Marilyn Naidoo, Spiritual Formation in Theological Education


in Handbook of Theological Education in World Christianity: Theological Perspectives, Ecumenical Trends, Regional Surveys (Regnum Studies in Global Christianity) by Dietrich Werner, David Esterline, et al., 2010, pp 755-770.

Marilyn Naidoo Introduction 

In the early centuries of the Christian church the main focus of a priest’s education was on spiritual matters or character formation. As Carl Volz observes, “what appears unique to the earlier times of the church … is the high valuation placed upon character, rather than skills of the pastor.”1 John Chrysostom (347–407) warns against using the spiritual disciplines as a pious escape from the duties of the pastoral office; but the warning given as a corrective does not disguise the fact that the early church fathers and mothers were concerned that persons not take on the clerical office if they “lacked the necessary spiritual maturity even though they may possess knowledge and skills. On balance the primary qualification for ordination in antiquity was to posses the desire for God”.

The dominant structure of many seminaries, however, favours academic instruction with some practical exposure and compartmentalises the spiritual with spiritual formation happening implicitly, informally and on a person basis. Effective integration of the three aspects has seldom been achieved.3 The common academic pattern drawn from the university model continues to be departmentalised with further specialisation within those departments. The reason for the fragmentation and isolation of disciplines has been a subject of concern in the literature for several years.4 The scholastic method further shaped by the Enlightenment has resulted in the study of theology becoming a science supporting the professionalisation of the ministry. Farley5 attributes this situation to the fragmentation of a formerly unified theology. Theology has diversified into practical ministry skills and an aggregate of disciplines which emphasises the cognitive over the spiritual. 

For many years administrators and faculty have been searching for ways to integrate the theoretical and practical disciplines. In recent years, the question of how to include spiritual formation has been brought into the discussion. The main concerns6 that stimulated the need for spiritual formation in the seminary were (1) the lack of spiritual formation in the backgrounds of entering students; (2) the fact that students were searching for guidance to help them discern how the Spirit was working in their situation; (3) greater contact with other religious traditions that created a sharper awareness of spirituality; (4) a rediscovery of 

1 Carl Volz,, “Seminaries: The Love of Learning or the Desire for God?” Dialog (28/2, Spring 1989) 104.
2 Carl Volz,, “Seminaries: The Love of Learning or the Desire for God?” 104.
3 Robert W Ferris, Renewal in Theological Education: Strategies for Change (Wheaton: Billy Graham Center, 1990); David H Kelsey, To Understand God Truly: What’s Theological about a Theological School (Louisville, Ky.: Westminster John Knox Press 1992).
4 Edward Farley, Theologia:The Fragmentation and Unity of Theological Education (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983); Max L Stackhouse, Apologia: Contextualization, Globalization and Mission in Theological Education (Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans 1988); Charles M Wood, Vision and Discernment: An orientation in Theological Study (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1985); David H Kelsey, Between Athens and Berlin: The Theological Education Debate (Grand Rapids, Mich.:Eerdmans, 1993).
5 Farley, Theologia.
6 Walter L Liefeld and Linda M Cannell, “Spiritual Formation and Theological Education” In JI Packer and L Wilkinson (eds.) Alive to God: Studies in Spirituality (Downers Grove, Ill. Intervarsity Press 1992), 244. 


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the Christian contemplative tradition; (5) the presence of women in formerly all-male student bodies and faculty added a new spirit to the theological school; (6) the social and political crisis that motivated a concern for the spiritual and (7) increasing concern over a fragmented curriculum with no integrating centre. Spiritual formation, it was felt, could provide that centre. 

There has been much debate on the nature and place of spiritual formation in theological institutions.7 The largest body of literature available comes from the growing dissatisfaction with theological education from the 1970s onwards expressed by churches and increasingly the educators themselves.8 This has resulted in a new search for a greater emphasis on the spiritual formation of the student. This new interest in the subject is traceable in the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) North American seminary movement, the Roman Catholic Church, The World Council of Churches-affiliated colleges across the world and the Evangelical Accrediting Movement. Many of these reports and conference papers can be read in various editions of Theological Education and since they have not been widely acted on they form essential reading for today. Much of the literature on the subject of spiritual formation has to do with defining terminology and discussing the wisdom of trying to solve the problem at all. 

The term “formation” has a rich history in the church. The word has often been narrowly associated with a structured way of shaping clergy to be spiritual and professional leaders. The Roman Catholic tradition has long focused on the formation of religious men and women and has a sacramental conception of ministry as priesthood. Formation takes places through the provision of programmes and resources organised around clear institutional goals. A good outline of the history can be found in John O’Malley’s article “Spiritual Formation for Ministry; Some Roman Catholic Traditions – their Past and Present.”9 The most recent document is the apostolic exhortation of 1992 Pastores Dabo Vobis,10 which highlights the priest’s fundamental relationship to Jesus Christ and with the church. The exhortation affirms that the mission of the seminary embraces four key dimensions of formation: human, intellectual, spiritual and pastoral. The Fourth Edition of the Program of Priestly Formation, 1993 highlighted the need for a new emphasis on priestly identity with the insistence that the priesthood is unique in the church and therefore ought to have its own specialised programmes of learning and formation.11 

In Protestant theological institutions formation is more likely to be pursued through individual faculty contributions and extracurricular activities.12 The language of formation used means spiritual and human formation,13 though Protestants rarely speak explicitly of human formation. They usually speak of 

7 Walter L Liefeld and Linda M Cannell, “Spiritual Formation and Theological Education,” 239-252; George Lindbeck, “Spiritual Formation and Theological Education,” Theological Education (24/ 1, 1988) 18; Tilden Edwards, “Spiritual Formation in Theological Schools: Ferment and Challenge,” Theological Education (17/1: 1980), 4-10.
8 Through the early 1970s and into the 1980s, various conferences were convened to study spiritual formation: David E Babin et al., Voyage, Vision, Venture: A Report (Dayton, Ohio: American Association of Theological Schools, 1972); Tilden Edwards (1980); Samuel Amirtham (“Spiritual Formation in Theological Education: An invitation to Participate,” Programme on Theological Education (World Council of Churches, Report and Study paper, Geneva, 1987); see Liefeld and Cannell (1992) for a discussion on the various studies done in Protestant seminaries in the US.
9 John O Malley, “Spiritual Formation for Ministry: Some Roman Catholic Traditions – Their Past and Present” in RJ Neuhaus (ed.), Theological Education and Moral Formation (Grand Rapids, Eerdmans 1992), 20–30.
10 Pastores Dabo Vobis, Apostolic Exhortations of His Holiness John Paul II on the Formation of Priests (London, Catholic Truth Society, 1992).
11 Katarina Schuth, Seminaries, Theologates, and the Future of Church Ministry (Collegeville: The Liturgical Press 1999), 29.
12 Frederick H Reisz, Assessing Spiritual Formation in Christian Seminary Communities. Theological Education (39/2), 29–40; Gordon T Smith, Spiritual Formation in the Academy: A Unifying Model. Theological Education (33/1, 1999), 33–51.
13 Human formation is concerned with discernment of vocation and developmental growth in qualities necessary for effective ministry. Spiritual formation concentrated on relationship with God – prayer life, personal faith and spiritual growth in general – see Schuth (1999:127). 


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formation in ways that centre in spirituality, but are understood expansively rather than narrowly. Thus Protestant seminaries may use the language of (spiritual) formation to include broadly what Catholic seminaries address separately as human formation. 

In the average Protestant theological institution, there is a resurgence of attention to formation in its theological curriculum but how to meet that need is still a matter of debate. Disputed issues include the theological and educational status of the field of spiritual formation, the relationship between spiritual formation and other aspects of ministerial education and the form that spiritual formation might take within a programme of studies.14 

This essay explores spiritual formation as a point of focus in ministerial education. Because a certain type of person is needed to be trained for church leadership with a particular spiritual aptitude or maturity, theological institutions have a responsibility to engage students in reflecting on the spiritual life, to provide opportunities for students to deepen their spiritual journeys and to develop in students the spiritual maturity that is required of future church leaders. Were this practice to be intentional, it would ensure that students have actually progressed in terms of their understanding and experience of God and it would lend itself to the development of spiritual and moral leadership; leaders who are committed, people of integrity and competent, which is greatly needed in our time. This essay will discuss broadly the need, the challenges and the relevance of spiritual formation and how it fits into Protestant theological education. 

The Work of Spiritual Formation 

Spiritual formation is a lifelong process of becoming, of being formed and developed in the likeness of Christ.15 It is personal and relational formation which seeks to promote encounter and cooperation with God and society as a whole. Johnson relates the concepts of spiritual formation to transformation, which for her means “the formation of Christian character implies transformations of character.”16 Formation and transformation, processes and turning points, are woven together in the lifelong process of conversion, of becoming Christian, and shaping Christian character. 

From a review of the literature it would seem that many definitions of spiritual formation abound; however, one that is helpful to this discussion is a World Council of Churches publication that defines spiritual formation as “the intentional processes by which the marks of an authentic Christian spirituality are formed and integrated”.17 In this definition certain processes are discussed that allude to the processes of spiritual development and, for Christian spirituality to be authentic, it must be integrated into the lives of the students and so be observable, whether that be in the classroom, church or society. 

People are constantly in a process of formation, in families, in congregations, in faith traditions and through society at large. In this essay, the focus is limited to theological formation, the “spiritual shaping” of students over a period of time spent at a theological institution. Formation encompasses a wide range of competencies and traits. It includes “conversion of mind and heart, fostering integrative thinking, character 

14 Linda Cannell, Theological Education Matters: Leadership Education for the Church (Newburgh,IN.: EDCOT Press 2006), 35-43; Charles R Foster, et al Educating Clergy: Teaching Practices and Pastoral Imagination (San Francisco: Jossey Bass 2006); Robert Banks, Re-envisioning Theological Education: Exploring a Missional Alternative to Current Models (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1999), 24-28; L Gregory Jones, “Belief, Desires, Practices and the Ends of Theological Education” in Miroslav Volf and Dorothy c Bass (eds.) Practicing Theology: Beliefs and Practices in the Christian Life (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 2002), 185-205; Victor Klimoski, “Evolving Dynamics of Formation” in Malcolm L Warford (ed.) Practical Wisdom: on Theological Teaching and Learning (Peter Lang: New York 2004). 

15 Gal 4:19; Col. 1:28; Rom 12:2.
16 Susanne Johnson, Christian Spiritual Formation in the Church and Classroom (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989), 117.
17 Samuel Amirtham and RP Pryor, Resources for Spiritual Formation in Theological Education (Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1989), 17. 


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formation, promoting authentic discipleship, personal appropriation of faith and knowledge, and cultivating a spirituality of the intellectual life”.18 Spiritual formation is the never-ending inner work of the Spirit that is needed to form theological students into people with the appropriate blend of qualities which will enable them to work effectively in their communities. 

It is essential to note the formation of ministerial identity in the conceptualisation of spiritual formation. For some it boils down pragmatically to learning what a minister should do; it is a formulaic approach to ministry. Urban T Holmes19 argues a position when he claims that a priest is first of all a spiritual person. His concept underscores the “apartness” of the priest and contrasts the function of that apartness to professionalisation. The identity of the minister is not the external trappings and privileges of the office but the profound sense of identity that comes from conforming oneself as a servant of the gospel; subjecting one’s preference to gospel norms.20 A minister formed without recognising the need for an integrated ministerial identity is more likely to succumb to the temptation to approach ministry as just another job, rather than something that calls upon all of who he or she is. 

Professional identity, competence and integrity should function as a lens or framework through which students appropriate the knowledge, skills and spirituality associated with the work of the profession. However, it also becomes increasingly difficult to shape such a personal identity, as church and faith are less and less evident in our society and the traditional landmarks of clergy, tradition and roles are no longer self-evident. 

Challenges to the Practice of Spiritual Formation 

It is important to acknowledge that not everyone is convinced about the central role of spiritual formation or its place in theological education. As Charles Foster21 notes, there are three categories of objections to notions of formation: 

  1. a)  An implication that students are “passive and more or less infinitely malleable, plastic to the will or power of some superior shaping force” 
  2. b)  A concern about “spiritual formation” and who is responsible for this in seminary education including questions of hierarchy, potential abuses of power, competency and training 
  3. c)  An assumption that a “preordained pattern” or “form” exists to which the most diverse human sensibilities and personalities must somehow be “conformed” 

Other challenges are that in many Protestant institutions there is still little impetus for adopting an emphasis on spiritual formation that educators feel is difficult to quantify and almost impossible to programme effectively.22 Also, institutional and curricular forms do not easily accommodate the mysteries of the Christian faith, for example Hinson,23 in Spiritual Preparation for Christian Leadership, states that institutionalising spiritual development within the training of Reformed clergy excessively focused on “methods and techniques that imply a works salvation” which could misconstrue spiritual formation to mean some attempt to find a secret guarantee of salvation. Furthermore, criticisms include the relative neglect of social justice teachings; insensitivity in the areas of racism, sexism, and so forth, and the 

18 Patricia A Lamoureux, An Integrated Approach to Theological Education, Theological Education (36/1, 1999), 142. 19 Urban T Holmes, To be a Priest (New York: Seabury 1978).
20 Gerben Heitink Practical Theology: History, Theory, Action Domains: manual for Practical Theology (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans 1999), 310-313. 

21 Foster, CR, Educating Clergy, 126.
22 Frederick Reisz, Assessing Spiritual Formation in Christian Seminary Communities, 30. see also John Harris, Assessment of Ministry Preparation to Increase Understanding, Theological Education, 39/2 (2003), 127, difficult to develop criterion to measure spiritual and human growth, sees assessment as multifaceted and understood as “leaves in the wind.”
23 Glenn E Hinson, Spiritual Preparation for Christian Leadership (Nashville, Tenn.: Upper Room Books 1999), 33. 


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separation of spiritual formation programmes from the rest of the curriculum. Faculty also feel they are not rewarded academically for modelling spirituality; educators feel that if they spend too much time being spiritual mentors, they could suffer academically and their career progress might be jeopardised.24 There are also concerns of how to reconcile formation as a corporate term with the functional, individualistic cast of theological curricula and outcomes. Attempting formation in an intercultural community25 has its challenges of ethnocentrism, and prejudice and formation processes must take the personal and contextual into account with equal seriousness. 

The most pressing challenge affecting the practice of spiritual formation is the consensus of contemporary literature that theological education is in crisis26 The analysis of the problem is that theological institutions have failed to produce the desired product, a skilled leader, or that the purpose of theology is not understood27 and therefore the theological curriculum is in disarray with minimal integration among the disciplines and a tendency to functionalism.28 Whether the purpose of theological education is understood as the nature of theology, the church, Christian witness or professional ministry, whatever advantages each approach has it still presents only a limited perspective on theological education. The reform of theological education as integrated education will require that the whole faculty address together the conceptual problem of what pieces of study and action might reconstitute theologia, the deep formative understanding of God. Clearly, the purpose of theological education that is foremost in a theological institution will shape the nature and content of the curriculum and have implications for the practice of spiritual formation within its educational structure. 

The Need for Spiritual Formation 

Interest in spiritual formation has grown in recent years; the most obvious need for formation is the preparation and shaping of future church leaders. An essential capacity of church leadership and its most distinctive is facility with the spiritual dimension of human life and experience. Church leaders are routinely expected to exercise this capacity in ordinary actions and rituals: teaching, preaching, leading liturgy and even conversing. In dealing with people’s questions, fears and hopes about the ultimate meaning of their lives and experiences, church leaders require sensitivity and skill. They must sense which aspects of their religious tradition might best provide resources for healing or liberating; they must know how to be prophetic in given situations and how to frame appropriate responses for changing situations and circumstances in congregations and communities. How are church leaders prepared to exercise this capacity? Theological students need to become aware that ministry in the form of ministerial leadership is 

24 Donald Senior and T Weber, What is the Character of Curriculum, Formation and Cultivation of Ministerial Leadership in the Good Theological School? Theological Education (30/2 1994), 32.
25 John B Linder, Ecumenical Formation: A Methodology for a Pluralistic Age. Theological Education (34/2 1997).
26 Robert Banks 1999; Linda Cannell 2006; JE Paver, Theological Reflection and Education for Ministry (Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing 2006).
27 The literature presents various perspectives as to the purpose of theological education: nature and reform of theology to restore the unity of theology (Farley 1983); the mission and purpose of the church (Hough and Cobb 1985); the development of vision and discernment in theology (Wood 1985); professional image of ministry (Glasse 1988); pluralism and globalization facing church leaders (Stackhouse 1988); the nature of Christian witness (Kelsey 1992) and the missional model (Banks 1999).
28 Farley’s Theologia (1983: 29-124) argues that the standard theological curriculum is a haphazard collection of studies handed down from earlier periods and now entrenched in separate academic guilds. The pieces cannot be fit together from any vantage point because the disciplines we have now were never part of the larger whole in the first place. What once held theological study together has been lost, that is theologia (a sapiential knowledge of God which disposes the knower to God and deeply informs the knower for Christian life and ministry). Theology as “habitus of wisdom” has shifted to “clerical paradigm.” 


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a public not a private role, and consequently students must attune to the issue of behaviour and the accountability required of those who enjoy the community’s trust. One might identify a number of relatively distinct needs in this connection. Ministers and those in similar positions of leadership need to know themselves well. Leadership in general is full of temptations. The professional roles occupied by such church leaders in our society give ample opportunity for various kinds of abuse.29 Self-deception, as well as the deception of others, is an easy and attractive feature of religious leadership. Misuse of time and resources, manipulation of others by means of one’s professional knowledge and power and other forms of depravity are possible. These are also often subtly encouraged by the social arrangements in which leaders find themselves and the psychological dynamics of the situation.30 

There will also be particular demands on the leader’s spirituality. As teachers of the tradition, leaders are expected to know whereof they speak, and this demands some sort of internalisation of the tradition and competence in living out of its resources. If they are to provide leadership to congregations and individuals under all sorts of conditions, they must understand human behaviour in health and adversity. This requires some degree of psychological, anthropological and sociological understanding, as well as a theological grasp of the human condition before God.31 It also requires insight and penetration and a multitude of other personal qualities, which finally rest upon one’s self-knowledge and on the character of one’s spiritual life. Students preparing for such work must be well acquainted with their own strengths and weaknesses when faced by such challenges, and with the opportunities that this affords for genuine and effective service. In these and other ways, the responsibilities of church leadership call for a particular sort of spiritual maturity. 

The growing interest in spiritual formation points to other needs within the theological institution. In recent years even denominational theological institutions can no longer guarantee that new students are already being formed within a particular religious tradition or culture.32 The dislocation of traditional family life and the decline in church participation among many young people, particularly in mainline denominations, has resulted in many students having little or no sense of the history, customs and ethos of the religious communities they feel called to serve and lead. Theological schools are thus being forced to take some increasing responsibility for the personal and spiritual development of the student it is preparing for public ministry. This concern is related to reports that interpersonal and relational deficits are associated with the vast majority of psychological and spiritual problems faced by pastors.33 

The changing demographics of student bodies highlight the important need for spiritual formation. Many candidates for ministry are older students, who bring a potential for increasing maturity and the possibility of a longer, more complex web of personal experiences and psychological baggage. These students also bring with them some of the marks of current culture: unstable broken families, experimentation with alcohol, drugs and sexuality; the strengths and weaknesses of living in a materialistic, competitive and highly individualistic culture and so on. These facts have been documented in a number of recent studies.34 

Spiritual formation is more urgent than it used to be because of the growing awareness of professional misconduct by some clergy. Many people in churches hold theological institutions at least in part responsible for such scandalous failures. They demand that institutions do a better job of screening clergy 

29 Richard M Gula, Ethics in Pastoral Ministry (New York: Paulist Press 1996), 31-32.
30 Richard M Gula, Ethics in Pastoral Ministry, 32 .
31 Johannes A van der Ven, Education for Reflective Ministry (Louvain: Peeters Press 1998).
32 Virginia S Cetuk, What to Expect in Seminary: Theological Education as Spiritual Formation (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998), 51.
33 TW Hall, The personal functioning of pastors: A review of empirical research with implications for the care of pastors. Journal of Psychology and Theology (25, 1997), 240-253. See also a reader on empirical research projects by Leslie J Francis and Susan H Jones, Psychological Perspectives on Christian Ministry (Gracewing: Leominster, 1996). 34 Study of Roman Catholic seminaries by Hemrick and Walsh (1993); broad study of Protestant, Orthodox and Catholic seminaries by Larsen and Shopshire (1988). 


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candidates and give more priority to the teaching of ethical values in their curricula. Such criticisms raise the issue of standards for admission and readiness for ministry. Member schools of the Association of Theology Schools (ATS), for example, have been sued over the misconduct of their graduates.35 

Spiritual Formation within the Theological Institution 

It is pertinent here to ask the question: what is the role of spiritual formation in education for church leadership? Firstly, a Christian leader should be well formed in the capacities and outlook belonging to the tradition with a certain kind of spiritual aptitude as discussed above. Secondly, a leader should be well formed in the tradition by developing an aptitude for theology, becoming a competent participant in theological inquiry,36 that is, one must know the key concepts of the tradition, for example God, grace, sin, creation and so forth. There is also a sense in which theological education is requisite to spiritual formation.37 To be willing and able to trust in God more than in one’s own beliefs about God and to see theology as a means to ongoing repentance and renewal is to have grasped something of its spiritual significance. This process of acquiring theological aptitude is one factor in the process of growth toward spiritual maturity. Correspondingly, one is unlikely to develop and sustain an aptitude for theological reflection if one has not developed the spiritual resources that make it possible to live with and even welcome the challenges it brings. Theological education, however, should not become solely spiritual formation either. It involves spiritual formation but, in order to develop a mature faith, this must include a critical re-evaluation of belief. For Lindbeck, the most crucial to the overall function of leadership is the student’s capacity to think with and on behalf of the tradition.38 He suggests that a student who is simply indoctrinated into the tradition and who appropriates it uncritically is probably a poor candidate for a position of genuine leadership. At the same time, a leader who is not well formed in the tradition is likely to be ineffective no matter what abilities for critical reflection she or he may possess. What is needed then is a combination of thorough internalisation and critical perspective which may be best produced by developing a closer partnership between institutions of theology and churches. 

It is important for those engaged in creating formative experiences within the theological institution to think critically and reflectively about the intent, the structure and the content of formation.39 Considering the increasing pluralism, the inter-confessional and the intercultural mix, theological institutions need to ask what goals should orient the practice of theological education and what shape their practice should take. Some institutions stress theological education with the intent to develop students’ aptitude for theological inquiry, whatever the students’ vocational aims may be, while other institutions stress theological education with the aim of preparing leaders for the church. This second sense is the focus of this essay and therefore theological education will be coordinated with other sorts of education that pertain to qualification for church leadership. The more ecumenical a theological institution is, the more difficult it is to define spiritual formation.40 To take all perspectives seriously requires openness to different approaches to and meanings of Christian spirituality and how to achieve it. In denominational institutions, notions of spiritual formation vary widely from discipleship to inculturation into a particular liturgical or confessional tradition. Other institutions are church-based and conduct spiritual formation for their students 

35 Donald Senior and T Weber, What is the Character of Curriculum, Formation and Cultivation of Ministerial Leadership in the Good Theological School? 32.
36 Charles, M Wood, Vision and Discernment.
37 Charles, M Wood, Vision and Discernment

38 George Lindbeck, “Spiritual Formation and Theological Education.”
39 Joretta Marshall, Formative Practice: Intent, Structure and Content. Reflective Practice: Formation and Supervision in Ministry (Vol. 29, 2009), 56–71.
40 John B Linder, “Ecumenical Formation: A Methodology for a Pluralistic Age,” 7–14. 


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on behalf of the church as a part of the students’ ongoing Christian education. Some institutions are a combination of these various features and are pulled in various directions. 

Theological institutions then need to specify what they mean by the term “spiritual formation” and how it fits into their own distinctive mission. To stipulate what role spiritual formation should play in a theological institution would require an understanding of what constitutes a theological school and of what belongs to its mission. For instance, it was found through an investigation of spiritual formation in evangelical Protestant theological institutions in South Africa41 that there was generally a lack of clarity about institutional goals which negatively influenced the practice of formation. Many theological institutions were frustrated in their efforts to develop a plan for spiritual formation within their theological offerings because of a lack of consensus on the goal and means of this formation. 

How spiritual formation is structured in theological institutions involves using different methods which are not methodological in the sense that they “produce” the type of spirituality one desires or effectively guarantee certain “results” which afterwards can be measured like intellectual abilities. Taking into account the fact that each person already has a certain kind of spirituality, different methods of spiritual formation are conceived as helping each person to discover and be transformed to manifest the marks of true Christian spirituality. If a variety of means are not found through which spiritual formation of students can deliberately be pursued, it may not take place at all. These methods could include courses on spirituality, instruction in personal spiritual disciplines, counselling services, small group work, psychometric and psychological testing, classroom teaching, spiritual direction, personal mentoring and personal development interviews, devotional worship services and fieldwork exposures or in-service training. For example, in the classroom spiritual formation will not be the explicit agenda of many of the courses because it is approached more easily indirectly than directly. But in certain ways even the predominant mood, the learning climate and the relationship between teachers and students contribute to the overall spiritual formation process and can have deep consequences for personal and communal spirituality. Important for spiritual learning is a participatory learning style which allows the direct and full involvement of students in the learning process.42 This expanded notion of theological teaching assumes that teachers have received formal training in pedagogical methods. So how teachers teach may be just as crucial in the formative process as what they teach.43 The quality, style and personal values of a good faculty must actively support the kind of curriculum and spiritual formation that the theological institution envisions for itself. Much of the legitimate criticism of theological institutions’ spiritual aridity will be dissipated when educators can become intentional about creating “safe spaces” to help students explore issues of their own faith formation and spiritual lives in tandem with their academic work.44 At the same time the curriculum should be understood not as an accumulation of courses but as an overall process of critical reflection and integration45 and calls for a common understanding of the purpose of theological education among the various disciplines and departments. Attention should be given also to the hidden curriculum46 which affects trust and mistrust and openness or closeness in a classroom community. 

When naming the content of spiritual formation it is important that formative practices must be multilayered and must provide ways to develop and integrate the multiple aspects of ministerial identity. The social location of the individual and community in which ministry is engaged informs the development 

41 M Naidoo, “An Investigation into Spiritual Formation Programmes at selected theological institutions in Kwa-Zulu Natal” (DTh thesis, University of Zululand, 2005).
42 Parker Palmer, The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life (San Francisco: Jossey- Bass 1998). 

43 Susanne Johnson, Christian Spiritual Formation in the Church and Classroom, 135. 44 Fredrick Reisz, Assessing Spiritual Formation in Christian Seminary Communities, 30 45 Patricia A Lamoureux, An Integrated Approach to Theological Education, 143.
46 RW Pazmino, Principles and Practices of Christian Education, 93. 


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of concrete formative experiences; attention to context is essential47 because human beings and the very nature of the church and Christian leadership is ever evolving. 

Those engaged in crafting formative practices for Christian leadership need to invite students, religious leaders, parishioners and others into the reflective practice of pondering how theology informs their notions of spirituality and professional identity.48 Moving too quickly over the theological commitments of particular communities of faith and denominations can result in missing some of the nuances and differences that make for a richer vision of religious leadership. Theological educators should also be encouraging the development of lifelong formative practices that acknowledge the ever-unfolding process of formation. Formation cannot be accomplished in either formal or informal theological education alone but must be part of the broader landscape of practices that help craft a Christian leader’s sense of vocation, awareness of God and theological conviction. 


The success or failure of a theological institution ought to be measured by how well the interrelation of beliefs and practices is articulated, forming students to see their study, prayer and service as a complex, integrated whole. It ought to include constructive “formative” experiences that open up the tradition to students in ways they have not previously attained. This requires particular gifts on the part of faculty and particular insights about teaching and learning and an environment conducive to spiritual formation. When different methods for cultivating spirituality are aligned in an intentional way, the effect will be powerful. Spiritual formation in this case is not simply a goal among others, but a permeation of all educational goals. 


Amirtham, S. “Spiritual Formation in Theological Education: An Invitation to Participate,” Programme on Theological Education, World Council of Churches, Report and Study paper, Geneva, 1987. 

Amirtham, S and PR. Pryor (eds.). Resources for Spiritual Formation in Theological Education. Geneva: World Council of Churches, 1989. 

Babin, DE. Voyage, Vision, Venture: A Report. Dayton, Ohio: American Association of Theological Schools, 1972. 

Banks, R. Revisioning Theological Education: Exploring a Missional Alternative to Current Models. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans, 1999. 

Cannell, L. Theological Education Matters – Leadership Education for the church. Newburgh, IN.: EDCOT Press, 2006. 

Cetuk, VS. What to Expect in Seminary: Theological Education as Spiritual Formation. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1998. 

Edwards, T “Spiritual Formation in Theological Schools: Ferment and Challenge,” Theological Education, 17/1 (1980), 4–10. 

Farley, E. Theologia: The Fragmentation and Unity of Theological Education. Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1983. 

47 See Victor J. Klimoski and others, Educating Leaders for Ministry: Issues and Responses (Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical Press, 2005) highlighting four aspects of formation in theological education including one’s heritage (e.g. race, age, religion), socio-cultural background (e.g. economic status), educational background (e.g. natural abilities, learning styles), and ecclesial understanding (e.g. recent convert, theological perspective). 

48 Joretta Marshall, Formative Practice: Intent, Structure and Content, 70. 


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Ferris, RW. Renewal in Theological Education: Strategies for Change. Wheaton: Billy Graham Center, 1990. 

Foster, CR. Dahill, EL. Goleman, LA. Tolentino, BW. Educating Clergy: Teaching Practices and Pastoral Imaginations. San Francisco: Jossey Bass, 2006. 

Francis, LJ and SH Jones, Psychological Perspectives on Christian Ministry. Gracewing: Leominster, 1996. 

Glasse, J. Profession: Ministry. Nashville: Abingdon Press.1988.
Gula, RM. Ethics in Pastoral Ministry. New York: Paulist Press, 1996.
Hall, TW. 1997. The personal functioning of pastors: A review of empirical research with implications for 

the care of pastors. Journal of Psychology and Theology 25 (1997), 240–253.
Harris, J. Assessment in Ministry Preparation to Increase Understanding. Theological Education 39/2 

(2003), 117–136.
Heitink, G. Practical Theology: History, Theory, Action Domains: manual for Practical Theology. Grand 

Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.
Hemrich EF. and JJ Walsh. Seminaries in the Nineties: A National Study of Seminaries in Theology. 

Washington, DC.: National Catholic Education Assoc, 1993.
Hinson, GE. Spiritual Preparation for Christian Leadership. Nashville, Tenn.: Upper Room Books.1999. Holmes, TU. To be a Priest, New York: Seabury, 1978.
Hough, J. and J Cobb. Christian Identity and Theological Education. Atlanta: Scholars, 1985.
Johnson, S. Christian Spiritual Formation in the Church and Classroom. Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1989. Jones, LG “Beliefs, Desires, Practices and the End of Theological Education” In M. Volf and D. Bass 

(eds.), Practicing Theology: Beliefs and Practices in Christian Life Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 2002, 

Kelsey, DH. To Understand God Truly: What’s Theological about a Theological School, Louisville, Ky.: 

Westminster John Knox Press, 1992.
Kelsey, DH. Between Athens and Berlin: The Theological Education Debate. Grand Rapids, Mich.: 

Eerdmans, 1993.
Klimoski, VJ. Et al. Educating Leaders for Ministry: Issues and Responses Collegeville, Minn.: Liturgical 

Press, 2005.
Lamoureux, PA. An Integrated Approach to Theological Education. Theological Education 36/1 (1999), 

Larsen E. and J Shopshire. 1988. A Profile of Contemporary Seminarians. Theological Education. Vol. 24 

(1988), 10–136.
Liefeld, W. and L Cannell Spiritual Formation and Theological Education. In: ed. J.I. Packer and L. 

Wilkinson (eds.) Alive to God: Studies in Spirituality Downers Grove, Ill.: Inter Varsity Press, 1992, 

Lindbeck, G. Woods, CM. Edwards, T. Spiritual Formation in Theological Schools: Ferment and 

Challenge. Theological Education 17/1 (1980), 10–32.
Lindbeck, G. “Spiritual Formation and Theological Education,” Theological Education 24/1 (1988), 16– 

Linder, JB. Ecumenical Formation: A Methodology for a Pluralistic Age. Theological Education Vol.34 

(1997), 7–14.
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Practice: Formation and Supervision in Ministry Vol.29 (2009), 56–71.
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Kwa-Zulu Natal.” Doctorate of Theology thesis. University of Zululand, 2005.
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Palmer, P. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life San Francisco: Jossey-Bass, 1998. 

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Paver, JE. Theological Reflection and Education for Ministry. Hampshire: Ashgate Publishing, 2006. Pazmino, RW. Principles and Practices of Christian Education: An Evangelical Perspective. Grand 

Rapids: Baker Books, 1992.
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(2003), 29–40.
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Part I: Theological Education in Global Context: Issues and Themes 


Robert W. Brynjolfson 

The nature and function of theological education continues to foster an animated and fruitful debate that encroaches on the topic of spiritual formation in theological education. The purpose of theological education, we are told, ranges from the study of the knowledge of God, to a very practical reflection on our intersecting the justice of God in a fallen world. The questions have focused on identifying the core of theological education. Should the core of theological education be the pursuit of sapiential knowledge of God? Is theological education primarily a theoretical reflection upon the praxis of ministry? Does theological education exist principally for the professional development of church leaders? Should spiritual and character formation be a natural outcome of theological education? Or, does it impede the pursuit of sapiential knowledge of the divine? Should theological education be chiefly concerned with how the servants of God intersect the experiences of others in relation to justice and God’s mission on earth? 

Several reviewers of theological education (especially Kelsey and Banks) have proposed an eclectic approach and would affirm most of the above. For the sake of economy, this paper is based on an eclectic approach, like that of Robert Banks who proposed four functions of theological education; classical (the pursuit of divine knowledge), vocational (professional or clergy development and certification), confessional (serving the practices of the church), and missional (theological education which includes the perspective of what God is doing in the world). 

Regarding the topic of spiritual formation in theological education, this writer appeals to the observation made by Linda Cannell: 

Spirituality grounded in experiences of faith in relation to the event of the gospel, and buttressed by ongoing efforts to understand, is the best out-working of the human desire to know God. We can accept … that rational theology is in some way subordinate to spirituality, but we also need to accept that spirituality is undone without efforts of reasoned understanding.

This discussion is worthy of greater elaboration, but suffice to say: sooner or later, the pursuit of theological studies must be grounded in some practical outworking. Surely, the acquisition of more knowledge about God is, by itself, an inadequate outcome for theological education. Knowledge about God should inspire love for God, and love for God, obedience to God. The very well known initial verses in chapter twelve in the epistle to the Romans also serve as a reminder to balance our goals when it comes to these pursuits: 

Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God – this is your spiritual act of worship. Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is – his good, pleasing and perfect will.

1 Linda Cannell, Theological Education Matters: Leadership Education for the Church (EDCOT Press, 2006), 92. 2 Romans 12:1, 2 New International Version (UK). 


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The spiritual act of worship that the Apostle Paul refers to is the offering of our whole selves as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God. The King James Version uses the expression “your reasonable service”. The word in question is logiken, from which the word logic is also derived. The second verse also refers to a transformation that occurs through the renewing of our mind. Therefore, we see a link between acts of obedience and the renewing of our minds. Worship itself is reasonable, not simply rational, but also spiritual. This link is not merely implicit, because we cannot really have one without the other. In this way, neither can we imagine the pursuit of theological education without the pursuit of spiritual and character formation. 

Defining the Task of Spiritual Formation 

First, this writer needs to make a brief clarification about spiritual growth and character formation. Defining spirituality is itself no small matter. A brother from India recently reflected on the vast diversity amidst world faiths (and non-faiths) with respect to the pursuit of spirituality. K. John Amalraj wrote, “True spirituality is a live, continuous personal relationship with the Creator God that fulfills my deepest human longings for inward and outward peace and gives me meaning and purpose for everyday life.3 This simple definition works for this writer because it describes something that is living, related to the divine, effective in producing inward and outward peace and provides meaning and purpose in our daily lives. 

Spirituality is about all relationships: with God, with one’s self and with others. Though this paper focuses on spiritual formation in missionary training or theological education, the matter of character formation will also arise. These two are inseparable. A person who pursues spiritual growth will also discover areas of the character that are in need of transformation. In this writer’s mind, these are not synonymous, but closely related. As a student learns to love and obey God, she also discovers that she must love her neighbour, and that may imply the development of character qualities not previously valued, like generosity, graciousness towards others, self-sacrifice, etc. So, spiritual formation relates to ones relationship with the divine, but cannot be separated from one’s self in relation to others. 

Competencies, Outcomes and Spiritual Formation 

If we embrace spiritual formation as a core task of theological education, we can begin to ask questions regarding how to achieve this end. How does one actually go about helping others grow spiritually? The language around this question is necessarily awkward. Teaching spirituality is not a complicated matter. Linda Cannell reflects that seminaries, when challenged to produce spiritual growth merely add another course.4 The problem with teaching spirituality is that we all know how easy it is to endure teaching that produces little learning, and there is no greater challenge than to experience real learning when it comes to spiritual growth. After all, that which is hardest to measure (assess) is most likely also hardest to teach! 

This discussion is also germane to the external pressures brought upon the academic community under the Bologna Accord.5 Around the world academic accrediting bodies are requiring educational institutions 

3 John K. Amalraj, “What shapes our spirituality in missions?” in Connections: The Journal of the World Evangelical Alliance Mission Commission (Vol. 8. No. 1. April 2009), 9-12.
4 Linda Cannell, from an interview entitled “Emerging Trends in Theological education” in Theological Educators Bulletin, Fall 2003, Number 3, 10. Also available at: past%20consultations/2005%20Czech/Futures%20in%20Theological%20Education.pdf, (accessed 8/12/09). 

5 Hubert Jurgensen, “The Bologna Process (part 1 of 2). Its relevance for Evangelical Theological Schools and the EEAA” The Theological Educator. Vol. 1.2 September 2006. (accessed 8/6/09), and Hubert Jurgensen, “The Bologna Process (part 2 of 2) How does Bologna affect Evangelical Theological 


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to demonstrate the achievement of expressed competencies. There is already growing concern about this model approach to education on the grounds that it all too easily overlooks the affective domain, i.e., the spiritual and character formation of those who embrace the study of theology. Academia naturally resists addressing affective learning goals because these cannot be objectively measured. Yet, spiritual formation, if it is to be affirmed as a function of theological education, is an affective undertaking. It was Ted Ward who warned of potential complications: 

Thinking of Job requirements and necessary competencies in terms of learning tasks, however, leads to several dangerous habits. First, it leads to presumption that skills and knowledge are the only sorts of qualifications that are important to establish qualifications. (What about character traits and moral judgment?) Second, it exalts the qualities of a person that can be assessed through objective testing. Testing objectively justifies a piecework mode of teaching that dehumanizes our development and growth process. (Is it enough to assess the stuff on information shelves and to come up with scores for the skills that a person possesses?) Third, it overlooks the human quality of interrelationship. A person is not simply the sum of what is remembered and what can be done with that information. (Does fragmented facts and catalogs of information add up to fair representation of one’s personality, style, sensitivities, and being, a true assessment of the person?).

For this reason outcomes based education or curriculum emerged as an alternative phrase. Strikingly similar, yet more inclusive, outcomes easily embrace learning goals relating to spiritual or character formation. Competencies speak to us of measureable qualifications for certification. Outcomes are the ends, final results or learning commitments that serve to underpin the curriculum, and can include cognitive, skill related or affective learning goals. The language of outcomes based education is friendly to the three areas or types of learning common to theological education: cognitive (knowledge or understanding), psycho-motor (skills and abilities), and affective (spiritual and character formation). 

Intentionality and Generating Difficult Outcomes 

Whether the process is called competency based or outcomes based training is really not as significant as the question of methodological procedure. Though methodological procedure implies intentionality we will be surprised to discover that, in many institutions, not all outcomes are addressed intentionally and this is especially true when it comes to the affective domain. Spiritual and/or character qualities are normally expressed as desired outcomes of theological education. When institutions are asked to demonstrate where and how these outcomes are generated, vague references to times of worship or prayer are made. 

Educational theorists warn us that Affective outcomes are not easily generated in the context of formal education. When Allen Thomas talks about conversion, perspective transformation, or paradigm shifts, he states these “are likely to occur only in the learning domain.”7 That his reference to the “learning domain” is synonymous with informal education can be seen in that he also states “… so much learning in this domain does not take place as the result of explicit teaching,”8 and “learning that results from teaching has predetermined, and usually socially acceptable, goals, whereas learning that results from collective action is unpredictable and continually challenges the status quo.”

Schools?” The Theological Educator. Vol. 1.2 September 2006. (accessed 8/6/09).
6 Ted Ward as quoted by Linda Cannell, Theological Education Matters: Leadership Education for the Church (EDCOT Press, 2006), 10. 

7 Alan Thomas, 1Beyond Education (San Francisco, Calif.: Josey-Bass, 1991), 96. 8 Ibid., 96.
9 Ibid., 96. 


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Our reliance on methodological procedures that serve to acquire knowledge, understanding and to develop critical and analytical skills, is the primary cause of failure to achieve affective outcomes. In other words, we do not use the correct methods to transform character and develop spiritual growth. Ted Ward reminds us; “Real people have real feelings, not just disembodied information systems called brains. Thus, thinking always occurs within some combination of emotional colorations.”10 

Intentionality also addresses another concern, inappropriate contexts. The three domains of education also correspond to three contexts. Cognitive learning is best suited for the context of formal education, which we associate with schools, institutions, classrooms and graded systems of assessment and development. Behavioural learning (psycho-motor or skill development) is best suited for the context of non-formal education, which should be associated with on-the-job learning, systems of certification, and the demonstration of competence in specific skills. This is a very significant area of learning when we consider the ministry skills needed for cross-cultural Christian workers. Finally, affective learning, or spiritual growth, character formation and attitude transformation, is best suited for the context of informal education, which includes the vast amount of learning we acquire throughout our lives in the contexts that are outside of an organized or systematized experience. 

Here is a conundrum. Outcomes are best generated with a high degree of intentionality. Yet, the very definition of informal education requires the lack of intention and measurability. When learning becomes intentional and systematized it ceases to be informal and migrates towards non-formal or formal. Yet, educational theorists will tell us that the affective domain is most effectively addressed through processes of socialization and informal education. This is where the concern for contexts must be raised. Perhaps, we cannot be intentional about providing learning experiences to generate affective outcomes, but we can be intentional about providing the kinds of contexts in which we can anticipate and know that certain outcomes will be generated. 

When asked how are affective outcomes generated? Affective outcomes relate to the “being,” the character and spiritual qualities of a person, which are observable only through outward behaviours. Behind the expressions of outward behaviours are attitudes. When attitudes change, a person’s character is transformed and spiritual growth may occur. Attitudes can change and the most effective means of transforming attitudes are through instrumental (operant) learning and observational learning.11 Instrumental (or operant) learning is the result of an individual learning on their own through exposure to experiences within a given context, it produces attitude transformation out of life’s experiences. Observational learning is strongly relational. Participants observe a model (a professor, a missionary in residence, an international student, a pastor, etc.) and assimilate desirable qualities. 

A factor appearing to influence the immediacy of this kind of learning is the perceived suitability of the model in the mind of the learner. “Observational learning is greater when the model is powerful, when he or she is seen as having much control over the observer’s environment and its resources.”12 This does not negate, however, that any model whether “powerful” or not, can eventually produce the same results. Arthur Cohen agrees that “who” says something is as important as “what” is said. However, long-term results tend to even out due to, what he calls the “sleeper” effect.13 

To effectively address the spiritual and character quality outcomes we need to use appropriate methods in the correct contexts. Because the kind of modeling that occurs in the context of formal education is severely limited, most of the attitudes and spiritual / character qualities that are desired will not be 

10 Ted Ward, “The Teaching-Learning Process.” In Introducing Christian Education: Foundations for the Twenty-First Century, edited by Michael J. Anthony (Grand Rapids: Baker, 117-124), 123.
11 (Zimbardo and Leippe 1991, 44 and 51).
12 Philip G. Zimbardo and Michael R. Leippe, The psychology of attitude change and social influence (New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill, 1991), 51. 

13 Arthur R. Cohen, Attitude change and social influence (New York, N.Y.: Basic Books, 1964). Part I: Theological Education in Global Context: Issues and Themes 


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observed. This is especially true for cross-cultural training. Desirable methods and contexts will be highly relational and will require our programs to develop learning experiences outside of the classroom or ministry practice. Mentoring programs, advisor groups, peer facilitation groups, and other highly relational experiences become the fruitful ground of spiritual maturation and growth. This growth is not easily measured, but we know it occurs in the context of authentic community. Practitioners and professors need to engage students socially outside of the context of the classroom, in the context of authentic community. This is where attitudes will be modelled, observed and acquired. 

Unfortunately, the business of providing an education does not value highly relational experiences that foster this immeasurable learning. Professors are not paid to socialize with students. Times of spiritual activity, praying and caring for one another, are frequently seen as an imposition on the already busy schedules of professors. Of course, this places the spiritual and character formation goals of the program at risk. Worse, their absence sends an entirely different message and model, which students cannot help but acquire. Perry Shaw reminds us that the Null and Hidden curricula play a significant role in the education of theological students.14 By failing to intentionally address outcomes, we will end up generating other outcomes, some not at all desirable. Can we really afford to shift these responsibilities on others? Can an educational institution say “spiritual growth is the task of the church or the home”? An academic career rewards the pursuit of more knowledge and publications, but rarely notices the personable and friendly professor even though she may have the greatest impact in the life of the students. The question of theological education and spiritual formation implies an intentional process on the part of the institution. Institutions need to value the unique demands of the affective outcomes and begin to resource these outcomes if they are truly desired. 

Integral Curriculum Development and Spirituality 

Affirming that theological education includes spiritual formation is just one of many assumptions that educators bring to the table. Protestant theological education has blossomed into a rich canopy of spiritual expression. We find amongst our communities historical approaches to spirituality that include pietist, puritan, separatist, and the holiness movement, amongst others. Spiritual formation has a distinct look and feel in each one of these contexts. Yet, within these distinct expressions of faith our theological education builds on similar structures or foundations. 

If we affirm the importance and central role of spiritual formation within Theological Education or missionary training, we place ourselves before a commitment to develop curricula that generates desired outcomes in the affective domain and specifically, producing spiritual growth and character qualities. This can be achieved only when we re-examine our educational assumptions, our methodologies and the contexts in which we seek to provide learning experiences. 

An integral curriculum approach seeks to generate outcomes in all of the areas of needed learning. The needs of the whole person are addressed and learning resources are allocated accordingly. This will inevitably require sacrifices and adjustments in our training programs. Knowledge will be viewed as instrumental and not an end in itself. Fewer classroom hours will be allotted for the acquisition of knowledge and understanding. More resources will be directed towards acquiring needed skills, as well as generating expressed desirable spiritual and character outcomes. For a description of a process to develop an integral and outcomes based curriculum, the reader is referred to the book, Integral Ministry Training Design and Evaluation.15 

14 Perry W. H. Shaw, “The Hidden and Null Curricula,” The Theological Educator (Vol. 1.2, September 2006), 3-7. 15 Robert Brynjolfson and Jonathan Lewis, Eds., Integral Ministry Training Design and Evaluation (Pasadena, CA.:William Carey Library, 2006). 


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A couple of simple metaphors could be used to describe our educational assumptions and commitments. First, consider the metaphor of dividing up a pie. If an institution’s curriculum were like an apple pie or a pizza and we were dividing it into three slices according to our educational commitments. How big of a slice would go to formal, non-formal, or informal education? Second, consider what a balanced meal (proteins, carbohydrates and vegetables) looks like. If the plate was dominated by any one of the following: protein (meat or vegetable derived), potato (or pasta, bread, etc.), or vegetables, we would not say the meal was balanced. So, we ask the question, how balanced are our programs of theological study? If we are honest, we will admit that one element of the balanced educational diet far outweighs the rest. 

Setting The Stage: A Unique Moment in Time for Theological Education 

The impact of the Bologna Process is still being felt on theological education.16 The North American context is in a quandary where seminaries are being asked to quantify the achievements relating to specific outcomes in the area of affective learning. Accrediting bodies are requiring seminaries to demonstrate that spiritual growth and character transformation has occurred (if stated as desired outcomes). Efforts are being made to develop methods to assess spiritual growth. The present is an optimum moment to rethink and to reshape our educational assumptions and commitments. 

This paper began with a reflection of the place of spirituality in the theological education or missionary training and this question goes to the heart of the rationale for theological education. Certainly, a balanced approach to the role of spiritual formation in theological education recognizes the singular importance of spiritual formation during theological education. On the other hand, our theological programs of study are not designed to intentionally achieve affective outcomes like spiritual growth and character formation. 

Related to all of this is the question of what the stakeholders of our institutions desire. We need to re- engage the church and Christian service agencies, and develop curricula that meet the training needs expressed by those who use the services of the trained. We will fail in our task if we merely consider what the needs and interests of the students are. What do our churches want, pastors or theologians? What do our mission agencies desire, missionaries or missiologists? Is spiritual growth and character formation an important value expressing the training needs as perceived by the church? 

Speaking as one coming from an independent church background, with the wonderful privilege of having attended a variety of churches including Pentecostal, liturgical, and non-liturgical, free-church and Baptistic, this writer is struck by the choices church governing boards make when searching for a pastor. For example, a multi-staffed church recently promoted an associate pastor to senior pastor whose training background was limited to commerce and accountancy. More striking, however, is the fact that this church is located only twenty minutes drive from the denominational university and seminary. This appointment sent shivers through the Theological faculty at the seminary. Why would a church appoint someone without theological training? This is now a common question that many seminaries are asking. The answer, in part and perhaps misguided in and of itself, relates to perceptions that many in our churches have regarding theological education and the lack of spiritual growth and character formation. 

Now, with pressure from our stakeholders (the churches and Christian service agencies who presumably will employ our graduates) on the one hand, and from accrediting bodies and agencies (whether associations or government agencies) on the other, our institutions of theological education and ministry training are corralled into a position that surely will force some action. We express commitment to spiritual formation through explicit outcomes or competencies, which please both students and stakeholders. However, ours is now the difficult task of reshaping our methodologies and contexts of instruction to 

16 Jurgensen, op. cit. 


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ensure that the achievement of these outcomes can be demonstrated. This is, indeed, a unique moment in time for theological education. 


Amalraj, K. John. 2009. “What shapes our spirituality in missions?” in Connections: The Journal of the World Evangelical Alliance Mission Commission. Vol. 8. No. 1. April 2009. 9-12. 

Banks, Robert. 1999. Re-envisioning Theological Education: Exploring a Missional Alternative to Current Models. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans. 

Brynjolfson, Robert and Lewis, Jonathan. Editors. 2006. Integral Ministry Training Design and Evaluation. Pasadena, CA.: William Carey Library. 

Cannell, Linda. Theological Education Matters: Leadership Education for the Church. EDCOT Press, 2006. 

Cannell, Linda. from an interview entitled “Emerging Trends in Theological education” in Theological Educators Bulletin, Fall 2003, Number 3. 

Cohen, Arthur R. 1964. Attitude change and social influence. New York, N.Y.: Basic Books.
Duane H. Elmer. Ed., With an Eye on the Future: Development and Mission in the 21st Century-Essays in 

Honor of Ted Ward. MARC, 1996.
Jurgensen, Hubert. 2006. “The Bologna Process (part 1 of 2) Its relevance for Evangelical Theological 

Schools and the EEAA” The Theological Educator. Vol. 1.2 September 2006. 

Downloads/TTE%202.pdf (accessed 8/6/09).
____2007. “The Bologna Process (part 2 of 2) How does Bologna affect Evangelical Theological 

Schools?” The Theological Educator. Vol. 1.2 September 2006. 

TTE%202.1.pdf (accessed 8/6/09).
Kelsey, David. 1993. Between Athens and Berlin: The Theological Education Debate. Grand Rapids, 

Mich.: Eerdmans.
Palmer, Parker J. 1998. The Courage to Teach: Exploring the Inner Landscape of a Teacher’s Life. San 

Fancisco: Jossey-Bass.
Shaw, Perry. 2006. Multidimensional Theological Education. Manuscript provided by the author, 2006. Shaw, Perry W. H. 2006. “The Hidden and Null Curricula.” The Theological Educator. 1.2 (September 

2006): 3-7.
Thomas, Alan. 1991. Beyond Education. San Francisco, Calif.: Josey-Bass.
Ward, Ted. 2001. “The Teaching-Learning Process.” In Introducing Christian Education: Foundations for 

the Twenty-First Century, edited by Michael J. Anthony. Grand Rapids: Baker, 117-124.
Zimbardo, Philip G. and Michael R. Leippe. 1991. The psychology of attitude change and social influence

New York, N.Y.: McGraw-Hill. 


Handbook of Theological Education in World Christianity 



Emmanuel Martey Introduction 

Today, we all live in a multicultural society. As a result of globalization and migration, our contemporary world has become pluralistic, and monocultures are giving way to multicultures. And with the multicultural also comes the multi-religious – a new situation that compels the Christian church in Africa and its theology to rethink and relate to this rapidly growing phenomenon. 

All around us, people of various religio-cultural persuasions are coming closer to each other on a global scale and this interaction already serves as an unproclaimed dialogue – an ongoing dialogue of an informal nature. 

In such situations, distances are now being narrowed and, in certain areas, compromises are replacing confrontations. In educational institutions for example, halls of residence, lecture rooms, libraries, canteens, buses, offices, faculty common rooms, and playgrounds are all meeting places for adherents of various religious traditions. What then should be our theological orientation and ecumenical praxis towards this plurality of religious faiths; and, how do we interpret all the non-Christian experiences which our increasingly pluralistic culture provides? 

Inter-Religious Dialogue as Ecumenical Mandate 

Contemporary understanding of “ecumenism” obliges the church to enter into dialogue with people of other faith traditions. If the church’s ecumenical mandate or vision is not only to bring unity and renewal of the whole Christian community, but also to embark on a worldwide mission and seek the unity of the whole human race, that is, the whole inhabited earth, then theology and theological education “ought to be taught and done in relation to the people of other faiths, and [have] to take inter-religious dialogue seriously.

Dialogue then becomes an essential and constitutive part of the church’s mission and therefore very important for Christian theology. Today, “theology of dialogue” has become one of the most significant missiological currents and has found a firm place of acceptance in both the Roman Catholic Church and the World Council of Churches. Such a theological understanding has led the ecumenical bodies to initiate a 

1 This paper was originally published online by the World Council of Churches theological-education-ete/world-conference-of-associations-of-theological-institutions-wocati/the-challenge-of-inter- religious-dialogue-and-praxis-to-the-african-theological-community-dr-emmanuel-martey-cati.html 

1 Emmanuel Martey, “Theological Education as Catalyst for Ecumenical Formation in Africa: The Role of Associations of Theological Institutions – The Case of WAATI,” Ministerial Formation, 98/99, July/October, 2002, 17 cf. 18. 


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number of contacts with African traditionalists, Jews, Muslims, Hindus, and Buddhists, and to convene bilateral and multilateral conferences.

The term “dialogue” is derived from the Greek dia-logos which literally means “through word.” Dialogue is therefore “talking together” or “conversation.” Inter-religious dialogue is primarily a conversation between believers of different faiths or religious traditions. 

Fundamentally, inter-religious dialogue has come to be understood as an encounter between people who live by different faith traditions in an atmosphere of mutual trust and acceptance. According to S. Wesley Ariarajah, inter-faith dialogue is seen as 

a way not only to become informed about the faiths of others but also to rediscover essential dimensions of one’s own faith tradition. The benefits of removing historical prejudices and enmities as well as new possibilities for working together for common good [are] recognized and affirmed.

In point of fact, the Christian faith’s attempt to understand its relationship with other religious traditions began in the early church when the new faith had to grapple with diverse religio-cultural environments including Jewish and Graeco-Roman worldviews. Again, history is replete with evidence that from the patristic period through the medieval to the modern era, there had been divergent schools of thought on how to understand and relate to religious life-style that was not based on Christian convictions. 

It was not until the rise of the modern ecumenical movement – whose beginning is usually traced to the World Missionary Conference in Edinburgh in 1910 which focused on the evangelization of the whole human race – that inter-religious dialogue was seen as a constitutive part of the church’s oikoumenic mandate. Inter-faith dialogue – its concept and practice – therefore became a serious ecumenical agenda. 

It is not surprising, then, that both the Edinburgh (1910) and Jerusalem (1928) Missionary Conferences should give prominence to inter-religious relations. For example, while Edinburgh compared the Christian encounter with “religious traditions of Asia… as being of the same order as the meeting of the New Testament church with Graeco-Roman culture” thus “demanding fundamental shifts in Christian self- understanding and theology”; Jerusalem (1928), although asserting the capabilities of the Christian gospel to provide answers to problems of our troubled world, nevertheless affirmed the values in “other religions and called on Christians to join hands with all believers to confront the growing impact of secular culture.”

It was this same oikoumenic visionary mandate of the church that led the ecumenical movement to affirm at the Kandy (Sri Lankan) Conference of 1967 that dialogue was “the most appropriate approach in inter-faith relations.”5 The establishment of the sub-unit on Dialogue with People of Living Faiths and Ideologies by the World Council of Churches’ Central Committee in 1971 in Addis Ababa, and also, the Vatican Secretariat for Non-Christians tremendously increased the visibility of inter-faith dialogue in the life of the churches. In 1970, under the auspices of WCC, the first multi-faith dialogue was convened in Lebanon bringing Christian, Muslim, Hindu, and Buddhist participants together. 

2 J. A. Jongeneel, and J. M. van Engelen, “Contemporary Currents in Missiology” in Missiology: An Ecumenical Introduction – Texts and Contexts of Global Christianity edited by F. J. Verstraelen et al (Grand Rapids, Eerdmanns, 1995) 453f.
3 S. Wesley Ariarajah, “Interfaith Dialogue” in Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement 2nd Edition, edited by Nicholas Lossky et al (Geneva, WCC Publications 2002), 314. The expressions “inter-religious dialogue” and “inter-faith dialogue” are used here interchangeably. 

4 Ibid. 312. It must be pointed out, however, that there were some participants at the Jerusalem meeting who disagreed with the positive affirmation of other faiths and maintained the uniqueness of Christianity. Therefore the Christian attitude towards other religious faiths became highly controversial shortly after the Jerusalem Conference in 1928.
5 Ibid. 314. 


Handbook of Theological Education in World Christianity 

Interfaith Dialogue in Theological Education 205 Inter-Religious Dialogue as Ecumenical Praxis 

Inter-religious dialogue is not only an ecumenical mandate; it is also an ecumenical praxis. If we trace the meaning of ecumenism to its Greek root oikos which means “household” or “home”; we realize that oikos supplies the root meaning of three important words that collectively determine the question of survival of the globe. First, it provides the root meaning for oikoumene which questions whether the people of the earth are able to inhabit the earth in peace. Second, it furnishes the root meaning for economy which questions whether everyone in the global household has access to what it takes to live a meaningfully abundant life that Jesus Christ talked about; and third, it provides the root meaning for ecology which questions whether nature will have a home, its own living space. The survival of our globe would be determined by these three spheres.6 Therefore, the questions of oikos are questions of life and death because to be homeless is to be condemned to death. 

All the three-level understanding of oikos dealing with the radical questions of economy, ecology and socio-economic conditions that affect the lives of ordinary people in Africa and the rest of the Third World compels the church to look beyond ecclesial unity; and, putting its faith into action, engage in a theological praxis that would “expand the existing boundaries of orthodoxy [and] enter into the liberative streams of other religions and cultures.”

In our dealing with persons of other faith traditions therefore, dialogue becomes an ecumenical praxis that enables us to involve and address the more radical questions of life and death including issues of creative justice which is God’s power of life against death.8 Inter-religious dialogue then affords the Christian church the opportunity to join other oppressed and exploited people of the world – the vast majority of who perceive “their ultimate concern and symbolize their struggle for liberation in the idiom of non-Christian religions and cultures.”

It is thus our contemporary understanding of ecumenism with its concomitant theological orientation towards the more radical questions dealing with the survival of the whole inhabited earth that lead us into theological and inter-faith praxis – that is, an informed, creative and committed action undertaken to shape and change our ailing and divided world. 

Such an ecumenical theological praxis is guided by a moral disposition to act truly and justly and to show genuine concern for human well-being and for life in its fullness. In this context, praxis becomes the action of people who are free and are able to act for themselves. But such a committed action also involves risks and, therefore, requires that a person makes a wise and prudent practical judgment about how to act in a particular situation.10 

It follows then that our oikoumenic vocation obligates the church to cooperate with people of other faiths to welcome the assistance of our partners in dialogue to be able to respond to God’s will and strive to contribute to the coming Kingdom of God. Inter-religious dialogue then becomes one way of working for the coming Kingdom. For Arnold Temple, inter-religious dialogue, 

6 See Douglas Meeks, “Globalization and Oikoumene in Theological Education” in Russelle E. Richey (ed.) Ecumenism in Interreligious Perspectives: Globalizzation in Theological Education (Nashville, Quarterly Review Books, 1992), 5-6.
7 Aloysius Pieris, “The Place of Non-Christian Religions and Cultures in the Evolution of Third World Theology” in Irruption of the Third World: Challenge to Theology, edited by Virginia Fabella and Sergio Torres (Maryknoll, New York, Orbis Books, 1983), 114. 

8 Emmanuel Martey “Ecumenism in the 21st Century and the Reconfiguration of the Ecumenical Movement – A Reflection” in WCC, Reflections on Ecumenism in the 21st Century (Geneva, WCC, 2004), 62f.
9 Pieris, “The Place of Non-Christian Religions and Cultures in the Evolution of Third World Theology,” 113.
10 Mark K. Smith, “Praxis: An introduction to the Idea Plus an Annotated Book List” on website at praxis.htm (accessed 24/1/05), 3. Cf. W. Carr and S. Kemmis, Becoming Critical: Education, Knowledge and Action Research (Lewes, Farmer, 1986), 190. 


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is an attempt by the church to act in partnership with those outside its institutional life in the promotion of the Kingdom of God, the resultant effect being the renewal of societies to manifest the value of the Kingdom – love, justice, freedom and truth. It is from these values that peace proceeds.11 

The focus of our inter-religious dialogue and praxis ought to be guarded by both theological and pastoral awareness that it is the ordinary believing Christians living in everyday contact with believers of other faiths that will make the whole process successful. Therefore in our inter-religious praxis, priority must be given to life – life that is shared among believers in God. This is the most important dimension of the dialogical process and not just mere gathering of theologians and church leaders sitting around tables with scholars and leaders of other religions talking and discussing high-minded topics. This “dialogue of life” takes place when people of various faiths 

witness to the other concerning the values they have found in their faith, and through the daily practice of brotherhood [and sisterhood], helpfulness, open-heartedness and hospitality, each show themselves to be a God- fearing neighbour. The true Christians and [their neighbours of other faiths] offer to a busy world values arising from God’s message when they revere the elderly, conscientiously rear the young, care for the sick and the poor in their midst, and work together for social justice, welfare and human rights.12 

In the 21st century, there is the need to shift focus of inter-religious relations from scholars and religious leaders to ordinary believers at the grassroots. In this paradigm shift, priority ought to be given to life praxis and we should therefore speak more of inter-faith praxis than dialogue. And as praxis, the process refers to actions taken in all the various aspects of human life embracing not just one but the many practices within the social realm. This should be so because a shared life among believers in God can take many different forms. In point if fact, within the African context 

When people of various faiths live together – not simply co-habiting the same town but together – the question of dialogue or proclamation doesn’t arise. When they work, study, struggle, celebrate, and mourn together and face the universal crises of injustice, illness and death as one [as in the case of the devastating effects of HIV and AIDS], they don’t spend most of their time talking about doctrine. Their focus is on immediate concerns of survival, on taking care of the sick and needy, on communicating cherished values to new generations, on resolving problems and tensions in productive rather than in destructive ways, on reconciling after conflicts, on seeking to build more just, humane, and dignified societies… 

And again in Africa, 

…when believers are actively cooperating in such activities, at certain rare but privileged moments, they also express what is deepest in their lives and hearts, that is, their respective faiths, which are the sources of strength and inspiration that form the motive force which drives and guides all their activities.13 

Inter-religious relations or dialogue is to be understood as the sharing of life at all levels among believers of different faiths. This is a praxis which brings enrichment to all partners when it is carried out in a consciously unselfish way. 

11 Arnold Temple, “Inter-Faith Praxis in the African Context,” Voices From the Third World, vol. XXV, Nos. 1&2, December 2002, 51.
12 Thomas Michel, “Towards a Pedagogy of Religious Encounter” on website /Jesuits/dialoguedocument/articles/michel_religous_ecounter (accessed 23/1/05), 1 citing Federation of Asian Bishops’ Conference, “The Second Bishops’ Institute for Interreligious Affairs (BIRA II), 1979” in For All the Peoples of Asia, vol. 1 edited by G. Rosales C. Arevalo (Manila, Claretian, 1991). 

13 Ibid. 2. What Thomas Michel says here is very true of the African situation. 


Handbook of Theological Education in World Christianity 

Interfaith Dialogue in Theological Education 207 Some Advantages of Inter-Religious Dialogue and Praxis 

In the political context, dialogue is understood as the opposite of conflict; while entry into dialogue could bring conflict and hostilities to an end, the abrupt end of dialogue resumes conflicts and even war. Among believers of God of different faiths, enmity has been created because of the prejudices and stereotypes that have been handed done from generation to generation; and even today, there is the reinforcement of such caricatures that generate religious intolerance and fundamentalism. In the name of religion, crimes are committed against humanity. Various reasons have been given why inter-religious dialogue is not only important but also necessary; and here, I examine just a few of these. 

Pluralistic and peaceful co-existence 

In a multicultural and multireligious global environment, dialogue becomes necessary as a means of promoting understanding and acquaintance with our neighbours. Without dialogue, we will all end up in all kinds of situations of conflict. In a pluralistic situation, dialogue then becomes a contention to find mutual basis for peaceful co-existence. 

Unless we learn how to walk together in harmony and peace, we will drift apart and destroy ourselves and others simply because we believe differently. In Africa, inter-religious engagements after conflicts and civil wars have produced encouraging results in countries like Liberia and Sierra Leone. Arnold Temple, describing the West African situation writes: 

There are stories of success of the Inter-religious Council of Sierra Leone. As a result of its engagement, the Inter-faith Council of Liberia won the All Africa Conference of Churches Desmond Tutu Peace Prize in 1997. In Sierra Leone, the Inter-religious Council continues their engagement in the process of reconstruction of a devastated community.14 

It is the aim of inter-faith relations, dialogue and praxis in Africa to rid the continent of all religious disputes and conflicts so that all will be able to live in peace and harmony. 

Clarifying our own beliefs 

In dialogue, all partners as “believers” are invited to deepen their religious commitment; to respond with increasing sincerity to God’s personal call and gift of the Divine Self. For us Christians, this comes through Christ Jesus by the power of the Holy Spirit. For us to engage in meaningful and serious dialogue, we must then be well-grounded in our faith and have strong belief. The same thing is expected of all dialogue partners. This calls for adequate preparation in which we have to ask ourselves questions concerning our own faith. For example, questions about the Doctrine of the Trinity and that of the Incarnation – about Jesus being Vere Deus, Vere homo

In all these, there is the need to formulate our belief in such a way that the stranger or the non-Christian can understand and believe. The dialogical process therefore helps to clarify and makes us understand our beliefs more and, thus, makes us stronger: “Being involved in inter-religious dialogue,” says Mogen Amstrup, “always raises new questions about our own belief.”15 In inter-religious dialogue, all the faith traditions are challenged by the encounter with others. 

14 Temple, “Inter-Faith Praxis in the African Context,” 48.
15 Mogen Amstrup, “Lecture on Inter-Religious Dialogue, Multiculturality and Multireligiousness” delivered at a Seminar on Spirituality, 11-18 October 2003 at Dikonhojskolen, on (accessed 23/1/05) 4. 


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Searching for the truth 

In inter-religious dialogue, we are not only seeking the truth in our own faith but also, in that of our neighbours. Dialogue is therefore to be viewed as “a common pilgrimage toward the truth, within which each tradition shares with the others the way it has to perceive and respond to that truth.”16 “Truth,” it has been argued by Thomas Thangaraj, “is nothing we know” and it is also “a part of eschatology and we are living in the eschatology, but we don’t know all of it.”17 

By emphasizing the eschatological dimension of the epistemology of truth, Thangaraj is reminding us that in eschatology there is the “already” as well as the “not yet” or the “yet-to-come.” Therefore in inter- religious dialogue, all the partners become pilgrims walking together towards truth. 

Dialogue as mission 

Dialogue is not antithetical to mission; on the contrary, it promotes mission. If one does not take one’s belief or religion seriously, one will not be so eager to talk about it and tell other people about it. Mission is therefore part of dialogue because we share and tell others about our faith. In point of fact, in real life situation, dialogue and witnessing cannot be separated. They are all part of the life that we share together. Just as Thomas Michel has observed: 

In a shared life, we are all constantly influencing one another and learning from each other, all growing and being enriched by encountering the acts and attitudes which God produces, through our respective faiths, in each.18 

Dialogue as part of the church’s oikoumenic mission is well established in ecumenical circles. Arnold Temple, for instance, has contended that inter-religious dialogue is not an option against the church’s mission. Such thinking, according to him, is a “myth.” Rather, to the contrary, “dialogue is a vital aspect of the mission of the church… [and] is for the sake of mission.”19 

Again, following questions raised at the WCC 5th Assembly in 1975 in Nairobi, a theological consultation was held two years later in Chiang Mai, Thailand which affirmed that “dialogue is neither a betrayal of mission nor a ‘secret weapon’ of proselytism but a way ‘in which Jesus Christ can be confessed in the world today’.”20 

To a certain extent, progress has been made in inter-faith dialogue especially, between Christians and Muslims which has yielded evangelistic fruits. For instance, as a result of dialogue, a Christian church has appeared once again in Ben Ghazi, Libya. On the other hand, a mosque has been built in Rome “for the first time in recent history.”21 

Mutual enrichment 

Some have affirmed that in the dialogical process, there is mutual enrichment of the life of believers of God coming from different religious traditions. Each believer, it is argued, becomes spiritually richer than before the religious encounter and therefore becomes a better believer as Christian, Muslim or Traditionalist. 

16 Ariarajah, “Interfaith Dialogue”, 315.
17 Cited by Mogen Amstrup, “Lecture on Inter-Religious Dialogue, Multiculturality and Multireligiousness”, 4.
18 Thomas Michel, “Toward a Pedagogy of Religious Encounter,” 3.
19 Temple, “Inter-Faith Praxis in the African Context,” 51.
20 Ariarajah, “Interfaith Dialogue,” 315. The Chiang Mai Consultation led to the formulation of “Guidelines on Dialogue” which was adopted by WCC Central Committee in 1979 and was commended to all Churches for study and action.
21 Maulana Wahiduddin Khan, “Progress in Inter-Religious Dialogue” on\es/papers/ progress.htm (accessed 23/1/05), 1. 


Handbook of Theological Education in World Christianity 

Interfaith Dialogue in Theological Education 209 Furthermore, such encounters assist people to do away with stereotypes and to overcome prejudices. 

Thomas Michel has underscored the fact that 

Dialogue provides believers with the opportunity to examine together those universal human tendencies towards exclusivity, chauvinism, and violence which can infect religious identity and behaviour.22 

When enough room is created for the partner in religious dialogue, each will have confidence in the process and genuine sharing takes place. In dialogue, new rooms need be created in the residence of our mind and thinking, as well as in our actions. This encourages sharing together which also brings mutual enrichment. 

Challenges of Theology of Religions and Dialogue – Quo Vadis Africa? 

Two movements or trajectories of thought quickly come to mind when discussing theology of religions, namely Evangelicalism and Ecumenicalism. Evangelicals have strongly opposed the theology of religions and dialogue and have denied the presence of God in other religions.23 They argue that words like “dialogue” and “presence” often serve as replacements for key words of Scripture. For instance, the Frankfurt Declaration states: 

We refute the idea that ‘Christian Presence’ among the adherents of the world religions and a give-and-take dialogue with them are substitutes for a proclamation of the gospel which aims at conversion. Such dialogues simply establish good points of contact for missionary communication.24 

Such an evangelical view is not also absent within the ecumenical movement itself. At the World Council of Churches Sixth Assembly in Vancouver (1983), while there was no serious disagreement on the need for inter-religious dialogue, there was much controversy over the theology of religions. The debate was whether other religions were the “vehicle of God’s redeeming activity” and a number of participants challenged a statement in the report that spoke of “God’s hand active in the religious life of our neighbours.”25 

In Africa, one of the strong evangelical voices that still challenges our theological community and cannot just be dismissed is that of Byang Kato, who, writing three decades ago made a sharp distinction between early patristic ecumenism and modern ecumenism revealing the “pitfalls” in the latter. He wrote: 

Unlike the true type of early ecumenical councils, present-day ecumenism plays down doctrinal issues. Their thesis is that doctrine divides, but service unites. The drive, therefore, comes mainly through service. To the ecumenicals, unity, almost at any cost, is the greatest thing that could happen to the Christian church. Any group that refuses to join the bandwagon of liberal ecumenism is considered a separatist, sectarian, or uncooperative group.26 

22 Thomas Michel, “Toward a Pedagogy of Religious encounter,” 4.
23 David J. Bosch has identified at least six or seven different strands of Evangelicals, namely; (1) Confessional Evangelicals; (2) Pietist Evangelicals; (3) Fundamentalists; (4) Pentecostals; (5) Conservative Evangelicals or Neo- Evangelicals; (6) Ecumenical Evangelicals; and (7) Radical Evangelicals. See his “Ecumenicals and Evangelicals: A Growing Relationship?” The Ecumenical Review, vol. 40, Nos. 3&4, July-October 1988, 458-9 for more details.
24 Jongeneel and van Engelen, “Contemporary Currents in Missiology,” 454.
25 See Ariarajah, “Interfaith Dialogue,” 316.
26 Byang Kato, Theological Pitfalls in Africa (Kisumu, Kenya, Evangel Publishing House, 1975), 130. 


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According to Kato, from the very outset, orthodox Christianity has been interested in fellowship and unity with people of other faiths “as long as doctrines are not compromised… Doctrinal truths cannot be sacrificed at the altar of unity.”27 Kwame Bediako captured the full picture of Kato’s theological enterprise against the ecumenicals when he said: 

Kato therefore concluded that there was “poisonous elements” in the “theology of ecumenism” – basically “syncretism” and “universalism” – at both the world-wide level of the World Council of Churches (WCC) and the local level of its African manifestation in the All Africa Conference of Churches (AACC)… Kato’s major concern was to show how the “poisonous elements” in the “theology of ecumenism” were progressively replacing what he saw as “the essential basic doctrines of the church.”28 

Eugene Smith, himself an ecumenical, has enumerated the evangelical charges against his fellow ecumenicals: 

The most frequent charges against us were theological liberalism, loss of ecumenical conviction, universalism in theology, substitution of social action for evangelism and the search of unity at the expense of Biblical truth.29 

Ecumenicals, on the other hand, have not only defended themselves but also criticized the exclusive attitude of Christians towards other religions; and have argued that the challenge to the Christian faith now come not from other faiths, but from anti-religious or secular movements.30 

The Ecumenical voice within the context of EATWOT has been very strong. According to Sergio Torres, “It is wrong for Christians to ignore the existence of other faiths that provide spiritual homes for hundreds of millions of persons” including African Traditional Religions. These religions, he contends, “challenge the institutional churches of the Christian tradition with very important questions.”31 And for Diego Irarrazaval the current President of EATWOT, he gets spiritual nourishment when participating “in indigenous rituals and celebrations that have syncretistic and non-Christian features.”32 

The argument of EATWOT is that the vast majority of Third World population is non-Christian who “perceive their ultimate concern and symbolize their struggle for liberation in the idiom of non-Christian religions and cultures.” Thus speaking through the voice of the Sri Lankan theologian Aloysius Pieris, EATWOT declares that “a theology that does not speak to or speak through this non-Christian peoplehood is an esoteric luxury of a Christian minority” and emphasize the need for a theology of religions that will go beyond the existing boundaries of orthodoxy.33 

EATWOT therefore advocates the disengagement of Christian theology from Western dominant moorings and relate to other religions. But in doing this EATWOT cautions and calls for the need to be aware of the negative and oppressive elements as well as the diversity in and within these religions. Furthermore, EATWOT calls for inter-faith praxis that will go beyond mere dialogue at the academic level 

27 Ibid. 133.
28 Kwame Bediako, Theology and Identity: The Impact of Culture Upon Christian Thought in the 2nd century and Modern Africa (Oxford, Regnum Books 1992) 393.
29 Eugene L. Smith, “The Wheaton Congress in the Eyes of an Ecumenical Observer,” International Review of Missions, vol. 55, 1966, 480-482. Smith was an observer at the Wheaton Congress.
30 See Ariarajah, “Interfaith Dialogue,” 312.
31 Sergio Torres, “The Irruption of the Third World: A Challenge to Theology” in Irruption of the Third World: Challenge to Theology edited by Virginia Fabella and Sergio Torres (New York, Maryknoll, Orbis Books, 1983) 10. 32 Diego Irarrazaval, “Treads of Faiths in a Texture of Life,” Voices From the Third World, vol. XXV Nos. 1&2 December 2002, 59; see also, 1 (accessed 23/1/05).
33 Aloysius Pieris, “The Place of Non-Christian Religions and Cultures in the Evolution of Third World Theology,” 113-114. 


Handbook of Theological Education in World Christianity 

Interfaith Dialogue in Theological Education 211 to promote integral liberation and development. The Final Statement of EATWOT’s 5th Conference in New 

Delhi (1981) declares further: 

We favour ongoing dialogue between Christians and the members of other religions. But this dialogue cannot remain only on an intellectual level about God, salvation, human fulfillment, or other such concepts. Beyond dialogue there must be collaborative action for the integral liberation of the oppressed… Our common praxis with the people of other faiths is a valid source of theology in the Third World.34 

Revelation and Salvation 

There is less agreement among Christians on the issues of revelation and salvation and how these doctrines relate to other religions. These differences are seen not only within the corridors of the evangelical- ecumenical divide, but also, between Protestants and Roman Catholics. 

While some Christian thinkers following Karl Barth insist that Biblical faith based on God’s encounter with humanity is radically different from all the other religious faiths as we find in the works of the Dutch missiologist Hendrick Kraemer and the African Conservative-evangelical Byang Kato; dissenting voices coming mainly from ecumenicals also disagree that the gospel is in discontinuity with other religious traditions. For Kraemer, the divine will may only “shine” through other religions “in a broken way” but the “only true way to know the revealed will of God is by responding to the divine intervention in history in Christ.”35 

Providing a sharp Afro-evangelical critique, Byang Kato – referring to the traditional religious beliefs of his own Jaba people of Nigeria – writes: 

With the coming of Christ, all other revelations come to an end. It is most unlikely that either Jaba or any other non-Christian peoples have received a direct revelation from God…There is neither redemption nor evidence of direct divine revelation to individuals in Jaba religion. 

He then concludes, 

There is emphatically no possibility of salvation through these religions. But… many theologians today are trying hard to elevate these non-Christian religions to the same status as Biblical Christianity… ‘African theology’ gives that impression.36 

Veritably, statements such as these cannot just be dismissed merely as conservative jargons. Even if this Barth-Kraemer-Kato stance in its most conservative sense does not appear appealing or sophisticated enough to the modern mind, its call for doctrinal purity and “back-to-the Bible” are still starkly challenging. If contemporary theology in Africa is to have any meaningful impact on the poor in spirit, and the spiritual authority to overcome the forces of death and decay, these challenges have to be taken seriously. 

EATWOT disagrees with this stance. In its New Delhi (1983) Final Statement, it contends that the Sacred Scriptures and traditions of other faiths are also “a source of revelation for us”; and this 

34 See the “Final Statement” in Irruption of the Third World: Challenge for Theology, 202f.
35 Ariarajah, “Interfaith Dialogue,” 312. Among the dissenting voices from H. Kraemer for example, are A.G. Hogg; H.H. Farmer, T.C. Chao and others.
36 Byang Kato, Theological Pitfalls in Africa, 44 and 45 respectively. 


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consideration of divine revelation “enables us to see that the concept of the ‘people of God’ should be widened to include not only believers of other faiths but the whole of humanity.”37 

Another difference in the Christian soteriological orientation towards other faiths is the distinction between Protestants and Catholics. While Protestant missions tend to be Christocentric, that of Roman Catholic is Ecclesiocentric. Protestants place emphasis on the need to believe in Christ by responding to the gospel message as a way of salvation. Although the Protestant attitude to other faiths is not entirely negative, it tends to be neutral at best on the question of salvation outside the response to Christ.38 

For Catholics, salvation is a free gift of God offered in Christ to all who have faith in Him. But this faith is expressed by receiving baptism and becoming part of the church. The church is therefore the sacrament of the saving work of Christ available to all humanity. Roman Catholic theology is able to provide for the possibility of salvation for those outside the church. For instance, those who lived before Christ, and those who for no fault of theirs never heard the gospel, Catholic theology has developed a concept of “implicit faith” or “faith by intention” so that no one is excluded in the church. Thus: 

Salvation offered in Christ is mysteriously available to all who seek to fulfill the will of God; it is possible to be incorporated into the sacrament of the paschal mystery, the church, by intention.39 

All these different positions doubtlessly challenge the African theological community, whose constituency consists not just of Catholics and Protestants, but also, of evangelicals and ecumenicals. 


Africa today is a multi-cultural and multi-religious society. As such, our very survival depends on how we learn to live and walk together in harmony with our non-Christian neighbours or, drift apart and destroy ourselves and others. In inter-religious dialogue and praxis, we learn how to live and walk together with our neighbours – how to struggle together; face the crises of poverty, oppression, injustice, racism, and sexism together; face diseases, death, and mourn together; and how to celebrate life together. In all this togetherness, we also articulate and convey that which is deepest in our lives and our hearts – that which has been the source of our inspiration, empowerment and resilience in the face of death and decay – namely, our faith which has guided all our actions. 


37 “Final Statement” in Irruption of the Third World: Challenge for Theology, 202.
38 Ariarajah, “Interfaith Dialogue,” 313.
39 Ibid. 313. These thoughts were developed by the French Cardinal Jean Danielou and the German theologian Karl Rahner in the 1960s following the spirit if Vatican II. 

Handbook of Theological Education in World Christianity