Commencement Week at Wheaton College was this weekend. My son, Matthew John, received an M. A. degree in Christian Formation & Ministry. This obviously made the day special for our entire family. It was also a very special day for me because I had the privilege of teaching some of those who received their degrees in the class of ’07 (Grace Lee, Yreille Belizarie, Wendy Bisset and Nancy Mowers). As I watched my students proceed into Edman Chapel, cross the platform to receive their degrees, and then a few of them get special honors bestowed upon them, I couldn’t help but celebrate this personal achievement. These were my students, people that I came to know and love over the past few years. I am an adjunct professor of evangelism, thus I teach only two or three courses each academic year but what a thrill this investment is in the lives of such choice servants of God. This teaching position allows me to meet some truly remarkable Christians who come to this unique place to better equip their minds and lives for Christ and His Kingdom.
Matthew John Armstrong is a unique young man, if a father might be allowed to talk about his only son in this way. I am not alone in recognizing this about Matt. The faculty gave him the Mary LeBar Award in Christian Formation and Ministry. This award is given to a student who is noted for service to their department and for ministry potential in the local church and/or missions. According to the College Commencement program the award is "based on excellence, demonstration of quality Christian interpersonal skills, and growing spiritual maturity." The faculty reviews the student’s entire graduate experience in order to choose the person to whom they will give this award. I have to say that when they read out Matt’s story of study, ministry and dedication I have never felt more joy in my entire life. It is one thing to train others but another to see the fruit that you asked God for so evident in your own son’s life and ministry.
I made several observations about the day that should remain private but one interesting observation was how the particular members of the faculty gave the various awards to their students. Those students in psychology, formation and ministry, mission and evangelism, and intercultural studies were all given their awards with a kind of heart-moving account that stirred my soul. These professors, both male and female, spoke lovingly and hugged each student proudly. When it came to the biblical studies awards the emphasis was entirely upon technical skills in language and exegesis. Not one student was spoken of in terms of their personal spirit and no open affection was shown. I didn’t observe this to be critical. It just was what I saw with my own eyes and heard with my own ears. But as I walked away and thought about this I said, "This is why we drive a huge wedge between biblical studies (exegesis) and other Christian studies in places like Wheaton." (This would, I fear, be all too common elsewhere so I am quite sure that it is not uniquely a Wheaton thing.) My response, frankly, is one of real sadness. Evangelical scholarship still places an improper emphasis upon technical biblical studies without spiritual formation and psychological development. To suggest this is to invite criticism from those who teach these subjects within the academy. (Thankfully not everyone who teaches biblical studies is of this mindset but in conservative circles it seems to be the majority of such teachers since they were all generally trained in the same manner. Theoria and practicum are quite often radically divorced, all to the great harm of the church I believe.)
As a child I was taught not to tell your children that you are proud of them for any accomplishment since this is not a proper way for Christians to speak about their children. (It was seen as a form of pietism that frankly was nervous about giving your child too much self-confidence.) I have come to strongly disagree with this nonsense. In my life it only made me focus upon myself in wrong ways that I had to deal with as I grew older. So, I told Matt at an open house to honor him last evening, that I was truly "proud of him." I also told him that he had honored God and his parents wonderfully.
Matthew was not only an excellent student in his graduate studies but he touched many lives during the course of his study. (I would meet students over the last few years who would regularly tell me how Matt touched their lives.) He has served a full-time mission to middle school kids (Crossroads of Illinois), cared for a wife and two lovely girls while going to graduate school and recently he planted a church. He is a bi-lingual teacher who has also written a complete curriculum for reaching kids without church background. His work is solidly rooted in orthodox theology and sound biblical teaching. How he manages to juggle all his duties and produce so much good work at the same time amazes me. I give his mother most of the credit for these work habits and the good spirit that he serves God and others with day-in and day-out. He truly honors his father and mother.
I pray God will give Matt many fruitful days on the earth to live a life of obedient faith. He is clearly making a difference for the kingdom and I am pleased to have shared such a day with such a special young man who is far more mature than his 34 years of life would indicate. Matt grew up as the son of John Armstrong, the author and speaker. I feel quite the opposite about all of this. I am the unusually blest father of a special man, Matthew John Armstrong.
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John: I would heartily agree with your assessment of your son. I only know him from a week he spend with the Crossroads kids here at Camp Nathanael (Kentucky)but the Matt I got to know was obviously dedicated to seeing the kids he worked with stretched and challenged. He also showed a generous spirit in giving my oldest son a mountain bike that he had brought down here with him from Chicago. This occurred about 5 years ago but I clearly remember Matt and his love for ministry. You have reason to be proud.
God’s Grace and Peace To You,
Great post, no greater joy than children walking with Christ! My son starts Wheaton as a freshman next year, and I think you’ve touched on a real blind spot that afflicts every excellent Christian academic institution. I hope what you have written will be widely circulated, discussed, and prayed over.
You have every reason to be proud and blessed. God is good.
John, I agree 100% with your assessment re: the unity between spiritual formaton and theology.
And congratulatins to Matt!