Paul E. Ralph is in the business of ideas.
The Briercrest alumnus, known as P.E.R. to his friends, leads a team of experienced collaborators at a consulting firm called The Ideas Café (www.theideascafe.com).
“My exact title is chief encouragement officer,” he said with a chuckle. “We offer professional perspective and expertise to nonprofit organizations in order to help them achieve excellence.”
Ralph’s career path from Briercrest to today is full of interesting twists that include representing some very high profile public figures in the U.S, working as a tribunal judge in Ontario, and serving as executive director for the ministries of Dr. E.V. Hill and most recently Ravi Zacharias.
He admits that his Briercrest degree (BRE Theology) from 25 years ago seems an “odd bedfellow” for his life’s work.
“There was a season in my life when I was reflecting on whether my Briercrest years were actually valuable – professionally,” he said. “Did I make the right decision? Did I choose the educational path that most benefitted where I was headed in my life? There was a season where it was difficult to really be clear and honest about that. But I think in the last 15 years, it’s come back into focus. When I look across the history of my professional journey, the influence of Briercrest – professors, lifelong friendships, critical thinking skills – is clearly evident.”
Ralph names several people he encountered at Briercrest who particularly impacted him.
“Jean Barsness expanded my appreciation for the broader world,” he said. “Glen Runnalls introduced me to the value of ‘the individual.’ Cal MacFarlane opened my eyes to the importance of expression and also the beauty of culture.”
The Briercrest alum reserves special praise for one of his professors.
“Dr. Bob Seale – well, there isn’t enough space to commend him for his long obedience in the same direction. Bob gave me permission to ask questions. Bob gave me freedom to explore the Scriptures. Bob gave me space to encounter Christ, patiently. Bob gave me enough rope to fail – but not enough to hang myself. Bob gave me the best gift of all – himself – and not just for four years at Caronport, but for a lifetime.”
The influence of these mentors in his life can be heard as he articulates his life’s passion.
“My passion is to cultivate conversations of unhurried intimacy,” he said. “Conversations that reshape our imaginations, tease out truth, dignify people, embrace love and forgiveness, listen through prayer, savour food and drink, explore artful expression, and to leave enough room for life as we know it to be.”
Working in high spheres of influence sharpened Ralph’s ability to think critically on his feet.
“I absolutely think it’s essential for Christians to thoughtfully communicate – at all levels – with respect, humility and confidence,” he exclaimed. “We have a worldview that’s robust. It’s valid and it’s reasonable.”
This conviction causes him to look favourably on Briercrest moving toward advanced degree-granting status.
“I don’t see it as a threat to Briercrest and its path,” he said. “I actually see it as the natural progression of where Briercrest can be and should be in preparing leaders – not just for academia but I think church pastors also. If Briercrest wants to see itself still as one of the great schools that produce ministers who can speak with authority but also with that biblical sense of rootedness – we need to be robust. I think ministers need to be robust in their ability to communicate intelligently, that is, to communicate sound ideas that come from Scripture in a compelling manner.”
Ralph says his work with Ravi Zacharias helped show him the importance of Christians who are strong in their conviction and in their ability to intelligently communicate.
“Our mission statement was, ‘Helping thinkers believe. Helping believers think,’” he said. “It was stretching in many many ways. I learned with men like Ravi and others that academic excellence enhances the ability to communicate the narrative of Scripture. It confirms conviction, it doesn’t undermine it. Not in the least.”