Fuller Theological Seminary announced today that its board of trustees has elected Mark Labberton as the school's next president (complete details here). Labberton, who currently serves as director of the Lloyd John Ogilvie Institute of Preaching at Fuller, will take over in June when current president Richard Mouw retires.
CT spoke with Labberton this morning about his new role and his vision for Fuller.
How do you feel being selected as Fuller's only third president in more than 50 years?
Well, it's thrilling and daunting both. It's thrilling because it's an exciting and wonderful institution with a rich, rich legacy. It's daunting because my two predecessors have been men of such stature and because the challenges that the seminary faces in 2013 and beyond are substantial. It's an exciting but challenging time, so I'm delighted and deeply honored.
Your experience is as a pastor and professor of preaching. What are the differences between being an effective preacher and an effective seminary president?
In both cases, I hope the thing they hold in common is a faithful proclamation of the gospel of Jesus Christ. I think that the leadership roles are quite different. Obviously, one is teaching and encouraging students more directly, and the other is shaping the overall life of the seminary; but the purpose of that is for the overall shaping of the many, many denominations that Fuller serves.
It's an extraordinary thing that Fuller has 100 denominations and 70 countries represented in its student body, so it's certainly the case that, being the president, you're trying to affect the church and serve the church in whatever ways Fuller can best do that in the U.S. and around the world.
One of the constant challenges that evangelical institutions struggle with is the issue of "identity." Mouw helped to re-establish Fuller as an evangelical school. How do you see the school's future identity?
Fuller's taproot is deep evangelicalism—a Christ-centered, Bible-trusting, Trinitarian, Christian orthodoxy. That is Fuller's identity. And the reality of that Good News is encompassing. That is, it is extensive in mercy and grace and justice.... I hope that what Fuller does is retain and continue to grow in its taproot, but is a seminary that fosters the church in a way that grows it into greater maturity. That's less about partisanship and much more about the peculiarity of a Kingdom-oriented love.
Fuller said in its job description of the presidency that it "seeks to advance the intelligent and constructive Christian vision needed to lead the church and world through the pressing problems of our time." Mouw made interfaith and ecumenical engagement, such as with Mormons and Catholics, one of the hallmarks of his presidency. Based on your own experiences and strengths, what do you hope to focus on as president?
I'm aware that we're living at a time when the church is undergoing some of the deepest changes it has faced in quite a while. The culture and the church are changing faster than seminary education has really kept up with. There's significant work to be done to determine how to serve a church that is changing in so many ways.
Because I've been a pastor for the better part of 30 years, I have a deep sense of what the local church is about. Because I served in a creative, dynamic place—in Berkeley, California—for most of those years, I have a sense of the way that culture is changing. I come to this responsibility as a pastor who cares deeply about the local church for the sake of its ministry in the culture and in the broader world. That's the main intersection where I hope my leadership can make a real difference.