by Wade T. Coggins
If degree-level training is needed in Africa, how can it be developed?
Theological education by extension (TEE) has shaken educational institutions throughout the evangelical community in a phenomenal way. The experts have been astounded that a fresh concept as drastic as TEE could penetrate so deeply and spread so rapidly. It is timely and appropriate that theological education thus broaden its base.
While broadening the base we need also to upgrade the training of emerging potential leaders. A breakthrough of the dimensions of the TEE movement needs to be unleashed in the development of higher training.
In my travel earlier this year in Africa I sensed the need of training leaders for positions such as professors for Bible schools, leadership for denominations, national fellowships, other interdenominational efforts, and leaders in the TEE programs. For properly trained men, there are also opportunities in the departments of religion at national universities.
Missionaries and church leaders are now filling some of these vital leadership positions and the church in Africa has grown in spite of the limited number of trained theologians. Yet, the time has come when the need for theologians demands the development of graduate theological training in Africa.
Speaking of this problem at the General Assembly February, 1973) of the Association of Evangelicals of Africa and Madagascar (AEAM), Byang Kato, General Secretary, stated that the "prevailing trend in our universities (in Africa) is that Christianity is only one of the many ways of salvation, though it may be viewed as the fulfillment of all religions." Kato believes that some African theologians use "sources other than the Scriptures as in equal standing with the revealed Word of God."
As theology built on that feeble foundation grows in Africa, it will make inroads into the evangelical churches unless African men are trained who can with authority develop and promote biblical theology.
If degree-level training is needed in Africa, how can it be developed? The AEAM at its 1973 General Assembly formed a Commission on Theological Education which has among its goals the development of two degree-level seminaries (English and French) to train Africans on their own continent. "The most ideal place for any training is the environment where the student will work," Byang Kato said in discussing the project. Considering the numbers of wellprepared leaders now needed to lead the African church, it seems impractical to send all of them outside the continent for training.
AEAM is exploring the best ways of cooperatively developing these schools to serve the English-speaking and French-speaking sections of Africa. Evangelical leaders should help find the most suitable locations and then commit themselves to the development of substantial programs in degree-level training.
The Union Biblical Seminary at Yeotmal, India is an example. Several groups committed themselves to an existing school, promising money and personnel. These resources upgraded the school and developed its degree program. It took high-level decisions and solid commitment of resources to bring this to pass. I believe that once this type of solid cooperation and commitment have been evidenced in Africa, effective appeals can be made for backing from other sources, such as foundations.
I would like to encourage the educators in Africa who will develop these seminaries to consider also the feasibility of developing concurrently with theological training, effective departments in administration and communication. The African church needs trained administrators for many aspects of its work.
Modern communications concepts are needed to spread the gospel as well as good theologians to keep the church sound. By developing this combination, the African seminaries could break new ground.
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