Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Ethnic Studies: An Urgent Need in Theological Education in Africa

Academic journal article International Review of Mission

Ethnic Studies: An Urgent Need in Theological Education in Africa

Article excerpt


By virtue of its subject matter, theological education ought to infuse life with morals and values, thus moulding a just, moral and peaceful society such as is envisaged in God's telos for His world. And in line with its aims, theological education provides knowledge and skills to people to enable them to serve the church, together with the wider society where the church lives. A theological curriculum appropriate to its context ensures success in both these aspects of theological education. To their credit Africa's theological institutions seem to have curricula which are relevant to Africa's context. Success in sustaining the relevance of these curricula lies in continually revising the curriculum so that it does not become dated. One such urgent revision is in the offering of ethnic studies which is necessitated by the ethnic crisis in Africa. For this reason, ethnic studies in the curriculum of theological education in Africa are imperative. In the essay four ways are proposed in which ethnic studies could be included in the curriculum of theological education in Africa.


A few years ago, renowned theological educator, the late Professor Kwame Bediako, in a passing comment noted the following: "During the past thirty to forty years, the mush-rooming of churches in independent Africa has led also to the proliferation of Bible schools ..." (1) We may not have actual statistics of the current number of theological institutions in Africa but it is a fairly safe conclusion that the hundreds of Theological Institutions in Africa (2) (including university Religious Studies Departments and Faculties of Theology) represent an appetite in Africa to have her clergy and church workers theologically educated or trained. This is a noble desire that ought to be fulfilled since the provision of theological education (TE from here on unless noted otherwise) is vital in view of its subject matter and goals.

Importance of theological education

The subject matter of TE

Theology, and thus the subject matter of TE, is about God and his created order. For that reason TE is intrinsically characterized by the intersection of issues about God--his words and actions, agency, nature, character etc. and his world--human beings, nature and environment, societies/communities etc. In consequence, TE is distinguished by the fact that although it has professional, civic and intellectual purposes, it is, on the basis of its transcendent subject, essentially moral and value-laden. And so, in concrete terms, TE invariably offers inquiry, instruction, knowledge and practice which, in relation to humans' perceptions and experiences of the transcendent, draw from both the moral and value-orientated domains. As such it can influence most other human endeavours, whether scientific, artistic, social or political, for good or ill. What is more, seen in this perspective, the contribution of TE is distinct and necessary in any pursuit of a just, moral and peaceful society, vital elements in the viability of any society and, for Christians, germane to God's telos (purpose) for his world--a new heaven and earth.

Such an understanding of the subject matter of TE is not to say that other kinds of education and academic disciplines have no moral and value elements, nor any sense of the transcendent among those involved with them as tutors or students. But insofar as they are involved with morals and valuing, they have a theological element. This is the reason why it is argued that issues of theology exist in all abstract academic disciplines. So that, "Just as problems in the physical theory in relativity can be discussed philosophically ... so, too, problems in ecology and psychoanalysis can be discussed theologically." (3) Put simply, where moral and value issues in different fields and disciplines emerge, an avenue is provided for the deeper study of religious and ethical issues which are a subject area of theology even though in this case those issues fall within those other fields and disciplines. …

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