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 ...1
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