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The Biblical Context of Theological Education, Part 1 of 2

September 14, 2015

Some of Sioux Falls Seminary’s faculty and administration have both written and taught lessons related to the topic of theological education, its history, and its biblical foundations.  As we look at the history of theological education, especially in light of the Great Commission, we begin a series through which we will share some of these works.   This week and next, the Rev. Dr. Randy Tschetter, Director of Church and Alumni Relations shares an adaptation of Chapter Two of his doctoral thesis, titled Toward a Biblical View of Theological Education.

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Although there are no specific theological schools or seminaries mentioned in the Bible, that is not to say that formal theological education as it has evolved in today’s world is somehow unbiblical or unnecessary.

The home was one level at which theological education occurred in the Old Testament. Clements describes the importance of individual households within the life of a community and suggests that the individual household was “regarded by the wise as the most essential ‘school’ and place of education.”  Moses instructed families in Israel to “impress” God’s commandments on their children, “talk about them” in the midst of daily routines, “tie them as symbols” on their hands, “bind them on their foreheads,” and to “write them” on the doorframes of their houses and on their gates (Deut. 6: 7 – 9).

M. Daniel Carroll suggests that, “several verses make good sense against a background of schooling experiences and allude to a teacher-student relationship.”   Proverbs 5: 12 – 13 describes an individual who “hated discipline” and would not obey the “teachers” or “instructors.”  Proverbs 22: 17 – 21 is a challenge to listen to the “sayings of the wise” and to “apply your heart to what I teach” “so that you can give sound answers.” The Psalmist (119: 97 – 99) meditates on God’s law until he has “more insight than all my teachers.” “The Sovereign LORD has given me an instructed tongue,” writes the prophet in Isaiah 50: 4.

“The Old Testament as canon,” Carroll writes, “is a largely untapped mine of truth for theological education. It is a tangible reminder that theological education must be intricately connected to all of life so that the people of God might fulfill their calling in the world.”  The following is a brief summary of the nature of theological education in the Old Testament as he defines it:

Theological education began at least as early as the giving of the law at Sinai (Exod. 19ff) and was repeated before the crossing of the Jordan into the Promised Land (Deut. 1:1). The law was given to redeemed people as a “comprehensive framework” for what it meant to “live as the redeemed people of God.” For example, the Torah which deals with a host of issues such as marriage, raising children, dress codes, caring for widows and orphans, administration of justice, and more “was designed to produce a community that would be Yahweh’s instrument to bless the nations of the world.” Those lessons needed to be learned and relearned throughout Israel’s history.

Even a cursory reading of the gospels indicates that much of Jesus’ public ministry was given to teaching. In “Mark’s gospel,” writes Robert Banks, Jesus is described as a teacher in relationship to a congregation in a synagogue (Mark 1: 21), a crowd in the open (Mark 4: 1), a group of outcasts (Mark 2: 13), worshipers in the temple (Mark 8: 31), as well as his closest disciples.”

Tom Houston suggests that the apostles (“the twelve”) were the first individuals to receive any kind of Christian theological education.   Jesus taught “the twelve” how they could or would or should “carry on his work when he was gone.”  The training which Jesus modeled included “teaching” when he was with them and “experience” as he sent them out to preach and heal. “They were to learn that they were not just objects of (Jesus) teaching,” but “they were to become subjects with his teaching in their mouths.” The “critical task of teaching and training people for the work of God’s kingdom in Jesus’ day has not become any less critical today.”

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