Not long ago one of North America's leading experts on theological education asked me what In Trust would be focusing on in its New Year 2003 issue. I told him we were examining how the master of divinity program had changed in the past twenty-five years.
There was an extended silence, and then my companion said, "I don't want my name used in connection with this comment, but the fact is the M.Div. hasn't changed very much at all in the last twenty-five years -- and it should have."
Indeed, while the snapshots in these pages of M.Div. programs and recent graduates of them suggest energy, enthusiasm, and a good degree of satisfaction, in most places it doesn't seem much changed from when the M.Div. was inflated out of bachelor of divinity and bachelor of sacred theology degrees a quarter-century ago.
A decade ago "globalization" was a word on the lips of North American theological educators of virtually every tradition, but as that term has diminished in currency in succeeding years, it seems not to have left behind any realization that the central dynamism of Christian thought is no longer to be found in North America and Europe. The churches of the First World may still have the economic resources, but most suffer from a poverty of fresh ideas, or so it seems from where I sit. This paucity of thought poses serious challenges to theological educators as they examine their task of preparing men and women for ministry.
Where the fresh thinking for the church may emerge is in the churches of the South and East, in the view of Andrew F. Walls, whose striking thesis is set out in "Theology Is Moving South," by Andrew F. Walls.
Walls, a Scottish missiologist who taught at universities in West Africa and in Scotland, is the founder and director emeritus of the Centre for Christianity in the Non-Christian World at the University of Edinburgh. His article in longer form originally appeared in Theological Literacy for the Twenty-first Century, edited by Rodney L. Petersen with Nancy M. Rourke. Petersen is executive director of the Boston Theological Institute, a consortium of the Boston area graduate theological schools.
Sociologist Philip Jenkins has called attention to the flourishing of Third World Christianity in his The Next Christendom: The Coming of Global Christianity, which is reviewed Reading List. (Jenkins's book has attracted far more attention in the secular U.S. media than is usual for books on religious topics.) But Walls goes on beyond Jenkins's theme by exploring the theological implications of the rapid growth of Christianity in Africa, Asia, and Latin America.
The churches of these continents, argues Walls, invite Christian thinkers to a new kind of academic community, one that is anchored in Christian mission and peopled by scholars who are disciplined, collaborative, and the products of long training. The worldviews of the peoples of these continents, Walls notes, are far more complex than the narrowed outlook most westerners, believers and nonbelievers alike, have inherited from the Enlightenment. Out of these richer perceptions may arise a theology more congruent to the thinking and experience of the early church, he suggests.
He makes a case worthy of careful examination by those who hold the future of North American theological education in their hands.
The Board of Directors of In Trust Inc., and the In Trust staff gratefully acknowledge receipt of a grant of $445,319 from Lilly Endowment Inc., Indianapolis, Indiana, in support of a three-year renewal of the In Trust seminars for theological school presidents and board members. The schedule for the new series, which will run from July 1, 2003, through June 30, 2006, will be announced shortly.