Asian Public Theology: Its Social Location-Part 2

By K.C Abraham

Theology and Church-Ministry

In our system, the social location of the Church receive special emphasis. It is not surprising, most of our candidates who do theology are sponsored by Churches and they go back to pastoral ministry after the studies. Theological education is designed for ministerial training. The courses, syllabi, and even the pedagogical methods are selected keeping this in mind The Serampore system strives hard to listen to the Churches about their needs and periodically revises its curriculum to respond to them. I am not suggesting that there are no problems in this area. In fact, there is a barrage of criticisms from Church leaders about the training programme of the Serampore system.

At a consultation in Delhi on the theological education in North India, one of the bishops vehemently argued that Serampore training was not useful for his diocese. He said that he had no use of persons with B.D. and M.Th. In the village congregations; he would be content with leaders trained to conduct worship services and pastoral visits. In fact, he even added that his poor congregations could not afford to pay for the graduates. Apart from the “politics” of his statement, there is some truth in his criticism. The Serampore training, by and large, equips the candidates for a pattern of ministry in the urban contexts. The fact that graduate degree is a requirement for B.D. eliminates a large section of people who could fit better in the rural areas. There are B.Th. Colleges that admit undergraduates, but they too want to upgrade themselves to B.D. colleges. This again underscores the pressure under which the Serampore system operates. If you make ananalysis of the courses, again you will see the urban bias of our B.D. programme. How to rectify this situation? How do we equip leaders for rural ministry?

The pastoral wisdom does not come through exegetical study or through the technical skills necessary for the pastor. They are certainly essential for theological training, but the spiritual maturity is attained in different ways. The hiatus between theological training and pastoral ministry should be bridged by a process of spiritual nurturing. A new sense of the vocation rooted and grounded in the freedom and power of the Gospel alone is the source of this.

In today’s theological training we seldom provide an opportunity to deepen our faith and the vision embedded in it. It is said rightly, pastoral care means offering your own life experience to your fellow travellers.(1) What are we offering to our brothers and sisters in the congregations, as pastors? Has theological education helped us in discovering our faithexperiences and sharing them with others? This seems to be the challenge we face with regard to our first theological location, the Church.

Integrating Social Insights into Theology

What about the second location, the society? Recently there has been a great deal of awareness about this location. The social location from which‘theology is learned and taught decisively influences the process of theological education. The emphasis given for Dalit studies, women’s studies and other related fields have brought about significant changes in the way we do theology.

One of the ways to do the integration of the insights gained by social location and the main line concerns is by taking seriously the interdisciplinary approach to theological learning. The disciplinary approach is the legacy of the Western academia. We have mindlessly followed it. As someone has said, there is a vested interest that sheltered it. The professorial interest in safeguarding one’s own department for the sake of jobs or prestige is quite evident. And many of our teachers have been trained in that system, and we too are afraid of deviating from the norm. It is ironic that in the research level we now talk about interdisciplinary approach. To attempt something at that level is not easy, if all along the scholars have learned through disciplinary divisions. We need to start early. The reality, particularly the social reality, is multi-dimensional and a narrow disciplinary approach will not be sufficient to unravel the complexity of it. There is no reason why we should not introduce a multidisciplinary approach at the B.D. level. Take for example, the issue of globalization:How do we study it? One may start with collecting some facts from one’s experience, with the help of an economist and a social scientist, make an analysis, raise the Biblical and theological perspectives and conclude it with some reflection on concrete action. An issue-centred: approach will help us develop an interdisciplinary form of learning.

1 Henri Nouwen, Creativ Ministry, New York: Doubleday and Company,1991.



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