I wish to argue here briefly that Theological Education is a subject which falls under the broader category of education. Because of this, basic education is a critical component of theological education. Let us first define our terms:
Education is an ordered process for a person to systematically acquire knowledge, understanding, and skills relevant to wisdom and to their context. It is rough, but it will do. Theological Education is an ordered process where a person acquires knowledge, understanding, wisdom, and skill in the Bible, Christian Teaching, Theology, and Skills related to ministry. Another rough definition, but it gets across the point.
My claim is that theological education falls within the sphere of education and is, therefore, greatly affected by disciplines emphasized in primary and secondary education but rarely in theological education. Before I defend this claim, let me address the one I secretly slipped in: “disciplines emphasized in ‘regular’ education are rarely emphasized in theological education.”
Reading, Writing, and Arithmetic – in seminary?
‘General’ education is often categorized by these three, though others could easily be included. Where are these emphasized in the curriculum of schools of theological education? Bible schools offering a BA degree in the US must include them – but ‘must’ is far from ‘emphasized.’ To make my point, I would like to call exhibit A, available to everyone with a search engine: The curriculum core of seminaries and theological majors at bible schools. The uncontroversial fact of the matter is that these are assumed, not taught. It is assumed that one can reason logically (arithmetic), it is assumed that one has an adequate level of reading comprehension (reading), and it is assumed that one can organize their thoughts on paper clearly – to think ‘out loud’ (writing), even though few people may realize that this indeed is what they are doing when they write. No, general education is assumed not taught and hence not emphasized. Do not read any judgment here. Any teacher worth his or her salt will mourn with me for the poor writing of their students or the low levels of discussion due to low reading comprehension – or breakdown of logic. This is simply the state of the matter.
All Theological Education is Education
My claim that ‘all theological education is education’ is one of category: the more specific (theological education) contained in the more general (education). It is akin to saying that all swimming pools are bodies of water. There are commonalities between bodies of water. A swimming pool shares the necessary characteristics needed to belong to the category: 1) it is wet; 2) it has boundaries; 3) its surface is relatively level, even if its floor is not, etc. Consider necessary similarities between education and theological education: 1) logic connects reasoned ideas; 2) learning happens primarily from reading texts; 3) learning also happens through students’ written engagement and reflection with the subject material, etc.
This is why it is important: since all theological education is education, theology students without skills basic to education at large will be handicapped. There are many reasons why this is the case, and without digressing into causes, it is enough to say that improving fundamental skills such as reading, writing, and reasoning directly impacts their theological education. When seen this way, primary and secondary education are not separate or distinct from theological education but a precursor to and – as I will argue elsewhere– an early participant in theological education.
Let me qualify this argument by saying that I do not think these are the only things important for theological education but are among those most necessary for it. A high level of primary/secondary education becomes an essential and strategic piece of leadership training for Christian clergy and lay people. If you want to raise the ceiling of Theological education, addressing the key components of general education is a good place to begin.