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Transformed with the help of a Devil’s Advocate

by Louisville Seminary | Apr 25, 2011
By Toya Richards

Anticipation joined excitement inside the Frank H. and Fannie W. Caldwell Chapel on Thursday, April 14, as a host of people gathered to hear a word from God and to celebrate the inauguration of the ninth president of Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary.

The morning worship service helped kick off festivities honoring the Rev. Dr. Michael Jinkins, who was officially inaugurated and installed as president and professor of theology at Louisville Seminary on Friday, April 15.

Under the theme, “Transformed through the Renewing of Our Minds,” the inauguration brought together students, faculty, staff, alums, representatives from regional institutions, and friends for the historic event in the life of Louisville Seminary.

“Already I have been overwhelmed with gratitude,” Jinkins, who was elected June 4, 2010, by the Seminary’s Board of Trustees, told those gathered for the service. “So many new friends. … Thank you for being a part of this worship with God.”

Jinkins’ friend and colleague the Rev. Dr. Scott Black Johnston, Senior Pastor of Fifth Avenue Presbyterian Church in New York City, delivered the sermon titled “The Devil’s Advocate.” The message combined a light-hearted roast of Jinkins with a strong call to those gathered to ask challenging questions for the sake of truth and transformation.

Johnston pointed out that a Devil’s Advocate, established in 1587 during the reign of Pope Sixtus V, was a designated person whose official job was to argue against the canonization of a candidate for sainthood. With that in mind, Johnston joked that he had a few concerns about Jinkins’ inauguration.

Playing the Devil’s Advocate, he regaled the audience with a few tales about Jinkins, including his reading Winnie the Pooh to students while a professor and taking students to the coroner’s office for an experiential field trip. “Just how rigorous was the presidential search committee in its work,” he quipped.

Yet, joking aside, Johnston also explored the serious value of being a Devil’s Advocate, and he called on the Seminary to take up this challenge.

“I have come to the conclusion that the contemporary church really ought to embrace this whole Devil’s Advocate thing,” and “seminaries should lead the way,” he said. Romans 12:2 says, “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds, so that you may discern what is the will of God – what is good and acceptable and perfect,” Johnston pointed out.

Just as the Devil’s Advocate asked challenging questions for the sake of the truth, so also can transformation happen by “offering our bodies and our minds to God on a daily basis,” he said.

The goal of education is to free the mind. The renewing of a person’s mind “requires a community” grounded in humility, compassion, and love, Johnston said.

Transformation can be difficult, and with it comes resistance, he said. But that’s where the Devil’s Advocate comes in as an honest companion, Johnston added.

“You, Louisville Seminary, need to be Devil’s Advocates,” challenging the faculty, the president, and the church, he said. And, we need to allow the church to “be Devil’s Advocates to us.”

“We can change, we can be transformed,” Johnston said.

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