Those of us in theological education keep a close eye on what other schools in North America are up to. And in seeking solutions to new challenges, we often look among our peer groups for best practices and sparks of innovation. A new publication from the World Council of Churches, however, reminds us that theological education is a global enterprise with many different forms and functions.
The length and density of most academic reference works usually keep them off our recreational reading lists. And the new Handbook of Theological Education in World Christianity -- almost 800 pages long and weighing nearly five pounds! -- is no exception. But the massive tome draws on the perspectives of more than 90 leaders from around the world to detail the varieties of theological education.
There is much for us to learn from this snapshot. For example:
- In Latin America, where theological education was once a missionary endeavor from the North, seminaries are now turning to their own communities as sources of knowledge, wisdom, and guidance.
- In Korea, seminaries are increasingly being blamed for the ethical shortcomings (financial, sexual, and nepotistic) of pastors who have brought public embarrassment and shame on Christianity. Some theological schools are exploring how to improve the human and moral formation of future pastors so that they can be more ethical leaders in their communities and in Korean society at large.
- In Africa, the rationality and individualism of northern Christianity does not relate well, especially since many African church communities thrive on stories, interpersonal relationships, and heart-knowledge. Theological schools have had to adapt to these different presuppositions, which in turn affects the curriculum of these schools.
While most institutions of theological education around the world are modeled on European and North American examples, they have long been adapting and changing to serve the churches in their various cultures. As North America continues a steady pace of demographic diversification, we see the same thing here -- there's no single model of theological education.
The new Handbook of Theological Education opens our eyes -- the varieties are even greater than we imagined.