A Seed Sown

Good evening, Mr. President, Founding Members, First Teaching Fellows, Beginning Students, and Guests. It is not a surprise that I have the opportunity to speak to you, but it is no less of a privilege.

Ten years from now the Comeford College convocation will be different, Deo volente. If the Lord blesses this work, we will know then so many more things that we don’t know now. But it will be a glorious decade if we pay attention.

There are some things that are good upon first encounter, that you find out more about later, that make it all even better. Part of what makes them better is that you had a bite, so your appetite was engaged, but then you get the full spread on the table.

On the back cover of the first book I ever read about classical education is the quote by C.S. Lewis, “The only people who achieve much are those who want knowledge so badly that they seek it while the conditions are still unfavourable. Favourable conditions never come.” You don’t need to start a school to appreciate that reality, but it is possible for one’s respect for that wisdom to multiply.

How much more did my appreciation grow when years later I came across that quote in its native habitat, an essay titled “Learning in Wartime.” Lewis addressed the Oxford undergraduates only 51 days after Germany invaded Poland marking the start of WWII. His sermon was originally called, “None Other Gods: Culture in War Time,” in which he attempted to answer the question, “What is the use of beginning a task which we have so little chance of finishing?” He argued that not only will mankind search out music and meaning in the middle of great conflict, Christians must do it for God’s sake. I have assigned my Greek students to read that essay in its entirety before our first class on Tuesday night; they will not have to wait as long as I did to appreciate the full spread of unfavourable conditions.

A similar thing happened with another quote that has only grown richer and more costly, that has come to focus our energies while expanding our work. In a way, I suppose it was the seed that grew into tonight, sown in my mind in 2004.

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is Sovereign over all, does not cry: ‘Mine!'”

The quote is, of course, from Abraham Kuyper. I heard the quote used by another preacher, and used it numerous times in sermons myself, starting with a message on Solus Christus, long before I began to care about Latin as a language whatsoever. As they say in hermeneutics class: That’ll preach!

I came across the quote again early in 2011 while reading a book about liturgy. The book is titled Our Worship, written by Abraham Kuyper, the first full book I read by him. In footnote number one in the Introduction, I learned that “square inch” is the Dutch phrase een duimbreed (pronounced “uhn dime-brrate”) which refers to the small distance between the sides of the thumb: a thumb’s-width. Everything thing we touch or frame, even what we thumb our noses at, Christ claims as His.

For the real goosebump part, do you know the context in which Kuyper said it? He said it in October 1880 in his inaugural charge to the Free University of Amsterdam. Kuyper talked about all Christ’s creation and sphere sovereignty and the Christian’s obligation to be interested in every sphere Christ is interested in when he launched a college.

In that address he said, “To put it mildly, our undertaking bears a protest against the present environment and suggests that something better is possible.” Yes!

There is a great crisis, a current and global crisis, that concerns not a virus or politicians, it is not a crisis of economics or higher education. It is a crisis that involves a living Person. The crux of our concern is the recognition of a King, who came and was crucified, who rose again, ascended into heaven, after promising to come again. “That King of the Jews is either the saving truth to which all peoples say Amen or the principal lie which all peoples should oppose.”

Will men and women confess that Jesus is Lord? Will they obey Him as Lord? Or will they say that man, and man’s mind, his technology, his methods, and his laws are lord? We will either confess that the “all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” are in Christ (Colossians 2:3), or contest that claim as delusional and harmful. These two approaches are “the only two mighty antagonists that plumb life down to the root. And so they are worth people risking their own lives for and disturbing the lives of others.”

Think of all the things God has created, visible and invisible, the things He has put in front of the class, so to speak, and those He’s hidden, the Logos and the order and the beauty, the harmonies and tastes and healing medicines. Think of man’s call to take dominion (Genesis 1:28), and yet also of how the unbelieving world can’t help but miss and misrepresent God’s greatness and wisdom. Here is where we need Christian thinkers, a Christian consciousness that finds and defends the sciences and arts of Christ. Those who won’t fear the Lord can have no true wisdom or wonder.

We must buckle down and build up our understanding of Christ’s sovereignty over and in every sphere, from the center to the circumference. We must learn how each cogwheel fits with the others and functions in the great machine of the cosmos. We must see that the world and life and death and the present and the future, all are ours, and we are Christ’s, and Christ is God’s (1 Corinthians 3:22-23).

This is not your father’s Bible college, which is true in a very real sense. How I wish I could have taken this program. But we learn more as we go on, and now it’s time to start. We have learning to do for living and for influencing those around us. That influence won’t happen by floating in feelings and fancy. The college is our effort to reify Kuyperianism, to knead the idea into bread. We have a memory of what we’ve been given, and we have stewardship of a godward, intellectual life. The disruption of the world is no good excuse to stop loving the Lord our God with all of our minds (Matthew 22:37).

As Kuyper acknowledged through his address, it would be easy to laugh at not just the project, but at the persons committed to it. The Free University began with a mere eight students and five professors. Who do they think they are? Isn’t this pretentious? Isn’t it presumptuous? Isn’t it preposterous? I can say, it may be contrary to common sense, and that is fine, because most of what we see that’s common in education makes no sense. It may also fail to observe our limits, it is audacious, but it is by faith. So we aren’t striking a pose, we are desperate to be faithful.

I have two aimed charges to give, and one final defense.

My first charge, which may be unsuspected, is to everyone here who is not a teacher or student at the college. In years to come convocations charges will no doubt be different. But actually, there won’t be college years to come without you.

These few students need very little explanation of their responsibilities, because by choosing Comeford College they have already counted a great cost. Each one of them could do other things, go almost anywhere else. The world is small, they are capable, and the options are virtually endless.

In their Cost/Benefit Analysis, they will pay less tuition than at most other schools, but the cost to their reputations will at least be on loan. They, not their parents, have chosen to deal with more questions resulting in quizzical looks. “Where do you go to college?” Answering Comeford College will get the follow ups, “Where is that? Why did you choose that?”

We don’t have departments. We don’t have a Student Life Center. We don’t yet offer a degree or diploma. We don’t even have our own coffee pot.

Which means that these students have chosen what they cannot get at any other school: you. They have chosen their people, they have chosen their community. They are putting themselves on the line, risks and possible rewards, for more than themselves. They could have invested their talents in another field, they certainly could have done something easier. While I sometimes talk about loving Marysville into a destination, they have turned Marysville into a stay-stination.

As worship requires an assembly, so a college requires a community. Not everyone in the community needs to attend, but everyone one in the community should be blessed by college students who live for more than college. Your charge is to support them. Maybe it’s your job to give them a job; be a modern day patron. Maybe it’s your job to open a place where they could hang out and study and drink coffee, or beer when they are finally old enough in a few years. At the least pray for them. You are to help make them jealous-able.

Students, your only charge for today is: remember that Jesus, who is Sovereign over all, looks at you and says, “Mine!” Your class hours, your books, your late nights, your leisure time, and you yourself are His. You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. All are yours, and you are Christ’s.

So have I been talking too excitedly about this? Perhaps. But this convocation is like pushing an old manual car that won’t start down a hill: it needs enough speed before letting the clutch out. We can see the mountain on the other side, so we need as much launch momentum as we can get.

“As surely as we loved [Christ] with our souls, we must build again in His name. And when it seemed of no avail, when we looked upon our meager power, the strength of the opposition, the preposterousness of so bold an undertaking, the fire still kept burning in our bones.” (Kuyper)

Abraham Kuyper died exactly 100 years ago in 1920; we consider the outcome of his way of life and imitate his faith (Hebrews 13:7). As future generations look back with hindsight at the start of Comeford College in 2020, may they sit under the shade of a great tree and give thanks to the Lord Jesus Christ for the seed planted today.


Our Reason for Being

Good evening and welcome to our inaugural convocation service for Comeford College!

Lord willing, this will be the first of many such gatherings. If I recall correctly, it was somewhere around May of last year that a small group assembled to discuss starting Comeford College. Even before that the idea had been percolating in the minds of a few for several years.

So, what on earth would possess these individuals to be so audacious as to launch a new college? Isn’t there already an abundance of higher learning institutions to choose from? Yes, and no, it depends on what one means by education and what one is hoping to accomplish with such an education.

It also depends on whether you wish to flourish where God has established your people, your culture, your loves, and your roots.

It’s customary today to raise children just shy of two decades, then send them off to a far-away college, and ultimately have them plant new roots somewhere else. Our technology driven world makes that easy to do.

Brave New World types envision a global neighborhood where the distinctions of “home” and “our people” lose any meaning. The grand vision is that this will bring people closer together.

The jet-age combined with the internet-age has shrunk our world in many ways and yet, isn’t it ironic in a day when people can digitally share words or pictures faster than the speed of thought – and many do – that we find ourselves less and less connected with our past or present than ever before.

Clearly, disunity and tribalism are on the rise. The days of “boys will be boys” has become “boys will be girls” and vice-versa. At the heart of much of this mayhem lies a deeply broken system of education.

It has been nearly 400 years since the founding of the first university in America. Today there are approximately 5,000 degree-granting postsecondary institutions in the U.S.

What has all this “education” brought us? Are we more “enlightened” today than our forefathers were? I submit to you that modern education, for all that is has enabled, falls far short of what true education is for.

In the few moments I have, I would like to answer the question “What is Education For?” and, in doing so, make the case for why Comeford College exists.

To start, I ask that you grant me a simple postulate. If anything that can be known is revealed to us by our heavenly Father, then education, if it indeed be education, must result in worship of the Father.

Any other purpose for education, however useful, is secondary in nature and falls far short of the ultimate aim. One may learn that two plus two equals four and with that, and other bits of knowledge, send a man to the moon; but unless one worships the God who made the moon, one cannot be said to be truly educated.

Did not Christ ask,

“For what shall it profit a man, if he gain the whole world, and lose his soul?”

Nothing I have said thus far should be construed so as to cast complete derision upon secular institutions of learning. Even in their limited understanding of education, God’s common grace has allowed much useful learning to occur.

The problem is that their goals fall short. Higher education today serves multiple purposes that can be viewed as a ladder of ascending value to the individual and the culture. All institutions offer one or more of these value propositions. Few achieve the ultimate purpose.

At the lowest level of the value proposition is the claim that higher education is necessary in order to promote good social order. Certainly, a society comprised of uneducated individuals is likely to degenerate over time into disorder and perpetual unrest, or so they say.

The belief is that a good education will necessarily produce a good citizen; one who will play nice with others and be a productive member. The emphasis is on fitting in to the collective without disturbing the social order or being a burden to it.

And so, we urge young men and women to get a degree even if that degree ultimately ends up being needless. The reality is that few will have use for their degree once they land their first job. A can of Spam has a longer shelf-life, and more uses, than many college degrees today. Higher education for this value proposition alone rarely makes sense.

The next rung up the value proposition ladder is that higher education will result in a better paying job. There is evidence to support this argument although not for the reasons you might expect.

In his book The Case Against Education, economist Bryan Caplan makes the case that the real value in having a college degree is that it is the de facto way to “signal” potential employers as to who will make the best employees. Never mind that up to 40% of most Bachelor degree programs are padded with classes of questionable value.

Employers are not as interested in what you know as in knowing that you have the grit to slog your way through four years or more of higher education. They will teach you what you really need to know when you start your new job.

The problem with this educational goal is that the course of study, excluding the fluff-n-stuff classes, is so limited in scope that all it does is prepare the student to fill a useful slot in society. The student misses out on seeing, let alone discussing, the kaleidoscope of thoughts and ideas that make up the cultural river they swim in.

This narrow teach-to-the-job education prevents students from having enough range in their knowledge base to draw solutions and applications from other fields outside their area of study.

Fragmented, or siloed, education is like having a box of tinker toys with all the wheel parts and none of the sticks. Nothing fits together.

With the get-a-job value proposition the fact remains that a highly educated cog, in the end, is still just a cog. Education that does not rise beyond this goal is a stunted education.

As we continue our ascent up the proposition ladder, we come to the claim that higher education produces leaders.

How often do you hear the claim that colleges produce critical thinkers? Today, if a college invites a controversial guest speaker, you will notice that the students are far more critical than thinking.

This lack of thinking skills shows up in the current trend of tearing down statues and renaming things. In so doing, they fail to see the irony of standing on the bruised shoulders of their forbearers as they criticize them.

This leadership claim assumes that by virtue of the fact that a person has endured the rigors of a multi-year program that they somehow are now imbued with the qualities of a leader. They mistake qualities like hard work and stick-to-itiveness with true leadership ability.

The notion that higher education equals leadership is so prevalent that it is difficult for anyone without a degree to climb the corporate ladder. A degree is often used as a filter to keep the “non-leader” types out.

One advantage Comeford College offers over most modern colleges is its training to be a true leader. It does that by offering a classical liberal arts program which learns from, and builds upon, the great ideas that define Western Civilization.

It recognizes that God has worked through imperfect people to bring us to where we are today. Rather than erase history we see it as beneficial to informing our future.

Any education that does not teach “When” cannot properly prepare you for “Then”. Given the rapidity with which our culture is decoupling itself from the past we must ask ourselves, “If Western Civilization ever collapses will anyone remember how it was built?”

This is a serious question given today’s focus on producing specialists who are devoid of any real appreciation for the landscape of our nation and culture.

A modern college degree might assist you to the hilltop of your chosen profession, but a fuller education will take you to the mountain top overlooking those hills.

We would do well to learn from Israel’s history. It took less than 100 years from when the people declared to Joshua,

“Far be it from us that we should forsake the Lord to serve other gods” to the time it was said of them “there arose another generation…who did not know the Lord or the work that he had done…”

This brings us to the top rung of the education ladder which I stated before is to worship the Triune God.

There is a reason that Theology was once called the Queen of the Sciences. It is only as we learn about God, from the bottom up through Nature and human history, and the top down through his Word that we can properly order our understanding of all things.

Albert Einstein, in response to Thomas Edison’s claim that a college education is useless said,

“It is not so very important for a person to learn facts. For that he does not really need a college. He can learn them from books. The value of an education in a liberal arts college is not the learning of many facts, but the training of the mind to think something that cannot be learned from textbooks.”

I doubt the “something” Einstein had in mind was God, but he was certainly right that a proper classical liberal arts education, altogether unlike today’s liberal arts indoctrination, trains the mind to comprehend what cannot be learned from books alone.

In 1889 Abraham Kuyper gave the convocation speech to the Free University in Amsterdam, which he founded just nine years earlier.

The title of his speech was “The Secret of Genuine Study.” In the speech he put forth this question, “What should be the goal of university study and the goal of living and working in the sacred domain of scholarship?”

In his lengthy answer he made the following statement:

“(God) created us as logical beings in order that we should trace his Logos, investigate it, publish it, personally wonder at it, and fill others with wonder.”

Why does Comeford College exist?

We exist to help believers reach the pinnacle of education which is the worship of God in spirit and truth, full of wisdom, knowledge, and love, so that they will flourish in their place among the generations of their people.


Why “Comeford” College?

I don’t remember the first time I thought about the possibility of starting a college in Marysville, but as the years passed and conversations happened and then a committee was formed, the question of what to name a college became more pressing. I mean, how could we have a Facebook page without a name?

We talked a lot about it at home. I didn’t doodle a bunch of names on the back of a notebook, but I do have a text file with over a dozen options. Once the committee was called to decide if we should start something, and that decision was affirmed, we spent a few months brainstorming and collecting and criticizing our ideas.

Something with “Kuyper” certainly seemed appropriate. The work of Abraham Kuyper has been especially helpful in knocking down dualism for our church and K-12 school community. Christ claims every college course just as much as every square inch in the universe. But, there’s already a Kuyper College.

We thought about something like the (New) Free College, since Kuyper started the Free University of Amsterdam. But in our day “free” refers to cost, not free from State control as it meant to Kuyper. How about a synonym for free, without the socialistic baggage? What about Liberty? Ah, right, I already went there.

We also love Marysville. We’re devoted to our city and want it to be a destination of sorts, which is part of the reason for starting a college. But, Marysville College or, The College of Marysville seemed like just about the least creative effort we could make. So then what about things Marysville is known for? Other than the homely fact of not having anything our own, the only historical highpoint is our water tower, and geographically we are near Mt. Pilchuck. “Water Tower College” was a dry run, and how many Pilchucks do we need? I suppose there is always “Premium Outlets College.”

Then one of our board members did some digging into Marysville’s origin story. The founder of our city arrived in 1872, established the first hotel, the first store, the first post office, and started the first school. The best accounts say that he named the city after his wife, Maria. And his name was James P. Comeford.

That was it: Comeford College. We do have a local park called Comeford, and the water tower stands next to the park. But the name connects us to the city, to the city’s start, and to a man who started a number of things in the city.

Thus far we haven’t found any reason not to name the college after him; he apparently didn’t start the first brothel, or vape store, or casino. But again, we’re loving on where we’re from, and praying that this new institution will make Marysville even more lovely, more Kuyperian, and more educated.