CBTE: A Philosophy, Not a Model, Part 3

October 22, 2018

Last week we ended our discussion by referencing what I believe to be a guiding principle of CBTE—embracing the complex and organic nature of discipleship as something that brings value to one’s educational and academic journey.

When seminaries began integrating discipleship courses into their curricula, such courses were often included in the “educational ministries” department or discipline. Discipleship was often seen as a process of education wherein students studied what it meant to be a disciple or learned how to teach others the tenets of the faith.

While this is good and is indeed part of the Great Commission (…baptizing and teaching them…), discipleship is so much more than education. It is something that integrates one’s entire way of being.  It is about knowledge, character, and action.  As Scot McKnight says in One.Life: Jesus Call We Follow, followers of Christ must actually follow Christ – which is more than gaining knowledge.

If the organic and complex nature of discipleship is more than simply learning a discrete body of knowledge and it is a foundational principle of CBTE, there are several implications to be considered.  One of those implications is the nature of power in higher education.

In the current forms of education in the United States, power or control of the educational process exists on at least four levels: accreditation, institution, and curriculum, and assessment.  At the accreditation level, power is held by the government and the organizations it empowers to ensure schools are providing education of a certain quality.  Institutions have the power to control what it means or what it looks like to be engaged in an accredited educational journey by defining the price of tuition, barriers to entry, and the general process one must endure to complete a degree.  At the curricular and assessment levels, power is held by the faculty of an institution who “own” the curriculum by defining what content is to be included, how that content is to be delivered, and how students are to be assessed.  Now, I have no doubt overstated or oversimplified these power dynamics and many will want to debate what I just wrote.  My reason for sharing a bit about these four levels is not to have exact clarity around the levels or what exactly happens at each level.  Rather, my hope is that even this oversimplified description points to a reality we need to address – students, those they serve, and the vast resources outside of the “system” of education do not have power.  The only power they have is the power to choose not to engage in the system, which often leads to more disempowerment.

To fully embrace the communal and formational aspects of theological education, we need to address this disparity of power.  I could provide several ideas or examples for how we might do exactly that, but today I want to only focus on two specific changes that might help: distributing sources of input and assessment.  Please join us next week as we take a closer look at both of these areas.

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