4. Theological Education And The Search For Excellence -- By: Harvie M. Conn

Journal: Westminster Theological Journal
Volume: WTJ 41:2 (Spring 1979)
Article: 4. Theological Education And The Search For Excellence
Author: Harvie M. Conn


4. Theological Education And The Search For Excellence

Harvie M. Conn

Increasingly the world Christian community finds itself wrestling with an old goal that needs a new definition—excellence. At the Tambaram meeting of the International Missionary Council in 1938, theological education was described as “the weakest element in the entire enterprise of Christian Missions.” But even then the diagnosis could not be acted on. The language still couched the problem in an outlook that assumed missionaries and not national churches must deal with it. And it left untouched the preconceptions that enter into what might be called “strong” and what might he called “weak.” World War II would hinder further exploration of the theme.

History of the Current Discussions

With the end of the war, the Council was free to undertake the mandate left it at Tambaram, “the preparation of detailed studies of the situation, where these have not already been made, to visit the main centres of theological education, and to work out a policy and programme for the training of the ministry in the younger churches.”1 Several such surveys were carried out and published from 1950 to 1962. And, stimulated by their findings, the Council meeting in Ghana in 1957–1958 established the Theological Education Fund. The Fund went through three Mandate periods until its ministry was terminated in 1977, its concerns to be carried on and strengthened through the formation of the Programme on Theological Education that same year.2

The history of those Mandates forms an excellent historical commentary on the church’s growing sensitivity to the question of “excellence” and the enlarging search for its identity. The First Mandate extending to 1964 “showed a deep concern for better trained and better educated ministry to meet the new day; its undisguised thrust was towards the raising of the Level of scholarship and striving for academic excellence …”3 Major grants in excess of $2,800,000 went to twenty or so schools “which offered the greatest possibility for qualitative growth in the future,” and over $1,000,000 was eventually spent towards the development of school libraries and publishing of theological textbooks. All this mirrored the wide consensus that excellence was to be defined in terms of academic standards, and more specifically the patterns of the western theological institution. “Advance,” the theme of the first Mandate period, was to be defined in terms of “the development of B.D. and postgraduate programmes within ecumenical and, if poss...

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