“What was your favorite seminary experience and why?” – Part 5

Given the fact that I went to seminary to, you know, learn things, I thought maybe I should blog some about my favorite professors.

Nancey Murphy was one. She’s a huge influence on many in the Emergent conversation, and was the person who introduced me to the postmodern buzzword. I only took one class from her, Philosophical Theology, which was basically her and her passions condensed into one class. She’s earned both a Ph.D. in Philosophy and a Th.D (Doctor of Theology).

This was one of those “puzzle pieces in the air” classes. Since postmodern has come to mean about anything, I’ll define what Murphy did for me as helping me understand that our world is moving to post-foundationalism, and that is a very good thing for the church. Foundationalism, in a nutshell, has served as the philosophical undergirding of our world for the past few centuries. It’s the belief that everything has some rock solid, undoubtable foundation, which can be discovered via the scientific method and Descartes system of doubting and questioning everything. There’s ultimately no room, philosophically, for spirituality in this system, because only what can be directly observed and quantifiably measured can hold up as a foundation.

She helped me see how classic theological liberalism (doubting physical miracles and emphasizing good ethics) and classic theological conservatism/fundamentalism (“evidence that demands a verdict” and biblical inerrancy) are contrasting poles of religion in a foundationalist era. And, she opened up the wonderfully hopeful possibilities for religion regaining a place in the post-foundational philosophical world.

James Bradley was another favorite. Bob Ramsey (Fuller grad and my pastor while in seminary) told me never to be late for Bradley’s classes, because his devotionals were the best part of the class. Best advice I ever got. Here’s a brilliant academic who made church history come alive and find significance, but who was even better at helping us explore a real relationship with God. (And, since he earned his Ph.D. at USC, his academic regalia was a really cool crimson and gold. Stood out in a GOOD way amidst all the black at the academic convocations. Not at all like Dean William Dyrness; he stood out in a HORRIBLE way. I’m sure his doctorate from the University of Strasbourg is very prestigious, but his robes were absolutely the worst. I used to call them the Minnesota Viking Mascot Regalia. They were all purple and literally had these white pom-pom things hanging around his neck. Horrific.)

But my two absolute favorites were Marianne Meye Thompson and Miroslav Volf (now at Yale).

Marianne is probably the only one out of all my professors who might still be able to call me by name. I took Exegetical Method (which means she taught me how to interpret the bible), Gospel of John, and Life of Jesus from her. I loved how and what she taught, and I loved who she was as a person. I remember one day, I think in the John class, when we were wrestling with some of the really difficult technical issues of the text. She really stretched a lot of us, and one student was actually almost distraught about what this might mean to her faith. Marianne pushed us through all the scholarship, and then she reminded us of John 6. Jesus did all this radical, unbelievable teaching about being the bread of life and chewing him up and stuff, and a whole bunch of the people left him. Jesus asks the disciples if they’re going to leave, too, and Peter says in John 6:68: “Lord, to whom shall we go? You have the words of eternal life.”

She looked at us and actually teared up. “I wrestle with all this stuff too, but when it all comes down to basics, I’m with Peter. To whom shall we go? Jesus really is the one thing in my life that I can hold on to.” It was moving.

I took almost all of my systematic theology from Volf, with Laura Schmidt Roberts and Tony Jones and Jimmy Barnhill and Lynn Farris and Linda Peacore and Mike Moses and others. The ones I named formed the core of a study group that was absolutely the best learning group I’ve ever been a part of. I remember when we were studying Louis Berkhof’s view of the sacraments. Tony and I just kept looking at each other like the other was from another planet. (“You mean YOU ACTUALLY THINK that God’s special grace is somehow literally bound to these physical acts?” “Are you trying to tell me YOU DON’T?”)

Once a week after class, Volf would invite anyone in the class to meet at the Fuller coffee shop (Higher Grounds…how cheesy is that?) to talk about whatever we wanted, questions from class or anything else. I remember one day he asked me about Friends theology, specifically in regard to the Lord’s Supper. He listened carefully, and eventually asked a question that has stuck with me to this day: “I understand that open worship is your expression of communion with God. But what do you do, as a body, that demonstrates your connectedness to other believers as the body of Christ?” Friends (with a capital “F”), we must answer this experientially so our faith doesn’t become supremely individualistic.

But wait, there’s more! (This is already probably way more than any of you care about, but remember, this blog is all about me.) 🙂 I’ll close with my Advanced Preaching Seminar, taught by Ian Pitt-Watson. Ian has since passed away; he was a small man with a huge voice and an infectious Scottish brogue. He taught us to have our preaching move “from Palestine to Pasadena” and how to have “exegesis of the text AND exegesis of life.” The seminar was 10 of us: Me, Tony, Laura, Jimmy, Mike Moses, Matt Colwell, Jeff Schulz…and three others I obviously can’t remember. We met here:

Preaching lab

I heard Laura’s amazing “Bad Investment” sermon there, as well as what was the second best sermon I ever heard at Fuller, and second just by a hair. Tony preached from Acts 2 and 3, and he did it first person, as if all the events had just happened on the East Coast, and now he was travelling the country in his VW bus to tell people what he had seen Peter himself say: the power that raised Jesus from the dead and made it possible for Peter to heal the lame man could be ours. It raised the hair on the back of my neck.

(No, wait, I’ll close with something I’ve never told anyone. EVER! Across from Fuller was this little greasy spoon, and sometimes…sometimes I wo
uld have breakfast there…and I would…I would feed quarters into the little tv’s at some of the tables…so I could watch…yes, so I could watch Bob Barker and the Price is Right. There. Now I’m done. No, wait, I also have to tell you that I went to a taping of the Price is Right, and they called two OTHER Gregorys, and I sat next to the eventual winner of the big showcase. NOW this post is over.)

4 thoughts on ““What was your favorite seminary experience and why?” – Part 5

  1. those really were wonderful days. I think one of the best things about going to seminary was having the time and the impetus to sit around and stew on these things. Everyone should have the chance to be part of a community where the whole point is to wrestle with these things together and know that none of us will get it right. You didn’t mention Ray Anderson, but he and Nancey Murphy were the Wondertwins of Fuller for me. Theirs are the two voices I hear over and over whenever I talk with someone about theology. They are the ones I want to do right by.


  2. I have one of the greatest jobs in the world: I get to watch “The Price is Right” EVERY DAY!! And because I work for a CBS affiliate, I can get VIP tickets to tapings and not even wait in line! (I also can’t win, but just being in Bob’s presence is worth it). Sometimes it’s the little pleasures………


  3. All very good memories, many of which were with you in those very classes. Nancy Murphey, the most brilliant person Ive ever been taught by; Amy’s Breakfast minus the t.v., Higher Grounds conversations with Volf and Mary Ann.. I wish I could get a re-do on the Ian Pitt Watson experimental sermon. . .


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s