Chinese Theological Review 17

Some Concepts in Theological Education in China

Chen Yilu

Theological education today develops in the midst of contradictions. There is no agreement on the goal of theological education: seminaries hope to train theologians, the church hopes it will train preachers, and some seminarians hope to establish their careers and get married. In terms of tactics and methods, seminaries hope to have more financial resources at their disposal, to make improvements; churches see theological education as a kind of luxury expense which they hope can be reduced as much as possible. Seminarians hope they will get a decent salary upon graduation, while churches think a little hardship is good for seminarians—they should be dedicated. Seminarians hope that they can go abroad for further education after they graduate, while the church thinks higher degrees will lead to arrogance.... These differing views create greater difficulties for Chinese theological education on its already none-too-firm foundation.

The key question in theological education is: What sort of persons do we want to train up, and by what methods? I have some views on these issues which I will expand on in this essay.

Educate the whole person

"Educate the whole person" ( zenjin ) was first proposed by the Japanese educator Kuniyoshi Obara (1887-1977) in 1921, emphasizing the harmonious and holistic development of the student, to include knowledge, ethics, arts, religion, physical training and life. Obara believed that ideal knowledge was truth; ideal ethics was goodness; the ideal of art, beauty; the ideal of religion, the sacred; the ideal of physical training, health; and the ideal of life, wealth. To put it another way, the goal and content of education was to seek truth, goodness, beauty, holiness, health and wealth—life abilities. 1

In the 1980s, K.H. Ting, principal of Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, proposed that Chinese theological education implement a policy of "five-fold" holistic development of the student: in spirit, ethics, mind, body and community life, a policy in agreement with Obara's, and which illustrates that the basic concept in Chinese theological education is to develop a mature personable to realize his or her potential.

Maturity in a person indicates mature development; the aim of education being to enable the person to become a person of dignity, accomplishment and virtue. Development of potential refers to the capabilities, skills and ability to make a living and a contribution that education confers: the capacity to survive and live. In terms of theological education, seminaries first of all want the students they train to become outstanding Christians, able to put into effect the spirit of Jesus' teachings and the faith. They should possess excellent Christian virtues and cultivation. Secondly, they want this person to become a pastor and evangelist, one able to engage in theology or pastoral work. In other words, if one is not a good Christian, one cannot be a good pastor. Jesus said, "Nevertheless, do not rejoice at this, that the spirits submit to you, but rejoice that your names are written in heaven" (Luke 10:20).

Modern education has been quite influenced by the American educator John Dewey. Dewey believed that education was a means, a bridge to maturity. This concept of education emphasizes methods and efficacy and had a great effect on modern university education, and thus for theological education it is not only a bridge, but a path: the seminary is the beginning of the path to a life of service. Everything that is studied in seminary will have a tremendous impact on the student's life. My own personal growth is inseparable from the education I received here at Nanjing Union Theological Seminary; the impact it has had on my life will never be wiped away.

Theological education in which spirit, ethics, mind, body and community life grow in a holistic way is a rich concept.

The aim of spiritual education is holiness. Because religion commands the intellect, emotions and intentions of a person's heart and soul, when one has the holiness of heart and spiritual beauty of religion, one can abandon the ego and dedicate oneself to the Lord and to serving others. Seminary students who do not pursue the spiritual life are often people who are unwilling to sacrifice the ego. For them, the seminary is only a stepping stone; seminary education has no other meaning than to help them become religious professionals.

Since Augustine (354-430), theological education has stressed spiritual formation and a spirit of service to the church. In his Confessions , Augustine wrote that all useful knowledge attained in his youth was to be used in service to God. The inner cultivation of spiritual education is for preservation of a sacred religious heart, including the search for and knowledge of God.

The aim of ethics is goodness. Obara believed that ethical education comprises five aspects: a) an understanding of the worth and dignity of the human personality and mutual respect between persons; b) a correct view of life, seeking to transcend all joy and sorrow; c) a profound understanding of the meaning of good, evil and suffering, understanding the elevation of repentance for sin; d) understanding the importance of a moral life, understanding the clash between desire and reason and the contradictions of human life; and e) fostering an excellent, upright, dependable, consistent person. Ethical education is not a set of theories. Its importance is in the training in ethical behavior and habits.

Since Augustine, theological education has always been joined to moral education. Indeed Augustine believed that moral education is the heart of theological education. As Bishop Ting has often stressed, "Chinese Christianity must lift up ethics and morality." 2 Religion and ethics have al ways been mixed together, like blood and water. Think for a moment: what kind of gospel could be preached by an evangelist who did not speak about ethics?

Education for knowledge is a search for truth. Truth is having real understanding of the cosmos and the things of this world; it is rational knowledge. Obara believed that seeking truth means seeking true scholarship, true skill, true wisdom, and this means inspiring wisdom, encouraging students to be active and participatory, raising their interest in learning, and corresponding abilities and spirit of exploration, linking education of the intellect with the realities of life. In terms of theological education, the object of the search for truth is the Bible, theology and doctrine. Acquiring a thorough, systematic and profound knowledge of theology through education enables students to become experts in matters of religion. Thomas Aquinas believed that theological education should guide humankind to overcome ignorance, search for truth, turn to God, and attain the goals of sustaining faith and service to the church. Aquinas put relatively more stress on education for knowledge and the intellect, which became the philosophical system of scholasticism.

Since the 1980s, Chinese Christian seminaries have basically been responding to the church's need for trained persons in the ministry and so these persons have basically been pastors, with few able to undertake theological research and writing. Since the 1998 Jinan Meeting, Chinese Christianity has focused on theological reconstruction, and there has been a shift in the focus of theological education from the "pastoral model" to the "theological model," to foster persons able to undertake theological reflection and research, and thus gradually develop a Chinese Christian theology. Here we should see that, whether in comparison with international Christian academic circles or (secular) academics of religious studies in China, there are too few academics in church circles, and the overall level is not high enough. There are many reasons for this, but what is important is that we need to reflect upon and adjust our strategies and goals and then pursue them wholeheartedly. At the Symposium on Theology in Chinese Seminaries in mid-August this year, Bishop K.H. Ting asked: What is the function of a seminary? He believes that it is to train theologians. This is a timely voice and insight. There is an abundance of wisdom here, including the need for adjustment of the whole system of Chinese theological education. The distinction made among and the differing responsibilities of national, regional and provincial level seminaries is generally based on satisfying the need for ordained ministry and not aimed at the growth of theological thinking. Furthermore it is neither rational nor very practical: and it is inappropriate to have seminaries and Bible schools lumped together, for their tasks and needs are different. The function of a seminary is primarily to train theologians and Bible schools are primarily for the training of pastoral workers. To address these conditions we need to adopt a spirit of "moving with the times," with new thinking and orientation. This would include a new orientation toward the educational system and a new curriculum. Theology is the goal and the educational system is the scaffolding. Courses are the means. If the goal changes, the rest should change in response. Aquinas said that theology is a time-consuming enterprise. If we do not know its complexity and profundity, we shall not reach the goal.

The goal of physical training is health. Physical education's primary goal is a healthy physique, optimum weight and agility, for a stronger body and longer life. Physical education is a weaker aspect of theological education, and it should be recognized that the pressures of theological and pastoral work continue to increase. With the effects of pollution and possible illness, health has become an issue of universal concern and attention, and the pursuit of health is very important. For the healthy growth of students, the seminary needs corresponding facilities for physical education. Examples of this would be tennis and badminton, aerobics, and for the stronger students, more challenging physical training equipment.

The aim of community-building is abundance, in the sense of rich life experience and life skills; that is, excellent personal relationships. Personal relationships in the church are special. There are some seminary graduates who, faced with such relationships in the church, are intimidated and retreat. Such a person has no self-confidence and thus has no way to carry on the work of pastoral counseling, and cannot function as a pastor. The seminary should offer pastoral care and counseling courses. It would be best to have as seminary chaplain and student counselor one who has been trained in this field.

Personal relationships in the Chinese cultural tradition are extremely complex. Therefore, in the absence of an excellent community life, such work is difficult to undertake. Courses in interpersonal relationships and psychology should be offered for those who will engage in pastoral work, working with people. For them, community life has special significance.

Spirit, ethics, knowledge, body, community: this is the concept of "education of the whole person" in Chinese Christian theological education. It is being implemented, but there are some problems in the process. Nevertheless, it does point the way for Chinese theological education. The pedagogical direction for Nanjing Union Theological Seminary on its 50 th anniversary is constant practice of this concept.

Strengthening faculty

One of the obvious weaknesses of theological education in China at present is lack of faculty. Strengthening of faculty is a matter of immediate urgency.

To expand our teaching staff, we need a long-term plan, for such training cannot be done overnight. We need to plan for meeting a certain size and level of theological faculty twenty or thirty years hence. Without a long-term goal, we are simply firemen, able to implement only emergency measures.

The search for excellent teaching staff is the common quest of many seminary presidents. Where is such talent to be found? I think we can use the "send out; invite in" principle. Send out means sending people for directed further study, not simply as a matter of who wants to go, but of what we need in terms of trained personnel, who is suitable, has potential and is willing to take up the burden. We send them out to study and they come back when they have received their degrees. Going overseas to study is not "gilding the lily," but to enable the person to take on a larger burden and role. China is today a nation of reform and openness, and thus in searching for excellence, we can look in other universities and organizations. The key to applying the system of "inviting in," is to first determine the standard; those who meet the standard can be re-invited. In recent years, we have examples of the successful use of this strategy. Bishop Ting himself did not study theology at a Chinese seminary at first, but overseas. Then he made up his mind to return to China and get involved in the Three-Self Movement and in theological education. The vice-prin-ciple of our seminary, Wang Aiming was "invited in." We can see that in the burgeoning personnel marketplace the principle of sending out and inviting in is a workable one.

Hong Kong could be said to be the liveliest locale for overseas Chinese theological education. Twenty years ago, there were few Ph.D.s in theology there, but today there are no less than thirty who have gained their doctorates in well-known European and American seminaries. Their successful experience is also a result of the send out/ invite in principle. A person's knowledge of Three-Self patriotism is not based on how long he or she has spent in the Chinese church, but rather on whether he or she has clearly understood it from the angle of theological reconstruction and is willing to take up the burden and be involved. Thus, the standard for personnel is quality. In the past few years, Nanjing Union Theological Seminary has invited several foreign professors to assist in teaching, and in many cases this has been a successful experience. These examples all tell us that we adopt an approach in step with the times in strengthening our faculty pool.

Using human resources to the greatest extent of their potential is the key to running the seminary well. To strengthen the faculty pool we must encourage an active and creative faculty. In some seminaries, due to issues of structure and administration, the faculty is not encouraged to be very active and their potential is not brought out. The effects of an inactive faculty cannot be remedied with greater numbers of faculty; thus, the potential of even a superior faculty must be actively tapped.

The main actors in the school are the faculty and students. An active nature is usually expressed in participation and creativity. In other words, faculty should be part of more policies of the school. The Guangdong Union Theological Seminary has a staff meeting every Wednesday, with discussion of issues both spiritual and ministerial. This is a place where the faculty can offer their views and use their basic decision-making power. The facts have shown that if a school can allow staff to have opportunities to "make their views known," even without much further active participation on their part, at least superficiality is reduced and the spirit of collegiality and general awareness among the faculty is strengthened.

Improvement in administrative structures

Administration is the most problematic matter and one in which perfection seems impossible. It is, however, an absolute necessity. The success of modern education is greatly related to improvement in the management structures of administration.

Not only is there a lack of trained personnel at seminaries and schools of the Chinese church, but a lack of resources and finance as well. In a situation of financial straits it is even more difficult to develop administration. Education administration is a skill and a field of expertise. It is often said that administration is an art. If this is the case, then seminary administration is an art among arts, for an administrator who has not received theological education will not be able to communicate with seminary faculty, let alone lead them.

A seminary can only invest money; it cannot make a profit, and so the best use of finances is something every seminary president has to learn. Achieving the greatest benefit through the use of the smallest possible amount of money is not easy. We must be economical, but we must also develop and grow. A frequent mistake of seminaries in financial terms is to reject development in favor of economy. This results in "no change for fifty years." Deng Xiaoping said that development was the important thing. If an educational institute does not change over ten or even twenty years, it is like a child that never grows up; it is abnormal. In order to develop, we must increase our investment in people and resources. The rapid growth of some universities in Europe and America is due to large investment by government. We do not have the same resources, but greater and appropriate investment of funds is something the leadership of the church can consider. Only with sufficient funds will we be able to provide assistance to students, compensate faculty adequately, bring facilities up-to-date, support research, and thus realize our full potential. Particularly as we are striving to move forward with theological reconstruction, we must make every effort to support, encourage and reward outstanding contributions from faculty in this regard as a way of affirming and commending their active participation and contributions.

Renovating and bringing our facilities and equipment up-to-date is also an important part of theological education at present. When universities are all online, can the seminary not provide such a service for its students? What an isolated and backward pedagogical environment that creates. Online learning actually is a concept of modern open learning. Open learning and realizing the student's individuality and creativity are important theories in modern education. If we strengthen our administration and management, online learning will enliven our students' thinking and broaden their vision.

Interaction between the seminary and alumni

The Seminary needs to set up a good educational system and institutional mechanisms by which alumni can have the opportunity to return for further study and "recharging." At present further training and education has become a virtual necessity. If a person studies at seminary only once, he or she will be easily worn down by the times. Nanjing Union Theological Seminary is the highest seminary in the country, and therefore, in addition to its B.D.

and post-graduate programs, it should offer "continuing pastoral education" for those with their B.D.s, if conditions permit. Their alma mater should be a place of continuing benefit for students.

As alumni, we should support our alma mater. Alumni are a great resource for the seminary. If each one loves, cares about and supports the seminary, it will be well-run. Alumni have been formed by the school and tempered in the church. Perhaps there is something we have gained by our educations that we can make known to the seminary. Such things will be the spiritual riches of the institution. Alumni should also support the seminary financially, for we have all shared in its resources. It is because of the contributions of those who were here before us that we are given this opportunity to grow. What we put into the seminary today will assist in the growth of those who follow us: this is an important rule of education. A considerable contribution to the income of seminaries in other countries comes from individual graduates and alumni who give through the churches. Relying on such support from alumni, the seminary is able to increase its resources and investments, and help more students get an education. Mutuality makes a vital seminary. Today as we celebrate the 50 th anniversary of Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, with a view to its continued future growth, I would like to invite the leadership of the CCC/TSPM, the Seminary Board of Trustees and the alumni to join in creating a scholarship fund to be called "The Bishop K.H. Ting Scholarship Fund" as a way of expressing gratitude to Bishop Ting for his outstanding contributions to theological education in China and to Nanjing Union Theological Seminary.

Chen Yilu is vice-principal of Guangdong Union Theological Seminary. Nanjing Theological Review , 4(2002): 24.

1 Yuan Ruixiu, On education reform overseas . (Guangzhou: Guangdong Higher Education Press, 2002), 271.
2 Liu Huajun, K.H. Ting: Leader of Chinese Christianity . (Nanjing: Nanjing University Press, 2001), 332.