Life is all about continual transformation. Like it or not, we build on our past, no matter which future we choose. But living successfully means continually adapting – stepping boldly into spaces and places we’ve never been before.
After a quarter century I’ve left the classroom to become an administrator – a dean and provost, to be exact. “You’ve gone over to the dark side,” quipped a friend. Why would I do such a crazy thing? There was nothing in the life of a professor that I didn’t enjoy. (Okay, almost nothing: grading isn’t that much fun, and there were lots of committee assignments I could have done without.) But writing and editing books – averaging just under one a year for 25 years — was a continual challenge and pleasure. And again and again inspiration came from classrooms full of students who were ready to try out their ideas (and their disagreements with me!) in discussions.
But the opportunity that Claremont offered for institutional leadership was just too tempting; it was the career equivalent of the perfect storm. Through unanimous votes from the faculty and Board, and through a generous gift from David and Joan Lincoln, Claremont Lincoln University was born – the country’s first fully interreligious university. Time Magazine emphasized that it would be the first time that rabbis, imams, and pastors would be trained side by side at the same institution. Yet the Claremont Lincoln dream is not only to combine good education within one’s own religious tradition and good training across the traditions. It’s also about interreligious partnerships that do things in the world. It’s about religious leaders who, working together for the common good, solve urgent real-world problems. The chance to serve as provost, to midwife the birth of this university, was too exciting to pass up.
But Claremont Lincoln is only half of the story. Claremont School of Theology (CST), having spun off this new university, was suddenly confronted with the question: what does it mean to be the Christian partner in an interreligious consortium? What should Christian seminaries do now that we are confronted with a church in crisis? Big traditional seminaries and divinity schools (like Duke) will dig in and do what they’ve always done, and marginally Christian divinity schools (like Harvard) will happily go multi-religious.
What about CST, which has always been on the forefront of Christian thought and practice? We can help denominations and future ministers to lead their institutions in the radically new directions they need to go. At the same time, we can train leaders among the exploding number of post-institutional Christians and seekers. We can be at the center of remaking theological education for this 21st-century “Google Age” the way that Schleiermacher remade theological education for his age two hundred years ago. (In fact, when you think about it, isn’t it strange that most seminaries still organize their curriculum around Schleiermacher’s model?)
When I wrote Transforming Christian Theology, I challenged academic theologians to contribute to the real needs of church and society. Taking on the dean and provost roles was the inevitable outcome. I had to walk my talk, heeding my own advice.
Join me here as this exciting process unfolds. I’ll comment on what’s working (and what isn’t), on what our competition is doing (or isn’t), and on how the dream is growing and expanding. Being publicly honest like this may get me in trouble, and you’re sure to leave some spicy comments when you stop by. But isn’t that the nature of life (and religion) in the age of global information and social networking?