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Wheaton's New President--Skeel

Phil Ryken, the pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church, the church of which I and my family are members, was just named the eighth president of Wheaton College.  The first excitement came even before the official announcement, when the website of Christianity Today magazine released the news yesterday before it was public.  Dr. Ryken informed the elders of our church yesterday morning, at roughly the same time as the faculty of Wheaton was informed of the choice in a confidential meeting.  The plan was to wait until after the move was announced to Tenth’s congregation this morning before making it public. A vibrant debate ensued on the CT website as to whether CT should have posted the news.  Although it would have been far better for Tenth’s congregation if the news had not been leaked, I side with those who think CT acted perfectly appropriately in posting it.  Only in rare circumstances—such as national security threats—should journalists withhold breaking news.  If there are villains in the story, it is the people who leaked the information, not the reporter who published it.

While Ryken’s departure will be very hard for the church, I think he is a superb choice to lead Wheaton, which is arguably the leading evangelical institution of higher education in this country.  He has strong academic values (and is the son of prominent Wheaton professor Leland Ryken), superb credentials, and is the most gifted administrator I have ever seen.  (Full disclosure: I am a friend and had the privilege of talking to the Wheaton search committee during the search).  Some of his views will be controversial, even within Wheaton’s evangelical community.  Tenth Church does not have women pastors,or instance, and Ryken is a member of the Alliance of Confessing Evangelicals, which has been very critical of New Perspective theologians such as N.T. Wright.  But Ryken has a remarkable capacity to listen to those who may disagree with him on particular issues, and Jesus is the focus of every sermon he preaches and everything he does.
 
I cannot imagine a better choice to lead Wheaton for the coming generation.
 

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Comments ( 4 )

David,

I appreciate your perspective on Dr. Ryken and you've nailed some of the issues that people are already talking about and I'm grateful for your perspective on him (particularly given your status as a faculty member elsewhere).

I've read some of the commentary on CT's choice to publish and it still leaves me short. Clearly, they felt compelled by journalism's standards of professional responsibility (as with lawyers, the term ethics doesn't seem to apply) to publish this information. Given that they knew (or reasonably should have known) that this information was intended to be confidential, I don't see the positive end in putting it on their website? I just don't see a "responsibility" to publish this information, even though I was interested in it - but really only in a gossipy kind of way. Sure, it probably would have gotten out anyway via informal social media, but why does an establishment like CT need to do the telling? What would have changed had they waited until today? Would the Chi-Trib have beat them to the punch - possibly, but I'm guessing not very likely.

Since I have family members who attend 10th Pres., I am sorry for their loss. I do think that this is great news for Wheaton. They are lucky to have found someone who is apparently well qualified and capable, yet will uphold the strong Bible-believing identity of the institution.
I imagine that Wheaton has much more to lose bringing on a president with more liberal views. The choice of Ryken may solidify or even re-invigorate the school's reputation as being sound. Even ten years ago, there was some (not unfounded) question of Wheaton's direction among reformed evangelicals. For those who see Ryken's appointment as a step backward, they can console themselves with the fact that unlike the White House staff, professors are tenured. Ryken is more likely to shape the institution's character gradually over time.
Professor Skeel, if you feel at liberty to do so, I would love to hear any insight you have on what led up to the choice of Ryken. Was it a contested choice? Is there dissension within the Board of Trustees?

David

As both a regular attender at Tenth and a Wheaton grad, I'm a bit conflicted. However, I do think it is a great choice for Wheaton. I was disappointed with the tone of a number of the comments on the CT blog -- some posters have made negative comments about Phil without any real knowledge of him at all.

In any event, he clearly knows Wheaton, having grown up as a "townie," having a father on the faculty and himself being a board member. It's a tough job but I think he will pull it off superbly.

God does not rob from one to feed another. From the beginning of the process the Lord's hand was very evident in moving Phil from Tenth to Wheaton College. I agree that Phil has some wonderful qualities to be a college presiden, one primary one, in my opinion, is that he is a man of prayer and great faith. His life to students and faculty will be a testimony to the work of God's powerful spirit in a human life. His passion to seek knowledge and wisdom will be infectious, too. But the same God who led Phil to Wheaton is the God who cares and loves Tenth Church. Yes, we "mourn" the loss of an outstanding pastor/preacher, but let's not forget the same sense we felt in 2000 when Dr. Boice went to be with the Lord. I heard at that time said: "No one will fill Dr. Boice's place." God is no less active at Tenth than at Wheaton at this time; in each instance, he wants us to trust and believe in him for our lives and institutions.