A new approach that involves training Asians on their own continent is expected to change the face of evangelical theological education in Asia.

In the past, Asian Christians had to travel to North America, Britain, or Germany to earn advanced degrees at evangelical seminaries. After they graduated, many of those students didn’t return to their home countries.

To help stem this theological brain drain, the Asian Theological Association is sponsoring a new seminary that will train Asians in Asia. The Asia Graduate School of Theology will have no full-time faculty, no main campus, and no central library. Yet it plans to offer master’s and doctoral-level programs with academic standards equivalent to those of Western seminaries.

Bong Rin Ro, executive secretary of the Asian Theological Association, is dean of the new school. Ro holds a master of sacred theology degree and a doctor of theology degree from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, Missouri. CHRISTIANITY TODAY asked Sharon Mumper, managing editor of Evangelical Missions Information Service, to interview Ro about the new approach in theological education.

What is unique about the Asia Graduate School of Theology?

It is a cooperative program of 14 theological schools in Japan, the Philippines, Korea, and Indonesia. Students are placed on the campuses they prefer. These schools pool library resources, professors, and facilities within the Asia Graduate School of Theology program. Courses are taught by professors from various theological schools in Asia.

Why is such an approach necessary?

There are more than 900 Bible institutes, colleges, and seminaries in Asia. But there is a tremendous shortage of theological educators at these schools. Asia desperately needs evangelical theologians, and we cannot depend on Western schools to provide them. Nor do we want to send evangelical students to liberal theological schools in Asia.

The Southeast Asian Graduate School of Theology, a liberal seminary, has produced more than 300 theologians. Many of them are now teaching in evangelical schools. Unless there is an evangelical alternative, we may face a situation in Asia similar to that of American and other Western seminaries.

Why is it important to train Asians in Asia?

There are more Chinese theologians in the United States than in all of Asia. But in Taiwan, 500 churches don’t have pastors. Pastors are also desperately needed in Indonesia, India, and other countries. Too many Asians are going to the United States for training and then not returning. There is an 86 percent brain drain from Taiwan, and 90 percent from India.

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Another reason is financial. Educating nationals in their own continent or country is much more economical than sending them to the West. The cost of training a Filipino in the Philippines is about one-fifth the cost of training him in the United States. In Japan or Korea, the expense is one-third or one-fourth the cost of training a student in the West. By educating Asians in Asia, we can exercise better stewardship and provide a more relevant theological education.

How can the Asia Graduate School of Theology provide more relevant theological education?

American schools are dealing with issues coming out of their contexts, which are quite different from our contexts in Asia. For example, evangelical theological schools in the West spend a lot of time trying to defend the inerrancy of Scripture against liberal teachings. In Asia that is not the problem. We believe in the Scriptures. Our problems are in other areas—poverty, communism, suffering, justice, and Asian religions. If we train Asians within Asia, our curriculum can include the courses needed to deal with the issues facing students in these countries.



Helping AIDS Victims

Mother Teresa, founder of the Missionaries of Charity, has opened a hospice in New York City to care for victims of Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS). The 14-bed hospice was set up in the rectory of Saint Veronica’s Church in lower Manhattan.

Late last year, Mother Teresa obtained the release of three New York prison inmates who are suffering from AIDS. The inmates, who were serving sentences for robbery, joined a fourth AIDS victim at the newly opened hospice.

“We are hoping that they will be able to live and die in peace by getting tender love and care, because each one of them is Jesus in a distressing disguise,” Mother Teresa said. The recipient of the 1979 Nobel Peace Prize, Mother Teresa is known for her work in the slums of India.

The Catholic Archdiocese of New York announced plans to open a shelter for AIDS patients last summer on Manhattan’s Upper West Side. But it had to cancel its plans when parishioners objected, AIDS, a terminal disease that attacks the body’s immune system, is found most frequently in homosexual men. So far more than 8,000 people have died from the disease.


Study Condemns Secularism

A recent Brookings Institution study condemns secularism as providing an inadequate foundation for democracy in America. It was the first time the think tank had sponsored a study on religion.

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Through religion, the study says, “human rights are rooted in the moral worth with which a loving Creator has endowed each human soul, and social authority is legitimized by making it answerable to transcendent moral law.”

The study rejects the argument that strict separation of church and state is needed. “A society that excludes religion totally from its public life, that seems to regard religion as something from which public life must be protected, is bound to foster the impression that religion is either irrelevant or harmful,” the study says.

Authored by James Reichley, the three-year study came as a surprise to those accustomed to the Brookings Institution’s liberal bent on social issues. Reichley, a former editor of Fortune magazine, is a member of the Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.).


Another Loss in Court

In an 8-to-7 vote, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit has declined to rehear a case involving a Louisiana law that mandates the teaching of creationism alongside evolution. The ruling sustains the decision of a three-judge federal appeals court panel that last summer ruled the law unconstitutional.

In the more recent decision, the seven dissenting judges wrote a five-page opinion arguing that the law requiring balanced treatment of evolution and creationism is constitutional. The dissenting opinion called the earlier ruling by the three-judge panel erroneous.

That panel in July ruled that “irrespective of whether it is fully supported by scientific evidence, the theory of creation is a religious belief.” The panel said the law is unconstitutional because it violates the First Amendment’s ban against laws “favoring any particular religious belief or doctrine.”

Louisiana Attorney General William J. Guste, Jr., said he intends to appeal the case to the U.S. Supreme Court.


Catholics at Odds with Rome

A CBS News/New York Times poll says most American Catholics hold positions that are at odds with official church doctrine. However, by a majority of six to one, they feel they can disagree with the church hierarchy and still remain good Catholics.

The poll found that 73 percent of American Catholics favor allowing divorced Catholics to remarry; 68 percent favor artificial birth control; 63 percent favor married priests; and 52 percent favor allowing women to become priests. All of those positions are at variance with church doctrine.

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Only 15 percent of American Catholics agree with the church’s opposition to abortion under any circumstance. Among those responding to the survey, 55 percent favor abortion to save the life of the mother and in cases of rape or incest. Twenty-six percent favor legalized abortion as it is now practiced in the United States.

Despite disagreements with Rome on specific issues, most American Catholics have a high opinion of Pope John Paul II. Only 2 percent indicated an unfavorable opinion of the pontiff.


Briefly Noted

Died: Pastor, author, and editor Ralph G. Turnbull, 84, on December 3, in Spring Valley, California. A Presbyterian clergyman, Turnbull wrote or edited 47 books for Baker Book House, including Baker’s Handbook of Practical Theology. He had served as an adjunct professor of preaching at Bethel Theological Seminary’s west campus since 1982.

Kenneth R. Adams, 71, founder of Christian Literature Crusade, on December 18, near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Adams’s organization operates more than 150 Christian bookstores in 40 countries.

Awarded: To John Stott, founder of England’s Institute for Contemporary Christianity, the Templeton United Kingdom Project Award. Given by the American-based Templeton Foundation, the award goes to an individual “inspired by religious and spiritual motives to make a distinct contribution to the well being of the United Kingdom.” A popular author and speaker, Stott is rector emeritus of London’s All Souls Church.

Retiring: Edmund F. Wagner, after more than 18 years as president of the American Bible Society (ABS). He will continue to serve the ABS as president emeritus. Wagner will be succeeded by James Wood, a vice-president in the investment firm of Prescott, Ball, and Turber.

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