Every graduation is special to the graduates and we have been gifted with a number of gifted commencement speakers (e.g. our own Hywel Jones, John Piper, Ken Myers, just to name a few of the recent speakers). In fairness to the speakers, giving a commencement speech is a real challenge. A commencement ceremony is not a little like a wedding ceremony. There are a lot of arrangements, there are pictures to be taken, special clothing to be worn, it arrives with much anticipation and nervous energy. Most people want the whole thing to go off without a hitch. Parents are beaming with joy and pride. Each actual participant must stand before a crowd and do his part and into all this comes a speaker, usually an outsider, who has to try to say something meaningful to people he doesn’t know, which most will forget before the event is over. Not so this year.
Our speaker this year was R. C. Sproul. Despite all the distractions and the very real physical challenge of traveling cross country he made a lasting impression. He told the story of Luther’s last sermon, given in Eisleben, in 1546. In this sermon Luther warned the congregation to resist the temptation to try to add to the gospel, to try to remove the offense of the faith. He warned them about about certain “jackanapes” (impertinent persons) who were corrupting the gospel and he exhorted them to let the gospel be the gospel.
The great thing for our graduates, students, their families, the faculty, staff, and everyone in attendance was to see R. C. stand so firmly, so articulately, so winsomely on the power of God’s Word and the good news of Christ’s obedience, death, and resurrection. The great sin of modernist Christianity has been the sin of trying to “fix” Christianity, of trying to take away the offense of the cross, the offense of the mystery of the holy Trinity, or the offense of the two natures of Christ. R. C. reminded us that Christianity can’t be fixed. It is what it is. Narrowly construed the word gospel stands for the announcement of great good news, of Jesus’ incarnation, obedience for his people, his mediatorial death, his vindication in resurrection and his ascension into royal power. The gospel, broadly construed as the Christian message to the world and thus including the command to repent, is not a negotiation, it is not a request. It is not calculated to create warm feelings or to enhance self-esteem. As Luther before him, R. C. called us all to utter fidelity to an uncompromised and uncompromising Christian faith.
In many ways the history of Christianity in the modern period is the history of two groups: the Pharisees and the Sadducees. To their credit, like the Pharisees, the fundamentalists, at least believed a supernatural religion (Paul identified with them on the resurrection). To their discredit, the Pharisees were soul-killing legalists who buried the Word of God under their own rules and fences around the law. The Sadducees, on the other hand, were the liberals and modernists of their day. They were skeptics on the resurrection. They accommodated the prevailing culture. They were the cultured despisers of religion of their day. In our time, in the modern and late modern world, the modernists are the Sadducees of the age. The history of modernist Christianity is the history of a series of compromises and concessions to the spirit of the age, whether softening the offensive supernaturalism of the Bible, or downplaying the mystery of the two natures, or denying the “slaughterhouse theology” of the atonement, or back-pedaling concerning the nature of Scripture itself.
There was none of that Saturday morning. The students had an opportunity to see and hear a man who seemed to have the spirit of Luther upon him. I hope and guess they won’t forget it soon.
The audio of R. C.’s address is to be posted soon. You can hear Bob Godfrey’s stirring charge to the graduates from the Friday night graduate reception here.