From the Alumni Board: "a place where 'theology, piety, and social concern do not part company.'"

Jeffrey Oak ’85 M.Div., ’96 Ph.D.
President, YDS Alumni Board

[Editor's Note: Jeffrey Oak ’85 M.Div. ’96 Ph.D. is president of the YDS Alumni Board. We have invited him to periodically share some of his reflections about YDS.]

Thirty-one years ago this month I received my letter of acceptance from the admissions office at Yale Divinity School. I did not open the envelope for several hours because I needed some time to prepare for the anticipated disappointment associated with what I had managed to convince myself was a letter of rejection! 

When I finally did open the envelope and saw the words “congratulations,” a more practical thought took hold: even if my letter of acceptance was in fact a mistake, I would act as if it were not. I would try to live into that reality and ride the wave as long as I could. I’m still riding it! 

So began my relationship with a school whose history, aspirations, and people I have come to love. 

What drew me to apply to YDS so long ago—and what I have come to cherish through my own experience over the years—was what the great church historian Roland Bainton observed in Yale and the Ministry in 1957: throughout the Divinity School’s rich history, “theology, piety, and social concern did not part company.” Today we might reframe Bainton’s insight as YDS’s mutually reinforcing commitments to “intellect, faith, and justice.”

YDS’s, commitment to theological rigor, intellectual integrity, and critical thinking is rooted in its institutional home within one of the world’s finest research universities. The long-standing affirmation of “piety” derives from YDS’s commitment to actively nurture a vibrant community of faith deeply connected to the Christian churches in their splendid variety. And the abiding “social concern” is a determined effort to look outward into the far-flung corners of the world, inspired by the vision of “justice rolling down like waters, and righteousness like an everflowing stream” in order to seek and to find and to render what is due to the “least of these,” those who are economically poor, socially marginalized, systematically forgotten.

YDS’s distinctive role shaping religion and civic life in America and around the world is incomparable. And its alumni play leadership roles in every imaginable domain. I think this is due in large part to the fact that they—we—were all nurtured in a place where “theology, piety, and social concern do not part company.” A rich heritage indeed.


Date Posted: Friday, March 1, 2013 - 9:13pm