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Wheaton College alumnus to lead school
By Bob Smith and Justin Kmitch | Daily Herald Staff

Philip Ryken

 

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Published: 2/20/2010 1:06 PM | Updated: 2/20/2010 8:58 PM

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Wheaton College has appointed Philip Ryken, senior pastor of Tenth Presbyterian Church in Philadelphia, as its eighth president.

He will begin work July 1.

It will be something of a homecoming for Ryken, who grew up in Wheaton, graduated from the college and frequently wondered if he would return, according to one member of the college's board of trustees.

The trustees voted Friday night to hire Ryken. The college's staff and faculty were informed at a private meeting Saturday morning, about the same time Ryken was telling his church elders of his decision to accept the position.

Ryken graduated from Wheaton College in 1988, joined Tenth Presbyterian as a pastor in 1995 and became senior pastor in 2000.

He also is a member of the college's board of trustees.

His father, Leland Ryken, is an English professor at the school.

"My simple hope is to fulfill my calling as a wise and visionary leader for Wheaton's faculty, staff and students," Ryken said in a written statement. "I pray that during my tenure Wheaton will grow in academic excellence and spiritual vitality so that our graduates are equipped to go out into the world and make a difference for Christ and His Kingdom."

The Rev. D. Marion Clark, Ryken's colleague of 10 years at Tenth Presbyterian, said Ryken told the church's elders he had been approached by the college and decided to take the Wheaton job.

"We were all certainly caught off guard and very much surprised, but I understand that," Clark said. "But we each stood and gave him our blessing and understanding. We recognize he is doing what he believes is God's will."

The 1,500-member congregation will be told of Ryken's announcement after today's services.

Clark said the entire congregation will sorely miss Ryken, who he believes is a great choice for Wheaton College.

"I, reluctantly, can tell you that Dr. Ryken would be a great fit anywhere he went but especially at Wheaton College," Clark said. "Not only is he a great leader, but he is a great listener, a dedicated and hard worker, a consensus builder and a man who takes challenges head on."

Ryken will replace Duane Litfin, who became the college's seventh president in 1993 and announced his retirement plans last March. Litfin will step down in June.

Ryken has a bachelor's degree in English literature and philosophy from Wheaton, a Master of Divinity from Westminster Theological Seminary in Pennsylvania and a Doctorate of Philosophy from the University of Oxford.

Wheaton College officials say he has taught and lectured at universities and seminaries throughout the world and is widely published.

He is married with five children ranging in age from 5 to 17. His wife, Lisa, also graduated from Wheaton in 1988.

In a statement on his church Web site, he wrote, "When I am not playing with my kids, I enjoy shooting hoops, reading writers like Marilynne Robinson and Shusaku Endo, and pondering the relationship between Christianity and American culture."

He was selected by a college committee that worked with CarterBaldwin Executive Search Services. The group's goal was to make a recommendation to the board of trustees by this spring and have the new president in place by July 1.

Members of the committee considered more than 100 candidates and eventually narrowed the field to 11 and then five, one trustee said.

Donald Meyer, co-chairman of the search committee, said the group created a presidential profile based on input from groups within the college community.

"Dr. Ryken was a clear choice, as his gifts and abilities are aligned with those qualities," he said. Wheaton College officials have praised Litfin for keeping the school on track with its historic mission as a Christian liberal arts college with a graduate school and conservatory of music.

They said Litfin has worked to enhance the quality of the school's faculty and been involved in a pair of major fundraising drives since 1994.

Ryken's Tenth Presbyterian Church is in the heart of Philadelphia. The church was founded in 1828 and joined the Presbyterian Church in America in 1981.

Lead: Ryken graduated from Wheaton in 1988