I am deeply concerned about the direction that the Claremont School of Theology (CST) recently announced. If you haven't heard, stop reading this blog and go to http://bit.ly/aH2eMb to read up on the move (but then come back!).
To be honest, I've not been a big fan of CST for some time. In fact, when I decided to enter the ordained ministry, I chose to attend Wesley Theological Seminary in Washington, D.C. in large part because I did not like the vision of CST (STC, back then) of training academics instead of clerics. I was called to ecclesia, not academia. Little has happened in the intervening 32 years to change my mind. And I suppose this latest move to incorporate other religions into the seminary community was to be expected, given the seminary's liberal slant and falling enrollment.
They call it the "University Project" but it is misnamed. It should be called the "Universalist Project" because that is exactly what it is, and the seminary should at least be honest about it. Liberal United Methodists (and CST is on the vanguard of liberal Protestantism) have been drifting steadily toward Universalism (the belief that all will be saved) for many years. Even while I was in seminary, the joke was that U.M.C. stood for "Universalists Mentioning Christ." However, it isn't funny and I fear for the denomination in which I currently serve.
Don't get me wrong. I believe that we all need to "get along!" That all religions need to work toward understanding of each other and in finding ways to live peaceably within this diverse world. But I also believe that Jesus Christ is unique, that He is the incarnate, divine Son of God, and that salvation is found only in Him (Acts 4:12). When it comes to training clergy to serve the Church, there needs to be a focus on what Jesus taught and what His followers have believed for centuries. It is important to know what other religions teach, but it is most important that Christian pastors know what Christianity teaches!
I was a Religious Studies major in college (San Diego State). I studied all of the world's major faith traditions and came to a pretty good understanding of them. But when I went to seminary to be trained as a Christian pastor, the smorgasbord approach had to give way to an intensely focused curriculum. The basic graduate degree for pastors is a Masters of Divinity (M.Div.), which is a three-year degree. Three years is a very short period of time and one doesn't have a lot of extra time to be studying other religions. But beyond this practical matter, I believe what CST is doing is giving expression to its underlying Universalist theology. The danger in this is that once we deny the uniqueness of Jesus Christ and the Christian faith, the Gospel becomes a nice story among other nice stories. If one can be saved by practicing Taoism, then Jesus' death on the cross was a waste of Divine blood.
If this is the direction that the United Methodist Church as a whole begins to take, I will have no choice but to leave the denomination and serve God elsewhere. Thankfully, most of the UMC is not like CST. In fact, the UMC has withdrawn support for CST, pending review. I hope and pray that either CST changes direction back to the orthodox faith, or the UMC cuts all ties and all support to the school.