In thinking back over previous blog posts, it occurred to me that we have said a lot about our lives here in southern California–what Pasadena is like, the kinds of people we’re meeting, the sorts of activities in which we’ve taken part–yet we haven’t really said all that much about the thing that brought us here: Fuller Theological Seminary. In fact, I went so far as to share a blog post about things that I had learned outside of the classroom while at Fuller.
But you might be wondering what Fuller itself is like from my perspective, and I’d love to tell you. So far, I have felt nothing but confirmation about coming to Fuller. It is a great school for me to be attending to receive my M.Div. (which is kind of a gateway degree to all things pastoral). Many denominations still require their pastors to receive this particular degree. It also is a common degree taken by those pursuing even higher degrees, so there is a really nice blend of practical education as well as theological reflection contained within an M.Div. program.
Right, you might say, but you could have gotten that degree anywhere. Why go to the other side of the country to get the same degree you could have right down the street? I’m glad you asked. Here are five things about Fuller that set it apart, things that I believe will help to shape me into a more faithful pastor. After all, isn’t that what this is all about?
1. Fuller has a unique voice in the evangelical community. The oft-heard joke around here is that Fuller is too conservative for the liberals, and too liberal for the conservatives. Some see this as a deficit; I tend to see it as a strength. There is deep concern here for academic rigor, but unlike some places, I truly feel as though the academic rigor is always in service of God’s kingdom–not the other way around. This critical reflection sometimes pushes Fuller toward stances with which not everyone in the evangelical community would agree.* However, I feel as though the stance they have taken has given them a vantage point of credibility, both within the church at large as well as with the secular community–a bridge sorely needed in our increasingly secular society. Those in leadership at the seminary have historically set the tone well in this area, and with the inauguration of our new President, Dr. Mark Labberton, I think this will only continue. He is a class-act.
2. Fuller is concerned with the redemption of the total person. The seminary itself is actually composed of three schools: the School of Theology, the School of Psychology, and the School of Intercultural Studies (formerly known as the School of World Mission). Together, these schools address the total needs of people, ministering to one’s entire self. True redemption is not merely a matter of the soul, but also concerns the minds and bodies of people and their social situations. Each one of these schools produces some of the finest scholars and practitioners in their respective fields, and there is much cross-pollination. For example, I plan to take a class next quarter in the School of Intercultural Studies called “Church and Mission in Global Contexts,” discussing the way other cultures envision church and how the church can learn to be a force in whatever context she finds herself. Fuller is particularly good at this because of the next point below.
3. Fuller emphasizes diversity in many forms. I could be wrong, but my sense is that very few seminary communities are as diverse as Fuller. Where else could I share creative writing with a friend whose family originated in the Philippines, have delicious dinners with our neighbors from Vietnam, and meet for prayer each Wednesday with an African American youth pastor? This is teaching me a greater cultural dexterity and offering me a new set of questions to ask when I meet people and engage with them. Further, one unique thing about Fuller is that it offers certain degrees taught entirely in Spanish or Korean. But the diversity does not only deal with race or ethnicity. Each day, I sit next to students who come from literally EVERY denomination imaginable. It really pushes us to refine our own assumptions about our denominational traditions.
4. Fuller attracts some pretty amazing people as students, faculty, and visiting presenters. You would not believe what some of my peers, colleagues, and mentors have done. One of my best friends on campus studied film at USC (“Not that USC,” he is quick to point out. “The University of South Carolina.”). Part of why he is here is to be stretched in how he connects his art with the Gospel. Currently, I have a professor who has produced award-winning work on the relationship between science and religion. The kicker? I studied her work in some of my undergraduate courses in philosophy (at a secular university, mind you). Two people I respect deeply in the Christian community–John Ortberg and Andy Crouch–serve on the Board of Trustees at Fuller. This spring, both N.T. Wright and Miroslav Volf will be presenting on campus within a week of each other (if you are nerdy enough, this should be eliciting goosebumps for you). I could go on and on. But maybe this is the best evidence for my case: one of the former deans of the School of Psychology founded eHarmony. Does it get any better than that?
5. Fuller students are passionate about following Christ. This is the one that really matters at the end of the day. We could talk theology all day long, but if it was for our own ends, all would be for naught. Fortunately, there are a lot of folks here who have some really sweet, bold, audacious, holy dreams in their hearts, and they are fired up to see them be realized in service of the Kingdom. It makes each class a privilege and a joy to attend.
Stay tuned in the next couple weeks for a follow-up post, because I’d love to share with you some of the specific, important things that I’ve learned from my classes thus far.
Until next time,
*Note from above: One example of an issue that some evangelicals would disagree with is Fuller’s refusal to use the word “inerrant” in describing characteristics of the Bible. If you are curious, I’d encourage you to see their entire position on the Bible, outlined here. For the specific issue at hand, read below the heading The Language of “Inerrancy” and its Dangers.