Originally given by Michael Duduit as the Commencement Address at Union University on Friday, December 2013.
It is good to be back on the campus of Union University, where I spent some of the most meaningful years of my career, learned a great deal about Christian higher education, and where my wife Laura and I began our family.
There are great memories of those early days. I remember Dr. Dockery and I sitting in O’Charleys talking about the wonderful opportunity we were about to have leading this institution, and as we discussed a vision for the future of Union University I began writing on the back of a napkin as we together crafted what would become the four core values of this institution as being excellence-driven, Christ-centered, people-focused, and future directed. Who knew that, 18 years later, those four statements would still be guiding what has become one of the premier institutions of Christian higher education in the nation.
When Dr. Dockery and I first began serving on this campus in the summer of 1996, I used to joke that our goal was to become the Wheaton of the South, and that in 10 years Wheaton would be known as the Union of the North. As Union has continued to grow in size and stature and influence among the nation’s Christian colleges and universities, the reality is that Union no longer needs to compare itself to any other institution for validity or significance; this is now an institution to which other Christian institutions look as a model.
And you have been blessed to be here – some for four years, others a few more or less. As you complete your educational journey, claim your diploma and depart this campus for the first time as a Union University graduate, I have come to warn you that it is a dangerous thing you are doing. Not just because you must now find jobs, pay for graduate school, pay student loans, start doing your own laundry and numerous other acts following this rite of passage – no, it is dangerous for a far more significant reason.
Erwin McManus is Pastor of Mosaic Church in southern California, and he tells the story of his young son returning from church camp. He recalls: “One summer Aaron went to a youth camp. He was just a little guy, and I was kind of glad because it was a church camp. I figured he wasn’t going to hear all those ghost stories, because ghost stories can really cause a kid to have nightmares. But unfortunately, since it was a Christian camp and they didn’t tell ghost stories, because we don’t believe in ghosts, they told demon and Satan stories instead. And so when Aaron got home, he was terrified.
“Dad, don’t turn off the light!” he said before going to bed. “No, Daddy, could you stay here with me? Daddy, I’m afraid. They told all these stories about demons.”
Erwin wanted to be able to say demons were not real, but of course he couldn’t, because the Bible tells us there are some evil things like demons that are all too real.
Aaron said, “Daddy, would you pray for me that I would be safe?”
Erwin said, “I could feel it. I could feel warm-blanket Christianity beginning to wrap around him, a life of safety, safety, safety.
(So) I said, “Aaron, I will not pray for you to be safe. I will pray that God will make you dangerous, so dangerous that demons will flee when you enter the room.”
And he goes, “All right. But pray I would be really, really dangerous, Daddy.”
You see, as you and your fellow students graduate from this place, the greatest danger is not to you. Of course you’ll face challenges – that’s real life. No, the greatest danger is to the culture into which you enter. You see, there are folks out there who have been trying to shape and nurture a culture in which there is no place for God – at least not the God of the Bible. They don’t mind if you feel the need to insert some nebulous “higher power” that we can pray to before football games and civic events – a feel-good divinity that doesn’t actually affect anything – but for the secular culture-shapers of our age the ultimate goal is the recognition that there is no god beyond the boundaries of your own heart and mind.
And so for many years they have fought an unceasing battle to shape a culture in which the dominant worldview is that there is no God, there are no limits, there is no purpose to it all – life is random, unguided, and temporal. You are born, live, die and that is all there is. In the world that has been shaped for us by these cultural elites, you must look to them for counsel because the foolish myth about some great bearded old man in the sky is just so much childish folly.
And you are dangerous to them. You are dangerous because after four years at a Christ-centered university like Union, you know better. You know that the meaningless reality they portray is the real myth, because you have come to know the One who crafted it all, and you have come to understand that it is not random after all. As you have studied arts and letters, science and the professions – all through the lens of a Christian worldview – you have discovered that there is a grand narrative that underlies all of life and reality, a narrative that is moving toward an ultimate purpose. You understand that there is One who brought the universe into existence with a word, and that His creation has meaning; you know that in the face of human rebellion He responded with love and grace, even at the cost of a cross; you know that this Creator and Redeemer is guiding history toward an ultimate purpose, and that in Christ we have the opportunity to be a part of the grandest adventure ever imagined.
And you are dangerous because you have recognized that there is One who stands over and above it all, guiding history yet intimately aware of each individual life. That knowledge makes you dangerous, because as you move into new walks of life armed with that worldview, you are a threat to the secularizing forces of the age. While you were here you gained tools that will help you to be salt and light in a bewildered culture – to be able to follow the guidance of the apostle Paul, who said “Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you” (1 Peter 3:14b-15). Your time at Union has equipped you to be the kind of influencer who reshapes culture, who can “make a defense for the hope that is in you” in every walk of life. That makes you dangerous.
In the C.S. Lewis book The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, four children enter into the new world of Narnia, a reality they had previously known nothing about. And from the talking animals who lived there they learned about a lion named Aslan, one who watched over Narnia. Startled by this knowledge, they wondered if Aslan was safe. Lewis writes:
“Safe?” said Mr. Beaver; “Who said anything about safe? ‘Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good.”
As you leave this place, armed with a knowledge that makes you dangerous to a secular society and precious to a lost world, I pray that you will not be safe, but good. As you go into the world God created – and in which He created you to be a force for truth – I pray that you will be dangerous – really, really dangerous.
Thank you, and congratulations graduates.