Nature and Need of Theological Education
Dr. K. G. Jose
Hebrew faith as well as Christian faith greatly enriches Bible learning and teaching. Research proves that there were schools in Israel much earlier than in other parts of the world. The Hebrews developed systematic historical writing when it was not known among the other nations of the world. To the Jews, history is God’s dealing with the people of God; it is a salvation history.
It is also noteworthy that alphabetical writings were developed in Canaan around the thirteenth century BC., the period of Moses and Exodus.
Jeremiah 18:18 comes from the people of Judah 2600 years before our own day: ”… for the law shall not perish from the priest, nor counsel from the wise, nor the word from the prophet….” This passage clearly distinguishes three groups of learned people with specific functions. The priests have a calling to teach the law of the Lord. The wise people are a class of spiritual leaders. The prophets carry the Word of the Lord.
The people who heard Jesus were amazed at His knowledge and teaching. The Apostle Paul was a reader of the literature of his day “ For in him we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also your own poets have said…” (Acts 17:28). “One of themselves, even a prophet of their own, said, The Cretans are always liars, evil beasts, slow bellies” (Titus 1:12). He asks Timothy “Till I come, give attendance to reading, to exhortation, to doctrine” (1 Timothy 4:13).
A systematic teaching of the Word is the primary duty of a Christian minister. Therefore read in the spring season of life, while the mental and moral habits are yet in process of formation. Acquire useful information to improve the mind in knowledge, and the heart in goodness. If any book take you away from the Word of God, consider it a bad book. Do not spend leisure time on useless books. None is our master except the Lord, even in our reading. The aim of reading is to improve our character and knowledge of the Word that prepares to meet our calling.
I The formative period of the Pentecostal churches was a period of revival where the systematic training was not a felt need because the church was a vibrant movement. Now the situation is different where the organizational set up is evident. We need to retain the power and message of the Pentecostal movement in a stabilized context.
There are several areas that are neglected in the Word by other denominational churches that we need to highlight and emphasize. There is a distinctive Pentecostal approach to the study of the Word of God. Our worship, conviction and approach to the Word is unique and uncompromising. The Word is our doctrine and foundation of Christian doctrine and life. We do not have a written creed but the Word. The Word of God came to us not only as doctrines and principles, but mostly as history and biographies.
Therefore the Word is connected to the history of the nation of Israel and the nations around Israel. It makes the study of political history, material history, social history and economic history important. Billions of dollars are spent by European, North American and Middle Eastern nations on the archeological excavations of Syria-Palestine. There are so many archaeological discoveries and interpretations of those discoveries made by so many schools of thought. Some of them are very important to the study of the Word of God.
II There is a unique place for the Holy Ghost in our churches. It is the Pentecostal faith that enlightened the churches on the role of the Holy Spirit in daily life and worship of believers. Our churches arose as a result of revival, and it is our responsibility to sustain the results of revival without changing fundamental convictions. It is a real struggle to fill the gap. Theological institutions must spend more effort in the Word to develop a theology of the Holy Spirit.
III The Word of God has a context in which God speaks His message. Unless the student knows the context of the message, the full meaning will elude him. Knowing the political context of Elijah and Amos makes considerable difference in understanding the message. There is also the context of the preacher’s life situation to which the Word is applied and illustrated. We have a peculiar context and tradition in India. Each state has its peculiar language and cultural heritage. History is the mirror of the world. A good student of theology should know the history of our land, its political government and systems and the laws of our nation.
We live in a world that is fast changing before our eyes. The world changes, but the Word of God is changeless. Changes happen to the church and believers in relation to the changing environment. The theologian needs to analyze the changing scene and address the situation on the basis of the Word.
IV There is a “disconnect” between churches and theological institutions. There are theological institutions that are part of the church and also those run by individuals. There needs to be a closer connection, interaction and ownership among them. Churches need to own theological education.
How do we foster collaboration in ministry between churches, theological institutions and mission centers? There needs to develop a context where theologians and church leaders work together as a unit. There is a gap among church leaders who are old and have less theological education than younger theologians. The seminary teacher must keep active person in his church.
V Ministerial formation of students of theology is the most important concern. It is a preparation for warfare. Training is needed in knowing how to face afflictions, struggles, the sword, even death. Even as farmers and fishermen take time to learn their trade, so must we who live and work according to the ways of God. Jesus often left the crowds to focus upon the twelve who alone would bear fruit that would remain. That sacred relationship and its development must continue to take place in our theological institutions.
There needs to be a balance between academic learning and ministerial formation. The institution ought to have a group of teachers that model life along with academics. Character is more important than academics. When there are failures, there must be discipline in the institution, so that the students are not confused. One mistake of the teacher can destroy several ministers eternally, and several churches in their ministry. Handle the teachers as human beings with failures, never hiding them. Leadership should not be timid.
Teachers ought to know the struggles of the students at each level of their growth and train them to overcome the tension between academics and faith commitment. The students ought to be valued and assessed on the basis of stability, ability to make decisions, sound judgment of people and events, self-control, strength of character, sincerity, love, justice, faithfulness, courtesy, modesty and charity. The primary purpose is not to create an academician but a minister with character. Credits should be given for character formation.
Emerson comments, “there is no teaching until the student is brought into the same state or principle in which you are, a transfusion takes place, he is you and you are he, there is teaching, and by no unfriendly chance bad company can he ever quite lose the benefit”.
Teaching is the work of devotion, sacrifice and self-denial. It is imparting the true wealth of eternal light that makes one free from lust and the money oriented life. It is the process of creating a spiritual consciousness to rise up from a selfish, narrow-minded life. The calling to ministry is altogether a different field, that only a different kind of people can engage in. Learning happens in a place away from home, staying together, learning together, thinking together, growing together in a different atmosphere. It must be an enriched environment for formation and transformation. It is a company of enthusiasts who continuously seek the King and the Kingdom, where there is no place for skeptics.
The individual call to become a pastor, teacher, missionary or evangelist must become sharpened during the early years in the institution so that the latter years may be wisely used. It is not mere training in theology but wholistic training. There is training in academics, personality, commitment, models and getting saturated with high biblical ideals that lead to rededication and broadening of vision in the theological institution. A theology for deepening prayer and spiritual life is instilled into the student. How to light the holy fire in the students is the chief concern.
VI There is also a need for continuing theological education for the pastors in the field, to be refreshed, renewed and updated. The changing situations of the field will have a simultaneous impact on the theology of the pastor. The people, culture and values will have impact on the vision and commitment. They can be healthy or unhealthy. It is here that the mentor role helps in the field. A district minister ought to know the situation of each of the pastors and need to encourage and correct them as Paul did to Timothy. The help of a mentor can remove confusion and discouragement which every minister will face.
Apostle Paul tells that the goal is “For the perfecting of saints, for the work of the ministry, for the edifying of the body of Christ, till we all come…unto the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ” Eph 4:12-13. The Lord wants to have greater intimacy with such people. There is a time of personal accountability and that day will reveal whether our ministry is wood, hey, straw or precious gold.
The prayer of Augustine of Hippo is meaningful here, “Eternal God, the light of the minds that know you, the joy of the hearts that love you, and the strength of the wills that serve you: grant us so to know you that we may truly love you, and so to love you that we may fully serve you, whose service is perfect freedom in Jesus Christ our Lord”.