Reflection on the Evolvement of Theological Education
By Jimmy Kuoh, PhD
Traditional theological education has evolved through the centuries from the holistic spiritual development of the person to what Ellington refers to as unidimensional, intellectually-learned student. This evolving theological approach requires the reflection of all of us who are involved in this kingdom enterprise. A careful examination of the Bible reveals different ways of training leaders than what is practiced in most theological schools today.
The Biblical training models were familial training and mentorship. The way to follow God was taught to children by their parents. For example, parents were instructed by religious leaders, like Moses, to teach their children the requirements of the Word of God at home and even while walking down the road. They were to ensure that their children not only memorize the laws but practice them in their daily lives. The emphasis was on doing more than on knowing.
Besides learning taking place in the family, some spiritual leaders with more experience mentored younger or less experienced people who had the same divine calling into leadership, priesthood, or prophethood, as the older spiritual leaders. So, we see Moses mentoring Joshua, Eli mentoring Samuel, Elijah mentoring Elisha, and so on.
In the New Testament, training also took place by mentoring. Jesus is seen mentoring the disciples and Paul mentoring Timothy. The emphasis was on the development of the person, which also enabled them to fulfill their calling.
The formal style of education practiced by current theological schools was influenced by the Greeks, who developed a more structured and analytical way of learning. This model found its way into the church as Jews and Judeo Christians adopted the Greek culture and more Gentiles embraced Christianity. But as Dr. Murriell McCulley observes, the Greeks were not the first people to develop formal education. Long before the Greeks, the Egyptians had very formal education. This is probably why Alexandra easily hosted one of the strongest formal theological institutions in church history.
The main thought here is not a recommendation to discontinue formal theological education. Rather, the kingdom of God will benefit if we create enough room in our current model to train parents to reach their own children with the gospel and initiate mentoring relationships within our theological institutions.
If our goal is not just to train professionals but to train laborers to fulfill God’s mission, then we must rethink the current “unidimensional” model of training by incorporating the way people of the Bible were trained to live for God and accomplish the Great Commission, which is training-by- doing or mentoring. God’s purpose for His people is not to reproduce professional elites, but to develop people who are spiritually formed and ready to fulfill His mission.