The Inklings are no more, but their dream has not died.
The fire is ablaze. The air is chilly outside, but the conversation shared by C. S. Lewis, J. R. R. Tolkien, Owen Barfield, Charles Williams, and the rest of the “Inklings” is warm. It is the Tuesday night gathering of this informal fellowship. Over the next several hours, even into the early morning of the next day, opinions will be shared, disquisitions will be declaimed, and wit will be exchanged. In the rooms of the Oxford don, the life of the mind is as bright as the fire, and the intellect is as warmed as the body.
Generations of Christians look back at these gatherings with wonder and a pinch of regret. We wish for intellectual give-and-take of this kind, but we cannot recapture it. We would give anything to hear the crackle of such debate. We would love to experience the friendship shared by this literate band. But alas, we cannot return to the old paths. Secularism seems to have swallowed the modern university. Christians do not dream much anymore, certainly not along intellectual lines. Further, where we used to value face-to-face friendship, we now have smartphones—with notifications streaming in!—in place of true companionship.
Are those heady days truly over?
With the leadership of Midwestern Seminary, it is my hunch that we can begin anew. We believe that we can build a program that vibrates with the deep joy of friendship, of intellectual companionship, of a band of brothers brought together to study the things of God. The Residency, our residential PhD program, fits squarely in this vein. Today, I have been announced—here is the official word—as the Director of The Residency at Midwestern. What is my goal for this program?
My goal is to create a version of the Inklings in Kansas City.
No, I do not mean that we will meet at Oxford. No, I do not know of any of our PhD students who are presently nurturing the next literary epic (though by all means, this would be welcome news). No, no one will accuse me of possessing the brilliance of C. S. Lewis. But I do mean this: through the vision of seminary president Dr. Jason Allen, and under the supervision of seminary provost Dr. Jason Duesing, Midwestern is seeking to build the top residential doctoral program in the seminary world. We want it to be academically excellent, personally enjoyable, vocationally helpful, and above all, theologically sound. Many institutions aim at excellent instruction and desire outstanding graduates. We certainly do too, but our entire mission is premised on the Bible, oriented to the Southern Baptist Convention, and staked on the glory of God. We are training theologians and pastors for the church at this school.
At Midwestern, we have a biblical mission and a confessional identity. We think the academy is terrific, and we hope to address it in all sorts of ways by forming outstanding graduates who research, write, and teach at the very highest levels. We have a special love for the local church; we seek her health, we want her good, and we intend for our students to bless her in manifold ways. We do not see this, please note, as substandard but good-hearted education. We see this as the very purpose of the mind God made. God gave us a mind to know him, to glorify him through faithful thinking, and to then use that mind to the fullest degree in publishing abroad news of his excellencies, as Edwards argued.
Secular schools can definitely serve a purpose, yes, but it is the Christian seminary that gives students the opportunity to gleefully indulge in obedience to the first and greatest commandment of the Lord of the church (Matthew 22:34-39). This is what we hope and pray residential doctoral education—and all education we provide at Spurgeon College, the MDiv level, and our broader doctoral program—will entail at our seminary (See, for example, our recent hiring of both Drs. Andreas Köstenberger and Matthew Barrett—what gifts these men are to our students).
I can and will be saying a good deal more about The Residency in days to come. I am grateful to Thor Madsen and Rodney Harrison for getting us off to such a strong start thus far. The Residency is wholly unique, and we are currently refining our plans for it such that students will graduate with all sorts of advantages: publishing experience, teaching experience, intensive attention to theological writing, training for scholarship and church leadership, conference involvement (big news here in days ahead), and much more. The core of The Residency, though, is simple: weekly gatherings akin to the Inklings of Oxford but at a doctoral level. We will talk, we will laugh, we will eat delicious homemade scones and drink delicious local coffee (a must in our age!), and we will prepare for ministry in fields that are white for harvest. I can’t wait to lead these weekly gatherings, and to invite in key figures from our own school and beyond to instruct and dialogue with our students.
Here, then, is the big action point: consider coming to Midwestern Seminary. Join us in The Residency. We will start our formal program in August, just a couple months away. In Kansas City, we are building a program that we pray will bless the church. It is no small thing, of course, to move to a campus; the experience can be challenging, and there are many matters to handle, particularly if a student has a family. Further, we live in an age when many seminaries are getting smaller and smaller. They are not beginning new programs and filling them full of energy and verve—they are closing their residential programs down, downsizing their operations, and generally offering the churches they serve less and less and less. Whatever the Lord decides to do with The Residency (and it can only grow by his grace), know this: we are not downsizing at Midwestern. We are not closing operations down. We are standing fast. By divine aid, and without any presumption of future results, we are growing. We are scheming to add more and more and more that will strengthen local churches and serve the congregations of the Southern Baptist Convention well.
The Inklings are no more, but their dream has not died. The world is a cold place, and secularism is indeed on the march. On Midwestern’s campus, however, the fire is warm, and the life of the mind is ablaze. God is building his church, and the gates of hell—pity them—cannot stand against it.