Towards a Relevant Paradigm of Theological Education for an Effective Christian Mission in South East Asia: An Attempt at Re-Engineering the South East Asia Graduate School of Theology

Article excerpt

Abstract

The advanced theological education implemented in Asia through area cooperation in order to overcome the limitation of personnel, experiences and educational resources, i.e. South East Asia Graduate School of Theology (SEAGST), has come to a turning point under the influence of factors within and outside. The challenges of the popularity of religious studies in universities, and the readiness of many of the local theological institutes to offer higher theological degree programmes, raised questions about the quality and legitimacy of the current area setup (more and more participating schools are launching their own advanced theological degrees, which creates an overlapping of programmes). While recognizing the strengths of the current model Jar contextual concerns, the need for reviewing and re-engineering the SEAGST to a more relevant model of theological education for the churches and societies in Asia has been discussed widely. This article proposes the idea of a supplementary centre or centres to the current area setup, so that the current strengths will be preserved and its weaknesses can be remedied.

Introduction

Theological education implemented in Asia has been accompanied by the movement of Christian mission in the region. The modern institutional style of theological education in Asia stems from 19th-century western overseas missionary activities. They instituted theological schools with departments for formation influenced by enlightenment trends of theologies in their subject matter. Therefore, theological schools established in this region are mostly duplications of western theological institutes in their organizational structure and theological scenario. Obviously, all the theological schools in the region were established less than 200 years ago.

However, the development of theological education in Asia has been influenced by both the objective limitation of its circumstances and the subjective theological vision of theological educators from Asia. The earliest theological schools in Asia were mostly established by western missionaries in order to train pastors or church workers to meet the needs of their mission work; their characteristics are various according to the denominations and theological traditions inherited from the founders. The objective and subjective elements that made an impact on the development of theological education in Asia are:

A. Objectively:

The short and limited experiences of doing theological education: The modern style of higher education (universities) with degree levels and division of departments is primarily a western model of education, which was brought into Asia through political colonialism. Theological education is but an extension of the secular universities that were brought not by the colonial governments but by the churches and missionaries. Because of its new and strange nature, theological education was in the beginning primarily initiated and handled by western missionaries, and only handed over to local people at a later stage of its history.

The lack of and dependence on resources: The limited and short experiences of handling theological education, and the minority status of Christian communities in most Asian countries, have resulted in a common phenomenon, i.e. that theological education in Asia is highly "dependent" on western theological resources both in terms of human power and financial resources. Most of the seminaries in Asia are struggling to keep enough and stable faculties to operate their curriculum and many of the schools are still financially dependent on support from their European or North American partners. Almost all theological schools are struggling with financial insufficiency to operate their institutions.

The problems of creativity and relevancy: With the above historical background, the curricula and theological trends implemented in most of the theological schools in Asia are but duplications of western seminaries. …