Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

Brian Stiller

Podcastor

Author

Global Ambassador @ WEA

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Interview with Wycliffe College (University of Toronto)

August 7, 2018 About

Interview with Wycliffe College (University of Toronto) by Patricia Paddey

You graduated from Wycliffe with a Master of Religion in 1975. Out of all the places you could have chosen to study, why did you (a Pentecostal boy from the Prairies) choose Wycliffe?

It was the only Evangelical graduate school in eastern Canada where I could do graduate theological studies

What was Wycliffe like back then? Can you share a little story or anecdote that has stayed with you from your time here?

It was warm and friendly. Registrar Dr RK Harrison was kindly disposed to my studies which I had done under Alvin Schindel at Central Pentecostal College in Saskatoon. Harrison examined my record and gave credits for some of my courses. I was amazed that an Anglican school would be open to those credits. Recall this was in 1971.

Another story relates to Richard Longnecker. I was in his first class, with only a few taking it as he was quite unknown. His prayer at the beginning of each class was quite out of the ordinary, simple yet profound, forecasting the kind of lecture he would give, scholarly but with a pastoral touch.

You’ve had a long and accomplished career – but that career was already well underway by the time you came to Wycliffe. What hopes lay behind doing the Masters of Religion, and how did you see those hopes furthered or realized as a result of your time here?

I had a deep hunger for further studies. I did some graduate work in Montreal with a former Jesuit Dr. Davis. His assumption was that orthodoxy was of the past. This generated in me a longing for serious study that would tax my abilities to think and write, also I wanted to locate my faith within a more disciplined and historic setting.

What impact did your Wycliffe studies have on your faith in Christ?

It introduced me to a wider array of church thought through the ages, helping me understand that I was in a direct line of centuries of Christian thought, doctrine, and spiritual movements. I wanted to interact with of intellectual and devotional minds of my fellow travelers.

What is the value of pursuing graduate theological education for evangelicals today?

It deepens one’s life in so many ways. The very discipline of more demanding work sharpens one’s ability to think through issues and put forward your case. Then there is the matter of biblical understanding. There is no substitute for working more deeply in the biblical text, and that discipline is deepened by graduate studies. However, one of the most important aspects is peer learning: one’s classmates are critical in learning. That’s my regret: I did my work part time and did not have opportunity to build friendships and experience the interaction of student learning.

Since 2011, you have worked as Global Ambassador for the World Evangelical Alliance. You see the church in all of its beauty, diversity, and yes, challenges. What words of encouragement and or advice could you share with current or future seminary students?

Explore. Refuse to let your initial or current vocational world box you in. World opportunities are all around, often requiring a different level of risk and faith to explore.

What are you currently working on?

I just finished From Jerusalem to Timbuktu: A Global Tour of the Spread of Christianity. While I continue to visit up to 20 countries a year, as global ambassador of the WEA I visit some of our 130 National Alliances (in Canada that’s the EFC). There are two current projects: one is to refresh the global organization. It began in 1846, and it is second largest global Christian associations representing some 600 million Christians. Secondly, I’m beginning to research and write a kind of autobiography with special interest in reviewing the growth of Evangelicals in Canada as seen out of my life experience. My personal history is very much framed by that history and given there is next to nothing on that written, I’ve explored that idea with John Vissers (Knox College) and Phyllis Airhart (Emmanuel College).

Here’s an opportunity for you to just speak from your heart to our readers on whatever you’d most like to say to them (and I’ll frame it with a question):

Western society assumed that with a rise in education, the improvement of living standards and in general a more sophisticated society that Christian faith would go by the wayside. This in our Canadian and Western world seems to be so. The mysterious, the transcendent is being diminished. The church can get caught up in taking to a rather banal form of faith, one that is framed by our search for pleasure and ease rather than to discover a call to rigorous faith. Church leaders we too are prone to this inclination by avoiding risks that take us beyond the comforts of our calling and vocation. I too get caught up by the beneficence of what our society promises and delivers. So antithetical of the biblical call and so out of step with what is going on globally. The Global South (Africa, Asia and Latin America) has exploded in faith. These are becoming the sending places of faith, the hearts from which the missionary movements begin and from which they spread.

When asked by younger clergy and Christian leaders what they might do, I suggest try something which calls for a risk of faith. Not necessarily to leave home and go elsewhere (although maybe), but find within their community something which needs doing, that stretches them past their training and comfort, instead seeing the hand of the Lord in ways we would never see if we didn’t take that bold step.

The Gospel, as Fleming Rutledge reminds us in The Crucifixion, is a bold and risk-taking activity of the Lord, our template for ministry.