Attending Bethlehem in a Time of Turmoil

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Attending Bethlehem in a Time of Turmoil

Hi, I’m Dr. Joe Rigney, and it is my joy to serve as a professor at Bethlehem College & Seminary. I’m recording this special video in the summer of 2020 for our incoming students and their families, as well as for potential and prospective students who might be considering an application to Bethlehem.  There are […]

Hi, I’m Dr. Joe Rigney, and it is my joy to serve as a professor at Bethlehem College & Seminary. I’m recording this special video in the summer of 2020 for our incoming students and their families, as well as for potential and prospective students who might be considering an application to Bethlehem. 

There are a lot of reasons to come to Bethlehem College & Seminary. We train men for pastoral ministry by equipping them with the tools of whole-Bible exegesis in the original languages, from a robust theological perspective, in the context of a globally-minded church. We teach undergraduate men and women the Great Books in light of the Greatest Book for the sake of the Great Commission. We offer evening programs at both the graduate and undergraduate level so that working men and women can receive a remarkable education in a format that fits their life situations. And thanks to our generous supporters, every traditional student receives a Serious Joy Scholarship, which makes this God-centered, Christ-exalting, Bible-saturated education affordable and accessible, so that students are able to graduate free from the shackles of student loan debt. Yes, there are a lot of reasons to come to Bethlehem College & Seminary.

But the events of the last two months in Minneapolis have underscored to me the tremendous value and importance of a Bethlehem education. These events have made me want to make a special appeal to potential college students and seminary apprentices (as well as to our current students who are wondering whether they should return): “Now is a great time to study at Bethlehem.”

At first, this might seem counterintuitive. We all saw the footage of the heart-breaking killing of George Floyd and the rioting and looting that took place in Minneapolis and St. Paul at the end of May. We watched Minneapolis Police Department’s 3rd Precinct burning (Bethlehem’s Downtown Campus is about two and a half miles north of the 3rd Precinct building). We now know that these riots were partly the result of outrage over the tragic killing of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police officers and partly the result of opportunists who took advantage of the legitimate protests and unrest to vandalize and wreak havoc on our city. 

With the Twin Cities awash in anger, grief, and turmoil, why would I say that now is a great time to consider Bethlehem? I can imagine the parents of a prospective college student saying, “Do I really want my son or daughter studying in downtown Minneapolis right now?” I can imagine a prospective seminarian saying, “Do I want to move my family all the way to Minneapolis, given the turmoil and unrest in that city right now?”

My first response to such questions is to remind all of us that when it comes to following Jesus and loving others, risk is right. In the words of our Chancellor John Piper,

I get very tired of candidates for staff positions in our inner-city church asking, “Will our children be safe?” I’ve grown tired of such American priorities infecting the mission of the church. Whoever said that your children will be safe in the call of God?

To move toward risk in order to gain an education in serious joy that will prepare you for a life of sacrificial service in the cause of Christ is the opposite of folly. In light of eternity, it may be one of the wisest and most strategic moves you could make. 

My second response is to emphasize that the events of the last month or so are not representative of the Twin Cities. I’ve lived in Minneapolis for fifteen years. For the first five, I lived two miles north of where the bulk of the rioting was. For the last ten years, I’ve lived a few miles south of there. Like most major metros, Minneapolis has its challenges, and one must learn to live wisely in order to live well. But it also has its glories. It’s a wonderful place to live and to raise a family. And it’s tragic that our city made headlines because of the unnecessary death of one of God’s image-bearers, the resulting protests and looting, and the confusing leadership of city officials, rather than for all of the wonders that God has placed in it—from the crisp glory of a snowy Minnesota winter to the triumphant beauty of a long Minnesota summer’s day, from the tremendous concentration of art and culture to the great diversity of ethnicity and language that enriches our city. The turmoil of the last few weeks does not faithfully show the full picture of Minneapolis.

But it does show some part of the picture. The pain and grief and outrage that flooded the streets is also part of our city. It testifies that for many of our neighbors, their lived reality is marked by the frustration that comes from facing mistreatment on account of their race or ethnicity. They saw the police officer with his knee on the neck of George Floyd and said, “That’s me.” And so they marched and protested, and then, for some, those protests turned to riots, and the riots turned to looting and burning and destruction. And my main reason for writing this short essay is because the revelation of that pain and grief and outrage underscores for me the value of a Bethlehem education and why I want to encourage you to consider it.

The last few weeks have reminded me of the intangible quality of an Education in Serious Joy. It’s the sort of thing that’s difficult to put into words. I first came to Bethlehem fifteen years ago because I wanted to see Christian hedonism on the ground, lived out, expressed in the life of the local church. I knew that, as wonderful as the books and sermons were, there was something more, something intangible that I wanted to shape and mold me. And that’s what the last month has reminded me of.

It begins with a vision of God, the kind that offers big, deep, heartfelt prayers to the living God in the name of his Son Jesus on behalf of the sorrows of Minneapolis. It’s a vision of God that refuses to be silent in the face of unjust killings but instead laments the loss, expresses outrage, and pleads for justice, mercy, and healing.

We are heartbroken by the horrible killing of George Floyd. Bethlehem Baptist Church believes in the sacred value of his life and all human life from conception to the coffin. Our God-given sense of justice was violated in watching the video of his death. We mourn this senseless loss of life, we pray for justice, and we confess that something needs to change. We are committed to being part of that change as we partner with other local churches in gospel ministry. We call upon the name of the Lord Jesus Christ for mercy, help, and healing for our city.

But these sorts of prayers and these sorts of statements don’t remain static; they move us to action. It’s impossible to quantify the value of learning to care about all suffering (especially eternal suffering) from men like Pastor Ming-Jinn Tong. Before the fires of the first night’s riots were put out, Pastor Ming-Jinn and other Bethlehem leaders were already organizing a cleanup of Lake Street. Hundreds of people from the Bethlehem community and beyond came out to try to bring forth beauty from ashes and to offer hope to a neighborhood in pain (and those efforts have continued even after the eyes of the country turned elsewhere). And they did so because this is not just a neighborhood; it’s our neighborhood. It’s not just a city; it’s our city. And Christ has called us to be salt and light here and now. And that makes Bethlehem a great place to study. Whether it’s imitating the faith and life of Bethlehem pastors, or being mentored by the amazing lay men and lay women across Bethlehem’s three campuses, whether it’s sitting at the feet of Bethlehem’s remarkable professors or serving in ministry alongside other pastors in the Treasuring Christ Together Network, Bethlehem offers more than classroom experience and a rigorous academic course of study. Our faculty, staff, pastors, and supporters share not only the gospel with our students but their very lives as well. And that makes all the difference. 

We live in a time of substantial upheaval and crisis. COVID-19 has accelerated the trend in higher education toward more online degrees and offerings. But as valuable as such education may be in certain circumstances, there are some things you simply cannot learn online. There are habits of heart and mind that can only be imparted face-to-face, life-on-life, in the midst of the real challenges (and glories) of gospel ministry.

College is a time of maturation, a time of preparation for life and vocation and ministry, and Bethlehem College & Seminary is in the business of forming mature adults who are ready to witness for Christ with wisdom and wonder for the rest of their lives. Seminary is a time of formation for a life of gospel ministry in the church, in the academy, or on the mission field, and Bethlehem College & Seminary is in the business of equipping the next generation of Christian Hedonist pastors and preachers and scholars who will proclaim from the Bible the glorious truth that God is most glorified in us when we are most satisfied in him.

This is the sort of education that can only be done in person, on the ground, in the midst of afflictions and turmoil and upheavals. And so, though I grieve for my city and long for its justice and peace, I can confidently say that there’s never been a better time to come to Bethlehem. The needs are real. The opportunities are endless. And the living God is on the move to equip his people for the good works that he’s prepared. Come to Bethlehem and see.

 

Joe Rigney, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor of Theology and Literature

 

Prayer Requests:

  • Pray that we would strive to be the hands and feet of Christ to those around us.
  • Pray for our faculty and staff as they continue to plan for in-person classes this fall.
  • Pray for the filling of the Alex Steddom International Student Fund such that all our international students are supported for the 2020-2021 school year.