When I arrived at the American Baptist Seminary of the West in 2017, the strategic plan called for concluding a 15-year discussion on renaming the seminary.
We were the last of the American Baptist schools to publicly carry the denomination name, and we have students from 22 different denominations. I think the big question was to what degree in a post-denominational, post-Christian world does a denominational signifier of such ambiguous understandings matter?
The name Baptist has been drained of a lot of positive meaning, and to our international students, American implied colonialism and the West signified the Western theological tradition. When we renamed the seminary the Berkeley School of Theology, we were also undergoing a renewal of our curriculum, so it’s exciting. And the feedback has been very positive.
This has opened us to people who aren’t part of the Baptist tradition or a particular denomination. Others see Berkeley associated positively with what it means religiously, intellectually, academically, and ecumenically.
Ultimately, we don’t want our name to be a distraction in any way to our larger mission. A name shouldn’t detract from the first-century founder of our faith, a Jew named Jesus, who modeled for us what it means to be a follower of God.
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