Theology of Theological Education

In his article “The Theology of Theological Education,” Brian Edgar distinguishes the following types of theological education:

  • The Athens type “stresses the role of the academy in transformating the life of the individual.”
  • The Berlin type “represents a university model which focuses on the need to competent professionals to strengthen the life of the church.”
  • The Geneva type “represents an explicitly confessional, seminary approach to training.”
  • The Jerusalem type is “a community based model which focuses on the need to train missioners to convert the world.”

(The first two types were first distinguished by David H. Kelsey, the fourth one by Robert Banks, and the third one by Edgar’s himself.)

Edgar presents the four types in the following diagram:

Moreover, Edgar offers some questions and answers that help to distinguish the four models:

1. What is theology first of all?

  • Athens: “Theology is wisdom, knowing God.”
  • Berlin: “Theology is a tool, a way of thinking about the world.”
  • Geneva: “Theology is developing a knowledge of God.”
  • Jerusalem: “Theology is missiology.”

2. How is the goal of theology for the student best described?

  • Athens: “Personal, spiritual, moral growth and transformation of life and character.”
  • Berlin: “Vocational, ministry training to strengthen the church.”
  • Geneva: “Growth in the knowledge of God and the ability to think theologically.”
  • Jerusalem: “Enhancement of missiological knowledge and abilities.”

3. How is the role of the teacher/professor/lecturer/educator best described?

  • Athens: “Model and provide the student with access to, and teaching concerning, the intellectual, spiritual
    and moral disciplines needed in the Christian life.”
  • Berlin: “Be an experienced and knowledgeable researcher who works with the student to enhance their
    knowledge of particular areas of study and the related research and analytical skills.”
  • Geneva: “Demonstrate the life of one who knows God and is able to stimulate and help students think
  • Jerusalem: “Be an experienced practitioner who is able to share in and actively help students develop their
    gifts for ministry and mission.”

4. What is the most important to be learnt in theological education?

  • Athens: “It is important for students to study the Scriptures in order to be personally transformed.”
  • Berlin: “It is important for students to develop the skills to be able to examine, critique, understand and
    teach the Scriptures.”
  • Geneva: “It is important for students to study the Scriptures in order to discover the character and nature of
  • Jerusalem: “It is important for students to study the Scriptures in order to understand the ministry of the church and to be able to apply Scriptural principles in their own ministry.”

My first reflections on the above are:

  1. Are the Athens and Geneva types really two different types/models, or is the latter rather a more Christianized version of the former?
  2. There is a tension in the Berlin model (to which Edgar himself hints) regarding the vocation for which theological education at university prepares: is it (a) to become a pastor or (b) to become a theological researcher? Or, formulated differently, is theological education at the university (a) vocational (offering people the practical preparation to become pastors) or (b) rather academic (focused on doing theological research)? For example, when I studied theology at Utrecht University in the nineties, the message was repeated time and again that “we” were not a vocational school but a university. Such a statement did not so much mean “we are Athens rather than Berlin,” but rather “we are truly Berlin” (and certainly not “Jerusalem”).

Reference: Brian Edgar, “The Theology of Theological Education,” Evangelical Review of Theology 29.3 (2005): 208–17.

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