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The Horizon of Theological Education (Editorial Preface to the Issue)

In keeping with our custom, the Summer–Fall issue of MD features papers presented at the Christian Scholars’ Conference (hosted in June 2021 at Lipscomb University). The journal’s parent organization, The Missio Dei Foundation, convenes the sessions that generate this content. This year, however, the majority of these sessions was dedicated to a forthcoming Festschrift titled Missional Life in Practice and Theory, in honor of Gailyn Van Rheenen, the doyen of missiology among Churches of Christ. Apart from these, one session in particular sets the theme for the present issue. A rich conversation about theological education in the Majority World followed from the articles by S. Twumasi-Ankrah, Daniel Salinas, Melinda (Mindi) Thompson, and C. Leonard Allen. Incidentally, another of the articles in this issue, Joshua Robert Barron’s “Andrew F. Walls: Apostle of World Christianity,” extends the conversation by introducing the life and work of one of the leading lights of Majority World theological education.

The conversation about global theological education is urgent, and I hope that it will be ongoing at the Christian Scholars’ Conference, in MD, and in other venues that might engage with the state of affairs among Churches of Christ and other Stone-Campbell churches globally. Walls and his colleagues and students represent a shift of focus toward theological education among Majority World churches that is now decades old. To say that Churches of Christ are behind the curve is an understatement. The tradition’s radically independent polity has led to not only the lagging development of theological higher learning institutions but a more basic inability to assess the state of affairs in the first place. A great deal of research needs to be undertaken to describe the realities that face theological education among the Majority World churches that, unlike those of the West, are rapidly growing and, by all accounts, in search of more robust ministerial equipping.1

As Twumasi-Ankrah points out, in the African context, schools of preaching and other such programs are the prevailing model of ministerial training among Churches of Christ throughout the Majority World. Opportunities abound for Western colleges and universities (and churches!) to collaborate in the development of higher education that might serve churches in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. Thompson’s article indicates the new possibilities presented by the digital revolution. No doubt, these possibilities hold many implications for scholars and administrators who wish to serve God’s mission globally from their locations in the West. Accordingly, new conversations about what counts as mission and financial support of mission work must ensue.

Salinas’s article, written from the perspective of a leader in evangelical theological education development, highlights a paradigm shift in the conception of the missionary vocation: Western scholars who serve cross-culturally in theological education institutions—missional scholars—are no less missionaries than church planters and development workers. They will be essential front-line personnel in the next era of Christian mission, which has already begun. As God calls young scholars to this work, churches must come alongside them just as they have done for missionaries of generations past, supporting missional scholars and educational institutions alike. This paradigm shift in regard to vocation leads me to reflect on the final contribution to this issue, Matthew Nance’s “The Paradox of Missional Calling,” in a different light. Alongside Salinas’s discussion of “theological partnership,” Nance calls for “cross-cultural mission partnerships between foreign missionaries and local believers” in his Jordanian context. What should missional partnership look like on the horizon of theological education? Undoubtedly, answers to this question will be contextually specific. We must seek them with the same diligence that other contextual questions require.

I conclude by commending the perspective offered in Allen’s article. The deep mutuality of participation in God’s mission means that partnership in theological education presents the best chance for Western institutions of theological higher learning to survive the secularizing forces that beleaguer them. This is not an argument born of the impulse toward self-preservation but a recognition that Western theological education must not make the mistake of assuming that what it has to offer is the only issue. The vibrant faith and life of Majority World churches stand to lead Western schools back to their reason for being: the mission of God. Moreover, “Christians in the South have much to teach Christians in the West, including theology,” writes Allen. There is hope for struggling Western churches in the world-spanning project of mutual teaching and learning, if only we have ears to hear. Participation in God’s mission may yet infuse the theological academy with new life.

Soli Deo gloria.

1 The World Councils of Churches’s “Global Survey on Theological Education 2011–2013” found, “There are not enough theological schools in the region of the world where Christainity is growing rapidly (Africa, Latin America, and parts of Asia),” yet “86% of all respondents indicated that theological education is ‘most important’ for the future of world Christianity and the mission of the church” (“Global Survey on Theological Education 2011–2013: Summary of Main Findings,” WCC 10th Assembly, Busan, October 30–November 8, 2013,, 2, 8; see also Joint Information Service of ETE/WCC & WOCATI, “Challenges and Opportunities in Theological Education in the 21st Century: Pointers for a New International Debate on Theological Education,” Edinburgh 2010 – International Study Group on Theological Education World Study Report 2009, October 2009, Of course, there is no easy way to tell whether the status of or the sentiments about theological education are similar among Churches of Christ, whose institutions are prone to refuse participation in surveys conducted by the World Council of Churches.