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Reflections on the Theological Educators’ Consultation

This paper by George Capaque is a brief reflection he gave on the discussions and deliberations of the OMF Theological Educators’ Consultation. His reflection toward the end of the consultation stirred us up to ask even more questions about how we can and should do theology in both our local and global settings.

 

Dr. George Capaque is Adjunct Faculty in Theology at Asian Theological Seminary in Manila, Philippines. He formerly served as Dean of Discipleship Training Centre in Singapore.

 

 

 

 

Reflections on the Theological Educators’ Consultation

Mission Round Table Vol. 17 No. 2 (May-Dec 2022): 12-13

To download a PDF of this edition, visit this post on Mission Round Table 17:2.

 

During the two days that we gathered together, we considered questions that were intended to help us “forward our craft … consider[ing] the needs that exist in our present environments, … interact[ing] with practitioners from other organizations, institutes and other countries, … [and] seek[ing] ways to collaborate so that theological education, in all its multiple levels, will develop and the church of Christ throughout the broader region can be equipped for very good work.”[1]

My reflections on our discussions will be in the form of asking more questions and, at the same time, offering more points for reflection.

1. I praise God for this opportunity to gather (despite the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic) and converse with each other face to face regarding how we can best practice theological education in East Asia. We also thank OMF International for initiating and sponsoring this consultation.

2. “Collaboration” and “partnerships” among academies, mission agencies, and churches are crucial concepts that were constantly mentioned in this consultation. The involvement of mission agencies, such as OMF, help us, as theological educators, to keep theology properly focused on God and the mission of God. In the book of Acts, theology developed as the church crossed cultural boundaries in participation with the mission of God. Theology is contextual.[2] It also comes with a missional orientation.

3. What, then, is theology? Is it content (doctrinal orthodoxy), a finished product, a process, or something on the way? Theology is engaging our cultural contexts and historical realities with the revelation of God in Jesus Christ. More than content or a finished product, theology is a process as we continue to engage our contexts. It is on the way. We thus need to be continually “doing” theology.

4. Why are collaboration and partnerships crucial to theological education? Doing theology is a collaborative enterprise. While it is contextual, it is also global. The gospel, though understood and proclaimed in multiple cultural thought forms, is a universal message. Thus, we need to regularly converse/interact/network with others as we face new challenges and changing situations both locally and globally. We are grateful then to OMF for providing this venue.

5. Important questions that we have asked and need to be continually asking are: Whose agenda are we pursuing? Is it the academe’s, the churches’, or the missionaries’/mission agencies’? Who determines the curriculum? Where do we do theological education? In the classroom or on the field? Do we gather people together to come to our seminaries/Bible colleges or do we go where they are? What platform should we use? Online, onsite, hybrid, or what? How do we integrate technology and new media with traditional methods?

Do we focus only in graduate and advanced (tertiary) theological education? What about grassroots theological education? How do we meet the theological and practical needs of emerging organic churches when most of their leaders have not completed formal theological education?

6. What kind of faculty, or, in the case of mission agencies, what kind of missionaries do we need? Over the past two days, we have heard that we need those who have cross-cultural training or experience, cultural sensitivity, and adaptability. We need learners, not just teachers; listeners more than those who merely provide answers. We need people who can provide a safe and hospitable space for others to express themselves, to differ, and to ask questions.

How do we help Christians in general and leaders in particular to think biblically, to develop critical thinking, or what I prefer to call, reflective practitioners?

7. How do we develop theologies that are attuned to our Asian cultural value orientations? That is, how do we do theology that is more holistic than dichotomistic, more relational or personally oriented than task-oriented, more communal than individualistic?[3] How do we produce more stories than statements or propositions? What will theologies that are practical and life-transforming look like in our context(s)? With the advent of the internet and virtual learning, how can we ensure that personal formation takes place? These are challenges that we all must face.[4]

How can we make use of our own cultural resources, such as language or cultural thought forms, in our theological education? Language is culture, we say. Should we use the vernacular in doing theology? More than one of us have stated that if we serve in Asia, we must be trained in Asia.

8. Speaking to foreign missionaries: How much are you aware of your own culture and history, including your own nation’s role in colonization? Do you make the effort to understand the history and culture of the people you’re working with? Are you mindful that your funds may create economic power that can produce inequality in power?

9. Where do we go from here? For one, we can continue this conversation. We can create a network of select representatives from among us that can continue the conversation and plan for the next steps. We should also network with accrediting bodies, such as ATA, ICETE, Increase, Re-Forma, and others, especially in the areas of integrating new technology and virtual learning. We should also ensure that Asian theological educators and missionaries are in the forefront of this effort. Perhaps OMF could add value to theological institutions training Asians to serve in the Asian contexts, especially in the graduate and post-graduate levels, by, among other things, sourcing qualified faculty and seconding them to these institutions. Maybe even help raise scholarship funds to support qualified students. Ultimately, we must keep listening to the Spirit’s movement amongst us and as one of us shared, “trust in the slow work of God.”

 


[1] See Walter McConnell’s article “Theological Education and Mission in Twenty-first Century East Asia” in this issue of Mission Round Table, 4.

[2] Stephen Bevans argues that “there is no such thing as ‘theology’; there is only contextual theology” (italics original). Stephen Bevans, Models of Contextual Theology, revised and expanded (Manila: Logos, 2002), 3.

[3] Lingenfelter and Mayers list twelve patterns of behavior grouped into six pairs of polarities in their value-orientation approach. Sherwood G. Lingenfelter and Marvin K. Mayers, Ministering Cross-Culturally (Grand Rapids: Baker, 1986). The list is reproduced in Bernard Adeney, Strange Virtues (Downers Grove: IVP, 1995), 116.

[4] Writing in 2011, regarding his assessment of the state of theological education in North America, Frederich Schmidt concluded that “as many new creative approaches to education as there might be, a residential model of focused, face-to-face education and formation in the faith is the best means of preparing a generation of thoughtful, faithful servants of the gospel.” Frederich Schmidt, “Is It the Time to Write the Eulogy?: The Future of Seminary Education,” Patheos, 21 March 2011, https://www.patheos.com/resources/additional-resources/2011/03/is-it-time-to-write-the-eulogy-frederick-schmidt-03-21-2011 (accessed 8 November 2022).

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