On Theological Education: Does It Need to Be Reconstructed?
December 5, 2011
Kyle Strobel recently wrote this post at his blog on Theological Education. This is an issue that is near and dear to my heart as well; and one that I have given considerable reflection to. In Kyle’s post, he is highlighting Mike Breen’s vision-casting for the reformulation of theological education. Strobel, in his post, is simply reflecting on what he thinks could be some problems with Breen’s vision. In other words, Kyle is simply trying to be “critical” of Breen’s approach, as Strobel understands it. All that I have done is read the abstract of the paper that Kyle is referring to in his post, and the one that Breen has up at his blog, here. At the end of the post from Breen he offers a video that provides a snapshot of what he and his ministry are working through in relation to their desire to recalibrate theological education within Christendom. In fact ‘recalibrate’ may be the wrong word for Breen (that would be my word of choice); Breen’s desire, it seems, is to totally reconstruct theological education within our post-Christendom situation. Why don’t you watch the video below, and then I’ll follow with a tiny reflection of my own (my reflection dovetails with Kyle’s concerns, and I will also point you to a source of theological education that I believe reflects a way forward that would satisfy Breen’s and Kyle’s concerns … it is a source that I am personally related to, indirectly).
Along with Kyle, I don’t think we need to start over. Instead, I think we can build, constructively, upon the good that is already present within theological education; and hopefully move forward in a way that better equips men and women to accomplish the ‘mission’ of edifying the body of Christ until we all reach the unity of the faith. I still don’t understand exactly all the aims that Breen & co. have envisioned (I’ll need to research that more in days to come), but something that I am aware of —something that is happening right now—is the ministry of Cor Deo. Cor Deo is a ministry and theological educational directive founded by a former seminary class mate (Dr. Peter Mead), and a former prof (and continued) mentor, Dr. Ron Frost. They too have seen the problems associated with traditional ‘Evangelical’ theological education (both of them being a part of it), and have established Cor Deo with the goal of cultivating leadership for the Christian church (international) that seeks to form folks in a relational way that integrates the false dichotomy of heart and mind (whereas traditional theological education usually does just focus on the mind). The kind of training that Cor Deo does, involves traditional academic and intellectual training; but it provides for this in a context that is necessarily small (no more than 10 to 12 students allowed at a time), and one that operates from a network of support provided by actual churches (in the region that Cor Deo currently takes place, the UK—and also with reach into international church associations through the make-up of the student body at Cor Deo itself). These students, at Cor Deo, live together, eat together, learn together, and minister together. I think Cor Deo represents, a radical, and new way of doing theological education (although this is not really new, just think of The Spiritual Brethren or other groups like that throughout church history) for the Christian church in the 21st century. So I want to lift them up as an exemplar to both Breen and Strobel.
One point of critique: one thing that potentially could be a danger, with even a Cor Deo, is that the group itself could become too isolated. The important thing, I think, for theological education like this to flourish—and it is one of the things that Cor Deo has in place already—is that as a centerpiece, the education must be tied to concrete (as Breen wrote praxeological) actions of ministry amongst real life people. This way the goal of mission is in fact what shapes even the ‘academic’ piece of the overall theological education. This is an ideal that traditional seminaries (in the Evangelical movement) have sought to employ, but, I think, because of too much overhead (and corporate style shape—or ultimately, impersonal), etc., traditional education models have ultimately failed (true, the Lord can and does still use traditional models of theological education, but I would suggest that that is usually an exception, and I mean personally [not Providentially], and not the rule to trad theo education).
Ultimately, the point that both Strobel and Breen are highlighting , is one that I am on board with as well; there needs to be a shift in Christian theological education. I should note, I do think that trad seminaries and bible colleges still have their place. But I think there needs to be some serious thought put in place wherein traditional theological education can better situate itself in a way that fosters both meaningful spiritual formation (i.e. not just a class you take for credit, or something), and continues what they are most strong at; ‘academic’ theological education. I think what I take away from this, is that there is work to be done; and that we need to be more vigilant about this, than we are passive-aggressive.
What do you think?