The heritage of PTS extends back to the earliest days of Presbyterian theological education on this continent. For the first 150 years following its founding, Princeton Seminary’s reputation was shaped by the faculty who taught here and the pastors, including global missionaries, who were formed here. Successive generations of faculty produced internationally renowned scholars, who concurrently served as leaders in the national Presbyterian Church and were prominent on the world stage of the emerging ecumenical movement. The mission of forming future leaders of the church was furthered by this close personal connection between scholarship and personal leadership in the denomination.
Times have changed. We are in the midst of a migration to Europe and North America of millions of people from Asia, Africa, Latin America, and the Caribbean that began during the middle of the last century. One result in the United States is a profound cultural and demographic shift. Mainline Protestant denominations do not have the same culture-‐shaping influence and identity we once took for granted. In this country, and in Europe, growing numbers of people are not practicing Christians; many do not have Christian roots. In many regions and geographies these people constitute a majority. Seminaries must adapt to serve faith communities within this changed context. We must address and resolve new questions about need and priority such as: what constitutes culturally embedded intellectual excellence; what educational and experiential backgrounds best qualify students for admission to seminary; and what determines the current intellectual agenda for a school of the church.
Change comes slowly to seminaries, especially in relation to the pace of events over the last 60 years. Without faster, more determined and more purposeful change we risk becoming marginal both to the PC(USA) and to the world Church of Jesus Christ in the 21st century. Pedagogic practices need to recognize the variety of student learning styles and the context of a multiracial and multiethnic educational ethos informed by the diversity of communities represented by our students and faculty. We need to focus more intently on those aspects of the storied history of Presbyterianism that can help us to embrace an equally storied future, one which will be increasingly multinational, multiracial, and broader in its socioeconomic compass.
The relevant aspects of culture in which church and seminary are called to serve are not just those articulated in human and social sciences but, also, those articulated in the natural sciences and in technology based on them. This dimension is increasingly the basis of the global economy as well as the commonly assumed framework underlying the diversity of global culture. It is also a main source of challenges to Christianity (and to other religions) with which a theology for a global Christianity will have to wrestle. The core of the scientific culture has an unyielding quality which theologians, and others who work in the human sciences, sometimes find uncomfortable, but which theology must face and address with intellectual integrity and rigor, as well as with faith. The experience, the achievements and the failures of Christian theology in Europe and North America in the last four centuries are important resources to be used in diverse, innovative and critical ways by Christian theologians of all races, nations and cultures and by both sexes.
Change is a moving target. It is hard to keep our institution evolving toward a renewed capacity to serve, at a pace that connects to the new social context, while maintaining our steadfastness of purpose. Nevertheless, we have confidence in outcomes-‐based assessment to gauge the relevance of the degree programs that flow from the seminary’s identity and mission. We recognize that the trajectory of theology is changing, most especially as it serves faith communities. Biblical studies, theology, and theological reflection on the practices of ministry, all stalwarts of the PTS curriculum, will be increasingly impacted by interdisciplinary approaches that will incorporate attention to the social, human and natural sciences.
We have taken the last two years to complete this work. The inclusivity of the process and the degree to which all participants have engaged has shown that members of our community are clear-‐headed about the institution’s strengths and the challenges we face, as well as the significant change required of us to meet these challenges. This change will be effected over a number of years, beginning with the actions we have identified in this plan.
The first step in seizing the opportunity presented by our current situation is to reaffirm our basic purpose.We are a school dedicated to forming women and men in service to Jesus Christ for leadership in changing churches and to serving as an unsurpassed resource for Reformed theology worldwide.
Our task is not, ultimately, to impart an abstract body of knowledge; it is to form leaders for ministry. We recognize the fundamental connection between spiritual life and practice and are concerned with the entire ecology of formation, especially one anchored in residential learning, a unique aspect of our life that we do not yet use to its fullest extent. We also recognize the emerging need to develop strategies that enable us to embrace and to utilize techniques and practices of virtual communication and learning to provide access beyond our walls.
With all of the above in mind, we have articulated seven imperatives with which to frame our strategy.
“Princeton Seminary helped me whittle down to the core of my faith and helped me discover what mattered most to me.”