Theological education in North America particularly, but also across the EuroAmerican West more generally, is undergoing sea changes. This review attends to some of the developments, focusing specifically on four recent books published by Wipf and Stock.1 Consideration of these volumes will help document historic trajectories in the field and spotlight charted venues into relatively new territory in this latter part of the second decade of the twenty-first century. We will begin with the latter and work toward the former, for reasons that will become clear at the end of this essay.
Proleptic Pedagogy: Theological Education Anticipating the Future is a collection of articles by faculty members at St. Paul School of Theology, the main campus of which is in Kansas City, Missouri, with a second site about 350 miles away in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma.2 The introduction (written by editor Nancy Howell, a process feminist theologian) and seven essays were supported from 2007-2010 by a grant from the Wabash Center for Teaching and Learning in Theology and Religion: “Proleptic Pedagogy: Teaching from the Future to Distance, Disability, and Race.” The three elements in the grant subtitle are evidenced throughout the book, in some cases serving as the foci for individual chapters. For instance, there are essays devoted solely to technology and to race, although there is no chapter only on disability. The latter is addressed in multiple places, albeit mostly in passing. Yet, intriguingly, the pedagogical theme woven throughout the book in many ways addresses the diversity of teaching styles needed to engage the many learning impairments in theological education.3
It is this pedagogical – or better, andragogical (related to teaching adults instead of children) – motif that provides coherence to the book and structures its parts. Each of the chapters begins with a classroom story (in this book, “classroom” refers to both traditional brick-and-mortar and online environments), discloses the pedagogical challenges in the current era, engages the scholarly literature in teaching and learning, sketches a theology of teaching as an initial response, and concludes with some practical proposals for theological educators. The faculty inevitably build on their existing research interests and scholarly expertise so that the basic argumentation plays out in chapters that explore the contributions offered by contemplative and mindfulness practice, deploy hip-hop as an educational device, inquire into how experiential education can be recalibrated in the present milieu, etc. Each of these topics has been increasingly pronounced in the pedagogical and andragogical literature, but is innovatively inflected here through the perspective of theological education.
The goal of each individual essay and of the book as a whole is to conceive again a theological education that does not just accommodate people with disabilities or attend to racial and ethnic diversity, but that is reconstituted from the ground up in ways that are always and already diversified, whether in traditional classrooms or via online platforms. The wager of the contributors is that both approaches “anticipate the future” (the book’s subtitle) even as they effectively reconfigure and transform theological education in the present (hence, the “prolepsis” referenced in the main title). For theological educators who are also sensing the need to update their repertoires in order to educate diverse students more effectively, including those who bring diversity related to disability and impairment, Proleptic Pedagogy will be a helpful springboard. Of course, the book’s success will lead eventually to its marginalization. Although their details may not be presently identifiable, the challenges of the future will require fresh conceptualization and consideration as we move forward.
Christian Education and the Emerging Church: Postmodern Faith Formation is a monograph by a minister with the Uniting Church in Australia who is also a lecturer in apologetics and evangelism at Trinity College Queensland (a Uniting Church school, albeit one located in the more Reformed and Evangelical segment than the more historically “liberal” denomination).4 To my knowledge, this is Sargeant’s first book, but its contribution to the literature on Christian education is important for those working in theological education. If the latter is exemplified by Proleptic Pedagogy, generated as it was by seminary faculty, then the former is oriented around the tasks of Christian discipleship in the Church – precisely the engagement intended by Sargeant’s book. While church education and seminary education will and should continue to run along parallel lines, not only does the latter build on the
Sargeant is neither writing against nor undermining so-called theological education. However, her own argument, which orients Christian formation around the corporate worship of God, links Christian discipleship and transformation to the Church’s liturgical practices. More and more theological educators are recognizing that their work cannot be accomplished apart from the Church, and in that sense, Sargeant’s proposals are just as relevant for what is happening in these tertiary educational
It is precisely in this postmodern context that the intellectual life is interwoven with the ecclesial, the spiritual, the behavioral, and the practical. Christian education is not merely cognitive, but rather forged through transformative action. Although some North American Evangelicals may be suspicious of the so-called “emerging church” featured in Sargeant’s book title, the fortunes of these “emergents” Down Under (in Australia, specifically) – especially as played out within and among the Uniting Churches – are not quite identical with those of their counterparts across the Pacific and north of the Equator. What is true in both realms is that those in “emerging churches” are convinced that we have been relocated from a modern (Enlightenment) to a postmodern time and space, and in that respect, the nature of what it means to be the Church will also manifest and be expressed differently. Yet Christian Education and the Emerging Church, while attentive to postmodern shifts, represents a valiant effort to draw out the potency of the Gospel as unleashed in the worship of twenty-first century Christians for the purposes of empowering Christian learning, formation, and, ultimately, faithfulness.
The Eastern Front of the Western World
A Future and a Hope: Mission, Theological Education, and the Transformation of Post-Soviet Society takes us from Oceania to the “other side” of the West: the Soviet and post-Soviet world.6 More specifically – as both authors are affiliated with the Evangelically oriented Donetsk Christian University on the far-Eastern border of
The political ferment, however, unfolds amid a deeply religious matrix. Post-Soviet Ukraine might also be characterized as post-Christendom, if only in the sense that Orthodoxy in this country has been disestablished in principle even if not in reality coming out of the break-up of the Soviet Union. Yet, of course, to say that there is no longer an Orthodox hegemony in Ukraine is not to say that its peoples are now non-Orthodox, and certainly not to deny that Slavic cultures remain formed and shaped by the Orthodox presence over the past millennium and more. Nevertheless, it is within a context of Christian (read: Protestant) pluralization that Searle and Cherenkov envision and are working toward a more Evangelical Ukraine, not one that involves proselytism of the Orthodox faithful toward Baptist or Pentecostal churches (although such is happening), but rather one that draws Ukrainians into a deeper Christian and even Orthodox faith in the contemporary Ukrainian milieu.8
Against this backdrop, then, the central idea of A Future and a Hope is “a church without walls,” meaning first and foremost the people of God who are engaged with the task of witness and mission amidst the sociopolitical and economic challenges that constitute this Ukrainian moment. Theological training institutions are not limited to buildings; their work does not occur in such spaces. Rather, theological education in the post-Soviet context cannot but be missional, committed to prophetically heralding the coming reign of God, and inspiring a faithful social imagination that seeks to be contextually relevant and effectively engaged in society. Various models are promoted, including “The Christian Seminar” that sought to connect Christian faith, post-Communist developments in the former Soviet Union, emerging consumerist trends, and globalization dynamics. Put alternatively, Christian theological education on this Eastern front of the Western world in the present situation cannot but exist fully in line with the Lausanne Covenant’s holistic missiological vision to encourage and empower students to participate in the missio Dei for the Church’s witness in the public square. The point, then, is that theological education that does not inspire and engender social transformation fails to bear effective Christian witness in Ukraine. Christian witness is the task and hope that Searle and Cherenkov invite theological educators – within and beyond Ukraine – to uphold and perform.
Women and Theological Education
The Role of Female Seminaries on the Road to Social Justice for Women tells two interrelated stories, as suggested by the title, but does so according to a different and temporal register.9 If the other volumes in this review essay have ranged far and wide across the contemporary Western
Note, though, that “seminary” in this volume does not refer to graduate studies in ministry as it does in today’s parlance. Instead, when qualified as “female” and understood in a North American context up to two hundred years removed from our present, it refers to the range of secondary schools, and later colleges, where women were formally educated above the primary level. Te “road to social justice” signaled by Welch and Ruelas is central to book’s narrative: how schools were started, against the resistance of cultural conventions that assigned women’s place to the domestic sphere; how curriculum were developed, first to certify domestic labor, but later to expand the horizons of female learning; how women were trained for teaching, first of other women in such “female seminaries” and gradually in co-educational environments, etc. Our authors spend time charting also the origins and development of African American “seminaries” and of Native American women’s educational organizations, institutions, and schools. The story of the emergence of female study and learning detailed here is thereby significantly one of the quest for social justice for women and of the hurdles that needed to be overcome, especially during the mid- to late-nineteenth century.
If we presume that The Role of Female Seminaries would merely tickle our historical curiosity, we need to think again, given the anti-intellectualism, patriarchy, and androcentrism that characterize much of Evangelical and conservative Protestant efforts in theological education, even in the third millennium. These exist not only in the Majority World (although it is unquestionably widespread across the Global South); the anti-intellectualism that Searle and Cherenkov document along the Eastern
To be sure, a short review essay cannot do justice to the topic at hand, surely not even to any of the four books presented in the preceding paragraphs. Also, although we have heard from vastly disparate contexts – mostly synchronically located, but also with some diachronic perspectives resounding through the pages of Welch and Ruelas’ text – across the Western world, there is both so much more to be said. Moreover, what has been said not only ought to be further qualified, but also can and should be contested, both at the level of empirical adequacy or historical facticity and at the level of conceptual coherence or performative normativity. Although no account is exhaustive or infallible (and this applies not only to historical works like that by Welch and Ruelas, but also to constructive compositions such as the other three books discussed here), we ought to ponder how each of these volumes, separately and then together, can inform the task of Christian education, lower and higher, in the current global context.
Written thereby in a spirit of inquiry, this review essay attempts to situate the proposals before us in their various discursive contexts and highlight how they might be conduits for reflection on theological education, but not only for those working in the Euro-American West. A less demarcated and more holistic account and assessment is definitely due, even if it has to be given elsewhere.13 In the meantime, we should always learn from our past (achievements and struggles) even as we recognize that each of our efforts is undertaken amid various ecclesial (emerging?!) contexts and socio-historical (post-Soviet, for instance) realities, deploys a range of modalities (pedagogical and andragogical), and is directed toward distinct teloi (e.g., social transformation) – all this is true whether in or outside the so-called Western world. Hence, the conversation partners introduced above can be effective interlocutors for the task ahead.
1 Wipf and Stock has emerged as a leading publisher of theological scholarship more generally and on theological education more specifically. In the latter domain, they have not limited themselves to works on the Western hemisphere. One such books
2 Sondra Higgins Matthaei and Nancy R. Howell, eds., Proleptic Pedagogy: Theological Education Anticipating the Future (Eugene, Ore.: Cascade Books, 2014).
3 Those interested can consult Amos Yong, “Beyond Ableism: Disability and the Renewal of Theological Education,” in Myk Habets and Andrew Picard, eds., Theology and the Experience of Disability: Interdisciplinary Perspectives from Voices Down Under (Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2016), 250-63.
4 Wendi Sargeant, Christian Education and the Emerging Church: Postmodern Faith Formation(Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2015).
5 Leading the way in this regard is James K. A. Smith, Desiring the Kingdom: Worship, Worldview, and Cultural Formation (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2009).
6 Joshua T. Searle and Mykhailo N. Cherenkov, A Future and a Hope: Mission, Theological Education, and the Transformation of Post-Soviet Society (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2014).
7 E.g., Joshua T. Searle, The Scarlet Woman and the Red Hand: Evangelical Apocalyptic Belief in the Northern Ireland Troubles (Eugene, Ore.: Pickwick Publications, 2014).
8 For more on the growth of Protestantism, including Baptist, Evangelical, and Pentecostal versions, in this former Soviet region, see Catherine Wanner, Communities of the Converted: Ukrainians and Global Evangelism (Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 2007).
9 Kristen Welch and Abraham Ruelas, The Role of Female Seminaries on the Road to Social Justice for Women (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2015).
10 See Welch, ‘Women with the Good News’: The Rhetorical Heritage of Pentecostal Holiness Women Preachers (Cleveland, Tenn.: CPT Press, 2010) and Deep Roots: Defining the Sacred Through the Voices of Pentecostal Women Preachers (Createspace, 2013); and Ruelas, Women and the Landscape of American Higher Education: Wesleyan Holiness and Pentecostal Founders(Eugene, Ore.: Pickwick Publications, 2010), and No Room for Doubt: The Life and Ministry of Bebe Patten (Laurel, Md.: Seymour Press, 2012).
11 See Searle and Cherenkov, A Future and a Hope, 94-96, for a discussion of the
12 This is true especially for Evangelical theological educators; mainline Protestants have made more progress, e.g., Rebecca S. Chopp, Saving Work: Feminist Practices of Theological Education(Louisville: Westminster John Knox Press, 1995).
13 Those interested can consult, in due course,
Higgins Matthaei, Sondra and Nancy R. Howell, eds. Proleptic Pedagogy: Theological Education Anticipating the Future (Eugene, Ore.: Cascade Books, 2014).
Sargeant, Wendi. Christian Education and the Emerging Church: Postmodern Faith Formation(Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2015).
Searle Joshua T. and Mykhailo N. Cherenkov. A Future and a Hope: Mission, Theological Education, and the Transformation of Post-Soviet Society (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2014).
Welch, Krisen and Abraham Ruelas. The Role of Female Seminaries on the Road to Social Justice for Women (Eugene, Ore.: Wipf & Stock, 2015).