Calendars may be arbitrary, but almost without fail the turning of the year brings my thoughts again to change. There’s much about change in this New Year 2002 issue of In Trust, some of it hopeful, some ominous. And in the end, it seems to me, the articles that follow raise three questions that those responsible for North American theological education need to be asking themselves:
Who are the students we are teaching?
How are we teaching them?
What is the church we are educating them for?
Emblematic for me about these times is that there’s a church in Charlotte, North Carolina, named “Warehouse 242.” (See the "Appetizer" in my review of Excellent Protestant Congregations in this issue's "Reading List.") I can hardly imagine a church named Warehouse, even after I learned that the number is a reference to Acts 2:42 (you can look it up), but Paul Wilkes, a writer whose work I know and respect, assures me that it is one of the nation’s significant and “excellent” congregations.
Wilkes believes that Warehouse 242 has figured out how to minister effectively to Generation Xers, the population cohort now in their 20s and 30s. Will what your students are learning prepare them for ministry like that? Should it?
It’s a commonplace now that students enrolled in theological schools today are dramatically different from those enrolled in 1972 or even 1982 and 1992. Are your faculty members prepared to teach the students who are in their classrooms now? Or are they continuing to rely on tools and techniques that were suited to students who departed decades ago? Two summer seminars funded by the Lilly Endowment and the Franciscan’s Holy Name Province have labored several years to help theology teachers to rethink and retool. Melinda R. Heppe’s article "Retooling the Teachers" offers glimpses of what’s been accomplished.
Approaching the topic of theological schools and the churches they serve from a different direction, Kenneth Briggs explores the implications of a new study of the dwindling ties between schools and the denominations that brought them into being ("The Churches Drift Away"). For the four schools studied, all of them related to mainline denominations, what once was family working together and share and share alike seems more like suspicious distant neighbors seeking a measure of mutual protection while holding firmly on to their wallets. Moreover, while such schools don’t figure in the Dennis Anderson study, there are also many indications of fraying relationships between church and school to be found in the Roman Catholic world and among evangelicals.
How seminary boards and administrators may best address this situation remains to be seen and doubtless will vary from school to school, but the answer bears a close relationship to a school’s answer to the third question posed above.
In an odd way, hope in this difficult time is to be found in Frederick Norris’s essay on what the Cappadocian theologians and other small-town thinkers of the church who flourished in the past have to say to this time. One message of his historical exploration, it seems to me, is that clear, guiding ideas can and do blaze forth from small groups in remote places and illuminate us all.
So I conclude, Happy New Year! May this year of Our Lord 2002 be rich with blessing for you.
In Trust, Inc., is pleased to announce that Robin Lind has joined its staff as managing editor. In that capacity he will oversee the day-to-day editorial preparation of In Trust magazine and its related web site <www.intrust.org>. A major upgrade of the site, with the addition of a number of interactive services, is scheduled to take place in the next months.
We are also pleased to announce that the E. Rhodes and Leona B. Carpenter Foundation has awarded In Trust a grant of $50,000 in support of its general operating expenses. We are extremely grateful for this vote of confidence in our work.