Theological education after Corona virus

Theological education after Corona virus

What will the theological education world look like when corona virus is finally conquered? The virus may well be around in some form for years, disrupting life in different ways. However, there will come a time when life returns to mostly normal but probably never quite the same. What will we see in our area of work after Covid 19? There are so many imponderables and future predictions are regularly wrong but we know a number of things will be different in society. We just don’t know how those differences in society will impact on theological education.

Firstly, the virus social distancing requirements have shown how effective it is to keep in touch and teach via the internet. Covid 19 came at just the right time to show this, when such powerful and effective programmes as Skype, Zoom and Team are available and most universities, colleges and seminaries already had up and running a Virtual Learning Environment (VLE). Already there is speculation that university students, having experienced home teaching will look more for cheaper and more convenient on line courses across subjects and disciplines. Theological education has been gearing up for more extensive on line working than much of the HE sector for some years, often because of financial and contextual pressures already in the system. Can we expect a radical change for colleges and seminaries towards this in order to survive?

Secondly, there will almost certainly be a world-wide recession and this will mean fewer jobs around and less money in the pockets of ordinary citizens. After going through a period of reasonable stability, colleges and seminaries were already suffering financially before corona virus and this will surely increase financial pressure on a number of colleges who are already hardly making ends meet. All rely on donations which will be harder for the ordinary Christian supporter to make, all rely on student numbers which may be difficult to keep up and some rely on endowments which will be worth less.

Thirdly, we can expect a growing divide between the developed world and the developing world. Many see this happening because, in much of the developing world, it is so hard to practice social distancing, very difficult for governments to pour money into their economies and inadequate health systems will find it especially hard to cope. All this when the western world is more pre-occupied with its own problems. This has the potential to increase the world divide in theological education as to where the power is, where the students come from, how it is funded, even as to ability of students in dis-advantaged areas to participate in internet-based schemes.

Fourthly, it is likely that we will face a mood change in society. Precisely what this will be is hard to predict. Will there be a desire for togetherness and caring for each other? A search for older values in face of the shock of our individual and collective vulnerability? A desire to value workers and people in general not by their riches but by their contribution to society and others? Or will there be a release in a greater hedonist, selfish lifestyle? And where will the churches be in this new mood? Will they be respected more or be seen as less relevant? Will they grow or decline? At the moment, most would say that the health workers rather than the Christians are the heroes.

So, what will all this mean for TE? Maybe this is not the most important question given the uncertainties. The best question is probably “What can we do to keep theological education on track and prospering in these new and difficult times?” Here are a few suggestions;

  1. We continue to embrace internet delivery but fight hard against it becoming the exclusive system or the norm in theological education. It is doubtless best in certain circumstances but, if the present isolation has taught us anything, it is that human beings need to literally and physically be together and, I would add, especially when they are learning.
  2. We brace ourselves for money problems in the middle future. Colleges and seminaries in difficulties now will face even more in the next year or two and the sector will probably go through one of its periodic lean times. The hardest thing of all (but the most necessary of all) in such times is to maintain our mission statement and full set of objectives, to serve church and world by developing students intellectually, spiritually/character-wise and in ability to serve God with their lives.
  3. We renew our vision of a theological education without borders, keeping and developing our inter-connectedness between nations and cultures. This may mean finding new ways to make those connections, new ways to serve, especially needy situations, new ways to even up an increasingly un-even world. For all its problems, the West will still be the rich that need to help the poor – especially in theological education.
  4. We see ourselves as serving the church, as always, but also, especially in these unusual times, we must see ourselves as working on the interface between the church and the world. Theological education colleges and seminaries should not view themselves as institutions separated from the world by the intermediary of the church they serve. Our students will have to be people who, in their task of mission by Word and deed, genuinely relate to the coming world mood, not shout old slogans from a distance.

Predictions of the future are usually wrong, but determinations to do what we can in a difficult situation are always right.

Dear blog reader, apologies for the un-usual timing and length of this month’s post – Graham C.

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6 Comments on “Theological education after Corona virus”

  1. dburke2012 Says:

    Thanks Graham, I both teach in a College and am involved in a book project on global ministry education.

    This article is helpful stimulus material.

    david burke

    DAVID BURKE ADJUNCT LECTURER Christ for all of life CHRIST COLLEGE 1 Clarence Street, Burwood NSW 2134 (02) 9744 1977 · ABN (68524680903) ACT CRICOS (02650E)


  2. Dorothy ANderson Says:

    Good Afternoon, Graham. This latest blog will surely be a stimulus to discussion in many other TE institutions. I mentioned it to Richard Johnston of ABTAPL, who would be interested in publishing it in the Bulletin, where it might reach places that as yet have not subscribed to Richard would like to contact you. I’ll refer him to your blog.

  3. Richard Johnson Says:

    Hi Graham, If you’re happy for me to include it in the next ABTAPL Bulletin can you contact me. Many thanks! Richard

  4. […] Education After Corona Virus’ provides a good read for our reflections on the future.…/theological-education-afte…/…How to start off deliberations at the institutional level• Realistic deliberations in the […]

  5. KiwiAllan Says:

    Apposite, as we come to expect from you, Graham.

    Your 4th point highlights another area I sense will need to be explored in more depth as we move forward: ‘We see ourselves as serving the church, as always, but also, especially in these unusual times, we must see ourselves as working on the interface between the church and the world….’ I have a hunch that COVID-19 may encourage TE to become more earthed in terms of the way we package the content of our equipping endeavours. The traditional ‘silo’ and classic disciplines curriculum approach may well need to give way to greater intentional integration of content areas, based on the implications of our ‘task of mission by Word and deed, genuinely relat[ing] to the coming world mood…’

  6. easwarann Says:

    Dear Dr. Graham Cheesman,

    Christian Greetings!

    It is a well written and thought filled article of post COVID 19 situation concerning the theological education. Since we offer theological education at various contexts in the world but following same method and curricula of western designed and influenced in one way or the other. It is a time to rethink about innovating our theological education model which will be fully eccelesilogically driven to fulfill mission of the local church in its local context. It will help the church and theological institutions to overcome most of the problems anticipated by all stakeholders.

    Thank You,

    Easwaran N
    Southern Asia Leadership Institute,
    Coimbatore, Tamil Nadu,

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