This project began in 2012 with a question: If the church inadvertently reflects the sacred-secular divide (SSD) in its practice, do the theological colleges that train the church leaders also inadvertently manifest the sacred-secular divide?
We asked that question not only because we’re committed to theological education but because we know how important theological education is. Ten faculty might engage with one hundred students in a year. Those one hundred students, if they become church leaders, will probably go on to impact the lives of at least 100,000 people in their churches over a lifetime of ministry. And that 100,000 will in turn probably engage meaningfully with at least two hundred people each in the course of their lives – family, friends, fellow-students, colleagues, clients, customers, health professionals, shop assistants. . . . That’s twenty million connections.
Theological educators shape the leaders who shape the church that shapes our nation. John Stott once warned, “Pastors are either made or marred in the seminary.”
We began by exploring the impact of SSD with a group of senior Majority World theological educators at a conference in Oxford, and then with a group of Majority World PhD students studying in a range of the leading Western theological institutions at a conference in Cambridge. Both groups were clear: the SSD is alive and well in most of their institutions across the world in ways the conferences had made them more sharply aware of.
The question was how might this debilitating scourge be addressed?
Given the global scope of the problem, we decided to set up four four-day collaborative workshops with theological educators from a range of institutions. The first, held in London, comprised key leaders from a range of global theological institutions. They helped us set the agenda for a series of three regional consultations held in Colombia (for Latin America), Kenya (for Africa) and Singapore (for Asia) to reflect on the issue in differing contexts. In all, over thirty leaders participated, allowing us to draw on a wide range of experiences, contexts and insights.
The aims were three-fold:
- Learn how the sacred-secular divide manifests itself in different cultural contexts.
- Identify best practice – what works, why and what’s transferable.
- Test and develop tools that generate awareness of the issues, and tools that combat the issues and create a new whole-life culture.
We learned much along the way. Some were shocked by the impact of the sacred-secular divide. One warned, “We are sleepwalking on this issue.” Another commented, “It is not enough to know and talk about it. It is indispensable to take some actions.” And we were encouraged by examples of liberating practice in institutional culture, in curriculum design, and in courses and assessments. Indeed, there were more than enough examples of different interventions to convince us that anyone at any level in theological education can begin to make a difference in their own context – even if it takes longer to change an overall curriculum or the institution as a whole. This change does not need money or specialist training. Prayer and imagination and initiative are a heady and fruitful combination.
The sections that follow reflect that learning.
We begin by seeking to describe how the SSD expresses itself in church culture and affects the everyday lives of God’s people in diminishing ways. And we offer a snapshot of the alternative vision: what does it look like when God’s people are filled with vision, enabled, commissioned and supported for their ministry in daily life? The kid at school, the grandmother going to the shops, the corporate executive in their office and the cleaner who cleans it? Without such a vision, theological education will perish, and shrink back into a narrow focus on gathered church, pastoral care and neighborhood concerns.
The book goes on to look at the SSD in the light of scripture, pointing to a “whole-Bible, whole-life” solution, exploring how the integrated life, and integrated view of cosmic reality, is at the heart of the biblical revelation. In Chapter 2, Antony Billington reminds us of the deeper and wider nature of the gospel. The God who created all things is the God who will restore all things, and who calls us to flourish in his liberating lordship in every aspect of life. Then, in Chapter 3, Edwin Tay surveys key sources in a series of historic reflections on the issues, reminding us that in past times preachers and theologians have promoted the integrated life. The Puritan William Perkins argued, “Theology is the science of living blessedly forever,” [Works of William Perkins, p. 13] and William Ames asserted, “Theology is the doctrine of living for God.” [The Marrow of Theology, p. 77] The way toward a solution, Edwin Tay argues, must be Christological. Antony Billington then takes the discussion on the SSD further, in Chapter 4, by exploring how, from the eighteenth century to the present, many Christians have operated with a comprehensive, whole-life perspective on God, humanity, sin, salvation and the mission to which God calls his people. Chapters 3 and 4 show how the overall stance the contributors to this volume are taking and encouraging others to adopt in the task of theological education is not new to the pages of Christian history but stands in healthy continuity with those who have gone before us.
We then present six snapshots from around the world as key leaders seek to “name the issue” in their contexts. They show that all societies tend to exist with a basic dualism, and although the form of the “divide” differs with context, it casts a shadow over the life of the church in every nation. In Chapter 6 the focus narrows, as our global seminary leaders explore how the SSD manifests itself in seminary life, and the key challenges they face.
Reflection on practice should provoke transformative change, and in Section 2, we move on from “naming” the issue to “addressing the issue.” Three case studies of institutions in Brazil, Sri Lanka and Kenya explore different approaches that have been taken to overcoming the SSD. In the light of the challenge and the missional opportunity of the SSD, we then explore the educational principles that can fuel concrete changes to curriculum, programs, courses, individual lectures and assessments. We share examples both of how this can be done, but also of how it is being done in seminaries around the world. Progress must be founded on creating koinonia with academic colleagues and, importantly, students.
The purpose of this overall project, and this book that has arisen from it, is to promote transformation. So, Section 3 explores the process of change and barriers to it that might need to be overcome. Even if major change is not possible all at once, the importance of small, incremental change – “one-degree shifts” – is outlined. Participants from the consultations then offer their own reflections on how they have begun to make progress towards change in institutional culture, and their own practice. All long to make their institutions places where whole-life missionary disciples and whole-life missionary disciple-makers are equipped. A final section of Chapter 15 looks at how such a non-sacred-secular divided student might look, as the product of an infectious and dynamic whole-life disciple-making culture that our students can carry into their ministries in church and society.