The Narrow Middle Ground of Fuller Seminary

The following is a bit long, so here is the summary.

Fuller is intellectually diverse, but not as much as it could be. I don't actually want to change the standards or beliefs of Fuller or the people here. What I do want is the opportunity to dialog with a variety of Christian perspectives. Additionally there is a double standard for non-evangelical and very conservative positions. Fundamentalism is given short rift, while Catholicism and some ethical issues are given a wide berth.

My solution is to bring in adjuncts from across the Christian theological spectrum to teach their positions overtly without endorsement from the seminary. The classes would be electives only and clearly marked as not meeting the theological standards of Fuller. This would give us the opportunity to truly dialog with other positions on both the left and the right, without having to rely on the second hand generosity of the faculty who though they often mean well, can not do justice to an issue or perspective the way a true believer would.

Here are links to what Fuller believes.
What We Believe
Statment of Faith

Let me first say I really love Fuller, and highly recommend it. But, this is about the lack of complete intellectual diversity at Fuller. To be fair, I'm not a scholar, or a graduate of a Christian college, and I didn't "do my homework" before coming here, which may serve to explain some of my disappointment. Additionally let me state for the record that I am not a fundamentalist, even in the best sence of the word. (I actually find some thoroughly unorthodox positions somewhat attractive.) I came here because I knew I wanted to be a pastor, and I knew I wanted a variety of perspectives. Fuller's statement of faith seemed to allow for sufficient diversity, and indeed it does. There truly is a lot of intellectual diversity at Fuller, maybe more than any other seminary, but none-the-less not as much as I thought, and think would be appropriate for the type of place Fuller is striving to be. I don't actually want to change the standards or beliefs of Fuller or the people here. What I do want is the opportunity to dialog with a variety of Christian perspectives.

Here is what I’m getting at. There is a double standard that exists for various views, some of which are not evangelical. Ironically, there is more respect for some positions that are not Evangelical, than for some of those that are.

Catholic theology is thoroughly respected, liberal issues are given room and defended even if officially disagreed with. But dare to ask a question that seems to support a fundamentalist position, (go ahead, ask why women should be ordained) or some un-orthodox, or postmodern position and you will get the brush off. “Oh this must be your first quarter, stick around a while and you’ll realize what a silly question that is.” Is what I often here between the lines. And this in spite of the fact that Catholicism, Reformed theology, Pentecostalism, Dispensationalism, and any other perspective one wants to name are arguably equal distance from each other, one as different as the next.

I want to hear about Catholic views, feminist perspectives and the like, but I also want conservative views given their day. Usually they aren't, and that's unfortunate. Where is the intellectual diversity, and exercise of robust thinking that grapples with all relevant views? Are we really getting a good education if what so many evangelicals believe is given the brush off? How many times have the words Rick Warren, or Left Behind brought snickers or outright laughter? I happen to appreciate most of the critiques of those positions, but what I don’t appreciate is the outright dismissal of positions that are embraced by so many evangelicals. Think about it. In a place where many are preparing for pastoral ministry which will place us in contact with all manner of views, both liberal and conservative, why are we short changing conservatives? Even if one thinks that a given position is the downfall of Western civilization, one must understand one’s opponents. Presently I would argue we do not, nor do we have the opportunity to.

What is further ironic, is that many professors here are educated in secular institutions where anything remotely evangelical is brushed off as being thoroughly unintellectual, but now they do the same thing to conservative evangelicals, fundamentalists, some postmoderns and positions historically unorthodox.

Here's a solution. Bring in outsiders, guest adjunct professors to teach classes from positions that are not evangelical, someone from Notre Dame to teach Roman Catholic theology, or someone from Dallas to teach Dispensational theology, even someone from Claremont to teach early church history from that perspective. We already do this to some degree. A Roman Catholic Fuller alum taught my American Church History class. But what I’m talking about is an adjunct professor overtly teaching her position. This would give us the opportunity to truely dialog with other postions on both the left and the right, without having to rely on the second hand generosity of the faculity who though they often mean well, can not do justice to an issue or perspective the way a true believe would.

So long as the class is clearly described as such in the ECD, and classified as an elective, there would be no surprises. Their could even be a disclaimer at the top of the ECD saying Fuller does not endorse the position, and that the professor has not signed Fuller’s statement of faith. Let me be clear, I am not suggesting that Fuller change its statement of faith or its requirements for hiring full-time professors. I am suggesting that a caveat be made for the sake of something Fuller is known for, dialog. Learning about dispensationalism, or Pentecostalism at Fuller is like learning about the Judaizing opponents of Paul from the New Testament. Currently, Fuller typically gives its students a steady diet of the narrow middle ground.

Let me illustrate the problem more clearly. 85% of Fuller professors, and 65% of Fuller students (That’s a thoroughly unscientific guess.) would have no problem with a class in Roman Catholic theology taught by a scholar-priest, but cringe at the thought of someone from Dallas Theological Seminary being endorsed in any way. That is the problem. At a place that prides itself on diversity and dialog, and wants to be considered an excellent Evangelical institution, we must respect and intellectually understand all Christian positions, especially ones believed by so many Evangelicals, even if we thoroughly disagree with them.


On Lent

My friend Greg had a really good article about the lenten season published in the Semi, Fuller's student newspaper.

My first jolt out of Easter baskets and sunrise services into something much more contemplative regarding Easter and the week leading up to Easter occurred during my sophomore year of college. The Thursday prior to Easter Sunday my Christian theology professor, Dr. Preben Vang, arrived to class wearing a black suit. Some wise-fool, much like myself, blurted out half joking, “Who died?” Dr. Vang did not find this amusing. He stood straight up, looked sternly at the class (we all knew something important was about to happen) and replied, “It’s Maundy Thursday and you have to ask me who died?” I had never heard of this event before, but the point was well taken: Jesus’s death and resurrection affects much more of the calendar than Christmas and Easter.

I won’t say that this one-line, rhetorical question put me on the road to Rome, but it sure did not hurt the journey. Now I revel in every aspect of Holy Week from Palm Sunday to Maundy Thursday to Good Friday to Holy Saturday and, of course, Easter Sunday.

You can read the rest here.


A Psalm by Depeche Mode

Read the following lyrics by Depeche Mode.

Girl of sixteen, whole life ahead of her
Slashed her wrists, bored with life
Didn't succeed, thank the Lord
For small mercies

Fighting back the tears, mother reads the note again
Sixteen candles burn in her mind
She takes the blame, it's always the same
She goes down on her knees and prays

I don't want to start any blasphemous rumours
But I think that God's got a sick sense of humor
And when I die I expect to find Him laughing

Girl of eighteen, fell in love with everything
Found new life in Jesus Christ
Hit by a car, ended up
On a life support machine

Summer's day, as she passed away
Birds were singing in the summer sky
Then came the rain, and once again
A tear fell from her mother's eye

I don't want to start any blasphemous rumours
But I think that God's got a sick sense of humor
And when I die I expect to find Him laughing

Do you find them "blasphemous"?

Juxtpose them with these excerpts from the Psalms.

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?
Why are you so far from saving me,
so far from the words of my groaning?
O my God, I cry out by day, but you do not answer,
by night, and am not silent.
Why, O LORD, do you stand far off?
Why do you hide yourself in times of trouble?
How long, O LORD?
Will you forget me forever?
How long will you hide your face from me?
How long must I wrestle with my thoughts
and every day have sorrow in my heart?
How long will my enemy triumph over me?

You see, this is what I was talking about in the previous post when I said, "makes me feel". We jump too quickly to the good psalms, skipping the ones that are quite congruent with the situations that Depeche Mode narrated.

Does the song get it wrong? At one level yes. But at another level, not at all. It gives voice to the questions we all have, (or will have at some point in time,) questions that have been asked since the begenning. Questions I think we are entirely too quick to answer.

On Fried Green Tomatoes and Death

I just finished watching Fried Green Tomatoes for the first time, and I have to admit, I cried, well, teared up anyway. By the way, Idgie is now officially one of my pastoral role models. The tears I think, were pent up from Larry’s death a week ago, but there was something else there as well.

For some reason I have a fascination with the emotional components of death. I think, what it is, is that death more than anything else cuts through my tough posture, and really makes me feel. Most of the time I choose not to feel, but then with a film like this, I go overboard, and feel all the pain.

There is so much that is just utterly fake in this world, and so much that just doesn’t matter. Death is not one of those things.

I need to add that the way I feel about death is not the evangelical “they're in a better place now” thing. (Though I do believe that's often true.)

No, I hate death.

I hate it very much.

Almost as much as I hate that so much of it, is so damn preventable. And I’m not referring to those 10 o’clock news promos about, “what’s really killing you” which are little better than the tabloids. I’m talking about the real stuff, genocide, abortion, famine, cancer, AIDS, etc…

It seems to me that if God really loved us he would just do away with death. And yes, that is somewhat heretical, but it is somewhat true as well.


Who's to blame for high gas prices?

An interesting article from Fortune.

Politicians propose legislation that would increase regulatory scrutiny of Big Oil -- but fail to mention that voters could maybe give up the giant SUVs.

The idea that prices are set by Big Oil, not the traders at the NYMEX and other global bourses, is a misconception that seems to come into vogue whenever energy prices start making new highs. And putting the blame on OPEC, let alone trying to subject a foreign cartel to U.S. laws, seems to be doing anything but dealing honestly with the problem of too much demand and too little supply here at home.

Read the rest here.

There is no doubt that oil, refining, and gasoline companies are getting rich off the current oil climate. But if you ask me, one needs to take responsibility for what they can control; what they drive, when they drive, (i.e. use a bycicle) and how far they drive/commute.


Whats Orthodox?

An excerpt from a post by Kyle Potter.

If I managed to gather in a room, Al Mohler, Brian McLaren, Benedict XVI, John Zizioulas, Rowan Williams, Donald Miller, John Piper, Kendall Harmon and just for fun added Ambrose of Milan, Clement of Rome, Lord Jesus the Christ, Augustine of Hippo, Martin Luther and John Calvin and asked them each to make a list of the absolute boundaries of Christian orthodoxy, it would be a pretty diverse and often (I daresay) mutually exclusive collection of bullet points.

Read the rest here


Larry had no place to lay his head.

This past week was tough. One of my friends died, his name was Larry. We weren’t close, but it was tough anyway.

He was assaulted about three months ago, which broke his neck. To stabilize the head they screwed a halo to his skull, and attached it to his shoulders. That would have worked well if he had a place to stay, but he didn’t. Our church put him up for a while, but that couldn’t last forever. He would panhandle for money, and usually got enough to stay in a motel, but not all the time. Then two weeks ago he fell and hit his head/screws, which sent him back to the hospital with seering pain. An infection developed and a few seizures later he was in a coma. He was pronounced brain dead two days later.

Jesus replied, "Foxes have holes and birds of the air have nests, but the Son of Man has no place to lay his head." Matthew 8:20

Anyone else want to be like Jesus? - Not me.


Dreams For My School

Check out Ryan Bolger, one of my prof's, dream for the future of Fuller.

All I can say is wow!!!

(click here)



Emerging Church (2)

Mark 9:38-41 "Teacher," said John, "we saw a man driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us." "Do not stop him," Jesus said. "No one who does a miracle in my name can in the next moment say anything bad about me, for whoever is not against us is for us."

So about a year ago I was introduced to the Emerging Church (EC) by a class of that name. I blogged about it at the time here. I’m writing now to correct some of my misconceptions I had at the time. (What is the emerging church? Click here, here and here.)

Since then I have read some of McLaren’s work, Church on the Other Side, and A Generous Orthodoxy, and taken a few more classes on related topics, ones such as Doing Theology in Context, and Church as Mission. And during this last spring break (all of one week) I read Gibb and Bolger’s Emerging Church. So now I have a few more things to say about the topic, most of which is just re-hashing things which, if your at all conversant on this topic, you have already seen somewhere else.

This is my take, my present position in the conversation: I love it, I have some critiques, but I love it.

Why? Because it is seeking to missionally engage a group of people (postmodern culture) that would not darken the door of a church, or have, and got burned. Additionally, although postmodern culture has elements that are anti-Christian, I think it is an improvement on modern culture which is itself very anti-Christian, and which the evangelical church is thoroughly in league with. (Granted, not always to the point of being un-Christ like.) Regardless, postmodernity or whatever comes next is where we are going.

The number one thing I have taken hold of while here at seminary is being missional, a word brought to life by the sentence: people should not have to cross cultural boundaries to come to Christ. Arguably, the EC is doing this better than anyone else in the West.

I’m not sufficiently intellectually or culturally postmodern to truly be full-tilt in that camp, which is ok. If there is anything I’ve learned in the past two years, it’s that authenticity is essential! Culturally I’m in a middle morass, too much of a geek to really engage postmodern culture authentically, too evangelical to be the EC, and too relativistic to be evangelical (with a few fundamentalist and un-orthodox streaks thrown in for good measure). And again, all of this is ok with me. I really don’t get too hung up on what label is most appropriate to slap on my forehead.

One of my biggest misconceptions at my original introduction was that art and candles made one an EC. I critiqued this as being simply a Gen-X seeker sensitive thing. I was right to notice that there are indeed such contraptions, but wrong to put these under the rubric of EC.

All of this being said, I still have some critiques.

I’m a bit concerned about possible EC syncretism with postmodern culture, but that is a challenge for the church in every culture. I’m not entirely sure how to draw the line between being missional, and syncretism, but I’m pretty sure that all of us, fundamentalist, evangelical, postmodern, have some challenges in that area.

Another is putting Jesus first, no really. When I play at theology, I have to question if any person of the trinity should be put in front of another. It tends to lead to a cannon within a cannon, which I have also noticed to be true of some elements of the EC (the gospels come first), but they have rightly critiqued the evangelical church for tending to put the Pauline texts first, or the charismatic/Pentecostal church for putting the Spirit first to the exclusion of others. So it’s an understandable pendulum swing, and even a defensible position.

The argument goes that Jesus was the fullest revelation of God, so he should be more normative than God the Father or God the Holy Spirit, who we arguably know less about. I might point out that we are filled with the Holly Ghost, but let's not get into that.

The last is leadership without control. I’m critiquing this mainly from a practical perspective. As the leaders of Emergent pointed out, someone has to figure out who is going to bring the plates and cups, figuratively speaking. This challenge applies to both the local body, and the conversation/movement as a whole. Some, or even most in the group want this to be purely a conversation. But the formation of Emergent, clearly marks it as, if not a movement, something a little more formed than simply a conversation, a fact which really gets under the skin of some in the conversation.

Some groups as detailed in Gibb’s and Bolger’s book have taken this to an extreme, having very little leadership. But others, having gone there, realize it dosn’t work too well, and are now exercising more control. Again, it’s an understandable pendulum swing. Following so many abuses of leadership by the fundamentalist and evangelical church, it’s not surprizing that many want a form of Christian spirituality, devoid of leadership. However, I think that no leadership can result in just as much if not more spiritual abuse as having a strong leader. (Often what emerges is defacto leadership, an un-named power source that everyone is aware of, but does nothing about. This is very dishonest.)

In conclusion, I want space. Space for the EC to do its thing, and space for the evangelical church to continue to do its thing. And space for the two to learn from each other, and stop throwing stones. There need not be so much of this, particularly since both groups share the same body of Christ, and live in glass houses.

Where am I personally going? How will I function? I want authentic, missional communities. That requires dialog. Dialog with the local community of believers, and dialog with the larger local culture, which is daily becoming global. Spiritual Practices, (which arguably everything is) must be, among other things, authentic. I’m more concerned with that process, authentic dialog taking place, than with what that eventually looks like. I’m certainly not going to buy an EC kit and strap it onto whatever congregation I end up in, but to be fair, I am oriented in that direction, so we’ll just have to wait and see.

Rom 14:4 “Who are you to judge someone else's servant? To his own master he stands or falls. And he will stand, for the Lord is able to make him stand.”

To Skim or Not to Skim

Kyle, a friend of mine here at Fuller said:

"Something I will never do is skim or speed read. To me, it is the most nefarious and detestable act a person can commit! God has to shun this type of behavior. It is just so immoral and destructive for the world..." (Read the rest of his post here.)

And I replied with:

"If ideas were precious, and books contained high quality material, I might agree with you. But as a rule, they don't. Of course there's always the exception to the rule, in which case i agree with you, but those exceptions are few are far between.

Furthermore, there are more important things in life than the latest bright shiny thought on display at a local book store near you, one countered by a dozen other bright shiny thougts, all for $19.99 each. (if your lucky) I could keep going on this $19.99 theme, but then I would be guilty, (or maybee I already am) of the same pontificating I prefer to skim.

But that's just me, you love what you do kyle, and there's nothing wrong with that. Keep up the good work."


Spiritual Disciplines Notes

All of this first part is cyclical, not linear. It is a map, not reality, it is guidance.

The Spiritual Journey
  • Childhood Religion
    • Petition
    • Power
    • Pleasure
    • Pain
  • Adolescent Religion
    • Emotion
    • ntellectual control of God
    • Peer Pressure
  • Awakening
    • The Reality of the Intangible
    • Sense of Call
Via Triplex (4th-6th Centuries)
  • Purgation
    • Learning the virtues, shunning the vices
  • Illumination
    • Maturing, little concession to sin.
    • Moral Integration
    • Great energy for God.
    • Love of Christ
  • Union (with God)
    • In a constant state of sanctification.
    • John of the Cross – Dark Night of the Soul
Protestant Language – Being conformed to the image of God.

Luther tipped the Via Triplex on it’s head. First comes Union, then Illumination, then Purgation.

The Geography (or vocabularly) of Pilgrimage
  • Traditional Protestantism
    • Baptism/Confirmation/Worship & Service
  • Evangelicals
    • Conversion/Discipling/(Possibly a Second Blessing)/Servanthood
  • Pentecostalism
    • Saved/Sanctified/Filled with the Spirit
  • Reformed
    • Justification/A Life of Process Sanctification/Glorification
  • Orthodox
    • Justification/Sanctification/Deification
  • Roman Catholic/Classical Spirituality (4th-6th Centuries)
    • Purgation/Illumination/Union (what was up above)

Imago Dei

A few unedited notes from my first ethics of life and death class.

Imago Dei – In what ways are we made in the image of God.
  • We have been given “dominion”.
    • Anthropocentrism
    • Stewardship
      • Taking care of stuff
      • But it’s not ours
    • This relates to life, because we are to be stewards of all of life, even if something is not human.
    • Rationality – Humans are rational, this is one of the ways we are like God.
  • “Nephesh” – Living Being
    • What does this mean?
    • We have the Spirit of God? (do we all have the Spirit or only believers?)
  • Creation – We are co-creators. Gen 4 – “I have produced a man with the help of the Lord.”
  • As bearers of the image of God, we are reminding the world of God.
  • We are mud, and as such, we are subject to the rules that govern the rest of the mud.