“I’ve been involved in theological education for forty years,” said Tom Tanner of the Association of Theological Schools (ATS) in our February 11 webinar on the future of theological education. “My first ATS meeting was in 1980. And I have never felt more hopeful about theological education.”
He shared several surprising facts from ATS data to back this up, as well as his own reflections on why this is such a moment of opportunity for our schools.
Check out the video below to dive into this rich and hopeful discussion.
And make a note on your calendar to join our future webinars!
Our next conversation, coming on March 25, will include:
- President Barry Corey of Biola University
- Dean Abson Joseph of Wesley Seminary (IWU)
- Professor Ellen Marmon of Asbury Theological Seminary
Our topic will be “What I Wish My President/Dean/Faculty Knew in the New Reality.” How can we cooperate more effectively in an environment where our schools are challenged to reinvent themselves as institutions?
The webinar will meet on Thursday, March 25 at 11:00-11:45am central time (noon eastern/9:00 Pacific). It will be free and there is no registration.
Just open this link when it’s time to start.
Put it on your calendar today!
And please spread the word – all are welcome.
Also make a note to join our third webinar, on April 15: “Embracing the Slash after COVID.” We’ll be talking about the “slash” in our job titles – how more and more faculty are becoming faculty “slash” something else. Instead of laboring under dual roles as a burden, how can we embrace the dual role as an opportunity to revitalize the shared governance model for faculty leadership? We’ll ask Scott Rae of the Talbot School of Theology, Jessie Swigart of Covenant Theological Seminary and Philip Thompson of Sioux Falls Seminary. This webinar will also meet at 11:00-11:45 central.
As we look forward to future discussions on March 25 and April 15, check out the insights from our February 11 webinar below.
What Comes Next: A Conversation with ATS Director of Accreditation Tom Tanner
We have inherited a model that sees education merely as obtaining information, which often produces the kind of disconnection between theological knowledge and real life that Darrell Bock spoke about at Karam Forum 2021. This leaves our students incompletely prepared for the dynamic challenges they will face in the field. The deeper and older tradition of theological education conceives of education as obtaining not just information, but formation. In the ON, we have been working toward a fresh expression of that tradition for our time.
In our February 11 webinar, Donald Guthrie of Trinity Evangelical Divinity School interviewed Tanner, the director of accreditation at ATS. From 2018 to 2020, Tanner served as the ATS Commission staff liaison to the task force that developed ATS’s new accreditation standards. These standards open up big new opportunities for our faculty and schools to transform theological education.
Tanner pointed to the good news that for the first time, theological schools as a whole are growing! More ATS schools are experiencing growth than are experiencing decline. Yes, even in the midst of pandemic and all our other challenges.
Tanner believes the reason is simple. The theological knowledge tradition stewarded in our schools has real answers to the big questions about life. People are now asking those questions with new urgency, so this moment is a big growth opportunity for theological education.
However, theological education needs to adapt in major ways to take advantage of this moment. Tanner said that before the recent revision, ATS had been granting schools over 200 exceptions to the previous accreditation standards. Why? Because there were so many adaptations that were clearly needed in theological education, even if the older standards didn’t allow for them. Of course, when there are that many exceptions, the “standards” at some point cease to be, well, standards. So it became clear it was time to make more room for adaptation.
The new ATS standards open up a lot of opportunity for change. One of the main ways they accomplish this is by moving away from prescribing specific “best practices.” Instead, they prescribe general principles of good education, leaving the schools to find their own best practices to pursue those goals.
The new standards also make much more room for formation of students as a goal. Tanner put this in the context of a longer historical transition in our conception of what theological education exists to serve. The older model put “the profession” at the center, where schools now put serving their students at the center.
Alongside the good news that theological schools are growing, Tanner pointed to another surprising statistic. He addressed the perception that the new standards’ focus on formation comes out of a concern that all-digital degrees will impact formation. On the contrary, Tanner said, the focus on formation is fitting on the merits for all forms of theological education.
And, in fact, ATS data show that students receiving mostly or entirely online education say they get better spiritual formation compared to those in residential education.
Yes, you read that right.
Check out the video above for much, much more, including discussions of how we measure formation and evaluate school success in this area, as well as processes of collaboration that schools can adopt to work together toward this transformation – this restoration – in education.
Want more? Join our next webinar with Barry Corey, Abson Joseph and Ellen Marmon!
Mark your calendar today for March 25 at 11:00-11:45am central time (noon eastern/9:00 Pacific) and make a note of this link.
That’s everything you need to join us for our next stimulating conversation.
We’ll see you then – in the meantime, spread the word to those who might also want to join!