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The English-speaking Caribbean has several high level theological training
institutions, including at least fi ve in Jamaica and fi ve in Barbados and Trinidad.
However, only one, the United Theological College of the West Indies, which is
located in Jamaica, formally trains Baptist pastors.
Several speakers, from several regions of the world, raised concerns as to the
quality of students enrolling to be trained for the ordained ministry. There is a
lack of rootedness and commitment of students to the church, and seminarians are
sometimes without a formed character within the Christian community. As Brian
Harris from Australia put it, “For many students it is not an absence of ‘traditioning’
in a particular denomination, but the absence of any long term ‘traditioning’ in the
Christian faith.” The matter is compounded because more “broken” students, with
severe baggage, are entering theological institutions to be trained as pastors.
A burning issue for Baptists is relationship with other faiths. Nowhere is this
more of an issue than in Asia. Lilian Lim, president for the Asia Baptist Graduate
Theological Seminary (ABGTS), a consortium of nine schools in eight countries,
reported that Christians are facing widespread hostility from a variety of religious
and political groups. Buddhism is on the rise in Taiwan, Thailand and Singapore.
Islam is the fastest growing religion in the Philippines.
She reported that while the church is seeing growth in China and Indonesia, it is
experiencing stagnation in Japan. Poverty and huge disparities in income exacerbate
the problems, while natural disasters, some stemming from the effects of global
warming, are becoming more common and deadly.
A further challenge is training suitable for immigrants, refugees, and displaced
persons. Too often, training does not take into account the multiplicity of cultures
in which seminary graduates will have to minister. Geoff Pound raised the question
of those who live and work outside of their home country, such as Filipinos in the
United Arab Emirates. A representative from the Caribbean asked what, specifi cally,
of those who travel to another context, such as another country, to be trained and
return to their own context? What relevance do they bring to the context in which
they minister after they have received their training from elsewhere?
Despite the highlighting of challenges, BICTE was a clear indication that theo-
logical education is still seen as one of the most important activities of the Christian
church. Prospects are that, rather than diminishing, theological education will become
more widespread, particularly in Africa, Asia, and Latin America. While Western
Europe and North America struggle to fi nd students, the unavailability of suffi cient
training institutions in other regions is a matter of urgency. Africa, Asia, the Carib-
bean and Latin America, in the meantime, are also developing their own theologies,
grounded within their contexts. A presentation from the Caribbean states, “It is in
the light of culture that scripture is understood.”
Opportunities are available for cross-border and cross-cultural cooperation, such
as the example of ABGTS. In Latin America, RIBET, a network of 75 seminaries,
was created in 1999 that offers advanced theological studies as well as training in
the fi eld.
For some seminaries, such as the International Baptist Theological Seminary
in Prague, and the Moscow Theological Seminary in Russia, there is a shift in
emphasis from residential to nonresidential training, which holds out the prospect
of increasing enrollment. More persons are being encouraged to view Christian
ministry as a second or even a third career choice.
BICTE was a reminder of the central role being played by theological schools
and those who teach in them.
(Photos: Denise de Vasconcelos Araujo,
Brazil & Michael Rhode, Germany; Carolyn Gordon, USA; From left,
Dinorah Mendez, Mexico, Lauran Bethell, USA, and Rachael Tan, Taiwan
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