Seattle has been my home, parish (of sorts), and research context for almost 15 years. Prior to entering the SIS PhD program, I was working as a community groups pastor at an urban, multiethnic church plant while contemplating (often with some frustration) why my theological education up to that point seemed to be missing some fairly important questions. So I began the program with a set of particular questions, mostly centered on the city as an important cultural and theological context. The focus was not merely “urban ministry,” or even urban missiology, important as both of those fields are. Rather, I wanted to understand the city as a kind of theological text, and approach its cultural complexities with a robust, missional theology.
Several factors drew me to Fuller’s program- first, the reputation of its faculty, and in particular, the significant missiological resources available in the School of Intercultural Studies. Second, I knew that I would encounter and interact with students from diverse backgrounds, and with diverse research interests. Lastly, I appreciated the interdisciplinary focus of ICS, and the flexibility of adapting my research to various academic disciplines.
My experience in the program was both wonderful and challenging, with most of the difficulties rooted in the fact that I was doing my research in Seattle, and thus more disconnected, both geographically and relationally, than I wanted to be from the Pasadena campus. My committee was very accommodating, and the last year wrapped up very well as my research became much more cohesive, thanks to their wisdom and gentle guidance. I particularly enjoyed the annual doctoral seminars, and the collaborative environment of peer review across a wide array of disciplines and research topics. That exposure to other students’ research was one of the highlights for me personally as it reminded me of the common ground that all ICS students share, despite significant differences or subtle nuances of culture, language, geography, and Christian tradition.
As for the impact my research will have on mission, my hope is to illuminate the city as a meaningful theological context in consideration of both the missio Dei and the cultural realities of density, diversity, and disparity in today’s global cities. In short, I hope my research will help to equip the church with a robust (to quote the subtitle of my forthcoming book, Street Signs) “missional theology of urban cultural engagement.”