loren Eric Swanson: Reflections on BGU

Tuesday, June 05, 2007

Reflections on BGU

I first met Ray Bakke at the CCDA conference in the Fall of 2001. I overheard him explaining to a small group of people that he was launching something called the Northwest Graduate School of Ministry. It would be full of practioners from around the world. "One of the untold tragedies of missions is that when Christian leaders come to the U.S. to study at Fuller or Talbot, after 4-6 years their kids become so Americanized, many don't want to return." This seminary would be different. It required really only two required classes--the two week Overture class in Seattle and another two weeks in either China, the Philippines or Africa. The rest of the classes could be cobbled together as convenient. As I was investigating urban churches and reading lots of books and meeting lots of passionate people, I thought it would be good to add an academic track to all I was learning. I couldn't have made a better decision.

Every class that I have taken has been excellent. The typical approach is to enter the class with all of the reading and reflective papers completed. Mornings are devoted to class time, some type of experience in the afternoons, followed by dinner and reflecting with classmates what was seen and heard that day. The classes have been multicultural and multi-national--a great mix of men and women--all who have been in the trenches for a long time. I met some amazing people--Father Ben Beltran, who for the past 30 years has labored in the garbage dumps of Manila, Nancy Murphy who has an amazing ministry to battered women in Seattle, and so many others.

Looking over some notes from one of my classes I find Brad Smith's comments on Bakke Graduate University (name changed a couple years ago from NWGS).

Brad Smith addresses us next explaining a bit more on the foundations of the seminary. He explains that theology is about discerning the logic of God. Every classical discipline needs an “irrefutable foundation” on which the precepts are built. The idea is, if the foundation is sound, the precepts and superstructure will be sound. So what is our irrefutable foundation?
1. Scripture—conservative2. Experience—liberal
Brad reminds us that we at NWGS do not study theology as a science but we approach it as study of God in the real world—a theology of gender, poverty, and pain. What do we know about God in the categories we have to live in? Brad makes the point that when you study in academy but minister in the streets you have to educate your congregation in your terminology so they can understand what one is saying! This is a key insight. He concludes by saying that in today’s world we don’t have to react against any existing theology but are free to start with a clean sheet of paper to develop a theology that is as real and true as those theologies others who have gone before us have proposed.
As a rule I usually don't recommend seminary but I find myself continually recommending BGU. It's a great place to retool for life and ministry.


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