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Theological Partnerships

Author: J. Daniel Salinas
Published: Summer–Fall 2021
In:

MD 12.2

Article Type: Conference Article

In order for theological education to fulfill its mission of preparing church and global leaders, partnerships are a must. This paper explores partnerships between institutions in the Global South and scholars in the Global North as a practical strategy to benefit both sides.

Theological Education today is facing two concurrent situations that require our active participation. First, theological education institutions in the Global South (GS) are growing in numbers and opening programs in new places. Second, there is a surplus of graduates with theological and biblical degrees in the Global North (GN) competing for a limited number of openings every year.1 My aim in this paper is to present a proposal that will address both situations in a way that will benefit both sides.

Institutions of theological education in the GS face several challenges, one of them being limited access to qualified faculty. There are several explanations for this. First, most local people with theological or biblical degrees find employment in the GN. For example, only two out of ten Africans studying theology in the GN return to Africa.2 It is hard for the seminaries in the GS to compete with the wages and benefits institutions in the GN offer to faculty. Second, the growing anti-Western sentiment in many countries makes it unpopular for Western scholars to serve in the GS.3 Views of colonization, imperialism, and relationships between North and South are part of the difficult dialogue affecting cooperation and missionary involvement. More specifically in missiology, the talk is about “Americanization” of the gospel and the church. In the words of John Gatu, general secretary of the Presbyterian Church in East Africa: “[Our] present problems can only be solved if all missionaries can be withdrawn…. The churches in the third world must be allowed to find their own identity…the continuation of the present missionary movement is a hindrance to this selfhood.”4 Third, recently most traditional mission agencies have shifted to concentrating their efforts on the “unreached,” leaving theological education to the side. The current trend in many mission agencies is making it more difficult to raise funds for ministries like theological education.

Among the mission agencies still open to supporting theological education in the GS is the one I am affiliated with: United World Mission (UWM). UWM has a specific program, the Theological Education Initiative (TEI), to come alongside institutions in the GS and help them connect with qualified faculty mostly from the GN. To quote John Bernard, president of UWM:

Our Theological Education Initiative (TEI) is built on the assumption that contextualized theological education is critical for the church everywhere, but especially in the global South in the light of the growth of the church over the last 100 years. The enterprise assumes that North American Christians—for a significant portion of our TEI cohort of missional scholars are daughters and sons of the North and the West—still have an appropriate and important role in the world, particularly in the area of leadership formation and theological education. Finally, TEI builds on the assumption that global partnership is an imperative of the global church and that partnerships that strengthen local institutions and leadership are highly strategic as they seek to build local capacity and sustainability. We have deep respect for our brothers and sisters who are serving in churches and institutions around the world. As we seek to roll up our sleeves, come alongside and serve in ways that strengthen the church as it fulfills its identity and pursues its mission.5

I want to highlight some of the concepts John Bernard mentions. First, he underscores the crucial need of “contextualized theological education.” Contextualization is something we in Latin America have been working on for a long time. Even as early as 1929, Mexican professor Gonzalo Baez Camargo invited the emerging evangelical leaders to “latinize” the gospel, to make the message touch the realities of our Latin American people.6 This is a key element in TEI’s approach to theological education: it needs to be contextual, avoiding imperialism and foreign impositions but maintaining an open dialogue among the global Evangelical community. TEI wants to recognize local need, culture, and idiosyncrasy in the process of vetting candidates for faculty in the GS. The time of exporting agendas and programs without any consideration of the indigenous capabilities is over. UWM emphasizes that in the twenty-first century, missionaries must go as learners, collaborators side by side with the local believers, under native leadership and supervision. This marks the end of the idea that the West knows best.

The second concept I want to highlight is partnership. In our globalized world with immediate global access and networks, partnership is a must. Real partnership “strengthens local institutions and leadership” and benefits both sides equally. In this kind of partnership, both voices are heard, no one side receives or gives more than the other, and any side can terminate the partnership anytime. In this kind of partnership, there is a high degree of collaboration between the partners. There is no room for paternalism, or simply considering one side better than the other. This is a Christian partnership between two sides that are committed to the values of the kingdom of God, a partnership that brings glory to God and serves the church. As a North American professor teaching in the GS said, “I have learned so much and benefited most by coming to serve in this country. I have learned so much more than was possible had I stayed in my country.”

Finally, Bernard states that theological education has as its ultimate goal to serve “in ways that strengthen the church as it fulfills its identity and pursues its mission.” The church is the primary beneficiary of theological education. History teaches us that institutions that started within the church and later became estranged from their ecclesial roots lose relevance and even their Christian identity. We must be aware of the danger of turning theological education into an exclusively academic exercise that loses contact with its bases and severs its connection with the church. Academic excellence and pursuits are laudable only when they are put to the building up of the people of God.

These three concepts—contextualization, partnership, and church—are in the DNA of TEI and the partnerships we pursue. As TEI’s director, David Baer says:

At the Theological Education Initiative, we seek adroitly to place missional scholars on the faculties of select partnered theological communities. Anchored in partnership by this placement of highly trained personnel, we then scan for opportunities to enhance faculties as they pursue in concert the particular vocation of their theological community. None of this is simple. None of this is easy. We seek to break cycles of mediocrity in teaching and research. We strive to interrupt damaging patterns of poor vocational alignment that load missional scholars with burdens which break down their capacity to pursue the calling God has woven into their lives over long years of discernment and preparation. This is our calling, no higher or better than anyone else’s, but ours. This is our insertion point in the missio Dei.

To conclude in answer to the two situations above—difficult access to qualified faculty by theological institutions in the GS, and the surplus of graduates in theology and related fields in the GN— we as TEI provide a platform where both sides meet and find solutions to their dovetailing needs. We have seen that this is possible and produces excellent outcomes.

J. Daniel Salinas is originally from Bogota, Colombia. He holds a PhD from Trinity International University in Historical Theology. He is the author of several books in English and Spanish on the history of Latin American Evangelical theology. Currently, he teaches for Biblical Seminary (Medellín, Colombia), Asian Theological Seminary (Manila, Philippines), and Life Theological Seminary (Bhubaneswar, India). He is the associate director of the Theological Education Initiative, a program of United World Mission. He is married to Gayna, and they have three children.

1 According to www.datausa.io, 32,172 people graduated in theology in 2019.

2 David A. Livermore, Serving With Eyes Wide Open (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 2006), 41.

3 Regarding the call for a missionary “moratorium,” see “Churches Renewed in Mission: Report of Section III of the Bangkok Conference,” International Review of Mission 62 (1973): 223.

4 Quoted in F. Albert Tizon, “Remembering the Missionary Moratorium Debate: Toward a Missiology of Social Transformation in a Post-Colonial Context,” The Covenant Quaterly 62, no. 1 (2004): 13.

5 Email to the author on October 11, 2018.

6 Baez Camargo Gonzalo, Hacia la renovación religiosa en Hispano-America (Mexico City: Casa Unida de Publicaciones, 1930), 30.

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