Tuesday, May 22, 2007

Theological training

In three weeks we will start our Mission Training School. Our goal is to train seven people who are called by God to be church leader or church planter. We hope and pray that after nine months they will return to their respective tribal villages equipped to share the gospel, plant a church and shepherd the flocks.

Together with other missionaries and a local pastor, we form a team of teachers that would facilitate the training. We struggle initially with the curriculum. Our questions are, what courses should be included or excluded? What are the needs and how are we going to meet the needs? Is consultation among local theological educators and pastors needed to come up with a curriculum that would be useful in the particular context?

We have copies of curriculum from different Bible school and seminaries. These are good guide in developing our own curriculum. However, as we study these we found out that most of the courses would be irrelevant to tribal context. It is agreed that intellectualization of Christianity, its theological abstraction is not essential. How would Augustine, Calvin and Barth fit in the picture? Do they need to know the debate about inerrancy of the Scriptures or the different theories of atonement? For a while, we think that it is better if we would not bring them in the picture.

So we came up with an agreement that we should start it focusing on the Bible. All theological reflections and articulation should start from the Bible. Perhaps this is the peril of many theologians. They attempt to do theology apart from the Bible and this could not be done.

The work of the missionaries or development workers is not only to feed people of knowledge but to give them skills to take charge of their own live and theological articulation. Through deep study of the Scripture we are providing them a theological discipline that empowers them to be the people of God. Our goal should be to enable them to read and obey Scripture for themselves. Theologies have their own relevance only from particular context that they have been developed. Outside of it, they may contribute to learning but for the most part making them relevant to a different culture and context is difficult if not impossible. And this is most especially true with Western theology.

As Christian, we should have the conviction that the Gospel has inherent power to be understood across cultures. It is God’s power for salvation. It is the means of delivering people from all kinds of bondage and leading them to enjoy the freedom appropriate for his children.

Because of this, we are not copying any curriculum at all. We (together with the locals) will be developing our own as we go on. Bible first then we will allow them to tell their own stories, to tell us what they need and we will proceed from there. By telling their stories they have a voice and it is the first step not only in Christian growth but in more conscious theological reflection.


Anonymous said...

Joey what an exciting challenge. I imagine somewhat overwelheming also, and to do it in 9 months.

I have been also trying to figure out what is the best way to teach, and agree with your biblical-theo approach.

I am an american missionary working in Brazil, amongst extremely poor brazilian families, as a pastor-teacher. I also teach a little theology at a missions school.

We seek to get them to think theologically and value what they already know. Though the missions students tend to want the "right answers" so they can go out and right the world.
One of my great struggles is that, when I am with the middle-class, well educated Brazilians my theology and biblical perspectives continue and add to the conversation, but when I work with the little congregation of mostly single-mothers, living in or near the extreme poverty level, our "conversations" from the pulpit, during bible studies or during visits is sometimes like talking to water, if I look closely at it I can see something -my reflection.
It has taken about 8 -9 months for them to start to appear in the pool of water, but ever so faintly.(My Brazilian partners have the same struggle, though they speak the same language its a different culture really).
These brothers and sisters who are coming from tribes to your classes seem to be in a similar position?
I was going to mention two books, but noting you are well read, figure it will be more interesting to be in the actual conversation with your new brothers and sisters there.
Well I wrote way too much, God bless your conversations and HOPE to see further updates. James Gilbert

Joey said...

Hi James,

Thanks for the insights. And I totally agree with you that our attempt to dialogue with the people we minister is like talking to the water. Yes, difference in culture is a big factor. As missionaries it is lifetime of learning to see things from their cultural perspective.

I forgot to mention in my post that nine month is just the beginning of the long process of biblical/theological education. We are hoping that after nine months, the school would have a definite directions on what courses should be included for further learning.

I was well read, but I couldn't do that anymore here. We are in bad need of good biblical and theological books that we could use as reference and resource, so your recommendations will be highly appreciated.

Thanks again for the comments and God bless to your ministry out there.


Felipe Fanuel said...

Hi Joey,

Good to read you again!

In fact, it's very difficult to talk about a culture that people don't understand. However, we should remember that Bible is a collection of cultures. It's not a normative book, but a suggestive one. If we use this holy book with only one interpretation, we'll talk an strange language to any culture. So, we must read the word of God with the eyes of our situations, that is, the culture in which we are situated.

Well, I'm so glad to see someone talking about a situation of a kind of people in my country here. (Hello James, I'm from Brazil!)

God bless you both!

keropok lekor said...

Hey Joey,

Thank you for sharing this post. I was struggling with this issue too, when I visited few village churches in Borneo and see how stark is the difference between reflecting theologically in rural Asian churches and urban Westernised churches.

When I visited as a middle-class urban believer that struggled with the inerrancy of the bible, the community there struggle with the challenges of poverty, urbanisation and the occult.

I truly agree with what you said, "Our goal should be to enable them to read and obey Scripture for themselves. Theologies have their own relevance only from particular context that they have been developed. Outside of it, they may contribute to learning but for the most part making them relevant to a different culture and context is difficult if not impossible."

May God bless you and your team even as you attempt to reflect on God's big story through local lenses.