Tuesday, May 8, 2012

The Gordon Distinctives: Dr. Paul Brink Delivers the “Last Lecture”

Every year at Gordon College, a member of the community is selected by the graduating class to deliver the “last lecture” of that year’s convocation schedule. This year, Dr. Paul Brink, associate professor of political science, gave the talk in Ken Olsen Science Center's MacDonald Auditorium, sharing his reflections on what makes Gordon College unique.

Dr. Brink built his lecture around three distinctives of the Gordon experience and community: semper reformanda, faith preceding understanding, and educating for shalom. As he introduced each point, Dr. Brink reminded the audience that these are not new concepts, but ones that all Gordon students learn as they journey through four years in the community. “I want to crystallize these points, or offer a new approach,” he said, “but I don’t want to give you a whole lot of new information. These are things you’ve already learned and experienced.”

The first distinctive, semper reformanda, comes from the Latin for “always reforming,” a phrase from the 16th century Protestant Reformation. Dr. Brink offered his hope that Gordon students take their education and begin to ask questions about it—What is the right way to approach the problem of poverty? What if we had read that novel from an entirely different angle? Is our theory of business leadership on the right track, or does it need revision? However, “to be always reforming does not mean we don’t stand for anything,” Brink reminded those in attendance. “But it does mean we are open and engaged.”

Dr. Brink then told a story about his time as a graduate student in Canada, where he encountered a fellow student who had “converted” to postmodernism. This student, Bob, convinced Dr. Brink that “there is an element of faith at the heart of every theory.” In order to truly believe in postmodernism, and shape his thinking around it, Bob had to claim postmodernism in similar ways that people claim religious faith. The significance of this, Dr. Brink argued, is to remember that faith precedes understanding. As St. Anselm said, “I believe, in order that I may know.” In the same way, learning at Gordon begins with belief, that we might move into knowledge—the second distinctive of our experience here.

Finally, Dr. Brink introduced the idea of shalom. “It has to do with peace, full human flourishing, justice…” he said laughingly as he called on audience members to tell him what the word shalom meant. Gordon is distinct because it has a vision for full human flourishing, and teaches students to pursue that vision throughout their lives. For full human flourishing, Brink says, “we need beauty—we need artists, and writers and poets—everyone who hangs out in the Barrington Center for the Arts. We need business leaders, and engineers. We need all the disciplines, working together. That unity is what Gordon is all about.”

Story by Hilary Sheratt ’12, a Pike Scholar from Rowley, Massachusetts, and student writer for the Office of College Communications. Listen to Dr. Brink's lecture on the Gordon YouTube Channel.

Photo: Associate Professor of Political Science Paul Brink

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