Scripture: Reflecting on a Word-Centered Heritage
Asbury University’s founder, John Wesley Hughes, shared more than a name with John Wesley, one of the founders of the Methodist movement. Wesley, a self-proclaimed homo unius libri, or “man of one book,” looked to Scripture to provide the immovable reference point from which to align other forces, such as tradition, reason and experience, which guide a life of faith. In similar fashion, Hughes’ intent for the college he founded was unswervingly focused on promoting scriptural holiness of mind, body and spirit. At Asbury, Scripture forms the literal foundation stones for the very buildings in which students live and learn and the figurative building blocks upon which they establish a framework for understanding the world and each other. Throughout 122 years of operation, Asbury University has remained committed to growing in the understanding and application of Scripture.
The question, then, is not “What?”, but “How?” How does Asbury create an environment in which its students are formed not only by the words of God but also by the Word of God, the Son who is the fullest expression of God’s love? How can Asbury help them become “a letter from Christ … written not with ink but with the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of human hearts” (2 Cor. 3:3)?
The answer is two-fold: Asbury’s commitment to the primacy of Scripture has included both an institutional component as well as individual efforts from the scores of Christian leaders who have studied and worked at Asbury.
From an institutional point of view, the bonfire from which most other scriptural flames are lit is Chapel. Mandatory since 1894, Chapel’s ultimate goal is the spiritual formation of individuals and the community as a whole. According to a statement drafted by the Chapel Committee in 2001, “The method may vary, but the substance of the message must be solidly grounded in the Holy Scriptures.”
Throughout Asbury’s history, it has been in Chapel that students have been exposed to some of the most noted expository teachers of the Holiness and evangelical movements. It has been in Chapel that President Sandra Gray encouraged the Asbury community to join her in reading through the entire Bible in the 2009-10 academic year. And it has been in Chapel that the proclaimed Word has fanned into flames the banked coals of revival.
After students leave Hughes Auditorium, however, life in the Word becomes a community project. If Scripture is like a seed planted in students’ hearts, then relationships — with each other, faculty, staff and alumni — form the soil in which it grows.
Kayleen Bengtson, a sophomore from Scottsdale, Ariz., is a Spiritual Life Assistant (SLA) in her residence hall, which means that she has volunteered to be a resource for spiritual questions from about 15 young women. She also coordinates the hall’s Koinonia meetings in which the students meet for fellowship and Bible study. For Bengtson, becoming an SLA has been an opportunity to lead by example in making Scripture a part of every-day student life.
“I want Koinonia to be a time of gathering to build relationships that advance our lives and the kingdom of God,” she said. “Scripture is the center of Koinonia time. I’m not a morning Bible reader — I know my mind just isn’t fully functioning in the morning — so I have to be intentional about making that time later in the day.
“But Scripture isn’t an obligation, a duty, a ‘have to’—it’s a ‘get to.’ It’s a way to connect with God and have a growing relationship with him.”
While at Asbury, students are prayed for, watched over, invested in and saturated with Scripture. Does this create an “incubator” of Christian values and culture that is unlike the life most college students experience? Probably. Is that intentional? Definitely. The truth is that for today’s students to successfully navigate their worlds, a solid scriptural foundation is essential.
“Our students are shaped by Scripture as it has been received and interpreted since the time of the apostles who wrote it, down through the tradition of apostolic teaching to today,” said Dr. Neil Anderson ’88, professor of Biblical and Theological Studies. “But Asbury students would be ill-equipped to meet the challenges to their faith that the world poses, let alone help transform that world as adult believers, if all they could do was cite Scripture. They need to be able to articulate clearly and decisively not only what they believe, but why they believe what they believe.”
For a more in-depth exploration of the role of Scripture at Asbury, click here to read “Living Letters: The Spirit of God Written on Human Hearts” in The Ambassador alumni magazine (Summer 2012).