Returning Theological Education Back to the Local Church: A Reply to Ryan Bonfiglio

September 14, 2018
Ryan Bonfiglio in a recent Faith & Leadership article called his readers to “…make the church a center of theological education again.” I want to applaud Dr. Bonfiglio’s message and the benefits he sites for the church when trained teachers deliver quality theological education that is accessible to the church as a whole.

First, he observed:

…by offering courses off-campus in accessible, familiar locations, the cathedral [church] model can expand the potential audience for theological education, giving seminary leaders an additional strategy in their efforts to boost enrollment.

We at Carroll hold the core value that accredited theological education should be accessible. This is why our delivery model rests with the local church where students in ministry live and serve. We have the motto, “Where there is a church. There is a classroom.”

However, the primary purpose of our teaching in the local church is not to “boost enrollment” for the seminary. We teach in local churches in order to partner with the church’s mission to make disciples and develop leaders. (See Dr. Bonfiglio’s third observation below.)

Second, Dr. Bonfiglio proposed:

…if the potential audience for theological education is the entire church, we will be spurred to rethink how we package and present our content.

I’m not sure I embrace his idea of TheoEd Talks after the model of the famous TedTalks, but his point is well taken. If formal theological education is accessible to members of a local faith community who are not seeking degrees, the information should be transferable to the daily work and ministry of those members. Ivory Tower academic information has never produced disciplined followers of Jesus. Let’s admit, most people learn differently than seminary professors who teach them learned. Quality, biblically based information and skill training are required no matter the mode of its delivery.

Ryan’s third observation was:

…the cathedral church model can challenge us to rethink the purpose of theological education, re-envisioning it as not merely a pathway to an M.Div. or other degree but an act of discipleship in its own right.

This is reason B. H. Carroll Theological Institute’s visionary strategy is “to deliver accredited theological education to Christ-centered leaders in their contexts through a network of ministry partners.” We offer Master’s level courses in local churches that are accessible to students seeking a Master’s degree, a Diploma in Christian Ministry, or a non-degree seeking member who can receive a Certificate of Completion based on the training program the church has developed for its members. A “How to Interpret the Bible” course taught in a local church benefits the M.Div. student who serves on staff, as well as, the Sunday School teacher who has taught for 25 years but had never been introduced to the tools available to discover the historical, grammatical and contextual settings of what she had been teaching.

In a recent article, “The Emerging Model of Formational Theological Education,” (Theological Education, Vol. 51, No. 2, 25-37) Dr. Daniel Aleshire observed:

For the first time in the history of North American theological education, theological schools would grow away from dominant forms of higher education rather than toward those forms.

I believe one direction “away from dominant forms of higher education” is returning theological education back to the local church.

If you would like to learn more of B. H. Carroll’s model of a Teaching Church, follow the link here.

For additional affirmation on this model, see my previous posts on this topic.

Returning Theological Education Back to the Local Church, Part 1

Returning Theological Education Back to the Local Church, Part 2

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Currently we are in the midst of encouraging Carroll Alumni to participate in North Texas Giving Day, September 20th, 2018. You can go to the link to donate: #NTxGivingDay

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