The new internationalism

The new internationalism  (of theological education)

Theological education has often possessed an international element in its practice.

Foreign missionaries, after founding churches, tended to found colleges to serve those churches. Students from other countries have studied in colleges and seminaries – usually in the west with the help of scholarships. Some teachers from richer regions have given one or two weeks of their year to travel and teach intensives elsewhere. International organisations, funded by churches in well to do nations, have reached out, visited and helped theological education in needier areas.

Two important things need to be said about these traditional expressions of internationalism in theological education. They did tend (sometimes necessarily) to perpetuate the old mission pattern of “from the West to the rest”. And they are now, during the Covid-19 pandemic, mostly not possible.

However, there is a growing, powerful new internationalism in theological education, delivered by technology, through Virtual Learning Environments, Zoom, Teams, or some other platform.

Students now gather from all over the world in cohorts, sometimes from every continent, to be taught by a teacher sitting at a desk in another place. Or a class of students in one place is taught by a team of teachers scattered across the world, (one recently occurred with a class in one continent taught for a module by scholars from three other continents). Seminaries are now, in the Covid-19 emergency, being accredited by teams electronically gathered from different countries “visiting” the school, virtually.

Theological education has benefited by this great gift of technologies coming just at the time when the pandemic demands that they are used. And you can be sure that, once the crisis is over, the new technological interactions will certainly not disappear from theological education but become a significant part of its future.

There is a sadness about all this. Few would argue against the assertion that, in community and formation, in shared enthusiasm for academic work; physical presence is the most effective situation, sharing real time and space, sharing lives together.

However, in these days when nation states across the world are emphasising their separate entities and putting themselves first, we need to demonstrate more than ever that the Kingdom of God is one singular, international entity, far more important than nations which, to God are simply “a drop in a bucket or dust on the scales”. Technology laughs at boarders and countries as much as does Covid-19.

If you want to see the best illustration of the oneness of the kingdom of God and how it transcends international boundaries, look no further that theological education today.

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