In the busy-ness of institutional life, teachers and administrators rarely step back from the tyranny of the urgent to reflect on their vocation as teachers, and perhaps even more rarely do lay trustees have the opportunity to stay adequately informed about what really goes on in the proverbial ivory tower. Two recent books represent the work of two multi-institutional projects that drew colleagues together to reflect on the work and calling of Christian teacher-scholars.
Practical Wisdom contains the gist of seven years of discussion by faculty and administrators representing 35 theological schools who have taken part in Lexington Seminars sponsored by Lexington Theological Seminary and supported by the Lilly Endowment. Schools included represent a cross-section of the membership of ATS. Faculty members of each school spend a year identifying the questions and issues that concern them most in the communal calling as an educational institution. Then the president, dean and four faculty members from each school join a similar group from four other schools for a five-day summer conference in Maine. Together they seek to reflect further on the vocation of theological educators.
The accent is on change, that one constant in contemporary life. The essays are divided into three sections, focusing on "Rethinking the Work and Calling of Theological Teachers," "Understanding the Context of Change," and "Practical Guidelines for More Effective Teaching and Learning." Many of the essays call for radical revisions to the way that theological educators go about their work: Teaching must be valued over theoretical scholarship, formation must move to the center of the educational enterprise, community needs to be planned for rather than simply assumed, the diversity that is represented in the student body must be treasured as a prime asset rather than a problem to be solved.
Theological schools are fundamentally different from the research universities where most faculty members received their doctorates. They are educating people for ministry, to serve God's people and the interests of God's kingdom in the world. The students are no longer primarily 22- to 25-year-old white men preparing for a highly regarded profession. Rarely have they obtained a classical liberal arts education prior to enrolling in seminary. On the other hand, they are likely to be fully employed while they pursue their studies. The world has changed since the older professors were in seminary, and this changed world demands significant changes in the work of theological teachers.
Practical Wisdom is an excellent tool for both faculty and board development. Any one of the chapters could spur a 50-minute discussion at the beginning of a board or faculty meeting, or the entire book could be used as the foundation for a more intensive daylong retreat with a mix of faculty and board.
Scholarship and Christian Faith reflects the context of the evangelical Christian college movement and its professed concern for the integration of faith and learning. According to the editors, the dominant model in evangelical institutions for how scholarship and faith should be brought together is too narrowly Reformed or Calvinist. This approach is also too negative in regard to both humanity and to the modern university, and it is too focused on contrasting alleged worldviews.
According to the Jacobsens, who are both on the faculty of Messiah College in Pennsylvania, many other traditions can contribute models for bringing scholarship and faith together, including Catholic, Orthodox, Lutheran, Wesleyan, Anabaptist, and Pentecostal traditions. They make a good case for a broader perspective and differing models, but they are unable to do more than hint at these different approaches. With the exception of the Roman Catholic tradition, which is, if anything, both much older and deeper than the Reformed tradition, these other traditions have produced very little scholarship on the topic at hand. Instead, they tend to illustrate the naivete that the Reformed evangelicals have sought to remedy.
The Jacobsens and their colleagues may well be right, but Christian scholars reflecting these non-Reformed but evangelical perspectives have their work cut out for them. At the moment, there seems to be only one model that is compelling. Nevertheless, Scholarship and Christian Faith merits discussion by faculty members at evangelical Christian colleges and universities.