The 50th Anniversary of the Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (Mill Valley, California) celebrated this last part of Spring, 2009, ushered in memories and celebration of a Homecoming on the Mill Valley, Campus. Two highlights of the May 28 and 29, 2009 days included opening a time capsule and homecoming by elder graduates who appeared in Gold Robes.
In a public statement, the seminary remarks: “This place declares the Glory of God to all the nations,” said President Jeff Iorg as he stood before the open time capsule, speaking to alumni, students, faculty and staff. “Is there another explanation for the Seminary’s success other than God’s power and glory?”
President Iorg held up and marveled at the remarkably well-preserved items which had been sitting in the copper shoebox-sized box, nestled in the administration building’s cornerstone since 1959. Items included the Seminary bylaws, the Baptist Faith and Message, pages from the SBC minutes of 1950 showing action of the Convention accepting Golden Gate as a Southern Baptist seminary, copies of the first and 15th anniversary issues of the alumni magazine The Gateway, photos of the three Seminary presidents (Isam B. Hodges 1944-1946, Benjamin O. Herring 1946-1952, and Harold K. Graves 1952-1977), the first and the 1959 academic catalog of classes, the student-faculty directory and faculty group photo.
In an interview by email, Dr. Rodrick Durst, answered questions as part of a restrospective at this time of the 50th Anniversary. Dr. Durst has served as faculty and administration at Golden Gate since 1991. He also served eleven years as the Vice President of Academic Affairs and, prior to that, three years as the Director of the Southern California Campus.
The seminary says of the professor, “Dr. Durst loves the classroom. He teaches theology and history from a leadership formation perspective. His passion is for developing life-changing ways of communicating and teaching Christian truth for transformation, retention and rapid reproduction.”
How has the campus changed in its history, a broad question. A broad answer is good.
In my thirty-five year association with Golden Gate, I have seen the campus change dramatically in terms of color, constituency and delivery modes. Its student color demographic was 90% plus Caucasian in the 1970’s and is 50% Caucasian today, with the other half being African American, Korean, Chinese, and Hispanic. Korean students discovered Golden Gate in the eighties due to its Bay Area location, affordable tuition and biblical conservatism. They have been a significant presence for the last quarter of a century.
The first seminary President was influenced by the seminary’s roots. “Who will open the western seminary?” Those words from former Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary president L. R. Scarborough in a chapel speech in 1924 were forever etched into the mind of Isam B. Hodges, then a student at Southwestern.
In an announcement the Seminary notes: “Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary opened the doors to its Northern California campus in Mill Valley fifty years ago, in September 1959, after six years of planning and construction. The 148-acres of former dairy land called Strawberry Point became home to the first Southern Baptist seminary in the west, and today the five-campus system is known as the 10th largest seminary in the United States.”
Continuing our retrospective, Dr. Durst answered a second question by email.
Tell us, please, how many Baptist churches are there in the west.
There were few Baptist churches in the west in 1959 when the Mill Valley campus opened. Now there are over 2,000 Southern Baptist churches in California alone. This western constituency rapidly began to reflect the west after the great post-war Southern migrations ceased in the early sixties. Today our constituent churches reflect the west, if not the Pacific Rim, and not the so-called Bible belt. In 1959, Mill Valley was the sole campus of Golden Gate, which was and is mandated by the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) to provide ministerial leadership to SBC churches in the western half of the U.S. To better achieve that mandate, the Northern California campus has intentionally multiplied and sacrificed resources to open campuses in Los Angeles (1973), Vancouver, WA (1981), Phoenix, AZ (1995) and Denver, CO (1996).
The seminary catalog tells readers: “Golden Gate's mission is shaping effective Christian leaders to accelerate the fulfillment of the Great Commission through the churches of the West and the world. At Golden Gate, students share unparalleled opportunities to participate hands-on in the real world of ministry and mission in North America and across the globe."
Further statements on the seminary purpose for this retrospective add: “Joining the Golden Gate family means becoming part of a community of people committed to sharing the message of Jesus Christ in creative, practical, life-transforming ways.
“Every year, we train more than 1,900 men and women at our five campuses and multiple Contextualized Leadership Development centers across the West. We pray that Golden Gate Seminary can become your partner as you seek to fulfill God's call in your life.” The seminary President says as part of its statement of purpose from its catalog.
One current student remarks of her time at the seminary: "I was drawn to Golden Gate because of my desire to have a greater spiritual impact on the lives of others. I am passionate about reaching lost people and I believe training from Golden Gate will help me to become a better minister. Golden Gate does not just train church leaders, but effective leaders for Christ." (From the seminary website.)
Another woman student says from the seminary website: "My seminary experience has been nothing short of life-changing. I am learning to delve deeply into the Scriptures, to wrestle with understanding them so that my proclamation is accurate and insightful and, most importantly, empowered by the Holy Spirit. I am also learning to wrestle with this thing we call the community of faith - learning to love my brothers and sisters in Christ as I love myself. I am learning to love those outside the Kingdom with grace and truth, loving them into the family. More than anything, seminary is enriching my own walk with Jesus and helping me be more like him."
Here is a taste of the current leadership sense and training of students. Certainly, the seminary is centered on Jesus Christ. These characteristics are taught as part of Christian Formation and Education:
Leadership characteristics related to being a follower of JESUS:
1. Following Jesus -- A Christian leader understands the biblical, theological, historical, personal, and experiential foundations of being a follower of Jesus.
2. Spiritual Disciplines -- A Christian leader practices the spiritual disciplines of being a follower of Jesus.
3. Christ Commitment -- A Christian leader demonstrates commitment to living as a follower of Jesus through knowing God through Jesus and knowing self.
4. Integrity -- A Christian leader demonstrates integrity, meaning he or she consistently applies biblical
principles in character and actions.
5. Wisdom -- A Christian leader demonstrates wisdom, meaning he or she follows God’s Spirit to apply biblical principles to complex life situations.
Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary is part of the emerging Church movement. Dr. Durst notes in the email interview:
In the same line of history, what aspect of the emerging Church movement is now prevalent in the teaching and ethos of the Seminary on its anniversary (50 year)?
Without losing focus on Christian grace and truth, classes are now taught with a distinct awareness of cultural diversity, generative creativity, and spiritual authenticity. Courses and chapels challenge students to move from being spectators to participants in their learning experience. All five senses and multiple learning styles are employed so that students can engage from their strength rather than be forced into one model or mode of learning. The classrooms and faculty computers are wired for the Internet. Many faculty are on Facebook or other social networks and use these to keep in touch with their students.
A great deal has notably changed in the 50 years of seminary life, and as a look back
a highlight of the festivities was honoring the Seminary’s “Golden Graduates” during commencement on May 29. Twenty-eight of those who graduated from the Berkeley and Oakland campuses from 1949-1959, donned golden robes and walked with the Class of 2009.”
During this time of retrospective, we asked Dr. Durst to give us perspective on the current seminary life. He did this in the interview by emails in two parts:
We’ve heard the term “Postmodernity” so many times. Will you comment?
If we can call the emerging culture “Postmodernity,” then that culture is moving away from the anthropocentric toward an ecological centricity, away from nationalism toward a global/local awareness, and away from trust in truths expressed propositionally toward truth conveyed in stories, especially stories in graphic formats. The emerging postmoderns are rather allergic to denominational structures but are rightly fascinated by spirituality. Spiritual formation is now core in the curriculum and students from this generation relish the challenge ancient spiritual disciplines bring to their inner authenticity.
As a retrospective, will you point to a major evolution in this area for ministry, the seminary and the Church.
Ministers and ministry will need to continue moving from a focus on performance excellence to relational authenticity. People are becoming less trusting of the “sage on stage” and more open to the “guide at the side” who is on pilgrimage with them. The Seminary will need to be ancient and future. Ancient in the sense of being rooted in the reliability of the gospel and future in the sense of knowing and making space to hear the questions people are asking in the 21st century. The classes, that are willing to entertain the toughest questions today with fair-minded biblical response, will be better able to prepare its students to have joy and effectiveness in ministry.
Churches must move from building and organizational structure centric to people and relationally centered. The churches will need to continue to move from being inwardly focused to being externally focused, realizing that postmoderns want to see Christianity doing good in the community before they care to hear the message of forgiveness and relational restoration. In the past it was tell then show, and now its show then tell. And often it will mean inviting the interested into the showing to create opportunity for trusted telling.
As an end note to this article-retrospective, Dr. Durst comments in his interview by email on the Trinity and its “place” in the seminary context:
Will you say something of the Trinity in the Seminary’s biblical doctrine in a way that a lay person will be interested, so as to illuminate as a reflection your years with students in this past decade of experience?
In about 1997, I was using Jung Young Lee's 1996 The Trinity in Asian Perspective as an example of a global theology. While I do not agree with the work's imposing cultural norms on biblical texts, I did appreciate the way Lee looked at the different New Testament orders of the divine three names. He called the Father, Son, Spirit order the patriarchal order and the Spirit, Father, Son order “matriarchal”. I was used to the order cited at my own believer's baptism, "in the name of the Father, Son and Holy Spirit." I took that order as the biblical norm. I unconsciously heard any reference to the divine names in that order. However, I was charmed and intrigued by the famous benediction in 2 Corinthians 13:13, "The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all." Until Lee's book, I simply overlooked such a dissonant Trinitarian order as so rare as to be the "exception that proved the rule.
Gradually, I began to pay close attention to the order of reference to persons in divine triad and how often those orders were not in the Father, Son, Spirit baptismal order. It turns out that well over thirty Trinitarian instances occur in the New Testament, which use an order other than Father, Son and Spirit. In class, I tried an experiment. I showed the students that, while the prayer of the disciple must be to God as Father in the name of the Son, the New Testament prays in that manner with surprising variety. Would the students be willing to pray to God in whichever Trinitarian order made most sense to them that night? I did not anticipate the outcome. One female student shared that she had had a difficult relationship with her father and as a result had never felt comfortable to pray to the Father. Up to that class, she had always prayed to Jesus alone. She said that by praying to the Son and then the Spirit, then she was for the first time able to pray to the Father by name. I pondered the significance of this experience and am working it out in a book tentatively entitled,” The Trinitarian Matrix of the New Testament.” I also wondered if one of the reasons the church looks and feels narrow minded is because it was overlooking the diversity of the ways God is named and worshipped in the New Testament.
Images: (1) Time Capsule (Whittaker, Iorg, Crews). Photo courtesy of Golden Gate Baptist Theological Seminary (as are all photographs in this post); (2) Seminary instructor Dr. Rick Durst; (3) Graduates in Gold Robes at Homecoming Day ceremony.