Reflections on a Global Seminary

Not long ago, I had the distinct pleasure of speaking at the second graduation of a consortium of graduate schools in Indonesia that is partnering with Fuller Seminary. I found myself in awe of the ceremony’s mixture of Western and Eastern cultural values. To honor a large people group in western Java, the ceremony included a wonderful presentation of Sundanese music and dance. Two young girls—the daughter of a graduate and her friend—were featured in a graceful rendition of the butterfly dance to the accompaniment of the traditional gamelan instruments of bronze, wood, bamboo, as well as drums. This was not the first time I participated in a graduation ceremony, but it was the first one in which dance featured so prominently.

Beside me at the podium were several graduates of Fuller Seminary; three were principals of their respective colleges and one was a local leader whose PhD was from Oxford. Apart from the display of Sundanese culture, the ceremony was like others I have attended. The graduates, receiving a Doctorate of Theology in Mission, marched across the stage to be hooded by their faculty mentor. They were then given a diploma with the seal of the Consortium for Graduate Programs in Christian Studies with the words “in Cooperation with Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Intercultural Studies” prominently displayed.

The intermixing of cultures and ethnicities has become common for Fuller. The seminary has formal relationships with institutions in Australia, China, Kenya, Korea, India, Lebanon, the Netherlands, and until recently Russia, not to mention the individual relationships our faculty have developed with institutions around the globe, and the diversity within the seminary community. Our commitment to embracing the global community is illustrated by the new role of associate provost for diversity and international programs, filled by Dr. Juan F. Martínez.

Fuller is not facing the question of whether to become a global seminary—we decided that when we accepted our mission “to equip men and women for the manifold ministries of Christ and his Church.” The pursuit of that mission led to a presence and reputation that spread around the world. The central question we do face is, What does it mean to be a global seminary? If we are going to take our mission seriously, it will require thoughtful, practical adjustments in order to keep in step with changing global dynamics.

Three Primary Adjustments

The seminary faces many global realities that will require adjustment to its practices. Three highlight the complexities of seeking to provide a sustainable educational resource for the global church. As we explore these issues, we must maintain a creative tension between two requisites for pursuing changes that glorify God. First, we must preserve a genuine humility that accepts the limits of our knowledge and experience with regard to the tremendous challenges that accompany international ministries of the Church, and therefore, our claim to be teachers. Second, we must keep a faith-based hope in the one who calls us to serve the Church cross-culturally. We move forward in the assurance that our limited abilities and resources are offered to the sovereign Lord who is building the Church and calling us as servants. Thankfully, we find ourselves in an exciting period of God’s mission that presents many opportunities, along with some challenges.

1. The first adjustment is to move toward an interdisciplinary approach to serve the growth of the Church. Fuller is an evangelical, multidenominational, international, and multiethnic seminary, dedicated to serving the global church within the limits of our ability and capacity. The seminary’s three schools allow us to respond to a much broader range of needs that fit within our mission, but still we tend to commit to more than we can sustain as we find ourselves asking, How can we respond to these new and exciting opportunities? This is a natural process of a seminary’s growth; however, our capacity has limits. A more missional question is, How should we respond given the most significant needs of the church and our capacity to make a unique contribution? To adequately address this question, we need to move toward greater interdisciplinary approaches that foster continuous learning by the students and faculty alike.

Charles-VanEngen-SIS-Prof-580x700-72dpiThe Latin American Doctoral Program in Theology

by Charles E. Van Engen

During the past forty years, Protestant churches in Latin America have experienced unprecedented growth. This growth has created an urgent need for a new generation of leaders who can disciple all the new believers and involve them in transforming their societies and in sending new cross-cultural missionaries worldwide. As several thousand seminaries and Bible schools have been established, a dire shortage of qualified teachers has arisen. In years past, cross-cultural missionaries from Europe and North America served as the Bible school and seminary professors. Because fewer of them are being sent, there is a shortage of those who will shape the next generation of pastoral leaders in Latin America.

Today, over 400 Latin American mission agencies send more than 6,000 cross-cultural missionaries for world evangelization. . . .

Read more about the Latin American Doctoral Program in Theology »

The case of the Consortium for Graduate Programs in Christian Studies in Indonesia (CCS) illustrates the interdisciplinary adjustment necessary to sustain a program worthy of our efforts. Indonesia has the largest Muslim majority population (estimated at 215 million) of any nation in the world. In comparison, the 2000 census found that Christians were just under 10% of the Indonesian population, a fact disputed as too low by some missiologists. Time correspondents Hannah Beech and Jason Tedjasukmana reported that despite the fact that Muslims are embracing more conservative practices and that the number of terrorist attacks in the name of Islam is increasing, there is a surge in Christianity where “much of the growth comes from Pentecostal and Evangelical conversions.”1

We launched the partnership between the School of Intercultural Studies (SIS) and the CCS in the late 1990s. It was the vision of three Indonesian alumni and SIS faculty members. The purpose of the consortium is “to improve the quality and capacity of Christian leaders in mission who will, in turn, make significant contributions to the advancement of the Church’s mission and theological education in an Indonesian and Asian context.”2 In the early stages of the partnership, SIS and CCS professors taught seminars in contextualization, Islamic studies, anthropology, and theology of mission. The impact of such teaching was observable in the addition of the butterfly dance in the graduation ceremony. Many of those in attendance were Sundanese, a group that boasts a population of more than 30 million, is primarily Muslim, and has a rich tradition in the arts.

The developing partnership has revealed the need for greater breadth in the curriculum. Prosperity gospel teaching by strong charismatic leaders is widespread, particularly in poorer communities. Corruption of the gospel such as this, combined with threats of violent persecution from fundamentalist Islam, makes sound teaching in ecclesiology, public theology, ethics, biblical studies, marriage and family studies, and trauma counseling critical for the church’s maturity.

It is also incumbent on the teachers to be learners as well. Local realities require faculty to move beyond the categories and theorists of their specific disciplines to embrace a broader discourse. For example, the Islamist who is knowledgeable about global Islam must also learn the local folk expressions of Muslim practice. The family therapist whose study includes the effects of trauma from gang violence or natural disasters must be open to learning how interreligious hostilities shape the parameters of human thriving. Similarly, the theologian, whose understandings of the church are shaped largely by the individualism of the Western experience, must learn about the nature and experience of Christian communities as viewed by tribal societies. It is in the process of learning together that the seminary truly becomes global.3 The publication of Global Dictionary of Theology, edited by Fuller professors William Dyrness and Veli-Matti Kärkkäinen, provides evidence of the multiplication of conversation partners in our academic disciplines, an important basis for learning together.4

2. Creative approaches to the delivery of educational resources are an important adjustment. It is much easier to conceptualize creative approaches in this time of greater web-based instructional design. Fuller has changed dramatically in our capacity to offer online education over the past decade. The new initiatives began with work on an online degree focused on students who were in ministry. The Master of Arts in Global Leadership (MAGL) required at least four years of ministry leadership experience for entry. It was designed to bring the cohort together for two weeks at the beginning of the program and for another two weeks eighteen months later to ensure that the students completed their nine core courses together. The remaining nine courses could be completed based on individualized learning plans. The appeal was so great that from the first cohort in 2002, the program quickly grew to capacity with three new cohorts of twenty-six students beginning each year, and with over three hundred students currently enrolled in the program.

In 2010, after two years of dedicated work by the Faculty Technology Council, a number of recommendations were approved by the joint faculty and endorsed by the trustees of the seminary to expand online offerings. The plan included the hiring of an educational technologist to guide the expansion of Fuller’s distributed learning program (filled within the year by Dr. Kevin Osborn); requiring that all new, non-clinical regular faculty teach at least one online course per year; and establishing the new category of affiliate faculty to teach online courses5—all to facilitate offering one hundred online courses per year within three years.

In the twelve months since the approval of the new faculty category by the trustees, Fuller Online courses taught by affiliate faculty rose to 35% with a goal of 50% over the next twelve months. Finally, the number of online courses grew from 65 per year in 2009–2010 to 98 in the coming academic year (2011–2012), two years ahead of schedule.

While the progress in developing creative pedagogical approaches is accelerating, there are two critical issues that require significant attention before we can fully embrace a global vision for delivering educational resources. Both are highlighted by the experiences of the Indonesian consortium (CCS). The first issue is represented by the notation on the diplomas received at the graduation ceremony, “in Cooperation with Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Intercultural Studies.” The presence of this phrase had two primary purposes. One purpose was to note for the accreditation associations under which Fuller operates as a seminary that we are not accrediting these degrees under the rules for formal accreditation. To do so would require significant work on the part the seminary that would touch areas of fiduciary, curricular, and administrative oversight beyond our current capacity. The second purpose was to provide a clear sense of the affirmation of the quality of the program by a recognized international partner for the local seminaries or churches that would hire the graduates. In that sense, it is a desire on the part of CCS affiliates to fulfill similar quality assurance that formal accreditation provides.

Robert-Johnston-Theology&Culture-Prof-600x650-72dpiThe Indian Centre for Advanced Theological Studies

by Robert K. Johnston

Since the inception of PRODOLA in Latin America over a decade ago (see “The Latin American Doctoral Program in Theology”), my wife, Catherine Barsotti, and I have served with Chuck Van Engen on the support board for that program. Concurrently, I was also on the board of the William Carey Heritage Foundation, which was formed to help strengthen theological education in India. India is a complicated place for theological education, in that there are almost no schools that are state-accredited, and though there are ways to get a degree, often it is unrecognized by the state. Moreover, the majority of faculty at these Christian colleges and seminaries lack a doctoral education, never having had the means to study outside the country. Thus, several of us on the William Carey board wondered if we could address the need for more evangelical faculty with doctorates by contextualizing for India the PRODOLA curriculum.

Seeking an Indian university in which to locate such a program, I went . . .

Read more about the Indian Centre for Advanced Theological Studies »

Any involvement in global theological education must work within the creative tension of expectations from the global and local partners. As Jehu Hanciles rightly asserts, “Globalization is unfeasible without localization.”6 While the resources brought by Fuller Seminary are essential to the church, they are also embedded in a set of cultural and theological assumptions that are controlled by Fuller. Every seminar offered, even though it may be readily available to the CCS student, comes through the categories and language of Fuller Seminary. The student, on the other hand, may be fully engaged in Tyrannus Bible Seminary in Bandung, Indonesia, a founding partner of CCS. Fuller courses are taught in English, Korean, and Spanish, while Tyrannus courses are taught in Indonesian. Fuller professors are primarily concerned about the issues facing the church in the West, such as consumerism and sexuality, whether in content or in their illustrations. Tryannus students, however, are concerned about the church in the shadow of the mosque where it faces social marginalization and violent persecution. While English is the language of instruction in the CCS doctoral program, it does not dismiss the significance of the context and linguistic categories.

The second significant issue in developing a global vision for educational delivery systems was identified by the research of John Naisbitt in the early 1980s.7 In observing the transforming impact of technology on American society, he noted two opposing forces at play: “high tech” and “high touch.” His observation was that the more dependent people are on technology, the more there is a corresponding desire for higher degrees of human interaction. One result can be illustrated in our seminary experience—a dynamic increase in the enrollment in our Master of Science in Marriage and Family Therapy and the rapid growth in the demand for online education. This tension between high tech and high touch is embedded in our future as a global seminary.

The high tech/high touch phenomenon is complicated by the differences between individualist and collectivist societies among which Fuller serves. At the surface level, individualist societies readily accept the emphasis on the student as learner, which means that the individual is responsible for her/his own learning. This means that the individual is more likely to speak out in class or post comments online, to work within the deadlines required by the course, and be experienced in writing papers in a format accepted by the Western educational system. Again on the surface, the collectivist societies are more likely to value the dynamics of cohort based learning, group interaction as a medium for sharing ideas, and group identity. At a deeper level, the power of shame in more collectivist societies can have a deterring effect on full participation, resulting in a disproportionate lack of response.

John-Naisbitt-by-D-Klitsie-750x783-72dpiJohn Naisbitt (1929– ) is an American author and public speaker in the area of futures studies. His first book, Megatrends, was published in 1982. The product of a decade of research, the book was on the New York Times bestseller list for two years, has been published in 57 countries, and has sold more than 9 million copies. His 2001 volume, High Tech/High Touch: Technology and Our Accelerated Search for Meaning, questions whether technology is “the tin God of the 21st century” and investigates our interaction with technology through a human perspective of time, play, religion, and art. The volume considers what role technology plays in daily life, and encourages discussion about how biotechnology will alter the future. Technology, he posits, is responsible for “relentlessly accelerating our lives and stirring profound yearnings for a more emotionally satisfying existence.”

Perhaps most importantly in the high tech/high touch experience is the need to supplement the online education with face-to-face interaction on a regular basis. It is difficult to sustain the idea of community among any group of people without the touch of human interaction. This appears to be a universal phenomenon, even though it has unique cultural manifestations, as Naisbitt recognized thirty years ago. To be a global seminary, therefore, Fuller must adjust the way it uses creative delivery systems. We must embrace the hybrid pedagogies that combine online technological systems with the critical aspects of physical presence, thus creating a more robust environment for the full range of human interaction.

3. The third and most obvious adjustment in the light of the previous two is to the financial model of graduate education. The current breakdown of annual income for the seminary operating budget is approximately 80% from tuition, 10% from gifts, and 10% from draw on our endowment. One of the keys to making this model work is student loans. Each year students go through the rigorous process of applying for both subsidized and unsubsidized student loans to pay for tuition and fees. This option is only available to US citizens and is clearly dependent upon the capacity of the individual to repay the loans after graduation. This in itself is a major challenge for the future of higher education, given the current economic challenges. When we consider the relative income of many minority and international students, the realities of our financial model are a major barrier.

Traditional wisdom suggests that in times of economic growth, the goal is to raise the level of gifts and endowment to assume a greater percentage of the budget. For example, a recent gift to our endowment allowed for an additional $500,000 per year for scholarships. This was a tremendous encouragement to the seminary since it provided a much needed boost, with a significant proportion going to minority and international students. In other cases, people have made commitments to provide scholarship assistance on an annual basis to be distributed to particular groups of students, such as Hispanic or African American students. The value of such gifts is immediately realized since the entire gift may be given for tuition assistance. As the scholarship funds increase, the seminary is better able to cover costs of educational operations while also accepting opportunities to partner with the church worldwide to equip men and women for ministry.

But if we are to take seriously the need for a more interdisciplinary approach to education and for more creative delivery systems, we must make deeper changes than simply reallocating tuition revenue from the operating budget. This shifting of funds would have the negative effect of driving up the costs of education. In the case of the first adjustment, the seminary must encourage interdisciplinary approaches to the challenges facing the church, which means incentivizing research, writing, and teaching projects that combine faculty from the breadth of the three schools. This is not without barriers, the most readily identifiable of which are the structures of the academic guilds and the policies for promotion and tenure. For example, including theologians and psychologists in the faculty participation of the CCS in Indonesia as noted earlier would require a significant increase in the amount of funding allocated to the already underfunded faculty travel and development budgets. To achieve this, a serious move to expand our funding sources for the work is necessary. This could include identifying areas of interest from major foundations that can attract research grants, producing new online resources and developing new online courses, and exploring new ways to publish works that address the issues of globalization with the revenues being used to support the interdisciplinary efforts.

The second adjustment raises issues that appear to be counterintuitive for most observers. It is not enough to expand technology-assisted delivery systems in order to provide high quality education for lower cost in our online classrooms. There is a need not only to take the professors and courses to other parts of the globe, but also to continue to bring students and faculty from around the world to our campuses as a way of enriching the collaborative learning so vital to the growth of the church. For the churches in the U.S. to mature, they need leaders who have learned from and with those who serve in the majority world. To do this, those global leaders and students need to be present on our campuses to share not only in what they have learned from experience, but also to bring a different set of understandings to the learning process. For the church to fully draw from the wealth of what God is doing globally, we must engage in a learning community as peers.

There is a serious challenge to this goal that arises out of the increased pressures of the post-911 world. International students are required to provide evidence that they have the funds for their program as part of obtaining a visa. Due to work restrictions that accompany student visas, there is little hope of supplementing their income upon arrival. The seminary is then required to provide sufficient scholarships to meet the funds raised by the student. Efforts to increase funding for the continued recruitment of international and minority students, therefore, becomes a critical aspect of our mission as a seminary.

One exciting new development at Fuller Seminary is the China Studies Center established by President Richard Mouw and recently expanded by a generous endowment gift. In a very unique way, the China Studies Center addresses the need for collaborative learning. Within the charter of the center is the goal of bringing visiting scholars and students to research, teach, and study at the seminary, while also providing for faculty from all three schools to visit China. Professor Al Dueck continues to develop this interdisciplinary approach by leading regular visits of faculty members to China. The China Studies Center is a promising initiative in setting the standard for global engagement as it embraces all three adjustments in it charter.

When I arrived as a student at Fuller Theological Seminary years ago, it never crossed my mind that the most important address of our seminary would one day be or that I would have the privilege of serving as provost during the fruitful years of our globalization. As a global seminary we have a lot to consider. It is comforting to know that God is indeed building the church and that our humble offering is part of that great work.

1. Hannah Beech, “Christianity’s Surge in Indonesia,” Time Magazine, April 26, 2010,,9171,1982223-1,00.html.
2. Taken from “Covenant of Cooperation between Consortium of Graduate Programs in Christian Studies and Fuller Theological Seminary, School of Intercultural Studies,” revised agreement signed June 9, 2006, by C. Douglas McConnell, Dean of SIS.
3. For a more complete discussion of the complexities of globalization on Western Christianity, see Jehu J. Hanciles, Beyond Christendom: Globalization, African Migration, and the Transformation of the West (Maryknoll, NY: Orbis, 2008).
4. W. A. Dyrness and V.-M. Kärkkäinen, eds., Global Dictionary of Theology (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2008).
5. “Affiliate faculty” are those who (1) have a strong relationship with Fuller, preferably Fuller graduates, (2) wholeheartedly embrace the FTS Statement of Faith, (3) abide by Fuller’s community standards, (4) have a commitment to our educational mission, (5) meet the appropriate level of faculty approval, (6) agree to a contract to teach at least 3 courses over 2 years, and (7) receive an increased stipend.
6. Hanciles, Beyond Christendom, 36.
7. John Naisbitt, Megatrends: Ten New Directions Transforming Our Lives (New York: Warner Books, 1982), 35–52.

This article was published in Theology, News & Notes, Fall 2011, “Where In the World Are We? Reflections on Fuller’s Expanding Global Reach.”