Theological Education Today

Theological Education in America: (1) “The Situation in 1958,” by Charles L. Taylor; (2) “Training for the Parish Ministry,” by Paul W. Hoon; (3) “Training of Teachers of Religion for College and University,” by Robert Michaelsen; (4) “The Cosmos and the Ego,” by Keith Bridston, Religion In Life (Winter, 1958–59), are reviewed by Ned B. Stonehouse, Dean of Faculty, Westminster Theological Seminary.

The significance of the publication of these articles on theological education does not lie, in the first place at any rate, in the novelty of the ideas presented or in the disclosure of earnest concern for the present state of such education on the part of these leaders in the field. Professional concern for theological education has found noteworthy recent expression in the books, The Purpose of the Church and Its Ministry, by H. R. Niebuhr (1956), The Ministry in Historical Perspectives, edited by H. R. Niebuhr and D. D. Williams (1956), and The Advancement of Theological Education, by H. R. Niebuhr, D. D. Williams and J. M. Gustafson (1957). And to a substantial extent the thoughts and perspectives of these articles reflect the ideas and point of view of these volumes. But these articles are significant, as the editors of Religion in Life say in introducing them, because “the interest in theological education is no longer confined to an inner circle. The wider public has come to realize how deeply the future of the whole Christian movement depends on the quality of training of its leadership.”

All four articles are well written, informative, challenging and provocative, and thus fulfill rather well the purpose which the editors had in view. As will be pointed out below, their common viewpoint will not commend itself to every reader. Nevertheless, they contain many admirable features. There is little or no complacency among these writers. Thus Dr. Taylor, Executive Director of the American Association of Theological Schools, calls for “rigorous self-criticism” as the order of the day. And he includes in his analysis of the goals of theological education the following:

“The theological schools must become centers of learning summoning all Christian people to serve the Lord better with all their minds. The faculties of these schools must be thoroughly equipped for their positions and adequately supported in them. The professors must be given

opportunity through writing and speaking to educate not only a group of students but through them and beyond them a whole church. Isolation must be overcome, but proper withdrawal from restless coming and going also provided. Standards must be recognized and goals far beyond these standards constantly kept in view: standards of prior preparation for theological students, standards of faculty load and responsibility, standards for libraries and finances, standards of sabbatical leaves and academic freedom” (p. 10). In similar vein Dr. Hoon says: “It is heartening that one does not find much boasting among the more sensitive theological educators; one finds rather sober, honest, steady-eyed concern” (p. 19).

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Even if we feel called upon to differ from these writers in some basic respects, we should not make this an occasion for vaunting self-congratulation and complacency. Theological education conducted by evangelicals contains no built-in guarantee of the presence and realization of adequate goals and standards. And it must be admitted that our own efforts at self-criticism may be fruitfully stimulated if, from time to time, we receive the benefit of criticism of others.

Among the various aspects of theological education touched upon in these articles, the problem of the curriculum appropriately comes in for its share of attention. There remains continuing concern with such traditional features as biblical studies, church history, and theology, and in many quarters this concern has received new impetus in recent years. But for many a day there has been a strong tendency to multiply courses of a “practical” nature—not only courses in worship, education, counseling, and evangelism, but also many others including religious drama and the ecumenical movement. A widely recognized consequence is that the curriculum has been overloaded, studies in the “classical” fields have been sharply reduced, and a tragic dualism between the “theoretical” and the “practical” disciplines has often resulted. Moreover, there has understandably been a desire to integrate theological education with education in general, and thus the curriculum is often expanded to include courses in psychology, sociology, anthropology, and other studies intended to give the student a comprehensive insight into the world of which he is a part and to which he is called upon to minister. Finally, seminaries find it difficult to restrict their program to the traditional function of training preachers and pastors. Missionaries, chaplains, and especially teachers of Bible and religion in colleges and universities cannot be blamed if they charge that the traditional theological curriculum has not kept their special tasks sufficiently in view. On all sides, therefore, there must be a recognition of the need of adjusting the curriculum to the modern situation. Even in such a seminary as that in which I serve, in which in the interest of maintaining unity of direction the traditional Bible-centered curriculum is still basically maintained, there is constant concern with the question of modification and expansion of the curriculum to meet more fully the needs of the day.

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Questions concerning curriculum and faculty, however urgent and pressing they are, are not the key to the advancement of theological education. For prior to such questions, and indispensable to genuine progress in solving them, is the question of theology itself. Will theological education be actually theological? Will it be God-centered and so discover its basic subject matter in divine revelation? Or will it be essentially concerned with an understanding of human existence from within human experience, and thus be occupied with anthropology rather than theology? Or again will it attempt a synthesis of the gospel and the “modern minds,” the latter being interpreted in terms of the ultimacy and autonomy of man?

The theological issue is not in the foreground in the articles, but it is touched upon. In the main, I regret to say, this issue is not faced in a thoroughly incisive way. From time to time there are echoes of Dr. Niebuhr’s polemic against the idea of “handing down the truth” (The Advancement of Theological Education, p. 136). Thus Dr. Taylor, apparently reflecting an essentially liberal theological point of view, sets up a sharp disjunction between “loyalty to a person” and “conformity to fixed ideas and set codes.” Loyalty to Christ he further describes as finding expression where “the fresh winds of the unbound Spirit are blowing through not a few theological halls” (p. 8).

The essentially liberal slant of these articles is also found in their common insistence that theological education must be ecumenical. Dr. Hoon speaks boldly of “the coming great ecumenical church as providing part of the broader perspectives that are needed” (p. 23). A plaintive note is heard at times to the effect that the ecumenical ideal is threatened by “the resurgence of denominational loyalties.” And the final article by Dr. Bridston treats the ecumenical question in a happily forthright and critical manner. Theological education in both denominational and interdenominational seminaries, he says, “are still largely determined by pre-ecumenical categories” (p. 36). One encounters refreshing frankness as this writer castigates “the fuzzy religiosity which identifies the ecumenical movement with sentimental togetherness, or even with jet-propelled church leaders clutching well-filled brief cases” (p. 40). The true ecumenical ideal, he maintains, is that of wholeness. He expresses the fear that the ecumenical movement “may ‘jell’ prematurely; that it may, reflecting the consolidating and centripetal trend of our age, become a movement of uniformity rather than unity, of conformity rather than cohesive diversity” (p. 44). His plea is for concern with truth rather than primarily with ecumenism, and he calls for a genuine theological encounter among the spokesmen for various theological points of view. This should result eventually in “a new dogmatics.” This frank appraisal is encouraging.

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Dr. Bridston’s eloquent and hard-hitting article is accordingly of exceptional interest and importance for the understanding of the ecumenical approach to theological education. Much of what he says is worthy of more than passing mention and reflection. I find room for only one criticism, but that is a basic one. Truth is indeed a unifying factor; but since men, as individuals and in community are finite, imperfect, and evil, truth may also be a divisive factor in the relationship of men. Church history gives witness of the divisiveness of truth, as comprehended by fallible men. Being greatly concerned for the truth demands that one shall also be greatly opposed to error. In any case, apart from clarity and unity in understanding the Lordship of Jesus Christ as coming to expression in the Holy Scriptures, there can be no theological wholeness and no lasting assurance of advancement in theological education.


Sustaining Grace

The Hour Had Come, by Go Puan Seng (Douma Publications, Grand Rapids, 1958, 228 pp.), is reviewed by Horace L. Fenton, Jr., Associate General Director of Latin America Mission, Inc.

Early in December, 1941, the “Fookien Times,” largest and most widely-circulated Chinese newspaper in the Philippines, carried a banner headline: “One Hundred Japanese Warships Heading for Philippine Waters, Rome Reports.” When the editor of the paper, Go Puan Seng, saw this report, it seemed fantastic to him, too fantastic to be worthy of belief. A few days later the incredible had happened, and Mr. Go, long an outspoken opponent of Japan’s plans for aggression, was himself a fugitive from the advancing Nipponese forces.

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His book tells the story of the long years that followed—of hiding in the jungle, of near-capture on several occasions, of separation from family and friends, and of hardship and suffering almost without limit. But the emphasis here is not on what he endured, but on the sustaining grace and matchless goodness of God to him through this long period.

The author is a converted Buddhist, whose faith in the Son of God was inestimably deepened and strengthened through the long months that he lived like a hunted beast. The story is one of turning again and again to the Word of God in moments of great despair, and of finding just the message for which his needy heart was crying out. His relationship to the Lord was a sweet, intimate one, as in the occasion when, racked by sickness, he collapsed while brushing his teeth: “Dear God, even my knees refuse to support me,” was his simple prayer (p. 134), and somehow, strength came to him in his weakness.

The book is studded with Bible verses and hymns which, to this harassed man and his family, were intensely meaningful. Some of these verses are so familiar that they almost lose their meaning for many believers; not so, however, for these who went through the furnace of affliction. “ ‘What we need is a word from God,’ my wife said calmly. ‘So long as we have a divine promise to cling to, we need not be frightened’ ” (p. 149). For three years, they proved the literal truth of our Saviour’s assurance that man shall live by every word that proceedeth out of the mouth of God.

There is plenty of heroism in this story and an abundance of exciting detail. But the record is above all what the author most wanted it to be—a moving testimony to the faithfulness of God. As such, it should refresh and bless many.


Regional History

The Presbyterian Valley, by William W. McKinney (Davis and Warde, Inc., Pittsburgh, 1958, 639 pp., $3.95), is reviewed by Richard L. James, Minister of Riverside Ave. Christian Church, Jacksonville, Fla.

Here is a regional history of Presbyterianism published by the Presbyterian Historical Society, an auxiliary of the Historical Society of the Presbyterian Church in the U. S. A.

Assisting William W. McKinney with various sections of the book are Dwight W. Guthrie, Edward B. Welsh, Daniel J. Yolton, Walter L. Moser, George F. Swetnam, and Frank D. McCloy.

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The authors trace the development of Presbyterian influence from its beginnings in the vicinity of Pittsburgh and later along the Upper Ohio River Valley. This is “The Presbyterian Valley.”

There are three chronological sections: “The Foundation Years, 1758–1802,” “The Years of Growth, 1802–1870” and “The Years of Fruitage, 1870–1958.” Under the above sections the spread of Presbyterian churches through western Pennsylvania, West Virginia, and Ohio is described. In addition to the formation of churches, the development of auxiliary organizations and equipment is explained. Colleges, women’s groups, theological seminaries, hospitals and libraries have their place in the story presented in this work.

The book was intended to celebrate the 200th anniversary of Presbyterianism in the Upper Ohio Valley, a year (1958) which saw the union of two branches of Presbyterians in the ceremonies at Pittsburgh in May.

While interesting, both in design and style of writing, its value is more for the student of church history than to the general reader. It presents in graphic form the story of a great religious movement in one section of our nation.


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