Regent, Renewal, and Transdenominationalism

By: Dale M. Coulter
Wednesday, May 1st, 2013

denominations-610x3201George Marsden suggests that a characteristic of evangelicalism is its transdenominational nature. What he means is that evangelicals seem at home in parachurch ministries and organizations that transcend any particular denominational structure. Transdenominationalism is about cooperation across denominational lines through mediating institutions like InterVarsity Fellowship. The point is that evangelicalism does not exist apart from the cooperation of persons and local churches across denominational lines. As a school that is not officially connected to any particular denomination, Regent School of Divinity (SOD) sees itself as transdenominational insofar as part of its mission is to serve as many ecclesial traditions as possible. Can one find this transdenominationalism at the SOD?

The unique way in which the SOD fosters transdenominationalism is underneath the broad canopy of renewal, a term that is often misunderstood and therefore requires careful explanation. Renewal does not mean simply a pentecostal and charismatic brand of Christianity, even though it borrows features from them. Rather, for the SOD, the term renewal refers to a spiritual tradition that embodies an ongoing commitment to active reflection upon and participation in the sanctifying and charismatic work of the Spirit. In this sense, renewal involves more than evangelical because it allows for Catholics and Orthodox who would never see themselves as members of Protestant Evangelicalism to find their place. It also allows for African-Americans who are part of the historic Black churches (Methodist, Baptist, and Pentecostal) and who would not identify as evangelical to locate themselves in the broader Christian community.

As a spiritual tradition that crosses denominational boundaries, renewal allows for a seamless continuity between diverse confessional and ecclesial bodies and a unifying vision “to provide theological education that seeks to be faithful to the Scriptures and emphasizes the renewing work of the Holy Spirit” (SOD Mission Statement). In short, renewal is transdenominational and requires that the SOD remain committed to transdenominationalism. So, what is the evidence of this commitment?

Evidence for this commitment to transdenominational renewal by the SOD can been seen in the following areas: 1) Ecclesial Diversity of Faculty; 2) Transdenominational Publications and Presentations; 3) Transdenominational Symposia and Speakers.

Ecclesial Diversity of Faculty

The SOD currently has twenty-five full time and visiting professors. The ecclesial traditions represented among the faculty include Baptist, Methodist, Anglican, Presbyterian, Orthodoxy, and Pentecostalism. In addition, a number of faculty are part of evangelical and charismatic churches that have no connection to a denominational structure (hence non-denominational) or are part of a network of churches like the Vineyard. Several faculty have moved from one denomination to another in the course of their own spiritual journeys while others are actively contemplating entering the Catholic Church.

Transdenominational Publications and Presentations

A number of faculty are directly involved in the ecumenical movement at the global and local levels as participants in the World Council of Churches, Ecumenical dialogues and conversations, national organizations like Evangelicals and Catholics Together, and local organizations like the Virginia Council of Churches and the NEXUS Interfaith Dialogue Project at Virginia Wesleyan University.

SOD faculty have also published across a wide spectrum of ecclesial and confessional traditions in journals such as Catholic Biblical Quarterly, Expository Times, Christian Education Journal, Ecumenical Trends, Franciscan Studies, Journal of Hispanic / Latino Theology, and the Journal of Pastoral Care & Counseling.

Finally, SOD faculty regularly speak in diverse ecclesial settings at the local, national, and international levels. Faculty have led seminars at local Presbyterian, Pentecostal, and Baptist churches, preached in churches across the spectrum, and been invited to speak at societies such as the Catholic Theological Society of American, the Society for Pentecostal Studies, and the Catholic Theological Union.

Transdenominational Symposia and Speakers

The SOD has also hosted numerous symposia and conferences in addition to the special speakers who have been invited through various lectureships and the scholars-in-residence program. Through these events, Regent students and faculty have been exposed to fifty-three guest speakers over the course of seven years, which averages to almost eight speakers annually. Moreover, these speakers represent the three broad traditions within Christianity (Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant) as well as the variety among evangelical and non-evangelical Protestantism. Ecclesial traditions like Congregationalist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Baptist, Holiness, Pentecostal, and Anglican are represented alongside of theological traditions like Wesleyan, Reformed, and Charismatic.

What the data reveal is a continuous commitment to a transdenominationalism in the SOD both within evangelicalism and in the broader Christian community, all under the banner of renewal. The ecclesial diversity of the faculty, the broad range of invited speakers, and the commitment to speak and publish across the denominational and theological spectrum attest to the depth of this commitment. In an important sense, the current SOD builds upon Pat Robertson’s initial vision to avoid sectarian labels by bringing together charismatics who represented the diversity of evangelicalism, such as the first dean, Jerry Horner (1982), a Baptist charismatic at Oral Roberts University, J. Rodman Williams (1982), a Presbyterian charismatic from Austin Theological Seminary, or Jerry Sandidge (1987), a Pentecostal involved in the international Catholic-Pentecostal dialogue. The invitation to Vinson Synan to become the second dean in 1994, who, as a Pentecostal, was then serving as chairman of the ecumenically oriented Charismatic Congresses, further underscored this commitment.

Despite its rapid growth as a seminary from 30 students in 1982 to around 800 in 2013, the SOD has remained firmly committed to the original vision of a transdenominational identity, open to the full work of the Spirit. The many tongues of Pentecost, expressed in the Pauline phrase that in Christ ethnic, class, and gender differences no longer matter (Gal. 3:28), compels us. This is at least part of what we mean by renewal, and it’s what fuels the transdenominational character of the SOD.

What do you think about transdenominationalism and renewal?

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Dale M. Coulter
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