Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Does Quality Theological Education Produces Character?

In his blog, the homilia of a budding NT scholar, our very own, not just budding, but also blooming NT scholar with a sense of humour (you don’t see many of these around) posted another “sick project”. The discussion is about the quality control of Malaysian building projects and also of the quality control of theological education.

Kar Yong poses two interesting questions; “But I wonder is there a close corelation (sic) between quality theological education and character building? The better the quality of theological education, will this translate to better spiritual formation and character building?”

That set me thinking. I guess the key word is “quality” because we know that not all theology education offered by all theological institutions, seminaries, and departments of theology are the same. I will also take the liberty not to define “theological education” too finely as it can refers to higher Masters (Master of Theology) and PhDs but use it to refer to general theological education. So, does getting a “quality theological education” means “better spiritual formation and better character formation”?

I have been following the theological education curriculum designs in seminaries for some time. I find that theological institutions, seminaries and universities departments are often torn between two objectives: spiritual formation and academic excellence. An emphasis on spiritual formation will develop their students’ character while the emphasis on academic excellence will build up the institution as a world recognised centre of learning. While not mutually exclusive, it is not possible to have both. We must also recognise that they have 2-4 years for each student to do what is needful.

First, a lot depends on the teaching staff and the institution’s philosophy. If the institution aims to be a centre of academic excellence, on par with other centres of academic excellence in producing publications and leading the trend in the latest theological constructs, then it will secure for its teaching staff, men and women with PhDs and a leaning towards research and writing. Normally these brilliant men and women speaks a different language from us ordinary mortals, and often it is difficult for them to come down to our level (I am not being judgmental here. Their training has made them so). Their interests will be more in their narrow fields of study than in the mentoring of students which takes up time and effort.

Second, if the institution thinks of itself as a university rather than as Christian community of faith, then the design of the curriculum will be heavy on theology, hermeneutics, homiletics, New and Old Testament studies rather than on spirituality or spiritual formation. These may be the reason why in most theological institutions, theology and Biblical studies take up more teaching time than relational skills or counselling.

Finally, most theological institutions grade their effectiveness by measurable outcomes like exam scores. It is rather difficult to measure spiritual growth. It is much easier to grade a paper in theology or biblical studies. All theological institutions seek accreditation with some national and international bodies. Unfortunately accreditation depends on measurable data such as how many PhDs on staff and how were the average student scores than on the character of the teaching staff and students.

I must acknowledge than many theological institutions are now aware of their weaknesses and are attempting to incorporate spiritual formation into their academic curriculum. Unfortunately, this is often more like tinkering with the curriculum. What is needed is a radical restructuring of theological education to make spiritual formation and character formation premier in the theological institutions. Back to Kar Yong’s questions. For the reasons given above, I feel that there is a negative correlation between spiritual formation and character building, and quality theological education at this present moment.

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