America’s foreboding future will rouse, if not rudely unleash, monstrous challenges for both the Church and the seminary. I call the future “foreboding” because of the enormous crises that many observers see developing. The future will hurl upon us the technology crisis: the dazzling achievements of science and technology, and the resultant disintegration in spiritual and moral conditions. Overarching this is the economic crisis: America’s commitment to economic growth, and the jarring social and ecological consequences of this growth. Furthermore, America will face the justice crisis: the sizeable social costs of eliminating inequalities, and the even greater costs of continuing them. Moreover, people will begin to clamor for more fulfilling social roles in their work and leisure, but such roles will become more difficult to find; the result will be an alienation crisis. Every level of human experience will be touched by these crises.

Some financial forecasters say that America will not recover from its present economic slump for at least two years. A few claim it may take as long as a decade. If either prophecy proves true, most seminaries will experience serious (for some, ruinous) financial difficulties, even if their enrollment continues to grow. As a consequence, the greatest influence upon the course of seminary education may emanate from the treasurer’s office. Some schools will die; some will merge; a few will cooperate in theological centers. Some seminaries may become “think tanks,” more research oriented, and survive through federal funding. Most, however, will weather the economic storm alone.

In the decades ahead the churches and seminaries will be pressed to evaluate social drifts and tides, to referee the conflicts between technical efficiency and quality of life, authoritarianism and participation, freedom and restriction, equality and disproportion, uniformity of belief/life-style and pluralism/diversity, tradition and change, nationalism and internationalism, and so on. Global, planetary, and even transplanetary problems such as the deterioration of life-support systems, world population and hunger, increasing genetic loads, and national claims upon celestial bodies will draw more deeply into our life patterns.

Unnerving questions will be explored. Shocking proposals will be suggested. Will parents be allowed to produce as many children as they desire in the light of world over-population? More disturbingly, people will begin to question the freedom of parenthood altogether on account of the ever increasing load of defective genes. Will the world’s scarce resources allow the small nuclear family structure to continue unchanged, or will some form of communal living, based upon sharing, be essential for survival? Toward the end of this century, the government may begin to consider regulating family size and taking a more active role in child rearing. Moreover, we may begin to see hints toward “death control,” i.e., killing newborn babies who have serious mental or physical defects. Evangelicals will be exercised by queries and prospects like these. In addition, seminaries will struggle with more specific theological challenges, from neo-evolutionary visions of some “Universal Process” to theologies of human extinction.

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Theological educators will probably introduce students to the tools available for forecasting, designing, shaping, and evaluating Christian hopes for society in general and the Church in particular. Thus Futuristics may become as important as Histories in the curriculum of tomorrow’s seminary. And it will be helpful to determine, in light of current conditions, what parts of the recorded past are important for extended investigation. For instance, in view of America’s unwillingness to face its growth limitations and the disastrous consequences of this as outlined in various studies (the MIT work The Limits of Growth, for one), a review of the life of St. Francis of Assisi might be framed. This austere Christian believed that even to touch money brought spiritual contamination. He continually shared this world’s goods when he chanced upon another who was in need.

The seminary will gradually respond to the crises of technology, injustice, and alienation. Course content probably will not, in the future, be intended simply to over-inform a student about technical details; the aim will be to sculpture a well-informed person who, through the subject matter and the professor, experiences the presence and transforming power of God. For example, Bible professors will begin to cast aside the pronouncements of scholars dazzled by the historical-critical method. As neutral observers, teachers influenced by this approach prattled dispassionately about the Scriptures with but passing reference to its life-stinging power. Walter Wink, in his recent book The Bible in Human Transformation, speaks of “The Great Bankruptcy” in contemporary biblical scholarship, in which theories (“hard” facts) continually scramble uncaptured through the students’ minds. New academic paradigms, set within the affective and spiritual/valuative dimensions of human life (“soft” facts), will thus begin to emerge. The saving nature of the Good News will begin to transect courses that hitherto have been oriented toward a detached descriptive or analytical discussion of ideas and concepts.

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Theological education will also be taught from the perspective of the world’s cockeyed manner of living. An attack upon the sins of self-centeredness and injustice will become more deeply a part of both biblical and general hermeneutics. As a result, courses will be transfused with a thrust toward fostering the moral and spiritual virtues that are found in the whole Gospel of Jesus Christ. The upshot will be that students and faculty members will be challenged to develop a compassionate faith, and then to test alternative styles of community life that emerge from that faith. These new forms of Christian living will exhibit an apologetic and evangelistic impulse. The many “extra-church” groups and organizations will continue to nudge seminaries in this direction.

General educational trends will affect the shape of the teaching-learning process in the seminaries. Theological education will, in all probability, become more field oriented. Experience in the field may even emerge as the center of the whole curriculum. It will concentrate on the actual problems facing people in the world. Students will be encouraged to practice their faith. Learning will then be organized around their experiences.

As a consequence, the conception of “training” for ministry may yield to one of ministry itself. The traditional minister-in-training approach in which the trainee imitated another minister or simply fulfilled specific jobs or operations may be significantly modified. Students will be less likely to link their sense of ministry to such mechanical functions and technical know-how. Their sense of vocational pride will emerge out of their participation in the evaluation and adjustment of the Church’s spiritual direction and institutional priorities. As a by-product, students will not be perceived by their professors and co-ministers as just trainees or apprentices. Rather, they will be seen as colleagues, or even as consultants, in ministry. This status breakdown between professor and student, besides changing the relationship between the two, will affect the “professional” gap that has existed between the roles of the minister and the lay-person as they take part in their common task.

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The implications of practice-oriented education may reach far and deep into future structuring of theological education. The assumption that students ought to telescope their schooling into a three-or four-year block directly after college may change. Education will be seen as a life-long process. This may translate into greater emphasis upon developing various styles of continuing education. Multi-extended campuses and degree and/or certificate programs may proliferate, although learning will be seen as more important than credentials. It is not inconceivable that academic credit will be given for self-learning experiences in which students themselves design, teach, and evaluate their course work.

A problem-solving perspective may, as a result, fray the traditional patterns of dividing subjects into separate disciplines and teaching them in isolated courses. Students will be taught from the assumption that one studies problems by considering the army of data that surrounds them: the interplay of systems, policies, roles, laws, customs, power relations, aesthetics, ideologies, theologies, and psychological and social forces. All these are sprinkled with and organized by differing value sets. A narrow or isolated perspective could cause one to misconstrue the seriousness and complexity of a problem as well as the biblical-theological points that bear on its solution. As teaching becomes more interdisciplinary, professors will need to widen the boundaries of their fields of concentration.

A future course segment may, for example, entail an exegesis of selected passages in Romans 1–8. This might be preceded by an examination of specific paragraphs in works comparable to John Lambert’s The New Prometheans on the one hand and Lewis Yablonsky’s Robopaths on the other. The outlines of the present human condition given in these contrasting works might help to illuminate the general human situation and God’s response as Paul expresses it within the book of Romans. For instance, Romans 1:18 (“the wrath of God”) might be given greater prominence owing to the present spiritually and morally outrageous human condition of “robopa-thology” (the technological sickness of living, according to Yablonsky, a mechanical, compassionless life). Theological considerations would also intersect here, since a stress upon the angry or “outraged” God may return to the fore of future discussions. Students may then be asked to create scenarios that describe new and liberating life forms (following Romans 6:4, “walking in newness of life”). They might then design a church program that would be necessary to prepare people for such a life. Using their communication and organizing skills, the students would prayerfully attempt to implement these hopes in their field ministry.

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The influence of general educational trends may be felt most deeply in the area of teaching methods. Tied to the push for both the integrative and the practical dimensions of seminary education will be the need for new teaching techniques that link the classroom experience with the student’s practical ministry. In a day when raw knowledge will be easily attainable and people will begin to rely even less upon someone else’s unification and interpretation of that knowledge, the lecture method may wane. It will not disappear, however, but will persevere alongside other teaching devices such as the case study, verbatims, simulation gaming, value clarification, team dialogue, action and discussion, and various media techniques.

Other tremors of change will be felt in the seminary environment. The contribution of blacks and women as students, faculty, and administrators will be increasingly felt. The seminary will also become more open about the structuring of course work. Students will be given the time and opportunity to pursue interests that may not be covered within the more formal curriculum framework. Moreover, students will participate more fully in decisions that affect them directly—the hiring of faculty, kinds of course offerings, field opportunities, and general spiritual atmosphere of the seminary.

Because of the practical-ministry orientation of the curriculum and the assumed counter-productive effects of competitive, punitive teaching, there may be great changes in grading and testing. These processes may be replaced by evaluative procedures based upon the student’s total contribution to the educational and ministerial experience.

Faculty members themselves will become more accountable with reference to their approachability and their enrichment of the learning process. It may become common for professors and students to work within an environment structured around continuing mutual feedback. Greater accountability will also float up to the administration and board. Policy-making and budget expenditures will become more open to and influenced by the school’s total constituency. Furthermore, the seminary as a whole will become more responsive to the churches and the community within which it serves.

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The average theological school is likely to be unprepared for the sizzling shock of future realities, needs, and questions. For this reason seminaries will face great temptations. On the one hand, they may be enticed to “capitalize” upon people’s growing sense of alienation and moral apathy by advocating a dehydrated gospel of sentimental self-pity and inner escape. On the other hand, they may be lured to endorse uncritically any social movement that seems to promise ultimate answer to crises. Evangelical seminaries must continually renew their commitment to tradition as well as to vision—more precisely, their commitment to the tradition of vision, the Word of God. Then, whatever emphases and forms these seminaries may acquire, they will embody the Gospel in its redemptive, critical, reconstructive activity within human affairs. They may, with the power of the Holy Spirit, undergo a spiritual metamorphosis comparable to the social transformations that are to come.

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