I made my graduation debut this past weekend with this address to a very special group of students whom I had the pleasure of teaching for a year in Torrey Academy and have stayed in touch with since. I have met no group of students more thoughtful, caring, and full of joy than this group. I miss them dearly and wish them all the best for the road ahead. I will make my YouTube debut with this speech as soon as I receive a copy.
Mr. Clem, it’s a surprise to see you here. If there was ever a doubt that God exists, let it be put to rest. For those who might be wondering, it wouldn’t be Torrey Academy without me picking on Mr. Clem. I am quite confident he will return the favor.
It is impossible to ignore the irony of my presence here today; no doubt to the deep dismay of some, both the end and the beginning of your Torrey Academy career will be marked by what some of you might dub “my rantings.” Mr. Bartel’s time with you between these lectures is simply further proof of what we have all known since we first discovered Oreo’s and crème-filled donuts: the really good stuff is always found in the middle.
If you think back to the first class we had together, you may recall the apocalyptic vision I articulated for our society. If you have forgotten it, I hardly blame you: you have met with far greater minds since then.
On that morning, I argued that the double diseases of scientism and post-modernism are decaying Western Civilization from within. The result of these deadly intellectual forces is a hollowed out educational system that rejects the authority of the ancients, rewards mediocrity, and ignores the cultivation of virtue as the end of education.
My hope in that talk, and in so many talks after, was to impart a sense of mission for your time in Torrey Academy. In the past three years, your schoolwork was our secondary aim, while saving the West was our fundamental.
It would be folly to say we stand at the end of that journey. The West has not yet been saved, nor, last time I checked, has Jesus yet returned. But we pause today to look back on the voyage thus far, to consider your accomplishments and grasp, however poorly, at their meaning.
Measured against our broader culture, no one can deny the impressive nature of what each of you has achieved. In a society that treats adolescents like children, that views multiple-choice tests as an accurate barometer of learning, and that thinks Harry Potter is great literature, you have read—we hope—and wrestled with Augustine, Charles Williams, John Locke, Dante and other titans of Western civilization. Through spending hours discussing complex ideas, you have begun to realize that a difficult question is a more satisfying reward than an easy answer. You have begun to articulate ideas with a confidence and clarity that was missing when I first met you, and have improved your writing to levels that many of you probably never thought possible. I know—I fellowshipped with Mr. Bartel’s suffering and read your term papers.
If any of you doubt your growth, I would remind you that many of you remarked to me shortly after reading Mere Christianity that it was the most challenging book you had ever read. The rest of you were, I think, simply too bashful to agree. I have no doubt that each of you, upon returning to Lewis’ work, will find it not only much more readable, but enjoyable for its profound simplicity. Were I still your teacher, I would assign as summer reading.
In short, I suspect I should have a much more difficult time now convincing you that the West is in need of saving then I did previously, which is proof Mr. Bartel’s excellent work. The highest reward for any teacher is having students who make the transition from student to peer, a transition that each of you has begun to make. As all the parents here know, if you train your students well, they’ll soon stop listening to you.
But there is a growth more important than the sharpening of the mind. I have known few young people who are as passionately committed to the cause of Jesus Christ as you. But in the last three years, that deep and unswerving desire to serve him has been joined with a longing for the Truth and a deepened intellectual engagement with the Christian faith which has not deadened your hearts, but has enriched and enflamed them to seek the higher things, to move beyond clichés to the substance of the faith, the joyful and intimate knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ.
For these reasons, friends, and for many more, I and all those gathered here offer our hearty and heartfelt congratulations on journeying well thus far.
But the significance of the education which you have received is not yet fixed. You move on, now, to other tasks which will determine the meaning of your time in Torrey Academy. I offer, then, two cautions and a final exhortation for the road ahead.
As you move on to new pursuits and adventures, some of you will be tempted to conflate the work of Christ’s Kingdom with the pursuit of knowledge, influence, or excellence for their own sakes. It is a temptation which I know well, having succumbed to it often. You will be tempted to think that the blessings of God can be attained through success in academia, business, politics or any other arena of life in which you will inevitably enter.
But the Kingdom of God will not come because we have infiltrated the hallowed halls of Washington, or the venerable banks of Wall Street. It will not come because of our great learning, our titles and accolades, or our overflowing wallets. It will not come because we have attained the ranks of CEO or Professor Laureate. It will come only when, and how, Jesus Christ wills it. And it will only come when you surrender your hearts, your minds, your entire lives to His Lordship. You have been made to be saints, first, and CEO’s, second. Only when you pursue the holiness which marks the character and essence of the Trinity will you find satisfaction and rest for your souls. And only in and through that Holiness will the West be reborn.
Secondly, I would caution each of you against the easy rebellion of conformity. By virtue of your education in Torrey Academy and your status as ‘home-schoolers,’ you stand outside not only the mainstream of American culture, but outside mainstream Christian culture. For good or ill—and I think almost entirely for good—you are, and will be, different from your peers.
You may grow weary of this status. But I would caution you not to reject it. There is, of course, no intrinsic virtue to being weird. If there were, I think I should already be in heaven. But though you may not realize it now, there is no better preparation to live as Christians in a dominantly secular culture than to begin to be comfortable with your status as an outsider, and to hold on to that which has made you such.
This temptation to conform will come from two directions. On the one hand, you will tempted to surrender the truth of the Gospel for a feel-good pluralism that undercuts both Scripture and the traditions of the Church. This path leads to the hopeless cynicism of a life of questions, with no hope of answers, and to a rejection of the God who is the Fact upon which the universe depends.
On the other hand, you will be tempted to embrace a lifeless orthodoxy that refuses to acknowledge that the Gospel itself imposes limitations upon our knowledge of God. This path leads to a life of empty clichés, and to a life that rejects questions for fear that the answers may differ from those which we already know. It is ultimately a rejection of the God who answers questions with another question, the God who dwells in a light so bright it veils His essence from our view.
Between these temptations lies the path of orthodoxy, a path by which you will gain the confident humility necessary not only to reject all those ideologies that imitate the truth, but also gain the ability to ask questions designed not to undercut the Gospel, but to understand it.
The perils of the voyage ahead require such cautions. But they are ultimately insufficient. In the Kingdom of God, the final word is never no, but a positive and exuberant “yes and amen.” And so I offer my final exhortation to you.
In a moment of magisterial prose, the Protestant divines who gathered at Heidleberg wrote that our only comfort in life and death is that with body and soul, we are not our own, but belong unto our faithful savior Jesus Christ, who with his precious blood, has fully satisfied for all our sins and delivered us from the power of the devil, and so preserves us, that without the will of our heavenly Father, not a hair can fall from our heads, yes, that all things must be subservient to our salvation, and therefore, by his Holy Spirit, he also assures us of eternal life and makes us sincerely willing and ready, henceforth, to live unto him.
This is the center of the Christian faith—that we are not our own, but belong to another. We are created beings, objects whose end lies outside of ourselves in God and whose happiness is only complete when we find ourselves in Him. We have been bought with a price and live at the mercy of the Savior whom we serve.
This is no license for sloth, for greed, or for the mediocrity that comes from pursuing personal peace and affluence. Rather, it imposes a radical obligation to abandon the concerns of this world, to cultivate the courageous freedom to risk all that is an unmistakable mark of the Christian life. It is our banner, our rallying cry: our lives are not our own, but are a gift from the one who gives us all good things.
The gospel, then, exists in uneasy tension with the individualism and isolationism of our American culture, for it rejects the notion that you are and can be self-sufficient. Indeed, your journey through Torrey Academy has not been yours alone. Your parents, friends, teachers, and pastors have each contributed to your success, and none moreso than those who bore you, who raised you, and who have sacrificed their lives for you. Without the prayers, strivings, and longsufferings of your parents and family, you would not sit here today.
I exhort you, therefore, to acknowledge from this day forward that all that you have and all that you are, depends upon the merciful graciousness of the God who loves you, who cares for you, who has given his life for you, and in so doing embrace a life that is marked by humility, by thanksgiving, and above all by the joy of accepting a goodness which you do not deserve. Though the journey ahead may be difficult, walk forward in bold and confident courage, for the power of the God who fashioned the Heavens is with you, and he is ever and always for you.
We come, then, to the end of this chapter of the story. And such an end inevitably brings the breaking of a fellowship. You have spent hundreds of hours together laughing, talking, fighting, and learning. The community you have experienced has always been marked by the presence of sin, but also by the more powerful presence of the Holy Spirit. My hope, my prayer for your time in Torrey Academy was that you would together taste the deep riches of Holy Communion, that you would experience the joys of learning with those who are committed to the knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ and to the building up of His church.
I know not whether that prayer has been answered, though I trust it has. But this one thing I know: that you, friends and fellow travelers, have filled me with hope. Your eagerness, your maturity, your commitment to learning for its own sake, and your unswerving trust in the faithfulness of Jesus Christ have helped me believe that all shall be well, and that all manner of things shall be well.
The West still stands in need of saving. The shadow of Mordor grows dark over the land. But the light I see in you is stronger yet, for it is a light not from yourselves, but from God, and it is a light at which the darkness already trembles. And as the darkness descends, the light will shine out all the brighter.
This, then, is the journey on which we together have embarked, and this is my confidence and my hope: Christ in you, and you in Him. This is the end of all our labors, of all our learning, the end for which we were created. The journey has only begun, though we will pursue it until our Savior comes again in glory and we find ourselves standing together next to him, Kings, Queens, and Captains in the army of the Great King. On that day, the darkness will cease to tremble, for the darkness shall be vanquished. And on that day, the light which grows in you even now will burst forth and the glory of the Lord will once again be revealed upon the world.
And on that day, my hope shall be made complete and we shall find ourselves united again, playing in the fields of wisdom and united in the perfect bond of fellowship. On that day, we shall be free again to explore the deep things of God and the mysteries of Charles Williams, free to inquire into the nature of film and the importance of poetry, and above all, free to discover the meaning of the one symbolical pearl which Heaven equals.
Until that day, then, fare forward in the confident knowledge of our Savior Jesus Christ. Fare forward, voyagers, and cease not your explorations. Fear not the dangers, for a God who is greater yet attends you even now. Fare forward, my friends, for the glories of heaven await you. The path will not be easy, but the One who is good, true, and beautiful is with you, even unto the end of the age.