Does Diversity Include the Mainstream?

A while back I posted an article entitled The Narrow Middle Ground of Fuller Seminary, which was also published in Fuller's student newspaper. I then e-mailed some of my favorite proffs to get their reaction.

Dr. Ryan Bolger and I have subsequently carried on an e-mail conversation which he gave me permission to post, and which he posted to his blog as well. (i suspect there will be more comments on his site, click here to read them.)

Ryan's point was this: I don't need to talk about the main stream, I need to bring light to other voices.

Dear Professors,

I’ve taken classes with each of you, and really respect you. Just wanted to give you the opportunity to respond (or not) to a blog post of mine which I submitted to the Semi for publication. (no word yet on whether it will be or not) It’s titled The Narrow Middle Ground of Fuller Seminary. Below are a few excerpts and the link.

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 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.

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 believe would.

David Best

From: Ryan Bolger
To: David Best
Subject: Re: The Narrow Middle Ground of Fuller Seminary

David, thanks for your comments. I don’t ever recall snickering, but if I did, I regret it...
Keep in mind diversity is about hearing the voices that are usually unheard or silent. Purpose-driven and Willow Creek are omni-present; I don’t need to teach these ‘principles’ because they are the primary discourse. I believe I serve my students best by questioning the status quo, unveiling the unquestioned assumptions in our churches and culture, deconstructing with an eye to liberation. But I always seek to do this respectfully, and if that is what your plea is about, to that extent I agree with you...
Peace, and congrats on graduating...

From: David Best
To: Ryan Bolger
Subject: RE: The Narrow Middle Ground of Fuller Seminary


You have never disappointed or offended me, and I have learned a great deal from you. I wouldn’t necessarily want you in particular, or any one person to change. I probably did a poor job of communicating my critique in that article.

My critique was of our shared Fuller sub-culture as a whole. Who or what you or any particular proff believes or critiques does not bother me at all. I can’t emphasis this enough. Rather it is what I perceive as group think, and yes, a bit of disrespect, or more often, character creation that concerns me.

Concerning giving voice to the margins, it is our shared value for diversity and giving voice to the margins that prompted that article.

“Purpose-driven and Willow Creek are omni-present; I don’t need to teach these ‘principles’ because they are the primary discourse.” The primary discourse where? Not at Fuller. I’m too busy with my studies here to know what is primary else ware. What I’m hearing here at Fuller is a lot of sameness. I generally like what I hear; it’s what I’m not hearing that give me pause.

At Fuller, the mainstream has become the margin. Bottom line, there is not enough diversity at Fuller, because seemingly everyone is singing the same tune. Like when goth kids wanting to be different all dress differently, the same.

Tell me I’m all wrong, maybe it’s just the classes and proffs I’ve taken, and not Fuller as a whole.

Question for you. Can I publish these and any subsequent e-mails in this thread to my blog with a link to the original article? If not that’s ok.

Thanks for your time.

David Best

From: Ryan Bolger
To: David Best
Subject: Re: The Narrow Middle Ground of Fuller Seminary

David, it is fine if you post these...

Just to continue, I don’t think our role at Fuller is to reinforce mainstream discourse, but to prod, poke holes, agitate, shine a light...Purpose Driven has sold, what, 19 million copies — do we really need to teach more of that? Or do we need to champion the voices typically not heard? So, for me, diversity is not giving mainstream thought a central place — it belongs at the margins at a seminary. If all we did was reinforce previous understandings of church and culture, I think we would be failing in our role as a seminary and our prophetic voice would cease...
Anyway, my two cents!!

David, your forthrightness always impresses me — thanks for speaking up when you see contradictions...
Peace, my friend, and congrats again on graduating...


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