Richard J. Mouw
Mr. Reeves and other members of the Board of Trustees, Dr. Hubbard, administrative and faculty colleagues, members of the Fuller staff and student body, distinguished delegates and visitors, friends and loved ones:
Fuller Seminary is a restless institution. It was born out of restlessness and it has been sustained by restlessness. When Larry den Besten was Fuller’s provost, he alluded to this restlessness motif when he once likened the task of leading the Fuller faculty to that of managing a stable of thoroughbred horses. And his image applies equally well to other segments of the Fuller community. It was said recently of the new president of another academic institution that he has a mandate from his board to “rein in” his faculty. The trustees at Fuller Seminary are not the kind of people who try to rein things in. They too are a stable of thoroughbreds, well known in the world of theological education for their restless creativity.
And the same can be said of our students and staff and alumni and friends, who are typically attracted to this school because its restlessness matches their own. Fuller Theological Seminary is a community of people who are pawing at the ground, straining at the bit, eager to move on to new challenges. Fuller Seminary, the restless seminary.
“I doubt that we are fulfilling our purpose at Fuller with the talent amassed here, and being a faithful servant of the church, unless we are wrestling at times with problems so difficult that they give rise to controversial and divergent answers. We should be alarmed if all the questions being asked are easy and all of the solutions are simple ones unanimously arrived at.”
— Merlin Call, TNN 54:2, Spring 2007, pp. 4–8. Call has served on Fuller’s Board of Trustees since 1963, and as chair for six of those years.
Our institution was founded by restless people. The title of George Marsden’s history of Fuller Seminary, Reforming Fundamentalism, points to this fact. The founders were dissatisfied with the anti-intellectualism, the other-worldliness, the ecclesiastical separatism of the fundamentalist world. But they were also captivated by the restlessness of fundamentalism at its best: a restless eagerness to bring the joyful sound of the gospel to the nations; a restless dissatisfaction with liberal theology; a restless longing for a healthy Christian impact on the worlds of politics, art, economics, and family life.
David Allan Hubbard’s 30-year presidency was a time of restless innovation. It wasn’t enough to have built an excellent School of Theology: Fuller gave birth to a School of Psychology and a School of World Mission. It wasn’t enough to maintain a strong Pasadena-based campus: Fuller developed a network of vital extension centers. It wasn’t enough to prepare Christian ministers who represented only one gender: the seminary affirmed God’s call to women to fill all positions of leadership in the Christian community. It wasn’t enough to work within the boundaries that normally define a seminary’s mission: Fuller committed itself to “the mission beyond the mission.”
In its evangelical restlessness, the Fuller community has also been strongly inclined to look for restlessness in others. In our programs of missiological and psychological education, in our preparation of men and women to minister in cities, suburbs, and villages, in our education of youth workers and college teachers, in our efforts to work for justice and peace and righteousness in the public realm, in all of this we have emphasized the need to discern—in the midst of the confusion and loneliness and rebellion of a fallen humanity—those deep yearnings that give expression to our fundamental spiritual restlessness. For we believe that the hopes and fears of all the years are indeed met in the child who was born in Bethlehem’s stable.
I have a pledge that I want to make on this occasion of my formal induction into this important position of leadership. I promise that I will be a restless president. I promise that I, too, in the grand Fuller tradition, will paw at the ground and strain at the bit, and be motivated by an eagerness to be on the move.
Actually, evangelical restlessness comes rather easily for me. There was a time in my life, during my years of graduate study on secular university campuses, that I tried very hard not to be an evangelical. I felt that I had been poorly prepared by my evangelical mentors to struggle creatively as a Christian with the painful social and political realities that so deeply affected North American life in the 1960s. Those years of alienation from the spiritual culture that had nurtured me taught me two important lessons about myself:
First, I discovered that I am incurably evangelical, that however much I might receive from other spiritual traditions—and my indebtedness in that regard is great—that no lesson that I have learned in my life has been more significant than the one impressed upon me with a uniquely evangelical intensity by the family members, Sunday school teachers, evangelists, and preachers of my childhood and youth: namely, the importance of coming to grips in a very personal way with that marvelous fact—that awesome fact—that “God so loved the world that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him shall not perish, but have everlasting life.”
The second discovery that I made about myself was that I was going to have to spend my life as an incurably restless evangelical: uneasy about our evangelical tendency to oversimplify complex issues, uneasy with our proclivities toward a pragmatic anti-intellectualism, and uneasy about our arrogant attitudes—our incivility—toward others of God’s children. I am deeply grateful to the Lord that he has allowed me to live and work in two Christian communities—Calvin College and Fuller Theological Seminary—that have supported and encouraged my brand of evangelical restlessness.
From the point of view of biblical Christianity, restlessness is a thing to be valued. St. Augustine rightly located it at the heart of our creaturely condition: “Thou has made us for Thyself,” he prayed, “and our hearts are restless until they rest in Thee.” But we must also be careful not to promote an unbridled restlessness. Some would insist that that is an especially appropriate warning to issue here in California. In 1874 Charles Nordhoff, an itinerant sociologist of sorts, visited our state and recorded these impressions: “A speculative spirit invades even the farm-house,” he wrote, and Californians are too easily tempted “to go from one avocation to another, to do too many things superficially, and to look for sudden fortunes by the chances of a shrewd venture, rather than be content to live by patient and continued labor.”
There is wisdom to be found in these words. Patience is also an important Christian virtue. Restlessness can by itself be a mere nervous fidgetiness. Christian restlessness must be directed towards God’s future, for we know that being restless is not a terminal condition in the Christian pilgrimage. We long for the eternal rest of the new heavens and the new earth, and we patiently await its arrival, knowing that it will come in the Lord’s good time: “We are God’s children now; it does not yet appear what we shall be, but we do know that when he appears, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2). We need to cultivate a patient restlessness in our Christian institutions of higher education as we pursue the important work of educating for service in God’s Kingdom.
“Sincere listening, especially in America’s diverse cultural climate, is one of the best witnesses we can offer. Non-Christians trust that I will not turn them into a conversion project, and that has opened the door for God to teach me through them as well. It does not come at the cost of losing my convictions about Christ’s distinctions.”
— Carrie Graham, TNN 57:2, Fall 2010, p. 14. Graham (MDiv ’09) is cofounder—with Matthew Krabill (MAICS, MAT ’10), Melody Wachsmuth (MAT ’09), and Cory Willson (MDiv ’08)—of the Evangelical Interfaith Dialogue journal at Fuller. Focusing on a different theme in each issue, the journal seeks to create space for evangelical scholars and practitioners to dialogue about the dynamics, challenges, practices, and theology of interfaith work. Find more at http://www.fuller.edu/eifd
The founders of Fuller Seminary were patiently restless. Indeed, one of the things they most wanted for the evangelical movement was a new mood of calm and patient reflectiveness. Such a mood is still needed in our own day, even though there are very different things that need renewing today. Conservative Protestantism’s cultural position is very different now than it was 46 years ago. Pentecostal and holiness congregations, which once stood on the wrong side of the tracks, are now often flourishing ecclesiastical enterprises which occupy the best real estate in town. Evangelicals can be found in positions of leadership in politics, the universities, the entertainment business, and the marketplace.
Our older theological formulations, which reflected an experience of cultural marginalization, do not sit comfortably with today’s prospering, upwardly mobile evangelicals. It should not surprise us that the very Christians who once thought of themselves as a faithful fundamentalist remnant whose theme song was “This world is not my home, I’m just a-passing through” came to describe themselves without embarrassment in the 1980s as a “moral majority.”
The more growing-edge, entrepreneurial groups in the contemporary evangelical community are taking up new challenges that deal with very basic questions. Congregations—especially under the influence of the “megachurches”—are asking such fundamental questions as: What is a worship service? What is a sermon? What is ministry? Seminaries are also being asked to take up these challenges, and to add a few new ones of our own: What is a campus? What is a theological curriculum? How can psychology, sociology, and anthropology better help us to respond to our rapidly changing cultural environment? How can we put new communication technologies to good use in our educational mission?
These are some of the renewal questions that are very much on our minds on this campus these days. And it is important that they be addressed, not out of a spirit of fidgety restlessness, but with a clear sense that our explorations and experiments be guided by concerns that are appropriate to citizens of the Kingdom of God.
“Is there a place where majority culture evangelicals and Latino evangelicals can talk together about [immigration reform]? Is there room for including the undocumented in the conversation? . . . As evangelicals we need to create situations where we can read the Bible together and listen to each other’s stories.”
— Juan Martínez, TNN 55:2, Spring 2008, pp. 17–19. Vice Provost Martínez is a longtime advocate for immigration reform.
One such Kingdom concern is obviously the need for academic quality. One of the unheralded blessings that has visited the world of theological education in recent decades has been the emergence of a strong sense of community among theological schools. There is a tendency to celebrate our own institutional achievements on an occasion of this sort. But it is also important to acknowledge all that we have learned from our colleagues in the larger world of theological education. The Association of Theological Schools has played a crucial role in this regard, helping all of us to formulate common standards of institutional assessment among seminaries. It is gratifying to see increasing numbers of evangelical schools joining in this collegial effort. Fuller Seminary has benefited greatly from this alliance, as well as from the other accrediting networks that are directly relevant to our various programs.
For a seminary, the concern for academic quality cannot be divorced from considerations of theological integrity. This calls for the continuing support of careful scholarship and research. We pursue these matters at Fuller Seminary with the firm conviction that all that we say and do as scholars and teachers must be based on the solid foundation of revealed truth. Evangelical biblical scholars across the board are employing new critical tools in their studies of the Scriptures. This is good and important; it is a cause for which we have labored mightily here at Fuller Seminary. But a high view of biblical authority will always be characterized by a deep devotion to the Bible as the utterly reliable Word from God. As A. W. Tozer was fond of putting it:
“We can use all kinds of tools and methods for getting at the meaning of the Scriptures; but once the meaning is discovered, that meaning judges us—we never judge it.”
It is important to express the firm hope on this occasion that we evangelicals have forever moved beyond the kind of inquisitional crusades that have often been associated with our “battles for the Bible.” But we must also be careful not to lose what has often been a core concern at work in our most conservative defenses of biblical authority: the deep conviction that the Bible does indeed present us with a message that is to be believed by us. To be sure, the Bible is more than a set of propositions that require our cognitive assent: It gives us prayers, dreams, visions, commands, songs, complaints, pleadings, parables, love letters. But it is no less than a message from the living God. And how we respond to what the Bible tells us about God’s dealings with humankind is a matter of eternal significance.
There is no more exciting task in the world of study than to explore the riches of revealed truth. The Bible provides us with motifs and emphases that can be configured and processed and systematized in many different ways. In that sense, theological diversity—especially as that diversity arises out of different cultural contexts and unique communal memories—can actually be a sign of evangelical vitality. To nurture that kind of vitality is an important priority in the mission of a seminary in which persons from more than a hundred denominations and from 80 national and ethnic backgrounds have gathered for biblically grounded preparation for the manifold ministries of Christ and his church.
Another Kingdom concern for an evangelical seminary is exposure to the practical demands of Christian discipleship. Seminaries are academic institutions, but they are unique manifestations of the academy. They are places for training in Christian service, which in our case includes not only service in congregations, but also in parachurch ministries, clinical settings, and contexts which require cross-cultural sensitivities and skills. Seminary education cannot remain aloof from the life of the worshiping and serving church, from the woundedness of families and marriages, from the desperation of the oppressed and the downtrodden. Kingdom education requires that the traffic lanes between the campus and the neighborhoods of the poor, between the campus and the sidewalks on which the homeless wander in desperation and confusion, between the campus and those church buildings where lonely people come for comfort and encouragement, must always remain open.
“The church is growing fastest and strongest in the majority world, so you have to look there and ask who are the people, what are their issues, and who will be able to speak to those groups. . . . We’re trying to have our faculty reflect that changing demographic of the missions world. And that’s not to say Americans don’t have a place—they do—but that diverse voice is important.”
— C. Douglas McConnell, TNN 54:2, Spring 2007, pp. 17–19. McConnell is provost and senior vice president at Fuller, as well as professor of leadership and intercultural studies.
Nor may we, in all of this, ignore the geography of the Kingdom of God. To educate for the Kingdom is to claim our identity as citizens of a community of believers drawn from every tribe and tongue and people and nation of the earth. The pains and agonies of the worldwide Body of Christ must be our own, and we must find new ways to prepare Christian leaders to face the important new challenges that are being posed to us in our rapidly changing community of nations. This is why the heated debate that has taken place on this campus in recent days—over how we can best serve the cause of the gospel in those difficult circumstances experienced by the suffering church in Mainland China—is not an unwelcome disruption of these inauguration events. It is a legitimate and urgent reminder of what it means to educate for the Kingdom of Jesus Christ in the midst of the complexities of our present brokenness.
The capacity to experience these pains and agonies in creative ways points us to yet another crucial Kingdom concern: spiritual formation. It is one of the delightful ironies of the contemporary religious scene that we evangelicals, who as the heirs to various Protestant pietist movements have placed such high premium on the religion of “the heart,” are learning much these days from those Christian groups who have in the past been the primary targets of our pietist protests. Roman Catholics, Eastern Orthodox Christians, and people working for spiritual renewal in the mainline churches—these have in many cases become our teachers in the school of prayer and in the journey toward holiness. These developments signal a new and exciting manifestation of ecumenism in our day.
Seminaries cannot be instruments of spiritual renewal unless they are also communities that are being renewed. And in a time when we are expanding our sense of what a campus is, and promoting more flexible academic calendars to accommodate part-time and commuting students, it is especially important that we give focused attention to new modes of spiritual formation and community life—not only for students and faculty, but also for administrators, staff, alumni, and other persons who are closely associated with the tasks of theological education.
We must also give much thought to the content of our spirituality. Father Henri Nouwen has recently called for the kind of theological education that will provide the church with Christian leaders who know how to reflect “on the painful and joyful realities of every day with the mind of Jesus” so that they can elevate “human consciousness to the knowledge of God’s gentle guidance.”
Those are wise words. The Christian world needs a new sensitivity to the gentle guidance of the divine Ruler. Of course, the “guidance” part of this formula will not be a difficult assignment for evangelicals. We have seldom been reluctant to tell people what we think God wants them to know. And there is a good and necessary impulse at work in this pattern. Christians are indeed called to be agents of the Kingdom. This means that we are commissioned to bring information and guidance that is not of our own inventing. Evangelicals are people who have learned to emphasize certain kinds of things about the Christian religion. And at the center of what we emphasize is the importance for all human beings to encounter the claims and the person of Jesus Christ.
“Fuller has received criticism from the theological right for being too liberal and the theological left for being too conservative. My own view is that we must be doing a lot of things right if we receive criticism from both sides. Fuller has created a third way, theologically speaking—a reconciling middle way—that has room for priests and also for prophets, that seeks to foster a genuine spiritual, theological, and moral consensus in the church and society: In short, it is the way of missional unity.”
— Howard Loewen, TNN 54:2, Spring 2007, pp. 12–16.
This is an important thing for our nonevangelical friends to keep in mind about us. As we enter into new modes of ecumenical partnership, interreligious cooperation, and public service, we will bring this important emphasis with us. We are a people who believe strongly in naming the Savior’s name and witnessing to his power to transform lives. It cannot be otherwise for us.
But we would do well also to emphasize the importance of being emissaries of God’s gentle guidance. I am convinced that this emphasis is especially important in our time. It is my deep hope that the evangelical movement can consciously move into a new dispensation of Christian gentleness, and I sincerely pray that Fuller Seminary can have a role in making that happen. I know that there are occasions when it is important and necessary to speak uncompromising words of judgment and to issue stern calls to repentance. But the world has seen enough of the harsher side of evangelicalism for a season.
And we do have resources available to us from our own tradition to cultivate a spirit of gentleness. Those of us who remember, for example, the spiritual tone of the concluding minutes of a typical broadcast of Dr. and Mrs. Fuller’s Old Fashioned Revival Hour know something of the gentleness of the Savior who “softly and tenderly” calls sinners to come home.
“I am convinced that you and I . . . have been given to each other by God for the outworking of our salvation. . . . it is opponents who keep us serious. . . . Among the evangelicals I have found some of the best minds, most generous spirits, and greatest souls that I have ever encountered.”
— Barbara G. Wheeler, TNN 50:1, Winter 2003, pp. 7–10. Wheeler was then president of Auburn Theological Seminary.
This is, I am convinced, an important time for us to reissue the gentle pleas for God’s wayward children to return home. Several decades ago, the philosopher Martin Heidegger observed that “homelessness is coming to be the destiny of the world.” We are seeing his prophecy being fulfilled in our own day, not only in the very literal homelessness that is so obvious in our cities, but in the general aimlessness of the “postmodern” loss of a sense of identity.
My hope is for a gentle evangelicalism—an empathetic orthodoxy—that can contribute to the renewal of the whole church by working with Christians from a variety of denominations and traditions in the important process of learning and teaching the ways of God’s gentle guidance. This can only be done if we are willing—evangelicals and nonevangelicals alike—to know the mind of the Savior whose heart goes out to the abused and the battered, to those who have been wounded by sexual promiscuity and infidelity, to the victims of racism and anti-Semitism; the mind of the Savior who grieves over the ways in which we are destroyed by our greed and corruption, our superstitions and false teachings, our “ethnic cleansings” and tribal rivalries; the mind of the Savior who weeps for the suffering church in China, for those who are denied religious freedom in Eastern Europe, for the victims of drive-by shootings in our cities, for human lives that are desperate in their loneliness and guilt.
My hope for Fuller Theological Seminary is that it will be a place where men and women will cultivate in new ways the patient restlessness that comes to those who have fled to the Savior for mercy, have felt his tender embrace, and are thereby empowered to serve as willing agents of his gentle guidance in a broken and wounded world. This is what it means, I am convinced, to renew the vision in our own day of educating for the Kingdom.