by Bernard Ott
Chris Sugden describes Beyond Fragmentation as “a cold bath of realism.” A cold bath it is; EMQ readers may find it a bath of radicalism, however, rather than realism.
Regnum Books International, 17951 Cowan, Irvine CA 92714, 2001, 382 pages, £24.99.
—Reviewed by Robert W. Ferris, interim academic dean, associate dean for doctoral programs, Columbia Biblical Seminary, Columbia, S.C.
Looking for an introduction to European mission training schools? This may be it. Or, want to understand the challenges facing evangelical theological educators worldwide? Ott’s book will provide that, too. Chris Sugden describes Beyond Fragmentation as “a cold bath of realism.” A cold bath it is; EMQ readers may find it a bath of radicalism, however, rather than realism.
The Konferenz Bibeltreuer Ausbild-ungstatten (KBA), made up of thirty-six evangelical Bible schools in Germany and Switzerland, is the focus of Ott’s study. His objective is “to synthesise the global and ecumenical paradigm shifts in mission theology [and]…theological education” (7) and to employ the insights gained in assessing the KBA schools.
To set the context, Ott provides a helpful history of the development of evangelical Bible schools in German-speaking Europe. Since formal theological education in Germany and Switzerland is controlled by predominantly liberal university faculties, the KBA schools have sprung from “those strands of Christianity in which the Bible, personal spirituality and missionary zeal were kept alive” (291). In recent decades, the schools also have been shaped by contact with North American missionaries, by international congresses on the Church and mission, and by response to developments within the World Council of Churches.
Ott’s review of paradigm shifts in mission theology and in theological education lean heavily on David Bosch and Edward Farley. When he measures KBA schools against the shifts he observes, however, he concludes that faculties of the schools “do not really accept two basic realities of our time: (a) the reality that the traditional Western concept of truth has collapsed; and (b) the reality of the diversity of the church in its ecumenical and global scope living in various cultural contexts” (292).
Ott is right to be concerned that curricula of Bible and missionary training lack integration and wholeness. He is justified in calling for adoption of instructional methods that reflect a fresh understanding of adult learning. And his call to move missiology from the periphery to the center of the training curriculum will resonate well with EMQ readers.
Readers may respond differently, however, to Ott’s theological perspective. Peter Beyerhaus’ substantial contribution to German evangelicalism is overshadowed by his “apocalyptic apologetic” approach. In contrast, Ott calls KBA schools to abandon their resistance to “a hermeneutical and epistemological shift” from “truth as a given set of propositional doctrinal statements” to “truth as something which has to be discovered in a particular context” (274). Transcending this barrier provides openness to “contextual theologizing,” to reassessing the role of proclamation and faith in salvation, and to acknowledging divine revelatory presence in non-Christian religions (310).
There is a lot at stake here! Ott serves as Academic Dean of Theologisches Seminar Bienenberg, one of the KBA schools. Is this book a harbinger of coming shifts within German evangelical missions training? Perhaps not. It does merit the attention of all missiologists, however, and summons biblical response from European evangelical mission educators.
Check these titles:
Banks, Robert.1999. Reenvisioning Theological Education: Exploring a Missional Alternative to Current Models. Grand Rapids, Mich.: Eerdmans.
Elmer, Duane and Lois McKinney, eds. 1996. With an Eye on the Future: Development and Mission in the 21st Century. Monrovia, Calif.: MARC.
Harley, C. David. 2000.Missionary Training: The History of All Nations Christian College. Zoetermeer, Netherlands: Boekencentrum.
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