Theological Education
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Theological Education and the Role of Teaching in the 21st Century: 

A  Look at the Asia Pacific Region[1]

by Lee C. Wanak 


 What will theological education look like in the Asia Pacific region during the 21st century? Such a question has a number of facets. What will be the shape of Asian theology? Will it shed the Western middle class paradigms inherited from the missionary era and become distinctively Asian? What will be the nature of theological institutions in the region? Will they remain smaller intimate communities of formation? Will they become virtual centers of learning? Will they follow the university model? What educational philosophies will influence theological education? How will schools balance academic, ministerial and spiritual formation? What new kinds of ministries will require special training? What will be the essential characteristics of the theological teacher? What new patterns of leadership will emerge in the 21st century church and how will theological education prepare those leaders?

As we look at the unimaginable changes of the 20th century, it is recognized that futurist ruminations be seasoned with a degree of humility. Yet some trends are clear. Theological education in the 20th century has been dominated by the West—its theological categories shaped by Greek culture; its educational patterns shaped by the university model; its attitudes influenced by modernity, industrialism, colonialism, and individualism. In the past it’s spirituality was marked by pietism, in the present it bears a faith of affluence and superficial commitment, and as the 20th century comes to a close, the zeal of the Western church is waning.


1. Global Trends


What forces will influence the shape of Asian theological education? Today there are more Christians in the two-thirds world than in the West. Churches among the developing nations are growing as are its theological institutions. Asia claims the largest seminary in the world, Chongshin University in Korea. The Philippines boasts over 300 Bible schools and seminaries. What will theological education look like at the end of the 21st century, when these schools and others yet to be founded begin to dominate the theological scene? How will the Christian faith be recontextualized? To be sure there are some global trends that will have an enduring effect on theological education in the Asia Pacific region.


1.1  General Trends

1.1.1  Pluralistic Society and Global Economy

In increasing measure diverse peoples are living in close vicinity of each other. As Christians become more cosmopolitan they will need to learn to mix evangelization with a ministry of reconciliation and an appreciation for tolerance. Global communications, environmental and biomedical concerns, and market trends will raise a host of ethical and cultural issues. A global economy will stimulate globalism in every area of life. In the global environment the elusive value of contextualized theological education can easily be overshadowed.

1.1.2  Global Language

English has become a global language, and a medium of literature as diverse cultures mix with the West. The dominance of English allows Asians to understand each other but in theological education it has resulted in perpetuating the categories of the West. Asian theological educators will need to increasingly develop their own literature base addressing contextual issues.

1.1.3  Information Age

The West is moving from an industrial economy to a post-industrial information based economy. In the developing world pre-industrial, industrial and post-industrial economies coexist. I recently saw a sign on a nipa hut on a small island that said, ”Email Inside.” Our students will increasingly want to “get connected” and schools of the future will be technology sensitive. John Taylor, Director of Hewlett-Packard Labs in Europe, forecasts that in three years “the Internet will carry 30 times more digital stuff than it does now. Over the next 20 years, everything that has ever been written, composed, performed and painted will have been digitized” (May, 1999, p. 60b). Some of the new technology for information accessibility sounds like something out of Star Wars. Holographic laser technology will be available in the next decade that will be able to store one trillion bytes of data on a crystal the size of a sugar cube (Holo-Storage Takes Shape, 1998). The universal access to information will entirely change how libraries work and the way we do research. We will never learn enough to accommodate the future. More than ever, students will need to learn how to learn, developing self-directed skills for lifelong learning.

1.1.4  Rise of the Pacific Rim

Despite the Asian economic crisis, the Pacific rim is experiencing significant economic growth. Growing prosperity in the region could reduce poverty among the masses or it could lead to the development of an entrepreneurial and professional middle class with relatively little poverty alleviation among the masses. The gospel of the Kingdom will require Christians to address justice issues and inequities in society as its marginalized underside is increasingly viewed as superfluous.

1.1.5  Absolute Poverty

Approximately 30% of the developing world’s population exist on less than the USD1.00/day (in 1985 purchasing power dollars) poverty line (World Bank Poverty Net: Income Poverty). If the share of people living under the poverty line remains at this level, the absolute number of people under the poverty line will continue to increase to 1.8 Billion by 2015 (World Bank Poverty Net: Trends). As we prepare ministers for the 10/40 window where 82% of the poorest of the poor live, we will need to address empowerment and poverty alleviation issues. Theological educators will need to address emancipatory education as an outgrowth of the liberating gospel of Jesus Christ. Students who will minister among the poorest of the poor will need courses on philosophy and theology of ministry among the poor, change agency, community organization and mobilization, project development and administration. Tuition alone will not be adequate for school operations and two-thirds world schools will continue to need outside funding.

1.1.6  Rise in the Level of Education

Globally the average annual increase in enrollment from 1990 to 96 in secondary and tertiary education was 3.2% and 3.5% respectively. In Asia increases for the same period were 3.7% and 5.7% respectively and in Oceania, 8.4% and 11.5% (UNESCO Statistics Yearbook). In the 21st century students will have more education and our curricula and teaching will have to account for a more sophisticated student.

1.1.7  Women

Globally there is a trend toward equalizing gender privileges and roles with a greater percentage of women entering education and the work force (UNESCO Statistics Yearbook). This will challenge traditional views concerning the role of women in the church and theological educators will need to address the implications of a more gender equal society. For some this will be a painful process of reexamining past beliefs and forming new ones.

1.1.8  Urbanization

In the developing world urban growth is typically twice that of the population as a whole. If this pattern continues into the 21st century a 3% annual population growth rate could result in a doubling of the urban population every 11.6 years (Geographical Distribution and Urbanization: Britannica CD, Version 97). By 2015, 16 of the world’s 25 largest cities, all with a population greater than 10 million, will be in Asia (Barrett, p. 49). The transplanted Christianity of the West was forged with a rural orientation. Theological educators of the 21st century, more than ever, will need to think in terms of the city. As cities become increasingly diverse, theological educators will need to consider training in diversity to build tolerance and understanding, without which evangelization will be fruitless. Faculty will need to consider how students are to take their place in the world as citizen-believers without losing their distinctively Christian identity.


1.2  Christian Trends

Whereas the above trends will affect everyone, some global trends relate specifically to Christians.

1.2.1  Persistence of Persecution

The 20th century has been one of the bloodiest in terms of Christian persecution. As Christians focus on the inhospitable lands of the unreached peoples in the 10/40 window, it is reasonable to project an increase in persecution for the 21st century. Although with the demise of communism and the decrease of persecution in Russia, persecution appears to be on the rise in totalitarian lands such as Myanmar and China, and in Muslim and Hindu lands like India, Pakistan, Saudi Arabia and Indonesia. As Christianity gains a greater foothold in Asia, a price will be paid. As Asians increasingly enter unfriendly fields, schools will need to ask if they are adequately preparing students for the challenges and sufferings that lie ahead?

1.2.2  Evangelical Growth.

Globally, the growth rate of evangelicals (about 5.5%) is largely due to conversion as opposed to population growth. Although Islam is the fastest growing religion, it is growing at a lesser rate than the population growth of it’s adherents. Non-evangelical Protestants, however, have a negative growth rate (Johnstone, p. 183). With more evangelicals in Asia than in any other region of the world (Johnstone, p. 486) and having produced more missionaries than any other region, Asia is poised for significant Evangelical expansion (Johnstone, p. 513).

1.2.3  Asian Christianity

According to Jay Gary, president of Celebration 2000, which specializes in turn of the millennium events, ”the statistical mean follower of Christ today is under 20 years old, living in Asia, with a per capita income of less than $600 a year” (Gray). Historically, the center of Christianity moved from Asia to Europe, to the Americas and now is moving back to Asia. Theology and the Christian life viewed through Asian eyes will increasingly shape the nature of the church. As theological education in Asia develops over the next century, it is likely that Asian seminaries will see an increase in the number of Western students seeking to learn from the successes of the Asian church.

1.2.4  Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity

The 20th century has witnessed the emergence of Pentecostal/Charismatic Christianity to 520 million worldwide, “making it the second largest expression of faith within the Christian movement, second only to Roman Catholics” (Gary). Pentecostalism, as the leading mainstream faith, will increasingly take on the mantle of Evangelical leadership in influencing our world for Christ and with its emphasis on essential spirituality may well serve as the key unifying factor in Christendom in the 21st century.


2.  Metamorphoses in Teaching Roles and Styles


Metamorphosis is a profound change from one form to another, a transformation. The 21st century theological educator will have more tools at his disposal than ever before. As more theologically related information is available, Internet search engines will become more important than library card catalogues. The role of teachers and educational institutions will also evolve. Many of the changes discussed below are already well underway.


2.1  Dispenser of Information to Resource Guide

Given the knowledge explosion and diversity of experiences and ministries, the role of dispenser of knowledge is being replaced by the role of guide as students seek answers to academic, ministerial and spiritual life-related questions. The basic question theological educators must ask is, “what knowledge is of the most worth for the 21st century?” Learning how to learn is a more basic knowledge than the specifics of what to learn. Helping students develop skills in seeking and processing information is preparing them for lifelong learning in a world where perspectives change at an ever increasing pace. Teaching students to think creatively and critically, rather than spoon feeding answers is key in preparing 21st century leaders.

2.2  Depositor of Knowledge to Problem Pose

Paulo Freire referred to traditional education as “banking,” making deposits into the heads of students only to make withdrawals at recitation or examination time. The process of writing notes on a blackboard so that students can copy them into their notebooks and memorize them for examination time has little to do with actual learning. The traditional lecture method of teaching is proving to be inadequate for ministerial training and is being supplemented by such methods as internship, simulation, case study, small group discussion, and project development. If we believe that “the unexamined life is not worth living,” then it’s not enough that 21st century students simply learn doctrine. They need to develop basic competencies in doing theology to confront the issues of their day. More than ever, the 21st century theological educator will need to know how to nurture skills of application, analysis, synthesis and evaluation in developing critical thinking in students.

Problem-posing education is emancipatory. It takes seriously “the wounds of history and the resulting present context . . . . It goes beyond filling the head with knowledge or the heart with devotion—it prepares the whole person to summon his world to the rule of the Kingdom” (Wanak, 1993, p. 21). An emancipatory approach develops in students such traits as efficacy (perceived ability to control and regulate one's world), creativity, and conscientization (critical reflection and action), and the skills of problem solving, decision making, human relations, and leadership. Schools that are strong in these qualities tend to emphasize their progressive function in bringing change. Those weak in these qualities tend to maintain a subservient traditionalistic role.

Education involves more than the cognitive domain, it is also affective, involving the shaping of values, attitudes, and emotions. Knowledge without passion, according to Paul, amounts to nothing. The greatest commandment sets the standard for our passions. The task of theological education is to teach love of God and love of neighbor. Problem-posing education requires empathy, understanding issues with both mind and heart. It is not simply an academic exercise but a Spirit-filled identification with God and his people that empowers people to action. The 21st century theological educator will need to guide (rather than indoctrinate) students in shaping their affections, sorting out their values, and acting on their commitments in the power of the Spirit.

2.3  Low Tech to High Tech Teaching Style

Although it is unlikely that classroom education will disappear, increasingly, people are learning through such high tech methodologies as Internet-based courses and classrooms paired by video links with remote instructors. There are two concerns tied to high tech teaching styles. First, two-thirds world students will download materials and courses of the developed world without critically thinking about the preunderstandings and biases of the course developers. Second, schools will not think through the financial and ethical issues of spending money for high tech teaching in the midst of poverty. Yet the high tech revolution steams ahead, costs continue to drop, and the Internet adds more useful information by the day. Assignments can now be “turned in” by email and chat rooms are becoming forums for academic discussion. Teachers are beginning to use presentation programs, such as Power Point, and the computer is being teamed up with projection equipment to visualize lectures and sermons. These more efficient communication systems leave more time available to process ideas in small discussion groups and other work groups. Due to these new methodologies, certain social pressures are bound to arise. To use antiquated methods will reflect negatively both on the teacher and his material. Particularly the “yuppie” types will tend to judge godly wisdom by its high tech packaging. On the positive side, demand for a high tech teaching style will cause some faculty to toss out their 20-year old lecture notes and lesson plans and begin updating and upgrading.

2.4  Local Educator to Global Educator

As people become more mobile and communication becomes easier, diversity issues will take on greater significance. For example, at Asian Theological Seminary, students come from a dozen countries and 100 different organizations and denominations. Asian cities are becoming more cosmopolitan and their rapid rate of growth makes them especially important targets for ministry. The 21st century theological educator must be able to address the diversity of the city and the forces of global communication. Yet he must be able to guide students in thinking contextually regarding the specific target groups of his students.

2.5  Generalist to Specialist to Interdisciplinary Focus

In the early years of a theological school’s history, personnel tend to be generalists with a good deal of flexibility needed to fulfill a host of smaller tasks. As the school grows, it develops programs with specializations in Bible, Theology and Pastoral Studies. Once these areas are secure further specialization often takes place. Programs in Christian Education, Church Music, Missions, Counseling, Urban Ministry and Lay Studies are often added. The greater the specialization, the more the school realizes the need for an interdisciplinary focus that integrates not only the theological disciplines but also a working knowledge of the social sciences. Specialized seminars come into focus addressing questions related to biomedical ethics, ecology, government, poverty alleviation and marketplace issues. Many of the Bible schools and seminaries in the Asia Pacific region are post World War Two institutions in the generalist or specialist stages. In the 21st century these schools will desire to develop an interdisciplinary focus centered around life issues in specific contexts. Faculties will need to expand, often with adjunct specialists, to accommodate the new areas of study.

2.6  Classical Theology to Holistic Theology

In the 1980s I was involved in starting a grassroots Bible school for leadership development among rural lay pastors in Mindanao. We trained them to study their Bibles, to evangelize, to preach, to plant churches, to marry and bury. But something was missing and I didn’t realize what it was for some time. Our theology and teaching had not adequately entered the lives of people, their world views, their fears, the oppressive elements in their lives and their poverty. Ours was a proclamation oriented school that had little to do with sociocultural concerns.

I was dismayed to find “faithful” pastors wearing anting-anting (fetishes). But we had taught no theology of the land or the spirit world or economics or justice or political process or healing that related to their context. As a result, our churches practiced a split-rail Christianity (see Appendix). The upper rail dealt with doctrines addressing eternal affairs and church life. The lower rail dealt with everyday affairs for which the people relied upon animistic and cultural traditions (see Appendix A). We made the spiritual man the churchman, the proclaimer of eternal truths, but he was unequipped to confront earthly matters. We failed to develop a holistic theology and spirituality of word and deed for everyday life that addressed beliefs, practices, values and mores. At least part of this omission is inherited from the West. Examine Erickson’s 1300 page Evangelical Theology. How many pages address poverty? Two. Justice? Three pages on the justice of God. Healing? Only six. Western systematic theology has been structured to emphasize the upper rail at the expense of the lower. It has more to do with classical religious theorizing than developing a contextualized theology for everyday life and action. In the 21st century, Asian theological educators will build upon the shortcomings of their missionary predecessors and theologize in terms of their context. Word and deed will meld together and produce a truly Asian Christianity.

James Plueddemann carries the fence analogy one step further. Just as a fence with only one rail is insufficient, schools fail if they emphasize only one rail or inadequately integrate the two. Not only are both rails needed, but the analogy requires “fence posts” as integration points where theory informs practice and practice informs theory (p. 9). Holistic schools insist upon intentional interaction between theory and practice in course curricula and the program as a whole. Curricula that integrates theory with immersion, counseling, spiritual formation, and life experience will create the needed symbiosis for holism. Holistic faculty respect and interact with each other from their respective disciplines and backgrounds and seek to strengthen their corporate theory and practice.

2.7  Non-Regulation to Accreditation and Credentialing

The 20th century has witnessed growing interest in school regulation. Schools want accreditation both from government bodies and from private accreditation organizations. Relatively few schools have yet to successfully navigate the process. For example, the Philippine Association of Bible and Theological Schools has only accredited about a dozen schools of the over 300 in the country. Both the Association for Theological Education in South East Asia and the Asia Theological Association have less than 100 accredited members listed in their literature. In a number of cases these are the same schools. In the 21st century many of the post World War II schools will seek accreditation. The question remains, however, how will school quality be measured? Accreditation is often biased toward upper rail teaching and structures. Asian schools that emulate their more developed upper rail counterparts in the West will more readily be accredited. Schools addressing lower rail issues emphasizing cultural concerns and contextual ministerial needs will unfortunately have a more difficult time (Youngblood, 1989, p. 5). With the strong emphasis on globalization, accreditation teams and school faculty must be vigilant in strengthening the lower rail emphases in their curriculum and creating effective integration points.

Credentialing is also gaining prominence in Asian theological education. Increasingly, faculty qualifications are coming under scrutiny. Theological schools want their faculty to keep pace with national standards and this naturally shifts the balance between academic, ministerial and spiritual formation, giving greater weight to academic concerns. Accreditation teams and school faculty will need to be vigilant in maintaining balance between these three areas of formation. Individual faculty members will need to keep current and to upgrade their own formal studies.


3.  Nurturing the Gift of Teaching


What are the desirable characteristics of Christian teachers in the 21st century? Addressing this question involves drawing from both biblical and modern scientific perspectives.


3.1  Biblical Perspectives

The Bible tells us a great deal about essential character qualities of Christian teachers and leaders, godliness being the irreducible minimum criteria. Trust me, our students will not remember much of our lectures or sermons, but they will remember our character, attitudes, and sacrifices on their behalf. They will remember the out-of-class time we spend with them, the encouraging things we did and the standards we set for life and ministry. They will remember that we believed in them and committed our energies to the development of their potential. They will remember how we entered their lives, not just their minds.

The Bible not only enlightens us on essential qualities of Christian teachers; it also gives us models of excellence to follow as men of God taught the people of their day. We must remember, however, that the Bible is not a textbook on education. Biblical models of theological educators are contextual, suited for ancient agrarian peoples and should not be applied carte blanche in the modern world. We should certainly be disciplers as was Jesus, the master teacher, but there are few moderns who would insist upon discipleship by traveling in itinerant bands. Read Ezekiel through a teacher’s eyes. Ezekiel was a great prophet who communicated the Word of God, but what church organization would want a teacher who used his methodologies? Would your school hire a teacher who built a model of a city and laid siege to it while lying down 390 days first on his right side and then 390 days on his left (Ezekiel 4)? What seminary board would accept a faculty member like Isaiah, who preached in the buff, or Hosea, who modeled God’s covenant love and message by marrying a prostitute (Hosea 1-3)? As times change, teaching styles need to change.

3.2  Perspectives from the Social Sciences

Pedagogical styles, to be effective, must be in context and up to date. The social sciences as applied to education are of great benefit in the development of pedagogy. Educational psychology does inform us about the developmental nature of people and appropriate assessment procedures. Sociology helps us identify educational needs and contextual concerns. Curriculum theory guides the structuring of learning. Instructional theory guides the teaching process. Instructional technology helps us package instruction for efficient use.

But just as the theological educator cannot adopt, carte blanche, pedagogical methods used in Scripture, he also cannot uncritically adopt educational theory and principles emerging from the social sciences. Some educational approaches contain unbiblical emphases. B.F. Skinner’s behavioral psychology understands man simply in terms of stimulus-response. There is no higher man, no soul, no spiritual dimension. Humanism sees man as the center of all things. There is no lower man, no sin, no absolutes.

3.3  Bridging Text and Context

The task of the theological educator is to bridge the ancient text and the contemporary context, ancient pedagogy and modern approaches to academic, spiritual and ministerial formation. The Holy Spirit is our guide in this process (1 Cor 2:9-16), not only in the relationship of text and context, but also in our personal outworking of being both theologian and educator. The juxtaposition of these two terms, theological and educator, may be an oxymoron for some who feel alienated by the usage of obtuse language and the absence of pedagogical insight in droning theological lectures (as this sentence demonstrates). Yet the Holy Spirit bestows his gifts upon us. It is the Spirit who makes us teachers. It is normative for teachers to possess the gift of teaching and perhaps the associated gifts of wisdom and knowledge. The Spirit is an active participant in our development as teachers, and it is our responsibility to nurture our gifts.

3.4  Developing Pedagogical Skills

How does the teacher of the 21st century nurture the development of his teaching gift? We’ve already discussed the value of godliness, a thorough knowledge of Scripture and theology, and sensitivity to the Spirit’s developmental work in our lives. But excellence as teachers requires an understanding and application of the art and science of pedagogy. Excellence does not happen in a vacuum. We also need the encouragement and evaluative feedback of our students and colleagues. Excellent faculty develop in organizational cultures that are intentional about development. Schools need structures and policies that nurture the pedagogical development of their faculty. What do the social sciences tell us about good pedagogy? A metaanalysis of one thousand studies over fifty years in several countries reveals some enlightening results. This study identifies seven principles of good practice in undergraduate education.

3.4.1  Good Practice Encourages Student-Faculty Contact.

Frequent student-faculty contact in and out of class is the most important factor in student motivation and involvement. Faculty concern helps students get through rough times and keep on working. Knowing a few faculty members well enhances students' intellectual commitment and encourages them to think about their own values and future plans.

3.4.2  Good Practice Encourages Cooperation Among Students.

Learning is enhanced when it is more like a team effort than a solo race. Good learning, like good work, is collaborative and social, not competitive and isolated. Working with others often increases involvement in learning. Sharing one's own ideas and responding to others' reactions improves thinking and deepens understanding.

3.4.3  Good Practice Encourages Active Learning.

Learning is not a spectator sport. Students do not learn much just sitting in classes listening to teachers, memorizing prepackaged assignments, and spitting out answers. They must talk about what they are learning, write about it, relate it to past experiences, and apply it to their daily lives. They must make what they learn part of themselves.

3.4.4  Good Practice Gives Prompt Feedback.

Knowing what you know and don't know focuses learning. Students need appropriate feedback on performance to benefit from courses. In getting started, students need help in assessing existing knowledge and competence. In classes students need frequent opportunities to perform and receive suggestions for improvement. At various points during college and at the end, students need chances to reflect on what they have learned, what they still need to know, and how to assess themselves.

3.4.5  Good Practice Emphasizes Time on Task.

Time plus energy equals learning. There is no substitute for time on task. Learning to use one's time well is critical for students and professionals alike. Students need help in learning effective time management. Allocating realistic amounts of time means effective learning for students and effective teaching for faculty. How an institution defines time expectations for students, faculty, administrators, and other professional staff can establish the basis for high performance for all.

3.4.6  Good Practice Communicates High Expectations.

Expect more and you will get it. High expectations are important for everyone—for the poorly prepared, for those unwilling to exert themselves, and for the bright and well motivated. Expecting students to perform well is a self-fulfilling prophecy when teachers and institutions hold high expectations for themselves and make extra efforts.

3.4.7  Good Practice Respects Diverse Talents and Ways of Learning.

There are many roads to learning. People bring different talents and styles of learning to college. Brilliant students in the seminar room may be all thumbs in the lab or art studio. Students rich in hands-on experience may not do so well in theory. Students need the opportunity to show their talents and learn in ways that work for them. Then they can be pushed to learning in new ways that do not come easily. (Applying the Seven Principles, 1991, p. 99)

These seven principles raise several questions for theological education.

1)       Do students have adequate formative contact with faculty or, because of financial and ministerial pressures, are faculty uninvolved in the    
lives of students?

2)       Are students involved in cooperative learning in courses and extra-curricular activities or are many solo students, uninvolved in the learning

3)       Do we bore our students with unimaginative lectures or are we using discovery/inquiry methods to create active, self-directed learners?

4)       Are we afraid to give feedback either because we fear damaging smooth interpersonal relations or because we don’t want to spoil people
    with praise?

5)       Do we spend adequate time on the teaching-learning process or is a good deal of time lost due to lateness and lack of preparation?

6)       Do we communicate high (but realistic) expectations regarding what students will learn, or do they see the course as an easy mark?

7)       Does our teaching appeal to a variety of learning styles or do we maintain a lecture/test approach to teaching?

 These questions are useful in evaluating the teaching-learning context. They can even serve as the basis for a peer-based in-service evaluation. With the more sophisticated students of the 21st century, schools will need to hone their skills in these seven areas.

 3.5  Learning From Feedback

 Just as the social sciences can inform educational practice, we can also learn from the evaluations of students and fellow teachers. What do Assemblies of God students say about their teachers? Dwayne Turner’s study of Assemblies of God Bible institutes in the Philippines (n = 118) identified four competency related areas students desire their teachers to develop:

     1)       Understanding teaching-learning theory;

2)       Designing instruction including specifying learning objectives, planning learning sequences to achieve the objectives, and syllabus

3)       Teaching methodology; and

4)       Evaluating learning achievement including preparing test items and computing grades (Turner, 1988, p. 141).


In the same study teachers came to essentially the same conclusion as students, voicing “felt weaknesses in their competencies to perform the role tasks related to the teaching function” (Turner, 1988, p. 102). Teachers strongly expressed needs to improve competencies in planning and organizing learning, determining what students need to learn, formulating learning goals and preparing syllabi (p. 90).

Nurturing one’s gift as a theological educator begins with self assessment in relation to character, knowledge of Scripture and theology, spiritual sensitivity, the art and science of pedagogy, and feedback from students and colleagues. Assessment with a view to the 21st century will encourage personal and institutional metamorphosis.


4.  Interventions for the 21st Century Teaching Encounter


Having examined trends affecting Asian theological education, perspectives on nurturing the teaching gift, and metamorphoses in teaching, what structural interventions are useful in preparing theological educators for the 21st century?


4.1  Identify Your Values and Goals

Values and goals are useful tools in coordinating efforts. Make sure every faculty member knows and owns the mission of the school. The International Council of Accrediting Agencies developed a Manifesto on the Renewal of Evangelical Theological Education that established core values and goals theological institutions should seek to attain:

1)       Contextualization

2)       Churchward orientation

3)       Strategic flexibility

4)       Theological grounding

5)       Continuous assessment

6)       Community life

7)       Integrated program

8)       Servant molding

9)       Instructional variety

10)    A Christian mind

11)    Equipping for growth

12)    Cooperation (Youngblood, 1989, pp. 80-87)

 Such values and goals serve as both criteria for evaluation and a basis for developing guiding school documents. Asian Theological Seminary developed statements of its mission, core values and philosophy of education that serve as guiding pedagogical documents. The greater the involvement of stakeholders in developing these statements, the more they will be owned.

 4.2  Evaluate Faculty.

 Help faculty identify their strengths and weaknesses and work through plans for continuous improvement. Create mechanisms for anonymous student evaluation. Tabulate results and comments and ask individual faculty to make plans for their improvement. The dean should meet individually with faculty to facilitate planning and implementation. Evaluations can also be used to identify strengths and weaknesses by department or the faculty as a whole. Trace progress among faculty by comparing current evaluations with those of past years. Schools should have forum that allow students to freely express themselves regarding programs, curricula, requirements and teaching styles. Meritocracy must be sufficiently appreciated in the school environment for evaluation to make significant impact.

 4.3  Develop In-Service Programs.

 In-service faculty development programs are cost effective means of upgrading faculty teaching skills. Peer-based in-service programs utilizing collegial study groups are a way of structuring faculty relationships in order to learn from each other and strive toward the goals they have set (Joyce, 1989, p. 70). It is the collegial bond of shared understandings and common goals that encourages change (p. 71). Peer teaching is particularly useful in such interventions as upgrading teaching and research skills, working through barriers to innovation, sharing new texts and materials, upgrading the curriculum, and developing skills in using computers and the Internet for education.

The success of any in-service program, however, depends on the political will of school leadership. My own research on in-service programs for theological schools in the Philippines indicated that although leadership and faculty saw in-service training as highly desirable, they were ambivalent to commit time and finances for such a program (Wanak, 1992, pp. 192-193). In-service should be part of the school budget and faculty meetings and retreats should be regular venues for development.

Bible and theological schools tend to have a number of novice faculty. In Turner’s study of twelve Philippine Assemblies of God undergraduate schools, 38% of the faculty had less than three years experience (p. 147). In-service programs need to account for the developmental level of individual faculty members. Faculty with less than three years experience are still at the survival level and need special attention and relationships to help them gain competence, instructional flexibility and expertise. At minimum, faculty should have basic skills in application of learning theory, instructional design, teaching methodology and evaluation (Turner, 1988, p. 165). Novice faculty also need orientation to school culture, policies and procedures, mission, values and educational philosophy.

 4.4  Improve Credentials.

 Since faculty credentials are a key issue in accreditation, formal training should be a budgeted intervention for upgrading faculty. Typically instructors should hold at least one degree higher than the level at which they are teaching. Turner’s survey indicated that only 12.5% of faculty had post-baccalaureate degrees. The valuing of further training should be demonstrated in allotting time and finances for faculty development. Sabbaticals for both formal education and professional experience should be incorporated into faculty benefits. Longevity, experience and presence on campus are related to credentialing. Schools that develop long term, full time faculty with appropriate credentials and ministry experience will surely have stronger programs.

 4.5  Develop the School’s Organizational Culture.

 Create a progressive organizational culture that values development and nurtures a qualified, well developed faculty as the very heart of the school. Administrative leaders who view faculty as essential and who utilize a “theory Y” style of management, will tend to trust and respect faculty, have confidence in them and give them freedom to work. They will be democratic in formulating change by seeking ideas and consensus from the faculty. Experimentation and lifelong learning should be valued in the collegial community and built into the policies of the school.

Preparing 21st century students will require schools to be more multi-cultural, urban and global in perspective. Whereas an organizational culture of diversity can be enriching, faculty will need to expand their understanding, attitudes and skills to teach the gospel in a context of greater diversity and yet maintain reflection on contextual issues. Build expertise in this area by providing faculty with diversity enriching ministry experiences.

The school’s organizational culture is the primary tool for spiritual formation. The values expressed in campus life mean more than the theories of the classroom. Intentionality in developing school culture requires faculty reflection on student perceptions of the school—how they are accepted, judged, valued, empowered and nurtured to maturity. How the school culture prepares students spiritually for leadership and fellowship, success and failure, wealth and poverty, praise and persecution, companionship and loneliness are crucial evaluative questions.

4.6  Network with Area Schools.

Area schools would greatly benefit by sharing innovations, resources and faculty and allowing cross-enrollment. Faculty in smaller schools are often assigned to teach in areas outside of their discipline. Many Bible and theological schools would improve the quality of education by entering into mergers and cooperative agreements with other schools. Perhaps an optimum size for Bible and theological schools is at least 500 students. Outside of Korea, there are unfortunately few schools that even approach this size. Larger schools can offer a variety of programs that are tailored to the special needs of students—diversified music programs, adequate libraries with full time librarians, adequately supervised practicum programs, multiple levels and sections of course offerings; specialized course offerings such as, “Theology of Suffering for the Persecuted Church,” specialized student groups, guidance and counseling programs; effective orientation programs for first year students; evening programs; and tutorial and remedial classes—if only schools would work together to combine their individual resources into effective cooperative structures.

4.7  Actively Seek Resources.

Faculty development requires finances and it will be impossible to squeeze these funds from the meager tuition students pay. Schools need to seek funding for the formal education of their faculty. Also accommodating students from among new believers in the 10/40 window will require substantial scholarships. If the 10/40 window is exceedingly poor but the Pacific rim is primed for economic development, it makes sense to create financial links. The partnership of individuals, foundations and churches in funding faculty study programs and scholarships is essential. Although some of the above interventions require only small budgets, they do need time and cannot simply be added on to already busy schedules. In some cases, schools will need additional personnel in order to redistribute work loads if significant in-service and development programs are to be successful.


5.  Conclusion

If the changes over the last century are any indication, the next century will be marked by accelerating change. Moribund forms of theological education will be increasingly marginalized. However, the essence of the Christian faith will always be relevant to a world needing the lordship of Christ. Theological educators who are wise in discerning the difference between form and essence will determine the shape of theological education in the future. Schools that hold firmly to the Christian faith but encourage experimentation and innovation relevant to their context will be the leaders in 21st century theological education.



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Appendix A

Plueddemann’s Upper and Lower Rail Theological Systems*


Upper Rail System

Lower Rail System






Begins with attributes of God

Begins with needs of man

Transcendence of God

Immanence of God

Absolute truth

Contextual truth

Special revelation, Original Scripture

General revelation, Holy Spirit

Orthodox but can neglect needs

Relevant but can be heretical

Historical faith

Doing theology in the present

Religious Style

Logical, organized, expository sermons

Testimonies, topical sermons

Emphasis on Bible

Emphasis on Holy Spirit

Great hymns

Gospel songs, choruses

Order and reason in worship

Mystical, relational, emotional worship

Preaching and teaching

Fellowship and worship

Authors write commentaries

Authors write devotional books

Evangelists emphasize logical steps

Evangelists emphasize testimonies

Educational Theory

Liberal education, develop intellect

Professional education, relevance

Subject centered

Student, society centered

Academic curricula

Behaviorist, social reconstructionist

Unchanging ideas of humanities

Social science to solve problems

Logic, develop mind

Experimentation, study of the world

Rational thinking

Enhance individual, society

Methods-wrestle with ideas

Learn skills, train for profession

Standards of Accreditation

Schools to fit world-class expectations

Schools to fit contextual needs

Universal standards of excellence

Culturally relevant standards of excellence

High faculty academic qualifications

Faculty with practical experience

High entrance exam scores

Students with proven leadership ability

External written examinations

Quality internships


Lee C. WANAK (Ph.D., is a Conservative Baptist missionary from the United States and currently Dean of Asia Graduate School of Theology and Academic Dean of Asian Theological Seminary, Manila, Philippines.

[1] An earlier version of the paper was presented at the Fourth General Assembly of the Asia Pacific Theological Association in Sydney, Australia on Sept 26-Oct 1, 1999. The kind invitation of the organizer is gratefully acknowledged.

* Adapted from: Plueddemann, James E. (1989). The Challenge of Excellence, pp. 2-8. In Youngblood, Robert L., Excellence and Renewal: Goals for the Accreditation of Theological Education. Flemington Markets: Paternoster Press.


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