Religion: The State of Union

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For much of its 136-year history, New York's prestigious Union Theological Seminary has been the largest interdenominational divinity school in North America. This fall, however, as Union opens its academic year, its enrollment is down 227 students from a peak of 665 four years ago, dropping the school to sixth in size. Moreover, Union is currently operating on a budget deficit ($390,000 last year) and, as President J. Brooke Mosley candidly admits, is undergoing an identity crisis. Says Mosley: "The school has not been clear about its priorities in the past several years."

Union's troubles are variously shared by other leading liberal seminaries. The University of Chicago Divinity School has suffered a net loss of 200 students in the past four years, reducing its enrollment almost by half. Harvard's enrollment for its Master of Divinity program is also down. Yale Divinity School has had its university subsidy cut from $300,000 a year to $30,000, mandating the school's recent merger with the well-endowed (though ailing) Berkeley Divinity School in New Haven.

As these once invulnerable bastions of liberal Protestantism reveal weaknesses, obscure outposts of evangelical conservatism are burgeoning. The five interdenominational schools that now rank ahead of Union in enrollment are all in this category. They are Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (Deerfield, Ill.), Gordon-Conwell Theological (Hamilton, Mass.), Asbury Theological (Wilmore, Ky.), Dallas Theological Seminary, and Fuller Theological (Pasadena, Calif.).

All five schools hold to a rigorously conservative theology, including belief in the historical accuracy of the Bible and such doctrines as the bodily resurrection of Jesus and his Second Coming. While Union, Yale and Chicago have discarded their language requirements for divinity degrees, these Bible-centered seminaries require their students to master exegesis of Scripture from the original Greek and Hebrew. Traditional piety prevails on their campuses, and cutting chapel is at least as reprehensible as cutting classes. By contrast, an uninitiated underclassman at Union recently drew startled stares in a student meeting when he asked, "Don't we begin with a prayer?"

Radical Causes. All of the five conservative schools are meeting their budgets, despite high expansion costs and the lack of sizable endowments. In addition, academic standards, traditionally lower at evangelical seminaries, are markedly improving. Gordon-Conwell's entering students average 3.2 on the grade-point scale. At Trinity Evangelical, Dean Kenneth Kantzer points to the school's higher admissions standards and increased number of faculty doctorates—along with an enrollment that has rocketed from 31 students in 1962 to 600 this year.

Perhaps the strongest of these schools academically is Fuller Theological, with such scholars as New Testament Theologian George Ladd and Geoffrey Bromiley, Karl Earth's principal English translator. It is also the most innovative. Fuller has expanded its basic theology program and has created two new schools in World Mission and graduate psychology. It also has a program for black pastors without college degrees and offers various courses for the local black community.

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