Global Pedagogies: Renewing Theological Education Today

By: Amos Yong
Monday, August 12th, 2013

pedagogyI have recently finished a five-week, six-country whirlwind trip around the world. It was an honor to have preached in small and mega-churches during my trip, a privilege to have lectured in diverse venues ranging from Bible institute and established college settings to scholarly conference environments, and a blessing to have had the chance to renew old friendships while gaining many new ones. My travels have prompted reflection on many aspects of global renewal (my weekly thoughts from New Zealand, Australia, Malaysia/Singapore, Indonesia, and England can be found here). But as I return to my regular “day job” as dean of a theological school, I want to pause to briefly focus on theological education amidst the dynamics of contemporary globalization. Against this latter horizon, a number of considerations deserve mention.

First, there is a groundswell of theological education around the world. Bible institutes, leadership colleges, and other church-, network-, and megachurch-based training centers and programs are proliferating. On the one hand this is exciting, reflecting the fact that there is one body of Christ and one fellowship of the Spirit constituted by many members (not only globally or internationally but even within any country or region); but on the other hand, this is itself one manifestation of wider trends related to ecclesial fragmentation. So if a post-denominational church-scape opens up to these various possibilities, those institutions of theological education will emerge out of the pack that can engage the broadest spectrum of churches and point the way forward in the twenty-first century. In this pluralistic ecclesial context, seminaries and divinity and theological schools that are resolutely Bible-based, Christ-centered, and Spirit-empowered will speak the langauge of the churches more clearly than those who are not as triadically oriented. Curricular innovations, pedagogical sensibilities, and scholarly initiatives attuned to these developments across the global church be in the best position to lead the discussion moving forward.

Second, however, institutions of theological education not only serve the church and empower the Christian mission but also have one foot always in the academy. The fact that ecclesial interfaces with culture, society, and globalization are complicated in turn requires interdisciplinary understanding, without which the church’s mission will be comprised either because of accommodation or irrelevance to the world. Such understanding must be informed by academic expertise across many fields of knowledge, precisely what theological faculties ought to provide as communities of (faithful) inquiry. The challenge of course is that such faculties have to be at least bilingual, interpreting scholarly discourses to the churches (and their students) while also translating ecclesial tongues to the academy. Perhaps this is in part why those who can embrace the multiplicity of tongues as declaring the wondrous works of God (Acts 2:11) are in a better position to facilitate theological education for the present global context.

This means, third, that the future of theological education will need to be evangelical and yet ecumenical (in serving churches across the Protestant, Catholic, and Orthodox spectrum), be relevant in interfaith matters (given that most Christians around the world find themselves as part of a minority tradition), and be adept across disciplinary lines. Can the center hold amidst the various particularities and constituencies that have to be navigated? Perhaps it is naïve to think that renewal pedagogies are in as good a position as any to accomplish such expansive tasks. Theological education that is undertaken in the Holy Spirit is precisely for that reason also Christ-centered and biblically funded, although the reverse is not always the case. The opportunities are legion – may renewalists working in the arena of theological education ride the winds of the Spirit in order to be effective shapers of hearts, minds, and hands to make a difference in their churches, the academy, and the world.

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Amos Yong
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