Guest Editorial

By Werner, Dietrich | International Review of Mission, April 2009 | Go to article overview

Guest Editorial

Werner, Dietrich, International Review of Mission

Theological education is the seedbed for the renewal of churches and their ministries and mission in today's world. If theological education systems are neglected or not given their due prominence in church leadership, theological reflection and 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, the holistic nature of the churches' mission, capacities for ecumenical and interfaith dialogue and for dialogue between church 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.

In less than one and a half years, we will be celebrating the centenary of the 1910 world mission conference in Edinburgh. It was during this pioneering mission conference that the topic of education--though still unchallenged by the earthquakes of later world wars provoked by Christian nations in Europe and the uprise of colonized nations against colonial rule in the period of decolonization in the '50s--was firmly put on the agenda of the emerging missionary and ecumenical movement. Commission V in the Edinburgh 1910 conference had to deal with questions of the "preparation of missionaries". Until Edinburgh 1910, the majority of missionaries were trained at seminary level in the North. In reviewing existing mission seminaries and facilities for training, Edinburgh 1910 came to the conclusion that the education of missionaries needed to be drastically improved in terms of both a) language studies, b) history of religions and sociology of mission territories and c) in general principles of missionary work. Interdenominational cooperation of mission agencies for common training programmes for missionaries was seen as the priority for the future. It was recommended that missionary training programmes be upgraded academically to post-graduate levels and take place mainly in "central missionary colleges" in the South (not as before just in regional denominational mission seminaries) in places like Shanghai, Madras, Calcutta, Beirut and Cairo which should be open to missionaries of all Christian denominations. These plans (only some of which were realized)--though still formulated in a framework of 19th-century Christian mission of the West to the East--were visionary in principle and had far-reaching implications for the future unfolding of an ecumenical understanding of theological education in general. It was the International Missionary Council (IMC) founded in 1924 which carried out and unfolded some of the implications of a new understanding of the common responsibility for theological education by founding the so-called Theological Education Fund (TEF) during its 1958 Achimota Assembly in Ghana. With TEF an impressive history of ecumenical action and solidarity for theological education started (1) which later (after 1977) found its continuation in the Programme on Theological Education (PTE) in the WCC called, after 1992, Programme on Ecumenical Theological Education (ETE). ETE is thus firmly rooted in the missionary heritage and movement of the WCC though structurally now located within the Programme on Ecumenical Formation and Education (P5) and linked to the Bossey (2) Ecumenical Institute. Celebrating 50 years of commitment to ecumenical theological education--focusing on the two key goals of contextuality and catholicity in curriculum developments--was one of the major occasions during the world congress on theological education which was held in cooperation with the World Conference of Associations of Theological Institutions (WOCATI) (3) in Thessaloniki, Greece, from 30 May to 7 June 2008--the first global conference of this size since the World Conference on Theological Education in Oslo 1996 which remains to this day a major source of inspiration for the global theological education discourse. …

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