New York Theological Seminary (formerly Biblical Seminary in New York) this month chose both a new president and a new commitment to training urban Christian leaders. Trustees named noted activist George W. Webber, sparkplug of East Harlem Protestant Parish and Metropolitan Urban Service Training (MUST), to head the sixty-nine-year-old school.

Webber, 48, is a former dean of Union Theological Seminary and a minister in the United Church of Christ. His theology is more liberal than the school’s traditional stance, though not avant-garde by 1969 standards.

NYTS, a onetime Bible college in the midst of Manhattan, has always been interdenominational, drawing on traditions as diverse as Mennonite and Episcopal in students and faculty. In recent years diversity has been accompanied by economic disaster. Despite the supposed ecumenicity of the age, denominations and ministerial groups have restricted contributions to the school in favor of building up their own seminaries. Thus Webber takes over a school with limited operating funds.

The old Biblical Seminary was noted for a highly developed hermeneutic, the “inductive method.” It sought to approach the Scriptures without the predetermined interpretations imposed by a dogmatic theology or a literalistic fundamentalism, and allowed the school a unique emphasis. In later years, however, such proponents of this method as Asbury Seminary Dean Robert Traina departed.

Two new emphases arose: urban ministry in connection with MUST and—with the interim presidency of John Sutherland Bonnell—pastoral psychology. The search for a new president paralleled a re-examination of the school’s reason for existence. Flanked by two other Protestant seminaries (the Episcopalians’ General, and Union), New York Seminary felt it needed a unique thrust. Many alumni pressed for a return to the inductive-method emphasis, but those among them approached for teaching positions or the presidency were unwilling to return.

With Webber, trustees said they saw an opportunity to reaffirm three elements of the seminary’s heritage: “solid Biblical learning, a pioneering role in theological education, and its urban location.”

Webber states that “the essential nature of Christianity as a biblical faith is beyond question,” and the seminary will continue to stress what he calls “solid Bible study.” But he believes contemporary churches are being “significantly shortchanged by theological seminaries.” He has been asked by students at evangelical schools around the country whether or not one can be “thoroughly biblical and still be concerned with social problems.” To this Webber answers a resounding “yes,” and he has mapped out plans to make NYTS a center for urban ministries. But he does not see the school in competition with other seminaries. “We are no threat,” he says, “but we can use our location to be of service … to give urban experience to students from other schools.”

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He plans to assume the urban internship program that MUST has offered in the past, and to provide “urban semesters” in which advanced students will come from other seminaries to spend one semester concentrating on the application of theology in the inner city. Cooperation with MUST and its director, the Rev. Randy Nugent, will continue. Webber says MUST “provides the vital link between the seminary and the community … and validates our position as an urban-ministry training center.”

The seminary will continue its present B.D. and M.R.E. programs but will change the student-teacher relationship in a new pilot experiment. “The scholar-teacher model no longer works,” says Webber. He thinks today’s seminary must take the student very seriously, no longer seeing him simply as the assimilator of a body of knowledge. Webber wants to teach through a model of participation, “where the student and teacher together seek to understand how God worked in the past and how he is working today.” Thus the seminary itself can become a “fruitful source of the ongoing revelation.”

Webber is naturally concerned about the seminary’s relations with its alumni. Most of what opposition there was to his election came from those within that group who see in him a deviation from the school’s historic position. But other alums welcome Webber’s “Cross-centered” theology as both a link to the past and a realistic approach to the future. Webber and board Chairman Harold Midtbo will provide the alumni with up-to-date information so they can better decide about future support.

How To Stump Theologians

One of the best-known congregations in the United Church of Christ is taking contemporary theologians at their word—much to their surprise—and forming a “church without walls.” A small but “theologically aware” segment of Broadway United Church of Christ in New York City persuaded the rest of the membership to lease the church’s prize downtown plot of land to a private developer so it can experience the freedom of a “structureless church.”

While the developer levels the church building, the congregation will rent office space nearby and use the neighboring Roman Catholic Church of St. Paul the Apostle for worship and church-school meetings.

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So during the 11 o’clock service March 2 the Rev. Dr. Lawrence L. Durgin led parishioners in procession from the old building to St. Paul’s. He assured them he was not leading his “little flock back to Rome.” The decision to close the Broadway building had prompted an invitation from St. Paul’s to worship there as a sign of cooperation in witness to midtown Manhattan.

Durgin says he has invited theologians who advocate a “structureless church” to come to Broadway and help plan a building-less future. He reports that their first reaction was to be “stumped … and embarrassed” that anyone would have actually followed their ideas.

The congregation—successor to the Broadway Tabernacle built for evangelist Charles G. Finney in 1834—includes a good number of staffers from the UCC’s New York headquarters. Membership was climbing gradually from a low in the early 1950s. The church was still wealthy but had a rundown sanctuary. It would have taken an estimated $300,000 to put the building back into operating condition and about $2 million to renovate it completely. The church could have rebuilt, of course. But a plan to combine a multi-purpose sanctuary with a commercial office building never materialized.

Along with deciding what to do with the $250,000 annual income expected from leasing of its land, Broadway Church has other problems. It has taken some pride in its service to the community through use of its shabby but warm rooms for community-action meetings. Now, with no building to offer, the church will have to find other ways to serve, and the action groups will have to find somewhere else to meet. Durgin thinks a new program will probably include Wednesday house-church meetings and prompt more social exchange among members.



The governing group of the University Christian Movement voted 23–1 to dissolve the interdenominational campus federation, successor to the Student Volunteer Movement (see editorial, p. 26).

The committee studying doctrinal standards for the United Methodist Church plans a report on past history and current theological issues for discussion by 1970, regional discussions of what today’s standards are by 1971, and a proposed new doctrinal statement—“not rigid or binding”—by 1972. Social-concerns secretary A. Dudley Ward is advocating “the possibility of radical revision of [the church’s] own statement of faith and practice.”

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Disciples layman Roy J. Cates will be first executive director of the Texas Conference of Churches, a vast ecumenical umbrella to include thirteen Protestant denominations, Greek Orthodoxy, and ten Roman Catholic dioceses. Southern Baptist observer Jimmy Allen doubts that many SBC congregations will join because the conference will probably go beyond mere correlation on community concerns into church union.

Joining next month in a new joint program for recruiting and screening overseas personnel are: United Methodist Church, Episcopal Church, United Presbyterian Church, United Church of Christ, Reformed Church in America, Church of the Brethren, and the National Council of Churches.… The Southern Presbyterian education board canceled its own leadership magazine in favor of one used by the UCC and United Presbyterians, and took $225,-000 from reserves to meet a budget deficit.

Sixty-four Baptist religion professors protested the publicity and quasi-official status the Southern Baptists’ Broadman Press is giving SBC President W. A. Criswell’s new book, Why I Preach That the Bible Is Literally True, which opposes historical-critical studies of Scripture.

Chicago’s Episcopal Society for Cultural and Racial Unity, borrowing a totalitarian technique, held a bookburning of Morehouse-Barlow Sunday-school literature that ESCRU thinks is “lily white.”

The United Missionary Church and the Missionary Church Association were slated to merge this month into the Missionary Church, with 21,000 members in nineteen states and 180 missionaries.

Austria’s Catholic prelate denied that a hierarchy-commissioned report critical of Pope Paul’s birth-control encyclical has official status.… The Dutch hierarchy is permitting a married priest to preach, though not to celebrate the Mass.

Greece’s military government has granted the Orthodox Church a new charter giving it more power over its internal affairs.… In Germany, three Greek policemen broke into a Sunday evangelistic session led by a Greek evangelist and threatened the speaker with violence.

At a national conference of Jewish collegians, participants denounced traditional groups ranging from B’nai B’rith to the synagogue as being irrelevant to contemporary issues.

President Culbert Rutenber of the American Baptist Convention will move from Andover Newton Theological School to teach at the Covina campus of the newly merged American Baptist Seminary of the West.… Dr. Samuel Mikolaski is leaving his theology post at New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary to take a Baptist pulpit in Edmonton, Alberta, but denies any link to the resignation of his ideological cousin Dr. Clark Pinnock. Mikolaski’s chair will be filled by Dr. William Mueller, a former teacher there.

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Noted Jewish philosopher Paul Weiss was appointed to a chair at Catholic University of America.… Ex-nun Jacqueline Grennan, 42, resigned as president of Missouri’s Webster College to marry Paul Wexler, 49, a Jewish widower and New York mail-order executive.

President Nixon named Notre Dame University President Father Theodore Hesburgh chairman of the U.S. Civil Rights Commission.

Religious affiliations of the Apollo 9 crew: Commander James McDivitt, Roman Catholic; David Scott and Russell Schweickart, Episcopal.

Lawyer Leopoldo Juan Niilus, 39, of Buenos Aires, a native of Estonia, will direct the World Council of Churches’ Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, succeeding O. Frederick Nolde, who held the job since 1946.

The Rev. Ralph Abernathy said a rerun of the Poor People’s Campaign would begin in Memphis April 4, and later come to Washington, D.C., but he didn’t mention a second Resurrection City.

Socialist Gustav Heinemann, elected West Germany’s president in West Berlin despite Communist threats, will resign as a member of the synod of the Evangelical Church in Germany when he assumes office. He was an anti-Nazi Lutheran.… The new speaker of Northern Ireland’s House of Commons in the aftermath of religiously tense elections is Major Ivan Neill, prominent Baptist layman and leader in interdenominational Christian work.

Noted British evangelical theologian J. I. Packer of Latimer House, Oxford, withdrew from his agreement to direct studies at London College of Divinity when it moves to Nottingham next year. He gave no reason for the change.

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