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Theology

Fuller’s Unique Position

Note from Rowland: Here’s an excellent article by Fuller Seminary’s president on the theological ethos of this, my most recent Alma Mater].

Over Someone’s Objections: Fuller’s Unique Position in the World of Theological Education

By Richard J. Mouw

Spring 2007

Most students come to Fuller over someone’s objections. Someone always says we’re either too conservative, or we’re too liberal, or “you’re going to lose your fundamental faith at Fuller,” or “it’s suicidal for a person who wants to be a psychologist to get a PhD at a place called a theological seminary.” Or “if you really care about the missionary enterprise, you ought to go to a different place than Fuller.” I’d like to say, as well, that every board member at Fuller has probably become a board member over someone’s objection, or at least with someone’s warnings ringing in their ears. In light of this, I’d like to discuss our competitive positioning within the world of theological education. How are we viewed in the world of theological education, and how do we view ourselves?

I’ll begin with the School of Psychology. Our competitors are, in fact, every school in the country that offers a graduate degree in mental health service. State University of New York in Buffalo, Cal State Northridge, and West Michigan University, for example, are competitors. But for those who seek a graduate program in psychology or marriage and family issues in a theological setting, they might think of Fuller, Rosemead, George Fox, Wheaton, Seattle Pacific University, Azusa Pacific University, and Regent University. Each of those programs has graduate degree programs in Christian psychology. This is the world of Christian higher education we fit into.

I’ve had good discussions with colleagues about this, and I want to say that Fuller is unique in that crowd of schools in at least three ways. One is that, for most of those institutions, we are the mother school. Our sons and daughters are teaching in those programs in very significant and visible ways. Secondly, we are the one school that emphasizes the PhD degree. Not the PsyD degree and not master’s level degrees, even though we offer them as well. At the heart of who we are is the PhD degree, which leads to a third difference: we are unique among those schools in emphasizing the importance of research. Add to this that we have the only doctoral program in Clinical Psychology, among those schools, that requires a master’s degree in theology as part of the requirements for the PhD. This is one reason I want to emphasize the theological side of our competitive positioning.

The School of Intercultural Studies is in a competitive world that includes Gordon-Conwell, Asbury, Dallas, Biola, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Once again, we tend to be the mother school among them. At places such as Trinity and Asbury, very prominent faculty members—often deans and other faculty leaders in those schools—are our graduates. We were the pioneering program in this area.

With intercultural studies, in fact, our competitors are often “none of the above” schools. For those planning to be a missionary these days, it often means going on a short-term missionary program on the way to doing something else; they don’t see the need to get a master’s or doctor’s degree in order to prepare for those couple of years. The Bible institutes, Moody and others, emphasize practical training for the missionary enterprise.

I will concentrate now on the School of Theology—because, even in the areas of psychology and intercultural studies, if one decides against Fuller, it’s largely because of how Fuller is viewed as a center of theological teaching and scholarship.

Debates that Shaped the Competition: Dallas

In 1947, three schools loomed large as Fuller’s competitors: Dallas, Princeton, and Westminster Seminary. In those early days, when Fuller began, it was often said that we “stole” faculty away from Wheaton and Gordon. Paul Jewett, George Eldon Ladd, and some of our other early faculty members came to Fuller Seminary from both Wheaton College and Gordon Seminary (at the time it was called Gordon, not Gordon-Conwell). There is a whole history there. For now, I will explain why I am instead singling out Princeton, Dallas, and Westminster as our competitors.

Dallas Seminary was very much on the map. Today, Frank Freed will often tell me that when he was planning to come to seminary, his family wanted him to come to Dallas. He decided to come to Fuller, and they really worried about his soul. I’ve heard that story over and over again from others as well: that, in those early days, it was Dallas versus Fuller. What was going on in 1947 and following? At the time Dallas Seminary was the bastion of dispensationalist theology—and continued to be so for a number of decades. Those of us who grew up in a world in which Dallas dispensationalism was very much an option know that the dispensationalist theology was based on an understanding of organizing biblical materials along the lines of, usually, seven dispensations. The word dispensation comes from the Latin word dispensatio, which was the Latin Vulgate word for “economies.”

Dispensationalism held that there were seven different salvific economies—that is, seven different ways in the Scriptures by which a human being could be right with God. The first dispensation is “innocence”; in the garden, people only needed to maintain the fellowship with God for which they had been created, walking with God in the cool of the evening. As long as they kept their innocence, they were right with God. This dispensation ended when they fell. The second dispensation is “conscience,” which reigned from Adam to Noah; the focus was on doing what is right in one’s own eyes, according to the promptings of one’s conscience. Noah did what was right in the sight of the Lord because his conscience was in tune with the will of God. His access to God and acceptance by God came from conforming his conscience to the will of God. “Human government” then extended from Noah to Abraham, and then “patriarchy,” from Abraham to Moses. Next was the Mosaic law period, a dispensation that contrasts significantly with the New Testament; the idea was that to be right with God was to live, as much as possible, in conformity to the law of God. This is still very much the pattern of salvific arrangement in Judaism today—attempting to live in accordance with the commandments of God in the Hebrew Scriptures, which we call the Old Testament.

Louis Sperry Chafer, who was the president of Dallas Seminary for many years, wrote a multivolume systematic theology that puts it very bluntly: underlying the whole view of the Old Testament is that God’s original plan was to save the Jews, and God’s promises to the Jews were earthly and political promises. God promised the Jews a land; he promised that they would conquer their neighboring tribes and be given that land. They would be blessed with a righteous king who would rule over them and they would be a theocratic people—living in obedience to the will of God, in conformity to the law of the Lord, and under the administration of godly rulers. Those promises are eternal promises that remain to this day, political and earthly promises that God has made to the Jewish people. Jesus was sent as the Jewish Messiah who would fulfill those earthly, political promises: a true king, who would come to establish God’s righteous, eternal reign in the nation of Israel—but they rejected him as the Messiah. Since the Jewish people rejected Jesus as the Messiah, the Lord God instituted—and these are the words used—a “parenthetical period” called the Gentile Age. It’s as if the Lord God said, “Okay, you have rejected my Messiah, and I’m now going to offer him to the Gentiles as a Savior, but the promises that go to the Gentiles are not earthly and political; they are heavenly and spiritual promises.”

The dispensationalist view holds that God now has, in fact, two different plans. He has a plan for the Jews to inherit the earthly and political promises God made to Abraham and Moses in the Old Testament, but God has postponed the delivering of those promises to Israel. For an interim period, a parenthetical period in history, God has chosen to focus on Gentiles. According to dispensationalism, there will come a time when God will say, in accordance with the prophecies outlined in the Scriptures, “I’m going to turn back to the Jews now, and finish off, and fulfill those promises”—and at that point, the Gentile church will be raptured out of this world, to their heavenly and spiritual kingdom. God will then turn to the Jews and fulfill his earthly and political promises to them. Eventually, after tribulations and all the rest, there will be the millennial reign, the battle of Armageddon, but the ultimate destiny is this: the Gentiles go to heaven, and the Jews get the Earth. There are two different economies—two different salvific, or saving, arrangements. Jesus will have two different roles: he will rule over Israel as the promised king, and will rule over the Gentile Church as the heavenly Savior.

This was the theology of Dallas Seminary for many, many years. Fuller Seminary came into existence in 1947. In about 1952, George Eldon Ladd left Gordon to teach at Fuller, and Ladd, in his major work on the Kingdom of God, challenged the fundamental assumptions of dispen-sationalist theology. He was a premillennialist. He said you can believe in a literal millennium—having a very strong view of the return of Christ, and taking a lot of that prophecy seriously—but you can do that while rejecting the dispensationalist scheme. For a couple of decades, there was a struggle between Dallas and Fuller over precisely those questions.

Ladd’s view was really a classical Reformed one: that while God, for a while, chose to deal with a specific ethnic people in the Old Testament, he never gave up on a larger vision. In Isaiah 49, which is one of my favorite passages, the Lord God says to the prophet of Israel: “It is too small a thing that I would raise you up merely to restore the fortunes of Israel and Judah, but I have raised you up for something greater, and that is to bring my salvation to the ends of the earth.” That vision in the Old Testament is one which the dispensationalists always have a problem with, that there would come a day when he would pour out his spirit on all flesh. So in a sense for us, the interim relationship was not the Gentile church, but it was God focusing on a specific ethnic people. He made promises that I believe are eternal. But those promises to Israel weren’t simply political and earthly promises; they were promises that God would renew in the midst of our own broken world. In a world plagued by the divisions of Babel, God would begin to bring together a people who would live in obedience to his will and someday—not as an interim arrangement—he would expand that to the nations of the earth. Already in Isaiah, you find the Lord God saying, “There’s going to come a day when your two enemies, Egypt and Syria, will each build an altar to the house of the Lord.” Then the Lord God says this: “There will come a day when I will say to Egypt, ‘you are my people.’ And when I will say to Syria, ‘you are my chosen race.’ And when I will say to Israel, ‘you are my heritage.’ And Israel and Egypt and Syria will gather at the mountain on the house of the Lord and worship together.”

Already in the Old Testament, God saw the arrangement with Israel as a temporary restriction, and that someday, God would expand that to the larger race. Jesus did not come simply as the Messiah of Israel, with God then saying, “Oh, by the way, since they rejected me, I think I’ll do something else.” Rather, he came to prepare for Pentecost, when people from many nations would be able to say to each other, “Did we not each hear in our own language?” It was a wonderful message. Something new would happen, something God had in mind all along.

The issue between Fuller and Dallas was very much an issue of dispensationalism versus the more classical, Reformed view. Fuller held to the view that the Church is the extension of Israel to the nations, not a temporary replacement in God’s field of consciousness in a kind of two-track, two-level approach to the human race. Then the inerrancy debate came in the ’70s. From the Dallas viewpoint, they could now say, “See? Once you stop rightly dividing the word of truth in accordance with dispensationalism, you end up where Fuller is”—on a slippery slope, denying the authority of the Scriptures.

Debates that Shaped the Competition: Westminster

There were clear differences between Fuller and Dallas, but also between Fuller and Westminster. George Marsden wrote the history of Fuller Seminary, Reforming Fundamentalism. Phyllis and I lived next door to George and his wife Lucy for many years, and we’re very dear friends. George’s father worked for Westminster Seminary, and when his parents were married, J. Gresham Machen performed the marriage ceremony, Harold John Ockenga was the best man, and Carl McIntire was an usher. This was a unique moment in the history of right-wing Presbyterianism, because Ockenga went on to become the first president of Fuller. Machen went on to establish Westminster Seminary and the Orthodox Presbyterian denomination, and Carl McIntire ended up way over on the right, splitting from both of them and denouncing both of them as having left the faith.

Edward John Carnell, the second president of Fuller, went to Westminster Seminary and was very much influenced by Westminster. Let me give some history to that seminary.

J. Gresham Machen was a great professor at Princeton Theological Seminary, a brilliant New Testament scholar. He was a part of the old Princeton, which was up until about 1915 or 1920 a bastion of Calvinist orthodoxy. The old Princeton theology was a strong old-fashioned Scottish, and to some degree Dutch, Calvinist orthodoxy, and into the twentieth century Machen was the hero, the one who extended that commitment to historic, Reformed, Calvinist orthodoxy. There were a lot of debates that went on in the ’10s and the ’20s in the Northern Presbyterian church, which was at the time separated from the Southern church, and had been since the Civil War.

The debates particularly focused on two issues: who controls the missionary enterprise, and who controls the seminaries. Machen and his colleagues—the more conservative colleagues at Princeton Seminary—became disturbed by some of the trends at Princeton. It was opening up to the more modernistic, liberal kind of theology that had emerged right around the late nineteenth century and early twentieth century, and there was a reorganization of Princeton Seminary to allow for more theological pluralism. Machen and his friends left, and they established Westminster Seminary in Philadelphia as the continuation of the old Princeton, the embodiment of the Calvinist orthodoxy of the old Princeton. They stayed in the Northern mainline Presbyterian church, however. Westminster Seminary was established in 1929, but then in 1933 they established something that was called the Independent Presbyterian Board for Foreign Missions.

Pearl Buck—whose prose and poetry we all read in high school—was a Presbyterian missionary in China. She did not believe that people needed to come to know Jesus Christ as their Savior. She did not believe that Jesus was the only way. She was a part of that broad, early emerging liberal theology. And there was a major debate: Should Presbyterians support missionaries like Pearl Buck? Ultimately, the Presbyterian mission board said, “She’s fine; she’s one kind of missionary, and we’ll have other kinds, too. She is basically a humanist, liberal, do-gooder kind, but that’s okay, too.” In protest against the trend that Pearl Buck symbolized, Machen, Carl McIntire, and a few others who were Presbyterian ministers established an independent board, one to support their own missionaries who would subscribe to the old Princeton theology now embodied at Westminster Seminary. For this they were put on trial, and in 1935 they were suspended from ministry. Within a few months, they began to organize a new denomination called the Orthodox Presbyterian Church.

In August of 2006 we had a large gathering at Peachtree Presbyterian Church in Atlanta, which is the largest congregation in the PC (USA). I’m very sympathetic, as are my colleagues at Fuller, with concerns about some of the decisions made—allowing all kinds of substitutions for the traditional trinitarian formula: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. There is also concern about what looked like a clear decision to allow the ordination of persons active in same-sex relations—to allow that on a local option basis. It’s a complicated issue, but that’s what it seems to boil down to for many of us in the evangelical world. There’s a small group getting together and talking about withdrawing. First Presbyterian of Fresno, of the Louis Evans family, announced that they have gone into a separation from the PC (USA)—not a divorce, but a period of separation, considering the possibility of divorce. Another church in the Southwest just voted to leave the denomination—a church pastored, incidentally, by two Fuller graduates. Essentially, there is a faction within the evangelical group, within the PC (USA), that has decided to leave.

Then there is Vic Pentz, who has a Doctor of Ministry from Fuller and is senior pastor at Peachtree, and Steve Hayner, our former colleague on the Board of Trustees and now a professor at Columbia Seminary. They joined with a few of the more evangelical southern Presbyterians, and organized a group and a conference called the Presbyterian Global Fellowship. They were hoping for about 500 to attend, and 1,000 came; it was like a major revival meeting.

What this group agreed to do, basically, was to stay in the Presbyterian church, as evangelicals, but to organize a new global vision. In the same way that many of our brothers and sisters in the Episcopal church are hoping now to connect more intimately with the global Anglican community, we would connect with the global Presbyterian community—that is, a more evangelical community in its leadership. Missionaries would be encouraged to work within the structures of the Presbyterian church, but would have a strong commitment to the gospel and to the saving power of the gospel of Jesus Christ. The idea was that we would, on behalf of the denomination, initiate some new energy in the area of world mission, and also on behalf of the denomination, reach out to the global Presbyterian community, in order to negotiate the relationship between the denomination and the larger world of Presbyterianism, which in the global context is much more evangelical.

This gathering was wonderful. Steve Hayner spoke, Vic Pentz spoke, I spoke; Fuller Seminary had a strong presence in the program. In fact, at the airport someone came up to me and said, “I just wanted you to know, that was such an exciting conference.” He was so glad to see Fuller so prominent, and he said, “I happen to be a Gordon-Conwell grad, but from here on in, I’m an honorary Fuller alum.”

What’s interesting is that when, in 1933, Westminster Seminary established the Independent Presbyterian Board for Foreign Missions, and then ultimately went on their own to establish a small, more conservative, separate Presbyterian denomination, the record of that missionary enterprise isn’t all that good. In fact, when Machen, McIntire, and their colleagues established the Orthodox Presbyterian Church and this new missionary effort, they had conflict with each other and, within three years, they split three ways. The two big issues, in the first year of the Orthodox Presbyterian Church, were whether you could be a premillennialist and be Orthodox Presbyterian, and whether you could use alcohol and be an Orthodox Presbyterian. They split over those issues, and the history of those separations is not a healthy history. At least, that’s our Fuller perspective on it.

Edward J. Carnell went to Westminster Seminary and was trained in that Calvinist orthodoxy. He came out, however, having a strong vision for reaching out beyond that narrow world of Calvinist orthodoxy, forming alliances well beyond. When he heard that Fuller was starting, he wrote a letter to Ockenga and said, “I want to be a part of this seminary. I went to Westminster, but this is what I’m excited about.” And so, as over against Westminster, Fuller had basically Reformed people—but they were Reformed people who reached out. And this is one of the ironies today: that when we organized here in Pasadena, and a number of our faculty members—some of whom had been Orthodox Presbyterians, and others who had stayed in the Presbyterian Church out east—applied to be accepted in the local presbytery of the mainline Presbyterian denomination, they were turned down. Some of those early Fuller faculty members spent about 15 years fighting to be accepted in mainline Presbyterianism because they did not want to be identified with a separatistic Reformed perspective. A part of Fuller’s early history was a real struggle to prove to mainline Presbyterianism that we could be good Presbyterians and still be orthodox; that we could hold to the same core beliefs that Westminster Seminary did, but that we were willing to work in a more pluralistic denominational environment.

Now one of the ironies is that some of the folks we’ve trained are saying, “We may have to separate from this denomination.” I think of those early Fuller professors, who wanted more than anything else to get out of that separatistic spirit. I’ve had some private conversations with people from the PCA, the Presbyterian Church in America, that split at the time of the merger between the North and the South and formed a more conservative denomination. They have a denomination that is strongly opposed to the ordination of women—that is still debating six-day, literal creation—and these folks have said to me, “We’d really like to reach out to more mainline evangelicals within the Presbyterian church. Sometimes we think that maybe it was a wrong thing for us to be part of a split-off from you.” They are realizing the restrictions of that narrower perspective.

Debates that Shaped the Competition: Princeton

Now, Princeton. We just wanted to be like Princeton. Charles Fuller said, on a couple of occasions, “We’re going to be the Princeton of the West.” By that he meant a broadly Reformed, broadly evangelical school that is known for its cooperative attitude toward the larger Church and that takes theological scholarship seriously. A school that is willing to live with some nuances and complexities, and not get bogged down in some of the older debates. And it’s very interesting to go back to Princeton’s history.

John MacKay, a grand old Scottish-American Presbyterian theologian, became president of Princeton in 1936 when Machen left the Presbyterian denomination. MacKay retired in 1959, but continued to be active as a Presbyterian leader. Dave Hubbard told me once that MacKay used to send $100 a year to Fuller. He was a donor, and would send his $100 right to the president’s office, saying, “I just want to encourage what Fuller is doing.” That was a very gratifying thing, I remember, to Dave Hubbard; he really liked that the president of Princeton was one of our donors. And, of course, there was Dan Fuller, who started off at Princeton. As soon as Fuller started, his mother insisted that he come to Fuller instead, and he brought Bill Bright with him. Bill Bright had been a student at Princeton. The dynamic between Princeton and Fuller was somewhat different than that with Dallas and with Westminster, but it was a very important dynamic.

The early Fuller was described, broadly speaking, in terms of classical Reformed theology—that the new is in continuity with the old, that the New Israel is grafted on to the Old Israel. Later on, we began to welcome wonderful folks from the holiness tradition and Pentecostalism. We were greatly enriched by Anglicanism, but it was an Anglicanism that had been very much shaped by Reformed theology. Geoffrey Bromiley was basically an Anglican who was a Reformed theologian, a great translator of the works of Karl Barth. Fuller has become much more diverse these days, so that I would not speak of our present situation as strongly in terms of a Reformed theology. But that was very much a part of our history, and it shaped those early years. In many ways, it shaped the attitudes toward us. The dispensationalists disagreed with us, and the Westminster people disagreed with us for different reasons. And Princeton: they liked us because we had grown out of the Westminster mentality, and they saw us as somewhat friendly, although were always a little suspicious of us, too, because we weren’t quite where they were, theologically.

The Voice that Fuller Has Become

Where are we today? Let me illustrate in two ways. One is the recent Newsweek magazine story on Billy Graham, a very interesting piece. A couple of trustees have said to me: “When I read this, I thought, ‘This is Fuller Seminary.’” The article portrays Graham in what they call the “twilight of his career,” looking to the end of his ministry. I’m paraphrasing: “I’ve got a much more flexible attitude toward the Bible today than I did in the early days of my ministry. I used to really be big on inerrancy of the Scriptures. I tried to harmonize all that . . . and people challenged me.” And he tells a story that went something like this: “One day, I went out in the woods, and I spent some time alone with the Lord, and I just said, ‘Lord, I don’t understand all this stuff.’ But this much I know. I came to the conclusion that not every jot and tittle is directly from God. I’m not going to defend every little piece of information in the Bible about how many horsemen fought in this or that battle, or this kind of thing. But in its most basic sense it’s the Word of God, and I’m going preach your Word!”

That is our position at Fuller. I sign inerrancy statements, but I respect my colleagues who have been deeply wounded by what we call “strict inerrancy.” Many know the story of the Lausanne Congress—a great gathering of evangelicalism, when the Lausanne Statement was adopted. In the Fuller catalog, we cite the Lausanne Statement from the Lausanne Congress on World Evangelism as one of the documents we consider a part of our history, a part of our defining our evangelical identity.

At the Congress, a significant debate took place between those from Dallas and those from Fuller. Fuller wasn’t going to use the word “inerrancy,” and Dallas was insisting on it. After an entire day of debate, there came a moment when John Stott stood and said, “I have a proposal: ‘that the Bible is without error in all it affirms.’” He turned to Chuck Kraft and others from Fuller, and asked, “Can you folks at Fuller?” “Yes, we can do it.” He turned to the Dallas people: “Yes, we can do that.”

Here’s the essence. We have no problem with this: The Bible is without error in all that it affirms, in all that it teaches. And it’s not the kind of book that means to affirm how many horsemen fought in a battle, described in the book of Kings. That’s not what it’s all about. That the Lord was on the side of those soldiers, that’s what it affirms. It doesn’t affirm that the Earth has four corners. But what it teaches is this: nowhere can we go to escape God’s presence. We have wanted to get beyond all the detailed defenses and struggles and attempts to reconcile little things. Billy Graham says, effectively, and I’m paraphrasing: “That’s where I got to the point where I just said, ‘I’m not going to get involved. I’m going to preach Christ—because that’s what the Scriptures are all about.’” The other thing he says—and I heard that he wrote Newsweek afterward, backing off on this a little bit, but he has said this before—is this. They asked him, “What about your son, who says that Islam is an evil religion?” And Billy essentially replied: “Well, he’s young, and I’m old. I have a lot of good Muslim friends, I have a lot of good Jewish friends, I’ve met a lot of wonderful Hindu people, and it’s not up to me to decide who’s saved. I’m going to leave that up to the Lord. But here’s what I’m going to do. I’m going to preach Jesus Christ, and him crucified.”

I spoke at Chautauqua this summer, as part of a week of lectures in the Abrahamic religions. There were two days of Jewish lectures, a couple of Muslim lectures, and then I was the last speaker. The president of Notre Dame spoke in the morning, and I was last in the afternoon. There was a lot of evangelical bashing that went on. I was told that the crowd was largely liberal mainline Protestants, with a smattering of people who just had an intellectual interest in religion, but weren’t believers. And there were a lot of Jews, and quite a few Muslims. So I spoke to this audience of mainly liberal Protestants, Jews, and Muslims.

I explained evangelicalism to them, as I understood it, and tried to say, “You shouldn’t equate evangelicalism, as a movement that cares about the gospel, with the religious right.” I did all that, and then concluded by saying, “You know I live with a number of tensions, and I want to describe one in my life,” and this was my ending with them. I told them about the National Prayer Breakfast this year, where Bono spoke in the morning—he was wonderful. Then at the leadership luncheon, in Washington, the speaker was King Abdullah of Jordan. And he was great! He called Christians, Jews, and Muslims of good will to work together against extremism of all sorts. He condemned terrorism and expressed sympathy with the people of Israel who had experienced terrorist acts—horrible things. It was a very reconciling approach, and very intelligent. He quoted passages from the Koran that spoke about the need to be peacemakers, to be good neighbors, to love other people, to show mercy toward others that you disagree with. Then, after the luncheon, about 20 of us were invited to spend an hour and a half behind closed doors with His Majesty. Rick Warren was there, and a number of others, but also quite a few Muslims and Jews. It was mainly evangelicals, Muslims, and Jews. And King Abdullah was even better in private. People asked him questions, he made his case, and he was so sharp! So bold, so courageous; really great.

At the end his bodyguards came in, ready to whisk him away, along with an older rabbi from New York City. But the rabbi said, “Your Majesty, you’ve got to stay one more minute. I’ve got to say something before you go. So tell your people to get their hands off you; I’ve got to say something.” Then he said to King Abdullah: “I’m so impressed with you. We need you.” He said, “I worry about your life. I worry about your safety. I worry about the safety of your family. Take care of yourself. Surround yourself with people who will protect you. We need you.” And this rabbi said, “Before you go: This is presumptuous, I know, but all of us sitting around this table are the children of Abraham. And I’m going to do something on behalf of all of the children of Abraham. I want to give you a blessing. I promise you I’m going to pray for you, but right now, I want to give you a blessing.” And then, the rabbi gave King Abdullah the Aaronic blessing: “The Lord bless you and keep you, the Lord make his face to shine upon you, and be gracious unto you; the Lord lift up the light of his countenance upon you, and give you peace.” I cried. It was a wonderful moment.

I described this to the Chautauqua crowd, and I said, “You know, I’ve got to say this, as an evangelical Christian. I believe everything I’ve said prior to this in my talk today, in the God whom I worship as an evangelical. And I believe with all my heart that that God looked down there and saw that rabbi blessing that Muslim king, and God said, ‘That’s the way I want it to be. This is the kind of thing that I want to happen in the world.’” You know, there’s that great passage in Genesis 17, where Abram goes before the Lord, and the Lord says, “I’m going to establish my covenant with you. I’m going to change your name, and I’m going to give you a son. You don’t have him yet, but you’re going to have a son. I’m going to make my covenant with him, and through him all the nations of the earth will be blessed.” Abram says, “But I already have a son, Ishmael. What about him?” Then there’s an amazing passage, where the Lord God says: “Nope. I’m going make my covenant with Isaac. But I heard you about Ishmael, and him, too, will I bless.”

There is a sense of mystery there: that as a son of Isaac gave a blessing to a son of Ishmael, something profound was happening. I don’t understand it all. And I said this at Chautauqua: I don’t know. I don’t know how to explain it all in my theology, but I’m willing to live with that mystery. And I said to them, “I’ve got to tell you another thing about myself. Every NFL game, behind the goal posts, somebody gets a seat and holds up a John 3:16 sign. That’s me. Behind all the goal posts at the championship games, behind the backboard, there’s somebody with a John 3:16 sign. That’s always going to be me. I’ll live with the mystery. I’ll acknowledge that, but at the same time, I’ve got to hold up the sign that says, ‘For God so loved the world that he gave his only son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish but have everlasting life.’ I’ve got to tell you that.”

Well, they applauded, and that was the end. Then a wonderful thing happened. A Jewish woman stood up, and she said, “You’ve destroyed my image of evangelicals, and I want to thank you.” She said, “I want to tell you something. I’m going to pray for you.” She said, “I worry about your safety.”

Billy Graham comments: “I’m willing to live with the mystery. And yet, at the same time, every time I get a chance to say it to a Jew, or a Muslim, or a Hindu, or a Buddhist, I will say it: ‘Jesus Christ is the only way. There’s only one Savior.’ I’ll leave it up to God, as to how he gets through to people and what he’s going to do, but I’m going to preach Jesus Christ, and him crucified.” That embodies Fuller Seminary.

Theology News & Notes, Spring 2007 — Vol. 54, No. 2

Theology, News & Notes (ISSN 1529-899X) is published for the alumni/ae and friends of Fuller Theological Seminary. It is published three times a year, in winter, spring, and fall.

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