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What is the Purpose of Theological Education?

Abraham Folayan

(CTE 1)

Theological Education (TE) is in a state of crisis in many parts of the world. The
interrelated question of means and ends as well as aims and purposes continue to be
raised. Issues of resources and governance, of priorities and faculty development seem to
dominate the debates. According to Banks, only intermittently and in a limited way did
discussion revolve around the aims and purposes of theological education whether
TE institution is attaining its primary goal? Does it need to strike a better balance
between spiritual formation, professional development, and academic excellence?1
There is a worldwide call for renewal of TE, an appeal that theological questions be
raised about the aims and purposes of TE. In the Third World, some have observed that
the prevailing paradigm of theological education, and even current proposals for its
reform, exist within a Western frame of reference that is fundamentally flawed.2
Cheesman points out that Two Thirds world Christians are radically rethinking the
structure and context of theological education as they have received it at the hands of the
missionary enterprise.3 This received structure, helpful as it is, has become a heavy
financial burden and questions about its very existence have become a compelling
imperative. If we understand clearly the purpose for its existence, then we might be in a
better position to think creatively about the way we organize it.

Banks, Robert, Reenvisioning Theological Education: Exploring a Missional Alternative to Current


Models, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans, 1999, p.9f. Other interrelated questions being asked about TE are: Is it
relating properly and realistically to its contemporary context, especially its immediate local and wider
church setting?
Is it creating the proper ethos for its members, an experience of community that is Spirit controlled? Is it
providing an appropriate curriculum that integrates theory and practice and relates to contemporary issues
facing the church? See also Kelsey, D., To Understand God Truly: Whats Theological About A Theological
School, Louisville, John Knox Press, 1992, (who poses similar questions and explains that these signify
real difficulties and deep ones, which if not addressed will result in the schools future being seriously
compromised).
2
Ibid., p.10
3
Cheesman, G., Competing Paradigms in Theological Education Today in Evangelical Review of
Theology, October 1993, p.484

Noelliste believes that essential to the renewal of theological education is the retrieval
and the maintaining of its uniqueness and distinctiveness Theologically understood
then, theological education consists in the formation of the people of God in the truth and
wisdom of God for the purpose of personal renewal and meaningful participation in the
fulfilment of the purpose of God in the Church and the world.4 On this view, theological
education is the process of formation that leads to the transformation of the world through
the individual and the collective participation of Gods people in Gods mission.
Why do we have a theological school in the first place and what is it there to do? When
this goal is clear, other dimensions of the theological education task can be structured
appropriately. Yet, an appropriate goal in one context may be inappropriate in another. A
goal is a statement of intention and may sometimes sound idealistic when compared with
realities. It was Farley who once observed that any essay on the nature and purposes of
theological education is inescapably a contribution to utopian literature.5 Nevertheless,
we must decide, no matter how tentatively, why we have a theological institution. TE
must be purposive because it concerns a God with a mission for his Church to fulfil in
His world. The Seminary should recognize that the educational goals lay the necessary
foundation for integration of all the institutions educational processes, integration which
leads to fulfilment of the Mission Statement.6
The purpose of TE should share something of the purpose of education. So, exploring the
purpose of education might inform our expectation about the purpose of theological
education. According to the educational tradition of pre- Christian Africa, character
formation and learning of specific skills are inseparably related. The relevance of
education arises from societal need, the sharing and transmission of collective spiritual
and moral values, and the close relation of education to work.7 This system is closer to
the Christian educational ideal than todays secular education. In America, for instance,
4

Noelliste, Diememe, Towards a Theology of Theological Education in Evangelical Review of Theology,


Vol.19:3, July, 1995, p.299
5
Quoted in Kelsey, D., To Understand God Truly: Whats Theological About A Theological School,
Louisville, John Knox Press, 1992, p.15
6
Ford, L., A Curriculum Design Manual for Theological Education : A Learning Outcome Focus, Eugene,
Wipf and Stock, 1999, p.343
7
Bromiley, G. W. & Barrett, D. B., (ed- English), The Encyclopaedia of Christianity, Vol.2, Grand Rapids,
Eerdmans, 2001, p.65

Puritans established schools intended to equip citizens with knowledge and skills to be a
happy, useful member of society and a committed servant of God. This was replaced late
19th, early 20th centuries by Deweys value-free secular education. Dewey believes man
is fundamentally good, that evil is product of environment and that application of the
scientific method could solve all social ills and that careful consideration of consequences
is the only proper foundation for ethics.8
According to Dewey:
Human problem situations are part of the evolutionary adjustment process ...
Questions about a highest good are ill-conceived. There is neither unchanging
natural order nor divine purpose to which appeal can be made, and no ground for
the hopes religion stirs other than the intelligence humans have for resolving all
their problems.9
This atheistic and humanistic position stands in contrast to the Christian belief of
Creation Fall Redemption, and the need of divine help for inner transformation.
Education in todays secular state is basically anthropocentric with a humanistic purpose
while theological education is theocentric with a God centred purpose.
Martin Luther King Jr. on the Purpose of Education says Education has a two-fold
function to perform in the life of man and in society: the one is utility and the other is
culture.10
For Whitehead, education is the acquisition of the art of the utilization of knowledge.11
Theoretical ideas should always find important applications so that knowledge is kept
alive and prevents us from becoming inert12, a major danger for all education. For the
Universities, Whitehead describes them as schools of education and schools of research.
But the primary reason for their existence is neither the mere knowledge conveyed nor
the mere opportunities for research. Rather the justification for a University is that it
8

Hoffecker, W. A., (ed), Building a Christian World View Vol. 2, Phillipsburg, Presbyterian & Reformed
Publication , 1988, pp.275 279 (277)
9
Holmes, A. F., Fact, Value and God, Leicester, Apollos, 1997, pp.158f
10
http://www.toptags.com/aama/voices/speeches/puffed.htm , November, 2005 .Luther went on to say:
Education equips a person to become more efficient, to achieve with increasing facility the legitimate
goals of his life. It must also train one for quick, resolute and effective thinking, an ability to sift and weigh
evidence, to discern the true from the false. Intelligence plus character - that is the goal of true education
11
Whitehead, A. N., The Aims of Education, London, Ernest Benn, 1932, p.6
12
Ibid., p.7

preserves the connection between knowledge and the zest of life,13 the imaginative
acquisition of knowledge.14 Education should aim at bringing quality and fulfilment to
human life. Ainley refers to the new trinity of Vocational, Education and Training aimed
at preparing the entire workforce for a flexible future of rapid and unpredictable change.15
Vocational education does not pursue purely disinterested knowledge.
Common to the above description of education are two main purposes which converge in
the peculiar nature of man and his environment. Peters is right when he says: human
beings inhabit a personal as well as a public world, they are circumscribed by a Nature
that has to be accepted as well as transformed, that should be an object of enjoyment, of
wonder and of awe as well as material to be mastered for human purposes.16 The
purpose of education concerns personal formation and functional formation (utility).
Theological education as education should share these concerns in its purpose. The
distinction lies, however, in the word theology. What is theological about theological
education? According to Edgar, the obvious answer is the content ... it is education that is
about theology, about God. Not only the content, the purpose is definitive of what makes
something theological education.17 Cunningham believes: it is theological because its
philosophical underpinnings and its goals are theocentric in addition to its content.18 The
greatest challenge for theologians and theological educators according to Volf, is to keep
God at the centre of what we do. If we succeed here, well succeed, even if our efforts get
stifled by lack of funds, obstructed by inadequate pedagogy or lack of sensitivity to
context, and marred by faulty institutions and warped institutional cultures. If we fail
here, well fail utterly, no matter how brilliantly we do as fund-raisers, institutionbuilders, cultural analysts, and teachers.19 For Volf, God is the triune God - creator and
redeemer.20 Theological education must not be robbed of this nuclear centre and purpose.
13

Ibid., p.139
Ibid., p.145
15
Ainley, P., Vocational Education and Training, London, Cassell, 1990, pp.5f
16
Peters, R. S., Essays on Educators , London, George Allen and Unwin, 1981, p.87
17
Edgar, B., The Theology of Theological Education, Evangelical Review of Theology, Vol.29:3, July,
2005, p.208
18
Cunningham, S., Who is a Theological Educator? Africa Journal of Evangelical Theology, Vol.16:2,
1997, p.80
19
Volf, M., Dancing for God: Challenges facing Theological Education Today in Evangelical Review of
Theology, Vol.29:3, July, 2005, p. 200f
20
Ibid., pp 205ff
14

The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. And the main thing for
theology is God.21 Sadly, theology has become fragmented scientific disciplines
sometimes existing without the love and experience of God.22 This is neither Christianity
nor theology.
A fundamental question of the purpose of TE concerns the very basis of its existence. A
purpose is a statement of the primary reason for being for an institution, a program, or a
department in theological education. It tells who, does what, and for whom.23 This
question of purpose is a constant one on the agenda of evangelicals. Mouw believes there
are some good instincts among those who question the value of theological education.
One instinct is embedded in a deep commitment to effective ministry. Evangelicals are
shaped by pietist and populist passions, and we know that study in a Seminary has often
had the effect of dampening spiritual ardour and fostering clerical elitism.24 When
evangelicals have questioned the need for formal theological education, it has often been
out of a devotion to a high, rather than a low, view of the ministerial calling.25 At pivotal
moments in evangelical history, theological institutions were established for the purpose
of sustaining evangelical identity. Yet, the importance of theological education to
evangelicalism has often been slighted, if not ignored, because of evangelical convictions
about the priority of heart over head knowledge and it was felt that existing schools were
neglecting essential elements of Christian faith and witness.26 Mouw identified two major
historical struggles that have affected evangelical theological education. The first was the
reaction of many of the early post-Reformation pietist groups against what they perceived
as the dead orthodoxy of scholastic Protestantism which promoted a religion of the
head and not of the heart. Secondly, when the dead orthodoxy was replaced, it was by
the live heterodoxy of the Enlightenment modernism a rationalism that glorified a
secularizing anthropocentrism. This produced among evangelicals, painful struggle

21

Volf, M. op. cit., p. 199


Cheesman, G., op. cit., p.484f
23
Ford, L., op. cit., p. 296
24
Mouw, R. J., Challenge of Evangelical Theological Education in Hart, D. G. & Mohler, A.R. Jr., (eds)
Theological Education in the Evangelical Tradition, Grand Rapids, Baker, 1996, p.286
25
Ibid., p. 286
26
Ibid., p. 12
22

against the mindset of the academic.27 It was felt that short-term training sessions in
outreach discipleship was all that was needed for successful ministry.28 Although this
mindset is still abroad today in some quarters, evangelicals on the whole have moved
significantly forward in its appreciation and commitment to theological education. It is
the charismatic churches, at least in Africa, who for different reasons now pay less than
adequate attention to theological education. Both they and few evangelicals rightly point
to successful ministries led by those with little or no theological education. The editors of
AJET once argued for the importance of theological education by asking the rhetorical
question: Theological Education: can we do without it?29
According to the Manifesto on the Renewal of Theological Education, TE concerns the
formation of leadership for the Church of Christ in its biblical mission. This formation
combines spiritual and practical with academic objectives in one holistic integrated
educational approach,30 that serves the essential purpose of theological education. When
Cobb was asked by Ban, what are we doing when we do theological education? His
terse answer was Formation.31 Ban then identifies formation of Christian identity as the
desired goal of theological education and this requires Christology as the basis of
integration of its task. Indeed, Christology deserves to provide the foundation for all
Church education, especially the preparation of theological students for Christian
ministry.32
Historically, the purpose of TE has largely been related to church ministerial training. A
group of NE Asia theologians defined the purpose of theological education as an
intensive and structured preparation of men and women of the church for participation in
the ministry of Christ in the world.33 Lienemann-Perrin describes it as education for
27

Mouw, R. J., Challenge of Evangelical Theological Education in Hart, D. G. & Mohler, A.R. Jr., (eds)
Theological Education in the Evangelical Tradition, Grand Rapids, Baker, 1996, p.284
28
Ibid., p.286
29
The Africa Journal of Evangelical Theology, Vol. 16:2, 1997, p.77
30
Manifesto on the Renewal of Evangelical Theological Education, in Evangelical Review of Theology,
Vol.19:3, July, 1995, p.308, 312
31
Ban, J. D., Christological Foundations of Theological Education in Ban, J. D., (ed) The Christological
Foundation for Contemporary Theological Education, Macon, Mercer University Press, 1988, p.18
32
Ibid., p.23
33
Hopewell, J. F., Theological Education in Concise Dictionary of the Christian World Missions,
London, Lutterworth, 1971, p.591

church service taking place under church auspices.34 Robinson identifies a two-level
purpose for theological education: in a broader sense it is for preparing the people of
God for doing Gods will in this world; and in a narrower sense it is for preparing
candidates for doing the ministry of the Church.35 In Robinsons Indian context,
theological education should seek to liberate the oppressed and downtrodden. The point
is: purpose must be related to the contextual location of the Church. In several African
countries for instance, where tribalism, corruption and bad governance are normative,
theological education must prepare church leaders that are challenged to lead churches
that are exemplary churches that will be light and salt to the nation. Sadly, many
churches and leaders have compromised their prophetic role and become partakers in the
ills of society. An exemplary lifestyle must begin in the Bible College Community
through praxis reflection ministerial training.
This clerical approach to defining the purpose of theological education has been related
in part to the idea of profession. The formal characteristics of a profession are given by
Cheesman,36 but in day to day usage, professional might mean no more than
competence in a task. The idea of Christian service as profession had its roots in the
American context and especially when Schleiemarcher used it in his argument to secure a
place for theology in the secular universities of the Enlightenment era. Neibuhr employed
this model describing theological schools as professional schools like medical and law
schools.37 Kelsey however believes that defining the purpose of theological education in
professional terms distorts and finally destroys theology. 38 And in any case, the
professional model cannot be regarded as normative for all churches. According to
34

Lienemann-Perrin, C., Theological Education in Muller, Sundermeier and Bevans (eds) Dictionary of
Missions, Theology, History, Perspectives, Maryknoll, Orbis, 1987, p.427
35
Robinson, G., Theological Education in India: The Journey Continues, Chennai, The Christian Literature
Society, 2000, p.32 Products of TE must be able to articulate and practice the Christian faith in the Church
as clergy, they must also be able to address social issues intelligently and theologically as church leaders.
Denominational leaders in parts of Africa today are often called upon to comment on thorny national issues
and clerical preparation must equip them
36
Cheesman, G., Is Professional a suitable Adjective for Theological Education?
http://www.theologicaleducation.org/resources.php , November 2005, p.2 : a body of specialist knowledge
learnt over some years; membership of a self-regulating group that controls entry by examination and
discipline members when necessary; competence in a field of service to the public, a sense of vocation and
altruistic service; and a high status in society.
37
Neibuhr, H., The Purpose of the Church and its Ministry, NY, Harper and Row, 1956, p.4
38
Kelsey, D., To Understand God Truly: Whats Theological About a Theological School, Louisville, John
Knox, 1992, p.131

Carroll, that model would be dysfunctional for many settings such as Africa, for
example, where churches are undergoing explosive growth in membership and where
there is a severe shortage of seminary trained leadership.39 But if professional means
doing a job to the high standard society expects, then theological education should seek
to produce that kind of professional. The idea that standards of competence in church
work can be less than those in society must be rejected so Cheesman, who also rejects
the use of professional as implying special status in society.40 The craze for status
among Church leadership in some countries is seen in the Rev. Dr syndrome and there
seems to be no shortage of back street shops and Colleges ready to award for a fee or free
these bogus doctorate degrees that have very little relationship with professional clerical
competence.
Carroll has given three dimensions of expertise that are required of ministers and which
should be cultivated right from theological colleges:

as definer of meaning especially in their roles of preacher, teacher,


counsellor, bringing the Word of God to meet the needs of their situation.

as builders of community, bringing theological insight into the nature of the


Christian community and assisting them to be built up into maturity as
Christians.

as mediators in the churchsocial context interface mediating not only


between individuals and God but between individuals and society.41

This kind of professional clergy is urgently needed for the churches of Africa. A more
urgent need, according to Fletcher, is for religious authenticity based on an assured
sense of divine call rather than on membership of a religious caste. Rather than arguing
against a professional model of ministry, Fletchers findings argue for the importance of
keeping together the authority of expertise and the authority from divine call.42 Calling
and professionalism must go together.
39

Carroll, J., The Professional Model of Ministry: Is It Worth Saving? in Theological Education, Spring,
1985, Vol. 21:2, p.28
40
Cheesman, G., Is Professional a suitable Adjective for Theological Education?, op. cit., p.6
41
Carroll, J., op. cit., pp.35 - 37
42
Fletcher, J., in Carroll, J., op. cit., p. 41

Cheesman cautions that in the rush to respectability, it would be easy to lose the positive
Bible College ideals of humble service in an ordinary capacity without seeking the public
admiration of society.43
Bible College teachers whose attitude focuses on the perks of professional status would
reproduce similar discontent detrimental to their students future service. It is suggested
then, that the professional, or vocation, of church leadership must remain a by-product,
as it were, not the raison detre44 of theological education.
The purpose of theological education as church leadership preparation involves the
academic dimension of the triadic objectives. How far should the purpose of theological
education be defined in terms of academic formation? Here, our discussion is not
primarily about the relationship of theological education to the university or the
academia. Rather, it is whether there is a valid cognitive component in theological
education and how far this component constitutes the goal of theological education.
Fitzmiers rightly states that loving God with the mind is one of the great ends we seek
in theological education.45 The command to holistically love God and neighbour builds
theology and theological education on biblical grounds. According to educational
psychologists, our cognitive abilities include knowledge, comprehension, application,
analysis, synthesis and evaluation. If so, there are different dimensions and levels of
doing theology and a wide scope for using our mind in theological education. We are
given minds that can enquire. There is divine confirmation of this when God told his
people: in the future, when your son ask you, what is the meaning of the stipulations,
decrees and laws the LORD our God has commanded you?46 Making enquiries about
Christian tradition is a valid cognitive component of theological education. As long as
43

Cheesman, G., Is Professional a suitable Adjective op. cit., p.6 the Bible Colleges need a public
repudiation of the status side of professionalism and this has to have a twofold application: it should
inform the attitudes to Christian service which are inculcated into the students: and it should determine the
attitudes of tutors to their own jobs
44
Johnson, R. K., Becoming Theologically Matured: The Task of Theological Education Today for
American Evangelical Seminaries in Ministerial Formation, 73, April 1996, p. 43
45
Fitzmeir, J., The Aims and Purposes Literature: Notes from the Field from Resources for American
Christianity http://www.resourcingchristianity.org , November 2005 This is from Jesus injunction in
Luke 10 which is an echo of the OT in Deut 6.
46
Deuteronomy 6:20

this enquiry is based on the truth claims of Scriptures, and is carried out by believing
members of that community it should not matter whether it is done in a village Bible
School or in the University. The negative attitude to the location of theological education
within secular academia has some of its roots in deviations from cardinal truth claims of
Scriptures as well as a neglect of the purpose of the enquiry: obedience. Cheesman made
a similar point: the rise of the Bible College Movement from the 1870s on was partly a
protest at the questioning of the bible and the secularization of studies.47 Prior to this,
theological education was for those with high academic qualifications. As Brereton
observes:
I think of those whom we hesitated over and at first rejected because of a want of
the qualifications which we considered of first importance. And then to see how
God has rebuked us by showing how wonderfully he could use them. God is
building windows for the cathedral of the skies out of the rejected lives and
fragments of consecrated service for which the wisdom of the world has not
room.48
Fitzmier noted that many students coming to seminaries were not well prepared
academically. This is not to suggest that theological education is solely an academic
enterprise, but that however one defines theology and its study with Farley as a habitus,
with Hugh and Cobb as the formation of Christian identity, or with Wood as critical
thinking about the validity of Christian witness the use of the mind is critical to the
enterprise. Academic rigor is a channel perhaps the chief channel, to thinking about God
in the context of theological education.49
Commenting on what he calls the week six syndrome when new theology students are
frustrated, shocked and fearful about new methods of teaching
Fitzmier said:
what lies at the root of these feelings is the realization that critical thinking about
God is a very sharp two-edged blade, that it cuts in more than one direction, and
47

Cheesman, G., The Philosophy of Theological Education: Historical Overview, Unpublished Centre for
Theological Education Lecture Notes, September 2005
48
Brereton, V. L., Training Gods Army: The American Bible School, 1880 1940, Bloomington, Indiana
University Press, 1990, p.59
49
Fitzmier, J., op. cit., p.16

10

that it can both heal and wound. Unfortunately, this realization comes as a
surprise to many students. Very few come to school accustomed to thinking
critically about Christian faith, and when they begin to learn how to do so, all
manner of frightening possibilities emerge.50
Not all theological education operate at the tertiary academic level. Reflective wisdom
about God is the privilege of every believer. The fund of knowledge is not for a few who
can achieve the critical distance, but those who can achieve the critical embrace of
love.51 Any model of theological education that glorifies the intellect at the expense of
faith and love cannot be truly Christian. Loving the Lord with our mind is a response to
his prior redemptive love and cannot be carried out in contradiction of that love. So the
purpose of theological education cannot be detached from this cognitive love.
Sargent states: the basic, overriding goal of evangelical theological education is
spiritual formation with a view to communicating with clarity and power the historic
faith.52 Most theological institutions would agree. Westerhoff argues that the major
weakness of contemporary theological education is the emphasis upon knowledge and
skills rather than upon the spiritual development of the priest and the formation of
priestly character.53 Spiritual formation, refers to an intentional process by which the
marks of an authentic Christian spirituality are being formed and integrated ever anew.54
It is a life-long, open-ended process of being formed in the image of God in Christ
through each and all of our daily experiences as we submit to the divine help of the
indwelling Holy Spirit. It is a human as well as a divine process which on our part cannot
be left to chance. Perhaps the human part is what Henri Nouwen describes by his analogy
of hospitality- creating a safe, free and friendly space for students, not to change them
but to offer them an appropriate habitat for change to be effected.55 The ICAA Manifesto
requires that
50

Ibid., p. 17
Pobee, J., (ed), Towards Viable Theological Education, Geneva, WCC, 1997, p.140
52
Sargent, Tony., The Value of Theological Education for Ministry and Service an address given to the
Baptist Union Assembly, Scotland, Oct. 24, 2001 (unpublished)
53
In Fiorenza, F. S., Thinking Theologically About Theological Education, Theological Education,
Vol.24, Suppl. II, 1988, p.106
54
Amirtham, S., and Pryon, R., (eds)., Invitation to the Feast of Life, Geneva, WCC, n.d., p.157
55
Nouwen, H., Reaching Out, Glasgow, Collins, 1976, p. 69
51

11

our educational programmes must deliberately foster the spiritual formation of


the student. We must look for a spiritual development centred in total
commitment to the lordship of Christ, progressively worked outward by the power
of the Spirit and into every department of life. We must devote as much time and
care and structural designing to facilitate this type of growth as we readily and
rightly provide for cognitive growth.56
For theological education, the Iona document makes it clear that spiritual formation
should be seen as a responsibility which must be shared and which involves three main
elements, all of equal importance: the person in formation, the training institution, and the
wider church.57 Theological institutions must therefore consider spiritual formation as
one of the primary tasks, involving all of the institution the students, teachers, staff and
members governing bodies. The whole community, its life, curriculum, relationships,
everything is involved. While College intentionally designs specific programmes to
provide opportunities for spiritual formation there is a sense in which
our spirituality is not what we explicitly express, nor what we profess to believe,
but how we order our loves. That ordering may be unarticulated, even quite
unconscious, but the resultant spirituality pervades our whole life and involves
our whole person.58
And this in turn affects our College community. Furthermore, the College alone is not
able to accomplish the task of spiritual formation: the sending church and what goes on
there impact the students. While spirituality is a product of both individuality and
community, the great message of the Task Force on Spiritual Direction of the ATS as
noted by Cheesman is that: the spiritual formation and development of seminary
students begins with and is dependent upon, the spiritual formation and development of
the faculty59 as a team. It can be facilitated by any events or experiences including the
critical study of theology. This is the paradox of the human and the divine in Christian
life. We are to use every intentional means and programmes of the College to enhance
56

Manifesto on the Renewal of Evangelical Theological Education, in Evangelical Review of Theology,


Vol.19:3, July, 1995, p. 312
57
Amirtham, S. op. cit., p.163
58
Ibid., p. 151
59
Cheesman, G., Spiritual Formation as a Goal of Theological Education,
http://www.theologicaleducation.org/docs/resources2 p.22, Nov.2005

12

spiritual formation, yet grace rather than human effort must be asserted. And for those
who feel that academic theology and spiritual theology are incompatible, it is important
to note that
every experience of the love of God transforms our imagination and our mind
and the minds knowledge of God helps us to live for transcendent values. It is the
theologian who wishes to live in a purely academic cocoon, enjoying the
security of footnotes, bibliography and equivocation who is fundamentally
sick.60
Indeed, spiritual maturity is more important for good theology than good theology is for
spiritual maturity, and it is the spiritually mature, all other things being equal, who make
the best theologians.61 So, there ought not to be conflict in pursuing simultaneously the
triadic objectives of theological education with formation as the overarching purpose.
If formation is so important to the purpose of theological education, the study of the
culture of seminaries may provide some insight into factors that promote this formation.
Three points were made in a study reported by Fitzmeir:
1. a schools culture is its most powerful instrument of formation.
2. the faculty of a school is most responsible for shaping student experience of
theological education.
3. and formative theological education requires prolonged and intensive
exposure to a particular educational institution.62
Vatican II takes seriously the issue of formation:
spiritual formation should be closely associated with doctrinal and pastoral
formation. The students should learn to live according to the standard of the
60

Ibid., p.26
Ibid., p.27
62
Reported in Fitzmier, J., The Aims and Purposes Literature: Notes from the Field op. cit., p.21.A
Seminarys culture are those shared(publicly available) symbolic forms worldviews and beliefs, ritual
practices, ceremonies, art and architecture, language, and patterns of everyday interaction that give
meaning and direction to the life of the schools and the people who participate in them. from Jackson
Carroll, Barbara Wheeler(eds) Being There: Culture and Formation in Two Theological Schools, Oxford,
OUP, 1997, p268.
61

13

Gospel, to be firmly established in faith, hope and charity, so that the practice of
these virtues may develop in them a spirit of prayer, may strengthen and protect
their vocation and invigorate their other virtues, intensifying their zeal for
winning all men to Christ.63
A helpful dimension of human maturity has been added to the three-fold objectives:
a prudent system of training will therefore aim at developing in the students a
proper degree of human maturity. This will be chiefly attested by a certain
stability of character, the ability to make carefully weighed decisions, and a sound
judgement of events and people.64
Such human maturity is not provided by Christian Education alone, there is need to take
advantage of the results of sound psychology and pedagogy. You may be deeply spiritual
yet lack the ability to effectively manage human relationship or the ability to teach.
When discussing formation in theological education, important insights can be gained
from Christian traditions other than our own. Catholic theologian William Cahoy in
responding to Farleys position cautions against assuming that the story of mainline
Protestant theological education is the story of theological education per se.65 For
instance, the call for the recovery of paideia and formation is not new, the call feels like
a vindication since these concepts to a far greater extent than for Protestants, have
remained central elements of Catholic theological education. Catholics do not also share
the laments about the clerical paradigm. While for Protestants, ordination may have
become functional and problematically so, it has been understood by Catholics to bring
about an ontological change in the one ordained, not only a change in his function.
Priestly formation is central for Catholics and it should be central for all theological
education.
Binding all of this together as a unifying theme for understanding the purpose of
theological education, Fitzmier proposed the notion of Christian vocation which has a
rich definition and therefore theologically multilingual.66
63

Decree on the Training of Priests, Vatican II, Optatan Totius, 28, Oct. 1965, pp. 713f
Ibid., p.716
65
Fitzmier, J., op cit., p.11
66
Ibid., p.23 It may be defined in at least three ways:
64

14

Fitzmier believes that every Christian has the opportunity to make meaning in their lives
by the most basic Christian truth to love God and to love neighbour. This vocation with
its applicability in all Christian traditions can provide the fundamental starting point of
Christian discipleship. The assumption of theological Colleges that most students come
through a proper process of vocational discernment and clarity is probably misplaced. Yet
Colleges conduct their training on this shaky assumption, rightly expecting positive
response to active discipleship only to be disappointed repeatedly by contradictory
lifestyle and attitude of students. Several students come to Bible College not on the basis
of vocational conviction but as reluctant substitute for the first or second choice of their
vocational ambition, coming only because they failed to secure a secular university or
polytechnic admission. Unless they see and accept this failure as divine direction for
their lives, their motivation for formation would be low. Those who come with clear
Christian vocational conviction are the best motivated and respond most favourably to
advanced discipleship and to holistic formation which make the purpose of theological
education easier to achieve. The question is often asked: is the theological education
institution to be blamed for failure to achieve its purpose or should the blame go to the
sending churches? As Fitzmier wisely points out:
there is little to be gained by faculties complaining about the failure of the
churches to send us well prepared candidates or by the churches bemoaning the
fact that graduates are so ill-prepared for ministry. The churches and the
theological schools are joined at the hip; a failure to acknowledge our
interdependence and our mutual responsibility will only make things worse.67
The body principle of the New Testament demands this interdependence and mutual
responsibility68 in working towards the purpose of theological education. The individual
student also has a significant share in this responsibility.
Conclusion

ecclesially, as a calling to a specific role within ordained ministry.


personally, as a sense of individual religious destiny or meaning.
globally, as service which alligns ones deepest passions with the most pressing needs of the world
67
Ibid., p.24
68
1 Cor.12: 21 - 26

15

Attempts to define the purpose of theological education have been influenced by the
unity-in-diversity nature of Christian theology. While we talk of one faith, one Lord,
one baptism, this oneness is perceived differently in different contexts. So is theological
education. Sometimes its purpose is defined by historical understanding of Christianity:
that Christianity is paideia, given by God in Jesus Christ, turning on a radical conversion
possible only by the Holy Spirits help, and taught only indirectly by study of divinely
inspired Scriptures in the social context of the church understood to be in some ways a
school.69 The goal will be knowledge of God forming persons souls to be holy. Often it
is defined by the nature, needs and mission of the Church, - preparing those who will lead
the work of the Church. At other times, the purpose of theological education is defined as
academic activity. Whether the objective is academic, spiritual or ministerial, theological
education must seek to provide the theological and educational environment that would
facilitate the formation and transformation of those with the divine call to love and serve
God in his mission to the world through the Church.
When all is said and done - and all that is appropriate must be said and done - we have to
agree with Williams that Theological Education whatever the purpose we assign to it, is
the work of the Holy Spirit. Unless we start here and commit ourselves to an education
which is this fundamental, we shall miss the mark no matter how many schemes and
theories we lay on.70 General education requires an efficient performance of tasks,
theological education in addition, requires the spirit of that performance love to God
and neighbour. The extent to which this purpose governs all that comprises its common
life is the criteria of excellence in a theological school.71 Schner describes this purpose as
formation an activity which pervades the whole of the process of the institution and
recognized in each discreet part of the process.72

69

Kelsey, D., Between Athens and Berlin: The Theological Education Debate, Grand Rapids, Eerdmans,
1993, p.11
70
Williams, M., Theological Education and Ordination Training, BJTE, Vol. 8, No.1, 1996, p. 22
71
Kelsey, D., To Understand God Truly: Whats Theological About a Theological School, Louisville, John
Knox, 1992, p.161
72
Schner, G., Formation as a Unifying Concept of Theological Education, Theological Education,
Vol.21:2, 1985, pp. 94 - 112

16

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