Q As you face these challenges, you’re not looking at tomorrow, or a month from now. How far ahead are you looking?
The question I’ve put to our faculty and staff is: What should we be doing over the next three years to prepare for the next 25 years? We need to be thinking about both degree-based education and non-degree education for a variety of people including those right out of college. Some will be preparing for ordained pulpit ministry, but others will want to fulfill their call to Christian vocation in a variety of professions. We need to be equipping people for that kind of Christian imagination. Whether they’re ordained as clergy, or whether they serve as lay people, we want them to have a deep and rich Christian imagination.
Q The mission of this school is “to engage in spiritually disciplined and academically rigorous education and service and witness to the Triune God in the midst of the church, the academy and the world.” You’ve been talking about what you have to do to maintain this during these next three years as you look ahead a quarter of a century. That’s a lot to balance.
The strength and vitality comes in being sure we try to maintain that balance. One of the things that has marked the Divinity School as a really strong institution with very high aspirations is recognizing that we want to be both academically and spiritually focused. Sometimes I’ve talked about the link between the love of learning and the desire for God, and we want both sides of that to be really rich and important. But that means that you don’t compromise on either.
In the same way, we talk about the church, the academy, and the world. We are three overlapping communities: a community of worship, a community of learning, and a community of transformative service. When any one of those is weak, it causes the other two to suffer. Whatever we do with whatever constituency, we want it to be of very high quality.
Q One of the key concepts that you have talked about through Leadership Education at Duke Divinity is “traditioned innovation.” Define that concept for us. How does the idea come to play at this point in the school’s life?
In the church, as in business, we often put things in opposition. So there are the conservatives who want to preserve the past, and there are the liberals who want to think about change and new opportunities, and often they end up butting heads. Innovation is being stressed these days because of the need, whether it’s for revenue or for new life, but it’s often confused with making things up as you go along. If you just keep making up new things, you often end up with chaos, not creativity. Innovation without attention to practice and tradition sounds more like a middle school band concert than improvisation.
Traditioned innovation, much like a great jazz combo, draws on the richness of the past to discover genuine creativity. Jaroslav Pelikan has a wonderful distinction: he says, “Traditionalism is the dead faith of the living. Tradition is the living faith of the dead.” I think holding both of those words together, traditioned innovation, enables the greatest sense of new life, whether it’s for the Divinity School, for congregations, or whatever the institution.