June 6, 2016
Over the past three weeks, we have looked closely at affordable and accessible theological education as well as what it means for such an education to be contextual. Today we continue our conversation by exploring the idea of relevancy in theological education by discussing what it means to be integrative and to operate within a developmental paradigm.
Contextual theological education brings with it a unique opportunity for integrative thinking. Integrating theology and ministry practice is a very important skill. Without it, an individual runs the risk of either letting pragmatism rule the day or getting lost in thought with no practical application of knowledge. Relevant theological education enables students to develop practical skills and critical thought while also creating in them the ability to integrate the two in meaningful ways. By connecting education to one’s context, the study and practice of theology immediately becomes an act of integration. Rather than only reading and reflecting on a text, contextual education forces a student to read, reflect, consider how what he or she is learning impacts his or her ministry practice, and to then act accordingly. As one student put it, “Because I am in ministry while pursuing my degree, I am constantly thinking, ‘how does what I am learning impact my ministry today, and what am I going to do differently now that I am thinking in this new way?’”
The other type of integration that naturally occurs when theological education is made relevant through contextualization is cross-disciplinary integration. In addition to learning the various theological and ministerial disciplines, students are required to integrate the various disciplines at the beginning of their degrees. By integrating the various disciplines, a student’s ability to think theologically about the way he or she practices ministry is enhanced dramatically. From the beginning of a degree program, he or she must think about the ways in which the various disciplines inform one another, thereby enriching the educational process and the student’s knowledge, character, and competency.
Finally, as one could probably deduce by reading this post, relevant theological education operates within a developmental paradigm. In addition to capturing snapshots of a student’s knowledge, character, and competency through “point-in-time” assignments, this model of theological education also encourages the ongoing development of students. Students are encouraged to have mentors who challenge and edify them throughout their time in the program. Faculty help students uncover gifts and abilities that could be brought to light through deeper exploration. In this model, getting a passing grade is not the point. Instead, assignments serve as stepping stones to the fulfillment of high-level educational and formational outcomes.
Of course, affordable, accessible, and relevant theological education is meaningless if it loses its firm foundation in scripture or the transformational essence of the process that has been in place for hundreds of years. Join us next week as we look at what we believe it means for theological education to be faithful.