Should we be anxious for the future of theological education?
For me, the anxiety comes from a growing feeling that, in certain areas and in certain ways, we are losing the ability to define or even circumscribe our calling. We are being blown about, and sometimes off track, by strong winds. Here are five of them;
The contextualisation of theological education into the academic enterprise of society continues apace. Of course we must contextualise into the educational patterns of the day but contextualisation is a two-edged sword and must include judgement on the academic culture and saying no where it is necessary to preserve the essence of our calling. There is not much “saying no” going on these days and an atmosphere of attitudes is often created which does not reflect our intent.
Globalisation also sometimes exceeds its validity. Western patterns of delivery now tend to dominate and determine what is regarded as excellent in theological education for the rest of the world. Globalisation is upon us and cannot be held back as King Canute tried to hold back the tide, but the structure of a teaching organisation, the teaching methodology, the assessment and quality control processes, in a specific place can be worse for being western. Must quality assurance be the same in Asbury, Amman and Abuja, enforced by the same kind of dean?
Educational skills are taking a more prominent position on the theological education stage. and enthusiasm for the tools, conferences and courses is increasing. This is right; we are educators, and the more educational skills we can learn, the better for our students. The more we can excel in our subject areas, the better for the college. But lecturers are increasingly thinking of themselves less as Christian ministers and more as educationalists. Ultimately we are God’s gift to the Church to exercise our ministry of teaching.
Money decides so many things these days. In some ways it always has. Many colleges and seminaries today are working on the edge of solvency. New models of delivery are beginning to emerge. Courses which appeal to a wider group of potential students are being used. It is good that we have skilled businessmen on our boards. And yet, in the current financial storms, decisions are sometimes made that are not so much controlled by our mission as by the balance sheet.
Loving corporate vision. It seems that teaching (and support) staff are finding it increasingly hard to unite in a common purpose and create a loving community of learning, maybe blown about by an unwarranted individualism in society and our Christianity. Not everywhere by any means, but in some places, we can see disputes and grudging fellowship, vigorous advocacy for individual agendas, even sometimes parties forming within staff. It is no way to model co-operative Christian service to students.
But let Paul have the last word. “Do not be anxious about anything but in everything, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God.”