Iain R. Torrance, president of the Princeton Theological Seminary, has been asking a lot of questions since he arrived in Princeton two years ago: What is the Princeton Theological Seminary? How is the world changing? How are the church and Christian communities changing? And, finally, how can the seminary better serve the church and the community?
“When we look at the world,” says Torrance, “we see an isolated America, a multi-faith world, an ecological crisis, huge developments in digital technology, big changes in the church, and a burgeoning Christianity in the global south.”
In response the seminary is looking at its resources — an excellent library and faculty, a strong and diverse student body, the Institute for Youth Ministry, the Hispanic Theological Initiative, and strong ties to the Center for Theological Inquiry — and coming up with answers: “We are saying to ourselves ‘We have many resources; we must use these resources intentionally in the service of the church, the community, and the wider world.”
Torrance speaks at the Princeton Regional Chamber of Commerce’s “Business before Business” breakfast meeting at the Nassau Club on Wednesday, September 20, at 7:30 a.m. Cost: $25. Register online at www.princetonchamber.org. For more information, call 609-924-1776.
The seminary has been reviewing its curriculum, patterns of governance, and collaborations, and Torrance has written a strategic plan, the seminary’s first, and he has even put it on the web and invited comments from alumni. “We are using that as a means of energizing and revitalizing and realigning our focus,” says Torrance.
One new effort is to form better relations between the seminary and the community. “We have found that lots of people in Princeton know all about the university, but relatively little about the seminary,” he says. He is encouraging the seminary to reach out to let its neighbors know what it has to offer.
The seminary’s first outreach effort has been to develop an extensive and varied continuing education program, headed by Hui Chen. “As a woman, a Presbyterian minister, and, in her previous life, an attorney and federal prosecutor,” says Torrance, “she brings energy and focus.”
A recent course on “What is Buddhism?” brought in 70 people, most of whom had never before been to the seminary. A seminar by a biblical scholar and a philosopher of religion on intelligent design drew teachers from six different school districts.
Upcoming offerings include a biomedical ethics class for medical, legal, religious, and social services professionals, on Monday, September 25, and a seminar on Thursday, October 26, on empowering communities against gang violence, which will bring together Detective Frank Clayton, 20-year veteran of the Trenton police department; rapper and hip-hop recording artist Reverend Charles Atkins, who is also chief chaplain of the Garden State Youth Correctional Facility; Reverend Karen Hernandez-Granzen, pastor of Westminster Presbyterian in Trenton; and Andrew Zuckerman,
principal of the Lawrenceville Middle School. Find full details
at www.ptsem.edu or call 609-497-7990.
Torrance received a master’s degree in philosophy from the University of Edinburgh, a bachelor of divinity degree in New Testament languages from St. Andrews University, and a Ph.D. in Syriac patristics, the study of early Christian writers, from Oxford University, where he studied Syriac versions of early Christian writings.
Before he came to Princeton, Torrance was president of the University of Aberdeen in Scotland. He started there as a professor of Christian ethics and early Christianity, next became department head, and then dean of the faculty of arts, before becoming president. He served as moderator of the General Assembly of the Church of Scotland from 2003 to 2004. Torrance also holds the uniquely British honor of being chaplain to Her Majesty the Queen in Britain.
Torrance’s talk to the Princeton Chamber is part of the seminary’s broadening role and visibility in the community.
“What I want the chamber to see is that we’re trying to get engaged,” says Torrance. “We have a long tradition of scholarship, great students and faculty, and we also want to get connected with the world.”