GTU is the Graduate Theological Union, a fully accredited association of theological schools situated in the San Francisco Bay area. I visited GTU yesterday with my friend Andrew Sandlin. We went to look for that special book that we have not yet found! We enjoyed a gorgeous day, with a sunny blue sky and temps in the low 80s. We also enjoyed an incredible lunch with Andrew’s son Richard, a wonderful, thoughtful and tender-hearted young man who recently completed his B.A. in philosophy at Cal. Richard is now beginning preparation to pursue his doctorate in philosophy. I have no doubt that he will make a first-rate teacher someday.

GTU is an intriguing place. You can study subjects like art and religion, biblical languages, biblical studies, Buddhist studies, Christian spirituality, ethics and social theory, Jewish studies, Near Eastern studies and systematic and philosophical theology. They have just about every thing you could want in the field of religion. And you are across the street from Cal Berkeley, a world class university, where you can also take classes. GTU draws from traditional Christian roots but seeks to address current issues from a liberal social and political perspective. You can find traces of Christian orthodoxy at GTU but only traces.

The strengths of a place like GTU are the exposure you have to the modern world and the real dialogue with living religions. The weakness of GTU is evident and it underscores my central concern for the church in this age—pluralism. Almost everything I read and saw at GTU suggests that being a Christian is valid so long as you do not insist that "Christ is the way, the truth and the life" (John 14:6). While fundamentalism refuses to enter the dialogue with other truth claims people at GTU appear to allow the dialogue to determine the outcome, an outcome that is not acceptable to Christians who affirm the creeds and follow the historic Christ as he is revealed in the storyline of the New Testament. GTU invites conversation and research. This is great. GTU does not seem to offer much direction for the serious orthodox Christian. It may be a good place for strong believers to do research but it would not be such a good place to send a young student who is not yet rooted in the deep mysteries of the historic Christian faith. This is not a fundamentalist reaction but a pastoral concern for the formation of Christian faith in a challenging age.

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  1. Rev. Michael Sweeney, O.P November 1, 2006 at 7:44 pm

    I deeply appreciate John’s “concern for the formation of Christian faith in a challenging age.” This is the question that most preoccupies me. I concur with John completely that our common concern does not appear to be the central question for the GTU as a consortium. It is, however, a fundamental concern at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology, where I serve as president.
    The GTU is a consortium of nine theological schools (ours is the only school that offers a graduate degree in philosophy in addition to the theological curriculum). Each of the Schools is separately accredited and separately governed. Each of the schools has its own core program of studies that its students must satisfy. Together the schools share the library resource (one of the largest theological collections in North America) and the doctoral program (the consortium offers the doctorate, rather than the individual schools). The relative orthodoxy of someone’s doctoral program depends very much upon with whom one studies.
    I would like to suggest a second visit to the GTU community –but this time to one or more of the individual schools. (I would be delighted to welcome John and Andrew personally to the DSPT.) John’s critique of the consortial program appears to be very close to my own, and I think that he would find a great deal more that is explicitly Christian by visiting the individual schools than one could find in visiting the consortium alone.

  2. John Armstrong November 1, 2006 at 10:30 pm

    Thanks both Ed and Michael. I love what you write, appreciate your care and careful response to my comments. I will seek to take you up (Michael) on the invitation to visit. It would be a pleasure to meet someone like yourself who is committed to Christian formation in the gospel. I have prayed for both of you, this evening, with deep gratitude.

  3. Ed Hopfner November 2, 2006 at 11:39 am

    I would agree with your characterization of the GTU itself as seeking “address current issues from a liberal social and political perspective.” However, it is not representative of all its member schools.
    For example, I am working on my Master’s in Theology at the Dominican School of Philosophy and Theology (I cannot speak for other GTU member schools). The DSPT insists, in line with 2000 years of Church teaching, that yes, Christ is THE way. We are very cognizant of the history of the Church and the timeless relevance of the Gospel to the world today.
    This is undergirded by our philosophy program, which studies the entire Western tradition, including Fathers of the Church such as Augustine, and great medieval thinkers such as Thomas Aquinas. Pope Benedict’s recent remarks at Regensberg underscore the need to be able to defend the faith rationally to the modern world (while not forgetting that faith is, ultimately, given us by the Creator).
    Any parent should do their best to determine the environment to which they will commit their child for the highly formative years of undergraduate (and even graduate) education. Christian parents must be especially careful to ascertain that the school defends the teachings of the Faith. I study at such a school. I invite you to take another look, before discouraging Christian students from studying at all GTU member schools.
    (this is a repost of an earlier version with some errors – thanks John)

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