The challenges facing theological education include the need for balance between academic, spiritual and practical dimensions; or the need to balance head, heart and hands issues. However, in the usual discussion of theological education, focus is too often given to formal theological education to the neglect of vitally complementary aspects of the non-formal and informal. For a holistic approach, all three modes must be considered in a discussion of theological education and spiritual formation and it is just such an holistic approach which this paper addresses.
1. Challenges Facing Formal Theological Education
Edward Farley set the stage for an intense discussion of this subject when, in 1983, he alleged that the era of Enlightenment had resulted in theology’s loss of its unifying purpose, as it became fragmented into discrete academic disciplines. The 20th century witnessed emphasis on the practical aspects of ministerial tasks, or the trend toward “clerical paradigm.”
But ever earlier, in 1953, Richard Niebhur had observed that, in the mid 20th century, a dual challenge faced theological education. In his extensive studies, Niebhur came to the conclusion that seminaries in North America were “in quandary,” torn between “proximate and ultimate” goals; and together with his associates in another report, noted that the theological curriculum was overloaded in an attempt to satisfy the call to infuse more “practical courses” into the curriculum.
Niebhur, in explaining the nature of this “quandary” in North American seminaries, claimed that uncertainties existed about the nature, the purpose and the functions of the church for which the seminaries are expected to prepare ministers. Clark Gilpin also talks of a “perplexity” which confronts seminaries because (Western) societies have now resorted to naturalistic explanations of state, economy, school, and family. This outlook has affected the church, as it accepts naturalistic instead of religious explanation of the changing social institutions. In short, it is a perplexity about irreligion, an irreligion with respect to church, nation, and school. I suggest that this naturalistic trend is largely responsible for the struggle to know how to appropriate spiritual formation in theological education. Even seminaries in non-Western societies have not gone unscathed, as the face of irreligious religion is seen all over.
If the theological academy is plagued by a crisis of credibility in the many calls within and without it for reform, the church is plagued by a crisis of identity, not knowing clearly what it is and exactly why it exists - as the central forum in which God is at work today. All of the factors contribute to making direction of formation quite uncertain, as Niebhur and others have noted. It is no wonder that spirituality is endangered, shunted aside, sometimes eclipsed, and occasionally even lost completely.
The trend of the past 200 years to look at ministry and its training from the perspective of post-Enlightenment professionalism (discussed below) constitutes at least two challenges. The first is the tendency and temptation to devalue the priesthood of all believers. The second is the wholesale adoption of the formal mode of training, not mindful of its limitations, particularly in the area of formation to do with the affect, which is the primary realm of spiritual formation. Thus a real challenge facing formal theological education is not just plurality of the field that is dispersed and lacks material unity in its various disciplines, but there is also the underlying need to integrate head, hands and heart into a holistic process of formation.
2. Challenges Facing Non-formal Theological Education
Most organized out-of-school (or out-of-classroom) theological education endeavors qualify as ‘non-formal.’ The best known is “Theological Education by Extension” (TEE), although other non-formal forms may exist in out-of-school contexts. TEE goes back to the early 1970 beginning in Guatemala. Robert Banks notes that TEE, designed for and adopted in the non-Western world, has done well in an attempt to keep a balance between “being, knowing, and doing,” or the balance in matters of head, heart and hands, a critically important balance if spiritual formation is, in fact, one of the essential components of effective theological education.
TEE is sometimes misperceived as “inferior” to the formal mode of theological education. To counter this misperception, some educators who adopt it feel obliged to make it conform to and even to look more like formal residential mode. But in so doing, the original design in the “technology” of the “split-rail fence” tends to be lost. That “technology” requires active combination of study, ministry and intermittent seminars which brings together otherwise individual learners into a temporary community of learners who share personal, ministry and Christian life experiences, while engaging in on-going ministry. Thus the non-formal mode’s value for a holistic approach is clear, if adopted appropriately.
A non-formal mode of theological education is, of course, subject to its own set of limitations. Non-formal theological education tends to be short-term, hands-on, practical-oriented, less focused on theory and reflection. It may, therefore, provide less traditional theological content than formal theological education. But this possible “limitation” must be considered in the context of the exact training objectives for any specific program of theological study and the natural strengths of formal theological education must not be the only criteria considered. In other words, non-formal theological education must not be required to demonstrate its equivalency with formal theological education any more than the formal theological education should be required to demonstrate its equivalency with non-formal theological education. What is needed is the mode of theological education appropriate to the desired educational outcomes, and this frequently will mean a combination of both formal and non-formal modes.
3. Challenges Facing Church-based Theological Education
The matter of definition is one of the challenges facing church-based theological education. There is, for example, a wide-spread perception that education within the church is less than theological. This underscores the tension between the intellectual and the other legitimate functions of theological education. A balanced and biblical approach would see theological equipping of the saints in the “whole will of God” as part of the educational task of the church. The divorce between church and academy in the course of theological education, therefore, comes to a head with this dichotomy between education that is or is not church-based. As with non-formal theological education, however, even church-based theological education faces challenges.
Perhaps the most important challenge is for the church to accept its own educational responsibilities. It simply is not biblical for the church to “outsource” all ministerial training to other institutions or agencies. It is, in the final analysis, the church’s responsibility to provide ministers for its pulpits. It may, of course, delegate some aspects of ministerial training to seminaries, but it must closely supervise and wisely supplement the training that is does delegate. So the first challenge for the church is to recognize and embrace the educational aspect of its own identity.
As a direct corollary, the church must actively seek to forge formal bonds of cooperation with any agency or institution to which it delegates any part of ministerial training. This is especially critical in the area of spiritual formation. This is toward the noble end of declaring to the church local the whole will of God and equipping her to engage the world. But it is a challenge because it requires the church to devote significant resources (time, energy, and money) to a task which, in the rect past, the church often has delegated completely.
4. What is Spiritual Formation?
Spirituality is a term that our contemporary to which the contemporary world seems recently to have awakened. There are, of course, many different forms of spirituality - African spirituality, Buddhist spirituality, Feminist spirituality, Hindu spirituality, Islamic spirituality, and so forth. My discussion, however, is limited to Christian spirituality and it deals with this subject in a general sense, rather than with respect to any particular tradition. It is about the practical Christian life, the habit of personal existential knowledge of God motivated by deep love for God.
A. General Perspectives on Spirituality
Spirituality is sometimes defined as the development of virtue and character. Broadly described, it is the human quest for depth and values. Specifically applied to Christianity, Sheldrake says it is “how people relate their beliefs about God in Jesus Christ to their core values and then express these beliefs and values in spiritual practices and also in how they form social and religious communities and relate to social and cultural realities.”
In addition, however, it is crucial to recognize that spirituality is vitally about developing a relationship. This is why discipleship is a vital aspect of spiritual formation. James E. Loder therefore underscores the conscious and intentional appropriation of ‘transformational’ experiences in the process. For his part, Lindbeck first defines spiritual formation non-theologically, in order to accommodate different religious traditions, saying it is “deep and personally committed appropriation of a comprehensive and coherent outlook on life and the world,” and then he specifies its Christian form as dispositions and capacities for speech, feeling and action, which are distinctive of Christianity and also shaped deeply by culture, personal history and genetic constitution.
In all the different perspectives, it is noteworthy that spirituality is defined in terms of dimensions of human experience as well as a reference to the discipline concerned with that experience.
B. A Christian Perspective on Spirituality
While it is important to be aware of this general perspectives on spirituality, we in the World Reformed Fellowship are most concerned about what Scripture says and this gives.
We begin by noting the Pauline injunctions, where spirituality is likened to an exercise. Spirituality has to do with “godliness” (eusebeia) or reverence for God. Paul specific admonition to Timothy is clear and specific: “Train yourself to be godly” (1 Timothy 4 : 7). Quoting Trench, John Stott says that this injunction refers to a personal experience of “mingled fear and love which together constitute the piety of man toward God.” Stott then goes on to describe biblical spirituality as the experience of a “Copernican revolution of Christian conversion from self-centredness to God-centredness.
It is instructive that Paul, in his adminition to Timothy, employs the term “train” (gymnaz?). Thus godliness requires training or exercise! And if this is the case, it is inexcusable if theological education is ever conducted in a way that neglects training in godliness!
Such godliness or spirituality, again according to the Word of God, has at least two dimensions - the relational, which has to do with love for God and love for one’s neighbor (See 1 John 4 : 20) and the communal or ecclesial, because we are created and re-created to function in community, in this case as new creation in the community of faith. Later in this paper, I will consider both of these dimensions as I explore how spirituality should be an integral part into theological education. But first, I will provide a context for this consideration by offering a perspective on theological education as a professional field.
C. The Essence of Ministerial Training in Light of the Professions
The direct application of theory (learned in school) to practice (in form of cases encountered in real life settings) is said to be unusual in the professional fields. Professionals are not usually concerned at first-hand with basic research; instead they simply are expected to transfer knowledge gained by experts in basic research to problem solving situations. Common to modern professionals however is "esoteric knowledge systematically formulated and applied to problems of a client" as well as exclusive "right to practice.” But in reality, professionals are known to generate theory on their own in the course of practice and to apply the same as situations arise. For this reason, professional ministers are often advised to become "Reflective Practitioners" and "Practical Theologians."
But for my purpose, it is vitally important for us to understand exactly what "practice" entails in Christian ministry as a profession. In the other professions, "way of life" is not a criterion for determining qualification as a professional. In Christian ministry as a profession, however, "practice" is inseparable from lifestyle. If professionals "profess to know better than others the nature of certain matters," the Christian minister, as a professional, professes in both knowledge and life. Thus, any dichotomy between knowing and being is unwarranted - both in the ministerial profession and in training for the ministerial profession.
The aspects of experiential knowledge of life in and outside the faith community and the bringing to bear of critical and informed reflection on these require extension of training beyond the four walls of the classroom. This is why I propose church-school linkage in the formation process. If action-reflection can occur in the process of professional practice after school training, it can even be richer during school training when the tools of reflection tend to be sharper. The dialectic of reflection-action, while in school, should allow the integration of the areas of factual knowledge, spiritual formation, and hands-on practical ministry skills through formal, non-formal and informal processes, thus enabling holistic formation.
What is taught or learned during professional training of the ministry must be related to life and must in turn be communicated by life to others. This is a particularly marked distinction of Christian ministry as a profession, by comparison with other fields of profession. In most other professions, the professional is required to be “objective” in ways he or she would find painful personally to apply back to self! "This is why it is unfair to ask the physician to heal himself"! Of particular interest is that in other fields, professionals are allowed to deviate from lay conduct in matters that they profess! This sor t of deviation is, however, not credible in the Christian ministry as a profession. The Christian professional is required to be empathetic, and is often required to swallow his/her own "bitter pill" also! This is patterned after Jesus, the sympathizing High priest (Heb.4:15).
Authentic theological education must involve holistic teaching and holistic learning, which are not simply the communication of ideas to minds. As touching the ministry and its training, holistic teaching and learning concern communication of heads (or minds), hearts and hands.
D. How Spirituality is Taught: Case Studies
There are different approaches that may be broadly categorized into two: teaching spirituality as an academic discipline and teaching spirituality as a practical discipline. While the former is cognitive, rationalistic, claims objectivity and tries to maintain a detached posture, the latter is affective, personal, subjective, and is overtly engaging.
i. Challenges of Promoting Spiritual Formation in the Academy
David Wells, in a disturbing report concerning the landscape of North American theological education in the early 1990’s, reveals that seminarians, while cognitively holding dear to theological beliefs, do not allow those beliefs to “intersect very cogently with the world they inhabit mentally and practically.” This finding suggests a critical disconnect between learning and living. This is an issue that should disturb theological educators everywhere and should serve as a wake-up call on the need to reconcile piety and intellect in theological education. Sandra Schneiders is absolutely correct when she says, “Only a theology that is rooted in the spiritual commitment of the theologian and oriented toward praxis will be meaningful in the Church of the future.”
However, the teaching of spirituality in the context of the school is no easy task;and is beset by many challenges, one of which is the manner in which theologizing is often done - from a detached, purely cognitive perspective. In that manner, spirituality is taught as an academic subject, which addresses more of the mind than the heart. This approach is much more prevalent in those educational circles whose public is limited to the academic guild, even though those who claim the church public struggle as much in this regard. Now let us consider some specific case studies which employ various aspects of formal, quasi non-formal and informal modes within the context of the academy.
a. Formal Approaches
Spirituality can be taught either as an academic discipline or as a practical discipline within the context of the school. Here is an example of each.
As an Academic Discipline: case of an MA in Christian spirituality. This is a free-standing degree course of study from two centers, the Heythrop College at London University, and Sarum College in association with the University of Wales, Lampeter. From the outset, students are warned that this is not “a form of personal spiritual formation.” The programme of study is from a purely academic perspective, based on an inductive process of reflecting on experiences and practices from variety of different contexts in light of Christian history and tradition, which are recognized as “radically plural.”
The focus of study is on content and method of spirituality, problems of historical context and of textual interpretation from reading primary texts. The methodology adopted by the teacher, in seminar settings, is interactive, starting off with an introduction of text materials and posing critical questions. Students then lead sessions in which they take turns presenting sections of a pre-assigned text guided by questions such as, “What understanding of self is found in this text?” Group discussions are also student-led. Each session concludes with the module teacher giving a brief summary of the discussions, while highlighting significant points and calling attention to issues that might have been left out during discussion.
The curriculum is comprised of two core modules and four optional modules, capped by a 20,000 word dissertation. The core modules are designed to challenge students to “question many assumptions and values that lie behind so much of the spirituality they have inherited… also invite students to step out of the religious boundaries that are familiar to them. Evangelicals learn to study sympathetically a text of the Catholic Reformation…Catholics seek to understand the birth of a distinctive “Anglican” spiritual tradition….”
The modules examine spirituality in relation to a variety of texts and spiritual traditions from diverse times and places. The core modules feature two key areas: 1) “Foundations of Christian Spirituality,” concentrating on selected classic spiritual texts ranging from the patristic period to contemporary liberation spirituality; and 2) “Theology of Spirituality,” which examines theologies of the human person, while adopting an interdisciplinary approach to spirituality and to theology.
Students also select as many as four optional modules that are wide-ranging in nature. Among the options are: 1) “Spirituality in Christian Traditions” (such as Western mysticism, Celtic, and Early English spiritual traditions); 2) Spirituality and social processes of human existence (such as ecological spirituality, literature and gender, liberation and “political” spiritualities; 3) “Dialogue between Spirituality and Pastoral Theology” which includes liturgy, spirituality and ministry; and Christian spiritual direction; and 4) “Personal Research on the Study of Spirituality” (which, of course, must not be based on introspection or individual spiritual experience.”
The whole learning experience is thought to create in students “strangeness, otherness and discomfort,” because, according to Sheldrake, spirituality is a “self-implicating field.” In the belief that the search for knowledge through a process of critical analysis implies inevitably some form of transformation, according to Sheldrake, “an academic course in spirituality, perhaps in a more immediate way than other elements of theology, tend to bring students face to face with questions of personal faith and appropriate spiritual practice.” But then it should be realized that transformation involves personal and subjective encounter with the “truth” of whatever knowledge students encounter. So how should it be handled by the teacher in the contexts of the classroom or in tutorials? Sheldrake answers as follows:
As long as critical analysis is not set aside and rigorous study is not subverted…it is artificial as well as unhelpful to the learning process to exclude all reference in class to questions of personal appropriation. This would be to confine “knowledge” purely to “objective information about something” based on distance and detached reasoning — a reductionist understanding of knowledge that I reject as inadequate.
All well and good, but, in the same breadth, Sheldrake clarifies his position, stating,
I hasten to add that “reference to personal appropriation” should be distinguished from allowing lengthy testimonies or from encouraging students to use introspective individual spiritual experience/practice as the central subject matter or as the basis for research. Likewise, I do not think it appropriate to allow classes to become forms of group spiritual direction let alone individual spiritual guidance! However, reference to personal experience or pastoral practice may be one tool among many, alongside historical, theological and other intellectual ones, to enable us to come to grips with a spiritual tradition. Overall, I have found that students quickly come to understand the boundaries and that this has enhanced rather than diluted the learning process.
The above is an example of attempt to teach spirituality purely as an academic discipline within a strictly formal context of the academy. I now examine another formal approach, but this one exemplifies teaching spirituality as a practical discipline.
As a Practical Discipline: case of spiritual formation as a subject. This is an illustration from the Theological College of Zimbabwe, Bulawayo. Up front, this approach is unpretentious about attempting to promote personal spiritual formation in learners within the context of the school, attempting to infuse spiritual formation into the “Practical Theology” component of studies. This component comprises a range of subjects, including two first-year subjects in Spiritual Formation.
Spiritual Formation as a subject is divided into two introductory subjects: First year students are offered, in the first term, an introductory course (Spiritual Formation I) which focuses on “inner disciplines” of personal growth and helping others with same. This subject was designed in response to the realization that the church has not been able to help in-coming students with the discipline of personal growth. This introductory course covers such basics as fellowship, prayer, Bible study, personal devotions, worship, knowing God’s will, and developing a Christian mind. The main assignment requires the student to keep a daily spiritual journal, describing his/her spiritual journey as far back as he/she can recall. This touches key events, people and places that God may have used to bring the student to faith. Also there is a character quality assessment project, as well as a short and a long personal evangelistic testimony. The projects are done over the course of the term, during which the student meets with a lecturer three times to assess progress and to assist with any difficulties.
In the second term, the course (Spiritual Formation II) focuses on “outward disciplines” to do mainly with discipleship. This subject was designed because it was thought that very few in-coming students have been discipled in any meaningful way. This course covers the philosophical foundation and the practice of discipleship. The main assignment of the course requires each student to disciple someone for several weeks, while employing principles taught in class. Other topics covered are: the biblical ethic of work, the biblical perspective on the spirit world, conflict and interpersonal relationships, and spiritual gifts.
Both subjects are examinable, featuring not just projects and assignments, but exams. An approach of this nature that tends to be more personal and introspective also comes with its challenges when adopted within the context of formal school setting. Heaton reports that while the goal is for personal long-term growth and benefits of students, some of them simply go along just to fulfill all righteousness or just to make the grade!
b. Quasi Non-formal/ Informal Approaches
This was the approach adopted at the ECWA Theological Seminary, Jos, Nigeria, in the 1980’s, while I served as the Academic Dean there. The curriculum attempted integration of classroom subjects with a program of field education, small group meetings with faculty, and personal discipleship. The spiritual formation component of the program, as it concerned students preparing for the pastorate, was quasi non-formal/informal. It took place largely out-of-classroom within the contexts of a chaplain/pastor’s study, and a local congregation, and other informal settings to which students accompanied the chaplain. The program hinged very much on the person of the Seminary chaplain, “an older pastor, highly respected among the ECWA churches…providing pastoral care for all students and systematic discipling for students in the pastoral ministries program…(as) an on-campus model for students preparing for pastoral ministry.”
The Seminary had intentionally recruited the chaplain from a prominent and successful pastorate. He was reputed to demonstrate deep spirituality, as a man of prayer, integrity, and one who maintained a clear Christian witness in private and public life. The idea was for him to serve as a model on-site, in a situation where local church and school met in such a unique arrangement. The pastor/chaplain would take on three or four students at a time, for a period of 3 months, in an apprenticeship of observation. In the process he opened them to his prayer life, personal life, and ministry; he invited them to observe elders’ meetings, and they assisted him with pastoral duties such as preparation of the elements for the communion service, etc.
This approach is probably more informal than non-formal. The exposure of the students to a model, within the context of learning and worshipping community, provided a mentoring relationship between the pastor/chaplain and learners. The proximity of the classroom with practice of the Christian life and ministry had the potential to enable learners reflect on practice vis-à-vis classroom learning in a more holistic way. This is yet another approach to spiritual formation, but one which attempts integration of heads, heart and hands.
5. Toward a Curriculum for Ministerial Training as Holistic Formation
If theological education extends to the whole people of faith, as I have argued, and if it is best accomplished by means of reflection-action, there should be different levels of those means.
A. The Tripartite Levels of Training
Three vital levels are discernible when ministerial training is conceptualized in terms of an inverted pyramid. However, this pyramid is designed to convey quantitative rather than qualitative difference. It is for that reason that the pyramid is inverted, to symbolize the Christian ideal of servant-hood required of those who serve as leaders. Equally important is the realization that there are any number of cadres within a level.
i. The Grassroots Level.
This is the broadest end of the inverted pyramid because this is where most members of the community of faith are. Whereas the level itself is broad-based, there might be different cadres represented. These are those who need basic nurturing in the faith; others are at a higher degree of Christian maturity and are able to assume greater responsibilities. Some might function in various leadership roles providing nurture and care to some others; and others might be able to function in pastoral and administrative roles. Different forms of training appropriate to each cadre are, therefore, needed.
The education appropriate to each cadre at the grassroots level must be characterized by the practical Christian life, that personal existential knowledge of God motivated by deep love for God. The biblical and theological understanding that this habit of the Christian life produces would have both relational (inner and outer) and ecclesial elements. Both of these correspond to the vital aspect of being or the making of the man or woman of God. This habit provides the common level ground for all cadres, not only at this, but at all three levels of the inverted pyramid, as I will explain shortly.
Following this common core just described, there is the need to provide knowledge and practical skill acquisition appropriate for each cadre. For example, the cadre needing nurture in the faith will require basic knowledge in Bible, Christian doctrines, and a level of knowledge of church history. In addition to this knowledge base, various practical skills would be taught. Some of these may relate to worship and liturgy—personal and corporate, how to testify as a witness to the faith, including area of the Christian's conduct in society. The last example could conceivably involve the relational aspect of the practical Christian life, and rightly so. This then goes to show how that habit could permeate the other areas dealing with pure knowledge (or information) and practical hands-on skills, for a holistic or integrated approach.
It will be realized that the curriculum for theological education at the grassroots level as suggested here is, insignificant ways, similar to that found in the formal school setting. The similarity is in terms of the broad areas of the divisions of the course of studies, so that most things in the school curriculum may conceivably be covered at the grassroots level.
Vital to the promotion of grassroots theological education is the leadership of the church—both lay and professional. This leadership must be so trained as to facilitate at the grassroots level an education that is similar to what this leadership itself has received. That is, education that promotes development of both inner and outer life; the ability to engage in the dialectic of action-reflection; education that empowers believers within life situations and to respond to those same situations. That way, believers at the grassroots won't have to sit back as mere observers in the church or remain aloof to situations in society. In the same manner, there should be in evidence greater initiative at the grassroots level to respond to situations and needs—spiritual, social, material—within the church and the larger society.
Only pedagogy of leadership training that moves from mere telling others to facilitation, as catalysts of the massive potentials at the grassroots level, can bring about the sort of transformation here envisaged. However, what is proposed here for the grassroots is not the "extension" of school into the local church, or the transfer of the schooling approach to local church setting. Rather, this is theological education in, for and by the local church.
The church leadership must, however, serve as catalyst and facilitator of the whole process. The part played by the school in equipping this sort of leadership is discussed next under the middle level of the inverted pyramid. The context of training at the grassroots level is already within real life setting. That context must be fully employed through a combination of the formal, non-formal and informal modes. Believers must be trained in action-reflection as they respond to situations-in-life. The part the church could play in facilitating holistic theological education with the school will also be mentioned when treating education at the middle or professional level.
ii. The Middle (Professional) Level.
This is the level that historically has catered for training of the professional clergy. However, since William R. Harper's earlier call, seminaries have tried to cater for the training of other Christian workers and not just those training to be preachers. The school has traditionally been the locus of training at this level. The school should serve a double function: first as a place for the movement of the mind toward God, "that place where the church exercises its intellectual love for God" (Niebuhr); second it should serve as a center that provides service for the church's other activities, such as bringing criticism to bear on those activities. Only a church-school linkage could make this a reality.
The first function has to do primarily with the practical Christian life, while the second has to do primarily with reflection. It is, however, too well known that the school's strength traditionally lies more with reflection than with practice, as theory-practice dichotomy has for long plagued the school. It is, however, in that tendency to separate action from reflection that the theory-practice dichotomy promotes both the loss of the practical Christian life and the dispersion of the field in theological education.
There is yet another important function of the school: as that center through which the church retains access to its intellectual heritage. The school has functioned as a center that has kept alive that intellectual heritage. In so doing, the potential for an authentic Christian renewal remains. But part of that intellectual heritage has been to regard the school, that center which has also functioned primarily to train the church's leadership, as purely a center for reflection. Accordingly, much of the traditional curriculum, as represented by the four-fold divisions, has concentrated purely on reflection, even in the so-called "practical disciplines." This is the usual way seminary professors have been trained, and that is how they, in turn, train their students.
No doubt the context of school training is artificial in its form vis-à-vis practical Christian life. It is little wonder, then, that so long as theological education majors primarily on reflection, the practical life of faith remains elusive in the curriculum, even sometimes intimidating. My argument is that theological education, in its essence, requires not just reflection or just action. In fact, there probably is no pure reflection or pure action, because, engaging in the one the other may actually might the other inevitable. The critical issue, therefore, is whether both are consciously and intentionally directed toward appropriate ends.
For example, the practical Christian life and the practical skills of ministry should both be guided by informed reflection. In the same manner, reflection should be balanced at every level with informed action. To concentrate only on reflection, especially in a field that is so practical to life is fraught with dangers. The paralysis of analysis only is too well known!
In addition, trying to offer reflection only, even with the understanding that action will be followed at a later time by action (perhaps when the individual graduates and enters into ministry) creates an unwarranted artificiality. It is imperative that school training break out of any such artificiality in the formation process. This is because action-reflection actually functions best when it is seen and utilized as a dialectic.
Crucial to training at the middle level, then, is the need to train the professional cadre as facilitators at the grassroots level. To these two vital points I now direct attention.
Training at the middle level is both strategic and pivotal. Those trained at this level must be able to facilitate in the faith community a level of biblical and theological understanding necessary for the faith life and for the role and functions of the church in the world. This is one reason why those who are trained at this level must themselves know at first-hand what they are called upon to facilitate in others. The requirement, however, strictly does not have to do with just knowledge and information. It has to do vitally with experiential knowledge of the Christian life and existence, so does it have to do with skills required for ministry. This again underscores why training only within the four walls of the classroom cannot be adequate. To this end, the call was made at the close of the 19th century for "theological clinics."
iii. The Specialist/Technical Level.
The apex of the inverted pyramid concerns those who function in technical and specialist areas, a very tiny proportion of the community of faith. This group possesses skills in carrying out high level pure research. The community of faith requires at this level, those who can uncover the past, delve into areas that require specialist skills in linguistics, historiography, archaeology, etc. These individuals deal with "the mode of understanding that attends the life of inquiry and scholarship," described in the Middle-Ages as "the doctors of the church."
The direction of the four-fold pattern within the modern university and in advanced seminary studies has focused on training specialists. Requiring middle level professional training for ministry primarily to take the same direction is, in my view, largely responsible for the prevailing discord between the school's theory and the church's practice.
Certain crucial questions arise with the acknowledgement of this specialist and technical level of training. What level, for instance, must those intending to go into specialist training achieve? Obviously, the answer is the middle level! If so, is the kind of training proposed for professionals at the middle level likely to prepare one for entering into specialist training thereafter? Can the middle level cater both for those who are intending to enter pastoral ministry and for those seeking a scholarly career? Should specialist training be engaged in isolation of the development of the practical Christian life? Should the erudite Christian scholar be excused from the need to develop and to cultivate the inner and outer life, or be aloof to the ecclesial dimension of the Christian life in the course of duty? These are all critically important questions, which I will try to answer briefly.
While specialist concern is about "self conscious inquiry under scholarly and scientific requirements" (Farley), for such specialist concern to be genuinely Christian in character, it must be carried on at the same time as the scholar personally develops in his/her Christian life and in his/her personal relationship to God. Just as the Christian professional, in the name of objectivity, may not function as such without also getting personally involved in the life he or she professes to others, the Christian specialist may not, in the name of scholarly detachment, claim to be functioning as a Christian specialist without also personally being captivated in the quest for truth. Thus, the Christian scholar may not separate theologia, that knowledge which attends faith in its concrete existence, from piety. It was because of this separation that theologia got lost from theological education and from theology. Its recovery is truly about the recovery of the Christian mind in the course of specialist concern. The Christian mind is about the mind of Christ. Professionals at the middle level and technical experts at the apex of the inverted pyramid, together share with all the people of God at the grassroots level the challenge to strive constantly to be connected vitally to the Vine, even Christ.
While training at the professional level should not primarily be geared to specialist interest, training in action-reflection should, at the same time, help to cultivate the Christian mind as well as the discipline basic to the life of inquiry and scholarship. It should also be realized that only very few of those trained at the middle level ever go on into specialist areas. Indeed many who pass through seminaries "may be scholarly, but they can never become scholars." For this reason, it is not justifiable to have a curriculum at the middle level that assumes everyone is training for a technical and specialist career. What tends to be missing at the middle level of training is the dialectic of reflection-action, thus the tendency of most middle-level seminary training to concentrate primarily on reflection.
This same problem exists on a much more heightened degree at the level of specialist interests. A heart for God and a commitment to the renewing of the mind do not come to us naturally, whether as lay believers or as Christian professionals or as Christian scholars. The tendency to shift focus is with all mortals, hence the injunction to be regularly transformed by the renewal of the mind (Rom.12:2). That is a reason for the Pauline injunction, “train yourself to be godly”! This injunction goes to all—believers at the grassroots, professionals, and specialists alike.
The entire training continuum tends to operate under a domino effect: The professional, at the middle level, must first experience the practical Christian life in order to facilitate the same at the grassroots. The specialists, from whose ranks seminary professors are most often formed, must first experience the practical Christian life in order to facilitate the same in their students. Indeed seminary professors reproduce after their kind.
It will therefore be quickly realized that the success of any fundamental proposal about renewal in holistic formation lies in the hands of those who educate men and women in the pivotal middle level. These constitute the "train engineers" who could either cause "derailments" or guide the train to its desired destination. That is why I propose this tripartite approach for theological education. The key in this approach is to have those operating at specialist and professional levels, respectively, purposefully to relate to those in the level below them.
This means that specialist training must not only cater to esoteric knowledge, but must equally take cognizance of what is needful for those in the ranks of specialists who will go on to teach the professional cadres. In the same way, professional training must not only cater to the thrills of results of knowledge through specialist interests, but must also take cognizance of what is needful for those in the ranks of believers at the grassroots.
Assuming, as is often the case, that specialist interests in theological education must be remote to the ordinary Christian life does a great harm to Christian scholarship. Specialist level training will undoubtedly concern esoteric knowledge, which many at the grassroots level may not be concerned about. This, however, is not to suggest that such knowledge has no bearing on the Christian life and existence in the world. Archaeological expertise is needful to uncover the past as it relates to the Christian faith. Language expertise is needed, both to recover and to understand the sacred texts given through the medium of ancient human languages and preserved in variant manuscript forms. Socio-cultural expertise of different kinds is needed to help understand past and present peoples and situations-in-life in order to enhance our understanding of ministry challenges. Any one of these areas of expertise could be both esoteric and relevant to life where the ordinary Christian lives, moves and has his/her being.
B. Suggestions for a Holistic Approach to the Curriculum of Training for Ministry
First, I would recommend the introduction into the curriculum of theological propaedeutics, or introduction to theological studies. This would, at the beginning of the course of studies, give to the student the big picture of the components of training, the core of the training program, and the inter-relationships of the components of training. Such an over-view would reveal the ratio studiorum as well as the ideals espoused in the course of studies. It would set forth the philosophy of theological education and it would describe how the practical Christian life is integrated into the entire course of studies.
Secondly, I would suggest that there must be an ecclesial component in ministerial training. What is the church — what is its nature, its purpose and its tasks? This component would also seek to provide an understanding of the nature of ministry; aspects of various grace gifts in the Body of Christ; how to ascertain the nature of such gifts are in the individual lives of learners; the ministerial offices; and the functional relationships of those offices to one another and to the Triune God.
To be sure, ecclesiology is a component in most expressions of the purely formal mode of theological training, but often, in this mode, ecclesiology is treated in a strictly compartmentalized way that divides the "theoretical" from the "practical". This means that often the supposed "theory" of the church is consigned to the region of dogmatics while the supposed "practice" is reserved for the practical theology division. I am advocating the integration of what things which obviously belong together; broadening the ecclesial component to cover the ministries and its offices; and developing in learners, biblical and theological understanding of ministry and the minister in relation to the Triune God and fellow humans. All of these can and should be packaged into one continuous learning experience within and out of the classroom, in cooperation between teachers and professors in the school and in the faith community. These would all work in concert to provide an ecclesial understanding, both propositionally and in life settings that allow for mentoring, learning by firsthand experience, and observing live models as well.
Thirdly, there must be a relational component in ministry training. The practical Christian life has to do with present existence, character and development of Christian virtues; it has to do vitally with how to relate to God and others, and so forth. This is the area most difficult to present well in the strictly formal mode of training. This is the component which is more easily caught than taught. And, therefore, this is where a combination of the three modes of training should vitally come together.
The relational component of ministerial training would be primarily concerned with individual's inner life and relationship to the Triune God. Emphasis would be placed on at least the following - the discipline of ingesting the Word of God, prayer, meditation, obedience, penitence, the habit of "walking with God" and enjoying Him.
But the relational component of ministerial training must also involve the individual's outer life and his/her relationship to the community of faith and to the world. With respect to the community of faith, the vital areas of how to cultivate reciprocal fellowship, care, love, service, human relations, and so forth, must be part of the core curriculum. With respect to the world at large, theological education must involve understanding of the "mundane" issues of injustice in whatever form it takes in a local setting and globally. It will also involve demonstration of God's love to the dying world; service to the world God so loved; developing human relations skills; understanding issues of inter-faith relationships, and so forth. All of these should be directed toward understanding and exercising of God's love, compassion, and prophetic role of the church in the world.
These relational aspects are sometimes approached purely cognitively and formally. When this happens, teaching and learning begin and end in the classroom and library. But it is far better to approach this relational component holistically both in and out of the classroom. For this to happen successfully, learning must deliberately be contrived in partnership between school and church, and at times with the society at large. In this holistic approach, the role of the teacher extends beyond the traditional school setting. Also, those who function as “teachers” or “facilitators” would include those traditionally so designated in the school context, as well as others within the church setting, and at times even from the larger society. This then would allow for mentoring and apprenticeship of observation, as trainees learn from models in and out of school settings in any of the disciplines of relationships mentioned above.
A pedagogy of theological education that brings the original practical Christian life to the fore in a relational component must ensure that trainees are equipped as facilitators of the practical Christian life and existence within the faith community. The prevalent pedagogy strives to produce those who tell others, whether in teaching, preaching, or in therapeutic sessions. That pedagogy is very weak in producing facilitators who can empower the people of God to attain their potentials— whether in terms of Christian life and walk, or in terms of the work of service, or of doing the ministry. It is little wonder that the prevalent pedagogy is geared toward making the people of God spectators as the minister tells them what they need to know. The recovery of the practical Christian life in ministry education will ensure that learners become facilitators as they first experience the life of Christ, and as they facilitate the same in others within the context of pilgrimage in the world. Training in facilitation of the practical Christian life can truly happen as school, church, and at times society, interface.
Of the three areas suggested, the last two, the ecclesial and the relational, together constitute the practical Christian life. They deal with an understanding of the nature and purpose of the ecclesial community and its relationship to God, self, and humanity. These equally correlate positively with what ultimately matters to the life of the church and its leadership in the course of the Christian life, existence and ministry. How the two components will be arranged in terms of space within the curriculum is not here prescribed, as situations and conditions differ around the world. However, it is vital that the space so created and the configuration of the practical Christian life together with the traditional four-fold divisions, must utilize a combination of the formal, non-formal and informal modes in the process of theological education.
Kelsey identifies the faculty and the traditional ethos of a seminary as the two elements which most often lead resistance to change in theological seminaries. Both of these are vitally inter-connected. School curricula tend to be self-perpetuating and, when needed change is regularly and successfully resisted, curricula eventually "fossilize." Hence, an ideal curriculum by itself cannot overcome the "countervailing power" (Kelsey) of an unresponsive faculty who play a vital role in the making of the "traditional ethos" of a theological school. That "ethos" is the institutional culture that gets transmitted across generations. Kelsey sees in this culture, a mixture of "power relationships, patterns of behavior, and shared attitudes and dispositions."
Kelsey argues that "The faculty's potentialities for change in the educational process are defined by its actuality and not by the ideal possibilities for change sketched by a new curriculum." The totality of that "actuality" involves a delicate balance between the explicit and implicit, as well as the null curricula of a theological school. This balance inevitably rests with the faculty who must be open to change through: in-service training; interfacing with church and society; learning to serve as facilitators in the process of teaching, and teaching the same to their students; and above all, modeling the life of Christ before students.
C. The Implementers of the Curriculum of Studies
Naturally, when issues such as we have explored here are raised, any number of red flags automatically appear and understandably so. Three such are considered here as I conclude.
First, if any proposal for ministerial formation renewal to succeed, consideration must be given to the kind of background training which would-be implementers of the course of studies bring into the school. Those who have been trained strictly along the usual specialist interests tend to lack know-how other than in what they are used to. Renewal that could integrate spirituality in the formation process must, therefore, come through a combination of efforts at self-improvement, as well as in-service (re)training through formal modes and non-formal seminars and workshops arranged for seminary teachers and professors. When those who have been employed as professionals in their own rights, as masters of their areas of discipline, are now asked to integrate habits of the practical Christian life into their specialist areas, they will feel threatened. This calls for patient understanding on the part of those who are advocating renewal.
A second concern, which is related to the first, is that such ministry formation renewal asa has been proposed appears to introduce increasing demands on professional (now in the technical sense) interests. There are grounds for this concern and it would be wrong to dismiss out-of-hand the various expressions of this concern. But the benefits of the kind of renewal being suggested are enormous and the ultimate recipient of those benefits is the church of Jesus Christ on earth. The benefits are clearly worth the cost. However, those who advocate such renewal must take adequate account of this additional cost and must assist in covering that cost. Again, patient understanding as well as appropriate support must characterize renewal advocates.
Thirdly, the proposal appears threatening in several respects. One, it demands that the teacher or the professor practice what he or she teaches or professes and not just practice teaching only! Understandably, telling others is much easier than showing others how to live the practical Christian life. Two, it creates encroachment in the already entrenched four-fold divisions, as space is demanded for the inclusion of the habits of practical Christian life. Three, and on a related note to the previous concern, it requires specialists in the dialectic of action-reflection.
Responding first to the last of these threats, I would suggest that there is already the basis for the discipline of the practical Christian life in the present repertoire of theological knowledge. It should, therefore, not be too difficult to get individuals who will champion its cause in present institutional settings. These champions of the practical Christian life will then need to generate experiential and disciplinary knowledge, as appropriate. What has been suggested as subject matter areas in this presentation is meant to serve only as starting point.
With respect to the matter of encroachment, I recognize that this is inevitable, if renewal is to take place. Without taking something out of the curriculum, it will probably be impossible to introduce the new elements that have been suggested. But the whole exercise of exclusion and inclusion should be guided and informed by the desired training outcomes and not by power play or "horse-trading" of subject matter. This, too, will be difficult. But the future of ministerial effectiveness is at stake and the aim of what is being suggested is to infuse the practical Christian life into theological education, thus recovering authentic theologia in the course of studies.
Finally, asking that the teacher or the professor practice what he or she teaches or professes is certainly challenging in a way that even completion of a Ph.D. dissertation is not. This challenge, however, comes ultimately, not from any human being, but from the One in whose service all ministry (including ministerial training) is to be done. Throughout Scripture, all Christians, and especially teachers (see James 3: 1), are commanded to live what they profess. If we who teach future ministers really desire that our students become models of godliness, then that is what we must be before them. And that, without question, will provide the most effective training in ministerial spiritual formation of all!
. Edward Farley, Theologia: The Fragmentation and Unity of Theological Education (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983).
. Richard H. Niebuhr, The Purpose of the Church and its Ministry, (New York: Harper & Row, 1956).
. Richard H. Niebuhr, R. Williams and J. M. Gustafson, The Advancement of Theological Education, (New York: Harper & Brothers, Publishers, 1957).
. Clark W. Gilpin, A Preface to Theology, (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1996), pp. xxi ff.
. In his discussion of spirituality, Robert Roberts places the subject in the framework of the emotive, and rightly so (see Robert C. Roberts, Spirituality and Human Emotion, Grand Rapids, MI.: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co. 1982).
. See Francis Schüssler Fiorenza, “Thinking Theologically about Theological Education,” in Theological Perspectives on Christian Formation: A Reader on Theology and Christian Education, eds. Jeff Astley, Leslie J. Francis and Colin Crowder, (Grand Rapids, MI.: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), pp. 318 - 41.
. Robert Banks, Reenvisioning Theological Education: Exploring a Missional Alternative to Current Models (Grand Rapids, MI.: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1999), p. 135.
. Ted Ward, “The Split-Rail Fence: Analogy for Professional Education,” Extension Seminary 2 (1976).
. For example, Robert Ferris once took issue with William Dyrness, who reserved “theological education” for intellectual functions and used the term “ministry education” to describe what is regarded as the less prestigious task of clergy preparation. See Robert Ferris, “The Role of Theology in Theological Education,” in With an Eye on the Future: Development and Mission in the 21st Century, eds. Duane Elmer and Lois McKinney (Monrovia, CA.: MARC, p. 105). Others reserve the use of “theological education” and “theology” for what is termed clergy education (Farley), or “specialized leadership training” (Wagner), and the use of “Christian education” to mean education of the larger community of faith (Farley) or “edification of the entire body of Christ” (Wagner). See Farley, Op. Cit., p. 134 and Ralph R. Covell and Peter C. Wagner, An Extension Seminary Primer (Pasadena, CA.: William Carey Library, 1971), p. 29.
. I do not hereby imply that spiritual formation should take place only within the context of the local church, for it is realized that even in the context of the theological school, there are ample opportunities for informality which could enhance spirituality in the formation process.
. For examples of the different non-Christian approaches see Cline Erricker and Jane Erricker (eds.) Contemporary Spiritualities: Social and Religious Contexts (London: Continuum, 2001); See also Jacob K. Olupona (ed.), African Spirituality: Forms, Meanings and Expressions, (New York: The Crossroad Publishing Company, 2000).
. Fiorenza, Op Cit., p. 323.
. Ibid, p. 53.
. By ‘discipleship’ I mean the life-long process of following Jesus Christ and becoming like Him (i.e. transformation) as a result; thus the making of a man or woman of God (being) precedes service (doing) and not vice versa.
. James E. Loder, “Transformation in Christian Education,” in Theological Perspectives on Christian Formation, edited by Jeff Astley and Leslie J. Francis (Grand Rapids, Michigan: W. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1996), pp.271 - 83.
. George Lindbeck, “Spiritual Formation and Theological Education,” in Theological Perspectives on Christian Formation, Op. Cit., pp.287, 288.
. Spirituality is first, “fundamental dimensions of the human being;” second, it is the “lived experience which actualizes that dimension;” and third, it is “the academic discipline which studies that experience.” See Sandra M. Schneiders, “Spirituality in the Academy,” in Modern Christian Spirituality: Methodological and Historical Essays, ed. Bradley C. Hanson (Alanta, Georgia: Scholars Press, 1990), p. 17.
. John R. W. Stott, “The Message of Timothy & Titus”, in The BST Series, (Leicester, England: Inter-Varsity Press, 1997), p.117.
. I do not think Stott here implies that this “godliness” is to do simply with the conversion experience; rather conversion is the starting point from which the journey of a lifetime begins. See Loder, who aptly points out that “Spiritual formation involves, but is not the same as, conversion or personal commitment” Op. Cit., p. 287.
. Everett C. Hughes, “Professions,” Daedalus 92 (1963) pp. 655 - 66.
. Joseph C. Hough and John B. Cobb, Christian Identity and Theological Education (Chico, Ca.: Scholars Press, 1985), pp. 81 ff.
. Bernard Barber, “Some Problems in the Sociology of the Professions,” Daedalus 92 (1963), p. 671.
. Hughes, Op. Cit., p. 656.
. David F. Wells, God in the Wasteland: The Reality of Truth in a World of Fading Dreams (Grand Rapids: William B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, 1994), pp. 186 - 213.
. Schneiders, Op. Cit., p. 17.
. A full description of this model may be found in Philip F. Sheldrake, “Teaching Spirituality,” BJTE 12:1 (2001), pp. 53 - 64.
. Ibid., p. 61.
. Ibid., p. 60.
. Ibid., p. 61.
. Ibid., p. 62.
. A full description of this model may be found in Robert Heaton, “Teaching Spirituality from an African Perspective,” JACT 6:2 (December, 2003), pp. 44 - 49.
. Allusion to this model is found in Robert W. Ferris, Renewal in Theological Education: Strategies for Change (Wheaton, Ill.: The Billy Graham Center, 1990), pp. 79 - 89.
. The Seminary chaplain was also pastor of a local congregation meeting on the campus of the Seminary. By a special arrangement, the congregation and the Seminary shared the same physical facilities for worship.
. Ferris, Op. Cit.,p. 80.
. That is to say, the levels are distinct only in terms of role differentiation and not intended to be in terms of superior-inferior relationships
. See note 16 above.
. William R. Harper, “Shall the Theological Curriculum be Modified, and How?” American Journal of Theology (hereafter AJT), vol.3, 1899, pp. 56 - 59.
. “Practice” here concerns both the practical habits of the new life in Christ as well as practice of ministry skills.
. Hough and Cobb, Op. Cit., p. 17.
. The divisions are Biblical, Theological, Historical and Practical studies.
. See Robert Heaton, “Teaching Spirituality from an African Perspective,” JACT 2 (December, 2003), pp. 44 - 49.
. Harper, Op. Cit., p. 61.
. Farley, Op. Cit., p. 158.
. For an illustration of an attempt to recover spirituality in theology by seeking to bring praxis into systematic theology and drawing spiritual implications of the loci, see Simon Chan, Spiritual Theology: A Systematic Study of the Christian Life (Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 1998. Using historical exemplars, Mark McIntosh addresses the same issues in Mark A. McIntosh, Mystical Theology: The Integirity of Spirituality and Theology (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishers, 1998). See also Kenneth Leech, Experiencing God: Theology as Spirituality (San Francisco, California: Harper & Row Publishers, 1985).
. Harper, Op. Cit., p. 56
. David H. Kelsey, “A Theological Curriculum About and Against the Church,” in Joseph C. Hough and Barbara G. Wheeler, eds., Beyond Clericalism, (Atlanta, GA.: Scholars Press, 1988), p. 39.