Desiring God Int’l tweeted to a blog post rather eye-catchingly entitled “How Lack of Theological Training in the Developing World Weakens Missions”.
This subject line immediately caught my attention. In the post, Matt Perman lists three quotes from JP Moreland’s book, Love God with All Your Mind. Now, I haven’t read Moreland’s book, but these quotes stood out to me!
Moreland gives two examples where evangelical missionaries have been successful in reaching natives with the gospel, but then he recounts the painful abandonment of the nascent leadership to find theological training on the own. Subsequently, they found marxists and liberals with arms open wide. According to the post, Moreland blames the evangelicals for devaluing the mind as a valid medium for Christian worship. I think we could all provide ample examples of evangelical anti-intellectualism, even within our highest levels of formal education. Without having read the book, I think Moreland could have easily addressed the diploma and degree mills of online education as another victimizer of global Christianity as well.
Still, Moreland addresses a key way in which this had adversely affected the spread of the gospel and the impetus for global missions. I would argue that this movement away from theological education has been driven by an overreaction to colonial era missiology, and perhaps by a fundamentalist dedication to dispensationalist eschatology.
What is needed is a return to a healthy emphasis on international theological education. The past two hundred years have rightly taught us the dangers of parochialism and paternalism. Western missionaries cannot simply come as the Lords of Theological Discourse. There is no place at the table for western theological hegemony. However, there is a desperate need for theological training and leadership development from the earliest levels of Christian discipleship up to the development of indigenous faculty. One of the paradoxes of indigeniety is that for native churches to become self-governing, self-propagation, self-theologizing, and self-supporting, those who are in a perceived position of power must mentor, develop, train, and enable native leadership. This requires more involvement, not less! Yes, strategic and intentional mutuality in one’s involvement, but not behind the scenes, hands-off puppeteering, is required.
So, trained theologians, let’s not be content to remain one of hundreds of applicants for a single position here at home. Let’s pack up our books, our training and become missional theologians, serving the churches of the world. Go where you are most needed!
Donors, Western institutions don’t need massive endowments, where your thousands, even millions, may only be a drop in a bucket. Endow global theological education. Help fund new underground seminaries and indigenous pastoral training. (But, do so with no strings attached; we actually still need to avoid creating debilitating dependency.)
Western theological institutions, I believe, also must find better ways of sharing their wealth of knowledge and training with global Christianity. I am thankful that some do this well, and others are moving in the right direction, but there is still room for much growth. We need to be more receptive to international students traveling to the US, especially for advanced degrees.
I am aware of several movements going on underground in closed countries, as well as the activities of various theological institutions in my own denomination, and of ministries like IICS. Still, please feel free to share your thoughts and disagreements in the comments below, but I would also love to hear about ways you have heard this already being done well. Give links to specific institutions, programs, and share any stories.