The Times They Are a Changing (Institutions on the Move)

In a strange coincidence, I received notification today that two of the graduate schools I have studied at (and taught at) are selling their buildings. Both have been trying to sell their buildings for a while, and both have now found buyers.

I received both notifications by email today, with links that pointed to online postings from the day before.

Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School

First, I heard the news about Colgate Rochester Crozer Divinity School (Rochester, NY).

I attended Colgate Rochester in the eighties as an M.A. student, while serving as Protestant Chaplain at the University of Rochester, and then I moved back to Rochester in the nineties for a tenure track faculty position in Old Testament.

It was as a student at Colgate Rochester that I was first introduced to the writings of Walter Brueggemann, whose vision of the relevance the the Old Testament has shaped my understanding of Scripture. And Brueggemann sent me a nice note of congratulation when I started teaching there.

I lived in the dorms for my first semester as a student at Colgate and then again for a semester when I began teaching (before my family had moved to Rochester).

But for a long time the beautiful buildings on the “Hill” have been underused, ever since the other theological partner schools that shared the campus (Bexley Hall and St. Bernard’s) moved to other locations, and the largely residential student population shifted to primarily commuting students.

So with all those empty buildings, including dorms and the large cafeteria, it makes sense that the Divinity School plans to move to a smaller facility in the city, sometime over the next two years. It would be a significant cost savings, while allowing them to invest the funds from the sale in the future of the institution.

Institute for Christian Studies

Later in the day I heard the news about the Institute for Christian Studies (Toronto).

I attended the ICS in the late seventies for my first graduate courses, before I transferred to the University of Guelph for my M.A. in philosophy. While studying at the ICS and during my time in Guelph I worked for the ICS teaching non-credit worldview courses on university campuses in southern Ontario.

It was at the ICS that I received an in-depth exposure to thinking about a Christian worldview, through the institution’s intellectual heritage that could be traced back to the life and thought of Abraham Kuyper.

During my studies at ICS my wife and I lived in a small apartment on the top floor (with roof access), which came with the position of being in charge of janitorial work for the entire building.

I later returned to the ICS in the nineties for my PhD, and taught many adjunct courses in Biblical Studies and Worldview Studies in the Master’s programs. At this point we didn’t live in Toronto, but I commuted to the ICS from St. Catharines a couple days per week.

It was during this time that I was introduced to the work of N. T. Wright, who spoke at the ICS on a number of occasions. Wright’s serious historical and theological interpretation of the New Testament has impacted my vision of the text, including its rootnedness in the Old Testament and Second Temple Judaism.

Between the two times I attended the ICS, the school moved from the fourth floor of the building (where I first had classes) to the second floor, and then to the first floor, having sold the greater share of the five-story building they owned in downtown Toronto to investors.

But now, with the investors going out of business, and the option to buy back the entire building being too much at this time (given the price of real estate in Toronto), it makes sense to sell the entire building (including their own share), while continuing to rent one floor. Just as with Colgate Rochester, this would allow them to invest the funds from the sale in the future of the institution.

A Future Orientation

What do these two similar stories tell us about the state of Christian higher education today? What do they tell us about what is really important?

Yes, institutions need buildings with adequate space and facilities to pursue their mission. But these two stories point to the very real need to cut costs and become leaner and more efficient for the sake of the mission.

I have all sorts of fond memories of these two buildings (the beautiful stone towers of CRCDS and the old fourth floor of ICS). But it simply won’t do to focus nostalgically on the past. To be effective and faithful, institutions need to be aware of what serves the mission. So while being deeply grounded in tradition (never forgetting the past), faithful institutions need to be oriented to the present and to anticipate the future.

I am a grateful recipient of the formative intellectual traditions I inherited from both these graduate schools. And I am fully supportive of these ways in which each is preparing to meet future challenges.

Our Traditions Are Rooted in Creation’s Possibilities—Reflections on Being a Kuyperian-Wesleyan

The above quote is from a published article by Gideon Strauss (originally from South Africa), who has been appointed to head up the Worldview Studies program at the Institute for Christian Studies (ICS), in Toronto. I did my PhD (and some previous Masters coursework) at ICS, and taught a number of courses in the Worldview Studies program when I was working on my doctorate (Brian Walsh was then Worldview program director).

The Kuyperian Tradition and the Institute for Christian Studies

Like me, Gideon has been shaped by the Kuyperian (a.k.a. Neocalvinist) tradition, which gave birth to the ICS and which continues to shape its vision. We have also had the similar experience of being born and raised in one culture, while presently living and working in another culture.

In the article that the quote was taken from, Gideon reflects on the possibilities of a postcolonial re-appropriation of Neocalvinism in Africa, given that apartheid was propagated by Afrikaners, who were (at least, nominally) Neocalvinists. His analysis is very much indebted to the Neocalvinist philosophical tradition, something that didn’t impact me quite as deeply, given that my interests were more theological and especially concerned with biblical interpretation.

I was, however, impacted by the broad Kuyperian vision, which claims that all of life and human culture, indeed all creation, belongs to God. In a previous post I quoted Abraham Kuyper’s famous statement:

“There is not a square inch in the whole domain of our human existence over which Christ, who is sovereign Lord of all, does not cry: ‘Mine!’”

And God’s saving work through Christ is as wide as creation.

These were themes I was beginning to discern in Scripture before my contact with the Kuyperian tradition at ICS; but that tradition gave a helpful focus to these themes.

Of late I have been reflecting on my debt to the various traditions I’ve been part of over the years.

Traditions That Have Shaped Me

First, there is the indelible experience of growing up Jamaican (white in a predominantely black culture), then being thrust into Canadian culture at the age of 22, and how having lived over a third of my life in the United States. For some years now I’ve described my hybrid identity as “Jamericadian.”

But I’ve also been aware that I’ve been formed by many diverse church traditions.

In Jamaica I was a member of the Missionary Church (a Wesleyan/Holiness denomination); in Canada I’ve been Presbyterian (two types), Christian Reformed, and Baptist (two types); and in America I’ve been a member of the American Baptist Church and now the Free Methodist Church of North America (a return to my Wesleyan roots).

As I look at my ecclesial and theological journey, I note that I have returned to the Wesleyan tradition which initially shaped me (however, I wasn’t particularly aware of the depth of that tradition, initially). Along the way, I often connected with the Reformed/ Calvinist/ Presbyterian theological tradition, since this was the tradition that seemed to be aware of worldview issues (which I found important). But just as often, as I moved from city to city (six such moves), I was attracted to the particular local church; my motivation for church involvement was usually guided by the search for a faithful community on my faith journey.

Interestingly, I have found that there is significant overlap between the Kuyperian tradition and the Wesleyan tradition. In particular, Wesley’s interest in creation and the sciences (called “natural philosophy” at the time) and his mature view of the eschatological redemption of all things resonate well with the Kuyperian vision of Christ’s cosmic lordship.

Further Thoughts about the Intersection of the Kuyperian and Weslyan Traditions

For those interested, I’ve been articulating some ideas about the intersection of the Kuyperian and Wesleyan traditions (especially as I have been shaped by them) in response to a blog post by Bob Robinson.

In the post, which first appeared on his blog Regenerate, Bob explained the Kuyperian view of the kingdom of God as God’s claim over the entire created order. In a previous post he had addressed the anabaptist version of the kingdom in the writings of Scot McKnight and John Howard Yoder. And he promised a further post explicitly contrasting the Kuyerian and anabaptist visions of the kingdom.

In the discussion that followed on Bob’s Facebook page (which is copied to my Facebook page), a conversation started (in advance of his promised post) about the differences between the Kuyperian vision of God’s cosmic kingdom and Scot McKnight’s view of the kingdom of God as equivalent to the church.

I joined the discussion at a number of points. Here were some of my comments.

  • A Middleton-McKnight Book on the Kingdom of God

Scot McKnight has asked me to write a book with him (for IVP) on the Kingdom of God, that would include his view (the kingdom as the church) and my own (Kuyperian-Wesleyan) hybrid view (a cosmic kingdom, embodied in the church, both as institution and as scattered people of God). We would also include one or two other positions (so this would be a three or four views book). I’ve agreed to work on this with Scott after my sabbatical (I would be free to work on this sometime in 2017).

  • On Being a Kuyperian-Wesleyan

Someone wondered about my hybrid Kuyperian-Wesleyan identity, since he hadn’t known of the Wesleyan part. This was my reply:

I have found that there is great overlap between Wesley and Kuyper on the cosmic scope of God’s salvation. Perhaps the Wesleyan piece comes out more in the emphasis I place on the church, and the importance of ecclesial witness. There is also a sacramentalism in Wesley, that he got from the Greek Fathers (who influenced him greatly).

In response to a comment about how complex our identities can be, I noted:

Most of us have some sort of hybrid identity. Different contexts might lead me to highlight different aspects of my identity. I have certainly been shaped by the Kuyperian tradition, but I never found myself a perfect fit. I still retained some of my formation in the Wesleyan/ holiness tradition (though I was unaware of the nature of this tradition at the time). The Kuyperian tradition helped me correct some of the problems I perceived in my formation. But as I have become more cognizant with the Wesleyan tradition I have come to see a depth and breadth there that was not always explicit in my formation (and that isn’t always manifest in contemporary expressions of this tradition). But, thankfully, both my seminary and my church are characterized by this depth and breadth. See my post on Northeastern Seminary at Roberts Wesleyan College: https://jrichardmiddleton.wordpress.com/…/northeastern…/

  • How I Came to Discern My Kinship with the Wesleyan Tradition

When asked for further clarification of the Wesleyan piece, I elaborated as follows:

I discovered my kinship with Wesleyans after I began teaching at Roberts Wesleyan College in 2002 and met Wesleyan academics (faculty and students) at the Graduate Students Theological Seminar (held in Indianapolis each fall), sponsored by the Free Methodist Church and the Wesleyan Church. This seminar was started in the 1960s to support students from these two denominations who were working on PhDs in the broad area of theology or religious studies.

Each year doctoral students are invited to present papers arising from their research, with a Wesleyan professor in the same area giving a detailed (critical, yet encouraging) response. The students’ expenses are all covered. A bishop from each denomination also attends, and participates in the discussions, fellowship times, and worship.

Denominational sponsored or affiliated colleges (like Roberts Wesleyan College, Houghton College, Azusa Pacific University, Seattle Pacific University, Greenville College, Spring Arbor College, etc.) all send faculty representatives, who participate with the students in rigorous academic discussions, but also in fellowship and worship.

This annual event sends a strong message that the church values serious academic work. It therefore helps the students who attend remain ecclesially connected, conscious both of the relevance of their work for the church and that they themselves need the church’s support.

  • The Church in Kuyperian and Wesleyan Perspective

I added a final set of comments on what I learned from the Kuyperian and Wesleyan traditions about the significance of the church:

The Kuyperian tradition has been very helpful to me by distinguishing between 1) the church as an institution (denomination, or local body) and 2) the church as the body of Christ or God’s people (who may organize themselves in denominations and gather for worship, teaching, and fellowship; but who are still God’s people when they simply live their lives in the world, as parents, spouses, citizens, politicians, engineers, students, teachers, farmers, workers; and also when they organize themselves into non-ecclesial institutions, such as schools, labor unions, etc.). So the church in the first (narrower) sense is only one manifestation of the church in the second (wider) sense.

Kuyper thus calls on Christians wherever they are and whatever they do (whether individually or collectively) to represent the Lord Christ (and his kingdom) in their lives. It is the mission of the church (in the broader sense as God’s people/ the body of Christ) to conform their lives to the standards and values of the King of all creation.

The Wesleyan tradition isn’t so clear on the above point, though Wesley strongly emphasized the need for the church (and all Christians) to minister to the poor as part of the gospel (which involved both proclamation and deeds of mercy).

But I value the Wesleyan tradition particularly for stressing the crucial role of the gathered (institutional) church for the life of faith; the worship of the gathered church should be spiritually formative, which grounds the life of the people of God for faithful living in the wider world (which is still God’s world).

But I don’t want to give up on the Kuyperian distinction between the two senses of church. In fact, if you read the Pauline epistles with the broader sense of “church” in mind, they have much more far-reaching implications, addressing what Wesleyans have called “social holiness.”

I am grateful to have been profoundly shaped by these differing traditions rooted in God’s creation, which have been unfolded and refolded over time by communities of the faithful, in ways that engender blessing and shalom in God’s world.