is a widespread conviction nowadays that ecumenism, has recently entered into a
delicate and crucial stage, with clearly evident the signs of a decline. The
tragic events we experienced since the great changes in Europe - with Churches,
sometimes even from the same tradition, not in solidarity with, but fighting,
each other; with the great powers not with a vision to built a better and just
society, but with a clear plan to establish a "new world order",
equally unjust as the old; and with the nations and the peoples not desiring to
live peacefully with the "others", but wishing to cleanse them -
are just a few indications that the titanic ecumenical efforts of the
past definitely need re-orientation. K. Raiser, the present Secretary General of
the WCC, has recently
reflected on this issue and suggested a radical shift in the ecumenical paradigm.
one likes it or not, the process of the development of a new United and
integrated Europe, i.e. of a giant multi-cultural entity, will inevitably shape
the future of the peoples not only of the eventual member states, but of the
entire world; after all Europe is, and is certainly destined to remain, the
spiritual cradle of human culture. By saying, of course, this I do not by any
means underestimate the importance and enormous value of what has been achieved
on the spiritual and cultural level in other non European parts of the globe. I
would only wish to underline the great responsibility that falls on the
shoulders of Europe to keep the spiritual balance in the extavagant
technological race of our meta-modern
era. Coming from Hellas (Greece), that tiny but with great history part
of the globe, which has determined not only the formation of the renowned
classical antiquity, but also the transformation of the early Jewish christian
community into an ecumenical Christianity,
I feel very sensitive about the role Christianity, especially through its
academic institutions, is called to play in this respect.
a. The ERASMUS Project in “Theology”.
was this agony that has forced the Theological School of the University of
Thessaloniki, Greece, to undertake an initiative to establish in our continent
an Inter-University Cooperation Project in the field of Theology, within the
framework of the so-called ERASMUS educational program of the EU. The Project,
three years old now, with the participation of the Universities of Thessaloniki
(Greece), Bochum and Münster (Germany), Durham (Great Britain), Madrid (Spain),
Copenhagen (Denmark), Oslo (Norway), and from next academic year with the
participation of Bologna (Italy), Reykjavik (Iceland), Joensuu (Finland), and
Lund (Sweden), is ecumenical in its orientation and purpose. It consists of
student and faculty exchanges, especially
between Theological Schools of different traditions, educational and research
programs, as well as curriculum development programs, i.e. a critical evaluation
of the existing curricula with the view of changing them. Above all, however,
the project’s vision is to invite the academic resourses of our continent to
sit together and thoroughly examine the Church’s - and consequently
Theology’s - role in the shaping of of the future Europe.
Needless to say, of course, that our involvement in
the ERASMUS program is by no means an affirmation of, or even surrender to, the
plans of the technocrats in Brussels. On the contrary, it is our determination
to challenge the existing orientation and contribute to a more authentic witness
by christian theology to this irreversible process of shaping the future of Europe, not in isolation
from the rest of the world and especially from the developing third world, but
in collaboration with all the existing theological resources. I personally
believe in a dynamic encounter of all the existing traditions in Theological
Education, from the East and the West, the North and the South, especially the
new educational experiences developed in the Third World. A synthesis of all the
existing models will definitely renew the educational opportunities of Europe. A
Europe that ignores, or even does not take seriously into account, the third
world is doomed to fail, not to mention that it may also endanger its existence.
b. The WOCATI Peflections on
Theological Education. This global nature of theological
education has led some of us in the project to participate in, but also
contribute to, a worldwide process to improve and if necessary reassess our
theological education. This process has quite recently taken the form of a
worldwide network under the name WOCATI (World Conference of Associations of
Theological Institutions), various working groups of which have been reflecting
for the past two years on various aspects of the future of theological education.
Your dean Prof. Turid Karlsen Seim has been pioneer in linking the WOCATI vision
with the European theological setting
follows are some preliminary
reflections of a working group of WOCATI on the future of theological scholarship and research, to which I have
contributed on my capacity as a European ERASMUS co-ordinator of the above
GLOBALIZATION AND CONTEXUALIZATION
Two are the
most important and necessary perspectives in contemporary theological education:
Globalization, i.e. the search for a
a coherent, ecumenical, global awareness of the theological task, and contextualization,
i.e. the unique expression of it in the various particular contexts. Coherence
is important in that it expresses the authenticity and distinctiveness of
different contextual theologies, as well as the need to bring these contextual
theologies into inter-relationship with others.
question, of course, is how this coherent, ecumenical, global perspective is to
be achieved. Central in this
respect is the concept of dialogue,
but also of unity, i.e. the question of where does the locus of christian faith
a. The excellence of theological
education. The inter-relationship between
contextualization and the search for a coherent, ecumenical, global perspective
gives rise to a re-examination of what constitutes the excellence of theological
education. Criteria of excellence of theological scholarship must include
serious consideration of the sources, methods and purposes of such scholarship.
new understanding of scholarschip. It is
important at this point to turn to
the understanding one has of scholarship.
There is a tendency to identify authentic scholarship only with a limited number
of theological methods. It is commonly used in relation to writing and research
completed within a university context, and/or published in scholarly and
professional journals and books. To limit the understanding of scholarship to
these forms can be an undue restriction and be a serious disservice to other
ways in which theological scholarship can be undertaken and expressed.
For example, in addition to the forms of scholarship directed to the
search for new information and understanding and integrating these findings into
new perspectives, there is also the importance of the scholarship
of praxis. In this form of
scholarship recognition is given to how learnings can both arise from the life
of communities and how these learnings can be applied to address human problems.
c. Critical inquiry.
By broadening and deepening our understanding of both the theological task and
of the meaning of scholarship in the ways suggested above, further attention is
required to be given to the importance of critical inquiry.
These forms of critical inquiry, as with all criteria for excellence of
theological scholarship, must be congruent with the nature and purpose of any
particular theology and the method it follows.
d. Partners in Theological
fruitful way of exploring further the issues involved in bringing critical
inquiry to bear upon one's theological scholarship and research is an
examination of the role played by one's partners. Partners have a two-fold
They represent the other disciplines
necessary to assist theology to explicate the meaning and truth of christian
revelation. Within the western tradition of theological scholarship, the
disciplines of philosophy, history, and literary and textual inquiry have been
prominent and influential partners. More
recently., the disciplines of psychology, sociology, and hermeneutics have
become of greater importance. However, other forms or expressions of theology,
especially many from within the southern world, have utilized the insights of
different partners and/or appropriated the insights of the traditional partners
in different ways. Thus we have
seen the emergence of the disciplines of political science and economics as
partners to theological scholarship, as well as a different appropriation of
such disciplines as history and sociology being followed. The impact of this is to make one aware of the different
forms of critical inquiry that will arise from the influence of one's partners
in theological scholarship.
Partners also mean the people to whom
theology and theological education is addressed. If theology is to be addressed to the entire people of God, then there needs to be an expansion of
one's awareness of the influence of some partners previously overlooked in much
of theological scholarship. Increasingly
christian theology is evolving in contexts that are heavily influenced by the
presence of people of other faiths.
And this is true also for Europe. In addition to this,
recent developments in liberation
and political theology have been
influenced by the recognition of the partnership of the 'forgotten' people, or
the 'non-people'; those crushed by the forces of the dominant culture.
When theological scholarship and education accept the presence of these
people as partners in the theological enterprise, new forms of critical inquiry
are faced with a two-fold task of establishing criteria of excellence which are
congruent with both the historic christian tradition/s and, at the same time,
appropriate for their particular cultural contexts.
is to be noted that for many the starting point of theological scholarship and
research is no longer the common christian core of doctrine but the experience
of the people of God in a given context. Such
scholarship includes a profound recognition of the importance of the experience
of the poor and marginalized in their society, whether that be due to social,
economic, political or religious reasons.
DIALOGUE IN THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION
theological importance of dialogue is strengthened within contextual theologies.
For here, the theologians are engaged in a fundamental form of dialogue
between their identity as Christians and their identity as people of a
particular culture and society. The respectful but not uncritical listening and
talking with other people, constitutes one essential component of theological
scholarship. The importance of dialogue is intensified when we acknowledge as
christian theologians that we, too, are partners on a journey towards
appropriating the fullness of God's grace and truth.
Thus we must be open to the way our partial insights are to be challenged
and enriched through our willingness to enter into genuine dialogue, not only
with fellow Christians, but also with people of other faiths and others with
whom we live and work.
theologies have given attention to the dialogical
method of education. Paulo
Freire (Pedagogy of the Oppressed, 1971)
in his critique of the traditional forms of pedagogy (the '“banking” concept
of education), maintains that this not only tends to prevent the free
development of students, but has another, often unrecognized, effect.
The '“banking” system can be a powerful agent in preserving the status
quo, which many experience as oppressive and dehumanizing. This tendency has been noted by many educators especially in
the southern world. Freire
suggests a new form of education, the “problem-posing” concept, which is
dialogical in nature, whereby both teacher and student become partners on the
journey of searching for the truth. The
importance to theological scholarship and education of this dialogical approach
to education is that it not only promises an atmosphere of creativity, but is
also a way of leading oppressed people to liberation.
is also essential to the way the various contextual theologies are to inter-act
with each other. The unity we share
in Christ does not mean the acceptance of any one particular theological
expression as being universally definitive, nor does it mean a disregard of each
other's witness and theology. Therefore,
the dialogical process should concentrate not only on the one Gospel, but also
on the ways its truth is being expressed in different contexts and with a range
of cultural resources.
UNITY IN THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION
After affirming the contextual nature of theology,
and taking account of the indispensable nature of dialogue to the theological
task, let us now turn to the inescapable question:
Wherein does the unity of
christian theology reside? Even the
very term “globalization” can imply another form of domination which would
endanger the autonomy of the various contextual theologies.
for theology to seek for a coherent, ecumenical, global perspective requires the
recognition that christian theology, no matter how many and varied be its
expressions, must have a common point of
reference, a unifying element within all forms of theological scholarship
and research. We should, therefore,
focus upon the issue of unity in both general terms and in the specific
ecclesiological use of the term as the on-going search to restore the given
unity of the Church. This includes
consideration of the unifying and saving nature of the Christ event, continually
re-enacted through his Body, the Church, in the life-giving and
communion-restoring Holy Spirit. After
all, theological education is a worldwide enterprise fundamental to the mission
of the Church.
theology, both as the conscience of the living community and one of the
fundamental tasks of the community is inextricably related to the Church. By
understanding the Church, not in institutional terms but as koinonia,
as the people of God called to witness to God's restoring presence, then the
nature of the theological enterprise needs to be restructured.
In particular, theological scholarship and research should be directed in
such a way as to educate not only Church leaders but the entire people of God.
The prime purpose of theological education is not to educate pastors,
priests or missionaries - in other world professionals - in order that they may
preserve and propagate certain christian truths and ethical norms, but to build
authentic christian communities, proleptic manifestations of the kingdom of God. In this way, theological scholarship is conditioned by the
nature of the Church with its unity given as gift and demand by God.
given unity of the Church, which does not necessarily mean a strict unified
structure, is given expression in an adherence to a broad understanding of
christian tradition. Such
an understanding affirms not only the centrality of Christology, but also
the constituitive nature of Pneumatology, i.e. the normative nature of a
trinitarian understanding of christian revelation.
This trinitarian understanding affirms the ultimate goal of the divine
economy, not only in terms of Christ becoming all in all both in an
anthropological, i.e. soteriological, and in a cosmological way, but also in
terms of the Holy Spirit constituting authentic communion and restoring the
union of all.
communion God seeks and initiates is not only with the Church in the
conventional sense, but with the whole cosmos.
Thus the unity of divine revelation, as represented in the broad
understanding of christian tradition, is for the entire created world, not only
for believers. This understanding of unity is important to keep in mind as it
challenges a potential distortion wherein unity is identified with the
maintenance of denominational loyalty, which in turn can be an exercise of
oppression, excluding suffering people from the community of the people of God.
understanding of unity in theological scholarship informs and challenges all
expressions of contextual theology. It does not locate the unity inherent within
christian theology with any ecclesiastical or doctrinal system, and recognizes
the varied forms of human and social existence.
In this way, it is congruent with the methodologies and goals of
contextual theology. However, it
also challenges these theologies in pointing out the indispensability of an
adherence to a broad understanding and acceptance of christian tradition as that
which gives expression to the given unity of the Church.
After identifying the above three necessary
component of contemporary theological scholarship, let us discuss the impact of
these upon the methods of scholarly research. Are there common levels or
approaches that transcend the diverse contexts in which such scholarship occurs?
It is universaly recognized that one standard approach is been that of
the critical method, with its varied
modes of analysis, critique, evaluation and historical reference. It is
acknowledged that critical inquiry is a necessary dimension of searching for
excellence in theological scholarship.
constitutes the rigorous evaluation of the sources of theology and of the ways
they have been transmitted within the variety of historical contexts.
It also involves being critically aware of the forces, intellectual,
social, cultural, political and religious, that shape the nature of one's
perspectives and presuppositions by which one interprets the received tradition.
It is important for this critical inquiry to incorporate the subtle
nuances of context within its approach and methodology.
Critical inquiry must be accountable to the context and thereby assist in
enriching one's experience and understanding of the context. This in turn requires such critical inquiry to be conducted
in a dialogical manner, incorporating a partnership with one's community and
carried out in concert with many disciplines.
a. Beyond the rational and historical forms of scholarhip. This
approach recognizes many forms of critical inquiry. The effects of contextualization and dialogue means the
expansion of critical inquiry beyond the
rational, historical forms, dominant in most northern theologies.
For there are ways of knowing that are outside the commonly accepted
forms of critical understanding. These
include the importance of intuitive, artistic and emotive sources of theological
understanding. While these forms
must discover means of critical or communal accountability, excellence in
theological scholarship must seriously consider such meanings as admissible,
b. The scholarship of praxis. Thus
the importance of the scholarship of
praxis comes to the fore. As mentioned before, this scholarship of praxis
not only incorporates the theoretical issues of theology into its method, but
also those '“texts” of Church practice and the impact of the material
conditions of the particular context. A
scholarship of praxis embraces both an integrative approach to theological work
by incorporating the non-rational elements of understanding, and the goal of
personal and social transformation which is at the heart of the christian
message. The liturgical dimension, which is so important - at least in theory -
in the Orthodox Church, is an important element for consideration. This form of
integration of theological method and its responsiveness to the context can
contribute to a new unity of theological scholarship and research.
For it can forge new directions in understanding how the redemptive work
of God is inextricably linked to the witness of the Church to the ultimate goal
of the communion of the whole cosmos in the Triune God.
V. THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION AND
The changes suggested above in theological
scholarship and research will have considerable impact upon ministerial formation. Many
theological institutions are giving attention to this issue and a significant
amount of literature is available in many regions of the world.
In this respect a number of questions should be raised :
a. The role of ministerial
formation in Theological Education. Is ministerial formation a
by-product of theological scholarship and research?
Or, does the goal of ministerial formation play a significant role in defining excellence of theological scholarship
and education? The strong emphases
put upon the purpose of theological education as being for the whole people of
God, and upon the scholarship of praxis, allows ministerial formation to
contribute to excellence of theological scholarship. However, these emphases
also challenge any restriction of theological education to any one group within
b. The importance of spiritual
importance of spiritual formation in
both ministerial formation and in theological education is to be noted.
Recognition is to be given to the crucial importance of the Liturgy in
some christian traditions. In these
traditions, the liturgy provides a significant means of overcoming the breakdown
in confidence between scholarship and the Church which has been caused, to a
large degree, by the fragmentation of theology into autonomous disciplines.
The liturgy can provide a means of ensuring a holistic soteriological and
ecclesiological understanding of theological education and scholarship.
c. Theological education and Society.
The nature of contextual theology, with its focus upon the concrete situations
of the particular society means that ministerial formation cannot be pursued
without those involved in such formation being in a significant and interactive
relationship with their society. This
could entail a greater involvement by ministerial students in the socio-political life of their society.
EMERGING ISSUES ON FUTURE THEOLOGICAL EDUCATION
In the light of the approaches to theological
scholarship and research outlined above, a number of emerging
issues demand attention.
These issues are global in their impact, impinge upon most particular
societies, and are of central importance to contemporary theological scholarship
Human rights, especially the rights of women;
b. Economies of countries vis-a-vis the Divine economy, with special consideration to levels
of international debt;
c. The growth of materialism and the consequent
d. Increasing ethnic and religious conflict;
e. AIDS epidemic;
f. The spread of arms and the incidence of war;
g. Issues associated with the fullness and future
of human life and human communities.
(Needeless to say that the list is indicative and
by no means complete).
ERASMUS Inter-university Co-operation Project in “Theology”, the only one
existing in Europe with a trully ecumenical perspective and purpose, and WOCATI
on a global level, can provide the appropriate environment to foster ways in
which theologians can pursue the import of these issues, both by developing
coherent, ecumenical, global perspectives on the significance of these issues to
theology, and by being informed and challenged by theologians from other
is a growing awareness among ourselves that the classical approach to theology
is in a certain crisis, or at least had run its course. Ever since the
beginnings of medieval scholasticism, and even after the Enlightenment, theology
was defined as a discipline which used the methods of the Aristotelian logics.
Rational knowledge was the only legitimate form of knowledge. Theological
education, thus, gradually shifted away from its eucharistic/liturgical
framework i.e. away from its ecclesial, community, local context. The rational
understanding of God and humanity had in fact led to a knowledge-centered
and mission-oriented theological
education. Most Theological Institutions in Europe, but also worldwide, have
been structured in such a way as to educate
Church ‘leaders’, not the entire people of God, pastors or
missionaries to preserve and propagate certain christian truths or ethical
norms, not to build up local eucharistic communities. They lost, in other words,
the community-centered and liturgically/eschatologically-oriented
dimension of theological education. It is in our hands to develope a new
understanding of our task, which is after all in accord with our common
K. Raiser, Ecumenism in Transition. A Paradigm Shift in the Ecumenical Movement, WCC Publications Geneva 1991 (translated with modifications from the Germen original Ökumene im Übergang, C.Kaiser Verlag München 1989).