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In the twenty-seventh episode of the “Saturdays at Seven” conversation series, Todd Ream talks with Barry H. Corey, the President of Biola University. Corey opens by discussing his transition from being a senior administrator at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Massachusetts to the presidency of Biola University in Southern California. Now in his seventeenth year at Biola, Barry reflects upon the opportunities and challenges both of those institutions face in their respective regions when it comes to cultivating Christian discipleship. Ream and Corey then talk through how Biola as a multi-denominational institution identifies the theological commitments that animate it and, in turn, shape the curricular and co-curricular educational experiences it affords its students. Of greatest focus is Biola’s ongoing commitment to revisiting the “Workers’ Register and Articles of Faith” or “The Red Book.” Ream and Corey close their conversation by talking about the relationship Biola shares with the myriad of churches that populate Southern California and how Biola’s health and the health of those churches relate another.  

Todd Ream: Welcome to Saturdays at Seven, Christian Scholar’s Review’s conversation series with thought leaders about the academic vocation and the relationship that vocation shares with the Church. My name is Todd Ream. I have the privilege of serving as the publisher for Christian Scholar’s Review and as the host for Saturdays at Seven. I also have the privilege of serving on the faculty and the administration at Indiana Wesleyan University.

Our guest is Barry H. Corey, President of Biola University. Thank you for taking time to join us.

Barry Corey: Oh, happy to be on your program, Todd. Thank you for doing this.

Todd Ream: Now in your 17th year as president of Biola, you came to Southern California from New England, where you’d served as a chief academic officer and chief development officer at Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. I want to ask, first, how does a native New Englander make the transition to life in Southern California? Or I guess I should ask first, even before that, Red Sox or Dodgers?

Barry Corey: Well, let me answer your second question first and your first question second, if I might. Born and raised six miles from Fenway Park in 1961 and endured the long suffering Red Sox drought that began in 1918 and ended in 2004. So once a Red Sox fan, deep in your red blood, it’s going to stay that way.

So without a doubt Red Sox over Dodgers. But I will qualify that by saying that the Dodgers are managed by Dave Roberts, who in 2004 stole second base in the ALC championship series against the Yankees when we were down three games to zero, that turned the tide that ended up reversing the curse, when we swept the Yankees and swept the Cardinals. And Dave Roberts is a hero in Boston. And so I’ve got a little bit of affection for the Dodgers as well, but certainly a distant second to the Red Sox. Thanks for asking.

Todd Ream: Yep. Fair enough.

Barry Corey: Now back to your first question, if I can even remember what it is. In 2007, at the cusp of Biola Centennial, I was called to be the next president.

And that was I’m in my 17th year now, our kids were eight, eleven, and fourteen. We did move from sea to shining sea from Boston, Massachusetts, diagonally across the country from the Northeast to the Southwest. 

It was a big move for us as a family. I hadn’t been part of a major university. I had been in theological education. I had never been the president of anything. I am, as I just shared with you, Todd, a deeply New Englander. And so coming to Southern California was certainly a remarkable change for us, for our family in many different ways. 

But in other ways, it wasn’t. A move from one major metropolitan area to another from one coastal city to another, from one blue state to another. So pretty much I’ve only lived in two states, Massachusetts and California, both working at conservative Christian higher education institutions. So I skipped all the easy states in the middle and decided I’d be in Massachusetts and California, not in Arkansas, Texas, Kansas, Oklahoma, whatever.

But it’s been a great settling here for us, not without challenges. And obviously 17 years later still in the role. I do see this as a deep sense of vocational calling.

Todd Ream: Thank you. 

Along those lines, then, in what ways are the challenges and opportunities for Christian discipleship in those two regions similar, and in what ways are they different?

Barry Corey: New England is a little bit more of a staid traditionalist, deeply historic part of the country with educational institutions that date back to the founding of our nation. So there is that, a certain depth in New England. 

When we came out here, we bought a home that was built in the 1950s and somebody said, hey, you bought an old home. And I just went like, well, that’s a new subdivision in New England so there’s that difference. Whereas New England, has this kind of traditional sense to it and this kind of deep kind of commitment to, to kind of historical legacy. Coming to California, it’s newer. It’s the epicenter of the imagination, whereas New England is the epicenter of intellectual life. And so both of them have their own differences, but you adapt to both. 

But there’s some similarities that are pretty remarkable too, I would add, Todd. And that is, again, as I stated, I worked at Gordon Conville Theological Seminary for 16 years and now in my 17th year at Biola University. Both of them are conservative institutions. By conservative, I mean like deeply commitment to historic theological orthodoxy and really preserving and advancing the, the transcendent, the, the virtues as God intended them to be. So I’m not talking about any kind of political sense. I’m talking really in a deeply, deeply abiding, enduring Christian sense. 

And both of them are in states where their political currents are kind of antithetical to a lot of the things that we hold dearly. Massachusetts is a very bright blue state. California is a very bright blue state.

And so the best way I can describe how you navigate and disciple and kind of nurture a community that is a bit in exile, a bit in a post-Christian part of the country, whereas we are deeply Christian, is trying to like have conversations without being defensive, without being angry, without picking fights.

I can’t go to Sacramento, like with my First Amendment guns blazing. We believe the First Amendment gives us certain religious liberties here at Biola University. But in California, you have to take a different approach. And so my approach has been, it sounds very bumper sticker-ish, but it’s been: firm center, soft edges. 

So first I’d like we’re going to hold these deep convictions of the way God intended things to be and abiding in, in the truth of Scripture. And I want students to live that way to hold deeply to what they believe to be true. And we spent a lot of time on that at Biola University. 

But on soft edges, I mean, just like living lives that are, that are winsome, that are gracious, that are hospitable, that are kind hearted, where we listen to those who might not think like us, believe like us, vote like us, look like us, us being you’re kind of that kind of evangelical, conservative, Christian community. And we do that to build bridges. And I actually believe that is the antidote to so much that is wrong in our world today. 

So, we’ve made it a point. I go to Sacramento to get to know lawmakers that maybe scratch their heads when they think of a Biola University of what we stand for and learned that the words I use, talk across a table rather than shouting across the street. 

I would add to that Todd, also that, if this rising generation looks at maybe what maybe previous generations had done, where they like these firm center and hard edges that we’re just going to beat the pulp out of those who don’t believe like us and we’re going to defeat the other side and everything’s a culture war, I’m not sure that was that effective. 

But I don’t want the pendulum to swing the other way. Where these students say, well, it’s about soft edges in a spongy center. Live and let live. You know, whatever is good for you is good for you and where there are no convictions. We need a rising generation that has deeply held convictions, but at the same time, lives it out in lives of lives of grace.

And that’s where I would say that that bumper sticker line of mine, firm center, soft edges is– actually, I stole that line from the Bible. Where Jesus came full of truth, right? Firm center and full of grace, soft edges. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength, firm center. And love your neighbor as yourself, soft edges. Be wise as serpents, firm center. Be gentle as doves, soft edges. Always prepare to defend the hope you have, Paul says, firm center, but do so with gentleness and respect. 

So it is like it is the alchemy that this generation of Christian disciples needs, I believe, as they go into the world that God has called them to to be salt and light. 

Todd Ream: Yeah, thank you. 

In terms of those convictions, would you please share a few details about the history of the “Workers’ Register and Articles of Faith,” otherwise known as the Red Book there at Biola?

Barry Corey: The Workers’ Register is not the early seeds of labor relations and collective bargaining in the United States. I will say that. 

So, back in the late teens, Biola started in 1908.  back in the late teens, and there’s always, there was always a theological core, but, but, but some of the early leaders said, we want to codify this. We want to make it very clear what we stand for. 

And R.A. Torrey, a very familiar name, he came from, he had double graduate degrees at Yale, came from Moody to Biola as our dean and others began working on a theological statement, which would became our articles of faith. And they were written in the early 1920s.

Now, the language of them is a bit archaic, but fundamentally, and they are our fundamentals and I don’t shy away from the word fundamentals in that regard. We have to believe in something fundamentally firm center again. But fundamentally, they are core doctrinal positions at Biola. 

And you read them, you think, okay, these are orthodox, time honored, Biblically based Christian convictions, that are a bit creedal for us and one would read that and think that, okay, as I read that, that certainly defines what really deeply conservative, orthodox, Biblical Christianity is. So pause there. 

Written in, in, in the early 1920s when they were finalized. And so the Red Book, I wish I had a copy of it here, but the Red Book is it’s kept in a safe at Biola and it was printed in the early 1920s and a top, the cross of, of every page across the top of it are those 13 articles of faith that Biola holds to dearly. 

And back when it was printed, the faculty and the trustees and others signed their name on each page, dating back to the early 1920s. And then over time, it became just the board of trustees, but every year, our board of trustees has now for well over a century, affixed each of his or her name to those pages below it.

And I remember when I did that in September of 2007, the very first time I signed my, my hand was almost shaking because I looked at the names that were in that book that had gone back, the, the seven presidents before me, faculty and trustees and founders of the institution, and very familiar names to us, like Charles Feinberg or some of my predecessors, Sam Sutherland or Lyman Stewart, their names are there. 

And it’s a symbolic way of saying that we have maintained these core Biblical convictions over the years and our signatures attest to the fact that missionally, we want to stay true and not wander from our founding vision. 

So it is almost a sacred moment every year when our board members line up, and take the pen and write their name on that book. And there’s still a lot of pages left in it, but it’s a pretty thick book. So, we’re going to be doing that for centuries until Jesus comes back or something, because it is indelible to our heart and soul here at Biola.

Thanks for asking that question about the Red Book.

Todd Ream: Yeah, thank you. How does it then inform Biola’s identity as an interdenominational Christian college?

Barry Corey: In some ways, we’re interdenominational, in some ways, I think we’re multi-denominational. We never were founded with any kind of judicatory or presbytery or denominational affiliation. 

I will say this, we started as the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. Maybe some of you readers know, that’s a B-I-O-L-A, how our name came about. But we started on the corner of Six and Hope Streets in February. Like this week is our 116th birthday. We’re having a big celebration on campus, but in downtown Los Angeles. 

Because I think some of the Christian leaders then thought, here is this institution in downtown Los Angeles and Los Angeles is emerging as this global center, this gathering point. Aqueducts were coming down. The Panama Canal had opened up. Uh, Hollywood was in its nascent stages. We were a pacific rim part of the world. And so there’s so much about Los Angeles, that if we can start a Christian university here, and it can maintain its deeply held convictions, just think of the influence that this institution could have. 

And as a side note, when our founder had been on the board at Occidental College here in Los Angeles, that was started in 1885 by Scottish ministers and missionaries. And by the time we got to the late 15 years later, late 1800s, our founder, Lyman Stewart, said to the board, what’s happening here? We kind of lost that piety, in the best sense of the word, that we had when we started just 10 plus years ago. 

And they said, well, we’ve moved on beyond that. And he, soon after, left the board and within seven years, had started Biola. Maybe, I’m not so sure, maybe as a response to that thought, let’s get in place a school that’s not going to wander from its convictions, but be here in such an influential global city, arguably the most globalized city in the world today. 

And so, I think that has a lot to do with what defines us in terms of where we started and how we started and why California was the place where it all began.

And I probably drifted from your question, but a few other things I wanted to say in there, Todd.

Todd Ream: No, I wanna talk to you now, if I may, about your presidency and your perception of the presidency as a vocation. 

 What commitments define your sense of vocation as the university president? In what ways are they unique to you? In what ways are they unique to Biola?

Barry Corey: You know, that is really a question I haven’t been asked before. And I think it’s a question that is worth pondering more. I guess I would say that, when I came here, Biola was a bit of a stretch for me.  different part of the country, a bigger institution theologically where I was, but maybe denominationally not where I came from. And so there was kind of a lot of stretching for me, but I think I was a stretch for Biola. Biola is a stretch for me. 

So I think presidential leadership at institutions, in the best sense of that relationship, is like a good marriage, where we learn a lot from each other and we bring out the best in each other. And I would say that is true for Biola as well. 

I have learned and become more grounded and developed as a leader because of the abiding convictions of this institution. I see myself as a steward of what I have been given here. I hold this university in trust. There’ll come a time when I’m no longer here and I will pass this university on to the, to the next leader. And in some ways I actually try to think about that every single day that I’m here. 

And one of the ways I do that, I don’t refer to where I am right now as my office. This is the president’s office. It’s not mine. I’m just having to be the one sitting in this role holding in trust this role for this season.

I don’t say these are my faculty or my vice presidents or my board chair or my trustees. They’re the university’s trustees and the university’s faculty. And again, I am the caretaker for this season. So I think that helps give me a little bit of perspective that God has called me to this role for this time to steward it well.

But at the same time, I feel like leaders have to give some definition and take the best of the university’s mission and bring it to light in refreshing ways. So I would say that the three words I probably use more than others here is this idea of truth, that we’re going to be committed to that, which is true and that it is solidly founded on the enduring and authoritative Word of God. 

We can do that unapologetically. Our students here take 30 units of Bible as undergraduates. It’s a hefty Biblical studies, theology, Christian thought core, because that is foundational to them. So that truth matters. 

And then the character piece, the truth is almost like the firm center of the character piece. Like how do we live out our lives as wise and thoughtful. And I increasingly define Biola more as a greenhouse where students are formed and developed and think critically and carefully and become wise at who they are. 

We’re not a bubble to isolate students from the world, but we’re not an activist bootcamp either to kind of indoctrinate them to you know, to get on board, whatever the ideology of the day is, the fashionable trends, like knee jerk reactions. 

And I see that happening so much, as you do too Todd, in higher education, where there’s almost this impassioned ignorance. 

I was talking to my wife this morning before I left the house about how I’m seeing on these campuses, like students just kind of getting caught up in the current without even thinking about it. So we have a very ordered, sequential way of thinking. 

We’d rather our students not be activists when they’re here. They can do that after they graduate, but think deeply while you’re here, form good relationships, learn the virtues of truth and beauty and goodness that permeates so much of what we do. 

So, it’s the truth, it’s the character, but also excellence really matters. We have to be good at what we do. And I do think that if we’re gonna graduate an accountant– I had a young man in here in the office yesterday, who’s a sophomore and from Costa Rica . He’s gonna work with Ernst & Young this summer, a really bright guy and we want him to be a great accountant. 

And I think excellence in your vocation is one of the, one of the strong apologetics of our day. If you’re good at what you do, people are going to listen to you more. So we want our students to be good at robotics, at engineering, at filmmaking, at secondary education teachers, psychologists, counselors, artists, musicians whatever it is.

So excellence has to matter. We can’t just be about truth and about character and have poor educational quality for our students and data analytics. We’ve got to be good at that too. 

So those are the three: truth, character, and excellence that I talk about more and more. And I think that is like, I’m bringing out the best of Biola. Biola is bringing out the best of me. And there is that marriage there that I think makes a difference.

Todd Ream: Thank you. Over the course of that 17-year tenure, then, how, if at all, have those commitments changed or perhaps the ways that you emphasize them or articulate them changed?

Barry Corey: Yeah, I joke sometimes that I’m on my fourth presidency at the same institution. 

What Biola needed from me when I started was different than a few years later after I kind of built my own team and I’d followed a president that had been here for 25 years. Some of the political issues that we faced caused me to kind of pivot and, and prioritize things that I wasn’t prioritizing before. Then COVID came. Now in a post-COVID world, what does that look like? 

So I have seen changes in the way in which I do things. I will say, Todd, that presidents make one of two historical mistakes. I know you’ve looked at the history of higher education institutions and talked to David Wright about these issues as well and, and others.

One is they can be nostalgic saying, what we’ve always done it this way. It’s just kind of who we are. We’re going to keep on doing it this way. And I think that can lead presidents to be so fixated on the way things have been as part of their culture that they don’t envision and imagine new ways of living into their mission. New wineskins as Paul would talk about. The creative, the innovative, the out of the box ideas, because there is that kind of fixation on being nostalgic. 

But the other mistake that presidents can make as being amnesiac, which I believe is, is just as detrimental to an institution. And that is you forget where you came from. You don’t have this, this, this memory of what your founders had in mind. It’s, I think, C. S. Lewis calls it this chronological snobbery that we’re smarter than our grandparents and our great grandparents and the founder, they didn’t really have it right. They couldn’t see everything. 

And so, when we look at what was essential to our founders, we have to keep on returning to that because if you’re, if you are amnesic, you can drift from your founding convictions and drift in missional organizations always lead you away from Christ centeredness. It happens innocuously almost like, like one small decision at a time that you think, hey, we used to be over here. How do we get over here? 

And so I think that boards, presidents, faculty, they need to have constant conversations among themselves and with each other. And I think that’s essential, not just among themselves, but among themselves and with each other. What is going to keep us from being nostalgic? And what is going to keep us from being amnesiac? 

And that helps you paint, I think, a healthy picture for the future that you can live into new ways of delivering your time honored mission. 

And I think that answers your question, what has changed? A lot has changed in 17 years. When I got here there wasn’t, there wasn’t an iPhone, wasn’t even an option then. And now it’s ubiquitous. 

So there’s so much that has changed. But we always live in that tension between maintaining that fidelity to mission, but trying to do it in these wildly creative and innovative ways and it’s that tension that keeps the house from caving in. And we have to keep that tension going as well.

Todd Ream: Yeah. Thank you. 

You’d mentioned your predecessor, Clyde Cook, had been president for 25 years and that your tenure began basically on the eve of the centennial year for Biola University. You also noted, too, that there’s only been seven previous presidents at Biola. 

 In your estimation, what are the advantages then that come with such continuity and leadership?

Barry Corey: What I had when I first came here was kind of a fresh perspective, an outsider’s view, maybe a lot of new ideas that hadn’t been thought about before. And over time you have less of that, the fresh perspective because you’ve been here, not necessarily co-opted, but you’ve been part of this institution for a long time.

But what you gain over the years is you gain some kind of institutional memory. You just kind of know the university inside and out. You gain relationships and networks and accumulated wisdom that you don’t have early on. I mean, I was 45 when I started 17 years ago, and, as I said, Todd, new to California.

But having been here now in my 17th year at Biola, I do have these deep relationships on campus and beyond and networks that only came because I have been in this role and an institutional kind of historical understanding that I just intuitively get a lot of things that I didn’t get before. 

So I think as presidents think about their longevity, think about what you have gained in that, but also think about what you have lost. And that lostness is the freshness and innovation and outside perspective that you once had, which calls you to hire leaders around you that have what you once had is the best way that I can explain it.

And also to be wise enough to know that when is that day going to come when you realize, okay, now it’s time for me to bequeath to the next generation of leadership, that which was entrusted to me in 2007.

Todd Ream: Thank you. 

In an age when so many institutions then have struggled with rapid leadership turnover, what allows for such continuity?

Barry Corey: We had John Perkins here a number of years ago. He said a lot of amazing things, but I really remember one thing that stood out and he said, we need leaders with tougher skin and tender hearts. And he said, I’m seeing too many leaders with thin skin and hard hearts, easily bruised and upset and angered and hurt. And because of that, are a little bit callous towards how they treat others. 

And I pray regularly that God gives me tougher skin. And I can tell my skin is a lot tougher than when I started and that my heart kind of remains just tender in some ways, that’s kind of an inversion of firm center, soft edges. That’s a little more harder edges than softer, softer heart, now that I think about it. 

But I think having just an ability to hold– don’t equate yourself with the institution that you’re leading. I am not Biola University and so when their attacks come at Biola, I don’t, I don’t internalize them. And with social media attacks come more and more, some of them are fair, but the majority of them are unfair. And some of them are true, but the majority of them are either half true, out of context, or outright false. 

And so it’s easy for me to feel like I’m not, I can’t take this anymore because of the kind of the brutality of those who are lobbing grenades my way. I’m just gonna find something else where you’re not just in the public eye. 

I’m writing a book called 13 Burdens, unique burdens that sole leaders uniquely bear. And you could be the president of a university, you could be the mayor of a city, you could be the head of a of an accounting firm, you could be president of a Fortune 500 company, you could be whatever, a pastor of a church, the one person at the top of that organizational chart has unique burdens that others don’t fully understand.

And so, you have to find ways not to relieve yourself of those burdens because those burdens don’t go away, but how do you bear them? And one way is to just kind of keep on reminding yourself that this institution is not who I am. 

You mentioned Clyde Cook. There is a big picture of him on the side of a building on campus. It’s not there now because of changes to that building, but I would like to remember walking by that picture so many times with students. I’d say, who’s he? Students go, we don’t know. And I don’t say that to disparage him. I say that to remind myself to cycle through four years of students from one class when they graduate, they’re not going to know who Barry Corey is.

And that just is, again, a reminder to me that I’m going to do my job as well as I can. Faithful to the task and take it with great seriousness, but just not take myself too seriously and not be so offended when things come my way. 

They do hurt though. I will say that. It seems like shots are fired and it’s often friendly fire.

Todd Ream: Thank you. Very important. 

I want to ask you now about those students a little bit and Biola’s culture and their role in it. Over the course of your tenure, Biola’s student body and faculty have grown more ethnically diverse. As an interdenominational or multi-denominational institution there in Southern California, what theological commitments define Biola’s understanding of diversity?

Barry Corey: That kind of gets back to what I had said a little bit earlier, Todd. And that is that if you read that new Perry Glanzer book that came out, which you probably have. It’s an empirical study of Christian higher education that took eleven metrics to see what schools are the most distinctively, robustly systemically Christian.

One of the comments that he and his team at Baylor made was that oftentimes Christian institutions mimic what other institutions are doing, as a socially legitimate form of their own legitimacy. And they do that in a way to say hey, we’re Christian but it’s a bit cosmetic, it’s a veneer. And they’re just adopting what other schools are doing that they may want to be like and gift wrapping it in some kind of Christian packaging. And I think that’s easy to do. 

And so we have a lot to learn from what’s happening at other institutions, but on issues of diversity, our primary focus has to be how we think Christianly and Biblically about what Scripture calls us to. And that means resisting the urge to take a DEI statement or office or structure from another institution and adopt it wholeheartedly and then you know, put a few Scripture verses outside of the office and say, hey, this is Christian. 

We have Scripture as a playbook and how do we deal with any issue in life and, and God’s Word and God’s world matter to us as we think deeply about these things.

So Biola has back in 2017, we’ve been talking about this for a while or ’18, whenever it was, we adopted a theological statement called unity amidst diversity. I mean, unity without diversity is uniformity and that’s not what we’re called to do. But diversity of that unity is a form of tribalism. And that can lead to like, well, this group always thinks this way, this group always thinks that this group always oppresses, this group is always oppressed. 

And so I mean, there can be these unhealthy ancillaries if you’re not rooted deeply into what you’re, what, what the Bible tells you to do on these issues. So that unity amidst diversity theological statement, where we’re called to pursue diversity and unity not as either or, but as both and, has really been a good guide for us and it protects us from just trying to mimic what other institutions are doing. 

Back in the day when I did my dissertation there’s a word that’s not used very often. It’s called isomorphism. Isomorphism is a fancy word, basically saying like, you morph into that that you want to be like and and in so doing, sometimes you lose your own identity. And you do that as a kind of a socially legitimate means of survivability that happens in colleges. 

Like we want to be recognized. We want to be ranked. We want to stand out by becoming like others. And I actually think that’s the wrong way to do it. You need to be distinctive, not indistinctive. You need to stand out and not blend in. And, and it’s sometimes it means being counter cultural in the way you do things. And I think that is the strongest pursuit for a place like Biola. 

So I use the algebraic language so that we’re not trying to move from X to Y. We’re trying to move from X to X squared to be better at who we are. And we can’t ignore the fact that half of our students are not white. And this is a rich community because we have 45 nations represented on it, in 5,000 plus students here. That this is a place where that mosaic is a beautiful thing.

And what holds us together is as God’s image bearers, the every tongue and tribe and nation, we’re all huddled together at the foot of the cross, like sinners saved by grace. No one group or person is elevated above the other. And that’s kind of the way in which we try to approach diversity here.

So maybe a long answer to your question, but I just encourage other Christian college presidents to live into your own convictions of what God calls you to do and be this way. And it’ll be much better off trying than trying to imitate somebody else.

It gets back to what I said earlier that on whatever the big trends are of the day, ideologically, I just really want our students to think and ponder this and being open to, in a free expression, to talk about ideas without feeling like they’re going to be shut down or canceled out. 

We can have these healthy conversations, where we disagree and we can do so. We call it at Biola, winsome conviction. You can have deep convictions, but we learn to talk to each other in winsome ways. And that has to be true about everything, including diversity.

Todd Ream: Thank you. 

Well, one positive aspect of being in Southern California is the density of the population and the richness of that population. That density also impacts the availability of space and when available, cost of such space. In what ways has Biola sought to create a sense of community while growing numbers of students who have also been commuters?

Barry Corey: Yeah. Density. I thought you’re talking about traffic jams which we have in abundance.

Todd Ream: Down that road, too.

Barry Corey: Literally and figuratively down that road.  you just want to get far down that road or very fast because of the bumper to bumper here. 

And that is, I mean, that is an advantage of Biola but it’s also a disadvantage. We’re not a rural farmland university with lots of rolling space where there’s plenty of elbow room for students to stretch out and not be crowded. 

And cost of living issues are much less in other parts of the country than they are here. And we want to attract and retain outstanding faculty that are at the top of their game academically and to pay them so they can live and raise a family here in Southern California.

So all of those are part of the equations that we’re thinking through about what do we charge students, how do we pay faculty, how to maintain excellence in our programs, how do we keep these beautiful buildings and grounds on our almost a hundred acre campus, just kind of lovely.

But we are in greater Los Angeles. We happen to be in a very safe neighborhood in a very safe town so that is an advantage but we are parceled in and our buildings have to be higher in the middle than they are on the edge because we are– our perimeter abuts neighborhoods. So neighbors don’t want taller buildings looking into their backyards and their swimming pools, because there are a lot of swimming pools here. So we have had to be kind of creative in that regard. 

About a third of our undergraduate students are commuters so they come onto campus. So we work hard to create commuter life in a way that makes them feel like they’re not second class students because they don’t live in residence halls here. So we have our own lounge for them that they can subscribe to and be part of. We have activities for commuter students. 

We’re not fast and furious moving down the online direction for education. We have aspects of that and it’s really because we believe that hybrid or residential is a better way to learn. And we can do this again, new wineskins creatively. But we do, we have a lot of students that commute here. Some because they want to, some because they have to live with their families, some because of affordability. 

But there are advantages too, Todd, of being in Southern California with this rich cultural opportunities. And, I mean, I can see if it wasn’t so cloudy snowcap mountains there. And not far is a beach down that way. And you have that as well. You have internships and work opportunities. 

And we have now, I think Variety has ranked our Snyder School of Cinema & Media Arts as number whatever, 21 in the nation and the top 20 or 21. And we’re approximate to Hollywood matters. So there are advantages to being in a major metropolitan area like Los Angeles. 

And we can do that again without kind of wincing at our own convictions. We can live fully into them. And I think that’s a good thing.

Todd Ream: Thank you. 

As we get close to wrapping our conversation today, I want to ask you about that multi-denominational dimension of Biola, in particular, how it relates to evangelicalism and evangelicals who have existed in Southern California. 

How, if at all, has the understanding of what defines evangelicalism changed in the broader culture in Southern California and perhaps changed even at Biola?

Barry Corey: First of all, I’m a fan of the word evangelical because I believe that it’s a good descriptor of who we are, that message, that Good News that is at the heart of that word. I mean, I know it’s been interpreted in different ways politically, culturally, and globally. 

I don’t actually hear students using the word evangelical very much. I mean, we inherit 18 year-olds here, so they’ve come here being formed and shaped in churches, in schools, public, private, charter, home, in communities by social media, by streaming television movies. And they’ve been shaped by, in some ways, very different influences that even when I came here in 2007 so I actually don’t hear the word evangelical.

I hear students talking about being a Christian, being a follower of Christ, being committed to the Church. I sense that denominationalism here doesn’t affect the way in which students choose where they’re going to worship like it did in my day. 

Southern California there’s a lot of churches here, and that’s a beauty of Southern California because there are ethnic churches and storefront churches and immigrant churches and mega churches and so you’ve got the whole spectrum here, but it also means there’s more church hopping than where I came from. 

I mean, New England, the church population– a mega church there is like 500 people and that’s a church plant here. Right? So there’s a different way of, I think, seeing evangelicalism here. 

There is still the spirit of what God has done in Southern California from Azusa to the Jesus People Movement, to Calvary Chapel and Vineyard and Saddleback, and so there’s a lot of healthy Church movements that were part of this kind of a modern day renewal of Christianity. 

And I’m seeing a lot of that in the arts right now with students who are deeply interested in a Church that has– maybe it’s a smaller church. It’s more community-based. It’s focused on the arts. And so, that tends to be the way in which I think churches are growing and attracting this rising generation of Christians today. 

We do a lot of apologetics work at Biola. And apologetics is super important to be, to be reasonable about your faith, but I see that being part of what’s attracting students to churches. 

And the other part is just like healthy relationships and not seeing hypocrisy among leaders. I think hypocrisy is a great cancer to this rising generation. There’s too many heroes that have fallen that they say, or just Christians that have just acted in a way that is so antithetical to the fruit of the Spirit. And they’re saying like, is that what’s all about? These are people in my church and now fighting over these minor issues and not uniting over these core, like the way of Jesus issues. 

And that’s that kind of wrestling we’re doing more and more at Biola, with students becoming a little bit jaded and cynical. And it’s not just Biola. I mean, it’s Indiana Wesleyan. It’s Wheaton, it’s Gordon, it’s wherever.

Todd Ream: For our last question for our time together today, I was wondering if we could talk about changes that are taking place amongst churches and denominations. 

What do you envision as the future of relations Christian colleges and universities will share with the Church? And in what ways do you believe they can be advanced, enhanced?

Barry Corey: One does not do well without the other. Certainly, outside of the Church, I believe that Christian higher education is one of the great enterprises of advancing the Gospel. And our students are better off if they’re plugged into the local church. I’m not saying that it solves all of the challenges of our day, but I do think and believe very strongly that it would minimize many of the obstacles that our students are up against today, relationally, emotionally.

If they could just get plugged into a church, at a multi-generational church and elders and Christian ed teachers and pastors and fellow parishioners, that there’s so much health that can happen for our students. So we work really hard to say to our students, get plugged into a local church. And I think that that is essential. 

And I also believe the kind of education that we’re providing provides a Church with thoughtful leadership, not just pastorally, which we could do through Talbot School of Theology and other programs that we have here, but also through those who are in finance and public policy and media and counseling and education in healthcare, whatever it might be, research. Thoughtful church leaders will be helpful for the Church. And that’s one way that we, I think, come alongside the Church, Todd. 

Another is that colleges just tend to be lasting institutions in, in some ways that are different from churches. I mean, churches are going for a long time, but you know, Biola’s been around 116 years. And in some ways we’re one of the younger Christian colleges out there. 

Some Christian colleges date back to, you know, late 1700s throughout the 1800s. So we were around for a long time and that, and I think it gives that, that kind of preservation of ideas and contribution to the Gospel is sustained through institutions like Biola University.

And we have seminaries and we have graduate programs and we have undergraduate programs, that I think all work to serve the local church in some very meaningful ways. I just think we’d both be limited if we didn’t have each other.

Todd Ream: Thank you. Our guest has been Barry H. Corey, President of Biola University. Thank you for taking the time to share your insights and your wisdom with us.

Barry Corey: Thank you. Happy to be on the program. 

Todd Ream: Thank you for joining us for Saturdays at Seven, Christian Scholar’s Review’s conversation series with thought leaders about the academic vocation and the relationship that vocation shares with the Church. We invite you to join us again next week for Saturdays at Seven. 

Todd C. Ream

Indiana Wesleyan University
Todd C. Ream is Honors Professor of Humanities and Executive Director of Faculty Research and Scholarship at Indiana Wesleyan University, Senior Fellow for Public Engagement for the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities, Senior Fellow for Programming for the Lumen Research Institute, and Publisher for Christian Scholar’s Review.  He is the author and editor of numerous books including (with Jerry Pattengale) The Anxious Middle: Planning for the Future of the Christian College (Baylor University Press, September 15, 2023).

One Comment

  • The opening response about the Red Sox immediately shows Barry’s tenacious and fun intellect. Great lead question. The connection to Gordon-Conwell as reference is helpful. “Firm center, soft edges” is useful, esp. with the emphasis on grace (then unpacking this with a walk through biblical precedence for this). I wasn’t familiar with BIOLA stemming from a disenchantment or confidence in the core mission of Occidental. Sounds a bit like Princeton T. Seminary’s reaction in the early 1800s to the college (even though the latter’s crest, I think, still boasts “Dei sub numine viget”). I hadn’t realized the solidity of leadership at Biola–or longevity, with only seven former presidents. I smile hearing Rev. John Perkins quoted (tough skin and tender hearts). The banner on my LinkedIn page is a fun moment with Dr. Perkins at one of our Lumen symposia. Looking forward to Barry’s “Thirteen Burdens.” The “cycling through of students” and their short memory of leaders is a pensive reminder of our ephemeral roles in leadership (the Clyde Cook picture on campus). Yeah, a great shout out to P. Glanzer’s book. Took a minute to think which one given his productivity, but it’s “Christian Higher Education: An Empirical Guide” (Abilene Press, ’23). However, also see “Identity Excellence,” with one of the more memorable covers with converging forces/decisions — lines — forming a single dart hitting a target (RL ’22), and I believe his similar “Identity in Action” book is from the previous year. Great bookend (final) question, and answer — “One does not do well without the other” — referring to the Church / Christian higher education relationship. Yes, “thoughtful leaders will be helpful for the church.” Had to smile, as Barry’s backdrop is sunny southern Cal., and Todd’s is a backdrop (nice, but I assume it was snowing in Marion, IN the day this was filmed).