You are currently browsing the daily archive for November 22, 2010.

So far in the series, we have examined an Episcopal seminary, Virginia Theological Seminary and Wisconsin Lutheran Seminary.

Today, we look at an Evangelical institution, Fuller Theological Seminary, which has influenced not only non-denominational churches but aspects of mainline Protestantism as well.

Fuller’s main campus is located in Pasadena, California.  Undoubtedly, its location makes it a magnet for seminary students from all over the world who wish to study near iconic Los Angeles.  For Americans who wish to stay closer to home, Fuller has regional campuses in several other locations in the western US and Texas.

Charles E Fuller (1887-1968) was a native of Los Angeles and spent his life in southern California.  He was a graduate of Pomona College then worked in the fruit packing industry.  He then attended the Bible Institute of Los Angeles (now known by its acronym, Biola) and dedicated his life to the ministry.  He rejected Presbyterianism as did Charles Taze Russell, founder of the Jehovah’s Witnesses.  Fuller became a Baptist minister in 1925.  In 1937, he began his 30-year radio ministry, The Old Fashioned Revival Hour, on the Mutual Broadcasting System initially, followed by the ABC Radio Network.  It was broadcast nationwide.  Jack Chick, of the cartoon Gospel tracts, says he was saved while he was listening to the programme in 1948.

The previous year, Fuller had founded his eponymous seminary in partnership with Harold Ockenga, who was the pastor of Park Street Church in Boston, Massachusetts.  His dream was to make it a ‘Caltech of the evangelical world’.  The idea was to reform American fundamentalism, turning it into what became known as neo-fundamentalism in the 1950s.

Today, its famous alumni include Rick (The Purpose-Driven Life) Warren, Rob (Sex God) Bell, John (The Me I Want to Be) Ortberg, Robert A Schuller (son of the Crystal Cathedral founder) and Bill Bright (founder of Campus Crusade for Christ).  The seminary is now known for advancing the emergent church, missiology, spiritual formation and the church growth movement.  These affect Lutheran, Anglican and Calvinist churches alike.

Past faculty members whose names you might recognise include C Peter Wagner (church growth proponent), Richard J Foster (Quaker mystic) and John Wimber (founder of the charismatic Vineyard Movement and former director of the Charles E Fuller Institute of Evangelism and Church Growth).

Faculty come from all continents and denominations.  Richard J Mouw has served as Fuller’s President since 1993.  He is also Professor of Christian Philosophy.  Coming from a Reformed background, he has a particular interest in the Calvinist concept of common grace (a providential modicum of goodness in mankind which holds society together).  He is also committed to social justice and ecumenism.

Overall impression of Fuller Theological Seminary: Be careful out there.  Between church growth, the emergents, the missiological, the ecumenists and the mystics, these guys have a lot of influence.  Their charm attracts fans from outside the evangelical world and could well be coming to a church near you, if not already.  There is no doubt that Fuller prepares its  students well.  Too well, perhaps.  Too many people from mainstream denominations have been taken in by honeyed words, new concepts and practices that go beyond or against what Scripture says.  I would be surprised if today’s Fuller is quite what its founder had in mind.

Verdict: Be Berean and test against the Bible — your soul might be at risk.

Women candidates for ordination: Yes

Pietism / Healthism index: Nothing about tobacco but a bit of a lecture about alcohol

——————————————————————————————————————–

Purpose and objectives:  Fuller’s School of Theology page quotes Old Testament Professor, James Butler (emphases mine throughout):

We’re a traditional seminary with a strong curriculum, doing traditional things well, but we’re also sensitive to how the Spirit is leading the Church into new forms and new areas of engagement and service in the world.

It adds:

Within its comprehensive approach, the school offers a broad spectrum of courses–more than 175 each year. Students receive a solid grounding in biblical studies, increase their theological understanding and spiritual discernment, and acquire pastoral and other ministerial skills. At Fuller, professors and students alike find a place where they not only can seek answers to questions, but can wrestle–individually and communally, through both study and dialogue-with the big issues of faith, life, and calling.

In discussing cultural engagement on his blog, President Mouw puts forward two different notions;  some readers will walk away with the first, others with the second:

the “accommodating” method … has been typical of much liberal Protestantism.The danger there is to become so wedded to the cultural thought forms that we lose the content of revelation.

… Do we go to war against the culture or do we commit ourselves to marrying it? Neither approach is legitimate, [Paul Tillich] insisted. Correlation—genuine dialogue, listening carefully, and responding faithfully—is the requirement.  That seems right to me.

Some of the courses on offer appear to support what Mouw says in the first paragraph.  Others support his conclusion.  One sees this throughout the site, which is artfully designed to appear conservative and properly theological in appearance, yet has many eye-openers in store for those who dig deeper.  It will appeal to the Jack Chicks of this world on one level and to the Rob Bells on another.

Please remember that these seminary reviews highlight critical issues which might have an adverse effect on the man in the pew.

A selection of courses follows:

SP511 Henri Nouwen: A Spirituality of Imperfection

The description reads:

This course is about the spiritual journey of Henri Nouwen, with particular focus on his integrated ministry approach and his counterintuitive brand of spirituality. First of all, it is a synthesis of Nouwen’s holistic approach to Christian formation–one that integrates spirituality, psychology, ministry, and theology together in a seamless fashion. Secondly, it is an exploration of Nouwen’s spirituality of imperfection which he embodied throughout his lived experience–where the journey toward perfection is through the realities of imperfection.

What’s so wrong with studying a Catholic mystic, you might wonder.  One, mysticism is not mandated in the Bible.  Two, some theologians perceive an inherent deficiency in Protestantism — the lack of ‘spiritual formation’ — which one must remedy with mysticism and extra-biblical practices. Three, mysticism is experiential, not Gospel-driven.  Four, mysticism is a work: unless we engage in it, we are told, we cannot hope to become true Christians, which contradicts what St Paul said (Galatians 3:3, 2 Corinthians 12:7).

ST501 Systematic Theology 1: Theology and Anthropology

Includes texts on feminism and liberation theology as well as on the role of the individual in Christianity.   Students have a set reading list then another of several elective books, from which they must choose one.  Three of these stood out:

Johnson, E. She Who Is: The Mystery of God in Feminist Theological Discourse. Continuum, 1992.

McDermott, G. R. Can Evangelicals Learn from World Religions? InterVarsity Press, 2001.

Cone, J.H. God of the Oppressed. Orbis, 1997.

James Hal Cone is a proponent of separatist black liberation theology, which evolved during his tenure at Union Theological Seminary in New York.  His Wikipedia profile tells us:

His theology developed further in response to critiques by black women, leading Cone to consider gender issues more prominently and foster the development of womanist theology, and also in dialogue with Marxist analysis and the sociology of knowledge.

Yet, Christ came to save all men, ‘Jew and Greek’, all races, all classes, all nations.  We are all equal in His eyes.

There’s more Cone in the next course.

TC511: Theology and Hip Hop Culture

Talk about mixing with the world:

SIGNIFICANCE FOR LIFE AND MINISTRY: Hip hop culture is experiencing a sea change that has implications for everything Christians do, from evangelism to worship and spiritual practices. Still Christians have often not taken the trouble to develop an ability to interpret culture with sensitivity and to adjust their ministry priorities accordingly. This course seeks to provide tools for making this adjustment.

LEARNING OUTCOMES: Students will (1) gain a working definition of hip hop culture; (2) understand the range of theological options and the reasons for this diversity as it relates to hip hop culture and theology; (3) develop their own theology in conversation with hip hop culture; (4) understand the role hip hop culture plays in the construction of a theological frame outside and inside the Christian church; (5) appreciate the importance of interpreting culture and how that can and should inform priorities for ministry.

It appears doubtful that hip hop is going to affect most people today, right now.  Even so.  Imagine calling this course ‘Theology and Trance Music’ or ‘Theology and Club Culture’.  It would be just as absurd.  Why would a pastor or youth minister need to get so involved with such a worldly thing that he would need to take a course in it?  There’s the secular and there’s the religious.  Why would they need to interact?

If we’re making popular, misogynistic culture part of our worship and ‘spiritual practices’, then heaven help us!  We’re going to need God’s mercy.

Here’s part of the reading list:

Cone, James. The Spirituals and the Blues. Orbis Books, 1998. 152pages.

KRS-One. The Gospel of Hip Hop: First Instrument. PowerHouse, 2009. 832 pages.

Morgan, Joan. When Chickenheads Come Home to Roost: A Hip-Hop Feminist Breaks it Down. Simon & Schuster, 2000. 240pages.

PM514 Missional Churches and Leadership

But never mind those courses. This is what has churchgoers in arms, particularly in the United States — diaprax: Hegelian dialectic + transformational Marxist praxis (practice).  Whether they understand the term as such is immaterial; it usually goes under the words ‘transformation’ and ‘change’.  Fuller teaches its students how to achieve this:

DESCRIPTION: This is [a] course on biblical, theological, and practical matters in ecclesiology and leadership. The work of lay and clergy leadership is explored in relationship to congregation formation, spiritual formation, and mission formation. All participants in a church are to be formed into an “interpretive community” that is engaged with God personally and corporately in spiritual formation and in missional life. Working from a praxis-theory-praxis perspective, the course will attend to topics as they are integrated in a practical theology methodology.

SIGNIFICANCE FOR LIFE AND MINISTRY: Concepts: a practical theology approach to the theological praxis of missional ecclesiology and leadership. Skills: theological reflection and interpretive skills relevant to congregational life & leadership. Conation: commitment and habits fronting church development and redevelopment.

‘Conation‘ is the aspect of mental processes directed towardschange.  So, we have workshops, clergy directing a move from Scripture and doctrine towards works, seeker-sensitive focus and lots of lay involvement.  Those who wish to follow Christ in prayer, the Bible, confessions of faith and the creeds will have to go elsewhere.  They haven’t moved with the times in our changing world.

And here’s more:

OD723: Leading Turnaround Churches

It should be noted that the accompanying PDF at the link is a sample only.  However, it’s worth a look:

RELEVANCE FOR MINISTRY:
This course will provide pastors, church leaders and denominational leaders with an understanding of generative change mechanisms and how to harness and indigenize each to your unique situation. As a result, this course will seek to help the leader bring about turnaround change in an effective and unifying manner.

Note the use of words like ‘indigenise’, ‘turnaround change’ and ‘unifying manner’.  Anyone who has undergone this transformation and been on the wrong end of it will have heard they are ‘divisive’ — we must have ‘church unity’ at all costs.

Here are some of the books on the extensive reading list:

Fullan, Michael. 2001. Leading in a Culture of Change.

Greenwood, Royston, and C. R. Hinings. 1996. Understanding Radical Organizational Change: Bringing Together the Old and the New Institutionalism. Academy of Management Review.

Hatch, Mary Jo. 1997. Organizational Theory: Modern, Symbolic and Postmodern Perspectives.

Heifetz, Michael. 1994. Leading Change, Overcoming Chaos: A Seven Stage Process for Making Change Succeed in Your Organization.

Kraft, Charles H. 1991. Communication Theory for Christian Witness.

Ress, Frank. 2006. Enabling Congregations to Become Theological Communities. Evangelical Review of Theology.

Gee, don’t you think Paul and Timothy would have loved those?  The New Testament says  nothing about the size of a congregation, only its faithfulness to Christ Jesus.  Fuller professors would do well to reread Revelation 2 and 3.

EV715 Reinventing Evangelism: New Perspectives on Outreach, Conversion and Discipleship

The PDF indicates this is a sample, nonetheless:

Seminar Description: … the church is seen as the prime evangelizing agency; lay people are understood to be the prime carriers of the message; and pastors are called to be the prime trainers. Furthermore, it will be argued that wholistic evangelism must take into account the variety of ways in which people come to faith and the integral connection between evangelism and spiritual formation (discipleship).

It makes church sound like management consulting — seriously.  (I worked in it for 11 years and recognise the terminology.) Something is very wrong here.

Papers
Prepare the following three, brief reflection papers:
Evaluating a Seeker-Sensitive Service. A number of churches are now experimenting with this new outreach methodology. Attend a seeker-sensitive service and write a 2-3 page paper in which you describe the service (how it is designed, what it does, how it works) and evaluate it on the basis of your reading …
The Footprints of God. In one to two pages describe an experience, other than your conversion experience, in which you were aware of the presence, reality, or working of God.
The State of My Church. An Evangelistic Assessment. In five pages, describe and analyze the place of evangelism in your church or ministry site: what is positive, what is negative, and what might be done. This is a preliminary assessment of your situation. You will write a more nuanced description for your final paper.

Ugh.  It sounds so clinical, like social engineering.  Oh, by the way, the reading material includes Rick Warren’s The Purpose Driven Church!

But wait, there’s more.

OD784: Liquid Leadership: The Art of Contextualisation and Adaptation

Here are some of the learning outcomes from this postmodern course, which involves an exchange with and support from Thailand:

• Students will analyze and develop a new concept of the Church for the 21st century that will enable the Church to become a “church without walls” during this century.
• Students will make a shift from a conventional understanding of the Church to a “movement of people in context” understanding of the Church.
• Students will articulate the nature of transformational development and its relevance to the mission of the Church in their own context – they will develop tools for enabling community transformation.
• Students will be involved in ongoing collaboration to further develop and deepen third culture leadership concepts and approaches to transformational ministry.

‘Third culture’ — a new term for me, too — refers to people who move around the world quite a bit as in the military or the missions.  Those people often feel more of an affinity towards others in the same situation than they do with people from their home or host countries.

Even so, this sounds more like the transformational workplace than Christian ministry.  Does everything have to be so cold and analytical?  We’re talking about souls here, not atoms.

Here is an excerpt from the reading list:

Newbigin, Lesslie. The Gospel in a Pluralist Society.
Note: see especially chapter 12 “Contextualization: true or false”; chapter 13 “No Other Name”; chapter 14, “The Gospel and the Religions”.
Nouwen, Henry. In the Name of Jesus.
Boyatzis, Richard, Daniel Goleman & Annie McKee. Primal Leadership.
The Autobiography of Malcolm X.
Merton, Thomas. The Way of Chuang Tzu.
Sun Tzu. The Art of War.
Volf. Miroslav. Exclusion and Embrace.

Hmm.  A mix of postmodernism, mysticism, radicalism and Machiavellian-type literature.  What does the Gospel have to do with this?

Anyway, I’ll call it a day for now and continue this once I’ve had a nice cuppa and a sit-down.

Tomorrow: Fuller’s effect on the wider Church

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