California’s Fuller Seminary trains modern Protestant evangelicals.

PASADENA, Calif. – There are few better places to get a glimpse of what 21st-century Christianity looks like than Fuller Theological Seminary. The sun-splashed campus is a major, multicultural training ground for Protestant evangelicals – a group expanding quickly in the developing world and that wants to reconvert Christianity’s traditional strongholds in the West.

Overseas students from 70 nations make up more than a quarter of the enrollment; degree programs are offered in Korean and Spanish as well as English.

As Fuller President Richard Mouw sees it, his school trains religious leaders from all nations to work wherever they’re called. This is an era when all cultures are mixing and westerners won’t necessarily lead Christianity.

“We are seeing the internationalization of theology,” he says, “the shifting of boundaries and blurring of boundaries.”

With 4,900 students from 100 denominations, Fuller vies with Texas’ Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary for the title of America’s largest seminary. It’s also a leading institution on evangelicalism’s left flank.

The Pasadena-based seminary has three parts: a conventional School of Theology and two pioneering graduate programs, a seminary-based clinical psychology school and the School of Intercultural Studies, or SIS.

Central to Fuller’s global impact, SIS was called the School of World Mission until 2003, when the name was changed because international alumni felt a “mission” degree was a liability in many countries.

SIS, which marks its 40th anniversary with a Nov. 7-10 conference, has sent some 3,500 graduates across the world as teachers, administrators, pastors and evangelists. It also helped attract many international students to Fuller’s School of Theology.

“Fuller was a pacesetter. We all owe Fuller a lot,” says professor Terry Muck of the newer mission school at Kentucky’s Asbury Theological Seminary. “They took what was staring them in the face, being on the West Coast in multicultural Los Angeles, and did something with it.”

Originally, SIS trained mainly midcareer missionaries from the United States and Canada. Gradually, students from overseas became the majority – though they’ve fallen back to a third of the program’s students, due largely to visa and financial roadblocks faced by internationals hoping to study in the United States.

Concerned that too many overseas students worked in the United States after graduating, Fuller also provides training in their homelands through Internet “distance learning” and cooperative programs with a dozen international campuses.

Students’ plans after graduation reflect today’s complex religious patterns. For instance:

•Enock De Assis, who formerly directed missionaries that Brazil’s Presbyterians sent through Latin America and Africa, might return to Brazil to teach theology. Or he may work with Portuguese-speaking congregations in the United States.

•James Kissi-Ayittey, who previously evangelized fellow Ghanaians, then Liberian refugees in Ivory Coast, plans to teach at Ghana’s Central University College, an international school with 4,000 students sponsored by booming Pentecostal and Charismatic churches.

•Tabitha Singh, an ethnic Indian from Guyana raised in New York City, hopes to help rescue prostitutes in either South America or India.

•Aya Tasaka might become an evangelist back home in Tokyo, or work with the 63 Japanese churches in the Los Angeles area, or evangelize Japanese students on U.S. campuses.

Speaking with the students, it’s clear that the older emphasis on soul-winning alone is fading. These younger evangelicals intend to combine evangelism and social action and, unlike old “social gospel” liberals, emphasize efforts by Christian groups rather than relying on government action.

Dean C. Douglas McConnell says SIS students will work in developing nations where large numbers migrate, the HIV/AIDS epidemic is devastating populations, catastrophes put severe pressures on church leaders, average ages are declining and huge numbers of children are exploited for labor, combat and sex trafficking.

Yet Fuller analysts also consider the West a growing mission field. In Amsterdam, for instance, just 50,000 of the 735,000 residents are regular churchgoers, with 30,000 in growing immigrant churches that eventually want to re-evangelize the Dutch. In Britain, only 1 percent of those ages 18 to 35 worship regularly.

In the United States, says professor Ryan Bolger, many traditional congregations thrive but there are growing pockets of thoroughly secularized young adults. To reach them, evangelists are creating “postmodern” fellowships that shed most traditional forms of organized religion. Meanwhile, new immigrants need culturally attuned churches. “You don’t have to go across the world to be a missionary,” Bolger says. “It’s missionaries from everywhere going everywhere.”

SIS’s founding mantra was “church growth,” meaning mostly numbers. Today it’s “church health,” emphasizing social impact and deeper Christian devotion. But one aspect of the founders’ concept remains: sophisticated analysis of social groups, rather than simply seeking converts one by one.

McConnell stresses another constant. He says zeal for spreading the message to everyone everywhere remains central “for any Christian who has a firm commitment to the uniqueness and amazing offer of salvation in Christ.”



On the Net:

Fuller: http://www.fuller.edu

AP-ES-10-12-05 1244EDT


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