Theological Education in the Twenty-First Century

Article excerpt

Educators like to imagine that education matters. We like to believe that the leadership of a congregation is improved when that person has a graduate degree and three years of study. We like to think that pouring resources into education is worthwhile. We argue that the more resources we devote to theological education, the better the clergyperson, and therefore the stronger the congregation.

Yet one challenge for the leadership of theological education is this: the traditions that spend most on theological education are declining, while those who spend much less are getting stronger. So, for example, die Presbyterian Church (USA) has some of the finest seminaries in the world (Princeton Theological Seminary and Columbia Theological Seminary), but the Presbyterian Church lost two hundred thousand members from 1999-2004, which is more than any other mainline Protestant denomination during that period.1 Contrast this with Pentecostalism, which as David Martin explains, "includes about a quarter of a billion people"2 and in the United States alone has some ten million members and growing.3 The training for these pastors is often very limited and informal. Much of the congregational leadership is raised up from within and learning is limited to the Bible college. This comparison seems to suggest that the better the theological education, the less effective the congregational leadership.

In this article, I shall argue that theological education needs to allow the issues of denominational health to be much more central to the curriculum and program of the seminary. Leadership in theological education should have less to do with the survival of this or that institution and instead should involve a commitment to producing a stronger and more creative graduate who can make a difference to the nature and size of a congregation within the Episcopal Church (or whichever tradition the seminary is linked with). This argument will be constructed under three headings: the first is the importance of the theological underpinning; the second is the willingness to learn from congregational studies, globalization, and technology; and the third is an imaginative curriculum that weaves tiieology together with the insights learned from congregational studies, globalization, and technology.

To make this article manageable, the area of exploration has been limited to die following. First, the focus is theological education in seminaries. I recognize that there are many forms of theological education beyond die seminary- - in congregations, in dioceses, and in lay programs. All of these forms are important (and parts of my argument can apply to these areas); however, my expertise does not extend to a full exploration of these areas. Second, the focus is on the Episcopal Church. Much of the argument can be applied to other mainline denominations, but the context out of which I am writing is the Anglican one.

Theological Underpinning

Creating a bigger congregation is never a goal in itself. If a leader wants to be in the business of building up a large organization, then he or she should organize a presidential campaign or join a major global corporation. Instead, this is a gospel work. As a priest in the Episcopal Church, I believe that the Eternal Word was made flesh, and that in the life, death, and resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth, humanity can discern the nature of die Creator - a creator who loves humanity and seeks to five in relationship with each and eveiy person. Any vocation to the priesthood must arise from a belief in the truth of the gospel.

The Episcopal Church must be careful to retain this commitment to the core Christian narrative. The American church scene already has a denomination specializing in supporting those who seek to create their own theological identity, winch can be taken from any source or tradition. The Unitarian Universalist congregations welcome everyone - from those who are skeptical of God through the pantheist to the theist. …

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