4.26.2006

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.

4 comments:

James Rovira said...

That's wide "berth," not "birth," it's a nautical term.

James Rovira said...

PS Those who tout diversity the loudest are inevitably the most intolerant of all particularisms. The more you really believe what you really believe the less they respect you. On the other hand, if you're a real believer and educated and intelligent on top of that, you appreciate the rarity of other real believers, even if you disagree with what they really believe in. The upshot: an educated fundamentalist is more likely to be tolerant in practice than a diversity seller.

This happens across the boards -- all US institutions everywhere. It's a disease. Fuller is just a theological version of cultural leftliberalism; it is fundamentally intolerant of fundamentally opposing views and will someday ultimately support oppressive laws in the name of freedom.

David Best said...

Thanks for catching that typo James.
I must not have communicated well in this article, because you misunderstand me.

Though in it's support for diversity Fuller does reflect what I perceive happens at more secular institutions, namely the lack of particularism that you speak of, it is not completely dismissive, and will never support oppresive laws. It is throughly evangelical. I just want the opportunity to glean the wisdom of a wider set of traditions.

I said several times I didn't want Fuller to change it standards. I would like it to give us students more opportunities for diverse learning that includes positions further "right" and "left".

Sivin Kit said...

read somewhere you are one of the prof's favorite student :-)