Implications of Context, Community, & Contingency, pt. 2

September 7, 2020

by David Williams, President, Taylor Seminary

Last week, we began reflecting on the implications of context, community, and contingency.  We had uncovered that doing well (or poorly) in ministry had little connection to doing well (or poorly) in school.  There was a perception that what was being taught wasn’t really what was needed for ministry and that, sometimes, it could even have a detrimental effect in ministry.

A typical response by many schools was to add “practical ministry” courses, “field education” programs, or “internships” to the curriculum. This helped in some ways but created problems in others.  To address lingering problems, faculty eventually even began allowing students to adjust particular course assignments to be better directed toward their ministry needs and context. But the impact was still not enough.  We continued to hear complaints that seminary education was not “relevant” or “applicable” to the ministry needs of the church.

But other complaints arose as well.  Sometimes what was identified as being missing was the positive impact of the education on the student’s personal life.  Students could learn everything being taught in class but it didn’t transform their lives in the way schools thought it should or that our church communities wanted it to. We often heard this complaint as education being too focused on the “head” and not enough of the “heart.”

This was even compounded by students going to seminary and losing the fervor of the faith they had entered with. You have probably heard that old “slip of the tongue” that someone going to school was attending “cemetery.” To address these issues, we began paying attention to the integration of what was being learned in class with the life of the student.  Again, we added things to the curriculum, developed mentoring programs, and intensified efforts on other extra-curricular activities.  Also, we tweaked course assignments to help the course material impact the whole life of the student.  This culminated in what we now call “spiritual formation.”  All of this was done in growing recognition of the fact that education must transform the student’s “way of life” as well as their “way of thinking.”

As good as all these adjustments were they simply did not help enough.  The understanding of knowledge that was driving the academy made “spiritual formation” and “field education” programs “add-ons” to the real “education” which focused on the content delivered in the classroom. In the Kairos Project, we don’t believe that formation nor field education are “add-ons” to the more essential dimension of content. We reject this sort of reductionism and embrace a holistic understanding of knowing which requires all three dimensions.

Beginning next week, we will start a three-week exploration of the fact that knowing is integrative.

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