Contextuality and Community: Challenges for Theological Education and Ecumenical Formation

Article excerpt

Abstract

This article looks at some aspects of the history of ecumenical theological formation. It emphasizes the need to strive for quality theological education. This should always be ecumenical and pluralistic, link the global and the local and be founded on community-based ecclesiastical theory. It points out the need to continue questioning the epistemological fundamentals of theology in order to ensure the continuous strengthening of the relationship between theory and practice. Another essential aspect is the relationship between mission and ecumenical theological formation and our understanding that education and ecumenical training is aimed at transforming people and communities. This means that changes to our educational institutions are indispensable. They should promote ecumenical, pluralist, inter-disciplinary and holistic policies and practices and a commitment to a radical interpretation of the Bible that leads us to seek justice and well-being for all people, communities and groups, and oppose any beliefs, practices and interpretation of the Bible that lead to oppression and injustice.

Introduction--A look back at past history

At the World Conference of Associations of Theological Institutions (WOCATI), meeting from 31 May to 7 June 2008 at Thessaloniki, Greece, Petros Vassiliadis, its president, described the important historical events that have linked theological education to the ecumenical movement in our time. "In 1938 at Tambaram, India, in the course of the meeting of the International Missionary Council (IMC), it was stated that 'the worst element in all initiatives in Christian mission is theological education.'" (1) From that time onwards there began the process of including theological education in the ecumenical and missionary movement through various organizations: the Theological Education Fund (TEF), the Programme on Theological Education (PTE), and the Ecumenical Theological Education (ETE) programme.

Ten years later, in 1948, the World Council of Churches (WCC) was established, and ten years after that in 1958, at the Assembly of the IMC in Accra, Ghana, the Theological Education Fund was set up. Twenty years later, in 1978, the WCC began publication of the journal, Ministerial Formation for distribution to all theological institutions in the various regions.

An important consultation took place in Prague in 1988 with the title "Doing Theology in Different Contexts". It dealt with the need for dialogue between Latin America and the communist countries of Europe. However, it was then too late to build up links between the theological institutions in the two regions. After that consultation, on the initiative of Sam Amirtham, then director of the World Council of Churches' Programme on Theological Education, the WOCATI was set up in 1989, with the aim not only of involving Orthodox and Protestant churches but also of establishing contacts with Roman Catholic theological institutions and with the Evangelical world of education.

The WOCATI conference at Thessaloniki in 2008 marked a fresh attempt to build closer relations between theological associations in the various regions and the WCC's ETE programme. The most significant document to come out of this conference was perhaps the Manifesto presented by Matthias Preiswerk, of the Theological and Pedagogical Seminaries of Bolivia, signed by more than forty theologians from Latin America and the Caribbean, and also by theologians from Holland and Germany. The document states that:

--Ecumenical education within theological education is guided by the vision of a truly united church serving the human community.

--Ecumenical education thus goes beyond the questions of the internal unity of the church and is directed to the basic problems of the human family and the survival of the whole earth.

--Theological education is inspired by an ecumenical vision of God as sovereign of all the earth (the oikoumene) and the eschatological vision of new heavens and a new earth. …