We are committed to developing theological education that will effectively train pastors in the greater Phoenix area for the realities they face in equipping God’s people to be a faithful presence in today’s world. We are partnering with Redeemer Seminary, Dallas to offer an accredited M.A. degree in missional theology. [Please note: We are in the process of developing this degree over the next few years and getting ATS approval. We will offer courses each year for credit but await the outcome of the multi-year process before granting the degree.]
Over the last 20 years, many people have raised questions about what theological education could look like if mission was the lens through which the entire process of theological education was viewed? Scholars and pastors such as Harvie Conn, Lesslie Newbigin, and David Bosch have posed this question. We are seeking to discover the answers.
Theological Education in a Missional Key
Today we can read a wide variety of critiques of theological education. Ironically, mission scholars and leaders made many of these critiques four decades ago. At that time the church in the Southern hemisphere was exploding and needed leaders. A great deal of attention was devoted to theological education to equip those leaders. Their cross-cultural experience enabled them to see the deep shaping impact of the Enlightenment on theological education, and to see new ways forward. Among those writing on theological education at this time were Lesslie Newbigin, David Bosch, and Harvie Conn. We believe there is untapped wisdom in their critiques and proposals. Our goal is to explore this missionary tradition for our theological education today.
In the paragraphs that follow we lay out these challenges for theological education today and how we are trying to respond.
Challenges for Traditional Theological Education
- Theological education is often not connected to the local congregation
- Theological education often fails to train pastors with the ability to equip their congregation for their various and scattered callings.
- Theological education are unable to oversee the development of character and devotional practices essential for pastoral leadership
- Theological education traditionally employs a rationalistic pedagogy that reduces education to the transmission of information
- Theological education often fails to develop the competency and skills needed for pastoral ministry
- Theological education utilizes a curriculum that is not connected to the missional nature of the church
Characteristics of Our Theological Education
- Missional curriculum: A curriculum reshaped and reframed by the centrality of mission to the nature of the church. This is not an attempt to start all over again and reject the historical traditions of the various disciplines. Rather we engage the same material and reframe it with a missional lens.
- Connected to the local church: This allows church leadership to be involved in the theological educational process in mentoring, developing competency and skills, nurturing character, and overseeing the development of devotional practices. We do not reject institutions of theological training (seminaries) but want to work with them within the context of the local congregation.
- Pedagogically innovative: We want to combine seminars with top-notch scholars along with communal discussion in cohorts, foster individual research and study skills, employ technology and long-distance learning, and encourage mentoring both by pastors and scholars.
- Academically rigorous: This is not designed to be more practical, less theoretical, or less academically rigorous. We reject that theory-practice distinction.
Theological Logic of a Missional Curriculum
- Central to the biblical story is God’s mission to restore the whole creation and all of human life.
- God’s choice of a people as his covenant partner as a sign and channel of his renewing work implies themissional nature of the church.
- If God’s mission through his people is a central theme of the biblical story this requires a missional hermeneutic to interpret Scripture.
- Theological reflection on Scripture must take account of the central theme of mission, and therefore will bemissional theology that equips the church for its mission—biblical, systematic, historical, congregational theology.
- Since all of the Christian life is a contextualization of the gospel there is a need for a missional analysis of culture.
- Comprehensive vision of mission: The vision of mission that informs this curriculum is a comprehensive one. That is, mission is embodying the gospel of the kingdom in the whole of life, and that includes the public square.
- Five strands of a directing core: The driving core of the education is bound up by the dynamic of gospel, story, mission, cultural analysis, and contextualization that gives direction and shape to the curriculum. That is, the starting point and directing vision is of a gospel of the kingdom that opens up into a story of cosmic history that encounters the religious vision of an equally all-embracing cultural story to shape an equally comprehensive mission of the church.
- Mission-shaped curriculum content: Mission shapes all subjects. That is, we are not just adding more courses on mission or evangelism or gospel and culture, etc. but asking how a missional ecclesiology will radically reshape the whole theological curriculum—biblical studies, systematic theology, church history, and practical theology—to equip the church for its mission
- Cultural studies aspect: We have added a ‘cultural studies’ area. We believe it is important to study areas that are beyond theology to train pastors with a deeper understanding of culture.
- Rejection of a theory-praxis distinction: At the heart of much theological education is a distinction between theoretical subjects (Biblical studies, church history, theology) and practical subjects (practical theology). Often this means rigorous theoretical studies with little relevance to the church and pragmatic how-to courses that lack theological rigor but which supposedly applies the material learned from biblical, theological, and historical studies.