>Earlier this week I promised to post my interviews with Dr. Leland Ryken and Dr. Philip Graham Ryken. My interview with Leland Ryken appears as my 15 February 2011 entry. Today I’m posting my interview with his son, Philip Graham Ryken, who was inaugurated as the eighth president of Wheaton College on September 17, 2010.
Last spring I interviewed Philip Graham Ryken via email for a Christian Renewal feature profiling three new presidents at Christian colleges. [The other two interviews were with Dr. J. Derek Halvorson (Providence Christian College) and Dr. Hubert R. Krygsma (Redeemer University College); I’ll try to post those interviews soon.] The three interviews appeared in the April 28, 2010 issue of Christian Renewal.
Wheaton College was established in 1860 and Dr. Ryken will serve as its eighth president, following the retirement of Dr. Duane Litfin, who has been Wheaton’s president for 17 years. Dr. Ryken is currently the senior pastor at the Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, where he has served since 1995.
GM: Dr. Ryken, I understand that you will assume the presidency on July 1, 2010. Will this put you in the position of becoming your father’s boss and would that be awkward for either of you? [Dr. Leland Ryken is Professor of English at Wheaton and has been on the faculty since 1968.]
PR: Yes, I will be my father’s boss. I doubt my presidency will be very awkward for either one of us, though. We have a close relationship. My dad is always one of my biggest supporters, and I know he will be quietly supportive when I come to Wheaton. I also happen to be one of his biggest enthusiasts. He is still one of the best writers and lecturers I know for communicating truth clearly and comprehensively.
GM: Although most institutions of higher learning seem to want a multi-function president, they appear to vary in their desired focus. How would you describe the expectations for your presidency? Will you be more of a pastoral instructor or more of a development administrator? What primary categories of work are included in your job description?
PR: The work of the Wheaton College President is wide-ranging, which is one of many things that draw me to this new calling. There certainly is a pastoral dimension to providing leadership for a Christian college—especially through speaking in chapel and showing care for students, faculty, staff, and alumni who are going through difficult times.
I will also serve as an administrative leader, helping to ensure that everything on campus is run in an excellent, efficient, compassionate, and God-honoring way. There is always fund-raising to do, of course, which I embrace as an opportunity to encourage people in sacrificial stewardship and help advance the kingdom of God. As a collaborative visionary, I will also have a role in helping the Wheaton community discern its calling and then promoting that vision both inside and outside the college. The campus community will expect all this…and more.
GM: What do you view as the probable challenges you will face in your new position?
PR: The biggest initial challenge will simply be to learn the job by getting to know the campus community and growing into my new calling as President. For the past ten years I have served on the Wheaton College Board of Visitors and then on the Board of Trustees, so I have a fair working knowledge of the college. Yet I have never served in administration for higher education, so I have a huge amount to learn.
Since it will be impossible to please everyone, the criticism will be ongoing. But the support and encouragement are vast. I know that countless friends and alumni are committed to praying for me and for Wheaton College—every day, in many cases. So I believe that God will give me the grace to serve him faithfully.
Beyond the personal pressures, of course, there are all the pressures that Christian colleges face from the wider world: to compromise biblical standards on sexual ethics, to accommodate biblical theology to secular thought, to seek academic recognition for reasons of pride rather than humble service—the challenges will be endless. At Wheaton we try to meet these challenges by remaining true to our Statement of Faith and Community Covenant—documents that guide our thinking and conduct along biblical lines.
GM: What do you view as the possible joys of the work?
PR: I expect that the biggest joy will be to connect with college students. At the center of everything that Wheaton does is the intellectual work of preparing young people to offer a lifetime of service “for Christ and His Kingdom,” as our motto puts it. I will do everything in my power to ensure that our students receive the very best biblical, theological, and academic training that a college can provide. I look forward to spending some of my time with students in chapel, at the dining hall, in the concert hall, in the gymnasium, and everywhere else on campus.
GM: What are the hopes or goals you have for your work at Wheaton?
PR: My goals are many: to maintain Wheaton’s long-standing commitment to evangelical orthodoxy; to support our faculty in the exceptional work they do as teachers and scholars; to improve our campus facilities; to develop a more comprehensive program for collaborative student/faculty research; to continue to grow our ethnic diversity; to strengthen our connections to the church worldwide—my list of goals is a long one.
But perhaps my biggest goal is to help a performance-oriented campus become more and more a community of grace, in which the pursuit of excellence is motivated primarily by everything that God has done for us in Christ, not by our desire to do something for God.
GM: How can you see that God’s providence in your life has prepared you for this position?
PR: From earliest childhood, almost everything I love in life has been associated with Wheaton College. I like to say that the campus is my natural habitat. Wheaton is the place where I fell in love with books and the life of the mind, with sports and music, with literature and philosophy. It is also the place where I fell in love with my wife; I met Lisa Maxwell during orientation week our freshman year and by Christmas I was sure that I wanted to marry her.
At the center of all these experiences has been God himself, who led me to fall in love with Wheaton College when I was still a young boy. This gave me a heart for Christ and His Kingdom that has never left me, and which I now see has prepared me to serve the college as its president.