Clyde Kilby was a lovely old leather-elbow-patch professor when I knew him. Curator of C.S. Lewis’s papers and an expert on the Inklings, he had the unenviable task of explaining “myth” to fundamentalist freshmen. “Truer than true,” I remember him saying. Later, I fell in love with Mircea Eliade and dallied with Joseph Campbell.* But it was Professor Kilby who first made me see the beauty of the word. As I approach my fifth decade of teaching, I find myself hoping that perhaps some of the 2,000 or so San Francisco Theological Seminary (SFTS) students I have taught over the last 35 years will have absorbed something of my love for myth.
However, these days I find myself spending more time with the kind you debunk than the kind you extol.
Myth: SFTS is dying.
Myth: SFTS has been sold.
Myth: SFTS is no longer offering the M.Div.
Myth: SFTS is no longer Presbyterian
Myth: The SFTS I knew and loved is gone.
If beautiful myths are truer than true, all of the above are falser than false. SFTS is not only still alive, it’s popping. It has not been sold; it has been embedded. And it is still offering the same Presbyterian Church (USA) M.Div. that it always has. SFTS is still here. The same folks are here on the same campus doing the same things alumni remember—still committed to training people for ministries of justice, peace, and healing. Still anxious to promote a loving, hopeful engagement with the world. Still teaching the Good News; still committed to innovation in ministry; still leading students in the paths of deconstruction; still giving instruction on the pronunciation and meaning of “latifundialization.”
Nothing meaningful about what SFTS is and what we do was changed in the merger with the University of Redlands. It was enhanced. In a day when many stand-alone seminaries are looking to partner with universities, SFTS may well have won the lottery. In the University of Redlands, we found an educational community with much of the same DNA that SFTS has. Service orientation. A concern instilled in each undergrad and grad student for doing good in the world. It’s no accident that the University of Redlands is on the list of top-producing schools of Peace Corps volunteers. I won’t go as far to say that “Some Enchanted Evening” was playing in the background when we first met, but I am seriously saying—with all the cred my 35 years with SFTS can give me—we are like them, they are like us, and this merger is a God thing.
I understand, of course, the grief. And after 13 years of deaning, I certainly know how mis-information spreads. So I am writing to make sure SFTS friends and alumni know that: 1) good things are happening at SFTS, and 2) we are always here—I am always here—wanting to talk to my former students, other alumni, local pastors, and friends of the seminary who have questions.
Many of the most important things we Christians believe are truer than true. Other things are what Calvin called “adiaphora.” And, of course, the word “truth” itself could hardly be more fraught. Still, the question of what is true about SFTS is an important question to many of us. I am writing to tell you what I know in the hopes that it will lead us closer—to each other and to the truth.
* “My favorite definition of mythology: other people's religion. My favorite definition of religion: misunderstanding of mythology.”—Joseph Campbell