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T.gif (202 bytes)he Center of Theological Inquiry owes is existence to three men who dared to dream dreams.

James I. McCord, president of Princeton Theological Seminary from 1960 to 1983, was the first to have a vision for a unique community of theological reflection. At his initial meeting with the Seminary’s Board of Trustees, he spoke about American Presbyterianism’s failure to perform her theological task: giving intense theological thought at the deepest level to the church’s ministry. And he believed there was no better place to begin this task than in Princeton.

Never one to spin idle dreams, in 1962, McCord presented the board’s Development Committee with a plan for an advanced academy of theological studies, much like the Institute for Advanced Study that had already made its home in Princeton. The board decided to go ahead. Over the next fifteen years, McCord’s nascent idea was shaped into a proposal for an ecumenical religious research institute that would draw scholars from around the world to Princeton’s libraries and academic communities to pursue theological inquiry.

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Dr. Wallace M. Alston Jr. is the director of CTI. - Photo: Carolyn Herring

Finally, in 1978, the board moved to establish the Center of Theological Inquiry as “a separate corporation, not under the control of any denomination, nor of the Seminary itself.”

McCord retired as Seminary president in 1981 to tend his dream full time. As CTI’s founding director, he oversaw the construction of the handsome Georgian red brick building located next to Speer Library that opened in 1984. Luce Hall is the Center’s home and the focal point for its work.

There twelve resident scholars (called members) who have been chosen by a rigorous selection process come to read, to think, to talk with each other, and to write. Their research, although on topics

as disparate as mission in the pluralistic context of India (the project undertaken this year by Athyal Jesudas Mathew) and the role of Presbyterians in framing the U. S. Constitution (the subject that fascinated lawyer Marci Hamilton during her residence last year), has the common goal of helping to address an increasingly secular and technological world with an intelligible Gospel.

CTI members have come from as far as Auckland, New Zealand, (Derek Tovey from the College of the Southern Cross just completed his residency) and as close as just across Mercer Street on the Princeton Seminary campus. This year Patrick Miller and J. Wentzel van Huyssteen from the Seminary faculty have been accepted at CTI for their sabbaticals.

It is thanks to the second man with a dream — Dr. Thomas W. Gillespie — that the relationship between the Center and the Seminary is a close and flourishing one. As McCord’s successor to the Seminary presidency, he saw the possibility for mutual support and common concern between the two institutions.

“The biblical imperative for the church today,” Gillespie believes, “is one of recovering our roots and reclaiming our identity as a theological community. Both the Center and the Seminary address this task. The Center is a resource both for the church and for those who teach the future leaders of the church.”

As chair of the Center’s Board of Trustees, Gillespie has helped the sister institutions chart a careful course between CTI’s isolation from and its inappropriate control by the Seminary. Several years ago, it appeared that the relationship between the two boards had lapsed, or was at least unclear to both sets of trustees. So, the Center’s board inquired of the Seminary whether the original relationship might be renewed.

Under Gillespie’s leadership, the PTS board said yes, and a joint committee drew up terms of agreement that stipulated that the Center’s board would be made up of twenty-five members, twelve selected from the Seminary’s board and twelve at large. The Center’s director serves as the twenty-fifth trustee.
The agreement preserves the Center’s independence and also assures the Seminary’s support. “We envisioned close, collegial relations among our faculty and the Center’s
visiting

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