One in a series of "President's Perspectives" in which Dr. Richard J. Mouw discusses Fuller's core values.
I had been asked to speak to a gathering of people
involved in theological education. I talked quite a bit about the
church’s global mission, illustrating some of my points with references
to Fuller’s role as a multinational seminary.
During the question-and-answer period, a person rose
to challenge some things I had said. He was a trustee of a seminary
sponsored by one of the mainline denominations, and he said that he
resented my implying that cultivating a sense of global identity was
necessary for theological education as such. “That may be good for
Fuller,” he said, “but not for our seminary. We exist to supply people
to serve in pulpits in our denomination in our part of the country. We
have no need for all of the international emphasis you are talking
Knowing the president and many faculty members from
his seminary, I was confident that they would disagree with his
understanding of their mission. And I was glad that he was one of their
charges—expanding his vision would be an important assignment for them
as theological educators!
At Fuller Seminary we celebrate our multinational
identity and our global calling. Our longtime president David Allan
Hubbard was fond of saying that you could not get off a plane in any
part of the world and be far from a Fuller graduate serving the Kingdom.
At any given time we have 60 or so nations represented in our student
body, and our faculty are actively involved in educational projects
around the world. During this past year they have worked in faith-based
psychology in China, theological education in Mexico, theology and the
arts in Italy, preaching conferences in various African countries,
Jewish-Christian dialogue in Israel, the study of Islam in Lebanon—and
much more. Just a few days before writing this I met with eight of our
Master of Arts in Global Leadership students, gathered for an
“intensive” on our Pasadena campus—they came from Indonesia, Greece,
Canada, the Netherlands, Ghana, the United States, and Jamaica.
Of course, none of that would satisfy the trustee
from the other seminary who challenged my views about a global mission.
All of that is fine for Fuller, he would say, but it isn’t necessary for
other theological schools. What was he missing in his understanding of
Let’s be clear about the fact that it isn’t just
about demographics. True, there is the well-publicized growth of the
Christian community in Africa, Asia, and Latin America, at the same time
that many churches in Europe, the British Isles, and North America are
experiencing drastic membership declines. But it isn’t simply about
numbers. The deeper issue is theological.
In Isaiah 46, the prophet celebrates God’s intention
to regather Israel for faithful service to God’s mission. But he also
hears the Lord giving him a larger assignment: “It is too light a
thing,” the Lord is saying to him, “that you should be my servant to
raise up the tribes of Jacob and to restore the survivors of Israel; I
will give you as a light to the nations, that my salvation may reach to
the end of the earth” (Isa 49:6).
Seminaries also need to hear that “too light a
thing” admonition from the Lord. We do not exist simply to maintain the
status quo. The important question is: What is God’s mission in the
world, and how can we help to equip God’s people to participate
faithfully in that mission?
And the general contours of God’s mission today are
the same as what God described to the ancient prophet: that his
“salvation may reach to the end of the earth.” Throughout the ages the
Lord has continually reminded his people that his plan for the creation
is an expansive one. We in theological education need to hear that
reminder anew today. How do we best serve the cause of the Lamb who is
in the process of gathering “a great multitude that no one could count,
from every nation, from all tribes and peoples and languages” (Rev 7:9)?
The late Japanese-American theologian Kosuke Koyama
once made a point in a speech I heard him give that has stayed with me.
Every Christian, he said, has to decide whether we have a stingy God or a
generous God. I see this also as an important decision for a
theological seminary. Are we serving the mission of a stingy God or a
generous one? Fuller Seminary has from its beginning come down on the
side of divine generosity. This expansive sense of mission led us to
establish, in addition to a theological program, schools of psychology
and mission. This geographical expansiveness motivates the establishment
of a growing network of regional campuses.
And our global vision. In stating our sense of
mission as a seminary, we start with the adjective “evangelical,” and
then immediately go on to “multidenominational, international, and
multiethnic.” That is not a random, disconnected list. To be evangelical
is to be an agent of the evangel, the Good News. And at the heart of
that “news” message is the wonderful announcement that Jesus is a
generous Savior, the Lord over all peoples and nations. To be a seminary
that is faithful to the gospel is to recognize our identity as a
community that claims those “multi-” and “inter-” characteristics.
Our expansive reach as a theological institution,
then, means that we have to think much about our relationship to the
global church. And this has to mean that we are not only teaching the
nations but we are also learning from them. Our sense of global identity
has to make a difference in our curriculum, our patterns of worship,
and the way we construct our broader life together as a community.
I heard the testimony again recently from a student
who was about to graduate from Fuller. “I just want you to know,” she
told me, “how I have been transformed by my time at Fuller. I come away
from my studies here with a whole different sense of who I am. My life
has been changed by Fuller’s diversity.” All of us—students, alumni,
faculty, administrators, staff, trustees—can say “Amen!” to that.
The choir on Charles Fuller’s Old Fashioned Revival Hour
began each weekly radio broadcast singing: “Let the nations now
rejoice. Jesus saves! Jesus saves!” The nations are indeed rejoicing, as
the gospel has spread across the globe in marvelous ways in recent
decades. And Fuller Seminary is rejoicing in what that means for