In summer of 2018, our family took the quintessential American pilgrimage to Washington, D.C.—a whole civics course packed into a few days. While there, we were invited to the National Geographic museum by a recent AU graduate named Maria Edwards, who works there in communications. We toured the astonishing main exhibit on the Church of the Holy Sepulchre, all done with virtual reality technology, but the secondary exhibit on the Titanic disaster, was striking in its own way, weighty and poignant. There I found an account of a woman who was among the fortunate, having found a place in a lifeboat about to be dropped into the frigid Atlantic. Quickly she asked for permission to return to her cabin. She was granted just a moment, lest they leave without her. She jaunted across the slanting deck, down to her state room that still contained much of her prized possessions—jewelry, keepsakes, and the like. But she dashed past all that and found three small oranges. Cradling them in her arms, she darted back to the lifeboat and got in.
And yet today is a day of great value. Today represents a mountain of academic labor that has earned you a graduate degree that can assist you along your career and propel you toward your future. Gaining a graduate degree is a focused and rigorous experience that often occurs alongside the responsibilities of a job and perhaps a family. When I was a graduate student, someone asked me how I balanced pastoring a church full-time, being married with two small children, and staying in school. I replied that I wasn’t balancing anything, I was surviving. Today is valuable because you survived, even thrived. Today shows appreciation for the support of friends, family, and churches that prayed you through. This degree, your efforts, this support—it all has tremendous value, but not final value. And yet, the one thing that does have final value actually adds value to these valuable things.
As Paul closes his letter to the churches of Galatia, he takes the pen from his secretary and writes with his own hand—he gets personal, because this letter is personal, and difficult. False teachers had infiltrated the churches, somehow insisting that believers continue to conform to the standards and patterns of old Judaism, making those things requisite to faith in Christ. Even if we can’t identify precisely the nature of the error, we can accurately diagnose the motive behind it.
Being associating with a tolerated, culturally accepted way of life would be much easier than a solitary commitment to an eccentric Galilean who was hung on a Roman cross. After all, both state and religious authorities—the influencers of the day—had made him an outlaw, so any attachment to him would certainly make one an outcast.
But the apostle wouldn’t flinch on the issue, using his own testimony as an exhortation to the Galatians, and to us.
It’s a beautiful if brutal way to say “only Jesus.” Only a crucified Jesus can be the source of our confidence and credibility, and once you see that, then two more crucifixions follow—the world is crucified to you (you just don’t find the ways of the world all that credible anymore), and you are crucified to the world (you know the world won’t find you all that credible, either). This is because, finally, and under the weight of our mortality, there is only one true credibility—credibility before God by faith in a crucified and risen Messiah. One who has overcome the world, conquering death and hell, and sharing that victory with all who believe.
That’s it. That’s the one thing.
What has this weighty, weighty truth to do with the weight of this commencement? How do we think about the tremendous value of this day and all that it means in view of the final value of the cross and all that it means?
Well, nowhere does Paul, or Jesus, or the Bible tell you not to gain an education, not to pursue a career, not to give your time, your energy, your very life to a worthy endeavor—be it art, ministry, business, administration, music, nursing, or teaching. The world needs each of these good things, and these good things help a very good but fallen world, and these good things reflect the creative and redeeming purposes of God.
The high value of your degree and the supreme value of the cross are not in opposition to each other to make you choose between them. Rather, when the high value of your education is subordinated to the ultimate value of the cross, the message of the cross empowers your education for the glory of God and the good of humanity.
Your degree is makes you a specialist in your field, and hopefully pursuing your degree has made you a better person—more aware of God, the world, and you, and formed you into a clearer thinker, a capable research, a stronger problem-solver. And now, as you apply this degree to your field, its benefits will flourish.
Why seek a master’s degree in music? Because music is beautiful. Our beautiful Creator made us beautifully creative. Our creativity points to him, and teaching others to do it honors Him.
Why pursue business administration? Because mutually-beneficial transaction aids the flourishing of humans made in His image, and we need leaders to maximize these opportunities in faithful, ethical ways.
Why get an advanced degree in organizational leadership? Because we are social creatures and our full potential is realized when our individual strengths are aligned to complement each other.
Why would you become a teacher or an expert in instructional design? Because teaching enables people who are made in God’s image to be more aware of and better stewards of the world they’ve been given.
Why be a nurse practitioner? Because a commitment to healthcare demonstrates the dignity of human life, deals with the tragedies of frailty and death, yet as it facilitates healing it points to the great healing that God has promised.
And why be a fully-equipped minister of the gospel? Because the world needs to know that God is actively accomplishing and will complete his plan to reconcile all things to himself in Christ.
We viewed this way, your work is worship, and your degree says that you took this calling on your life seriously enough to be maximally prepared. There is no worthy endeavor that can’t be informed and inflamed by the gospel of the Lord Jesus.
Dr. Chuck Fuller comes to Anderson University with 13 years of experience in pastoral ministry, serving churches in Kentucky and Indiana. He holds a BA in Christian Studies from Campbellsville University, and an MDiv and PhD from The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. His primary field of study for the Ph.D. was in Christian preaching, with additional studies in systematic theology and philosophy. Before arriving at AU, Dr. Fuller was pastor at Bethany Baptist Church in Louisville, Kentucky, and adjunct professor of Christian preaching at Boyce College of The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Additionally, Dr. Fuller has served on committees and boards of the Kentucky Baptist Convention.
Married to Jessie, Dr. Fuller and his wife have two children–Kaylen Marie and Ian Charles. Jessie holds a Bachelor of Bible from Ozark Christian College, with a concentration in deaf ministry. Currently, Jessie works as a stay-at-home mom and brilliant culinary artist.
Homiletical theology comprises Dr. Fuller’s primary research area, as demonstrated in his recent book, The Trouble With “Truth Through Personality”: Phillips Brooks, Incarnation, and the Evangelical Boundaries of Preaching. Dr. Fuller also presented a paper, titled “The Pulpit at the Precipice of Heresy,” at the 2010 meeting of the Evangelical Homiletical Society.