Taking Stock: Theological Education in South East Asia

By Anderson, Gerald H. | International Bulletin of Missionary Research, April 2002 | Go to article overview

Taking Stock: Theological Education in South East Asia


Anderson, Gerald H., International Bulletin of Missionary Research


Seremban, Malaysia--The Association for Theological Education in South East Asia (ATESEA) held its quadrennial general assembly, November 24-28, 2001, on the new campus of the Malaysia Theological Seminary, fifty miles from Kuala Lumpur. Eighty-three representatives from eighty theological schools in twelve countries participated. Many also took part in a preassembly workshop for seminary administrators on management skills and fund-raising.

Established in Singapore in 1957 (as the Association of Theological Schools in South East Asia), with sixteen mainline Protestant schools as founding members, it was the first formal regional association of theological schools in the non-Western world. The name was changed in 1981 to reflect the wider concerns and involvement of the association. Today the membership of ninety-two schools in fourteen countries, with approximately 9,000 students and 900 faculty members, has broadened to include evangelical, Pentecostal, and Adventist schools, with ten new schools joining in the last year. No Roman Catholic schools are members, but Roman Catholics participate in some programs sponsored by ATESEA.

Executive directors who have served the association are John R. Fleming (1959-68), Kosuke Koyama (1968-74), Emerito P. Nacpil (1974-81), and Yeow Choo Lak (since 1981). The executive office is located near Manila, Philippines.

ATESEA serves as an accrediting agency for member schools in the region and publishes the Asia Journal of Theology (begun in 1959 as the South East Asia Journal of Theology). It also sponsors the South East Asia Graduate School of Theology (SEAGST), a federated faculty, founded in 1966, that is organized in seven regions of South East Asia. The graduate school has awarded 197 master of theology degrees since 1969, and 67 doctor of theology and doctor of pastoral studies degrees since 1978. The SEAGST provides opportunity for contextualized graduate studies in Asia and thereby seeks to advance "brain-gain" and counter the "brain-drain" of Asians who go to the West for extended, expensive periods of study and separation from Asia, but too often do not return to Asia or have difficulty adjusting when they return.

Michael Gilligan from the Henry Luce Foundation, New York City, addressed the assembly on the topic "Theological Education Facing Challenges of Market Economy." He warned against "the risk of new forms of colonialism" that comes with globalization, and he pointed to the SEAGST as an illustration of an effective way to cooperate in theological education. It was announced at the assembly that the Luce Foundation had awarded $225,000 over three years to the SEAGST for support of faculty development, especially in Indochina, Myanmar, Sri Lanka, the Philippines, and eastern Indonesia.

During the assembly, the participants:

* received the report of a delegation that had visited Vietnam, Laos, and Cambodia in March 2001 to assess the needs and opportunities for theological education in Indochina;

* considered the impact of information technology in theological education, especially in library organization;

* discussed means for the advancement of contextual theological scholarship, using the "Critical Asian Principle," first adopted in 1972, which "seeks to identify what is distinctively Asian, and use this distinctiveness as a critical principle of judgment on matters dealing with the life and mission of the Christian community, theology, and theological education, in Asia";

* recommended three mandates for the next quadrennium: empowerment of women to work toward an authentic community of women, men, and children; diminishing theological-cultural divisiveness; and production of theological literature dealing with theology and globalization;

* celebrated the two decades of leadership by Yeow Choo Lak as executive director of the association and dean of the graduate school (Lak retires in June 2002);

* elected Sientje Merentek-Abram, professor at the Christian University of Indonesia in Tomohon, as the new executive director and dean.

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