Fifty years…and counting

SOP50_w_banner-500No, it’s not my birthday (and the half-century mark’s been in the rearview mirror for a while now).  Rather, today marks the beginning of a special celebration in the life of Fuller Theological Seminary: the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of the Graduate School of Psychology.

I’ve had the privilege of witnessing 33 years of that history first-hand, since arriving in 1980 as a student.  Degree programs and curricula have adapted to constantly changing internal and external demands.  Some faculty colleagues have come and gone; others have become “lifers” like myself.  Thousands of students have passed through our classrooms.  Indeed, I’ve been around long enough to have taught students from different generations of the same family–dad and daughter, mom and daughter, aunt and nephew–not to mention wives and their husbands, cousins, and even twins.

The field of psychology has changed.  Many of the movements that took the psychotherapy world and popular imagination by storm in earlier days have faded from memory.  Recent decades have seen the explosive growth in neurobiological research made possible by new technologies.  And many researchers and clinicians have begun swapping more medical, pathology-oriented ways of thinking for “positive psychology” models that emphasize well-being and resilience instead.

The public attitude of Christians toward psychology has also changed.  In some quarters, the very idea of Christians training to be psychologists or family therapists used to be greeted with skepticism or scorn.  That’s less the case now.  In part, it’s because the mental health needs of our communities have become increasingly undeniable.  But I like to think that it’s also because Fuller has played an historic role, pioneering professional training programs in which students learn theology and psychology: both/and, not either/or.  We have alumni of such programs around the world.  Some are therapists who compassionately enter into others’ pain, furthering God’s work of transforming lives and relationships.  Some are teachers or researchers, educating and training the next generation.

And all of this points to the things that haven’t changed.  Since joining the Fuller faculty in 1986, I have always counted it a privilege to have colleagues whom I consider to be not only friends, but partners in ministry–and believe me, in an academic context, that is not something to be taken for granted.  The students I’ve had the privilege to serve have been a joy to know.  These days, I’m often reminded of the things that God has already done in and through these students’ lives; the things he is doing; the things he will do.  To be part of that work is both humbling and exhilarating.

Most days, I just get my work done; head down and nose to the grindstone, I plow through my to-do list.  But there are other days when I’m struck with wonder: how it is possible that I get to do what I do, that I am in this place with these people?

May these few days of celebration indeed be days of wonder.  Happy anniversary, School of Psychology.  God is good.  May the next fifty years be ever more pleasing in his sight.