Livingstone and theological education

Livingstone and theological education

The East London Institute for Home and Foreign Missions (Harley House) has a strong case for claiming the title of the first college of the Bible College Movement. On the 18th of April 1874, the students of that newly formed college lined the road to watch the coffin of David Livingstone pass by on its way to burial in Westminster abbey. The coffin actually contained only the external remains of Livingstone, his heart, as is often said, was buried in Africa (along with his spleen, pancreas, intestines and a few other items, which is not so often said).

Livingstone had a poor relationship with theological education. Prior to going to Africa as a medical missionary, he was assigned to a training scheme under a Rev. Richard Cecil in Ongar, whose report on Livingstone was so bad, Livingstone was made to do an extra year by the London Missionary Society before he was allowed to go. He founded no colleges in Africa, but that was not his task.

In 1973, Tim Jeal wrote a (justly) revisionist biography of the national hero, David Livingstone, pointing out the dark areas of his personality and his weaknesses, including the fact that almost no-one in Africa was converted as a result of his work. So why is Livingstone buried in Westminster Abbey and Jeal is not at all likely to obtain that honour? Doubtless there is the factor of a Victorian desire for a hero of the empire at the time but surely there is more than that. He captured the imagination of the country as a man and as a Christian.

For me, the thing that stands out in Livingstone’s life is his passionate single minded intention to serve God with his life by following what he believed God had called him to do. He railed against his critics, including his fellow missionaries, got on with almost no-one, his wife was low down his list of priorities, but he also wrote this in his journal during his first and greatest journey;

“O Jesus, fill me with thy love now and I beseech thee accept me and use me a little for thy glory. I have done nothing for thee yet and I would like to do something.”

That led him into three missionary journeys, to open up central Africa for missionary effort, and eventually to die there with his work incomplete. I would be happy to remember him for those two sentences alone.

And us? There is so much important stuff to think about as theological educators – teaching techniques, learning theory, accreditation requirements, subject specific reading and research, curriculum design, all of which enhance our work. But behind all that I would like to think that we had the Livingstone spirit, of doing it all out of love for God and the desire to do something for His glory by fulfilling our calling.

Then the burial in Westminster Abbey may not seem so important.

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One Comment on “Livingstone and theological education”

  1. Jim Murdoch Says:

    Christ – it is all about Him thanks Graham for the reminder.


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