Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom (1963)

From Hauna Ondrey, ed., “Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom (1963): Full Report with Supporting Historical Documents(all excerpts drawn from the 1963 report):


The 1963 report cover

The human situation, as described in the Bible, is a situation in servitude. Humanity is enslaved to numerous powers: to sin, law, death, and spiritual forces. These debilitating servitudes keep individuals from realizing their own meaning and potential. Enslaved by these powers they cannot discover what God meant them to be. They are not free.

The good news assures us that these many servitudes may be exchanged for one new commanding control—a voluntary bondage to God. Paradoxically, this voluntary bondage to God is freedom itself. For the yielding of one’s life in obedient love to the will of God is the avenue to human fulfillment. In this yielding of self to God, the person discovers their own true destiny. Hereby one becomes what they were meant to be: the servant, the child, the friend of God. To become what one is meant to be, to realize the very purpose for which one is created, that is freedom. Freedom, then, is the gift which comes through obedience to God’s will.

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If we believe that our freedom is found in our conforming to the will of God, then it becomes imperative that we know what that will is. According to the Christian faith, God has revealed his will to humanity in the Bible and supremely in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Hence, the Bible is the avenue to freedom. Its message is God’s word, to which human beings, if they would be free, must respond in obedient faith.

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This understanding of freedom as submission to the will of God was exemplified in the work and teaching of the founders of our denomination… While they were appreciative of the wisdom reflected in the creeds of the church, they saw the creeds to be partial and imperfect summaries of what is said more powerfully in Scripture itself. Therefore, they refused to make any of the written creeds binding in an absolute sense, lest slavish adherence to a creedal statement make it difficult to hear and respond to the full implications of the word for their day. They believed that true freedom came by faith in and surrender to Christ and the word alone….

For them the church was the fellowship of believers and was brought into being through the redemptive work of Christ and the “renewal of the Holy Spirit.” Accordingly, the one basic requirement for membership in the church was the experience of the new birth and a consistent confession of Christ as Savior and Lord…. Thus, our forebears found it spiritually meaningful to live in Christian fellowship with persons holding different doctrinal viewpoints in some important areas as long as their life and spirit witnessed to their submission to Christ and devotion to the word of God.

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If we are to be true to this aspect of our heritage, we should sincerely and faithfully use this principle of freedom as a basic element in our existence as a Christian people in today’s world. To do so we must enter into the stream of present theological discussion and exercise our freedom creatively and helpfully with respect to the issues which now confront the Christian church. The theological concerns of the present moment differ in many respects from those of the past. Although many of the questions now being debated in the church were well known to our predecessors, others have arisen since their day and could not have been known to them. Thus, to say that we may differ only at those points where they permitted differences would be to deny to the present generation the freedom in Christ which prior generations enjoyed. In the basic and central affirmations of the Christian faith there must be unity, but in their expression and interpretation there is room for wholesome divergence. It is, therefore, our duty to approach the areas of theological tension with courage, fraternal understanding, and unfailing devotion to Christ and the Scriptures.

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We maintain this principle of Christian freedom only as we maintain our spiritual vitality, which we have by the grace of God. The problem of maintaining it, therefore, must be approached in a contrite and penitent spirit in which we seek the mercy of God in permitting us to return to him. Out of such an attitude, we pray, will come a renewed experience of the vital life in which we become free children of God under the lordship of Christ as the truth is revealed to us in the Bible.


 Read the full article here

Find the original report here, in the Frisk Collection of Covenant Literature, created and maintained by the Covenant Archives and Historical Library. The Covenant Yearbook excerpts reprinted in the article are available in full through the Frisk Collection of Covenant Yearbooks.

Sneak Peek: CQ 75:3-4 | Covenant Freedom

Much recent dialog has taken place in the Evangelical Covenant Church regarding the nature and limits of Christian freedom. The upcoming double issue of the Covenant Quarterly seeks to both resource and further this conversation, offering historical context and theological application and inviting your responses


Hauna Ondrey, assistant professor of church history at North Park Theological Seminary, offers introduction and annotation to Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom, a report adopted in 1963 by the Annual Meeting of the Covenant Church. The report is reprinted in full with updated language, preceded and followed by the Annual Meeting minutes detailing the report’s origin (1958) and adoption (1963).

“If we are to be true to this aspect of our heritage, we should sincerely and faithfully use this principle of freedom as a basic element in our existence as a Christian people in today’s world. To do so we must enter into the stream of present theological discussion and exercise our freedom creatively and helpfully with respect to the issues which now confront the Christian church. The theological concerns of the present moment differ in many respects from those of the past. Although many of the questions now being debated in the church were well known to our predecessors, others have arisen since their day and could not have been known to them. Thus, to say that we may differ only at those points where they permitted differences would be to deny to the present generation the freedom in Christ which prior generations enjoyed. In the basic and central affirmations of the Christian faith there must be unity, but in their expression and interpretation there is room for wholesome divergence. It is, therefore, our duty to approach the areas of theological tension with courage, fraternal understanding, and unfailing devotion to Christ and the Scriptures.”

From “Biblical Authority and Christian Freedom (1963): Full Report with Supporting Historical Documents”


Michelle A. Clifton-Soderstrom, professor of theology and ethics at North Park Theological Seminary, surveys the historical and theological understanding of Christian freedom within the Evangelical Covenant Church, linking it to other Covenant Affirmations and offering a theological account of, and criteria for, faithful dissent within Christian freedom.

 

“This is the heart of freedom, the commitment that distinguishes the Covenant Church in significant and life-giving ways. The Preamble to the Covenant Constitution celebrates freedom as essential: “Our common experience of God’s grace and love in Jesus Christ continues to sustain the Evangelical Covenant Church as an interdependent body of believers that recognizes but transcends our theological differences.” Growth is painful, and the renewing work of the Spirit is vulnerable. Yet these commitments lie behind the Covenant’s historical commitment to freedom in Christ.”

From “Covenant Freedom: Freedom for All or Free-for-All?”


Stay tuned for the full issue, which goes live this Monday.

Wrap Up & Look Ahead

THAT’S A WRAP

Our May 2017 Quarterly issue commemorated the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation. Sujin Pak expanded her article on the Reformers affirmation of Scripture’s clarity in an interview, in which she shared how the Reformer’s interpretation has impacted her own, and discussed contemporary misunderstandings of the Reformers’ commitment to perspicuity. Stephen Chester evaluated the ongoing usefulness of Reformation readings of Paul and offered a public lecture on “Reading the Bible with Martin Luther after 500 Years,” available online.

UPCOMING

The next issue of the Covenant Quarterly will engage the “Doctrine of Discovery” and its ongoing impact in the church, featuring contributions by Soong-Chan Rah, Mark Charles, Randy Woodley, Jim Sequeira, Lenore Three Stars, Curtis Ivanoff, and Jonathan Wilson. Be in touch to recommend Forum contributors on the theme of congregational vitality – or to contribute yourself. And don’t forget to subscribe to Forum to receive notification when corresponding posts begin.

Sneak Peek: CQ 75:2 | Reformation 500

October 31, 2017, marks the 500th anniversary of Martin Luther’s Ninety-Five Theses, which set into motion the sixteenth century Protestant Reformation. Our latest Covenant Quarterly issue commemorates this watershed movement. 


G. Sujin Pak

G. Sujin Pak, assistant professor of the history of Christianity at Duke Divinity School, discusses what the Reformers intended in their affirmation of Scripture’s perspecuity, how this affirmation was rooted in the concept of justification by faith alone, and how it impacted their understanding of the church’s role in the task of interpretation.

“[The Reformers’] point was not that any person, or even any Christian, has what they need to interpret Scripture in and of their own ability. More specifically, the Reformers’ point was not that by the gift of faith and the Holy Spirit one’s own abilities were purified and empowered. Rather, their very point was that Scripture is clear and accessible not by virtue of any human efforts or abilities, even sanctified abilities, but solely by virtue of the gift of faith through the work of the Spirit – precisely the gift of faith given when one is justified by faith alone. Just as the Protestant Reformers affirmed that only God can initiate faith and do the work of salvation in a person, so also they insisted that only God is the actor in any true interpretation of Scripture.”

From “The Perspicuity of Scripture, Justification by Faith Alone, and the Role of the Church in Reading Scripture with the Protestant Reformers”


Stephen J. Chester

Professor of New Testament at North Park Theological Seminary, Stephen J. Chester, engages with the Reformers’ “new Pauline exegetical grammar” and its relevance for contemporary Pauline interpretation.

“How should we think about the Reformers as interpreters of Paul at the 500th anniversary of their transformation of church and society? Should our interest be antiquarian only, their interpretation of the Pauline letters of value for how we understand the sixteenth century and its conflicts but of little direct interest for our own task of interpreting the New Testament in and for the twenty-first century? Or, at the opposite extreme, do the Reformers provide for us exegetical and theological touchstones, departures from which must be resisted as a falling away from the truth of the gospel? … In my view, neither of these responses is helpful.”

From “Reading Paul with the Reformers”


Read the complete issue here.

An Interview with Mary Miller

Ordained five years after the 1976 vote to ordain women in the ECC, Mary Miller conducted the very first decadal study on Covenant clergywomen. At the 2017 ECC Midwinter Conference in Louisville, Kentucky, Miller was honored with the North Park Theological Seminary Alumni Award for Distinguished Service. I was fortunate to sit down with Miller to discuss the 40-year survey, how it compared to her own findings thirty years prior, and what she hopes for the future of women in ministry in the ECC. Here is a portion of that conversation, lightly edited for publication.


miller-photo

Mary Miller accepting the North Park Theological Seminary Alumni Award for Distinguished Service, January 31, 2017

Mahon: After comparing the results of the forty-year study to your own experience with the ten-year study, what changes do you see that should be celebrated?

Miller: The way the author, Lenore M. Knight Johnson, concluded the study was a celebration. She didn’t say we’re in crisis pain or in the sharp pains of trying to figure it out and feeling rejection, but that there were more celebrations. There still are horrible situations, but there are more good ones. You know, on a percentage, on a holistic, wider vision, that’s really nice to hear. For people in my generation, we have not done anything. We have not gotten anywhere. We have one woman in a church over two hundred. One woman. One, after this many years. You have a tendency to get into a funk about what has not happened rather than what has….

We’re quite adept at saying, “Oh, we have so many women who are ordained!” And we changed it so that it’s not Word and Sacrament and Specialty Ministry – it’s all lumped together. I do affirm the priesthood of believers; I do affirm specialty ministries. But the role that challenges authority is Word and Sacrament – predominately preaching these days, more than other sacraments, with our theology. So I do so very much grieve that. I also really appreciated the author bringing in contemporary readings on the subject, because I don’t know that literature.

Mahon: I also appreciated that Knight Johnson brought in other studies. It’s one thing to look at where we are, but it’s helpful to know it’s not just us. It’s systemic among evangelical denominations.

Miller: Yes. We hardly ever bring in the Holiness Movement, women who were part of their founding. I knew a woman in her nineties from the Church of God in Indiana, Anderson, and they would brag on their women preachers. There is no second-guessing or anything, and I thought, “You know, they’re evangelical.” But we only bring in a certain kind of evangelical.

Mahon: In the ten-year study, you quoted a woman saying, “When I began ministry eight years ago, I did so with full hope that there would be others, women as ‘settlers’ who would follow, surpass, better us ‘pioneers.’ Now I find that hope not just frustrated but pretty much shattered.” As one of those pioneers, have you seen “settlers” follow you? Or do women graduating from seminary today still need to be ‘trailblazers’?

Miller: I would say there are more settlers. There are some who will go into much more difficult situations and take on the challenges….Some [men & women] are not fitted, temperament-wise, to do any challenging – or they challenge itty-bitty things, rather than the main things. There’s some wisdom, and Lord knows, I challenged wrong things. I have some really stupid and embarrassing situations (but I’m not going to tell them!). But you know, you have to pick and choose. You can’t just say that everything is important…

It’s been three years since I was on the Biblical Gender Equality Commission. At my last meeting I distributed a chart depicting the number of female pastors ordained to Word & Sacrament compared to the whole ministerium. That percentage was somewhere around twelve percent at one time. Over the course of forty years it has reduced to about two percent.  It marks a huge change in the landscape of ministers in the denomination. Even if new leadership made women in senior ministry a significant thing – like we as a denomination have done with racial diversity – it would take a long time to restore.

Ministry areas affecting that decrease are hirings for church planting and some of the conference visions rejecting egalitarian relationships. I asked if I could plant a church and was denied. The percentage of solo men to women as church planters is significant. Many of the women accepted are co-pastoring as complementarian planters with their husbands. We keep adding new planters from outside the Covenant who have no commitment to theology of women in senior leadership. I think it is a justice issue that Covenant money is being given predominantly to men for this specialization. Ha! I think I know who would win a class action lawsuit!

Mahon: One of the questions you asked respondents in the ten-year study was, “If you had a magic wand, what would you do with it to aid the progress of women in ministry in the Covenant?” How would you answer that question now?

Miller: I would bring that two percent up to about fifty-one percent.

Mahon: Do you have any advice or encouragement for beginning women pastors and seminary students?

Miller: The world is getting smaller with all the technology, all our relationships and traveling, so find alternate role models, encouragements, skills, and behavior sets. They’re out there and available now, which is different than when I started. You can borrow from other traditions. You can borrow from stories of people who are now known…. I’m going to accept this award tonight on behalf of my husband who paid for my degree and then died. It was an investment that we couldn’t afford, but it gave me my whole life. I’m also accepting it for Victoria Welter. In 1903 she was the first woman to get a theological degree from North Park Theological Seminary, and the class was allowed to vote whether or not she would be in the class picture. They voted no. Now, everybody thinks the story ends there, but the grace is that she became a missionary in China. So, I know that one illustration. It’s insidious, but I’m sure they were very nice about telling her she couldn’t be in the picture. Now, though, there are enough examples like that that we know, as well as the positive ones where they were stout and it worked. In some ways those resources – they don’t do the work for you, but they shore you up and encourage you.


Mary Miller was ordained in 1981, five years after the 1976 vote to ordain women in the Evangelical Covenant Church. She currently serves as the chaplain of Covenant Village of Cromwell, Connecticut

Mackenzie Mahon is an MDiv/MNA dual-degree candidate at North Park Theological Seminary and serves as student assistant for the Covenant Quarterly

Image credit: The Covenant Companion

40 Years of Women’s Ordination: A Study by Lenore M. Knight Johnson

From Lenore M. Knight Johnson’s “Four Decades Later: Credentialed Clergywomen in the Evangelical Covenant Church”:

Campus Forum in Nyvall Hall (image credit: CAHL 15883)

Campus Forum in Nyvall Hall (image credit: CAHL 15883)

After thirty years of the ECC’s ordaining women, Olson and Cannon argued that greater effort should be made to support women pursuing senior level positions, including lead and solo pastoral roles and positions emphasizing preaching. At forty years, this continues to be a barrier for clergywomen. Just 12 percent of respondents are solo pastors, 6 percent senior pastors of multi-staff church, and 2 percent executive pastors, representing similar figures from ten years ago.

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The largest percentage of respondents (30 percent) pastor congregations of 100 members or less. Among the twenty-three solo pastors who responded to the survey, all serve congregations with fewer than 100 members. Twelve respondents currently hold positions as senior pastors of multi staff congregations, one in a church of 200–300 members, three in churches of 100–200 members, and seven in churches with less than 100 members. In other words, women in senior leadership roles primarily pastor smaller congregations.

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Examining outcomes for those seeking a position through the call process, 9 percent (18 women) were called to a senior or solo role (8 of whom listed senior or solo pastor as their preference), and 31 percent of all respondents secured an associate role. Among those in the associate category, 25 percent found positions in Christian formation, 19 percent in youth ministry, 10 percent in pastoral care, and 41 percent of respondents selected “other,” describing positions as worship, formation, and children and family ministries. In other words, while the percentages of women desiring and securing an associate position were fairly similar, this is not the case for those seeking a senior or solo role.

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When asked how supported clergywomen feel or felt by their local church in their first position, 53 percent chose very supported, and 30 percent selected somewhat supported… The regional conference continues to be the level where support is experienced as most lacking for clergywomen. As a respondent stated, “I have found support and contact from the regional conference very limited in my time as a pastor. I have felt especially, given a first [call] as a female senior pastor, more contact would be given. I have found this not to be true. In addition, I have found that, as a pastor in general, outside of district pastors’ meetings there is little contact with respect to the pastoral care of pastors.”

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Additionally, women have struggled in finding jobs and are concerned over the underrepresentation of women at all levels of leadership, spanning congregations, regional conferences, denominational offices, and ECC events such as Midwinter and CHIC. Respondents commented on the fact that, currently, only one woman serves as conference superintendent. Women also expressed significant disappointment that not all churches, fellow clergy, and speakers at denominational events support women in ministry, with statements such as, “It is still accepted that churches do not have to embrace or even believe the biblical teaching on women as pastors.” And finally, clergywomen shared general concern over the broader culture within the denomination, describing the ECC as a “good old boys’ club” and critiquing the persistent use of masculine language.

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If the ECC only draws from half the population to lead its churches, is the denomination truly the best it can be? Are denominational leaders looking beyond the limits of congregational polity and seriously considering ways they can openly and boldly advocate for the exceptional women who are called and gifted to serve the ECC? The structural and cultural changes proposed in this article cannot be viewed as obstacles or burdens but rather as opportunities to make a thriving denomination even stronger. To be sure, change is difficult and often a slow, arduous process. But if the ECC is committed to the position it affirmed in 1976, the denomination and all those who comprise it need to determine if they are willing to do the hard work necessary to keep and support extraordinarily gifted people, create paths toward all levels of leadership, and ensure clergywomen can thrive in all realms of daily life—spiritual, personal, and professional. Until then, these same questions and issues will likely remain for another decade and beyond.

Read the full article here.

Image credit: Covenant Archives and Historical Library (Historical Photograph Collection)

Sneak Peek: CQ 75:1 | 40 Years of Women’s Ordination

The first Covenant Quarterly issue of 2017 is now published. 2016 marked the 40th anniversary of the Evangelical Covenant Church‘s vote in favor of women’s ordination. Four decades later, how is the denomination doing? This issue considers the past, present, and future of women’s ordained ministry in the Covenant.


Lenore M. Knight Johnson

Lenore M. Knight Johnson

Lenore M. Knight Johnson, assistant professor of sociology at Trinity Christian College, presents the results of the forty-year study on Covenant clergywomen.

“While the ECC has made important strides in relation to its stated position on women’s ordination, I argue that a combined focus balancing structural and cultural change is necessary for the denomination to truly break through the barriers clergywomen continue to encounter in their service to the church.”

From “Four Decades Later: Credentialed Clergywomen in the Evangelical Covenant Church


 

Kelly Johnston

Kelly Johnston

Covenant pastor Kelly Johnston surveys the pioneering ministry of Covenant clergywoman and theologian Jean C. Lambert (1940-2008).

“In 1989, on behalf of the board, Lambert wrote ‘an open letter to each woman seeking to obey Christ’s call to ministry in the Covenant Church, both volunteer lay workers in local congregations, and pastors, missionaries, and staff ministers.’… Lambert’s words were both stark, speaking in plain terms about the reality of sexism in the church, and encouraging, expressing solidarity with Covenant women as ministers of the gospel. She admitted that all women in ministry in the Covenant Church were ‘pioneering in a treacherous wilderness.'”

From “Jean C. Lambert: Covenant Pastor, Theologian, Pioneer


 

Denise Kettering-Lane

Denise Kettering-Lane

Denise D. Kettering-Lane, associate professor of Brethren studies at Bethany Theological Seminary, evaluates Philipp Jakob Spener’s beliefs and practices regarding women’s roles in Christian ministry.

“If anything, Spener’s correspondence to women substantially increased over the course of his life. Thus throughout his life he consistently adhered to the notion that developing a more involved laity would result in an improved church, and he recognized that women were part of that laity. While publicly conforming to many social conventions, privately Spener regularly encouraged women’s activities in his correspondence.”

From “Philipp Spener and the Role of Women in the Church: The Spiritual Priesthood of All Believers in German Pietism


Read the complete issue here.

1 Question: Diversity in the Seminary?

Our recent Quarterly issue marked the 125th anniversary of North Park Theological Seminary. In it both Seminary Dean David Kersten and ECC President Gary Walter reflected on the seminary’s future. Toward ongoing conversation, we asked pastors and scholars associated with NPTS to respond to the following question: What implications does or should shifting demographics have on our seminary and its curriculum? We invite you to engage their thoughts – and add your own – in the comments section. You’ll find the comments link below the article title.


sheppard_phillis-isabella“Seminaries by nature have always been affected by the demographic shifts occurring in society – though often with resistance to change. A failure to change the curriculum and the ethos reveals our narrow vision of community. Curriculums and seminary communities have the power to form those preparing for ministry. When the presence of people previously excluded, based on gender, race, ethnicity, and sexuality, does not inspire curricular and co-curricular transformation, then we have essentially failed to become communities of formation for ministry in a diverse and changing world. Our vision for NPTS and the world has to be expansive, loving, and just.” Phillis Isabella Sheppard, former NPTS professor of pastoral care, current chair of the faculty and associate professor of religion, psychology, and culture, Vanderbilt University, Nashville, Tennessee


profile_headshot_mtao“Shifting demographics spotlights the need for continual institutional reform.  Increased racial and gender diversity mandates a thorough internal review to ensure that curriculum, pedagogy, faculty standards, academic affairs, student life, etc., prioritize persons of color and women and treat intersectionality in positive and contextually appropriate ways.  This reform need not sacrifice NPTS’s core convictions arising from a socially-conscious, pietistic, Scandinavian evangelicalism. Rather, interrogating and challenging every area in which white supremacy and patriarchy have become embedded liberates NPTS to be more faithful to achieving its greatest potential while positioning it to remain a standard-bearer for effective theological education.” Mark Tao, NPTS graduate, ordained Covenant pastor, reentering call process, Chicago, Illinois


dr-willie-o-peterson“Hopefully there will be no pressure to trivialize NPTS curriculum for the sake of culture. My first reaction to this Forum question was to imagine the assumption that shifting from a homogeneous population to a diverse one presupposes an automatic curriculum overhaul. NPTS has a legacy of graduating servant leaders for the church. A mastery of the essentials remains requisite for vocational ministry no matter the generation or culture. All ministry candidates need a mastery of the Gospel’s message, and ministry methodology. Future generations will continue to need women and men who are masters of the right message and methods.” Willie O. Peterson, assistant to the superintendent, Midsouth Conference, Evangelical Covenant Church


deasy-cropped“If the purpose of seminary is to prepare all God’s people to minister to all the people whom God loves, then shifting demographics must have an impact. Theological education must be about teaching people to think, translate, and integrate what they are learning in order to serve the world they have been called to. This requires curriculum that is deeply connected to diverse communities of faith, faculty who are interculturally intelligent and engaged, students who are intellectually curious, and a denomination with a vision of theological education that prepares future ministers not for themselves but for all those who are to come.” Jo Ann Deasy, former NPTS dean of students, ordained Covenant pastor, director, Institutional Initiatives and Student Research, the Association of Theological Schools, Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania


How do you believe shifting student demographics should impact North Park Seminary? Join the conversation in the comments section (link located below title). We look forward to dialoging with you.

Walter and Kersten: The Future of NPTS

From Gary Walter’s “I Believe in the Future of North Park Theological Seminary”:

All seminaries, including our own, are navigating precarious times. The three-year, full-time residential model of seminary preparation that has been the standard for decades is under pressure at schools of all stripes. In the meantime, some schools are closing and others are consolidating. When I gather with leaders of other denominations, conversations about the future of theological education are common. No one is confident they have “figured it out.”
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In previous generations, the general consensus held that a seminary degree was the threshold for entering the ministerial vocation appropriately prepared. If you wanted to be in ministry, you went to seminary, just as you went to law school to be a lawyer or medical school to be a doctor. While this is still broadly true, increasingly churches are calling ministry staff based on observed rather than “projected” effectiveness. In some quarters a seminary education is viewed more like an MBA—a value-added degree to enhance the efficacy of those already in ministry rather than the necessary gateway to ensure readiness prior to ministry. This is particularly true for special focus positions such as youth, children, worship, and others, which comprise more than half of all ministry positions in the Evangelical Covenant Church (ECC). The percentage of seminary students already in ministry positions is higher than it has ever been.
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Schools will need to see students as multi-dimensional and not merely consumers of biblical and theological content…. Intellectual preparation is only one dimension of seminary training. It is never less, but it is always more… a comprehensive view of student preparation for ministry must integrate spiritual, character, and skill development… Seminaries will need to be multi-lateral. Effective seminaries of the future will provide instruction by partnering scholars and expert practitioners…

Finally, seminaries will need to be authentically engaged in multi-ethnic realities and opportunities.
From David Kersten’s “Strategic Initiatives: Planning for the Future”:
Nyvall Hall, approximately 1950 (image credit: CAHL 4869)

Nyvall Hall, approximately 1950 (image credit: CAHL 4869)

In the past decade, the seminary classroom has been changing. No longer

are seminary courses filled primarily with those in pursuit of a senior pastor role… In meeting the needs of the changing demographics of the church, we have embarked on a vigorous strategy of “right-sizing” and “right-timing” our master of divinity degree, launching a revised degree in the fall of 2015. This degree requires fewer credit hours, decreasing its cost by 14 percent, with a strengthened and simplified core curriculum and a renewed emphasis on preaching, intercultural studies, and pastoral leadership. While we have reduced the number of credits needed to earn a degree, we anticipate the number of courses taken over a graduate’s
lifetime to increase as the interest in and demand for lifelong learning opportunities grow.
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In addition to denominational partnerships, we are pursuing further opportunities for collaboration with our university colleagues. These include joint teaching between the seminary and the university’s Biblical and Theological Studies (BTS) Department, providing students with a broader spectrum of professors. Also in collaboration with the BTS Department, we envision developing a “fast-track” undergraduate to seminary degree. The seminary currently cross-lists its courses, allowing undergraduates to take seminary classes for undergraduate credit. We hope to expand this partnership, providing undergraduates advance standing toward a seminary degree and making it possible to complete both a bachelor degree and an MDiv degree within five to six years.
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Next spring, in collaboration with Serve Globally and Start and Strengthen Churches, we will begin offering the church planting certificate to the Covenant Church in Taiwan. We also hope to offer our certificates and potentially degree programs to our partner churches in the International Federation of Free Evangelical Churches. These partnerships strengthen the cross-cultural competency of NPTS students and Covenant pastors. As the ECC becomes more reflective of all of God’s people, NPTS intends to be at the forefront of engagement with the world.
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We are researching the viability of a plan that would supply all of our students with a modest interest-free loan to cover their tuition costs. Such loans would come from major initial gifts from donors that will be invested and will also secure a larger credit facility. This would form a captive loan pool to cover seminary tuition, allowing students to defer all payment until graduation. Students would make a modest monthly payment for seven years following graduation. These payments will go back into the loan pool to help replenish funds. Through investment and program management provided by affiliates of the ECC, there is also a significant tuition discount built into the program, and the interest-free nature of the loan reduces the overall costs of seminary further. Students will also be encouraged to form a team of ministry partners to help support a portion of their education, financially and in prayer. These ministry partners can help reduce costs even further while bringing a sense of support and community to the students. Students will be held to minimum standards of performance in order to continue to qualify.
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A highlight for North Park in the area of ecumenical partnerships has been the development of a course taught by Michelle Clifton-Soderstrom at Stateville Correctional Facility in Chicago. This course involves both seminary students and Stateville students learning together. Some Stateville students have expressed the desire to continue their education at North Park after their release. This endeavor shines light on the type of restorative justice we as a community of believers can bring about in our city and world.

Al Tizon: The Graduate

From “The Graduate” by Al Tizon

graduate_procession_in_front_of_old_main_1949

Graduate procession in front of Old Main, circa 1949 (image credit: CAHL 6752)

… If at the end of students’ harrowing theological journey their love for God has not been deepened and strengthened precisely by the transforming process of quality education, then we have failed. In other words, theological education must have a spiritual formation component to it. Without this component, students can study theology devoid of spirituality, devoid of God… Like Paul, graduates finish their grueling, assumption-smashing, paradigm-shifting education with a deeper, stronger, more mature and creative love for the maker of heaven and earth and lover of our souls.

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The graduate also lives and imparts biblical wisdom… after grasping the complicated history of canonization, after analyzing the books via lower and higher criticisms, after acknowledging the disparate accounts and stories that make up Scripture, and even after interrogating some of those stories through a postcolonial lens, graduates still see the indispensable value of the Bible for faith and practice. They even appreciate it more in its ability to guide, encourage, challenge, and correct the people of God on their way to maturity. If graduates leave with more suspicion and deeper disdain than with more respect and reverence for the Bible, their theological education has failed them.
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If seminary does not teach graduates to live creatively in the tension between being in the world but not of it, they will tend either to assimilate in a given culture—perhaps offering at best a nice, non-offensive religious word that affirms all (I’m OK, you’re OK)—or to go against the culture, cultivating a “church versus world” understanding that stands in judgment over those not of the fold. Neither extreme is acceptable. The graduate recognizes this tension and lives in it, thus becoming both a lover and a transformer of culture.
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Graduate and family in front of Nyvall Hall, circa 1965 (image credit: CAHL 6754)

Graduate and family in front of Nyvall Hall, circa 1965 (image credit: CAHL 6754)

Graduates know the inadequacy of private, overly individualistic faith and are committed to participating in Christian community, despite its imperfections, blemishes, and even scandals… Lurking behind the pursuit of unbroken community, the perfect church is a denial of our brokenness, a disengagement with reality, an excuse not to be in deep relationship with others. To be committed to the church is to be committed to real relationships with real people, and quality theological education fosters this commitment… Graduates from the best of what theological education can offer have this commitment to authentic, healthy relationships, to genuine koinonia, to real church.

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This should go without saying, but the hope of theological education must not only include identifying and purging prejudice from the hearts of students; graduates must also become champions of gender equality, racial righteousness, and economic justice. Graduates fight against sexism, racism, classism, and all other injustices, beginning in their own hearts and then extending this fight to society. This affirmation turns graduates into reconcilers in the world, challenging human-made lines in the sand and creating spaces for enemies to embrace.
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And finally there’s humility, with which I have chosen to cap my list. Graduates can be all of the above… but if they are all of this without humility, something has gone awry along the way… Beyond our disability to see perfectly, humility is engendered by recognizing the vastness of God, the mystery of God. Even if we could see clearly, we are confronted with a force, a personality, far more complex than even our most enlightened selves could fully take in. Indeed, the All-Mysterious can be known because of God’s self-revelation in Jesus Christ—but fully known? The impossibility of grasping the fullness of the Divine keeps the graduate forever “walking humbly with God” (Micah 6:8). Let this be true of all of us.