March 2010


This is the most important week of the Christian year.  In this week we remember the atoning death of Christ on Friday and his victory-making resurrection on Easter.  While the details of the week vary a little among the gospels, the basic contours of the week are clear and were strongly etched in the memories of Jesus’ followers:

Sunday: “Palm Sunday,” Jesus rides symbolically into Jerusalem on a colt.  It evokes Zechariah 9:9 and points to Jesus’ kingship.

Monday: In Mark, Jesus overturns the tables of the money-changers, in part perhaps because they are cheating the people, but perhaps more importantly because he is indicting the leadership of Jerusalem.

Tuesday: In Mark, Jesus debates with various groups.  They try to catch him out, but the discussions end with silence.

Thursday: Last supper and arrest in the Garden of Gethsemane

Friday: Good Friday, Jesus is crucified about 6am and dies about 3pm.

Saturday: “Lo, in the grave he lay…”

Sunday: Easter, “up from the grave he arose!”

… took place last week, Tuesday night and all day Wednesday.  The board members represent all four regions of the North American Wesleyan Church: Aron Wills from Indiana North, Christie Lipscomb from Michigan, Kevin Myers from Atlanta, Stan Hoover (chair) from Annapolis, John Ott from Virginia, Isaac Smith from South Dakota, John Symonds from New Brunswick.  Representing sister denominations are LeRoy Chambliss of the United Methodist Church and Major George Hood of the Salvation Army.  Kerry Kind represents the general church as General Secretary of Education and the Ministry.  Finally, we have IWU representatives Carl Shepherd, chair of the IWU board; David Wright, Provost; Duane Kilty, Chief Financial Officer of both the seminary and the university; and of course, President Henry Smith, President of the university.

Aside from getting acquainted with the current state of the seminary (see my pre-history that Russ Gunsalus, Keith Drury, and I presented Tuesday night), they also began to strategize for the seminary’s future.  What should it be known for?

In late summer 2007, things really got moving.  At some point, it was determined that the new degree proposal would have to go through some existing channel, the most appropriate of which was the Department of Graduate Ministry under Russ Gunsalus.  This shift brought a number of things into play.  First, it meant that a financial viability study (a “pro forma”) would have to be made.  Second, it meant that the courses we had created would have to be fitted with appropriate outcomes.

Allyn Beekman was our hero for the financial study.  He and Russ worked together to set up a realistic prediction of the financial needs of an MDIV degree housed in the College of Graduate Studies.  The great financial boon of the new degree would be the existing infrastructure.  IWU was known for distance education, for its online capacity and models.  It had a robust Information Technologies wing.  It had systems in place for enrollment management and marketing.  All these processes already existed in a wing of the university known at that time as Adult and Graduate Operations.  Cynthia Tweedel, assessment czar, both helped us set up a survey monkey for alumni and helped fine tune our outcomes for courses to bring to the Faculty Senate, which ultimately approves new programs.

We were also making decisions in the Task Force toward format.  We knew we would go with the cutting edge of seminary education rather than the dying traditional seminary.  The President charged us to design a seminary in accordance with where seminaries were headed rather than where they had been.  So we designed it to be possible to take two thirds of the program online, as Asbury was at the time.  Like Bethel, we would cover the TATS residency requirement in intensive courses taken in the summer, principally in August, but we would also have onsite starts in January and May.

The new degree was approved August 22, 2007 by the Faculty Senate and then announced to the Board of Trustees in October.  Then Russ went into gear as Director of Grad. Min.  There were course numbers to create, financial aid decisions relating to the government (if you do not go with a semester based system, you have to register students for an entire year at a time to receive adequate financial aid, leaving a particular window of time at some point between “years”).  He went to recruiting Nate Lamb from Denver seminary, the best recruiter the world has ever known.

In February 2008, Russ gathered the old MDIV committee together to team write the first course, Missional Church.  We went off on retreat for the weekend, with a cameo by Bob Whitesel, who would teach the course onsite the first time.  Norm Wilson, David Smith, Russ, Keith, and I were in the early stages of developing a course writing process.  After the weekend, Norm would be tasked to take our chicken scratch and put it together into a full course.

That Spring, President Smith convened a Seminary Task Force to think about whether we should not only have an MDIV but in fact a distinct seminary.  I was chair, but the Task Force included members of the IWU board (Carl Shepherd, Ed Hoover), denominational leaders (Kerry Kind–who resigned from the Asbury board to serve on the task force–and Aron Willis, DS of Indiana North).  It had Bud Bence (then VPAA of traditional campus), Bob Whitesel, and Jim Fuller (Dean of College of Graduate Studies), as well as Russ, Keith, and Norm.  Ed Hoover led a financial subcommittee that did a new pro forma that was not just a grad program but a self-standing seminary.  I led a structure study.  In a nearly unprecedented event, all three General Superintendents at the time came to campus and met with the Task Force.  One brilliant move from President Smith was the idea of giving the 1.1 million dollars in educational funds the Wesleyan Church gives to IWU for scholarships in the seminary.  In the end, the university decided to match that gift to the seminary, so that it still went to undergraduate students.

Meanwhile, we found out that we would have to have a site visit from the Higher Learning Commission, which took place later in August.  This required us to postpone making a recommendation to the Board of Trustees that April.  The Board was informed of our doings instead.  That summer David Wright came on as Provost of the university, the chief academic officer.  Having just been Dean of Haggard School of Theology, he brought a wealth of experience in such matters.  We would have the site visit and we would get a firm approval January 2009.

The summer of 2008 was the General Conference of the Wesleyan Church and we made presentations both to the District Superintendents of the church and to the other college presidents.  During the summer there were also some facilities meetings with Brendon Bowen, Todd Voss, and some charettes made for a building.  The economic crisis at the end of the year probably put some of those trajectories on hold, but we were initially looking at a 6 million dollar building for the south side of campus rather quickly.  We are only now seeing those conversations wind back up.

Our course writing process would be perfected over the course of the year.  We eventually shifted from a lead writer, to the assignment of individual components–or “widgets,” as we called them–to individual writers at an a la carte rate.  A scope and sequence day would put together the sixteen weeks of a course with a standard of four assignments each week.  One of them would be either Bible, theology, or church history.  From weeks 3-14 they would do an “Integration Paper” that moved from a pastoral problem to Scripture to theology to church history to the contemporary situation.  They would have an “Application Paper” in the final week where they strategized for their church going forward in the future.  These were components we decided to put into the courses while on retreat. 

So each week would have practical readings and assignments, action research on their local congregations, Integration Paper components and a relevant Bible, theology, or church history assignment.  All these assignments would be roughed out in the scope and sequence day, then each widget assigned to individual writers, to be reassembled by a Lead Editor, generally me.  As full time faculty are hired, they are given greater and greater freedom with the practical assignments.  This is the current state of our curricular philosophy.

The restructuring of the university was approved by the IWU board April 2009 with the seminary as its own “principal academic unit” within the university, at the same level as the College of Arts and Sciences, the College of Adult and Professional Studies, and the School of Nursing.  We were in a faculty search that Spring for two faculty, of which Dr. Charles Arn was the choice.  

July 1, the seminary officially existed with Russ Gunsalus as Acting Chief Operating Officer, myself as Dean, Bob Whitesel as full time faculty and Chip Arn as Visiting Professor.  August 3, the first MDIV class began with 30 students, with Russ Gunsalus teaching “Pastor, Church, and World.”  Our first “All Seminary Convocation” took place August 9 with Keith Drury speaking on “From Great to Good.”  Then Norm Wilson taught the next week’s intensive, “Cultural Contexts of Ministry.”

At the October board meeting, the fledgling seminary finally got a name: Wesley Seminary at Indiana Wesleyan University.  The President had suggested the first part of the name way back during the Seminary Task Force, but the rest of the name was included so there was no confusion with other Wesleys out there.  We were now free to start marketing the seminary full tilt, and ads with the seminary’s name started as soon as was possible a few months later.

Russ had always been on loan.  The President was looking for a permanent head to the seminary.  Keith and Russ had driven up in the Spring 2009 to ask Wayne Schmidt if he would consider teaching for the seminary.  He did not feel released from his church of 30 years, a church he had planted, to do that.  But he did come to feel released and he stepped out in faith before any certain relationship with IWU was made.  Eventually, as President Smith approached him to become the head of the seminary, he discerned it to be God’s will.

Wayne began as Vice President of the seminary (which is the head position) January 1, 2010.

The first meeting of the seminary board started last night and Stan Hoover, the board chair, invited Keith Drury, Russ Gunsalus, and myself to sketch out the story of how the seminary came together and, in particular, its curriculum.  After dinner, President Smith shared a little of the two previous task forces that explored such a creation.  He mentioned the exploration with Wesley Biblical Seminary of having a branch campus up here (2005) and Keith Drury’s memorable statement at the time, “Do we want to play our seminary card on a branch campus of another seminary?”  He spoke of the informal meetings he convened in the summer of 2006 for coffee talk at his and Dr. Bud Bence’s house.  He spoke of a meeting he had for dinner with the then General Superintendents of The Wesleyan Church.

Then Keith, Russ, and I told the rest of the pre-history in a conversational, stream of consciousness way, moving from historical markers to current design and practice.  Why did we design it the way we did?  But here I want to give a sketch of the more historical sequence.

In the summer and Fall of 2006 there was a plethora of emails exchanged among us at IWU.  I remember one statement I made at the time, “Real denominations have seminaries.  Either let’s found one or go join a real denomination.” Russ Gunsalus was then Chair of the Department of Graduate Religion within the College of Graduate Studies.  He convened some informal groups to do some research and thinking.  In the Fall, David Smith, chair of the undergraduate Division of Religion and Philosophy convened the division and he and Russ led the division to a unanimous affirmation of core values for a seminary (missional/kingdom focused, accessible, application focused, spiritually formative, innovative, value adding, high quality teaching and learning, global).  Bob Whitesel, the sole Grad Min faculty at the time, also approved the values. 

President Smith also brought in Bill Miller of the Association of Theological Schools to discuss our dreams.  We found out very helpful information on trends.  For example, TATS had accredited a 72 hour MDIV.  Since then, a number of schools (Princeton, NTS) have moved to a 75 hour MDIV.  An informal research agenda was in process, with Russ investigating some of the things being discussed by the Association of Theological Schools (e.g., their Alelon conference).  He initiated surveys at youth conventions (the FUEL survey), and eventually among alumni.  These surveys provided a sense of what practicing ministers were looking for in ministerial education or alternatively, what they had not found very helpful in their seminary education (e.g., Greek).

In the Summer of 2007, the President appointed me as chair of an MDIV Task Force, whose members were myself, Russ Gunsalus, Keith Drury, David Smith, and Norman Wilson.  That summer we met several times to design the curriculum.  Initially, President Smith did not want the investigation housed in CGS so that there was no assumption of where the seminary would be housed in the structure of the university.   I also met informally with the then General Superintendents of The Wesleyan Church for dinner. 

We looked at benchmark institutions, of which Bethel in Minnesota and Asbury were probably our two closest benchmarks, although Northwest Nazarene also was of interest.  Asbury at the time was one of the leading edge institutions in the Association of Theological Schools.  It was pushing the requirements for residency to 1 year out of 3 (most TATS schools were only allowed 1 online year at the time).  Bethel had a program where you came to campus for intensive classes as your residency requirement.  Their “in ministry” program may have been one of the sparks for one of the key features of our design–not only to allow for students to be in ministry but to require and leverage it!

So the genius of this group went to work.  We wanted to address the kinds of things people say about seminary: “I didn’t learn in seminary the things I actually needed to know in ministry,” “I had a vibrant faith before I went to seminary, then it went flat,” “I’d like to go to seminary but who has three years to take off and move somewhere,” “I had so much debt after training to be a minister that I couldn’t afford to take a church,” “My courses in seminary didn’t connect to each other–my Bible profs never talked to my preaching profs.”

We wanted it to be local church focued–we were sick of the Barna trend away from the local church.  Our focus would not be training professors or para-church leaders, at least not in the MDIV.  (These would eventually become the new focus of the old MA program)  The MDIV was to train pastors and we would require our students to be connected to a local church.  They would have to be at least 20 hours a week in local church ministry to get into our program.  We have of course recognized since program start that there are individuals we must serve who are hospital and military chaplains.  We have expanded the basic requirement to a local body of worshipping believers recognizing your ministry as an extension of their identity and being able to do the local church assignments of the course.  So they would bring their church to seminary and the seminary would come to their church.

Probably the most distinctive idea was to weave Bible, theology, and church history into the practical subjects rather than to have stand alone courses in topics.  We gathered all the topics of the practice of ministry into six headings: Mission (including evangelism, service, church planting, and classical missions), Leadership (including administration and management), Worship, Proclamation, Congregational Spiritual Formation (including CE), and Congregational Relationships (including pastoral care).  I believe it was Keith that had the biggest “aha” moment in the whole process when he suggested we might fold the foundational courses into the practical courses and have 6 big “praxis” courses.  That was the Copernican moment, with four of us sitting downstairs in student chairs in a classroom in the abandoned campus of summer in May. 

I early on suggested team teaching–bringing a Bible, theology, etc. person into the practical course.  We didn’t think it would work practically at first.   Later Russ and I would make a decision just before the first classes in August 2009 to reverse our initial conclusion.  We dug around in the budget and actually brought Bud Bence (church history), Chris Bounds (theology), and myself into the praxis courses to teach the Bible, theology, and church history segments.  This has become a very important piece in our design.  As a matter of principle, those who teach these segments are to be different from the lead teacher.  Even though the practical professor may have some knowledge of the biblical, theological, etc. topic, the cross-fertilization of different minds, as well as the doctoral level expertise, is the goal.  We developed the titles Church Historian in Residence and Theologian in Residence for Bud and Chris.

In late summer 2007… (more to come)

One of the readings for this Sunday, Palm Sunday, is Luke 19:28-40, Jesus’ entry into Jerusalem.

After ten chapters of journey on the way to Jerusalem (starting in Luke at 9:51), Jesus finally reaches Jerusalem in chapter 19.  Arriving at the Mount of Olives, opposite the temple, Jesus sends his disciples to get a colt in a nearby village (in Matthew there are two animals involved).  The text is not clear as to whether Jesus had a prior arrangement with the owners of the colt or whether he foreknew where it would be and what they should say.

Jesus’ followers rejoice as Jesus comes down the Mount of Olives.  Luke does not tell of the branches but only of them spreading their garments out in front of him.  They quote Psalm 118:26, “Blessed is he who comes in the name of the LORD.”  This psalm was clearly important to the earliest Christians, having also the passage that the stone the builders rejected has become the cornerstone.

Another OT Scripture to which this event alludes is Zechariah 9:9, which speaks of the restoration of Israel’s king, coming into town on a colt.  From a historical standpoint, this event points to Jesus’ self-understanding as Israel’s promised king.

The lectionary reading for next Sunday is John 12:1-8, a story about Jesus visiting the home of a Mary and Martha.  In John’s gospel, Mary and Martha live in Bethany, about two miles east of Jerusalem.  If the beloved disciple was a follower of Jesus from the area of Jerusalem (a debated point), we should probably assume that he had some first hand knowledge of this Mary and Martha.

To let John be John, we should not splice this story together with Luke’s story of Jesus visiting a Mary and Martha in Luke 10:38-42, even if it is quite possible that these stories fit together historically.  Also, John never equates this Mary with Mary Magdalene, although he says nothing to preclude it.  Luke’s Mary Magdalene probably would not have been from Bethany.  All we should assume when reading John 12 is what John has already said about Mary and Martha in John 11, namely, the story of Lazarus rising from the dead.

This story also corresponds very roughly with Matthew 26:6-13; Mark 14:3-9; and Luke 7:36-50, which all tell the story of a woman anointing Jesus’ feet with her hair.  Again, we should be very careful about mixing together features from the other stories–especially in this case.  For example, Luke’s version is in the house of a Pharisee and the woman who anoints Jesus is a notorious sinner from the city.  In Matthew and Mark they are at the house of Simon the leper.  John’s story should be interpreted in its own right as a self-contained story while sitting loosely to its precise historicity.

Interestingly, John 11:2 reminds the audience of the hair incident before it actually tells the story in chapter 12.  This could indicate everything from the possibility that chapter 12 was written earlier and chapter 11 a later addition (assuming that the Gospel of John grew into its current form by stages as is commonly suggested).  It is also possible that the story was so well known that John 11 alludes to oral tradition, a story the audience would have certainly heard, although no other gospel mentions it.

To the story itself!  If we leave the fact that Judas Iscariot is the one asking the question (in Luke Jesus spars with the Pharisee who owns the house, in Matthew the disciples raise the question, in Mark some people there), we have a stark issue represented in this story.  When does Jesus take precedence over the poor?  “The poor you always have with you.”

Indeed, we could give away not only our excess but we could give away all our sustenance and the need of the poor would not be exhausted.  Middle class Westerners like to say that if they gave everything away, they would have nothing more to give.  Where if they keep their critical mass of capital, they will be able to give perpetually.  Whether their motives are pure in making such excuses or not, they may be right.

But this story conjures up a different question–when does the worship of Jesus trump mission?  The story suggests that Jesus is the ultimate priority.  Certainly we worship Jesus by conducting his mission to the world.  But there is a place for focusing purely on Jesus in worship, by using our resources on him when we might have used them on mission. 

I have no answer to the question of cathedrals.  What magnificent structures of worship!  The poor these resources might have fed died a long time ago, but their testimony to Jesus continues unabated.  Should they have been built?  I don’t know.

But there is a time to worship Jesus for his own sake–even if it does not lead to something else or contribute to the mission of God.  Worship does not conflict with mission, but it is the more ultimate priority.

Sorry for those who read the entry I posted earlier today.  The online lectionary I used skipped to March 21 for some reason and I didn’t catch it.  Interestingly, an Episcopal site I looked at has a different passage for March 21 for Year C.  Very interesting.  The post I had up will repost next Monday on schedule.

The Parable of the Prodigal Son is so familiar that it’s basic thrust is familiar to most.  There are three main characters in the story: 1) the prodigal, 2) the Father, and 3) the elder brother.  The Father obviously represents God, whose willingness to forgive is a main point of the story. 

Joel Green and Mark Baker have well pointed out in Recovering the Scandal of the Cross that the Father seems fully able to forgive the prodigal without anyone needing to repay the money he squandered.  While we should not build a theology of atonement on one parable, I do believe this picture of God’s authority to forgive is part of a convincing case against any rigid sense of penal substitution.  God would have been authoritative enough to forgive even if no one had paid.   

We know that the prodigal represents us, the whole world, alienated from God.  “All have sinned” means that “all are prodigals.”  This is a completely appropriate Christian way of applying the parable.  In its original context, however, Luke 15:1-3 clearly leads us to see the tax collectors and sinners with which Jesus ate as the prodigals Luke has in mind.  These are indeed sinners in contrast to the righteous.  In Luke, Jesus does actually refer to Pharisees as righteous.  They were actually keeping the Law.  The prostitutes and tax collectors were not.  You cannot listen to Matthew and Luke without acknowledging that the Pharisees are called righteous in contrast to others who are designated “sinners.”

But this is a parable of reversal.  The elder brother, often missed in reading the parable, represents the Pharisees and others in Israel who begrudged what God was doing with the younger brother.  Most of us sympathize with the older brother–wouldn’t most of us feel the same way.  But he disrespects his father, whom we remember was a supreme authority in the ancient home.  By the end of the story, the prodigal brother is forgiven, but the elder brother has become a prodigal.  So the Pharisees, many of whom were to be commended for actually trying to keep the law, end up as prodigals themselves.

So we often begrudge God’s grace to those who do not deserve it.  We forget that we too once were prodigals.

Luke 15:1-3, 11b-32

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