“The centers of Christian higher education will flourish when they are connected to the vine.”
Oklahoma Christian University Alumnus David Bowden accepted the Young Alumnus Award at the 2017 Alumni Banquet Nov. 3 with a speech reflecting on Jeremiah 9:23-24, which says, “Let not the wise man boast in his wisdom…but let him who boasts boast in this, that He understands and knows me.”
Bowden is a 2010 graduate of Oklahoma Christian, author of “When God Isn’t There: Why God is Farther than You Think, but Closer than You Dare Imagine,” preacher and performer of spoken word poems. According to his website, his online videos have over four million views, collectively.
“I think it’s really cool to see recognition in the field of ministry in general and not just in business and things like that,” Bowden said. “But I also think it’s cool to see recognition in arts ministry and not really a popular art form, like music or something like that, but to see poetry kind of recognized in that sense is pretty neat.”
Bowden began writing and performing spoken word poems during his sophomore year at Oklahoma Christian, when he and his friend took a road trip to Chicago, IL. to see a band perform. The opener for the band was a group of spoken word poets from New York City, NY.
“I had never heard that art form before, so it was before it really hit the mainstream, especially in Christian culture,” Bowden said. “I saw that performance and felt like God was saying that’s what he needed me to use to speak to his church. I wrote my first poem on the way back and we found this restaurant and bar that had an open mike night every Wednesday in the Paseo Arts District, so we went there every Wednesday night and did poetry, then every Monday night, we would meet in our dorm room and we would edit each other’s pieces. It was a really formative time for learning the craft.”
According to Bowden, the relationships he made at Oklahoma Christian paved the way for his success and those connections are what bring him to the places he performs.
“It’s crazy to look back and think, ‘Oh, if I didn’t know them, them and them, I wouldn’t even be doing poetry,’” Bowden said.
During Bowden’s acceptance speech, he said the way to make the “centers of Christian higher education flourish” is when “our professors, curriculum, faculty and mission have nothing in which to boast other than the Gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“The recognition of this honor has nothing to do with who I am and what I do, and has all to do with you guys calling out what is nothing more, nothing less than Christ in me,” Bowden said. “I am almost just accepting it on behalf of Christ himself as the giver.”
After leaving Oklahoma Christian, Bowden said he was falling in his faith and he wants current students to have a different experience, spending their time in college learning to see and savor Jesus in all of life and in all of scripture.
“All of the culture spoke of a workspace gospel that was if you perform well enough, then you will be a good Christian,” Bowden said. “Even now, with the Ethos program and Kudos points, it’s like, ‘What is spiritual formation? It’s racking up points by doing good deeds.’ That’s what that culture communicates, and that’s very anti-gospel. I didn’t feel like I was learning to exalt in God through theology. Instead, it became this cold, calculated field of research, and I had to learn to fan into flame my love of Jesus again after leaving.”
In order to improve, Bowden said Oklahoma Christian would benefit from learning how to saturate the culture, curriculum and mission of the university in the centrality of the death and resurrection of Jesus and free grace.
“By not making Jesus the center of everything and showing how everything goes back to Jesus—that what He said in Luke 24 that all scripture was about Him—I believe that’s true,” Bowden said. “If we can underpin our science, and our engineering, and our gaming, and our theology programs, and our chapel, and our spiritual formation—if we can underpin all of those with a central focus on making everything about giving God glory and reveling in the free gift of grace that we’ve been given in Jesus, we would save ourselves from many pitfalls.”