One of the foremost evangelical leaders in building a theology for the common good is Richard Mouw, former president of Fuller Theological Seminary. In a newly-released video of his talk at Karam Forum 2020, Mouw insightfully identifies potential pitfalls among evangelical leaders driving this change, and offers a more integrated way forward in theological education.
Speaking of Karam Forum, we know you’re waiting for announcements about Karam Forum 2021. The network steering committee has been monitoring the pandemic situation carefully, and gathering input from faculty liaisons at our partner schools. Look for a major update on our plans in a future newsletter. Rest assured, we take seriously both the challenge of public health and the importance of finding a collaborative way forward for our community.
In his challenging Karam Forum 2020 talk, Mouw addresses this central question: “What do seminaries need to be like to equip the churches to equip God’s people to serve God in the patterns of their work and their play beyond the boundaries of the church?”
As a leading voice addressing the relationship between vocation, ministry, theology and the marketplace, Mouw recounts his personal journey toward a vision of theological education that holistically addresses both the church and economic life. He saw the “ways in which God’s people were not being encouraged to see their work beyond the boundaries of the church.” While much progress has been made in recent years to address this, much work still remains to be done, particularly in evangelical seminaries.
With a posture of humility, Mouw reflects that at times in his career, he overreacted against artificial elevation of the clergy into anti-clerical attitudes that he now repents from. The idea of Christian vocation for the common good does resist the tendency to put the local church and the clergy on a higher spiritual plane. But, Mouw cautions, this resistance must not become an excuse to dismiss the vital role of local churches and the clergy.
Mouw challenges theological educators to consider “when these students graduate and go into the workforce, what kind of churches are they going to go back to?” He wonders whether students leaving their educational contexts “are going to go to churches that will encourage what they have learned in these vocational programs in their lives as college and university undergraduates.”
Mouw identifies three primary obstacles to the church’s ability to address these issues with faithfulness and innovative leadership. One obstacle is a prevailing ecclesio-centrism that overly encourages people to be involved in church activities at the expense of their participation in the marketplace. Within this paradigm, non-church work is not viewed as ministry and is relegated to a second-class status. This perpetuates divides between the church, the academy and the workplace.
Another obstacle is the guild-directed pattern of theological education: “We take our direction on what to tech in seminaries from the academic guilds.” While Mouw is careful to note that he does not want to abolish guilds, he suggests that we should take “direction from the kind of questions that are important to the life of the church.” As theological education seeks to bridge the divide between the ecclesial and the economic, “theologians should respond to questions posed to them by people living out the patterns of discipleship beyond the world of the church.”
The final obstacle Mouw identifies is a false sense of comfort operating from a position of cultural marginalization, which leads to a neglect and even a suspicion of vocation for the common good. Evangelicals are, in fact, not on the margins of society; they are embedded in the halls of power and influential institutions. They are within the cultural mainstream, so evangelicals must “take responsibility for equipping God’s people for cultural renewal by affirming and working toward good goals in the broader culture,” not just in an isolated subculture.
We look forward to continuing the conversation about these important issues in future Karam Forum gatherings and other ON collaborations.