Monday, February 14, 2000

A Vision for the University

A Vision for the University

Inaugural Address of the Vice Chancellor-Elect to the House of Bishops of the Church of Uganda and to the Community of Uganda Christian University

By Stephen F. Noll

The following is an expanded version of an address given by the Rev. Prof. Stephen F. Noll at a Community Hour on the campus of Uganda Christian University and to the House of Bishops of the Church of Uganda the following day.

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ.

I am honoured to have the opportunity to address you briefly as I prepare to come later this year to take up the appointment as Vice Chancellor of Uganda Christian University. My wife Peggy and I have marvelled at the way God has made His will known to us from our visit to Uganda last June to the present. He guided us through Scripture, through the counsel of friends, family, and colleagues, and through the prayers of many of you to conclude that He has called us to this work. I trust this call will sustain us in the many challenges that lie ahead.

I have accepted your call not out of any special benevolence. Indeed I am honoured to receive this appointment. Rather my coming to you is simply a continuation of the call to follow Jesus that I received more than thirty years ago when I became a Christian. I come, not as one who has some extraordinary gift to impart, but as a servant leader who wishes to build up the kingdom of God wherever he finds himself.

It is far too early for me to say what kind of specific direction I shall give to Uganda Christian University. I am so thankful for all those who have come before me: from the first founders of Bishop Tucker Theological College; to the Assembly of the Church which set out the vision for a Christian university in the early 1990’s; to the present Archbishop, Livingstone Mpalangi Nkoyoyo, who has made the University a priority of his episcopate; and to Bishop Eliphaz Maari, who has ably led the College and the University for the past twenty years. Furthermore, the academic and administrative staff at the University have made great strides in expanding the degree offerings without adding vastly to their numbers. So I am not coming to found a University but to build on the foundation already laid.

My vision

I will state certain principles that will undergird my leadership. I shall do so under four heads. My vision for Uganda Christian University is that of:

A University that is truly evangelical

I do not think the work of a University is identical with that of the Church, but surely the foundation of the Church and the foundation of a Christian university must be the same. "For no other foundation can any one lay than that which is laid, which is Jesus Christ . . . and him crucified" (1 Corinthians 3:11; 2:2). True knowledge must be rooted in the knowledge of God and his saving work in Jesus. An evangelical university cannot be ashamed of this Gospel without losing its soul.

The message of salvation comes to us through God’s own sovereign revelation, and this revelation is made more sure through the prophetic and apostolic word of Scripture, which itself comes not from man but from God (2 Peter 1:18-22). For this reason, a Christian university, like the Church itself, is guided by the lamp of God’s Word written. To be sure, many things in Scripture require careful interpretation and even then conscientious Christians sometimes differ. But learning which accepts the yoke of biblical authority will alone stand up to the passing fashions of the academic world. Therefore, so long as I am Vice Chancellor, the University’s inner life and outer discipline will stand under the rule of faith found in Scripture.

Finally, the Gospel is only fulfilled when men and women come to faith in Jesus Christ. "For God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life" (John 3:16). Unlike the Church, it is not a university’s task to impose a faith test on every student or to put evangelism above sound learning. Nevertheless, a truly evangelical university will provide opportunities for students to come to faith and will help them form a worldview in which faith can abound in love and service.

A University that is truly catholic

When I say that I envision a University that is truly catholic, I mean it in the original sense of "one holy, catholic, and apostolic church." The word catholic is a synonym for "universal," and the idea of a university emerged from the Church’s conviction of a unity of knowledge which comes from the one God, who is the source of all wisdom and the father of all peoples and who is the Lord of the one history of the world.

Specifically, I hope that Uganda Christian University will be catholic in its cherishing of the apostolic tradition of the Christian Church as it has received it. St. Paul urges his disciple Timothy to "follow the pattern of the sound words which you have heard from me, in the faith and love which are in Christ Jesus" (2 Timothy 1:13). This "pattern of sounds words" is the tradition of the Church beginning in Scripture and continuing through its history. This tradition has been handed down through the early Church fathers and especially to us through the Protestant Reformation, and the missionary tradition of Anglicanism.

The Lambeth Quadrilateral of the Anglican Communion, although it was written as a template for church unity, offers an excellent grid for a University as well. A Christian university should be (1) grounded in Scripture as God’s Word, (2) guided by the Creeds, (3) observing and encouraging prayer, worship, and sacraments, and (4) honouring the Bishops who lead God’s people. In this respect, a Christian university is conservative, not delighting in innovation for innovation’s sake, but receiving and passing on its heritage as a gift from God. I hope that the heritage of the Anglican Church in Uganda, the great sacrifices of the missionaries and martyrs, will be upheld and emulated by each new generation of students at Uganda Christian University.

Catholicity, according to the Lambeth Quadrilateral, is to be "locally adapted." It is not simply identical with an institution like the Roman Church or a culture like England or the United States. Catholic learning comes from one’s own best mother, one’s family, land, and people. Thus St. Paul can also say to Timothy: "I am reminded of your sincere faith, a faith that dwelt first in your grandmother Lois and your mother Eunice and now, I am sure, dwells in you" (2 Timothy 1:5). Faith is mediated through the culture of the family, the tribe, the nation.

I am very aware of my cultural differentness as an American with very little exposure to life in Uganda. At the same time, I am equally aware of the common bonds we have in Christ. I hope that Uganda Christian University can be an authentic African institution, preserving the ways that God has spoken to his people in this land and integrating that tradition with the best insights and innovations of the modern world and the worldwide Christian movement.

A University that is truly Spirit-filled

The Holy Spirit is the author of truth and the source of power for the Christian life and mission. St. John says: "when the Spirit of truth comes, he will lead you into all truth" (John 16:13). And the Risen Jesus tells his disciples: "you shall receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you shall be my witnesses in Jerusalem and in all Judea and Samaria and to the end of the earth" (Acts 1:8).

Once again a university is not a church or a mission society such that one can claim that the Holy Spirit indwells it. But a Christian university will seek the presence and power of the Spirit in the lives of its students. The Holy Spirit manifests himself in various modes. He is present as the spirit of wisdom (which I will address further in my final point). Hence students and faculty can invoke his presence with careful preparation of lectures and lessons. He is the Spirit of self-control, helping us rule over our sinful desires, as St. Paul notes when he says: "God did not give us a spirit of timidity but a spirit of power and love and self-control" (2 Timothy 1:7).

He is also the Spirit of witness, who falls suddenly on those seeking God and empowers them for service. Thus when Peter preached the Gospel to Cornelius’ family, "the Holy Spirit fell on all who heard the word" (Acts 10:44). This was my own experience as a university student. I entered college not knowing God. Midway through my course, I called out to receive the forgiveness of my sins and Jesus called me not only to be his disciple but to enter the ministry. Some great evangelists and missionaries, like Charles Simeon of Cambridge, were called while at university.

I trust that Uganda Christian University will provide opportunities for the Holy Spirit to fall upon its students, through daily worship and through evangelistic meetings and crusades. I hope that the University will not only train those sent by their bishops to be priests but will be the place where others are called to this high calling. I hope the university will call forth students to the worldwide mission of Christ today in Uganda and Rwanda and the Sudan and to the ends of the earth. I hope that the teachers and social workers it sends forth will minister the compassion of Christ to people of every social rank and every physical and moral condition.

A University that is truly liberal

Finally, my vision includes a university that is truly liberal. I do not mean by "liberal" the political labels, whether the liberalism of the right, of John Locke, the author of modern democratic capitalism, or the liberationism of the left, which is indebted to Marx and the socialist ideal. Both of these kinds of liberalism, taken as ideologies, are secular and fall short of the true liberality rooted in Christian freedom, the freedom St. John speaks of when he says: "If the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed" (John 8:36).

Christian freedom is rooted in Christ’s sacrifice and our response of offering our selves, our souls and bodies, to his service. Our self-offering includes the renewal of our minds (Romans 12:1). We are heirs of a great tradition of "faith seeking understanding," a phrase associated with the early African theologian Augustine of Hippo. It is this tradition on which the first universities were founded. This is why we can speak of "liberal arts" and a "liberal education" as authentically Christian in character.

Many universities today have lost their liberality. They have degenerated into merely vocational training schools or hothouses of "political correctness," where students are propagandized in the ideology of secularism. This is a decisive moment for Christians to stand up again for the great tradition of liberal learning that includes inquiry, dialogue, passion, all working within the framework of faith and hope and love.

I know many students in Uganda see education as an opportunity to become professionals and find social and economic advancement. This is a good motivation as far as it goes: one should strive for excellence and success. But the Bible reminds us that the true way to achieve the good things of life is through the doorway of the "fear of the Lord" (Proverbs 1:5). Think of King Solomon. When God asked him for his fondest wish, the young king asked above all for an understanding mind so that he could govern his people well. And God gave him wisdom and all things with it, saying: "Behold, I give you a wise and discerning mind. . . . . I give you also what you have not asked, both riches and honor, so that no other king shall compare with you, all your days" (1 Kings 3:12-13).

My prayer

My prayer is like Solomon’s: Give to your students, O Lord, at Uganda Christian University hearts of wisdom and knowledge to know You and Your ways. And in doing so, Lord, make them to love whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is gracious, and if there is any excellence, if there is anything worthy of praise, let them think about these things (from Philippians 4:8).

The time spent at university offers a unique time to come away and think about the important things of life as well as to learn life skills. It provides the opportunity to make friendships that will last a lifetime. I hope that Uganda Christian University will become for you a true alma mater, dear mother, nurturing you in God’s wisdom and his ways.

When I was a young student at university, I heard our Lord say: "Come follow me." I have tried to obey this call. Now when I am much older, I have heard his call again: "Come over and help us at Uganda Christian University." I will do all in my power, God willing, to make this university conform to these principles: to be truly evangelical, truly catholic, truly Spirit-filled, and truly liberal. I ask your prayers for my work and for those of all who teach and administer and work at the University and for all the students there that this new work of God may grow and prosper to the honor of our Great Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and to the glory of God the Father.


"Inaugural Address" was given on January 20 and 21, 2000 as part of my first official visitation to the University.

Copyright 2000 Stephen F. Noll.

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