Presidents, rectors, deans, and other leaders in North American theological education gathered in Montreal earlier this summer for the Biennial Meeting of the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada. Daniel Aleshire, executive director of the association, gave the opening address that set the stage for the two days of conversation and decisions to follow.
His speech addressed the changing landscapes of North American religion, including shifting patterns of religious adherence and practice, increased religious diversityand pluralism, and the globalization of Christianity. It's fitting, he explained, that the meeting was being held in Montreal, which only 50 years ago was a firmly Catholic city. Today, rates of religious participation in the city are among the lowest on the continent, a fact which some interpret as the canary in the coal mine for American and Canadian churches.
The most complete scholarly account of secularism also has a connection to Montreal. Charles Taylor, a philosopher at McGill University, argued in A Secular Age that secularization is perhaps best understood as the dislocation of the dominant religious paradigm. Christianity then becomes one option among many.
This new cultural climate is already pushing theological schools to consider how and what they teach in a context where Christianity is no longer the assumed tradition or worldview. While affirming the "gold standard" of graduate theological education, as a tried-and-true method for ministerial training, Aleshire thinks that new developments may be on the horizon for theological education. These include:
- Baccalaureate-level theological education.
- Programs for the education of "alternatively credentialed clergy."
- Creative ways to provide on-the-job pastoral education.
- Programs that focus on lay education.
In the end, Aleshire struck a hopeful tone, explaining that the trials and tribulations of the last two years have also brought opportunity for revitalization of the Christian mission and message. "The future has arrived," Aleshire declared, "and it is full of promise."
Read all of Aleshire's speech here.