Resourcing Majority World Seminaries: A Case Study from Indonesia

by Michael Chung

The Western church can contribute to the health of the whole body of Christ through the wise support of theological education in the Majority World.

The church is a mile wide but an inch deep” is a common phrase to describe its growth overseas, especially in Majority World areas of Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, and Latin America.1 With the gospel spreading throughout the world and new Christians entering into the fold on a daily basis, discipleship becomes paramount. Disciples are left with mentors who have little to no formal biblical training. Academic theological institutions in these parts of the world will need to develop the pastors and ministers. This is where the West can have a big impact, given a more advanced stage of theological education.

But Western academic theological institutions (mainly in North America and Europe) are often themselves scampering for resources. It is not uncommon that half or more of a school president’s job is to raise money. Academic theological institutions cannot solely depend on tuition fees from its students to meet accounting’s bottom line. So if Western schools do not think they are fully resourced, how can one ask them to resource others?

Although many schools in the West feel vastly underfunded, in comparison to their counterparts in the Majority World, their resourcing is not comparable. Many theological institutions in the Majority World have insufficient libraries, an inadequate supply of textbooks in their native language, a lack of funding to afford textbooks written in English, lecturers who do not possess a doctoral degree, a lack of funding for buildings and maintenance, etc.

Overview of Bandung Baptist Theological Seminary
Below we seek to offer suggestions on how the gap between the West and the Majority World can be narrowed by looking at how more advanced theological institutions, whether seminary, university, or college (particularly in the West, but not excluding more resourced schools elsewhere), can help under-supplied partnering schools. We will use Bandung Baptist Theological Seminary (BBTS) in Indonesia as a case study.

Of BBTS’s lecturers who are currently in the country, none have an earned PhD or ThD. Harry Sudarma, BBTS president, has a vision for the school to have an undergraduate Bible college (which currently has an enrollment of about fifty students), a premier MA program (which currently has an enrollment of about fifty students), and a ThD program (which currently has twelve students).

There are schools in Indonesia that offer a ThD, but according to Sudarma, the academic standards are very low. Sudarma explains that a ThD can be earned without ever interacting with a theological book written in English, German, and French. Indonesian theological books, he says, are too sparse and lack the depth necessary for an accredited ThD compared to Western ThD programs. With an accredited ThD program being led by professors from the West who have earned doctorates, Sudarma believes that BBTS can offer a “Western-type quality” to their academic program.

The vision, however, is for national Indonesian believers to head up all the programs at BBTS, including the ThD. For this to happen, Sudarma knows the next ten to fifteen years will require significant support from professors/lecturers from the West who have earned credentials.  

Sudarma is on the Quality Assurance Committee under the Secretary of Education and Culture in Indonesia. He is also an advisor to the leadership of other seminaries. He consults on curriculum, teaching, fundraising, and quality control—nearly all aspects of education. In his opinion, theological institutions in Indonesia offer degrees that are not acceptable to the standards of the West. Sudarma hopes his time on the government panel will raise Indonesian academic standards.  

Western Resources for Majority-world Schools
The three greatest resources Western schools can provide a school like BBTS are (1) professors with earned doctorates and PhDs from accredited schools who can teach courses for the seminary, (2) books for their libraries, and (3) funding for tuition and operations. Additionally, BBTS lacks building development and is in need to upgrade its facilities.

Dr. Donald K. Smith of Daystar University in Kenya and formerly Western Seminary in Portland, Oregon, outlined the ThD program for the seminary. For this ThD program to be complete, professors from the West will need to be the foundational instructors for the first five to ten years of the program until nationals have their degrees and enough experience to take over the program.

Western professors can begin teaching MA-level courses, which will take the pressure off the few trained professors in the country. Currently, Sudarma is teaching about thirty classes, undergraduate to doctoral level, per year. This load is too heavy and he needs relief. Also, students need to be exposed to other voices. Supporting both MA and ThD programs for a set amount of years will be crucial for a school like BBTS to have long-term effectiveness in its prospective countries.

Once Indonesian students have earned ThDs, they can take over the MA program. Then, professors from the West will need to help them supervise the ThD program, supporting and mentoring nationals so that they will eventually take ownership of the school completely.

Library Support
For schools like BBTS to grow and become accredited, offering high academic standards and ThD programs, a strong library is crucial. Currently, BBTS has a library of nearly ten thousand books, with a large portion being Sudarma’s personal library. Having toured the library personally, I noticed that many holdings would not be suitable for ThD thesis/dissertation research. Sudarma’s desire is for the library to have a holding of 100,000 books of seminary quality.

One way to increase resources in these libraries is to help purchase books. Another is to donate from one’s personal library. If the average person teaching at a theological institution has two thousand volumes in his or her personal library and donates just one percent of the books/journals/etc., then the library would grow quickly. Houston Baptist University, for instance, has eight full-time instructors and seven adjuncts at BBTS. Assuming each person had two thousand volumes in his or her personal library, if everyone donated one percent to the school, this would yield three hundred volumes.

Theological libraries themselves can also pledge books that possess multiple volumes. Libraries like St. Patrick’s Seminary in Menlo Park, California, have donated hundreds of books to libraries around the world.

A group called the Theological Book Network Inc. (TBNI) has a mission to provide quality academic books and journals to the libraries of seminaries, colleges, and universities in Africa, Asia, Eastern Europe, Latin America, and the Middle East that provide theological training toward the development of leaders, teachers, and clergy in the Church.

Rather than buying individual books, TBNI seeks to acquire libraries to help resource Majority-world theological institutions. One way is for current seminary professors to donate significant volumes of their personal library. For instance, Old Testament scholar Dr. Gene M. Tucker donated about three thousand volumes of his personal library to a seminary where he taught in Puerto Rico. Dr. Jose R. Irizarry, academic dean at the seminary, noted that Tucker’s gift has “greatly enhanced the warehouse of biblical knowledge from which our students nurture their capacity to do exegetical, homiletic, and theological reflection.” Now in his 70s, Tucker’s legacy in Puerto Rico continues. He explains:

It’s pleasing to think that I will be connected to that school in Puerto Rico in perpetuity. That’s another heritage beyond my publications and the students I have taught. Those books will be useful for generations. They are valuable now for current theological thought, and then in decades beyond for historical reasons.

TBNI’s executive director hopes that many others will follow Tucker’s lead:

A scholarly collection of this scope is invaluable to institutions in the developing world. A single scholar’s library often has the capacity to provide an institution with sufficient materials that not only sustain teaching activities, but make serious research for the church a real possibility. In fact, a scholar’s library often ends up equipping the beneficiary with the kind of collection that is unsurpassed in a country. It truly is a gift that will have a lasting impact for the church.

Supporting Majority-world Academic Journals
Schools like BBTS will also begin publishing academic journals as a forum for their faculty to engage in academic research. But many schools do not have the faculty starting out to support such an endeavor; therefore, professors from the West can help these journals by submitting their own academic research articles for publication.

The Cost to a Western Professor
Before a professor from the West can commit to helping a school, he or she must count the cost.  Offering just one course to a school each year will come at a price.

Financial. Schools in the Majority World often do not have funding to pay a professor a stipend or cover costs for transportation. A ticket from the U.S. to a country in the Majority World can cost US$1,000-2,000. Schools in the Majority World would request that a professor try to raise the money for his or her travel and not expect an honorarium.

Time. Preparing to teach a course takes away time a professor has for his or her personal research and publishing. With courses requiring one to two weeks of teaching time coupled with preparation and travel, the cost of time should be considered by professors who teach overseas. An additional cost of recovering from jet lag could add as much as an additional week of lost time.

Resources. Textbooks are also an assumed aspect of Western theological education that cannot be assumed in the Majority World. For graduate courses taught in the United States, it is not uncommon for students to purchase multiple textbooks and be required to read an average of 1,200 pages per quarter course. This cannot be expected for a school in the Majority World since many students lack funds even to pay their full tuition. At BBTS, up to eighty percent of tuition costs are covered via scholarship.

Professors should consider bringing as many books with them as possible to donate to the libraries. This will help the students in their studies, especially if the assigned reading is equivalent to that in the West. It is not practical for students to purchase all the required reading, so having books available for loan would help tremendously.  

Concluding Remarks
Anthropologists, sociologists, social science academics, educational academics, and missiologists are describing the growth in the Majority-world Church as explosive, but many have concurred with the phrase that the Church there is a mile wide but an inch deep. In order for the churches in these parts of the world to be healthy, strong educational institutions need to be developed. Sudarma believes that education can change a society and believes this can happen in Indonesia.

1. I also include the Middle East as part of the Majority World, but the growth of the Church is not as fast as it is in these other regions.


Dr. Michael Chung is an adjunct professor of New Testament at Fuller Theological Seminary in Texas and Bandung Baptist Theological Seminary in Indonesia. He was a missionary to Asia from 1999-2002.

EMQ, Vol. 50, No. 1, pp. 52-56. Copyright  © 2014 Billy Graham Center.  All rights reserved. Not to be reproduced or copied in any form without written permission from EMQ editors.


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