BUILDING ON A FIRM FOUNDATION
Members of the Board of Trustees, faculty, staff, family members, friends, and students of the graduating class of 2021 — It’s a tremendous honor to be with you today, and a privilege to speak to you on such a momentous occasion. As a native Californian, a blood-bought Christian, and a Reformed Minister, I am especially delighted to share in this day with you — for it deeply encourages me to know that a Christ-centered institution like Providence Christian College is here in my home state equipping students to be firmly grounded in biblical truth. It heartens me that Providence is here on the west coast teaching classical liberal arts from a Christian world-view, and cultivating a Reformed perspective in the next generation. And it greatly encourages me that Providence is training young Christian men and women to understand that their telos or ultimate aim in life is not for worldly status, cultural notoriety, or material gain, but to glorify God in all things, and to fully enjoy Him forever.
I want to commend you, the students, for having made Providence Christian College your place of study. It shows no small measure of maturity, wisdom, and foresight to decide upon a college devoted to the unshakable truth of God’s Word— that Word above all earthly powers which, by the Spirit, is breaking into this present evil age and saving sinners for whom Christ died. You’ve chosen a college that not only cares about your intellectual formation, but also your spiritual growth— not only the development of your mind, but the strengthening of your soul in Christ.
Abraham Kuiper once said, “He is your friend who pushes you nearer to God.” If Kuiper is right (and he is!), then Providence Christian College has been a good and faithful friend to you these past four years.
In addition to having chosen an excellent college, I commend you today for persevering in your academic studies. Indeed, it’s no small achievement that you are among the graduates in the year 2021; for this has been one of the most challenging seasons in our nation’s history. No one could have predicted the unfolding events of the past eighteen months. The pandemic, the general election, and the racial tensions together formed a perfect and devastating storm of confusion and dissension in our culture. You’ve been required to mask-up, separate, and Zoom-in to what is normally a time of embodied fellowship and face to face interaction. The obstacles during your course of study have been immense. Nevertheless, dear graduate, even with all of these obstacles, you persevered. By God’s grace, you carried on and you finished. And everyone here today is proud of you for showing such dogged determination in the face of these unprecedented challenges. Well done, dear graduate, well done!
In preparation for my remarks today, I asked myself, “How can I encourage newly minted college graduates in such a time as this?”
In good Presbyterian fashion, I came up with three exhortations.
1. Live Not By Lies
2. Live Only by Truth
3. Live Always with Courage
Live Not By Lies
It doesn’t take a PhD in history or sociology to recognize that we are experiencing a cultural revolution. Perhaps it’s more accurate to say cultural revolutions, for what is unfolding before our very eyes is not one revolution, but many. The most prominent are the sexual and woke revolutions— two powerful movements that are transforming our society and untethering Christians from the truth.
The sexual revolution finds its roots in the 1960’s. It mostly found expression in the Rock and Roll culture, and in the seedy shadows of urban city centers. Disordered sexualities were not always mainstream. Indeed, until recently, most of western civilization would have affirmed a biblical view of sexuality. But things have changed, especially since the Obergefell decision in 2015. What was lurking in the shadows in the 1960’s has quickly become the ethical consensus of our day.
Deviant sexualities that were generally condemned in our culture are now supported and celebrated, and the biblical sexuality that was generally respected and celebrated is now condemned. The real triumph of the sexual revolution is that it has made sex into more than just an activity. It’s now an identity. Gender is no longer defined by indisputable, verifiable, biological facts, but by subjective feelings. This expressive individualism believes not only that we can do whatever we want to do, but we can also be whatever we want to be. The normalization of transgenderism is the ultimate conquest of the sexual revolution, and everyone is expected to attend the victory parade and throw confetti.
But the cultural or moral revolution doesn’t stop with the assault on human sexuality. A radical ideology called Critical Race Theory has given birth to the new woke revolution. In the 1740’s there was a Great Awakening, grounded in the gospel. Today there is a Great “Awokening”, rooted in cultural marxism.
The woke revolution teaches that western civilization, especially American society, is (and always has been) inherently and systemically racist. Consequently, the woke revolution is deeply divisive, instructing people, as one writer states: “to think of good and evil as a matter of power dynamics” among various groups and ethnicities. He adds that “a utopian vision … compels them to seek to rewrite history and reinvent language to reflect their ideals of social justice.”
Rather than foster unity between neighbors, breaking down the walls of hostility, the new woke revolution provides everyone with materials to build those walls higher. The racially charged movement fosters suspicion and fear. It fuels hatred. It’s an exhausting movement that cancels and condemns those who fail to comply to the tyrannical revolutionary demands. As with the sexual revolution, to withhold approval is to be on the wrong side of history.
But dear graduates, as you go into the world, you must remember that it’s better to be on the wrong side of history and the right side of God, than to be on the so-called right side of history and on the wrong side of God and his unchanging truth.
Alexander Solzhenitsyn, a Russian Novelist, philosopher, and committed Christian, spent eight years in the gulag as a political prisoner.
What was his crime? Speaking out against the lies, propaganda, and anti-religion campaigns of the Soviet regime. Solzhenitsyn was eventually expelled from Russia, but not before writing an essay entitled, “Live Not By Lies.”
The famous essay was a parting word to his fellow countrymen to “never knowingly support [the] lies” of the totalitarian communist regime. You may not always have the boldness to speak out against their lies, says the Russian dissident, but you certainly don’t have to believe or live by their lies.
Dear graduating class of 2021, live not by the lies and falsehoods of our culture. And heed the words of the Apostle Paul from Colossians 2:8 — “See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.”
In other words, refuse to allow the world to colonize the landscape of your mind and heart with their secular ideologies. Guard your minds and hearts in Christ Jesus. Take every thought captive in obedience to Christ. Live not by lies. Live only by the truth.
Live Only By Truth
Many of you graduating today grew up in Christian homes. Your earliest memories include Bible reading, catechism, praying around the dinner table, and attending Lord’s Day worship. God and His gospel were at the very center of your home life. I, too, grew up in a Christian home in Silicon Valley, and as the years roll on, I’m increasingly aware of how blessed I am to have been raised with the objective truth of God’s Word.
Dear graduates, knowing and living by God’s truth will bring ballast to your life. It’s what you have learned here at Providence, that God’s Word is the norming norm, the standard and measure of all truth. The Bible does not just contain the Word of God, it is the Word of God. It is the inspired, inerrant, infallible, and life-transforming rule of faith and practice. Dear graduate, this is vital to remember as Satan’s lies become more pervasive in our culture, and seek to capsize your faith. We must remember where to turn when modern Pontus Pilates ask derisively “What is truth?” We turn to the Word, we turn to Christ who is himself “The way, the truth, and the life” and who, through his perfect obedience, atoning death, and hell-conquering resurrection, purchased our redemption in full.
As you go out into the world, therefore, live not by lies. Live only by the truth.
The Word of God, says the Psalmist, “is a lamp unto your feet and a light unto your path” (Ps. 119:105). It’s a fountain of wisdom from your heavenly Father who loves you, a means to communion with Christ who gave His life for you, and a source of strength and comfort from the Holy Spirit who applies it to you. It’s that which guides and instructs the Christian believer for a lifetime. The great Dutch second reformation pastor Wilhemus a’ Brakel writes that:
The Word of God is necessary and profitable not only for beginners and little ones but also for the most advanced and spiritual believers here upon earth. It is a brook from which a lamb may drink and an ocean in which an elephant can drown.
The Apostle Paul exhorts young Timothy and all of you today to:
Continue in what you have learned and have firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have been acquainted with the sacred writings, which are able to make you wise for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus.” (2 Tim. 3:14-15).
Dear graduates, you have completed your degree, and we celebrate with you. But in many ways your education has just begun. During your course of study at Providence you have learned what you are going to learn for the rest of your lives. So build on that wonderful foundation that you’ve received. Grow in your hunger to learn and grow.
Churchill was right when he said: “The most important thing about education is appetite.”
Therefore, continue to sharpen your intellect and Christian worldview by the reading of good literature. Love God with your mind. Be countercultural. Go against the cultural flow. Refuse to let the glow of your televisions and the notifications of your phones distract you from that which is most meaningful. Read good books and foster relationships that will expand your horizons and animate your dreams for service to God in the future. Great books lead us to consider great people and great ideas, and inspire us to attempt great things for God. They are also silent conversation partners, reminding us that while all truth is God’s truth, the world is a broken and complicated place. Recognizing this helps us to engage more peaceably with others with whom we disagree, rather than joining the cacophonous yelling matches of our current cultural moment.
My final exhortation is to live always with courage.
Live Always With Courage
When Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego attended King Nebuchadnezzar’s grand assembly in Babylon they must’ve had a measure of fear in their hearts. After all, it was an occasion for all the Babylonian cultural elites to pay homage to the newly constructed golden image. They were told that if they chose not to bow down to the golden monstrosity when the musicians began to play, they would be cast into the fiery furnace. The pressure on these young Hebrews to bow must’ve been great.
In Daniel 3:7 we learn that as soon as the people heard the sound of the instruments, the entire assembly “fell down and worshiped the golden image that King Nebuchadnezzar had set up”; that is, all but three courageous young men who lived with the courage of their holy convictions. They refused to live by lies and bow to the idol.
Their devotion to God and commitment to the truth was blood-earnest, not unlike the 16th century Sea Beggars who fought against the tyranny of Spain and the imposition of false religion. It’s this kind of courage and conviction that we need more of in our own day, to demonstrate to one another and to the world that we have a faith worth fighting for, a faith worth living for, and a faith worth dying for. By God’s grace, dear graduate, live always with courage.
It was the great English statesmen Winston Churchill who once said: “Without courage all other virtues lose their meaning.” He was right, for without courage all other virtues are veiled by fear, selfishness, and compromise. But with Christian courage, all other virtues stand out, not least those rarely-seen virtues of integrity, humility, purity, and love.
We need more Joshuas in the world today, those who will say, “You may choose to live by lies, and worship the idols of our culture, but as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
Therefore, dear graduate, live not by lies, live only by the truth, and live always with courage.
During my years of postgraduate study in Edinburgh, Scotland, my wife and I lived in the city center, just off Princes Street. In addition to the dramatic landscape and historic architecture, there are monuments everywhere you turn—impressive statues and obelisks dedicated to notable Scottish figures like John Knox, David Hume, Sir Walter Scott, and Thomas Chalmers.
Just up from our flat, on Calton Hill, is an imposing structure called the National Monument. Designed by the notable architect, William Playfair, the monument was intended to be a national memorial to the Scottish soldiers and sailors who fought in the Napoleonic Wars. It’s a massive structure that is modeled after the Parthenon in Athens, and can be seen from most points in the city. But there’s a problem with this monument. It was never finished. It was started in 1826 but never completed due to poor planning and insufficient funds. The situation has given rise to many nicknames for the memorial such as “Edinburgh’s Folly” and “the Pride and Poverty of Scotland.”
Dear graduate, the National Monument is a visible reminder to carry on, to continue to build on the strong biblical foundation that has been laid for you by your parents, pastors, and the faculty and staff at Providence Christian College. A strong foundation has been laid. Now, in God’s grace, strength, and wisdom take up the tools you’ve been given and continue to build. And while you are working out what God is sovereignly working within you by His Holy Spirit, rejoice in the truth that “He who began a good work in you will bring it to completion at the day of Christ Jesus” (Phil. 1:8).
Dear graduate, the terminus of your undergraduate studies is the principium [the beginning] of a lifetime of faithful Christian witness and service. So go forth in grace. Go forth with the support, encouragement, and hearty congratulations of your parents, family, friends, church, college, and all who have invested in you over the years. Go forth knowing that Christ is with you always, the One who is not only a conquering Savior, but a faithful friend. Go forth with a holy resolve to
Live not by lies.
Live only by the truth.
Live always with courage.
 Rod Dreher, Live Not By Lies: A Manuel for Christian Dissidents, xi.
 Wilhelmus a Brakel, The Christian’s Reasonable Service, vol. I, 73.