At USF, our statement of faith in God through Christ stands prominently in the beginning of our catalog, and our mission statement as a university follows naturally from it. We integrate faith and learning here. We take with equal seriousness our endeavor “to foster academic excellence” and “the development of mature Christian persons.” I cannot exaggerate how enthusiastic I am about that combination. Simply the most important thing in the world is helping people become ever-maturing Christian persons, and most universities exclude the pursuit of it. What we get to do here is strive after academic excellence and foster it in our students, all the while making the rigors of the academic enterprise an integral part of the broader and most essential character-building enterprise, which is discipleship to Jesus Christ.Particularly in my own classroom, the mission of the University of Sioux Falls enables me to present the Bible as the book it actually is, which is the authoritative and trustworthy presentation of the living God and his call to live for him and in cooperation with his program. I am free to help students take the risk of thinking critically and of wrestling with the difficult problems that arise as we read the Bible seriously – especially as we interact with people who do not hold our commitment of faith – all the while making that very academic enterprise a means for students to discover and embrace the God who loves them and has such powerfully redemptive plans for them. I have seen students become Christians in and through the classroom. People are transformed into richly mature and wise servants of Christ through our endeavors together in class and in the campus community life as a whole.
In the Introduction to the Bible course, which every student at USF takes from one of us on the theology faculty, I work hard to see that novices to the Bible can succeed and that students with a strong biblical background are challenged to new discovery and integration of their biblical knowledge with their lives. In more advanced Bible courses, I try to stimulate students to pursue excellence by modeling for them being a learner myself. I come to class well prepared both to work with them in the biblical text itself and to draw them into the wider scholarly conversation, all in such a way that they become confident and excited about the discoveries they are making as they dig in. I have found students like the fact that I am not just assigning them to write papers, but studying and writing myself. As I respond to their papers, I write extended comments, making it a point to provide both words of encouragement and insights about how to improve. Finally, out of my background as a pastor, I am constantly seeking to help students work out life with God and become effective ministers to others.