If opposites do indeed attract, then Tim (MAT '02, PhD '10) and Robin (MAICS '02) Basselin must really love each other. Tim grew up in a conservative Assemblies of God home in the Bible belt. Robin's religious heritage is rooted in the Reformed tradition. Robin attended Calvin College, where she completed a pre-med degree. Tim went to Evangel University, where he double majored in biblical studies and English literature. Even when they came to Fuller together, Robin's emphasis was Islamic studies in the School of Intercultural Studies and Tim focused on pop culture in the School of Theology. Robin was passionate about engaging in Muslim-Christian dialogue. On the other hand, in Tim's words, it was during high school and college that the very idea of being around non-Christians "absolutely terrified" him.
These seemingly divergent paths first crossed while the two studied abroad at Jerusalem University College. During that time, both Robin and Tim sensed that God was preparing each of them for ministering to a world of cultural, religious, and ethnic diversity. Perhaps more importantly, they also sensed God leading them to share in each other's life and ministry. During a visit to Calvin College, Tim came across a Fuller admissions counselor who was on campus. Robin and Tim were now considering seminary not as individuals, but as partners in ministry.
"I [Tim] told the recruiter we were thinking about going to seminary. He asked me a few questions and I told him that I grew up Assemblies of God and she grew up Reformed. He said that if Russell Spittler (who was Fuller's provost at the time) and Richard Mouw (who was the president) could run the whole place together, it is probably a good place for the two of you. And he was right. Fuller was a place where we could come together in our theological perspectives. The truth is that I was drawn to her—to her Calvinist ability to understand and respect culture. And she was drawn to the deep spirituality and Holy Spirit focus of my Pentecostal tradition. So we were drawn to one another, and Fuller was a great place to grow our relationship."
Because their relationship was born out of this creative integration of different perspectives, it comes as little surprise that their life's work also reflects a desire to bring together different streams of thought. Robin was the administrator for a million-dollar grant for the Department of Justice designed to promote Muslim-Christian dialogue and now serves as a consultant for the Christian Reformed Church (CRC) on Muslim relations and how the church might respond to the Muslim world. She also produces a radio program for the media department of CRC called Spotlight, a program for non-English speakers who know some English but would like to practice it by hearing it. Throughout the world—from Southeast Asia to Europe to Africa—people gather together in listening groups to hear Spotlight's various human interest stories that are told using specialized English, feature a limited vocabulary, and are spoken at about half the rate of everyday conversation. The stories are written in a way that reflects a Christian worldview, but they don't necessarily talk about Jesus or mention the church. However, churches throughout the world host these listening groups where people come together to strengthen their language skills with a community of learners.
Tim's new ministry brings together a slightly different set of cultural resources. In Fall 2013, he became the first and only Fuller alum to serve on the faculty of Dallas Theological Seminary and is now tasked with helping to shape the future of the seminary's new Media Arts and Worship department. A leadership role in which he is able to help others integrate theology and culture suits Tim well because it allows him to draw upon both his formal training at Fuller and his own personal narrative of transformation.
"I grew up in Alabama in a very conservative home," he says. "Very Christ against culture. Culture was evil—it was the devil's operation grounds. Church was good and we were there every time it was open. Holiness was about separation, so you dive into the church and separate yourself. We didn't have TV in our house. We didn't play cards."
While Tim was at Fuller, the Brehm center launched a program in theology in culture. "So I started the program," he recounts. "And it was really a process of healing that divide that I was brought up with. That became my calling as well—to speak into those contexts where that divide is still strong and quite large. And to help students see how they can be brought together—how culture is something worth dialoguing with, something to see theology in, and to learn from."
In an important sense, Robin and Tim's ability to pursue ministries (and a marriage!) that join together such diverse forms of life is itself a willing embrace of mystery—a recognition that God's creative work in our lives is not always easily explained. Says Tim, "The way we do church in America as evangelicals is that we have all the answers and we can give you the explanations and it is written down in words and is trustworthy—and that takes the mystery out of it. For example, we love to extract the mystery out of Jesus' parables and just give the 'meaning' behind it that you can take with you for the rest of the week. But no, you can't—you need the story. You can't just take the five principles and live on them. You need Jesus' stories and the mysteries of his birth and resurrection."
"Sometimes it takes a long time to be able to experience God's faithfulness," says Tim. "But we put our faith in that mystery. We believe the testimonies that he has been faithful to us."
Tim and Robin Basselin