoch-making event, long overdue. At such a time it is highly proper, it appears to me, that we rethink the basic objec­tives of this undertaking.

On academic standards and educational techniques we all agree. These must be the highest and the best possible. The church could not settle for less. We are clear, too, on utilitarian purposes. Scholarly attainments here must pre­pare well-qualified, successful workers for the various areas of church endeavor. However, over and above and through all this must emerge clearly the basic aims and achievements of our educational procedure.

There have been countless systems of educa­tion, and each to some extent, at least, has had a particular ideal of the educated person. One could almost say that each period of history has had its own plan and purpose in education, and it would be very easy to go down through history and point this out. Education today, for in­stance, aims chiefly at producing active, scien­tific, pragmatic men and women.

Now, looking at the past and the present, there is much to be commended in the advances of education. And in a way our educational philosophy should be eclectic, bringing into proper relationship the accumulative attain­ments of the past and the present. However, undergirding and penetrating and summing up all the rest must be this apostolic goal: "Let this mind be in you, which was also in Christ Jesus" (Phil. 2:5). The realization of this objective is our high ideal of what the Christian scholar should be—having the mind of Jesus.

What then shall be the sure marks of this educational process? What shall we look for in the Christian scholar, the man "furnished unto all good works"? We shall set down briefly five points.


The first, we hesitate not to say, is humility. True learning is inconceivable without the grace of humility. Indeed, the first step to knowl­edge is awareness of human frailty and igno­rance.

Yet, the so-called educated man is particularly susceptible to the pitfall of pride. This is when he goes through a curriculum without the cur­riculum's going through him! The man who is not humble about his learning can accumulate intellectual baggage of some dimensions, but he does not assimilate this knowledge, nor does he bring it into proper perspective with the whole. He may know many things, but he does not truly understand anything. Real breadth of knowledge and understanding should make the most humble, the most magnanimous, the most tolerant of men.

The beginning and the end of our educational process will have the stamp of Christ's humility. Knowing Christ, we will be humble; knowing ourselves truly, we cannot be proud. Nor do we mean the humility that is proud of being hum­ble.

This is not the humility of weakness. Of John the Baptist, who considered himself unworthy even to unloose the latchet of his Master's shoes, it is said: "He could stand erect and fearless in the presence of earthly monarchs, because he had bowed low before the King of kings."— The Desire of Ages, p. 103. The scholar trained here in this institution will bear the mark of humility—the humility of boldness, power, and action; the humility that opens an effectual door to growth arid to service.


Service is the next part of this Christian scholar's ideal of life. Potomac University there­fore will be dedicated to service, and the Chris­tian scholar likewise.

Training in this institution must respect and enhance the urge to accomplishment embedded deep within the human heart. This urge comes from God. Nor can Heaven be satisfied unless His representatives do all in their power to scale the high walls of achievement. It is here, how­ever, that a gulf separates the Christian from the worldling. The worldling responds to his urge and uses his educational advantages for his own benefit, his own advancement; the Chris­tian response uses them for service, that is, for the advancement of others and the advancement of God's cause.

There is a philosophy that makes self the center of the world. But over against this ego­centrism the Master set the selfless life. "Who­ever would be great among you," said He, "must be your servant" (Matt. 20:26, R.S.V.). Saint Paul accepted this viewpoint, and added, "I am debtor" to all (Rom. 1:14).

Service is therefore a human duty—a duty that points to true greatness. Service changes small, provincial individuals into universal men and women. It so operated in behalf of Christ's first disciples, including Saul of Tarsus, the puny Jew who became a spiritual giant in the service of the world. It has continued down through the centuries to perform like miracles.

Service is also the end of a perfect life. Jeanie Deans, in Scott's The Heart of Midlothian, has life straight. Says she, "'When we come to the end of life, it is not what we have done for ourselves, or received, but what we have done for others and given, that will be our help and comfort." How true!

The educational process of this institution must build service into the life and career of every graduate. Here you acquire academic standing, not to be served, to achieve ego status, but to serve more and with less bungling; to use sharper, better tools to do the job—and the job must be done.

The station of service, lowly or great, will be of little importance. We know full well that "all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players." Why should he who plays the part of a king glory in his tinsel crown and tin sword and believe that he is better than the one who plays the part of the lowly human? Both are men. When we respond to the last curtain call of judgment, we will not be asked what part we played, but how well we played the part that was assigned to us.

This spirit of service will emerge with perfect beauty in the epopee of God's work; and God's work is the ultimate goal of those who receive their training in this institution. This institu­tion must prepare men and women to cross the street and to cross the seas with Heaven's mes­sages. God forbid that Potomac University might ever stray from this essential purpose. Yes, to the north and to the south; in the burn­ing tropics, in the midst of eternal snows; on the high plateaus of Kenya and in the tangled em­pire of wood and water in the Amazon, must those who get their training here be ready to serve. "I'll go where you want me to go, dear Lord" must ever remain a glorious reality. The only alternative is "Ichabod"----The glory is de­parted, and the raison d'être also.

Sense of Responsibility

Yet another basic mark of this institution's educational process will be a sense of responsi­bility, and a very particular, definite sense. Here men and women accept not only the fact of human independence, so much talked of in the world today and so much sought after, but also the consequence of this independence, which is the sense of personal responsibility.

A destructive though popular doctrine is making inroads in the world today. People, some claim, are simply creatures—the products of heredity and environment. But for the Chris­tian scholar there is a third factor: personal response stemming from personal ability. For him, life consists not only of what heredity and environment and knowledge make of us, but of what we, under God, make of what they make of us. Objects react to stimuli. The Chris­tian educated mind can do more: it responds. Reaction is mechanical; response is based on personal responsibility.

Christian education has three goals. First, to give a correct understanding of God and His ways. This leads to responsibility toward God. Second, to give a correct understanding of one­self. This leads to responsibility toward oneself. Third, to give a correct understanding of the world's need and how to meet it. This leads to responsibility toward fellow men.

Purely academic training fails often to equip men and women for this responsibility. The product is stereotyped: a machine, a gramo­phone playing back what has been learned and told. But the Christian scholar must think and reason, not in circles with thoughts in juxtapo­sition, but from cause to effect, with ideas in logical relationship to one another. In reality, this sense of personality and responsibility and logic and wisdom distinguishes real men and women from just ordinary, smooth-skinned, featherless bipeds. That is the goal and aim of educated scholars in this part of the world and in this institution.


Christian education must produce balanced minds. This is very important, for it has to do with all other aspects of education and char­acter formation. Balance establishes fundamen­tal relationships and proportions. Without bal­ance, life is an uncomely, sterile chaos.

Who of us has not been taught that education is "the harmonious development of the physical, the mental, and the spiritual powers"?—Edu­cation, p. 13. Harmony means balance. The educated mind must know how to function on a well-balanced, well-integrated level.

Watchmakers tell us that quite often when a watch does not work right, the mischief lies in the balance wheel. So it is with men and women. We find many of them who even are counted brilliant along certain lines, but who are not likely to occupy positions of responsibility or to set the pace and pattern for this church on its spiritual trek to the ends of the earth. These individuals are inadequate because they do not have correct judgment. Their basic lack is a lack of balance, proportion, and judgment.

I believe firmly that nine times out of ten the story of failure, misunderstanding, pain and suffering, is the story of a lack of balance. This can be moral, spiritual, intellectual, or physical. Plato was not very far from the truth when he set down his golden mean. "Not too much, not too little," said he, "but the just middle." If there is too much or too little, imbalance and defeat result, and ugly conduct appears in the life of the individual.

If there is too little courage, we are beset with weakness; if there is too much, we meet foolhardiness.

If there is a shortage of meekness, it is pride; too much meekness can become subjugation.

Too much humility becomes pride; too little achieves the same result.

A lack of honesty is evil; too much flaunted honesty becomes stubbornness.

A lack of seriousness is ugly; too much is ridiculous.

Too much humor is light; too little is gro­tesque.

Pessimism is weakness; too much optimism is stupidity.

Weakness spells failure; too much strength becomes brutality.

A lack of diligence fails to take advantage of fleeting opportunity; too much speed is haste, chaos, and loss.

The aim of our eaucational process is the maturity of Jesus Christ. His maturity alone enables men to find balance between too much and too little, and to choose between what is essential and what is not. Only a Christlike balance of mind and purpose can produce the ability to do the right thing, at the right time, and in the right place. And this, fundamentally, is the ability to do and to succeed. The mind that discerns the right thing and the right time and the right place can bring knowledge, un­derstanding, and service, in the setting of per­sonal responsibility, into perfect focus, and he must achieve great things.

The person who has attained to this perfect balance can do the right thing because he has tuned his mind to truth and its requirements. He has learned to adjust knowledge in the light of revelation and has resolved to follow the biddings of duty. He who understands the right time has acquired the sense of flux and change. There is a time and tide in the affairs of men—Shakespeare recognized that. For man there exists a program, a timetable, in which the larger aspects of life, with the minutest detail, find an orderly sequence. A realization of the right place implies a sense of organization in which personal roles and achievements are ad­justed to those of fellow participants. Thus the individual endeavor contributes to the effective harmony of the whole—the right thing, the right time, the right place.

Actors on the human scene may stray from the path of truth, make mockery of appropriate­ness and justice, deny the requirements of place; they may reject all the marks and achieve­ments of right—they may for a time; but an unspeakable nemesis pursues them.

The Corsican lieutenant finds profit and ad­vantage for a time, and is hailed by men as a genius; he ends, however, on a prison rock in the sea.

The Austrian corporal may build his house with the eagle's nest in the high Alps and march his armies over Europe and Africa; he neverthe­less comes to his end in the smoking ruins of his Reich's chancellory.

The worldling may enjoy the pleasures of the "wide gate" and the "easy way" for a season; he may be restricted in his vision to academic pursuits, overlooking God's purposes for his life; but he will live and die oblivious of the lasting joys of the right and the timeless, and the invisible, which is the crowning part indeed of the Christian scholar.

Sense of the Eternal

We come thus to the supreme mark of the Christian mind: the sense of the timeless, the invisible, the eternal. Here emerge the end and the glory of our educational process.

The pragmatic aims of modern education have produced a keen awareness of time. Men's thoughts nowadays are much preoccupied with time. Sour years ago, before physics became the fashionable science, the human mind was wont to conceive of time as something in which things took place. Now it is looked upon as the very fabric of the universe. Einstein incarnated this concept of the universe.

This mood of temporalism has penetrated every nook and corner of our world. Under the sovereignty of time any action is moral, provided the time in which we live regards it as such—the sovereignty of time. Popular religion has drunk deep of this intoxicating draught of temporalism. It often preaches salvation for time, sometimes regardless of eternity. Men are asked to save their bodies for time rather than for eternity. This fits into the picture of time as the fabric of the world.

The god of such a belief is not the God of eternity but of time. He is produced by cosmic floods of time. The eventual purposes of such a god are not certain, but, they tell us, time will reveal them if we give time time enough!

Indeed, the "children of this world" are bound by time. However, this concept of life and eternity is false. The Christian educated person transcends time and discerns the im­plications of the timeless. He is able to escape from time, to understand that there will be an end to time, and that through ages on end there will be no more "before" or "after" but only "now," eternally. In this perspective of the timeless, the joys of truth, life, love, and exist­ence are reduced to a single focal point: eter­nity. This is the Christian's sense of the world.

And what joys these joys are! They surpass all that we can see and hear and imagine in time. And yet there is so much to see and to hear and to understand in this world—books to read and knowledge to acquire—pebbles to pick up along the seashore. What beauties untold—the snow-crowned Alps, with their evening glow; the majestic redwoods of California; the red-tinged plateaus of Madagascar; the gaping glory of Grand Canyon; the castles on the Rhine, and Andalusia; the sunset on the Mediterranean, when the clouds come down like pillars to form a brilliant red tabernacle for the sun; the glittering Taj Mahal; the towers and the minarets of Constantinople; the villas of Rome, with their long lanes of ilex and laurel; the stately hills of Tuscany, with their cypress trees standing guard; the overwhelming grandeur of the Sahara; the Gothic cathedrals aspiring heav­enward like prayers; the irresistible glamour of Piazza San Marco; Paris; the world—and friends!

Then we can imagine the beauty of the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, the splendor of the Temple of Jerusalem, the garden where fourfold rivers flowed through lands rich with gold and onyx.

And there is much more we cannot imagine; a world in which there never will be pain, or disease, or death; a world in which every man and woman will live without complaint, anxiety, fear, misery, misunderstanding; a land where flowers will never fade and the sun never set; a world of happiness and joy unbroken.

And, marvel of marvels, in Christ all this becomes a reality today. Such is the Christian's sense of the timeless and the eternal—the crown­ing work of true education and redemption. This attainment lifts all who reach it out of earth's fog into God's ceaseless sunshine. Surely this makes the task worth while, the aim, the result, wonderful and glorious.

This crowning work, this attainment, must be the glory of Potomac University and the scholars it trains, and you who sit here tonight. Let us then this night rededicate this institution and our lives in a way to maintain bright and clear this program, to defend and expand this philosophy of education, so that the workers who terminate their training here and set the pace and pattern for their church may be able to say with the apostles, "We have the mind of Christ" (1 Cor. 2:16).

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Walter R. Beach, Secretary, General Conference oi Seventh-day Adventists

August 1958

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