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So now let's shift back to the Graduate School, Seattle's other Mars Hill. If Mars Hill Church tolerates a diversity of viewpoints, Mars Hill Graduate School actively promotes that sort of diversity. You hear a lot about "conversations" and "dialogue" at the school and on its collection of student blogs. It's a place where the systematic theology course is titled "Constructing the Theological Mosaic" and world religions is about "Encountering Religious Otherness."
After starting as a branch of Western Seminary in Portland 11 years ago, the school became independent in 2002 and moved into a stylish red brick building in Belltown two years ago. Its tagline "text.soul.culture." hangs over Elliott Avenue. The school has carved a niche among seminaries by emphasizing the therapeutic aspect of pastoring, training students in both theology and counseling psychology. It sounds obvious that pastors should have a foundation in both of these fields, but the school's founders saw this lacking at many other seminaries. Professor Ron Carucci got at the heart of the school's thinking when he told The Post-Intelligencer, "If you can't read the human face, you cannot really read Scripture."
This non-traditional approach appeals to students like Walker and Cabe Matthews, a third-year student who hopes to enter the ministry full-time when he graduates. He described the school as a friendly place for "recovering evangelicals" — those who have been burned by institutional religion, but are willing to give it another chance.
The same outlook attracted Dwight Friesen, a pastor for a network of Eastside house churches, who joined the school's faculty five years ago. "I've seen enough church leaders who can [interpret] Scripture extraordinarily well but who can't see people as relational," he said. "That hermeneutic failure has, I think, created great harm." Friesen hopes the school's 300-some students will learn to "line up with those who have been most marginalized" in society. "We want our students to be readers of life," he said. "There's a theme throughout scripture that calls for people to line up with those who have been most marginalized. That means different things in different contexts, but we want our students to think about how they might live in such a way that those margins might be erased."
And what's the meaning of the odd name, Mars Hill? There was a Mars Hill in ancient Athens (Mars being the god of war), which became the center of debate and philosophy. There the Apostle Paul debated the city's great thinkers in the New Testament book of Acts. It's an appealing name for American Christians trying to shed their tradition's anti-intellectual tendencies. Accordingly, America has a lot of Mars Hills — a Mars Hill Bible church in Michigan, a Mars Hill school in Ohio, a Mars Hill audio journal, and a now-defunct Mars Hill literary journal.
And of course, two such names in Seattle, a city of many hills. "It's a classic case of feeling like you're innovative and then finding out others are using [the name] too," said Harleman, the church's Lake City pastor. "We stole it from a hill in Greece, so we can't really claim it's ours."
"It's kind of unfortunate," concedes the graduate school's Friesan. But it at least provides an opportunity to explain to secular Seattle that there are different kinds of Christians, he said. At one point the two institutions discussed the name together and decided they could coexist, Friesan said. "A good name is more desirable than riches," says the Book of Proverbs. For pursuing the kingdom of heaven in their different ways, they've each decided the name works, confusion be damned.
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