Fuller in Between the Church and the Academy

abstact illustraion

Seminaries are, by definition and design, in-between spaces. They have an academic mission, but the measure of their success is in the church and its faithfulness to Jesus. The two institutions that give Fuller Seminary its bearings, the church and the academy, are rapidly changing. Some of these changes are driven by economics; some are driven by culture and politics; some are driven by powerful philosophical and ideological currents that shape, or misshape, society even while they cover their tracks. In times of intense disruption and change, the in-between space of a theological seminary becomes particularly precious for the life of the church. Of the many reasons for this, here I will outline three.

First, the seminary convenes Christian leaders in a space where they are formed for faithfulness in the crucible of contemporary life. In Acts 15, when the early church faced its first threat of division along ethnic lines (a division we still face), we see church leaders step out of their daily work and even travel from home in order to meet, discuss, argue, interpret Scripture, and then strategize a way forward. Of course, Fuller is not a church council, but it is a space distinct from the church for the purpose of reflection, discussion, argument, interpretation, and equipping for the future. As Acts shows us, these spaces are not indulgent; they are indispensable precisely for the ministry of the local body.

Second, the seminary brings leaders into close contact with others who share a heart for the redeeming love and justice of God to reign in our world. In the New Testament, we see Paul go out of his way to widen the circle of influence on local leaders by connecting them to others like Timothy, Priscilla and Aquilla, and Epaphroditus. They each bring their own personalities and convictions to the upbuilding of the church. Fuller’s ranks may not be filled with apostles and their associates, but they are brimming with believers from a stunning diversity of places and experiences. Where else in our world today can church leaders spend sustained, meaningful time in conversation with women and men who live on multiple continents and are engaged in various ministries, but who are all passionate about the proclamation and integrity of the gospel? The global church is stronger because of institutions that bring church leaders together in formative interactions.

Third, the seminary teaches the church to listen to outside voices. Of course, not all outside voices are trustworthy (John 10:5; or just ask the therapists in our midst!). But the existence of the church quite literally stands or falls on its ability to attend to voices outside of itself—most critically, the voice of God as it speaks to us in Scripture and is impressed on our hearts by the Spirit. But we also attend to the outside voices from today and from our past who tell us who we really are, even when we do not wish to hear what they say. Paul’s most famous letter, Romans, is an example of such an outside voice in the New Testament. Paul had never visited the Roman church. He was not its founder. But in his letter, he spoke urgently from the outside into the Roman church’s common life. Fuller is not an apostolic letter, but it is situated outside the local church, for the church, that it might learn to appreciate the way God leads God’s people through the outside voices of ministers, teachers, leaders, counselors, and many others who love God’s people and are devoted to their flourishing.

Fuller, like all seminaries, exists in between the church and the academy. Although it faces in two directions, it is not confused in its aim. It is the flourishing of the church and God’s people that inspires its good work.

Chris Blumhoffer

Chris Blumhofer joined Fuller’s faculty in 2018 as visiting assistant professor of New Testament. He completed his PhD at Duke University in 2017, focusing his research on the significance of John’s engagement with the Old Testament and Jewish traditions. He is the author or co-author of numerous book chapters and journal articles, and has written extensively for general audiences in his prior position with Christianity Today.

Seminaries are, by definition and design, in-between spaces. They have an academic mission, but the measure of their success is in the church and its faithfulness to Jesus. The two institutions that give Fuller Seminary its bearings, the church and the academy, are rapidly changing. Some of these changes are driven by economics; some are driven by culture and politics; some are driven by powerful philosophical and ideological currents that shape, or misshape, society even while they cover their tracks. In times of intense disruption and change, the in-between space of a theological seminary becomes particularly precious for the life of the church. Of the many reasons for this, here I will outline three.

First, the seminary convenes Christian leaders in a space where they are formed for faithfulness in the crucible of contemporary life. In Acts 15, when the early church faced its first threat of division along ethnic lines (a division we still face), we see church leaders step out of their daily work and even travel from home in order to meet, discuss, argue, interpret Scripture, and then strategize a way forward. Of course, Fuller is not a church council, but it is a space distinct from the church for the purpose of reflection, discussion, argument, interpretation, and equipping for the future. As Acts shows us, these spaces are not indulgent; they are indispensable precisely for the ministry of the local body.

Second, the seminary brings leaders into close contact with others who share a heart for the redeeming love and justice of God to reign in our world. In the New Testament, we see Paul go out of his way to widen the circle of influence on local leaders by connecting them to others like Timothy, Priscilla and Aquilla, and Epaphroditus. They each bring their own personalities and convictions to the upbuilding of the church. Fuller’s ranks may not be filled with apostles and their associates, but they are brimming with believers from a stunning diversity of places and experiences. Where else in our world today can church leaders spend sustained, meaningful time in conversation with women and men who live on multiple continents and are engaged in various ministries, but who are all passionate about the proclamation and integrity of the gospel? The global church is stronger because of institutions that bring church leaders together in formative interactions.

Third, the seminary teaches the church to listen to outside voices. Of course, not all outside voices are trustworthy (John 10:5; or just ask the therapists in our midst!). But the existence of the church quite literally stands or falls on its ability to attend to voices outside of itself—most critically, the voice of God as it speaks to us in Scripture and is impressed on our hearts by the Spirit. But we also attend to the outside voices from today and from our past who tell us who we really are, even when we do not wish to hear what they say. Paul’s most famous letter, Romans, is an example of such an outside voice in the New Testament. Paul had never visited the Roman church. He was not its founder. But in his letter, he spoke urgently from the outside into the Roman church’s common life. Fuller is not an apostolic letter, but it is situated outside the local church, for the church, that it might learn to appreciate the way God leads God’s people through the outside voices of ministers, teachers, leaders, counselors, and many others who love God’s people and are devoted to their flourishing.

Fuller, like all seminaries, exists in between the church and the academy. Although it faces in two directions, it is not confused in its aim. It is the flourishing of the church and God’s people that inspires its good work.

Written By

Chris Blumhofer joined Fuller’s faculty in 2018 as visiting assistant professor of New Testament. He completed his PhD at Duke University in 2017, focusing his research on the significance of John’s engagement with the Old Testament and Jewish traditions. He is the author or co-author of numerous book chapters and journal articles, and has written extensively for general audiences in his prior position with Christianity Today.

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