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Plenary Speakers Inspire Presidents Conference Attendees

February 13, 2012
Eric Metaxas
Eric Metaxas delivers the opening keynote of the 36th Annual Presidents Conference.

WASHINGTON – As the opening plenary address for the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities’ 36th annual Presidents Conference, held February 1-3 at the Capitol Hilton Hotel, concluded, the scene that summarizes the conference most succinctly took center stage.

During his humorous and inspiring address, Eric Metaxas, author of the New York Times bestsellers Bonhoeffer: Pastor, Martyr, Prophet, Spy and Amazing Grace: William Wilberforce and the Heroic Campaign to End Slavery, more than once asked audience members to be in prayer for him the following morning when he would deliver the keynote speech at the National Prayer Breakfast, an event attended by President Obama, Vice President Biden, and 3,000 other luminaries from around the world.

Thus, in the midst of the Q & A following Metaxas’ talk, came a question from Joseph Castleberry, president of Northwest University in Kirkland, Wash.: Can we pray for you now? At the conclusion of the Q&A time, Kim Phipps, president of Messiah College in Grantham, Pa., and chair of the CCCU’s Board of Directors, invited Castleberry to the stage to pray for Metaxas while the rest of the assembled presidents gathered around Metaxas, with hands stretched toward him in a gesture of Christian familial support while Castleberry prayed.

This is how CCCU presidents care for their students, too, serving as committed higher education professionals who embrace the inseparability of faith and life and who are eager to stand alongside those they serve.

During his address, Metaxas expounded on the conference theme, “Strengthening Mission: The Case for Conviction and Courage,” by describing how he came to write Bonhoeffer. He then enumerated qualities embodied by Dietrich Bonhoeffer, a German pastor and author whose commitment to living according to his beliefs led to his participation in a plot to assassinate Hitler and ultimately led to Bonhoeffer’s execution.

Metaxas noted, “Bonhoeffer went to the gallows knowing he had obeyed the Lord. It is important to have stories of people like this in history. [Bonhoeffer’s] life is an encouragement and inspiration: This is a real person who lived out what he believed in his life, what he believed God called him to.”

From this auspicious beginning, the Presidents Conference continued with breakout sessions, breakfast roundtables, worship gatherings, a business meeting, and three other excellent plenary addresses, from Diana Oblinger, president and CEO of EDUCAUSE, which advances higher education through the use of information technology; James Davison Hunter, the LaBrosse-Levinson Distinguished Professor of Religion, Culture, and Social Theory at the University of Virginia and executive director of the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture; and N.T. Wright, the former Bishop of Durham in the Church of England and one of the world’s leading biblical scholars.

As Sandra Gray, president of Asbury University in Wilmore, Ky., noted, “We’ve had excellent plenary speakers, all of whom really challenged us as presidents in looking to the ways we lead our institution into the future.”

John Senyonyi, vice chancellor of Uganda Christian University in Mukono, Uganda, noted that the plenary sessions were very helpful. “They have made me very thoughtful about the way forward and really made me think about the applicability in my context.”

Senyonyi added that Hunter’s address, “Christian Higher Education and the Challenges of Faithful Presence,” was particularly helpful. “It’s the area I’m trying to address: integration of faith and learning. He kind of redefined it in a way that was very helpful especially when he said it’s not just about passing on values. It needs to be transformative in a way that when we go out into society, our presence influences.”

Michael Lindsay, the new president of Gordon College in Wenham, Mass., was attending the Presidents Conference for the first time. “It was a terrific gathering,” he said. “It was an opportunity to spend time with my colleagues across the country who have different backgrounds but have similar institutional priorities. In essence, we’re all trying to discern how to be faithful in our respective contexts, and what you find is that we have a lot more in common than one would expect.”

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About the CCCU: The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is a higher education association of 185 intentionally Christ-centered institutions around the world. The 116 member campuses in North America are all fully-accredited, comprehensive colleges and universities with curricula rooted in the arts and sciences. In addition, 69 affiliate campuses from 25 countries are part of the CCCU. The Council’s mission is to advance the cause of Christ-centered higher education and to help its institutions transform lives by faithfully relating scholarship and service to biblical truth. Visit www.cccu.org.