Sundoulos - Summer 2008

A Sundoulos Interview with Dr. Barry Corey

On May 19, 2008, Dr. Barry Corey, President of Biola, sat down for a conversation with Dr. Garry DeWeese, Professor of Philosophy at Talbot and Editor of Sundoulos, and Dr. Rick Bee, Senior Director of Alumni Relations, whose office publishes Sundoulos.

Sundoulos: Dr. Corey, on behalf of Sundoulos and Talbot’s alumni, welcome! And thanks for the time you’re giving us.

President Corey: Thanks—it’s great to hang out with you for a bit!

Sundoulos: Dr. Corey, if you could sit down individually with our alumni—for lunch, say—what would you want to talk about with them?

Corey: Well, I love a story, and I think I can be much more effective in my role of service at Biola if I know the story of those who have gone out from here. What has God done in their journey? What is it that formed and shaped them during their years at Talbot that has made a difference in their lives? What is it that has given them a sense of confidence in their ministry through the interactions they’ve had with other students and faculty, and what lessons have they learned along the way? I love to hear the stories of our graduates, and the more stories that I hear, the more that weaves together in my mind in terms of my leadership here.

I’d also want to know, what are the challenges that you’re facing in ministry? What is it that you’re facing now that you didn’t anticipate when you left Talbot? What feedback can you give to help us be better at what we’re doing in preparing leaders?

I’d want our graduates to know that I love Jesus, and I love my family, and I want to be a good husband and a good dad, and work within those realms of responsibility while I serve in the capacity that God has called me to here at Biola.

Sundoulos: You came to Biola from Gordon-Conwell Seminary. How would you compare Talbot to Gordon-Conwell, or other evangelical seminaries? What do you see as Talbot’s unique strengths?

Corey: Well, the snowplow budget is less here than it was at Gordon-Conwell! [laughter].

I was just out at Gordon-Conwell last weekend. I spoke at commencement, and it was wonderful to be back there again. We brought our whole family back. What I find most profound and striking are the common cords that are shared by institutions that are like-minded in mission and in conviction. You can talk about the fidelity to God’s Word, you can talk about the spiritual formation that goes on in the lives of students during their years at seminary, you can talk about the global-mindedness. Both schools, Biola and Gordon-Conwell, date back over 100 years—100 years of not wavering on that which is essential.

I’d say that one unique aspect of Talbot is what it means to have a vibrant role in the life of a very robust university community. That was not a part of the world I was in at Gordon-Conwell.

Another aspect is the part of the country where Talbot is located. I think it affords Talbot and Biola some wonderfully rich opportunities, in terms of what’s happening in the greater Los Angeles metroplex, the global complexity of this vast sprawl in Southern California with all its international flavor, our reach to the Pacific rim—that’s very unique here.

From the perch that I’ve held in different places through the years, Talbot has been seen as a leading institution in helping other seminaries think through what it means to nurture the spiritual life of a student during his or her seminary years. That’s an area where I think other schools are catching up, but we are leading the way in the whole area of Intentional Character Development and the Institute for Spiritual Formation. I think that comes out of the deep sense of piety that has been a part of the culture of Biola since its early days, and in a way—refreshing to me—it still pervades so much of our life here, both at the undergraduate level and in our graduate schools as well.

I think another unique strength of Talbot is the role of the teacher. Faculty members are around a lot, available, interacting with students in their offices. I hear comments from Talbot students that teachers care, teachers are there, listening and advising. There are activities in homes of faculty members. That is a gift our students have that they may not realize is not always as available at other institutions.

Other particular places of strength? Certainly in Biblical Studies, which has always been a central part of Biola. Philosophy of Religion. Christian Education. There are some real strong leadership pockets here that are quite notable. Faculty here are very well known. I looked at the list of presenters at the recent Evangelical Theological Society Annual Meeting. There were so many by Talbot faculty, and I think that speaks of Talbot’s infusion into the realm of evangelical scholarship. It’s remarkable.

Sundoulos: Having come from a stand-alone seminary, what are some ways you see that being a part of Biola University contributes to Talbot's strengths? And the flip side: How does having a School of Theology impact the University in unique ways? What role does Talbot play in the ongoing mission of Biola?

Corey: That’s a great question. Biola University does contribute to Talbot’s strengths. For example, it offers rich opportunities for collaboration with other disciplines—and that actually happens. There’s a wonderful community of richness here that all weaves together.

Being a part of a larger university, there are additional resources available here, whether it’s the library, or interactions between faculty of the various schools, or the learning resources that are available. I just think there’s a richness in a university life which makes Talbot stronger.

There are, in my mind, three different models of seminary-university relationships (I won’t name names): There are those where the university hovers under the shadow of the seminary; there are those where the seminary is just a remote outpost, connected in name only; and there are those where there is a rich symbiotic relationship. Talbot at Biola has increasingly found itself in that third category. That’s not always without bumps in the road, but I truly believe that’s a healthy place to be.

On the flip side of that question, what does Talbot bring to the University? I’m so glad to be part of a place like Talbot, because it reinforces my own convictions, and I feel like I have an ally in what we’re trying to do to maintain the ideological core of this institution. Talbot is a “biblical conscience” of this institution. What I said in my installation address is that I truly believe in the role that Talbot plays at Biola, this sense of conscience. It’s not that no one else on campus thinks biblically, but Talbot challenges us to cherish and nourish that. [Editor’s note: You can watch video of Dr. Corey’s inaugural address, or download a PDF transcript, at http://offices.biola.edu/president/inauguration/.]

Certainly there’s also the whole area of integration of faith and learning— Talbot is in the crucible of it right here. It’s not just a theory about theology being the queen of the disciplines—it actually happens here at Biola. As I look out there and see Rosemead School of Psychology, or the Crowell School of Business, or what’s happening in music or art— whatever the field is, integration really happens here in this real laboratory of learning.

Talbot faculty teach 30 hours of undergraduate Biblical Studies in that core part of the curriculum and that to me is absolutely central to what Biola is. I’ve been part of a seminary faculty for a long time, and then coming here, I don’t have to try to bridge a strained or disconnected relationship between seminary and undergraduate studies, just to continue to foster what’s already happening.

And, of course, Talbot has a key role in faculty hiring.

Sundoulos: When you stepped into the President’s office, you said you planned to “hit the ground listening,” to learn as much as you could not only about the University’s present, but also about its heritage. How do you see Talbot today as different than the Talbot of 20 or 30 years ago? How are we the same?

Corey: Unfortunately the facility’s still the same [laughter]—but we’re working on that! A couple years from now I hope I’ll be able to say that we have new facilities for Talbot. That’s very high on my list of priorities.

I imagine the diversity of the student body has changed—the mix of men and women, the diversity of denominational backgrounds, diverse ethnicity, especially Asian students. I think probably now more than before there are students coming here thinking in terms of different contexts of ministry than a traditional pastoral role in a local church.

The faculty has obviously changed in terms of its members, but one thing that hasn’t changed is the strong conviction by the faculty that the academic life that they live and their own commitment to the vitality of the local church ministry matter. When I was in Boston, I interacted some with folks at a renowned liberal seminary there. Once the interim dean told me, “It’s been years since we hired anyone on faculty who’s ordained to the ministry.” I think that’s a peculiar problem. Can you imagine saying that if you were dean of a medical school—it’s been years since we hired a physician, or a law school—we haven’t had a lawyer here for a while. But we really are about the ministry here. Our faculty are not only immersed in scholarship, but they’re pastoring churches, and they’re leading seminars, and they’re publishing, and they’re actively engaged in the crucible of ministry.

There’s more accessibility to a Talbot education than before, in the way we’re setting up sites in different parts of the country and the world, for example New York City and Kyiv.

When we think about accessibility of education, though, we need to be careful that we not become so spread out that we undermine the core of what we’re about—the role of interaction and spiritual development by the faculty in the life of the student. The rush to offer on-line courses—there are those who just say that’s the wave of the future, you’ve just got to go there—but I think maybe we need to think carefully about that. You can wind up undermining who you really are.

What hasn’t changed are some of the things I talked about earlier—the biblical bedrock, the love for the church, academic rigor, faculty who invest in their students, the scholar-practitioner role of the faculty—those things have not changed, and those should not change.

Sundoulos: What will you and your administration do to hold us firmly to our moorings?

Corey: That really is something I try to do very intentionally—thinking about it and talking about it regularly. Recently I had lunch here with Duane Litfin [President of Wheaton College], and he mentioned that it’s usually when you stop talking about something, when you realize that certain language has left your vocabulary after a number of years, you don’t have the conviction even to revisit those issues anymore. You say, “Oh yeah, we used to think that way, we used to talk about that.”

So what are we doing? We need to keep our conversation centered on those core convictions. We need to talk about spiritual formation, about biblical fidelity, about our role as part of the Great Commission. Let’s keep that part of our vocabulary so we don’t say after a time, “Hey, remember when we used to talk about that?”

Certainly on the functional side—the role of hiring faculty, selection of leadership of the institution, and the role of the Board. I mean, students come and go, but those three bodies—the Board, the Office of the President and the administration, and the faculty—that’s where erosion can occur if you’re not attending to it.

Sundoulos: The costs of seminary education make it more and more difficult to finish a graduate degree and go into pastoral ministry or the mission field. A number of graduates are forced into better-paying secular positions because of college and seminary debt. You have wrestled with this at Gordon-Conwell; what ideas are you bringing to Talbot to help ease this problem?

Corey: That’s a good question, and it’s a hard question—it’s one that every seminary is wrestling with. Very few evangelical schools have enough of an endowment to make much of a difference in terms of the affordability of theological education. And faculty want to get paid. [laughter]

Both here, and at Gordon-Conwell [in the Boston area], the question is: what does it mean to have a quality theological education in an expensive area of the country with a school that has limited endowment resources to fund scholarships? We need to be able to hire the best and the brightest faculty who have a deep-seated commitment to the core convictions of Biola, and to do that, we need to be able to move them here, and find a place for them to live that they can afford, where they can raise a family.

I realize that there aren’t many gimmicky answers—there are only limited new revenue streams or cash cows. I believe we must make the needs known among God’s people so they can open up the resources. I think there is a compelling case to be made for how essential it is to fund theological education today, perhaps more than ever before—especially Talbot’s kind of theological education that puts such a stake on biblical fidelity, when in so many areas of our culture, even in evangelical Christianity, we see an erosion of biblical faithfulness. Investment in Talbot is really an investment in the rising generation of leadership that will hold true to those core convictions and also make the gospel relevant. That’s really the story that has to be told.

Our alumni tend not to be at the high end of the income spectrum, so they’re not in positions to give a lot, but it is a statement to the rest of our donor community if we can say, for example, 60% of Talbot graduates give over a course of several years. [Editor’s note: The actual number is 53%.] Foundations and other donors can see how much the school has meant in the graduates’ lives.

Sundoulos: You have the opportunity to interact with a wide range of evangelical leaders. From that perspective, what do you see as some significant challenges facing the church in the coming decades?

Corey: There are temptations in our culture to water down core convictions of biblical fidelity for pragmatic reasons. We can’t go there. We need Talbot alumni to have a strong sense of the role of God’s Word even while making it relevant.

I think religious pluralism will continue to influence our North American culture, so there needs to be an understanding of how the gospel comes to bear on other religions. The world has come to America, through information technology and communication, and I think our graduates need to understand the global context. Even if you’re pastoring a church in Peoria, Illinois, you need to understand how Islamic thought works, to understand those who come out of the Hindu faith, or from a background in Confucianism. And more than that—understand the mind of the skeptic. It could be the person at the restaurant who’s serving you; it could be the person at the gas station, or your physician. Our graduates need to understand the complexity of global religion and widespread western skepticism in order to be winsome and articulate with the gospel that Jesus is the only way, and to do so with a sense of confidence.

We cannot diminish the role of missions and evangelism. We certainly need to understand how compassion ministry works, but my feeling is that compassion ministry is much more effective when it follows the lead that we are here for the Great Commission, to proclaim the good news of the saving grace of Christ to the world, rather than saying, let’s lead with compassion and hope that evangelism follows. I think that when we do that, often evangelism doesn’t follow. That’s going to be an increasing challenge for us.

Winsome apologetics, defending the truth to the skeptic with thoughtful and logical arguments, “always prepared to give an answer for the hope we have.” I learned from my father a long time ago—he wasn’t an apologist, he just loved Jesus and wanted to tell the story of Jesus—that the rest of the verse in 1 Peter says that we do this “with gentleness and respect.” How do we live out the gospel, not beating someone over the head, not trying to polarize? I think we need to talk more about what we’re for than what we’re against. Increasingly, in the “culture war,” the role of the Christian is to love, yet not back down one iota from those core convictions. We cannot lose sight of the fact that we are to live lives of holiness and obedience and purity. Satan in his own devious way is going to try to undermine that aspect of all of our lives and get us caught up with “loftier” things.

Sundoulos: What does the future of Talbot look like from your vantage point? Do you see any new initiatives on the horizon that will increase our ability to impact the world for the Lord Jesus Christ?

Corey: I talk about going from strength to strength, not from a to b, but from a to a2. I think that what we’re doing, we need to keep on doing and doing well. We need to continue to build on the core strengths of Biola as manifested in Talbot as a “biblical conscience” for Biola University. We need to continue to attract faculty who embody those core convictions of Biola, faculty who have a global view of what God is doing around the world and are open to the global realities before us. We need to not back down on the spiritual nurturing of our students. I’d love to see every student graduate from Talbot a “cross-cultural Christian,” involved in what’s going on in the diversity of the city or around the world. We need to have continued conversations about major issues that are affecting the church today and wrestle with them. And I want to see faculty publish more. We’re doing well, but how can we as a community come along side our faculty so that their research can get in the hands of the broader public. I don’t mean just in peer-reviewed journals, but in ways that strengthen the church—the pastor, the mother, the business leader. Our faculty have a lot to give, and we need to help them along the way doing that.

Sundoulos: Finally, Dr. Corey, what issues are burning in your heart? What drives your passion?

Corey: What are the burning issues on my heart? I come back to John 15: “Remain in me and let my word remain in you.” Remaining—that’s spiritual formation, becoming more like Christ. Then, let the Word of God be central in whatever we do. Then Christ says we can ask want we want. It’s that sense of remaining—I want to say to our graduates, remain in Christ and let his word remain in you, and you’ll have that sense of boldness that you can ask whatever you will, and see God do great things.

Dr. Barry H. Corey became the eighth President of Biola University on July 1, 2007, officially launching the celebration of the University’s centennial year. He was officially inaugurated as President with full academic pomp and ceremony on November 2, 2007. (View the inauguration at http://offices.biola.edu/president/inauguration/.)

Corey, a Massachusetts native, came to Biola from Gordon- Conwell Theological Seminary in Hamilton, Massachusetts, where he served as Vice President/Chief Academic Officer and Academic Dean. Previously, he had served as Gordon-Conwell’s Vice President for Development, leading all external relations and fundraising programs.

Corey received a B.A. in English and Biblical Studies from Evangel University in Springfield, Missouri, in 1984. In 1988, he received an M.A. in American Studies with a concentration in literature and religious history from Boston College Graduate School of Arts and Sciences. He received a Ph.D. from Boston College in higher education curriculum, instruction and administration in 1992.

In addition to his educational experiences, Corey was a Fulbright Scholar working with Bangladesh Rural Advancement Committee and lived in Bangladesh among the rural poor from 1990 to 1991. He has served on a number of non-profit boards including the Board of Trustees of “Convoy of Hope,” an international relief and development organization, and the Board of Trustees of the Boston Theological Consortium (a nine-member consortium of theological schools in the Boston area including Harvard University, Boston College and Boston University). He has also completed two Boston Marathons, one in 2004 and one in 2006.

Dr. Corey has been married to his wife, Paula, for nearly 16 years. They live in Fullerton with their three children, Anders, Ella, and Samuel.

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