‘Theological education’ can seem a million miles away from the dynamic world of mission. Yet, rightly understood, mission must include theological education. As the Cape Town Commitment puts it, ‘The mission of the Church on earth is to serve the mission of God, and the mission of theological education is to strengthen and accompany the mission of the Church.’ Theological education is a four-fold task.
1. A biblical task.
Not just because we find examples of people being educated in the pages of the Bible, but because the nature of discipleship and Christian mission necessitates ‘the intellectual struggle to understand what it means to be the recipient of God’s Word in this present world.’1
Theology involves reflection; discipleship requires us to think Christianly about the whole of life. Some years ago Mark Noll wrote The Scandal of the Evangelical Mind. (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1994). ‘The scandal’, according to Noll, ‘is that there is not much of an evangelical mind.’ He goes on to look at when and why Christians have made a great impact on society. He finds that there is always a link between deep Christian life, long-lasting Christian influence, and dedicated Christian thought. Theological education seeks to cultivate dedicated Christian thought and stimulate the Church’s long-term missional influence, both locally and globally.
2. A missional task.
According to Matthew 28:18–20 mission involves bringing people to maturity and building communities of obedient followers of Jesus. As Donald Hagner has noted, the emphasis in the Great Commission is ‘on the arduous task of nurturing into the experience of discipleship, an emphasis that is strengthened and explained by the instruction “teaching them to keep all that I have commanded.”’2
The same emphasis is found in Paul, the great missionary-theologian. For Paul, the goal of his mission was ‘to present every person mature in Christ’ (Col. 1:28). Through a variety of means, Paul sought to establish communities of faith that were biblically mature and missionally engaged. ‘Theological education is part of mission beyond evangelism.’ (Cape Town Commitment).
For OMF, the goal of theological education is to equip East Asian Christians with the tools to think and engage theologically across every area of life and thought in their context and to make Jesus known in a way that makes disciples and strengthens the Church for its mission. The key criterion for assessing the adequacy of theological education (however it is delivered) is to ask how effectively the curriculum serves to advance the mission of the Church.
3. A contextual task.
All theology is contextual. Revelation is God’s objective word to humanity but theology is our human attempt to understand that revelation, formulate its content and cultivate it in our lives and churches. Theological teaching that is not related to the contexts in which people live, is neither biblical nor missional.
In OMF we prioritise learning the language, culture and worldview of the people among whom we serve. Those working in theological education need to understand the history, culture, and socio-political and spiritual climate they teach in, and be able to apply their particular subject to the realities facing their students.
The missionary movement recognises not only the importance for young churches to move intentionally towards self-governance, self-support, and self-propagation, but also that they have the right and responsibility to become self-theologising. Cross-cultural theological educators immersed in their particular contexts are well equipped to facilitate this.
4. A global task.
Mission contributes to the globalising of theology. Until the latter half of the twentieth century, Western expressions of theology dominated the global Christian landscape. Western voices are still loud but things are changing. With the growth of the global Church there are now many more communities of Christians all over the globe reading the Bible, theologising and joining their voices to those in the West. What we want to see is not non-Western but more-than-Western theology. In this way the global body of Christ learns from all its parts and strengthens its witness to the gospel.
The missionary plays a pivotal role as mediator in this task of global theologising. Paul Hiebert describes it well: ‘Missionaries and transnational church leaders from around the world are called on to be mediators in doing global theologising. They must help theologians from different cultures understand one another deeply and become more self-aware of their own cultural perspectives. They are also called to mediate between formal theologies and the lives of ordinary Christians in the churches.’3
The long-term sustaining of evangelical foundations in East Asia requires an ongoing commitment to theological education as part of the unfinished task of mission.
We’re looking for women & men with
- ministry experience
- post-graduate qualifications in theology or missiology
- the gifts to teach and live cross-culturally
- the ability to connect the classroom to the missional realities of the wider context
- a love for the Lord Jesus and a willingness to share their lives with students and serve the local church
1 David Wells, No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993:99–100.
2 Donald Hagnar, Word Biblical Commentary, 33b Matthew 14–28 (Dallas, Texas: Word, 1995), 887.
3 The Missionary as Mediator of Global Theologising in Globalising Theology: Belief and Practice in an Era of World Christianity, eds. Craig Ott & Harold Netland, Grand Rapids: Baker, 2006:307