Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Fostering Theological Discernment and Ecumenical Formation: An Interseminary Model

Academic journal article Journal of Ecumenical Studies

Fostering Theological Discernment and Ecumenical Formation: An Interseminary Model

Article excerpt


"Global Theologies" is a graduate-level seminar offered by the Northside Chicago Theological Institute (NCTI). Currently, it is co-taught by the Very Rev. Thomas A. Baima, S.T.D., (1) and me. NCTI courses comprise a well-established program based on a long-standing tradition of cooperation among several theological institutions. They exemplify a unique curricular approach to investing in the theological and ecclesial formation of divinity students. Much of what is distinctive about "Global Theologies" arises precisely from the specific possibilities afforded by its academic institutional context. Thus, the course is first situated with respect to the schools who partner together to offer it on a regular basis.

An overview of the course follows, emphasizing several features that are designed to develop students' awareness of and ability to engage the intercultural, ecumenical, and missional dimensions of contemporary theological questions engendered by the continuing growth of world Christianity, especially the proliferation of churches representing wider movements in the Global South (2) and their own appropriations and articulations of Christian doctrines and practices within their respective contexts. Next, several questions are noted that are indicative of this student generation's interests and outlook with respect to theology and ecclesial practice in the context of ecumenism. Finally, several observations are offered about the ways that the "Global Theologies" course promotes the formation of theological discernment and ecumenical sensibilities in these emerging leaders within the church, better preparing them for the challenges and opportunities of "glocal" (3) ministry and mission in the years ahead.

I. The Institutional Context: An Ecumenical Theological Enterprise

The "Global Theologies" seminar is best understood within the context of the several theological schools that co-sponsor it. The Northside Chicago Theological Institute is an association of five seminaries geographically dispersed throughout northern Chicagoland, in both the metropolitan area proper and several outlying suburbs. The NCTI itself is a sub-set of the Association of Chicago Theological Schools (ACTS), a larger consortium comprised of eleven member institutions. (4) Since 1971, (5) the NCTI seminars have expressed the respective seminaries' commitment to provide a course that contributes to students' ecumenical formation and that offers the educational benefits equivalent to cross-registering for a course at one of the other institutions (otherwise rendered impracticable by the physical distance between the campuses).

The "Global Theologies" seminar is offered annually. While students at any ACTS-affiHated school are eligible to register, most are enrolled in programs at one of the five NCTI schools: Mundelein Seminary of the University of St. Mary of the Lake (of the Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Chicago, one of seven pontifical faculties in the U.S. and Canada), Garrett-Evangelical Seminary (affiliated with the United Methodist Church), North Park Seminary (sponsored by the Evangelical Covenant Church), Bexley Hall of Seabury-Western Theological Seminary Federation (The Episcopal Church), and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School (of the Evangelical Free Church of America).

Thus, the "Global Theologies" course gathers seminarians representing the Roman Catholic, mainline Protestant, and evangelical Protestant traditions. In addition, it draws upon the expertise of the diverse faculty within the NCTI and ACTS schools as guest lecturers. For instance, the slate for the Fall, 2013, seminar included professors from the Lutheran School of Theology at Chicago, Garrett-Evangelical Seminary, North Park Seminary, Mundelein Seminary, and Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. These lecturers presently are affiliated with the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; the Mennonite Church, the Evangelical Covenant Church, the Presbyterian Church (USA), the Roman Catholic Church, the Evangelical Free Church of America, and a nondenominational (Protestant) Chinese church. …

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