Monday, March 31, 2008

on being a bridge person

I consider myself a bridge person. You may ask, “From what to what?”

One of my primary concerns over the years has been to be a bridge between the church and the academy. I spent almost 20 years in higher education; at the same time I was also working in churches -- on staff at four churches during those years, plus volunteer work, as well as working with Young Life. My concern is that the church needs to get its questions to the academy, and the church needs to help the academy to understand that its ultimate value is in finding answers to how the gospel is lived, incarnated, and comes alongside to help the world that God wants to reach.

Being in the church has helped raise those issues for me. I’ve worked in adult ed, youth ministry, and children’s education, and each one has its own value. I think the academy is hugely valuable in finding answers and digging deeply into things, and that the church desperately needs those resources. I’m reminded that in the world of dentistry, for example, there are people who work on people’s teeth every day, and there are also people in the academy who are constantly researching better materials and procedures and techniques, and that the academy doesn’t operate outside of asking how this is ultimately going to shape the world of dental practice. And I would like to see more of that between the church and the academy. So I attempt to bridge the gulf between those. Washington Seminary, where I am the chancellor, is embedded in a church and is also embedding itself in the world of academic discussion. So we are attempting to have a seminary that embodies both of those worlds as well and serves as a bridge.

I also see myself as a bridge between the conservative side of Christianity and the liberal. I think everyone has a general concern to ask, “What does love look like? And what does it mean to be the body of Christ?” There are varying degrees as to how we achieve that. During several school terms I have taught both at Northwest University, which is an Assemblies of God school and to the conservative side, and at Seattle University, which is more to the liberal side. I teach pretty much the same kinds of things -- largely about the Trinity and the life of relationship, and what it means to know others personally and not merely as objects. And I find that people are very open to the idea of relational thinking as a core to where it is that we’re all going, whether from the right or from the left. Both the liberal and the conservative have seemed to be void of trinitarian thinking, so there is a need for someone to come in and see the possibilities of going back to the affirmations of the early church and how those thoughts shape the way that we do ministry in the modern world, and the way we talk about who God is -- that God is a relational community of Father, Son, Spirit that continues in the world in a relational manner that we are invited to share. So again, to be a bridge in theological thinking by providing trinitarian thinking is another dimension of who I am as a bridge person, the way I want to be involved in bridge activities and to see the divergent components within our current contemporary institutions somehow be brought together by persons who embody being bridges.

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