Colin Brown: A Gift to Fuller
At the seminary's annual Festival of Beginnings in September, Fuller's Alumni Council honored Dr. Colin Brown, who recently retired from his position as professor of systematic theology, with the 2010 Honorary Alumni Award. Beloved professor, author, and founding associate dean of the Center for Advanced Theological Studies (CATS), Dr. Brown and his teaching have made a deep and lasting impact on the Fuller community.
"Colin Brown has served Fuller with distinction for well over three decades--as an effective teacher, a brilliant scholar, and a devoted churchman, serving his local congregation as an ordained Anglican priest throughout his teaching career," says School of Theology Dean Howard Loewen. "Within the Fuller community he is widely respected, a valued colleague, and always the consummate gentleman."
In 1978, Brown came to Fuller from his native England with his late wife, Olive--who, a well-loved member of the seminary community herself, worked in the Fuller library for 18 years. When he was appointed professor of systematic theology, Brown confesses, "I had to figure out what 'systematic theology' was--in England they do not teach the subject!" He soon concluded that systematic theology was not teaching somebody else's system; it meant, rather, asking three questions over and over again: "What do I believe? Why do I believe it? How do I put these beliefs together? These are," states Brown, "the most important questions one can ask."
To his students over the years, Brown has imparted his deep devotion to the discipline of theology. MDiv student Trent Pettit, knowing of Brown's excellent reputation, jumped at the chance to take the last course he would teach before retiring--and was not disappointed. Pettit was impressed by the way Brown stays humble and open in his study, even after so many years in his field. In class, recounts Pettit, he would often tell his students that he had read something new and changed his mind on a point since the last time they met. "Dr. Brown demonstrated to me what it meant to love my studies, and to allow them to shape my faith," says Pettit. "He expected me to remain curious and serious about theological inquiry even outside the classroom--he expected me to fall in love with it."
In his own love of theology, Brown has one particular passion: the study of the historical Jesus. Currently working on two volumes entitled The Quests of the Historical Jesus, Brown remarks, "When you look at Jesus historically, as opposed to the 'unhistorical Jesus,' lots of things appear in a new light."
And Brown has enabled many others to see things in a new light as well, through his skilled teaching and genuine care for his students. "Dr. Brown changed my theological perspective and brought a paradigm shift," recalls Fuller alumnus Chan Ham. "Now when I hear about issues relating to Christology or systematic theology, I get to think, 'What would Colin Brown say?'"
With characteristic humility and a dash of humor, Brown himself recalls one story from his Fuller experience on a more lighthearted note: "Shortly after I arrived at Fuller," he recounts, "then-President David Allan Hubbard took me out to lunch and asked me what the difference was between 'infallibility' and 'inerrancy.' I told him that I could not see any difference."
"Though etymologically there is no difference," notes Brown parenthetically, "in American Evangelical circles there is a world of difference. Dr. Hubbard must have wondered: What kind of an idiot have we just appointed?"
No idiot but quite the scholar, as it turns out. As he is recognized as a gift to Fuller Seminary, Brown shares that his experience here has, in turn, blessed him. Brown came to Fuller after reaching what he called a professional "dead end" in England--and now, he concludes, "In all kinds of ways, Fuller has meant a new life for me." By naming him Honorary Alumnus, the Fuller community celebrates the ways that Dr. Colin Brown's new life has brought life to countless others as he has served, studied, and loved so faithfully and so well.