This Fall, Jonathan will begin working towards his PhD at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland. This is the first piece in a larger puzzle:
We want to see a rise in theological analysis and thinking in the Latin American church in both the clergy and the laity. Our vision is to raise both the floor and the ceiling of theological education as a long-term solution to remedial efforts.
“The floor” refers to basic Christian knowledge that a person has before attending Bible school or seminary. Raising the floor of theological education refers to increasing the level of basic teaching and biblical literacy among the laity. This basic teaching may occur in the context of the church through Sunday church service, Sunday school, Bible studies, home discipleship, and mid-week schooling among K-12 students. “The floor” is the starting point for many bible school students. If the ceiling of theological education is to be raised, raising the floor for theology students is a natural start because time spent learning can be re-allocated from certain basics to more advanced concepts.
Seminary education in Latin America focuses on equipping pastors and leaders through formal study of theology, bible study, and preaching. However, a glass ceiling keeps education below a certain level. The cause of this is complex, but three factors contribute significantly: the extent of vision, skills of incoming students, and available resources.
Some visionary what if questions are rarely asked by theological educators. What if students could so master Greek and Hebrew as to be master Biblical exegetes of our time? What if fluency in history and philosophy produces sharp cultural analysis resulting in theology as articulate and practical as CS Lewis? What if historical theology was returned to the Evangelical church in Latin America, anchoring its 2000-year identity and clarifying what the church should stand for in this fracturing world? The church is shifting to the Global South – we cannot afford NOT to ask such questions! It is time to shift ideas of what students can or cannot learn and challenge them to rise above their predecessors.
One common pushback to this visionary thinking is students’ skills entering the academy. Students usually lack reading, writing, and reasoning skills. This naturally hinders learning, and much time is spent trying to shore up these skills during class. There is no question that how a student starts will affect how far they go in a set amount of time. Nevertheless, we must not see this as an unchangeable reality. Instead, we must consider theological education to begin in kindergarten or first grade when a child learns to read their first words. Expanding the scope of what is considered ‘theological education’ to include K-12 makes seminary training a capstone, the final stage of theological integration rather than the beginning of theological education. This certainly expands theological education far beyond the seminary – but such a broadening is critical for seminaries to raise (or eliminate) their glass ceilings.
The final factor is that of available resources. Indeed, financial resources rank high here, but the reality is that hundreds of people study at seminaries every year despite this barrier. The fundamental lack of resources has to do with the lack of written and human resources. The lack of written resources reflects the fact that many cultures in the global South are more oral than literary. And yet, Christians are anciently known as ‘people of the book.’ Great literary works are preserved from the Old and New Testaments to the writings of Asian, African, and Middle Eastern church fathers throughout the centuries. A literary culture of some level has always followed the proclamation of the Gospel, and it must be lovingly cultivated among young people. Library culture has never found the same home in the global South as in North America.
The problem is exacerbated in the seminary. Published Spanish resources lag far behind English ones, with almost total reliance on translated works because there is very little production of scholarship, textbooks, or academic theological works in Latin America. Even those available cannot be found on a centralized website like Amazon. Shipping costs and import taxes make these resources even more inaccessible. Unsurprisingly, this lack of resources holds students back. In the history of the world, never has it been more economical to produce print material. Thankfully, this factor is perhaps the easiest one to overcome, practically speaking. But unless the visionary and skill level factors are addressed, this challenge will remain dormant.
Much is being done towards theological education in the global South, but most of it is what could be considered ‘remedial,’ mainly that which takes place among men and women who have been raised in the church yet come into adulthood with low Biblical literacy. These remedial efforts are essential because many currently pastoring churches have little to no theological background whatsoever! These efforts address such immediate needs in the church. However, if we are to end this cycle of remedial education, a long-term and comprehensive solution must be attempted. This is our vision to work towards a solution, which we plan to accomplish in five phases.
Phase 1: Earn PhD
Phase 2: Teach at Seminary and find students who adopt this vision
Phase 3 Start publishing
Phase 4 Start first Classical Christian School
Phase 5 Scale school model to further neighbhorhoods