Where is Trinity Headed?
An interview with President Nicholas Perrin
On October 14, 2020, Trinity’s Director of Alumni Relations Garrett Luck interviewed the University’s 16th president, Nicholas Perrin, about where Trinity is heading. In this interview, President Perrin reconnected with alumni and supporters by answering questions submitted in advance. He also shared about a few evidences of God’s faithfulness on display at Trinity.
Who is President Nicholas Perrin and how did you come to Trinity?
President Perrin: “I am a sinner saved by grace, and I came to Christ as an adult at age 18. I grew up in an unbelieving home in New Jersey. The Lord got hold of me in the high school years, but it was not until my sophomore year of college where it really sank in. I came to Christ and was baptized by the Free Church of Blairstown and have been walking with the Lord since. I have been involved in different types of ministries as pastor, as a parachurch worker, and as a scholar.”
Is Trinity committed to Christian Orthodoxy?
Absolutely. Trinity’s greatest gift is its legacy of commitment, not just to a high view of Scripture, but also to the inerrancy of Scripture. While other institutions are beginning to hold more loosely to that, either in practice, or by having their documents say so, we are doubling down on our commitment to Scripture. We hold our faculty to the highest standard, and if I were to ever sense that we were deviating from that, it is my responsibility. But by God’s grace, Trinity’s going to continue to steer the course of being committed to Scripture and retaining its Christian orthodoxy.
I understand why sometimes we get shots across the bow. We are all about commitment to being pro-life and about traditional views on marriage and issues of sexuality, so we get heat. We are committed to saying, “Hey, here are the Scriptures . . . here is how we read them.” We want to focus on what we are certain about from Scripture—the 10 articles of faith found in the Evangelical Free Church doctrinal statement—and then have charity within those boundaries.
I also want to make sure that I am walking side by side with people who do not look quite like me. We walk with brothers and sisters who have different experiences, and we have to have some interesting and tough conversations at times. Frankly, there are Christians who are threatened by these words and who wonder if this is tied to a political agenda. But I remember Ephesians 2 and the concept of “breaking down the walls.” This is what it means to be the gospel to people.
Why would you change or close the Biblical Studies, Christian Ministries, and now Music Departments?
First of all, this is absolutely no reflection on the quality of the faculty in those departments. It’s about two things—the intersection of mission and sustainability. We always have to live at the intersection of those two realities. If we had all the money in the world, we could “do mission” any way we wanted. The reality is that we all live with finite resources. I believe that God “cuts it out” that way in order to guide us and further our reliance on him. When I looked at the business plan, as it were, in relation to Biblical Studies and Christian Ministries, I felt like we had Patrick Mahomes and Aaron Rodgers both on our team, but we were benching each for half a season. Having two stellar departments both in TEDS and at the College is a wonderful thing. But as an organization we have to be more efficient and good stewards of God’s resources.
Closing the Music program was one of the hardest decisions I have ever had to make. But I’ll tell you what, it’s again about mission and sustainability. When we only have a couple of people coming into that major every year and three full-time faculty, that means we have to transfer that cost over to other students, and over time that just does not seem fair. This is happening to music departments across North America. Many are being cut. This is tragic for me. I love music. I love our music faculty. I love the music tradition at Trinity. We will still have music and worship, but we cannot carry the credited courses any longer.
Earlier this year, you offered a vision for Trinity's future, can you share a little but about what that future looks like?
Our mission is to educate men and women to engage in God’s redemptive work in the world. The question is, “What exactly does that mean?” And here is where we said, “We need to sharpen this up a little bit, and provide a little interpretation of it, given what God is doing and has done through Trinity.” Trinity is pursuing three things in relation to its vision for the future: worshiping in faithfulness, mentoring in hope, and building bridges in love.
The first piece is worshiping in faithfulness. By worshiping in faithfulness here is what I mean: I think of John 4 where Jesus says to the Samaritan woman, “God the Father is looking for worshipers who worship in spirit and in truth.” When I think about truth, I think of the Bible. We just do not live life any way we want. We do not worship “willy-nilly.” In everything we do, we have to ask ourselves, “Do we have scriptural warrant for how we are thinking about this?” I am so grateful that Trinity has held the line on that over the years. Again, we need to continue to hold this line. I want that to be part of our understanding of worshiping and faithfulness.
If we are not worshiping in accordance with God’s Word, it is not the Lord Jesus Christ whom we are worshiping.
Jesus also says that we worship in spirit. Just because we have the truth does not mean that God is automatically going to show up. We need to come into his presence expectantly and be open to God’s leading. We are not interested in perpetuating a sterile orthodoxy. We do not think that by being better theologians we are inherently going to be better Christians. It has to be an act of worship.
Worship also is inherently integrative. We have lots of Christians these days who are very good Christians when it comes to Sunday, and then they struggle to integrate that same faith on Monday through Saturday. And I want to make sure at Trinity that we do not perpetuate this by saying, “Oh, we have a bunch of facts about the Bible or a bunch of theology, but we are not quite sure how that relates to practical theology. You will have to go to the practical theologians and ask them about that.” I believe that if we are really worshiping and see our craft as worship and our disciplines as worship, that problem will take care of itself.
Mentoring in hope is the second piece. One thing that we have done well, but have not explicitly named at Trinity, is the impact of mentoring. I believe that young people need mentoring now more than ever. I think growing up today, kids have a really hard reality that they are walking into on all kinds of levels.
We need anchors. We need mentors in life. All of us do. Mentors who become like compass points. I want Trinity faculty to be there. Only one in five university students nationally reports ever being mentored by a faculty member. I just think that is tragic in college. I told our Trinity College faculty that this will not be our story. We are going to make sure that if someone is looking for mentoring, we are going to be there. The same thing is true for Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Trinity Graduate School, Trinity Law School, and our Florida campuses.
Building bridges in love is the third piece. This is one thing that our society is just doing an awful job on lately—building bridges. Society is great at building silos. Society is great at building echo chambers. Society often does not have the tools to build bridges. Identity politics does not have the tools to build bridges and is frankly not interested in it. Yet, what we have been given is this mandate to knock down the walls in the name of Jesus Christ and to say, “Look, I need to understand you. You do not look like me, you have a different background and experience, so I want to hear more about that, and I want to hear more about your experience of God. And let’s have that conversation in a shared commitment to the Scriptures and just see what happens.”
I also think building bridges means expanding geographically. I think that Trinity has to shift away from “Hey, here is our campus, you all come,” to “Let’s go to the world.” And that means being more robust in our use of online education, both on the undergrad and graduate levels.