Education is the pathway to freedom, and theological education is the foundation of any society’s understanding of what it means to be a free human. This is a matter of tremendous significance in this contemporary political moment when freedom of every sort is under direct attack. “To be free” indicates the ability to deal with the realities of one’s situation in order to not to be overcome by those realities. It is the manifestation of the quality of being and living that results not only from an understanding of one’s situation but also from having the wisdom to deal with the situation (Thurman 1984). A person is free when they can determine the style of their own existence in an absurd world by having the agency to become what is their authentic highest self (Cone 1997). Theology is that discipline that invites us to interrogate Mystery. It asks existential questions in light of our understanding of the Divine. No other discipline is so needed in this time as that which links the human quest for freedom with an understanding –or at a minimum explores the related questions- of our connection to Otherness. My own Christian worldview says that theology is faith seeking an understanding toward empowering the individual and society to live towards its highest aims.
The task of theological education is to provide a lens for adjudicating reality that is rooted in a comprehensive conversation on the human condition in light of metaphysical truth. True theological education is transformative in that it seeks to educate the whole person toward a more just and humane world. Theologies are about power…. These discourses and seminary pedagogies are about the hegemony of power- the distribution and the economy of this power (Cone, Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody 2018). An authentic theological education seeks to interrogate power even if it means interrogating the biases of conventional canons. Critical theological reflection calls us to examine the contours of our formation and pushes us to see God and each other anew (Francis 2015). It helps us see how our culture has fallen victim to hegemonic dominance and supremacy, and it lifts the voices from the margins enabling them to speak truth to power with prophetic fire.
This is a generation that is renegotiating its social contract with organized religion. Religion was the womb of our existing social contracts and has in times past been the fount of theological engagement. This is no longer the case. People have begun to upend older modalities, and take full ownership of the enterprise of theology recognizing for themselves its power for revolutionary change. There will be no redistribution of power, no freedom, and no change without the continued cultivation of a robust theological education. Theology has been America’s most profound and powerful mode of discourse. We now have the opportunity to engage pedagogy rooted in the practice of education for critical consciousness. How revolutionary would it be if the voices of those completely disenchanted with organized religion, including women and other minoritized communities, were centered in institutions that make the classroom a democratic setting where everyone feels a responsibility to contribute to the central goal of expanding the conversation? It would be interesting to see religious education where the experience and the voice of the students was centered on par with the academic training of the professor. How might we completely revitalize the landscape of theological education if we understand how vitally important it is to our survival as a human civilization?
Theological education should be the practice of a holistic liberation constituted as a front of struggle, and by a creative dynamic toward psychological, social, cultural, economic, and political full humanity. As theological educators, we are looking at the God-human effort in the world attempting to reveal and sustain a movement of liberation that struggles to balance a communal connection to self, society, and creation (Hopkins 2007). It is this theological education that nurtures a culture of resistance which fosters the struggle for life and wholeness and helps individuals and communities resist those notions and practices that diminish their humanity (Douglas 1999).
The most dangerous thing is for our institutions of higher education to be dismissive of theological education. Our society cannot afford the luxury of dismissiveness and we would engage such dismissiveness at our own peril. While many schools of theology and seminaries are shutting their doors, any place that claims justice as core to its mission or identity and allows theological education to be decentered, diminished, or dismissed is insincere about pursuing justice. Only those most closely aligned with the status quo and interested in maintaining positions of power and privilege fail to see the importance of robust theological education. I challenge every institution dedicated to educating the whole person or empowering leaders, to redouble the efforts and resources of the institution toward more robust theological education.
Rt. Rev. Edward Donalson III, DMin | Interim Director of the Doctor of Ministry | Assistant Clinical Professor
SEATTLE UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF THEOLOGY AND MINISTRY
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Cone, James H. 1997. Black Theology and Black power. MaryKnoll: Orbis.
—. 2018. Said I Wasn’t Gonna Tell Nobody. Maryknoll: Orbis.
Douglas, Kelly Brown. 1999. Sexuality and the Black Church:A Womanist Perspective . Maryknoll: Orbis .
Francis, Leah Gunning. 2015. Ferguson & Faith Sparking Leadership & Awakening Community. St Louis: Chalice Press.
Hopkins, Dwight N., ed. 2007. Black Faith and Public Talk. Waco : Baylor University Press .
Thurman, Howard. 1984. For The Inward Journy: The Writings of Howard Thurman Selected by Anne Spencer Thurman. Richmond: Friends United Meeting.