Is theological education essential? After all, Jesus’ disciples were uneducated, weren’t they? We are familiar with these questions and know there aren’t simple answers? However, a global survey on Theological Education (2011–2013) may help put things in perspective. Eighty-six per cent of all respondents in this survey indicated that theological education is “most important” for the future of world Christianity and the mission of the church. It was asked in the survey: “What do the churches in your region expect from theological institutions and programmes”. To which ninety-three per cent responded that theological educators should “prepare men and women for church ministry”. The second-most selected response was, “developing skills for communicating the Gospel” (72%); the third-most selected points were: “spiritual formation” and “increasing Biblical knowledge” (both 70%).
Further, in several hundreds of narrative responses, it was mentioned over and over that the global church expects theological institutions to groom their students in vision, integrity, collaboration, relevance to the local community and needs for ministry, innovation, and faithfulness. So, how does theological education help us?
First, theological education helps us to move beyond our ‘Sunday experiences’ to live Scripture. Although experience has always been an important part of our faith, we cannot always feel our way towards knowledge of God. The Scripture speaks about a more certain way to know God. No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known [exegesato] (John 1:18). In Jesus is the exegesis of God. We all know that without theologically trained leaders the health of the church suffers.
Second, theological education articulates design for living. The Bible is not a grab bag of facts about God that we can pull when we need. We often look to the Scripture as our reliable guide without giving enough thought to the difficulties involved in biblical interpretation. Appeals to Bible verses have been used over the years to justify any number of ethical positions such as slavery, caste divisions or subjugation of women. What matters is not just what you believe, but why you believe it and how you do it. Being a disciple is a matter of learning why we believe and bear faithful witness to God in the totality of our life. A thoughtful believer is called for a disciplined life of reflection in conversation with the prophets, apostles, and the theologians whose legacy we have inherited. Theology not only articulates beliefs but suggests design for living.
Third, theological education helps us to discern challenges. It helps build a nation. We can discern challenges and speak of issues like identity, values and communal harmony. Should we not be able to discern the danger when working of the law largely depends upon any ruling government’s morality? How do we sense danger when the interest of the nation is to do away with Section 377 and 497 of Indian Penal Code for a ‘liberal’ and ‘progressive’ interpretation, while issues of justice are downplayed? Such liberal interpretation and open polity is not given to Armed Forces (Special Powers) Act (AFSPA), or the Schedule Castes and Tribes (Prevention of Atrocities) or the Unlawful Activities Prevention Acts (UAPA) or Anti-Conversion law. These freedoms granted to us specifically in the Constitution are being taken away through mischief introduced by the political players.
Theological education is an essential investment in the lives of valuable future leaders. So long as it is dedicated to the church’s ministry and mission, theological education is an enormously significant resource. As you read, reflect on the nature of this issue.
“Although experience has always been an important part of our faith, we cannot always feel our way towards knowledge of God.”