McKenzie Study Center & Gutenberg College

by R. Wesley Hurd


Opportunities present themselves. Change happens. As I write, the staff of McKenzie Study Center and Gutenberg College are completing a comprehensive self-study that will result in a top-to-bottom evaluation and reorganization of our work and ministry. This self-study is the culmination of developments in our ministry resulting from the successful and strategic emergence of Gutenberg College from the twenty-two-year ministry of McKenzie Study Center. As these developments unfold, the staff and board of directors want to communicate them to you, MSC’s friends and supporters. That is my goal in this article.

Some Background

At the heart of our work and ministry lies a deep desire to understand freshly what the Bible is saying and how its coherent message can provide a truthful vision for how we see our lives and live them out. It seems to us (and we are not alone in this observation) that much confusion about these things exists in the large family of those who call themselves “Bible-believing Christians.” This confusion has taken a great toll on the life and spiritual vitality of the church; and, unfortunately, it has also fostered among non-Christians a tragic caricature of what it means to believe the gospel of Jesus Christ. MSC’s teaching, writing, and outreach centers on trying to present a clarified picture of the magnificence of the gospel of grace, both to confused and discouraged Christians as well as to bewildered non-Christians contemplating the nature of Christianity.

Over the years we have asked God for increased opportunities to share the gospel. We have continually asked ourselves how we could best communicate the truth of biblical Christianity—not only in a fallen world, but at a uniquely complex time in social and philosophical history. As we see it, both Jesus and His apostles took great pains and invested the lion’s share of their time to mentor those whose hearts were open to the gospel and God’s revelatory truth, teaching them to believe the gospel and the biblical message because it was objectively true, not because it was religiously true.

While working in the environment of a major secular university, the MSC staff have experienced many good and successful results. However, we have also realized that our efforts to teach and disciple have often been cut short because our students lack the necessary time; whereas the MSC staff have been ready, willing, and able to study, teach, and disciple men and women, often our students have been unable to take advantage of our commitment because of their other commitments. This fact significantly influenced the decision in the early 1990s to begin the work of Gutenberg College. We felt that a unique, four-year, biblically-based great-books curriculum would both complement and strengthen our efforts at gospel outreach and mentoring in the biblical worldview.

MSC’s ministry staff and board of directors have strongly supported and encouraged the development of the college. Perseverance through the many obstacles inherent to founding such an institution of higher education resulted in Gutenberg opening its doors in 1994, having received a license from the State of Oregon to grant a four-year liberal-arts baccalaureate degree. And, as Gutenberg begins its eighth year this fall, the staff and board have made significant progress toward their next goal for the college: accreditation by a nationally recognized accrediting agency. More significantly, though, the process of establishing the college has confirmed the founding vision of the MSC staff in significant ways.

The four-year academic structure and curriculum of the college has offered the MSC staff and faculty of the college the opportunity to disciple and educate young people in the biblical worldview at a depth and breadth hitherto not possible in all of MSC’s ministry history. We have learned that the environment of the college classroom—from Greek and geometry to history and philosophy—provides the faculty with profound opportunity for intensive personal counsel and mentoring interaction with students. The staff have concluded that much of what we have always wanted to accomplish in the MSC ministry with discipleship can only be accomplished through a curriculum program like Gutenberg’s. The gifts and talents of the MSC staff (the core of the college’s faculty) are fully engaged with the students of Gutenberg College in a manner hitherto not possible with other students.

Yet, the MSC staff remain committed to reaching a much wider audience than the undergraduate-age student audience afforded by Gutenberg College. Having experienced both MSC and Gutenberg College as platforms for ministry, the staff have concluded that MSC and Gutenberg provide different but vitally related and complementary opportunities for ministry, and the staff are committed to both as distinct but important elements of their collective calling and mission. Though the college has now demonstrated its exciting potential to fulfill much of MSC’s vision of discipling another generation, the staff remain fully committed to taking the ministry opportunities God gives through MSC.

The Developments

Thus far our self-study has confirmed to the staff and board of directors that the variety of ministry opportunities made possible through McKenzie Study Center and Gutenberg College fit our staff’s gifts, abilities, and callings and, further, that we should ask God for the wisdom to pursue them. The study has also shown us that some serious reorganization and re-prioritization is necessary. Though each of our ministry programs has been important, we know that our continued effectiveness and productivity overall requires that we “take stock” and discipline ourselves to the wisest allocation of staff time and resources.

In conjunction with our self-study, the MSC staff have discussed the relationship of MSC to Gutenberg College at length, and we have concluded that an organizational change that will benefit both MSC and Gutenberg is necessary. Whereas MSC has been the “umbrella” institution for our organization, the time has come for the staff and board of directors to make Gutenberg College the organization under which the specific goals of the MSC ministry should organize its efforts. The model the staff have in mind is analogous to a university under which a variety of institutes operate. (For example, the typical university contains within its structure many types of independent institutes carrying on various special projects—from scientific or political research to arts performance and community service.) Under this new model, MSC will operate as an “institute” within the organization of the college. Our self-study has shown that this arrangement will provide the necessary focus and coordination to continue and expand the productive ministry of MSC, and the staff agree that this direction will best benefit our collective calling and mission to study and proclaim the biblical gospel as widely as God enables us.

This new model also allows for the development of different ministry opportunities. One such ministry that has emerged within the past ten years and can now “fit” organizationally under Gutenberg College is Art Project. MSC has found a significant audience among visual artists, writers, actors, musicians, dancers, and other arts-related people who are looking for biblical wisdom as they pursue their calling. Art Project has sponsored four annual conferences, and the number of attendees has grown each year. The MSC staff see an opportunity, through Art Project, to provide much needed biblical insight for art-makers, whose influence in our culture is profound, as well as an opportunity to reach out to non-Christians in the arts.

Let me sum up the developments thus far: (1) After more than twenty years of outreach and teaching the biblical worldview, MSC finds itself extending and deepening its calling and ministry through Gutenberg College. (2) The ministry emphases of MSC to articulate the Gospel and the biblical worldview in an increasingly complex world culture will remain. Because Gutenberg College cannot be what it needs to be for its students without the continued biblical research and teachings of McKenzie Study Center existing in its midst, Gutenberg and MSC will coexist as coordinated organizational working partners. 3) To the efforts of MSC and Gutenberg College, Art Project will add an outreach to art-makers of all kinds, with the hope that their work will present exciting opportunities for communicating the gospel in our culture.

Some Closing Thoughts

The goal of true biblical ministry is to present every person complete in Christ. The MSC staff continually ask, “How can we do this? What will it take?” While we could take various directions in our attempt to reach this lofty biblical goal, ultimately we know only one path leads to answers. First, we must study diligently and be taught by the Scriptures. Then we must attempt to do what Jesus asked of His first followers, “Make disciples of all the nations, teaching them all I have commanded you.”

This imperative sounds simple, but in practice this task is both profound and intimidating, one that calls on the sum of our collective wisdom, energy, and commitment. Just understanding the Scriptures takes great energy, will, and perseverance. Finding ways to pass on that understanding presents yet another challenge. The Apostle Paul, who faced formidable obstacles to his gospel ministry, begins many of his letters thanking God for the gracious strengthening of the Spirit. Christians today face those same difficulties. Today, as in Paul’s day, the true gospel is attacked from all sides, and resources and manpower always seem in short supply; yet through it all God is the source of our victories.

We at MSC identify profoundly with Paul when he gave thanks “with joy” to God on behalf of the Philippian believers who persevered in their support of his ministry (Philippians 1:1-12); we also thank God “with joy” for those who have so faithfully supported our ministry. Clearly, Paul’s joy (as is ours) was not due primarily to the benefit he derived from their support. Rather, he gave joyful thanks because he realized that the Philippians’ support of his work was evidence of their profound grasp of the gospel of grace; their support was proof that what they once believed of the gospel they continued to believe. For Paul, this meant that God was giving the Philippians “eyes” to see through the world’s glamour and power to the “things that differ”; it meant they desired the true riches that last forever rather than the immediately delicious things of the world that Paul’s gospel warned would pass away.

Our collective experience as teachers and evangelists at MSC has taught us that God alone is the supplier of “eyes and ears” that see and hear true things. But He does not provide that gift in a vacuum, nor does it manifest itself overnight. Wisdom, insight, and maturity come with sound teaching over time. So, while we at McKenzie Study Center continue our efforts to understand the gospel and teach it through classes, Bible studies, conferences, and discussion-based seminars and tutorials, we are elated and encouraged by what seems to us a profound gift of God—an additional means of passing on in a fuller way the truth we have learned from observing the world through the eyes of biblically-based thinking and living. We are thankful for Gutenberg College as another means of passing on God’s true vision of life and being human.

Copyright September 2001 by McKenzie Study Center, an institute of Gutenberg College.

R. Wesley Hurd