Memorandum on the Future of Theological Education in Asia ETE Reference Document 2011

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Theological Education Is a Backbone for Integral Church Development and Authentic Christian Mission in Asian Contexts

The WCC global study report on theological education, published as part of the Edinburgh 2010 assembly, underlined the conviction that

   theological education is the seedbed for the
   renewal of churches, their ministries and
   mission and their commitment to church
   unity in today's world. If theological education
   systems are neglected or not given their
   due prominence in church leadership, in
   theological reflection and in funding, consequences
   might not be visible immediately,
   but quite certainly will become manifest after
   one or two decades in terms of theological
   competence of church leadership, holistic
   nature of the churches' mission, capacities
   for ecumenical and interfaith dialogue
   and for dialogue between churches and
   society. The transmission of the ecumenical
   memory and vision to future generations
   of pastors and church workers is a priority
   need in many WCC member churches, its
   continuation is far from being secured at
   present. (1)

This reflects the hope of the overwhelming majority of churches in Asia. For them, theological education of future pastors, church leaders and theological teachers is far from being secured at present. This requires more attention to well prepared strategies in order to prepare for the needs of these churches in the 21st century.

The Growth and Increasing Pluralization of Asian Christianity

While Christianity remains a minority religion in most Asian countries, there has been an impressive overall increase of the Christian population in Asia between 1910 and 2010 (from 2.4 to 8.5 percent), This is likely to increase the Christian population in Asia to over 352 million by 2010.

More detailed regional data note a particular increase of Christian populations in southeast Asia (from 10,8% to 21,8%), but also a sharp decrease in western Asia from 22.9 to 5.7 percent. It is predicted that by 2050 Christianity in Asia will grow to reach 595 million or 11.3 percent of Christians. (2) The most significant increases of Christianity are expected in eastern Asia (251 million Christians or 15.8 percent by 2050) and in southeastern Asia (197 million Christians or 25.7 percent by 2050). More specifically, Christianity will grow particularly in countries like China, India, Nepal and Cambodia and the Philippines. Although there still is a lack of concrete figures and exact data available from some of the emerging churches in specific Asian countries, it is clear that in certain regions (like east Asia, the Himalaya region and southeast Asia) the demand for theological education will not be able to be met by existing institutions and programmes.

Attention also needs to be given to the pluralism within Asian Christianity, and its effects on the landscape of theological education. Christian emigration and immigration as well as inner Asian Christian missions continue to play a major role in spreading the gospel. This will change the demands and programmes for theological education and mission training in Asia considerably. For example, between 40,000 and 80,000 Indians work as missionaries and evangelists to other ethnic groups and there are 250 mission organizations within India. South Korean churches send out 15,000 missionaries to other Asian countries. (3)

Unequal Allocation of Resources and Unbalanced Accessibility to Theological Education

The 2010 WCC report on theological education pointed to "an emerging global crisis in theological education which is becoming obvious increasingly and will be marking the next decades in the 21st century, having the potential of endangering the very future and integrity of World Christianity." (4)

Several factors were mentioned which contribute to a picture marked both by enormous achievements during the past 100 years as well as ongoing threats:

a) Most of the resources for theological education--both teaching staff, scholarship funds, theological libraries and publications--are still located in the North. …