Excerpts from our theological whitepaper
Last week, 3DM and TOM began an initiative discussing the future of theological education. This is a subject near and dear to my heart and couldn’t be more excited about this. We’ve produced two things to really spark this discussion. First, a video introducing the problem, which you can watch at the bottom of this post. Second, a whitepaper addressing what we find to be among the most fundamental problems facing the world of theological education, articulates what we believe the proper aims of theological education ought to be, proposes principles for guiding us toward those aims, and provides an example of a practical way forward.
I fundamentally believe that we are in the midst of a discipleship crisis in the United States and we can do something about this by embracing some of the basic discipleship principles we see in scripture about Information, Imitation and Innovation…and this could be explosive for our seminaries, which will form the character and competency of Jesus in our leaders.
You can watch the video, download the paper and join in on the discussion by clicking on this link.
We’ll do another post soon with an exciting announcement accompanying this initiative, but first, here are a couple of excerpts from the paper:
- Simply put, the guiding thesis of this paper is that to the extent that our current systems of theological education have been shaped by Christendom presuppositions, they have lost their missiological bearings and are wholly inadequate to prepare Kingdom leaders (Part 1). Incremental changes and clever adaptations to these current systems only serve to distract from the opportunity we have before us to develop a Kingdom, and therefore missional, vision of theological education (Part 2). At the heart of this vision is the conviction that the proper telos of theological education is an “accreditation” of students based not merely on the degrees they earn, but on the development and fit of their character and competency for life and leadership in the Kingdom of God (Part 3). To this end, we argue that a missional vision of theological education will be praxeological – aimed at training reflective practitioners, mobilizational – aimed at training missionary leaders, and spiritual – aimed at training Kingdom citizens (Part 4). At the conclusion of this paper we will offer an example of a model of theological formation that we believe exemplifies many of the characteristics of the vision argued for here (Part 5).
- Consider the fact that the characteristics of graduation requirements for Christian institutions are nearly entirely the same as those of secular institutions. In other words, in our hasty attempt to match the intellectual dimension of higher education in general, we mimicked the emphasis on the markers of intellectual mastery: the successful completion of courses, exams, and papers rather than, in a manner more befitting the nature of Christian education, the markers of spiritual maturity, Christ-like character, and the competency to actually do what we have supposedly been trained for in the power of the Spirit.
- To be blunt, we might suggest that the passing on of Christian knowledge to those who lack the character and competency out of which it might be put to use is akin to passing along car keys to someone who is clearly drunk – they may able to use the tool, but if nothing horrible comes to pass, it will be by sheer grace. Thus, if the resource of Christian knowledge, available through seminaries, is to be used faithfully and unleashed to its full potential, our main task must be to re-imagine systems of theological education that have as their primary aim, the cultivation of Kingdom-oriented character and competency.
- As we consider these consequences, the question isn’t if seminaries and their programs are formational. They always are. The better question is, “Are seminaries and their programs helping students develop the kind of character and competency needed to serve faithfully as Kingdom leaders?” We simply don’t find this to be the case. Besides the plethora of anecdotal and qualitative evidence we could cite to this effect, this reality is also attested to by the fact that 75 percent of pastors say they feel “unqualified or poorly trained by their seminaries” to lead their churches well.
These are just a few choice excerpts from the paper and it moves on to making suggestions for a possible way forward.
So what do you think? Does any of this resonate with you? What are your observations?