Mission Tension 6: Western Yet Multicultural


Mission Tension 6:

Western Yet Multicultural

November 2023 

Dear Trinity Community, 

This month I’d like to address another tension within the Trinity mission. It’s not an easy one to talk about, but it is important: Trinity’s liberal arts education has a Western focus; Trinity’s education is multicultural. 


Mission Tension 6: Western Yet Multicultural 

For every tension that we have explored, we have used the analogy of the guitar  
string, holding tension in tune. Here I especially think this metaphor is apt, for there are strong voices in the  culture at large and within the school who would say, “Tune it sharp!” or “Tune it flat!” “Drop that part of the  curriculum and overhaul it!” or “Hunker down and guard the canon!” 

Trinity is a river that is fed by two strong traditions: the Christian and the classical. And both of these have  existed, coexisted, and come into conflict in the history of the West, a tradition that goes back to Greece and  Rome and flows through the story of Europe and its imperial and colonial expansions. This Western and  European tradition, though deeply implicated in human sin and systems of injustice, has been the place where  an important conversation about truth, goodness, and beauty has been going on for centuries. We call this  the Great Conversation, and the classical Christian model of education is committed to inviting modern  students into this conversation and equipping them to be active participants in it. At the same time, there  is a recognition of the limits of that tradition and the value of other traditions to both illuminate and correct the  Western conversation. Trinity’s Expanded Mission Statement (EMS) is explicit and clear on this. 

First, “exposure to other cultures and their ideas trains young people to see goodness in the variety of  God’s human creation and virtue in every culture, despite our universal fallenness” (EMS). The story of  the Bible is a story of God’s good creation marred by universal human sin, and the restoration of that goodness  by God’s grace, ultimately in the cross, resurrection, and new creation in Christ. God’s goodness is so strong  and so resilient that it persists all the way through this story, across every people group and every ethnic history:  from the wisdom of the Greeks to the creation care of Native tribes to the respect for elders in Japanese culture  to the Norse pride in one’s word. A good education will surprise students with unfamiliar stories and histories  of virtue, wisdom, and knowledge that have particular ethnic and national shape to them.  

Second, “listening to other traditions helps us perceive the flaws of our own” (EMS). Just as every culture  retains traces of the original goodness of creation, so every culture is fallen, “suppressing the truth by their  unrighteousness” (Romans 1:18). What is more, it is the nature of sin that it blinds us, so that we often cannot  see our own folly and fallenness. Traveling to other places and reading about other times and cultures can  open our eyes to the flaws in ourselves that we have not yet seen. This is part of what makes for the difficult  experience of reverse culture shock, where one of us comes back to this culture from a deep dive into another,  seeing and feeling the foolish and unjust things that we too often take for granted. Is there really a grocery aisle devoted to dog food, with hungry homeless folk begging outside the store?

Third, “deeper dives into other traditions develop discernment in judging the relative merits of different  cultures” (EMS). Note the word “relative.” Just as different people are prone to different sins and idolatries,  so different cultures have their own weak points. One need not be unkind nor judgmental to recognize this,  especially if one’s own culture is included in the diagnosis. Psychologist Jonathan Haidt has surveyed six  different moral foundations that cross religious, political, ethnic, and national boundaries: care/harm; fairness/ cheating; loyalty/betrayal; authority/subversion; sanctity/degradation; liberty/oppression. No racial or religious  tradition is equally strong (or weak) on all these dimensions. The feuds between secular elites and Hasidic Jews about who sits where on long flights from New York to Tel Aviv demonstrate the different virtues they  celebrate: one is all about care and fairness; the other privileges purity and holiness. Inasmuch as we Christians  see all of these moral foundations in Scripture, we will be looking to learn from our exposure, whether on a  transcontinental flight sitting next to a Hasid or reading Chaim Potok.  

As our Expanded Mission Statement says, “From this kind of study arise fuller appreciations of humanity and  God’s involvement in the world; fresh currents of creativity; humbled perspectives about one’s own culture  and self; a broader context for a global conversation; and a deeper grasp of what is true, good, and beautiful.”  This vision provides us with reasons to look beyond the West for the education of our students; it also gives us  reason not to abandon the West, despairing of its white male paternalism. There are those who have given up  on the West, but I am not one of them. I see in our tradition not only deep flaws but also a wide, inspiring  aspiration and a willingness to self-correct, to learn, to repent. This was the secret of Dr. King’s moral  persuasion: he called on the better angels of the West, on our fundamental first principles, to turn us from our  evil ways. 

Finally, and most importantly, Trinity is a Christian school, and the Christian faith is not a Western faith,  despite its long sojourn in the West. It did not begin as a Western faith, but was (as it claimed) the fulfillment of  an ancient Semitic religion. And its earliest believers went east and south as well as west from Jerusalem—some  of the earliest translations of the New Testament are Syriac and Coptic, and the early councils of the church  were in places that are now a part of modern Turkey. And whatever you think about Christianity’s past, with  its large Western chapter, the future of our faith is not Western or European or American. It is the south and the  east where Christianity is growing the fastest and where its future lies. Chinese Christians may one day re evangelize the West, and the next John Stott or Karl Barth is as likely to be from Rwanda or Brazil as from the  UK, the US, or Germany. So this global, multicultural posture of Trinity is just good common sense as well as  good theology.  

Holding this tension is hard work. One of our biggest lifts is to be continually evaluating and re-evaluating our  curriculum in view of this commitment. The other heavy lift is recruiting, hiring, and keeping faculty who as  Christians themselves embody some of the cultures, ethnicities, and traditions that will enrich and challenge  Trinity better to reflect the Kingdom in all its diversity (Revelation 7:9). It is hard work, but it is good work,  and I am proud to be at a school that thinks it is worth the trouble, for the sake of the One who is bringing  together every tribe and tongue and nation under his perfect and good rule. 

Non Nobis, 

Chip Denton 
Head of School