It appears that everything significant is birthed in blood. Regent College (Vancouver) was no different. When she first opened her doors in 1970, six students enrolled. Two were killed in a car crash before school started. Yet today, Regent is recognized as a cutting edge school of theology within the evangelical family. In the thirty years of her existence, Regent has touched numerous lives worldwide.
I was privileged to have studied there from 1981 – 1985. It was a special time in my life. Vancouver is one of the most beautiful cities in the world. Hee Ling and I had just married and apart from some adjustment issues in our first year, the four years there were like an extended honeymoon.
It was also at Regent that the sinews of my ministry philosophy were formed. I had most of these convictions before coming to Regent but Regent helped me name them. These convictions have under girded my ministry and my life.
1. Integration. (Mark 12:29-30)
A fundamental conviction at Regent is that life is not to be divided into sacred and secular compartments. We are to love the Lord with our whole lives. Christianity is not just something that happens in church. It is a total faith that must be integrated into all of life. That includes what happens on Sunday. But that must also include all that happens Monday to Saturday as well.
2. Laity. (1Peter 2:9-10)
If the division between sacred and secular was seen as unbiblical, so was an inordinate division of God’s people into clergy and laity. Indeed the laity actually meant the people of God and clerical functions was seen as a subsection of the “laos”, and not a class apart. This was no campaign to take away from the authority and dignity of spiritual leaders. Rather it was an affirmation of the spiritual significance and importance of all of God’s people, and the importance of their contributions in the church and in the marketplace.
(Therefore if traditional seminaries existed to train clergy for the church, Regent existed to equip all of God’s people for all of life.)
3. Spiritual formation. (Romans 8:28-30)
Long before spiritual formation became a buzzword in evangelical circles, Dr. James Houston and others hammered home the point that who you are is foundational, and must be seen as more critical than what you know and how skilful you are. It was an anti-cultural agenda in an evangelicalism that was keen to show that they were as clever as the liberals, as well as an evangelicalism controlled by the “how-tos” of American pragmatism.
4. Community. (Mark 3:13-14)
Another foundational value at Regent was the critical role of relationships in the Christian faith. Our God is a relational God. Though one, He is Father, Son and Holy Spirit. Equipping the laity to integrate their faith and their life and to grow in Christ likeness must therefore take place in the context of authentic relationships. I learnt more from my friendships with my professors and with my fellow students, than from the time I spent in the classroom.
5. Biblical authority. (2 Timothy 3:16-17)
Regent was evangelical in the best sense of the Word. There was a real commitment to biblical authority. The bible properly interpreted was the final basis for belief and action. The professors came from different faith traditions (e.g. Anglican, Baptist, Brethren, Lutherans, Pentecostal, etc.,). And while there was a clear appreciation of tradition and history, there was also a clear commitment to Scripture as standing above, and in judgment, of tradition.
Regent was far from being a perfect institution. (I am not being paid by Regent to write this piece! Beside I have no idea what Regent is like today.) Often the reality one encountered in College was quite removed from the school’s stated emphases. Every seminary has its own set of strengths and weaknesses. Regent was no different. And surely God’s agenda is much, much wider than integration, laity, spiritual formation, community and biblical authority.
Still I am grateful for the above five emphases. They have shaped my life and ministry. Indeed I am not sure how I could have survived some of the toughest moments in my life without the conviction that God was using the pain to help mould my character.
A senior Baptist leader warned me that if I went to Regent and not to a Baptist seminary, I would have difficulty fitting back into my denomination. He was right. It would seem that Regent produces misfits.
This was brought home at the recent Malaysian Regent Alumni retreat. As we shared our stories we realized that we were not fully at home in the churches/ denominations/institutions we came from. We were misfits.
Integration? Most believers are quite happy to keep their Sunday and Monday worlds separate.
Laity? Most churches still function as though clergy and non-clergy belong to separate worlds with different expectations and different spiritual importance.
Spiritual formation? Much scholarship is done with little concern for spirituality and the overriding concern is still with methods that will bring results.
Community? Churches are some of the loneliest places in the world and people are valued only for what they can contribute to the master plan.
Biblical authority? Tradition rules. Pragmatism untested by careful biblical reflection rules.
It’s no fun being misfits. It is a lonely existence. Most of the time you wonder why others don’t feel as you do. Being a voice in the wilderness may sound romantic. Not when “rocks” are being hurled at you. Or when people patronizingly dismiss you as being idealistic, out of touch with reality.
Still I don’t think there is a turning back. I don’t want to turn back. I have seen my spiritual Camelot. It was more concept than reality. But it was a concept rooted in the Word. It was a concept birthed in blood.
Your brother, Soo-Inn Tan