An Ecumenical Experiment

David Allan Hubbard

I. Brimstone Corner and Heavenly Sunshine

It seemed an unlikely alliance: Charles E. Fuller and Harold John Ockenga. Fuller had been an orange grower and superintendent of a packing co-op before the Lord brought him to a personal relationship with Jesus Christ and called him to the task of evangelism. During the 1930s and 1940s he was the most influential radio evangelist in the world, preaching to an audience in the tens of millions every week. His invitation to Mrs. Fuller to read the letters was a household rubric: “Go right ahead with the letters, Honey,” And his gospel chorus “Heavenly Sunshine” was heard weekly over more than 800 radio stations in America and across the world. His simple Bible exposition and warm-hearted evangelistic appeals left their mark on every continent.

Harold Ockenga’s name was as synonymous with evangelical churchmanship in New England as Charles Fuller’s was with evangelism. Ockenga had graduated from Westminster Theological Seminary in Philadelphia and taken a PhD in philosophy—with special attention to the philosophical underpinnings of Marxism—at the University of Pittsburgh. By the time he and Charles Fuller began to talk about establishing a school in 1946, Ockenga had become virtually a Boston institution, as the pastor of the Park Street Church also known as Brimstone Corner. The name was originally derived from the use of the church facilities to store powder during the War of 1812 and was perpetuated because of the strong gospel preaching which emanated from under its magnificent spire.

Dr. Fuller’s approach to Harold Ockenga about the founding of an evangelical institution was not the first that he had made. Earlier he had spoken both to William Evans and Samuel Zwemer—the one a distinguished Bible teacher, the other a pioneer missionary to Islam. Both refused his invitation to cooperate in the founding of a school for evangelists and missionaries because of their advanced ages. Ockenga himself did not respond positively to Charles Fuller’s vision of a college for evangelists and missionaries but insisted from the beginning that the institution be a full-fledged theological seminary, dedicated to sound scholarship and deep spirituality.

Ockenga’s vision captured Dr. Fuller’s imagination, and together they went to work to recruit the founding faculty: Wilbur M. Smith (Moody Bible Institute), Everett F. Harrison (Dallas Theological Seminary), Carl F. H. Henry and Harold Lindsell (Northern Baptist Seminary). The combination of founding fathers and their first faculty assured the seminary of having an interdenominational cast and a national interest from the beginning. Charles Fuller announced the opening of the school on the Old Fashioned Revival Hour in the summer of 1947, and 37 students were selected to be members of the entering class.

That fall I was a junior at Westmont College in Santa Barbara where I heard a brief description of the nature and purpose of the new seminary and decided instantly—it actually happened on the stairway of the College Administration Building—that I wanted to be a part of it.

II. Old Princeton and New Evangelicals

A look at Ockenga’s address at the founding convocation catches something of the setting and the spirit of the seminary’s beginning. It was a postwar institution. Ockenga had just returned from Germany and sketched in his initial words a picture of the ominous shadow of Hitler and what godless insolence had done to Western Europe. The students whom he addressed brought with them a foxhole enthusiasm typical of that generation, which had been deeply moved by the horrors of war. They were prepared to lay down their lives as servants in the Christian mission.

Ockenga’s address was entitled “The Challenge to the Christian Culture of the West.” The ambiguity of the word west was deliberate. He heard in it both the echoes of the decline of Western civilization and the ring of opportunity for theological education in what he called geographically “the final west of America,” a region he also indicated might prove to be “the final embodiment of western civilization.” Even to a Californian like me, such language seems grandiose in retrospect, but Harold John Ockenga has never been one to be bogged down in small ideas or petty challenges. And in his convocation address he charted a lofty course for the fledgling institution.

Churchmanship was its first component. His words speak for themselves: “In our church relationships, though we are interdenominational, we do not believe in and we repudiate the ‘come-out-ism’ movement.” This was followed by a commitment to send the men of Fuller—there were no women in the seminary until the third class in 1949—back to their denominations to serve there faithfully.

This approach to churchmanship was a key to the founding of Fuller. It caused Ockenga’s basic break with his alma mater Westminster. Founded by J. Gresham Machen, and others, Westminster embraced the Old Princeton theology to which Ockenga was committed but coupled with it a separatist ecclesiology with which he had no great sympathy.

Social action was the second plank in his platform. He deplored the escapism that characterized so many fundamentalists who were huddling together in Bible studies waiting for the second coming, and he “determined that there will be a social theory and a social attitude.” He explicated this further by saying that the evangelicals cannot default in “matters of lawlessness and of inebriation, and of crime and of war, and of rape, and other things.” “Occupy till he comes” was the text that he held before the 2500 people who gathered in the Pasadena Civic Auditorium for that first convocation.

“A spiritual program” was also part of what Ockenga explicated on that evening. As you might expect from one who had established one of the greatest missionary programs in any congregation in America, he announced that missions was “the first and primary task” of our graduates. Second, they were to be evangelists, and third, pastors. The need for pastors was amplified by a sentence which to our ears seems rather time-bound: “The great denominations of today aren’t training enough preachers to fill their own pulpits.” He documented this by saying that the Methodists lacked 6000 men for their churches at that time. Apparently Methodist church growth had outrun the possibility that seminaries could keep up.

The impact of his vision of the 1947 world situation is obvious in his descriptions of India, Europe, and China as fields open to the Christian gospel and American missionary influence. At least for China and India that openness did not last until the first Fuller class was graduated.

Apologetics comprised his final point. Fuller students, he announced, needed to have academic preparation that would enable them to stand before the world unashamed. The Petrine phrase “a reason for the hope” tolled through his address, pounding home the apologetic thrust which Ockenga had picked up from the Old Princeton and for lack of which he was reluctant to send students to the New Princeton. His attitude toward the inerrancy of the Scriptures and the reasonableness of the Christian faith, his interest in scholarly, biblical, and philosophical apologetics as part of the curriculum for the new institution all bore marks of Charles and A. A. Hodge, and especially B. B. Warfield.

It was a bold beginning. Carl F. H. Henry, who served as dean the first year, was quoted as expressing the opinion that “no divinity school had ever been launched with so enthusiastic a student response.” I am not sure how much research Dr. Henry poured into that observation, but it reflects something of the flamboyance, if not triumphalism, of those early days. The initial catalog took time to spell out “the justification for launching a new seminary.” Three reasons were given.

First, no interdenominational theological seminary of outstanding academic and evangelical qualification exists to serve the millions of Christians in what was patronizingly called “a new section of America with a budding culture.”

Second, “a naturalistic modernism has invaded many old-line seminaries and vitiated their defense of orthodox Christianity.”

Third, “independent seminaries are too often associated with a particular doctrinal emphasis which limits their usefulness,” a statement which surely must have had the dispensational theology of Dallas Theological Seminary in mind.

The exuberance of those early days was not without challenge. Ockenga’s emphasis on a ministry to the mainline denominations and his rejection of “come-out-ism” set up an immediate backlash, particularly among the fundamentalist supporters of Charles Fuller’s ministry. Our institution was born both with ecumenical commitment and with ecumenical controversy. It has lived that way every day of its 32 years.

Though the impact of the Old Princeton may be seen in the denunciation of many mainline seminaries, and the strong emphasis on Christian apologetics in the defense of historic orthodoxy, there was no official doctrinal statement to which the institution was committed for the first several years of its mission. It was not until the third catalog, the one in effect when I made my way to Fuller in 1949, that a clear-cut statement of doctrine appeared. And even it carried no actual creedal content: “It is the purpose of the institution to stand unequivocally for the fundamentals of the faith as believed by Christians through the ages and as taught by the Holy Scriptures.” The tradition was carried orally, and the seminary moved along, combining churchmanship and social concern, or as it was called in an early catalog, “evangelical humanitarianism,” with the biblical and somewhat scholastic orthodoxy of the Old Princeton.

What had been implicit up till then was made explicit about 1950 when an official statement of faith was adopted. Its statement on Scripture reflects the impact of Old Princeton: “Plenarily inspired and free from all error in the whole and in the part.” Its statement on the church represented the typical evangelical emphasis of that time on the invisible Church with this definition: “The Church consists of all those regenerated by the Spirit of God, in mystical union and communion both with Christ, the Head of the Body, and with their fellow believers.” The description of Jesus’ second coming included these words: “to establish his millennial kingdom.” Inerrant autographs, an invisible Church, and a premillenial second coming—that trio of affirmation completed the montage of typical American evangelical doctrine of that time.

Fundamentalists to the right of Fuller and Presbyterians to the left joined in rebuffing our ecumenical efforts, but for different reasons. Those to the right believed our commitment to ecumenism and rejected us for it. Those to the left did not believe that commitment and suspected us of divisiveness.

Yet we were believed in by students, encouraged by numbers of pastors, and supported by a few key laymen. Fuller at that stage was a kind of remnant in the American dry goods store of denominational or fundamentalist seminaries. The Old Princeton and the new evangelicalism formed an unusual marriage, a marriage at which relatively few Christians during that period were willing to dance. We then, as we have been ever since, were a seminary in search of a constituency.

III. Calvin’s Geneva and Cinderella Apologetics

Strong encouragement from the faculty resulted in the appointment of our first resident president, Edward John Carnell, who served the seminary as chief executive officer from 1954 to 1959. A talented theologian and philosopher, Carnell had brought with him to Fuller doctorates from Boston and Harvard when he joined the faculty in the second year of the seminary, 1948. For those of us who sat under his teaching, he was far and away the most dominant influence on our life and thought during our seminary days.

I can well remember sitting with a large class listening to a lecture that Carnell had prepared on tape when he had to be absent from campus. When the tape concluded, the class burst into spontaneous applause, a reception which relatively few live lecturers receive, and almost no taped ones. His intellectual honesty, insightful apologetics, and warm-hearted dedication to the church conspired to make him a figure whom we regarded with an equal mixture of affection and awe.

His inaugural address focused on “the glory of a theological seminary,” and a comparison between its themes and those of Ockenga at the opening convocation gives some indication both of the difference between the two men and the distance the seminary had already come in eight years.

Carnell’s first point made clear his deep commitment to Calvinistic orthodoxy and his conviction that an institution ought to hold a very strong theological line. His first mark of the glory of a theological seminary was this: “That with a spiritual conviction and firmness of moral purpose, the seminary strives to preserve and propagate the theological distinctives that inhere in the institution itself.” In order to accomplish this, the seminary had a need for individuals who, “warmly attracted to the truth of the system, passionately interpret this truth to each new generation.”

His second point was vintage Carnell in its call for intellectual openness and honesty: “that in preserving and propagating its theological distinctives, the seminary make a conscientious effort to acquaint its students with all the relevant evidences—damaging as well as supporting—in order that the students may be given a reasonable opportunity to exercise their God-given right freely to decide for or against its claims to truth.” And with Ockenga, he stressed the need for students to be able to give the “reason for the hope that is in them.” This call to intelligent investigation of the facts that inform the faith was buttressed with some very strong words on the importance of academic freedom for the faculty within its confessional commitment.

Mindful of the delicate position of the seminary in relationship to the Presbyterian Church, Carnell warned ecclesiastical officials about the dangers of ecclesiastical legislation which would judge the qualifications of ministerial candidates on the basis of the school they attended rather than personal fitness for the task of ministry. At the same time, he had an eye to the bitterness and vindictiveness which so often characterized relationships between evangelical institutions and agencies which were not by them considered evangelical.

He spoke to that most forcefully in his third point: “That the seminary inculcate in its students an attitude of tolerance and forgiveness toward individuals whose doctrinal convictions are at variance with those that inhere in the institution itself.” He warned against an idea which branded as characteristic of fundamentalists that possession of truth is in itself virtue, and called for his hearers to approach themselves and others with mystery, humility, and love: “if this rule is cordially obeyed, vengeance and intolerance will yield to patience and understanding, for love takes in the sanctity of another life and wishes for it nothing but good.”

This emphasis on love cost him his leadership of some vocal members of the faculty at the beginning. So embedded in purely propositional theology and Old Princetonian apologetics were a handful of colleagues that they wrenched his emphasis on love out of context and saw it as a repudiation of the polemic role that an evangelical institution may have to play in the face of heresy. This family quarrel greatly aggravated the tension that Carnell had already felt about his engagement in administration. His heart was so much at the scholar’s desk that the administrative table did not fit him well—or so he feared.

I suspect that Carnell may not always have been true to his own best convictions. His passion for Reformed theology and his desire to reach back to the best of the evangelical tradition behind its fundamentalist expressions of the early twentieth century sometimes led him to deal very sharply with those with whom he disagreed. He called fundamentalism cultic and dispensationalism a peril, and he strongly rebuked the separatism of J. Gresham Machen in setting up the Independent Board of Presbyterian Missions—all of this in The Case for Orthodox Theology (1960), which was part of a trilogy on orthodoxy, liberalism, and neo-orthodoxy, of which the other authors were DeWolfe and Hordern.

Carnell’s approach to the church can best be seen in a few sentences from that book: “Ideological thinking prevented Machen from seeing that the issue under trial was the nature of the church, not the doctrinal incompatibility of orthodoxy and modernism. Does the church become apostate when it has modernists in its agencies and among its officially supported missionaries? The older Presbyterians knew enough about Reformed ecclesiology to answer this in the negative. Unfaithful ministers do not render the church apostate.”[1] And Carnell fortified that statement with a lengthy quote from Calvin’s Institutes on the nature of the church.

As an evangelical apologist, Carnell labored diligently to demonstrate the credibility of the historic faith. Beginning with a rationalistic approach to the verification of Christian truth, successive books forayed into the terrain of approaches to values, ways of personal knowing, and an innate sense of justice and injustice—all as argument for the validity of Christian Theism. Cinderella was a favorite story of his. He used it as arguments for a built-in judicial sentiment—part of the image of God—whereby every little child could cry “not fair” when faced with the hatred and treachery of the wicked step-sisters. He left his stamp on generations of students at Fuller as no one has done since. And his pilgrimage in rejecting the right as cultic and seeking to understand the left—witness his cordial fascination though intense disagreements with Niebuhr and Kierkegaard—together with these explorations away from rationalistic apologetics, presaged the directions of the seminary.

His statement on churchmanship has set our style ever since. He wrote it for the catalog of 1964: “Church cooperation. The Seminary encourages its students to work within existing church organization. The students are to do all they can to help the church to realize its cherished goals of Christian brotherhood, unity, and the collective furtherance of the gospel. The ambiguity of a particular denomination should inspire missionary activity, not separation.”

When the burdens of office and the pressure of failing health caused Carnell to resign in 1959, the Board again turned to Harold John Ockenga to serve as president. The direction of the seminary was in the balance, the school chugged away with about three hundred students, but the faculty leadership was changing hands: Carl Henry had gone to Washington to become founding editor of Christianity Today; Carnell himself was hampered by his emotional difficulties; Wilbur Smith was very close to the age of retirement.

Subtly and slowly, changes were taking place both in the area of scholarship and churchmanship. Geoffrey Bromiley and Paul King Jewett had joined the faculty in church history and systematic theology, and the Old Princeton mantle was being shed. To numbers of faculty members, its peculiar form of Protestant scholasticism, buttressed by Scottish common-sense philosophy, was being set aside.

The trauma of this in the American religious setting should not be minimized. From 1850 on, the alternative offered to American evangelicals by biblical criticism or history of religion approaches to the faith were so pallid and so uncompelling that Americans by the millions rejected them. These Christians took shelter in the fortress of inerrancy whose architects were Charles Hodge, A. A. Hodge, and B. B. Warfield. Though the promoters of this apologetic stance were largely Presbyterian, its adherents were believers of all brands: Anabaptist, Dispensationalist, Wesleyan, Lutheran, and even Pentecostal.

At about the time Carnell turned back the gavel to Ockenga, some changes of emphasis were already in the offing at Fuller, changes which would permanently affect both our approaches to biblical scholarship and our practice of churchmanship. On the whole spectrum of attitudes toward Scripture cherished by American theologians, the changes at Fuller would seem miniscule. Here I must overdraw them both to make them clear and to suggest the intensity of feeling which accompanied them.

Inductive study of the text and nature of Scripture—that is, the desire to let Scripture define its own doctrine—began to call in question the rigid philosophical and apologetic approach to the meticulous inerrancy of Fuller’s early history.

By the late 50s, numbers of graduate students in biblical studies had gone out from the seminary to the universities of the world and had begun to realize and report some limitations in the scholarly methods with which they had been equipped. And these reports, together with the growing research of evangelical biblical scholars including Fuller people like George Eldon Ladd and Everett F. Harrison in New Testament, William LaSor in Old Testament, and Daniel Fuller in hermeneutics, began to open the way for more dialogue with opposing positions in both the scholarly and churchly scenes.

On the churchly side, a lot of attention was paid at this point to cultivating our relationships with the major denominations. We concentrated on the United Presbyterian Church and, more particularly, the Los Angeles Presbytery, which a few years before had refused to admit to its fellowship four of our faculty members, thus forcing them to seek church homes elsewhere.

The question in these churchly issues was never Fuller’s academic quality or commitment to Reformed theology—the stamp of Geneva, Amsterdam, and Edinburgh was at least as indelibly marked on Fuller as on any Presbyterian seminary in the country. The basic issue was divisiveness.

Consequently, Fuller people—led by an energetic and innovative Director of Development, Don Weber—sought to document the falsity of that fear. We had had numbers of persons ordained in presbyteries throughout the country either directly from Fuller or by dint of attendance at one of the Presbyterian seminaries for a year after leaving Fuller. We put together dossiers on a hundred of those people in order to demonstrate the quality of their performance as presbyters and the loyalty with which they had attached themselves to their church.

The pain of proving our belief in ecumenism may have made its contribution to our struggling maturation; it surely was a test of vision, courage, and patience. We had to spend uncommon efforts to get others to accept what we so profoundly knew to be true about ourselves. We knew that we had no intention to be divisive. We found it close to intolerable to have paid such a high price for rejecting the church-splitting separatism of the fundamentalist and yet to be held a threat by those ecumenical denominations that we so vehemently wanted to serve.

Through all of this stormy interim after Carnell’s resignation, there was a subtle struggle for power. Old Princeton was making its last stand among us. The issue was only superficially the struggle between inerrancy and infallibility as the best description of biblical authority. The real question was theological-apologetic methodology. Did we start from a view of what Scripture had to be, given the nature of God? Or did we start from the teaching and phenomenon of Scripture themselves and build our doctrine of Scripture accordingly? At no time, I hasten to add, was there divergence among the faculty on essential doctrines like the Trinity or Christology or the atonement.

There were two groups of faculty who began to disagree over matters like the definition of inerrancy and whether it was the appropriate term to summarize the Bible’s teaching about its own authority. The push for a resident president during those years caused the issue to be joined. Harold John Ockenga was encouraged to come to Pasadena and take up full-time leadership on the campus or to relinquish the presidency.

A search committee was set up after Harold Ockenga finally said no. After months of discussion with various candidates, the chairman of the committee finally approached me. But before I was officially called, the Board asked Harold Ockenga to reconsider, with the understanding that no from him would mean yes to me. After intense personal turmoil and much ambivalence, Ockenga said no.

If my appointment meant anything, it meant that the directions charted by Carnell would continue. He had been a solid influence in my life, and the faculty members who most supported the directions in which he sought to lead the seminary were among my dearest and most cherished friends and mentors. Though I had and have tremendous affection and respect for both Harold Ockenga and Carl Henry, their way of articulating and defending the orthodox faith was not mine.

IV. Elim Tabernacle and Vatican Secretariat

To the ecumenical experiment, I brought little more than a measure of good will. Thirty-four years old when I was appointed, I had been reared in an independent Pentecostal church, Elim Tabernacle, in Oakland. Though my father had been a Methodist minister most of his life, he had entered into a charismatic experience in the early 1920s under the influence of Aimee Semple McPherson. Six years out of graduate school when the call came, I had been educated in a Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod junior college and an evangelical interdenominational college called Westmont. My ordination was from a Conservative Baptist congregation. I had enjoyed fellowship with Scottish Baptists during my days at St. Andrews, with occasional excursions into Church of Scotland pulpits. Immersed in studies of Old Testament and Semitics, pre-occupied with teaching undergraduates, especially freshmen, in a liberal arts college—I was called to succeed Ockenga and Carnell at Fuller.

Only modest preparation for the ecumenical experiment—yet, I had been deeply moved by Carl Henry’s book The Uneasy Conscience of Modern Fundamentalism, which I kept under my pillow as a junior in college. I was restive with the limitations of the fundamentalism in which I was raised. And Henry’s criticisms of the isolationism from great Christian traditions, the preoccupation with biblical minutia, the suspicion of all but fundamentalist ways, evoked my Amen. The convocation cadences of Harold John Ockenga, which had lifted me eight inches above my chair in my seminary days, enlarged my vision of what a seminary could be to the entire Christian church. I had been won by the cogent arguments against separatism that Carnell pressed in his The Case for Orthodox Theology. And, I suppose, my father’s loyal Methodism helped to box my compass, though I was sailing on what for me were uncharted seas.

From Rejection to Acceptance

The Los Angeles Presbytery was a test case of any hope that we could fulfill our ecumenical experiment. My early days at Fuller were soaked in coffee cup negotiations with Presbyterian pastors and executives. The cordial spirit that our faculty tried to convey combined with the documented arguments about the Presbyterial loyalty of our graduates to start a gentle line of persuasion which proved successful within a two-year period after I accepted the presidency. A parenthetical note: Fuller’s acceptance was not unrelated to the fact that San Francisco Theological Seminary (San Anselmo) was having one of the most difficult times in its history during the mid-sixties and, unhappily, found itself at odds with much of its constituency.

Finally the breakthrough came—December 14, 1965—when the Los Angeles Presbytery took action to waive its one-year requirement for attendance at a Presbyterian seminary on two conditions: (1) the candidate had completed courses in Presbyterian polity; (2) the candidate had been a member of the United Presbyterian Church for two years and had worked under the supervision of a pastor for a least one year. Fourteen months later William Sanford LaSor, one of the original faculty members barred from participation in the life of the Presbytery, was received into the membership of the Los Angeles Presbytery.

Candor compels me to describe my own pressing ambivalences over these decisions. We had worked so hard to establish our right to minister as an interdenominational seminary to ecumenically related churches that I began to fear our loss of identity and distinctiveness. Could we be our own people and yet nurture these relationships? What price would we be required to pay for such denominational acceptance? Those were the nagging questions, and they are only slightly less sharp now than they were 14 years ago when I first asked them.

It would take more than a hurried footnote to describe our relationship to the Methodist Church during this period. In a nutshell, it was cautious cordiality. Our local bishop, Gerald Kennedy, was a warm friend who visited our campus from time to time and even taught Methodist polity to our students. Our curriculum included courses in Methodist history as well as polity plus a class in Wesleyan theology. Acceptance of our students in the conferences across the land depended, of course, on the attitude of the various bishops.

From Berlin to Uppsala

Our ecumenical experiment was enriched by the chemistry of two great international conclaves in the mid-sixties. The World Congress of Evangelicals in Berlin, 1966, was jointly sponsored by the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and Christianity Today. Charles E. Fuller, then seventy-eight, attended and was celebrated as the Dean of American evangelists. Fuller alumni, active in the world mission of the church, were there in substantial numbers—evidence that Ockenga’s vision for mission had been caught even before the School of World Mission was founded. More than a hundred countries were represented, and the delegates expressed a passionate concern and an inspiring piety. It may well have been the most representative and enthusiastic missions conclave since the World Missionary Council was held in Edinburgh in 1910. Yet the call to justice, to relief of hunger and oppression, to the conquest of racism was a sighing footnote on the agenda, a passing entry in the list of errata and addenda compiled by the critics in the corridors.

The second international conclave proved even more disheartening but for the opposite reasons. The Fourth Assembly of the World Council of Churches in Uppsala of 1968, in which I served as an advisor, fixed on the neglected and abused persons of the world—but only their physical, economic, and political needs. Any talk of human lostness, of the need for a personal relationship to God through Christ, of the task of world evangelism had to be smuggled into the documents under cover of late night drafting. During those years, we at Fuller learned the loneliness of the middle—branded dangerously progressive by churchpersons to the right of us and incorrigibly conservative by those to the left.

The loneliness was relieved in part by the Malone Consultations, a series of low-key, off-the-record discussions on mission. Participants were a dozen or so persons from the ecumenical wing of the church led by John Coventry Smith, Presbyterian missionary and executive, and Eugene Smith, who had served as head of the Methodist Board of Global Ministries and as the United States Secretary for the World Council of Churches.

Coordinators for the conservative evangelical team were Paul Rees, Vice President of World Vision International, and Horace (Dit) Fenton, Executive Director of the Latin American Mission. For a half dozen years or so these gatherings in so unlikely a spot as Canton, Ohio, nurtured—by their times of prayer, worship, Bible study, and theological discussion—a hankering for barriers to be leveled, for stereotyped nomenclature to be jettisoned, and for tangible unity to be realized.

Part of the change in mood which I sensed in the next round of evangelical and ecumenical meetings can be traced, so I believe, to the fellowship and understanding which stemmed from the quiet meetings at Malone College in the late 1960s.

From Lausanne to Nairobi

By the time that 1500 or so participants gathered for the Lausanne World Congress on Evangelism in 1974, the world seemed to have changed materially from the days of Berlin and Uppsala. Third World Leadership had bobbed to prominence, and that, among other things, served to sharpen evangelical social consciousness.

A group, spearheaded by Latin Americans like René Padilla, Orlando Costas, and Samuel Escobar, were joined by northerners like the Mennonite theological John Howard Yoder in issuing vibrant statements on the interdependence of evangelism and social action as parts of the one mission of Christ’s church. The Lausanne Covenant itself, though it skirts issues of the relationship of evangelism to the call for justice, has the good sense to list the mandates back to back as indispensable biblical priorities.

If Lausanne was miles ahead of Berlin in the cry for social reform, Nairobi reached leagues beyond Uppsala in the importance attached to the spiritual tasks of the church. The year 1975, when the Fifth Assembly of the WCC convened in Kenya, saw a marked emphasis in mission and evangelism in both the plenary and the study sessions. A Methodist bishop from Bolivia, Mortimer Arias, set the pace by a call for holistic evangelism that spoke to the total needs—economic, political, physical, emotional, and spiritual—of persons who did not yet honor Jesus Christ as Lord. That note got picked up and sounded permanently in the Assembly’s statement on mission. It has been further heard, though not with full clarity, in the conference on evangelism which the WCC convened in Melbourne in May 1980, and which Arthur Glasser attended on our behalf.

The polarities of Berlin and Uppsala were narrowed substantially at Lausanne and Nairobi. The middle began to feel a lot less lonely.

One focus of ecumenical concern at Fuller during this period was campus ministry. Fuller was chosen by both the Danforth Foundation and the Lilly Endowment to co-sponsor a series of conversations involving agency heads and campus ministers from right across the Christian tradition—Campus Crusade to Roman Catholic.

Topics ranged from biblical authority, through conversion, to the call for justice. Participants included Pat O’Neill, National Director of Roman Catholic Campus Ministry, and Peter Northrup, Assistant to the President of InterVarsity Christian Fellowship. One high moment was a debate between William Sloane Coffin and Bill Bright’s right-hand man, Paul Eschleman, as to whether Campus Crusade people really know the Bible.

A byproduct of these consultations has been the publication of a book The Recovery of Spirit in Higher Education, edited by Robert Rankin of the Danforth Foundation. The sections deal with three major concerns: (1) spirituality, (2) community, and (3) the relationship between contemplation and action. Each section has four chapters—written by a Jew, a Roman Catholic, a mainline Protestant, and an evangelical Protestant. The ecumenical experiment chugs along.

From Venice to Cambridge

A consultation at Nairobi sparked planning which has resulted in a program of conversations between Roman Catholics and evangelicals. John R. W. Stott, evangelical Anglican preacher of unique gifts and vision, teamed with Msgr. Basil Meeking, of the Secretariat for Christian Unity in Rome, to bring the plan to fruition. The place was Venice, Italy. The time, 1977. The subject, mission. The acronym, ERCDOM, Evangelical-Roman Catholic Dialogue on Mission. The participants, eight members from each tradition who were engaged in some phase of the church’s international mission. The teams themselves were international, drawn from virtually every continent. Two more phases of the conversation are currently in preparation: a series of regional meetings on the various continents and a second international meeting, ERCDOM II, slated for Cambridge, England, in May 1981.

The North American edition of the regional meetings should take place—perhaps at Ventnor—a year from now. Father Thomas Stransky, who just finished a seven-year hitch as president of the Paulists, and I are coordinating this endeavor. It will focus on biblical doctrines of man and salvation, especially as spelled out in the Epistle to the Romans.

Of the many memories of these discussions with Catholic brothers and sisters, a painful one stands out—a sharp rebuke from a gentle nun. For the close of the discussions in Venice, I was asked to summarize the differences in theology between us as conservative evangelicals and the mainstream of ecumenical Protestants. I took the bait.

With more intensity than I was aware of, I spelled out the doctrines of the faith from a view of biblical authority through an approach to hermeneutics and belief in the bodily resurrection of Jesus, to the reality of a second coming, and the ultimate separation in judgment of unbelievers from believers. I never felt more like a champion of orthodoxy than in those few moments.

When I settled down to receive the accolades of my evangelical brothers, Sister Joan Chatfield, a Maryknoll, began to speak. She pointed out the hostility of my body language, the intensity of my voice quality, the pugnacious way in which I was spelling out our orthodox distinctives. And she capped her rejoinder with the observation that it would be very difficult for her to accept Christian witness or Christian instruction from me, if she had been one of those in the camp that I was describing. The very demeanor and tone of my presentation would have created a barrier. She was right. What Carnell had tried to teach all of us in his inaugural address I had yet to grasp. There are many kinds of lessons to be learned in the ecumenical experiment.

V. Conclusion

Permit me a few observations in summary about Fuller as an expression of concern for the church—holy, catholic, and apostolic.

A cross-section of the evangelical movement is one possible description of Fuller today. The major components of American and indeed worldwide evangelicalism are represented in substantial numbers in our present programs.

First, there are evangelicals from mainline denominations—always the backbone of the evangelical movement. The numbers of evangelicals in the major denominations of our land seem to outweigh considerably the evangelicals in the independent churches or evangelical denominations.

Second, members of evangelical denominations make up part of Fuller’s profile—Baptist, Anabaptist, Wesleyan, Lutheran, Presbyterian—all of these traditions have persisted in denominations which have broken off of their mother churches. Their present expression combines both the impact of the mother church and the contributions of various evangelical influences: the Reformed and Lutheran pietists, Wesley, and the American revivalists. Some of them have been enriched by subsequent immigrations of free church peoples from Europe and Scandinavia coming to these western shores to escape the restrictions imposed on their worship and life by established churches.

Third, we have a large contingent of students from the charismatic movement—both the old Pentecostal churches (Assembly of God, Foursquare, etc.) and the new charismatic movement which has influenced virtually every major denomination. Of the major interdenominational seminaries in America, probably none has been more open to students of the charismatic movement than Fuller. Classical Reformed theology and dispensationalism have often agreed in teaching that the dramatic gifts of the Spirit listed in 1 Corinthians 12 ceased to operate in the church once the canon of Scripture was closed. This has meant that in many of the evangelical seminaries, students who have experienced charismatic activity have either not been welcomed or asked to remain quiet about their experience. At Fuller we probably have upwards of 200 students who participate regularly in charismatic activities.

Fourth, persons identified with the various parachurch organizations have always found a ready home at Fuller. We have trained by the score staff members for InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, Young Life, and Youth for Christ. At present we have something like three hundred Young Life trainees who are being prepared for their ministries in programs given academic credit and supervision by Fuller.

This expression of Christian mission and structure—loosely called parachurch—has always been one of the extraordinary phenomena of the evangelical movement. Historically mainline churches have also participated in such activities, witness the American Bible Society. The present-day attitude of mainline churches tends to be more defensive. At Fuller we have tried to take a beam from Roman Catholic structures which include modalities, i.e., diocesan entities, and sodalities, i.e., religious orders. These two types of organization play their role, confess their catholicity, carry on their work, with loyalty to Rome as virtually their only formal or official link. This is something to which ecumenically related churches and the councils of churches need to give much more profound consideration. In its composition, Fuller is a cross-section of the evangelical movement.

An expression of a church reformed and yet to be reformed is another way that we might describe Fuller. We seek to hear the entire Scripture, to relate to the entire church, and to maintain a commitment to both the catholicity and the holiness of that church.

We know theologically that what the church is in Christ, the church is in truth, no matter what its earthly manifestations may look like. In Christ the church is both holy and catholic. To us, this means that no part of the church can rest easily without striving simultaneously for purity in life and doctrine, and unity in fellowship and mission.

An experience in ecumenism might be another rubric that would fit Fuller. Our denominations this fall number 78, from Advent Christian to Wesleyan. Virtually the entire alphabet of American and Canadian church-life is embraced.

The nations represented are 63, from Afghanistan to Zambia. The student body includes 57 internationals from 29 countries, beginning with Australia and reaching to Zaire. The faculty of about 50 full-time members is drawn from 20 different denominations and, were we to include our 100 or more adjuncts who teach courses regularly in our curriculum, that number would be enlarged.

A bridge between left and right would not be an altogether inaccurate way to view us. The approach to scholarship, churchmanship, social concern, and the importance given to the preparation of woman for ministry mean that we have a great deal in common with the mainline churches and the more progressive elements within the Roman Catholic tradition.

At the same time, our commitment to historic orthodoxy as described in our statement of faith remains staunch. We do not have disciples of Bultmann on our faculty; we are not advocates of process theology; we have done very little dabbling in the so-called theology-of stream. By the standards of any seminary of any ecumenically oriented denomination, our faculty is firmly conservative.

That, too, is part of our boldness. We have much in common with churches that may be viewed as left of us and yet have our roots solidly in our conservative evangelical heritage. We are a freestanding institution—less subject to the regimen and protocol of denominational life than many institutions may be. Consequently, we can provide linkage in consultations, conversations, conferences, publications, and conclaves between various wings of the church. Some of this commitment to encourage communication among various wings of the church appears to rub off on our students. We trust that they will be convincingly loyal to their traditions but in a way that reaches far beyond the parochial. That bridge-like role is one that we aim to play with gratitude. As a son of the San Francisco Bay area, I know well that our great bridges are possible only because of the anchorage in bedrock and their flexibility to bend with the wind.

An agency of encouragement and renewal is another way that we would like to be seen. Two examples: First, early on in the life of the seminary, Harold John Ockenga, from whose church the earliest missionaries had sailed to Hawaii in 1819, developed an interest in having Fuller people minister in the Congregational churches in those islands. What began in 1951, with the placement of one of our people, has resulted in the recruitment of some 30 men and women from Fuller who minister within the fellowship of the Hawaiian Conference of the United Church of Christ. There are some who believe that the theological and spiritual tone of that entire conference has been influenced by the presence of our graduates. The other example is the United Presbyterian Church, where something like five hundred of our alumni have been enlisted for ministry. The fact that this has happened in the life of two of our great national churches may suggest that Fuller is seen to play a role in American denominational life and to supply a need not being met from other sources.

We are bold enough to believe that at Fuller we take more realistically the pluralism of our American churches and denominations than do many of the church agencies. Denominational leaders know that their organizations are pluralistic, with a theological spectrum that runs almost from Unitarian to fundamentalist. But, incredibly, the denominational boards and policies do not usually reflect this pluralism. Were the seminary structures in America to take a leaf from the book of the Anglicans and provide schools specifically designed to serve a party or theological outlook within each denomination, Fuller’s approach would be better understood and its contribution better appreciated.

But this has not been the case. The pluralism within each denomination is there, but apart from the American Baptist institutions, the seminaries of the denominations reach out with a warmer embrace to the left than to the right. Fuller, Gordon-Conwell, and similar theological institutions have supplied that missing embrace and, thereby, render significant service to the various denominations.

I don’t know about “A Challenge to the Christian Culture of the West” which Ockenga sounded at the beginning. Our responses to any kind of challenge have often been more faltering than fruitful. We are young and brash and not beyond fumbling. I’m sure that to more staid places shrouded with the grace and dignity of age, which yellow-edged books and ivy-covered buildings offer, we look like an expression of evangelical chutzpah. Our present thought is to reject all triumphalism and express afresh our desire only to serve. We hope we will be judged by our intent as much as by our mistakes.

If we are judged that way, there are certain things of which there need be no doubt. First, our sense of call to mission is as strong as ever, though it may not be expressed publicly in the grandiose terms that seemed to be necessary to launch a new venture.

Second, our commitment to the church is yet sure. Not to a new church, but to a renewal of the whole church, including us. Not to a movement, but to an entire body.

Matching our commitment to the church is our commitment to biblical faith. There are theological truths which we hold not only precious but essential. We live to understand them, to experience them, to explicate them. Whatever ecumenism we may participate in, we are not interested in nontheological or lowest-common-denominator expressions of churchliness.

Our concern for the strength and purity and growth of the church is as vital as ever. Though we may no longer express it with militant or scholastic apologetics, we do affirm that the Lordship of Christ, as taught in the infallible Scriptures, impels us to go into the whole world and to preach the gospel. We do believe that Christ as Lord is eager to call men and women of every language, in every culture, of every religion or of no religion to personal repentance and faith in him as Lord, God, and Savior. We do acknowledge the Bible’s stern warnings of judgment to those who do not heed this call and to churches that do not make it known.

We were founded as an ecumenical experiment. Because of our commitment to one Lord, nothing in our pilgrimage has caused us nor can cause us to swerve from that commitment. Ours is a boldness to be a different kind of institution. But the purpose of that boldness is clear: we, in our time, must serve the one Lord and the one church. In the grace of his forgiveness, we continue to do so.

(626) 584-5200
(800) 235-2222
135 N. Oakland Ave.
Pasadena, CA 91182