A color wheel of generosity

At the REvangelism conference, Columbia Seminary President Dr. Leanne Van Dyk paints a picture using the true colors of generosity

by Mike Ferguson | Presbyterian News Service

Columbia Theological Seminary President Dr. Leanne Van Dyk addresses the audience before the closing keynote at the Migration and Border Crossings conference in 2019. (Photo by Rich Copley)

LOUISVILLE — “We are going to discover new gifts this afternoon,” Dr. Leanne Van Dyk promised viewers Tuesday during the REvangelism conference. Van Dyk, president of Columbia Theological Seminary, was speaking about generosity, a topic she wrote about for the 8 Habits of Evangelism resource ahead of the conference for which about 150 people have registered.

Generosity, she asserted, “nourishes evangelism as surely as water and sunlight” nourish beautiful plants and flowers, including those all around the Montreat Conference Center, from where the conference is being broadcast.

To illustrate her palette of generosity, Van Dyk employed what she called “the four colors of generosity”: behold, clothe, abide and love. To many of those four colors, Van Dyk assigned three hues.

  • The hues for “behold” are surprise, lament and learning. The Hebrew word often translated in the Bible as “behold” is henneh, as in what the angels say to the shepherds in Luke 2:10. It’s a term that’s used nearly 1,300 times in the King James Version of the Bible, but only some two dozen or so times in the New Revised Standard Version. Henneh, Van Dyk said, is an interjection, “a little verbal signal that something is unique and really interesting.” To behold we have to be open to being surprised. When we’re truly paying attention, we are often led to lament, which “undergirds generosity, which feeds and nourishes evangelism. Lament is in the mix of what makes generosity possible.” And how can we see, she said, if we are not open to learning? “We are creating a palette,” she told viewers, “a color wheel of generosity.”
  • Like Paul, “we clothe ourselves with virtues and habits that lead straight to generosity, which leads to authentic evangelism,” Van Dyk said. “We put on Christian habits and practice wearing them.” A virtue, she said, is a practice “that needs to be continually repeated to become deeply embedded in us. … Generous people give out of habit. It’s second nature, and it’s one of the best evangelism strategies” because “it’s a color deeply attractive to others.”
  • “Abide” has three tints: community, forgiveness and service. “This is the color of bearing one another’s burdens,” Van Dyk said of “abide.” Community is “the primary way we abide with each other.” Forgiveness is the call of the whole community. Service is “the heart of generosity.”
  • The final color of generosity is love. “This is not unexpected,” Van Dyk said, noting that she’s seen a sculpture by an artist from Zimbabwe depicting a close family dozens of times at the Atlanta airport, “and I’m always astounded by this portrayal of familial love.” Expectancy is the first tint of love. “What could possibly happen? It is the bated breath of love,” she said. As for delight, the second hue, “a baby’s squeal of joy is the perfect example,” Van Dyk said. The third hue, patience, is important because the love that undergirds generosity “must be persistent and patient, because God’s timing is not known to us,” Van Dyk said.

If viewers “feel burdened” by all the main headings and subheadings, it’s important to remember they’re not burdens, but responses, just like generosity is a response, “a joyful response of gratitude,” Van Dyke said. “The Christian faith is always prompted by what is God’s extravagant love.”

Van Dyk invited participants into breakout rooms to discuss a handful of questions, then reconvened the group to share their responses.

During the past six years leading Columbia Theological Seminary, Van Dyk said she’s noticed “the generosity of beholding immediately leads to the invitation of love” and “the command to clothe ourselves immediately leads to abiding. Those words are all connected. For me, behold as an invitation to love and patience has been really important, and I’m still at it. I’m still learning.”

In response to one question, Van Dyk said as she has visited and preached to congregations, generosity “is something I sense in 10 seconds … I can sense if a congregation has these virtues of behold, clothe, abide and love in the qualities of hospitality, inclusion and levels of joyfulness and delight. If a baptism is occurring and the baby is crying and the congregation is delighted instead of annoyed, you have a congregation with at least one of these qualities of generosity.” A congregation that builds its budget by asking questions about serving its neighbors and the world “holds itself accountable,” Van Dyk said.

When asked about views ranging from a culture of scarcity to a culture of abundance, Van Dyk confessed to keeping a close eye on Columbia Seminary’s budget and sometimes falling into thoughts of scarcity. “Those of you who are treasurers or business managers might know that feeling as well,” Van Dyk said. She encouraged viewers to “explore what the edges and boundaries of a culture of abundance can be and to keep the culture of scarcity as limited as possible.”

One viewer asked about “empty generosity,” such as simply writing a check, versus “life-giving generosity,” including giving in person. “I don’t think writing a check is empty generosity,” Van Dyk responded. “On a weekly or monthly basis, it can be a very profound act of service and love.” Giving in person “is an additional layer of commitment and generosity, but let’s be aware that sometimes, if we don’t have enough ‘behold’ in us, it can create situations of patronizing relationships or some kind of domination by not being aware of the power dynamics.”

Exercise generosity, she advised, “from an attitude of deep respect, curiosity and beholding.”

The REvangelism conference concludes Wednesday with a talk on teaching and closing worship.

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