If we reach a certain ripeness in life, we can look back at our story from the perspective of our present maturity, and learn lessons from our successes and mistakes. As individuals, alas, such ripeness is a gift of the same process of aging that often robs us of the chance to make effective use of lessons learned. At the age of 70, I know much more about teaching than I did when I started, but I cannot repair all the damage I did to my students back then!

Institutions also mature over time, although more slowly than individuals. They also can look back at their story and learn lessons. But institutions are different, because they can make use of what they have learned from the past: Their life is constantly regenerated by the energy, brains, and imagination of their younger members.

Candler is not yet fully mature as it reaches the 100-year mark; the divinity schools at Yale and Harvard are nearly 200 years older. But Candler is ripe enough with both success and failure over its century of existence to have learned some lessons, which, if effectively embodied and enacted, and if wedded to an entirely healthy ambition for greatness, can help make Emory University home to the most significant school of theology in the world. As this school considers its story, then, it is appropriate to focus on some of these lessons that it can shape into a prophetic future.   

Candler has learned, and can teach, that Christian theology is not simply a transmission of content to those who then convey the same content to others. Theology demands a passionate and critical engagement by faculty and students alike with the Word of God as it is disclosed in Scripture, in the tradition, and in God’s work in the world today—not least in the lives of faculty and students. A school of theology must consequently embody the values embedded in the Good News of Jesus Christ, so that those leaving this place to be servants in the church can enable others to be changed as they have been changed.

Candler has therefore learned—sometimes with pain—the importance of shaping an egalitarian spirit among administration, faculty, staff, and students; of welcoming into a community of transformation persons of every gender and race and place in the world, of every denomination, of every worship tradition, of every sexual orientation, of every social class. Through a long and difficult process, Candler has learned to take seriously the psychological and social contexts of ordinary people, understanding that ministry is meaningless unless it is in contact with such realities. This school’s long commitment to contextual education certainly expresses the pedagogical conviction that people learn theology faster and better and more deeply while engaged in practice. But it also expresses a conviction about divine revelation: What God is up to is found not only in Scripture but in the living texts of human existence.

In short, we have together learned that the highest commitment to the life of the mind and the deepest commitment of faith are not opposed but are intrinsically intertwined. Our joyful participation in Emory’s Graduate Division of Religion extends this lesson to splendid graduate students who, in turn, share this same vision in institutions of higher learning around the world. And our new degree programs extend the same process of learning to still others.

May our gracious God grant that this school of theology continue to bear witness to the Living God even more effectively in its next century of existence, and become in its manner of life, in its worship, in its scholarship, and in its passionate dedication to the service of the church, an ever more powerful instrument of God’s work in the world.