Education – and so theological education – has undergone a pendulum swing, from a view of the teacher as provider of material to students in a lecture, to a companion on the student’s own journey into knowing and understanding. The famous shift from “sage on the stage” to “guide on the side”.
This movement from an emphasis on teaching to an emphasis on learning has generally been healthy. However, it has left a large middle ground between the two pictures of the teacher which has been largely un-explored. And this is a great pity since it is this middle ground – more confident of our central role than the guide on the side, and more relational than the sage on the stage – where we do our most good.
What occupies this key central ground? There are plenty of issues to explore here but one important matter is the shaping of the student’s values. I use the word “values” in the way anthropologists such as Paul Hiebert use it, the basic positions (including deep emotions) we possess, the fundamental attitudes to life, the way we ascribe relative worth to things. It is in being a tool of the Holy Spirit for the shaping of these values that we truly educate and so fulfil our ministry calling as theological educators.
What values? Nouwen has a clear answer to this question. Theological education for him is to help the students to have as central values, the love of the Lord their God with all their heart, soul mind and strength and the love of their neighbour as themselves. But as we come to this question, so we arrive at the influence of our own unique person on the students so, let me list from my own perspective, a few basic values (I have more and you may have others) to be shaped and honed in our students by our teaching and life:
- The vital importance of clear, careful and right thinking; that oratory and commitment are no proof of correct views but we must be committed to real study, fair exegesis and reasonable thought processes. This is as important for ministry and spirituality as for academics.
- The fundamental nature of a true, nurtured, relationship with God in prayer and worship for academic study of theology and scripture and for serving God in this world.
- The Christian commits to finding their calling before God and bases their life on fulfilling it for His sake.
- The unity and rich fellowship of all believers under the fundamentals of gospel faith (which Tozer says are “blessedly few”) is a goal for which to strive.
- Redemption does not make us less human but human as humans should be, so fun, joy, feasting, friendship and romance, indeed all of creation, are gifts from God to be enjoyed.
Old fashioned lectures can be wonderful experiences; walking with students through their journey into more understanding can be greatly enjoyable and profitable. But in both these activities and in many other ways (which include our own lives), helping to shape the deep life values of our students will probably prove the most influential thing we do.
The sage on the stage and the guide on the side has also to be the builder in the heart.