“Ho, every one that thirsteth, come ye to the waters, and he that hath no money; come ye, buy, and eat; yea, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price.” Those wonderful words from Isaiah 55, inscribed into my gut in the thundering sonorities of the King James Bible, seem to me the perfect text from which to launch a brief reflection on how the information age is changing our culture—and the impact that change might have on theological education.
This issue of In Trust is devoted mainly to the topic of money, a perennial item of interest in our sector of the academic world, because as graduate schools go, theological schools are as hard-pressed as any. The shaky financial state of Association of Theological Schools members is charted in the graphs on the cover and in my article “Red Is for Danger.”
But the warning signs in the numbers are not necessarily a reason to cry doom.
Maybe we should be crying, “Ho, come ye to the waters.”
In the past several weeks my colleagues and I at In Trust have been working intensively on planning for an extensive upgrading of our internet web presence and our electronic publication and education capability. It has led me to think as deeply as I am able about what we do at In Trust and what we’re for. We have all heard about rapid change and its effect on our lives, but I’m now convinced that our world is poised on the cusp of what some call a “paradigm shift”; we’re entering not only a new millennium but a new age. the Age of Informationalism. That term comes from Manuel Castells, whom you’ve probably never heard of. I hadn’t either until I read a book titled The Hacker Ethic and the Spirit of the Information Age, by Pekka Himanen, a philosopher at the University of Helsinki and the University of California at Berkeley. The book’s prologue is by Linus Torvalds, the creator of Linux, a free computer software that directly challenges the ubiquitous (and expensive) Microsoft Windows. The epilogue is by Castells, a professor of sociology at U.C. Berkeley.
So what does pondering about computers and their potential have to do with theological schools and how they raise and spend their money? Simply that computers are altering the way humans live and work and engage in transactions with one another as profoundly as anything that has ever happened in human history. That’s an extravagant observation from someone who tends to prefer understatement, and I may be wrong. But I don’t think so.
And what Himanen and his colleagues suggest to me is that those who flourish in this new age will be those who are rich with ideas and imagination, and who understand that the creation we have been given is one of abundance to be shared, not of scarcity to be clung to. In such a world the tiny theological school may have as much potential, perhaps more, than the most gargantuan university—if the knowledge it maintains, the education it offers are profound and true.