CHAPEL ADDRESS, APRIL 8, 1976
The Good Ship Fuller
David Allan Hubbard
It appears that the good ship Fuller is headed, once more,
into the winds of controversy. For those who know our history well, this
occasion will be no surprise. Those who launched us did not envision some idle
pleasure cruise, but a mission requiring all our strength and skill as befits a
vessel commissioned in the service of Christ. Even our shake-down cruise met
We were not established to fill a regional vacuum, but to
meet an international need. We did not see ourselves as the Southern California
franchise of a continental network of educational institutions. We saw
ourselves as raised by God to serve a unique role in our generation. Every item
in Fuller’s original profile was controversial.
We became a seminary at a time when it was more
evangelically fashionable to be a Bible institute. We dedicated ourselves to
the needs of the entire Christian church at a period when the party line called
for ecclesiastical separatism. We aimed for the highest standards of
scholarship in an era when technical research and hard thinking were considered
to be not only a weariness of the flesh, but a menace to the Spirit We called
for Christian social action at a time when many others thought it was their
duty to avoid social and political involvement.
For these stands, we have been buffeted at some times by
the enemies of the gospel, and, sadly, at other times, by brothers and sisters
within the Christian church. It has been difficult to combine features of
Christian obedience in theological faithfulness, churchly responsibility, and
public involvement striving to maintain our balance and direction in this era,
which has frequently caused God’s people to wobble from one side to another.
Yet, we have never viewed ourselves as an ordinary institution, even in those
days of what seemed numerically like small beginnings.
The vision was large, the hope was high, the conviction
was deep, but sailed we have. And with some measure of steadiness, even in seas
made rough by misunderstanding and disagreement. Undoubtedly, our own faulty
navigation has caused us at times to ship water, because we were not headed at
quite the right angle through the troughs. Through it all, we have had one
goal, as a graduate institution: the training of Christian leaders to be fully
loyal to God’s Word, God’s Son, and God’s people, and to be keenly aware of the
needs of the world in our time as God gives us wisdom and grace.
Once again the winds are rising and the waters turning
choppy, whether signaling a squall or a storm, I am not yet sure. This week
marks the appearance of a book by Harold Lindsell, The Battle for the Bible, published in Grand Rapids by the
Zondervan Corporation (1976).
Dr. Lindsell seeks to make two major points: First, the
Bible itself in the history of the Christian church supports an interpretation
of inerrancy that includes not only the intent of the biblical authors and
their theological teachings, but also every detail of geography, history, and
science. Second, only those churches, institutions, and individuals who adhere
to that definition of inerrancy can remain true to the evangelical faith.
My statements today are in no way intended to give a
detailed answer to Dr. Lindsell’s arguments. Others will do that better. The
response will come in a number of forms, I am certain. Theologians will wrestle
with the exegetical and theological assumptions present in the book. Historians
will evaluate the numerous statements in support of the thesis that have been
excerpted from the writings of significant Christians, denominations,
institutions, and individuals who have been criticized within the book, like
the Lutheran Church—Missouri Synod, the Southern Baptist Convention, the
Evangelical Covenant Church, Fuller Theological Seminary, Robert Mounce, F. F.
Bruce, and G. C. Berkouwer. They will give answers as to the factual accuracy
or inaccuracy of the statements made about them. Beyond that, the church will
undoubtedly hear the heart reaction of wounded and puzzled people who will
wonder how we can ever pursue the other items on the church’s agenda if this
particular issue is, indeed, the bench-mark of Christian orthodoxy as Dr.
Please hear these reflections, which I put in the form of
three questions, as a positive affirmation of our commitments at Fuller
Theological Seminary at a time when some have chosen to call them into question
and others, who have always believed in Fuller’s unique mission, need help to
support that belief.
What’s at Stake in These Issues?
Were this a private controversy between brothers or
between a Christian brother and an institution, which he helped to found, and
where he served for 17 years, I would be reluctant to make public response to
Dr. Lindsell’s statements. Through the years while he was at Fuller and since,
we have had numbers of conversations on the matters with which the book deals.
The publication of the book and the thrust that it takes remove the debate from
the closed doors of offices in Washington, DC, or Pasadena. The Battle for the Bible raises three
1. Evangelical unity
has been threatened by what I must consider narrow definitions of the term
“evangelical.” This large and cherished word must never be given a
sectarian meaning. If the convictions expressed by Dr. Lindsell are accurate, a
sharp line will be drawn through the heart of the evangelical community in the
United States and around the world. The dangers of forcing this cleavage are
frightening. The arrogance of any one group of Christians, who seek to preempt
this title for themselves by robbing it of its historic breadth and richness,
should be more than vexing to the whole Body of Christ.
We at Fuller are prepared to spare no effort to continue
to work for the unity of Christ’s people and for the most cordial cooperation
among all those for whom the gospel has become a saving way of life and who
therefore gladly and humbly call themselves “evangelical.”
priorities are jeopardized by distraction. We must, in the next year or so,
convene a major consultation to look at evangelical priorities for the next
decade. The task of world evangelization continues to call for our fervent
participation. The oppressed, underprivileged in our society and beyond must be
heard by those who seek to share in the ministry of the compassionate Christ.
The waves of humanism, secularism, and amorality that are sweeping through our
society and undermining the biblical convictions and concerns of God’s people
must be met with strong and united defense. The citadels of learning,
technology, economics, and politics must be penetrated and permeated with salt
of God’s chosen people.
The mind-boggling, the heart-rending tasks of reversing
ecological damage and stemming the ravages of hunger require every muscle and
fiber of Christian men and women that can be put to these tasks. To the world,
we will look like hockey players from the same team fighting over the puck
behind the goal if we allow the precise definition of biblical inerrancy or
infallibility to be our consuming preoccupation.
contributions to the larger needs of the church must not be curtailed by this
controversy. Huge numbers of God’s people are hungry for renewal. Almost
every Christian congregation in America is itself a significant mission field.
The ecumenical movement is more open than ever before to evangelical input. The
Lausanne Continuation Committee for World Evangelization is just tooling up to
make its unique contribution to the spreading of the gospel and the building of
the church. Others may be willing to wrestle in the locker room over the
question of the six players who belong in the starting line-up. We at Fuller
prefer to play the game on the rink and to make whatever contribution our
abilities and energies allow. We believe we know whom we are and what we are
called to do. We intend not to let questions, criticism, or misunderstanding
force us to veer from that aim.
From where I stand, the alternatives being offered to
Fuller’s approach look like a scholarship turned defensive, a churchmanship
turned divisive, a historiography turned selective, and a personal pique turned
vindictive. For me, these ingredients form too shaky a foundation on which to
build a stable, let alone a significant, institution.
What’s Different About the Present Era?
The second of my three questions asks, What is different
about the present era? Part of Dr. Lindsell’s thesis is that there is a
rhythmic pattern apparent in the American church that has made three
appearances in the last hundred years:
• in the controversy
between Union Seminary and Princeton centering in the teachings of Charles
• in the
Westminster-Princeton controversy which led to the establishment of Westminster
Theological Seminary by a number of Princeton Seminary professors about 1930
• in the alleged
changes in attitude toward inspiration, authority, and inerrancy in the 1970s
Several factors make me question this analysis of American
church history. First, the battle between
fundamentalists and liberals, which characterized the American church in the
first half of our century, is now more a matter of history than a living
reality. The impact of the theologies of Karl Barth, Emil Brunner, and
others—together with the growing influence of the great biblical theologians of
our time like Oscar Cullman and Walter Eichrodt—have combined to bring a much
clearer sense of the biblical realities of sin and grace to the contemporary
In every confession in the American church today, there
are substantial signs of renewal among Christians. This renewal has meant that
faith in the Scriptures, commitment to the Scriptures as the Word of God, and a
willingness to hear the biblical message have increased measurably. We can no
longer see Christian groupings in clear-cut black and white, such as seemed
possible two generations ago.
We at Fuller honor the historic struggle of God’s people
to maintain the purity of the faith, but we feel that the struggle may take
different forms in different generations. Once, at the beginning of my tenure,
I remarked to our honorary trustee and cofounder Harold John Ockenga that I
felt no constraint to carry on at Fuller the strategies and apologetics
characteristic of the old Princeton in the days of B. B. Warfield and William
Henry Green. I said, “I honor those warriors of the faith and feel toward the
efforts that they expended precisely as I do when I stand at Bunker Hill and
recall the indispensable deeds of our America forefathers. I revere that
battle, but I cannot fight it again.” From period to period, the battleground
changes and so do the configurations of foes and allies. In planning our
present mission, it is essential for us to know that the situation in the
Christian church today is not the same as it was in those gallant years of
Francis Patton and J. Gresham Machen.
The second thing
different today that leads me to question Dr. Lindsell’s analysis is our
enlarged appreciation of the positive results that can flow from scholarly
examination of the processes by which God gave the Word. It does little
good to deal with contemporary problems in biblical criticism with the same
mindset with which we would have faced the issues in the heyday of German
biblical criticism in the last part of the nineteenth century. We know the
weaknesses of the philosophical and religious presuppositions which shaped
their work We have better tools with which to do our work in language,
philology, archaeology, and theology than were available to those scholars. We
also have better biblical assumptions about the tasks of scholarship. The
realization is deep-seated within us that indeed the Word of God is given to us
in the context of human language, human culture, and human history. The
knowledge is heartfelt that it is the only infallible standard by which our
Christian thinking and Christian living must be judged.
The purpose of our scholarship is not to destroy, but to
build up. It is not to lay bare the humanity of the Bible, but to expose the
way in which the Spirit of God used the humanity of the Scripture in order to
bring us his truth.
We also have the painful lessons of past history to help
us engage in positive, biblical scholarship. Lindsell is right in his claim
that Christians today must have an eye on the past. This historical perspective
is one of the reasons why we can give ourselves to technical, biblical
scholarship in our attempt to discover the divine processes at work in the
giving to us of the infallible Word. It is not too much to say that such
insight into the processes is itself indispensable for our understanding of,
and obedience to, the Word.
Third, the increased
call for evangelical participation in the frontiers of learning makes today’s
situation different from the past. Once we are committed to engage in
intellectual dialogue with various academic disciplines, particularly the
historical and behavioral sciences, there is no way to back out of the
responsibilities of using all the tools and methods of investigation open to us
as scholars. Of course, faith and scholarship will go hand-in-hand; but one can
never substitute for the other. It is particularly important that we not use
the tools of scholarship to buttress our confidence in the teaching of the
Scripture, when at the same time we reject them if they call for the correction
of some of our traditional interpretations.
Our particular role at Fuller has always called for risk
We, with many other Christians, are tempted at times to play it safe. But the
Great Commission does not say, “Go into all the world and be careful.” It calls
us to use every ability, tool, opportunity, and energy that we have to make
disciples of the nations. The great commandment does not say, “Love the Lord
with all your mind, heart, soul, and strength, but keep certain intellectual
cupboards closed, because of fear of what you may discover if you open them.”
The God who is Lord of all truth, Chief of all history, Revealer and Inspirer
of the Word, calls us to venture largely in our participation in his mission,
and in our desire to know and to love him with all that we have and are.
It has never been a good trade to accept a poorer theology
just because it seems safer. My deepest concern about Dr. Lindsell’s book is
not that it criticizes Fuller, but that its inadequate and unbiblical view of
Scripture will divide our evangelical fellowship worldwide. My own question, by
the way, is not about the use of the word “inerrancy,” but about the unbiblical
definition, which I think Lindsell brings to that term.
How Will Fuller Make Clear Our Current Commitments?
My third major question is this: What will Fuller do to
make clear our commitments in the contemporary scene? By and large, we will
continue to do what we have been doing for these nearly 30 years of our
history. We will continue to train some of the finest men and women as servants
of the Church of Jesus Christ. We will continue to engage in scholarship
limited only by our commitments to the revealed truth of the holy Scriptures
and to the confessional statement of the seminary, and limited by the abilities
and consciences of our faculty members.
At the same time, present circumstances may call for us to
make it even more clear to ourselves, as trustees, faculty, and student body,
and to the Christian public at large, what we are all about. We need to affirm
more consistently and effectively what we believe. In our writing, in our
teaching, in our thinking, and in our living, we must be obedient to the holy
Scriptures and sensitive to the doctrinal commitments within which we work and
learn in an institution that has a confessional basis for its ministry.
Next fall, for instance, I have asked for the privilege of
speaking in chapel one day a week during the academic term, in order to expound
the implications for the seminary community and the Christian church of the
kinds of theological affirmations that are made in our doctrinal statement. Our
lives as persons and our corporate life as an institution are based on the
fundamentals of the faith and always must be. Skepticism within the world at
large and anxiety within our wing of the church may make it necessary for us to
speak more specifically, more positively, and more clearly on what we believe
and why, than we have felt the need to do in the past decade or so.
We want to learn from responsible critics, to open
ourselves to review and to renewal. Institutional smugness must not be our
posture. We are members of Christ’s Body, open to the council and influence of
other Christians. If those who question the stance of Fuller in any area of our
faith or mission are more in touch with the meaning of God’s Word and the needs
of God’s world than we are, we must learn from them.
We are ready to engage in theological discussion with
responsible representatives of other points of view on any terms that seem
fruitful and that are compatible with the educational and spiritual goals of
Dr. Lindsell in the book has called for this kind of
conversation. I trust he takes his own call more seriously than he took the
1966 Wenham Conference, which was designed to promote just the kind of
conversation that he has now called for. In such conversation, our only aim
will be just what it is in all our theological engagement, the discovery of the
most complete and effective way to talk of what the Bible says about itself.
Our doctrine of Scripture must be as subject to the
judgment of Scripture as anything else that we believe. We will try to maintain
the same attitude of loving concern and communication towards those who may
criticize us as the late Edward John Carnell, who was highly praised by Dr.
Lindsell in the book, expressed in his inaugural address as president of Fuller
in 1955, an address by the way that itself sparked considerable controversy
within and without the seminary. Here is the way Dr. Carnell expressed it in
his inaugural address:
“If the second greatest of all the laws signifies anything,
it follows that even as we never allow either ourselves or others to approach
the heart apart from a humble, loving acceptance of the mystery of the heart,
so we must approach others with an equal sense of mystery and with equal
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.”
We cannot spare the time to defend
our right to call ourselves evangelicals. The Lord knows who are his. We have
heard him call us by name. We stand humbly and gratefully in the company of his
people. We prize the term evangelical
in a number of its historical senses, including an identification with the
evangelical movements that came out of the great spiritual awakenings in the
nineteenth century with their strong thrust on evangelism, revival, and world
It would be boorish for us to rehearse our credentials. We
need only to be reminded that it’s not enough to brand ourselves
“evangelicals,” we must be about our evangelical tasks.
One of the first sermons that I preached, after coming to
Fuller in the fall of 1963, bore the title, “Are We Really Evangelical?” My
basic thesis was that we must never use the term evangelical without our hearing the ring of the gospel in it. A
seminary, a church, or a person can be evangelical only when bearing these
• Loyalty to the content of the gospel,
including the reality of the incarnation; the centrality of the cross; the
triumph of the resurrection; the hope of Christ’s return, confidence in the
power of the gospel to cut to the heart of our basic human problems and to call
men and women to be reconciled to God;
• Motivation by the sprit of the gospel,
expressed in our love—despite our differences of race or color, occupation or
education, interests or traits, habits or standards;
• Control by the demands of the gospel,
including the demand to go into the world making disciples and the demand to
teach these disciples the things that Christ commanded, including God’s concern
for human need in every form.
For some of our students, faculty, and trustees, stormy
sailing may be a new experience. May I share with you this assurance? My
confidence in the seaworthiness of our ship and the correctness of our course
has been fortified by numerous correspondence with Christian leaders, editors
of journals, heads of Christian agencies, leaders in government, presidents of
churches, and seminary administrators. These and many more have sensed the
pending gale and have assured us of their stout convoy as we sail ahead.
Meanwhile for those of us who are on board, let us give
ourselves to a double task. Let us rejoice in the global impact of our hundreds
of graduates who labor in Christ’s name to proclaim and demonstrate the saving
Word. Let us stay hard at work in the fulfillment of the calling, which the Lord
of the Church and the Lord of the Word has thrust upon us.