Evangelicalism and Fuller Seminary

Evangelicalism and Fuller Seminary March 30, 2011

I spent a few days this week at my alma mater, Fuller Theological Seminary, promoting a Doctor of Ministry cohort that I’m leading/teaching over the next three years.  Of course, the visit was full of nostalgia for me, including trips to some of my favorite restaurants, and drive-bys of my old residence (the Bresee House) and my employer (Pasadena Covenant Church).  I visited Knox Presbyterian to see my Fuller housemate, Matt Colwell, preach, and I had coffee with another classmate and feminist/evangelical theologian, Linda Peacore.

It was amazing to me how much Fuller has grown since my last visit, which must be at least ten years ago.  There’s a new library, and Fuller has expanded into several new buildings, including a sleek, modern space that houses Student Services and the D.Min. offices, among other things.

I was also honored to give a talk in Travis Auditorium, a spot that hold memories both sublime (the lectures of my late friend and mentor, Bob Guelich) and ridiculous (playing Captain Kirk in the Fuller Follies, alongside Carla Grover Barnhill (Uhura), Matt Colwell (Spock), and Craig Detweiler (expendable Star Trek guy in the red shirt)).

But as I spent time at Fuller, I found myself thinking more and more about Fuller’s location, not in Pasadena, but in the landscape of American Protestantism.  I even had the good fortune of chatting with Fuller president, Richard Mouw, for an hour — a conversation that will remain off the record.

A couple weeks ago, Rich spoke out boldly in defense of Rob Bell’s orthodoxy to the USA Today, and he wrote about that on his blog — comments for which he has received an enormous amount of feedback, both positive and negative.  Just yesterday, he posted again, further clarifying his thoughts.  (I kidded Rich and asked him if this was precedent-setting — would he now publicly defend all Fuller alumni?  He assured me that it was not! 🙂 )

Here’s the thing about Fuller: At it’s best, I think, Fuller Seminary turns out alumni like Rob Bell and Linda Peacore and Miroslav Volf and Matt Colwell and Philip Clayton (with whom I also met yesterday), and, dare I say it, me.

I am very much a product of Fuller.  I’m proud to be a graduate, and I have encouraged dozens of persons to attend Fuller over the years — in fact, it’s the only M.Div. program that I wholeheartedly recommend.  At Fuller, by the like of Bob Guelich and Miroslav Volf and Nancey Murphy, I was taught the methods that have led to the very theological speculations that I regularly make on this blog.  And I was taught the generous orthodoxy about which Rich wrote on his blog yesterday.

But there are, as you can imagine, some Fuller alumni, and even faculty, who have expressed concern about my hiring.  While I don’t know the details, it is almost surely my advocacy for the full inclusion of GLBT persons in the church and in the marriage laws of our society that have irked some people enough for them to protest my role as an adjunct faculty member.

The thing is, when you look down this list of notable Fuller alumni, I can pretty much guarantee you of one thing: Fuller alumnus John Piper is not encouraging anyone to attend Fuller. I doubt that John Maxwell is, either.

But I am.  And I bet Rob Bell is, too.

Fuller holds a unique and somewhat precarious place in the geography of American evangelicalism.  While it continues to produce pastors and scholars who are, dare I say it, generous evangelicals, those more conservative elements within evangelicalism will be discomfited.  They’ll think that something is wrong at Fuller.

But I think that Rob Bell is Exhibit A that something is very, very right at Fuller.

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