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Same Old, Same Old?

By Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

Dr. Carl E. Zylstra

Personally, I can get pretty excited about the new strategic plan for Dordt College. After all, we like to invite students, as our admissions brochure says, to "Find Your Place in God's World." What I like about the new restatement of our mission, our vision, and our strategy for service is that it outlines the way in which we as a college seek to find our place in God's world over the next half decade and beyond.

But I do have some hesitancy. It's quite possible that some are going to read this restatement of our hopes and dreams and conclude that, at age fifty, Dordt College really hasn't found much of anything new to say.

The new statement is concise and clear: As an institution of higher education committed to the Reformed Christian perspective, the mission of Dordt College is to equip students, alumni, and the broader community to work effectively toward Christ-centered renewal in all aspects of contemporary life.

However, careful readers will note that the new statement does sound remarkably similar to a 1937 call to establish a Midwestern Christian college in harmony with Reformed principles . . . to give young people an education that is Christian, not merely in the sense that devotional exercises are appended to the ordinary work of the college, but in the larger and deeper sense that all the class work, all the students' intellectual, emotional, and imaginative activities shall be permeated with the spirit and teaching of Christianity.

So it wouldn't be surprising to me if some skeptics would wonder whether after half a century we couldn't at least have come up with something new.

And I suppose that we could have done so. We could have decided that we had out grown our original mission. Our college could have decided that while an explicitly comprehensive Reformed perspective was fine for our beginning years, we now have grown beyond such limited beginnings. We could have decided that what worked for the first fifty years would prove just far too confining and restrictive for meeting the challenges of the next half century ahead.

Or we could have decided simply to reword all of our past assumptions and roll out a new image for the college as it moves ahead. For instance, we could have decided to stop using words and phrases such as "Reformed," "covenant kingdom perspective," and "serviceable insight" that have echoed across our campus over the past decades. We could have decided that the only thing holding us back from national accolades is the language we use, not the ideas we believe. We could have presumed that if only we would adopt the language used by the rest of the educational establishment to describe their ideas and hide the terms we used to use to outline our own educational principles, somehow everyone will flock to support us.

I hope our new strategic vision will make clear that Dordt College is convinced that we haven't outgrown our foundations and that we don't need to hide our past. At the same time, we are well aware that just forcefully repeating the same old words over and over again will not prepare us for the future.

So we do have a lot of dreams for the coming years. Perhaps most significant is our conviction that in the next half decade and beyond Dordt College will have to boldly and with integrity establish its presence widely across North America, especially in its role as a leader in a comprehensive system of K-16 Christian education. We really do believe that it is time for Dordt College to be widely and unabashedly known as a center for Reformational scholarship and academic excellence, certainly focused on our residential campus in Sioux Center but also though a growing impact-and increasing presence-across North America and beyond.

One student expressed it this way at a campus forum called to discuss our strategic plan: "It sounds as if what this plan is all about is how to maintain the Reformed focus of Dordt College while at the same time expanding our presence and increasing our base."

That's not a bad summary. True, some might dismiss such thoughts as "Same old, same old." Personally, however, I'm convinced that it is exactly those same old principles that sustained Dordt College for its first half century that also can serve as the newly expressed and reenergized principles that will prosper Dordt College for its future service in God's kingdom too. And, of course, that's what really counts. As our college motto still declares, Soli Deo Gloria-it's all for His glory alone.