Thornbury at Covenant: Engage the Culture

On the evening of November 6th the Covenant community was treated; to lovely food, heart-warming student presentations, our swinging community jazz trio, and an electric apologetic for Christian Classical Education by the president of The King’s College, Dr. Gregory Thornbury. That is correct. Only a few short days after meeting with our Upper-School during their lunch on Tuesday, and speaking to the Messiah College Honors community that night, he returned to Central PA on Friday to speak to a captivated audience at Covenant Christian Academy.

Seeing him is to see, in his own words, “Harry Potter… all grown up.” Yet it is not with a magic wand that he conjures a specter of educational solutions. It is instead by way of his charm and his wit that he resurrects the maxims of history alongside the commonplaces of pop-culture. Dr. Thornbury thereby accesses the hearts and minds of his listeners. He knows his audience.

With allusions to luminaries such as Lewis and Chesterton, Dr. Thornbury even went so far as to compare Covenant to Rivendell from Tolkien’s revered Lord of the Rings. “This is the last homely house east of the sea… west of the Misty Mountains.” If we weren’t at least already in his pocket, after hearing this we certainly were in his hand.

He continued about the wider-wilderland-business-world and international market-place in New York City as needing the Classically educated. “Where everybody else sees a problem that they don’t know how to get around, the person with a Classical Education is able to think around the problem… to see the big picture.” We who are versed in the Liberal Arts curriculum and its tendency to produce the most flexible of problem solvers were once again delighted. But instead of allowing us to become puffed up and self-righteous in our cause, Dr. Thornbury began to redirect the energy of his audience into a charge, a call.

“We’re going to have to have strong, intense communities that are committed to the historic Christian worldview if we are going to, not only persist, but thrive in this world of exile.” And in this exile, “…you have one of two ways you can go. You can either have an Eeyore worldview . . or we can get in there and compete and show the world that it is the followers of Jesus Christ who are best positioned to lift… like Yoda lifted that x-wing fighter out of the bog… our country is in that bog! …and it’s only those people with those unique resources and background that can lift our culture out of the bog.”

Citing Johann Herder’s famous definition of culture as “’the lifeblood of a people, the flow of moral energy that holds a society intact,” Dr. Thornbury notes the important resources available in the Christian tradition for the healing of our culture. “Where does that flow of moral energy come from? It comes from a deeply centered root system and a sense of transcendence: What is lasting? What is forever? What is good and beautiful and true? And every kid that goes through [Covenant] gets that, and we need those people on the team desperately.”

“The team,” Dr. Thornbury maintains, is the Church in educated cultural engagement with the world, a Church that has taken “…for granted the deliverables of the Judeo-Christian Worldview in our culture… Whether you’re talking about opposing infanticide, which was rampant in the ancient West, brutality… the gladiatorial games, gender equality, racial equality… all of these deliverables are rooted in the victories of the Church! And it is now our time to step into the breach and to close that gap and to help… a Post-Reality culture. What do you do in an amnesiac Post-Reality culture? You go back to the beginning and teach History: the long arch of Justice, Truth, Goodness and Beauty of the Christian Tradition. And that is happening within these walls.”

Dr. Thornbury with his winsome personality and savant-like access to truisms of Western Culture charged the community of Covenant and charged himself with the words of Paul in Ephesians 6, “Finally be strong in the Lord and in the strength of his might… and always keep on praying for all the saints, pray also for me in New York City that whenever I open my mouth– on the subway, on Broadway–words might be given to me that I might fearlessly proclaim the mystery of the Gospel for which we are all now ambassadors in chains. Pray that we might declare it fearlessly as we should.”

The darkness in this world will not always rule. To fear it and despair gives no credit to the promises God’s word holds for us. We are armed. Classical Christian Education embodies this promise. This school is built on that promise, remembering that “it’s a moral and ethical commitment to holiness that …will turn the tide in our time.” We are grateful to Dr. Thornbury for these reminders.


-David Kemper, Upper School Humanities Teacher