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A Discussion of Seminary Education in China

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In December of 2012 Shanghai hosted the Chinese Christian Theological Education Fair. In the article translated below, the reporter interviews leaders from various seminaries and Bible schools throughout Mainland China (and Hong Kong and Taiwan) for their perspectives on the issues related to seminary education in China.

Introduction: It is said that it takes ten years to grow a tree, but a hundred years to become a man. To complete this hundred-year work, education is most the important. In order for the church to grow, theological education is the most important. When the church in China was reopened, the first two tasks were printing Bibles again and reopening seminaries. In 1981, thanks to the efforts of Bishop Ding Guangxun, Nanjing Union Theological Seminary was opened, becoming the first seminary in the country to open after the Cultural Revolution.

Since then, Christian theological education in Mainland China has entered its springtime. In the thirty years since then, seminaries in China have trained tens of thousands of preachers for the Chinese church. But with the number of believers rising from 700,000 when new China was founded (in 1949) to 23.05 million today, theological education in China still has a long way to go.

Recently, the Chinese Christian Theological Education Fair was held in Shanghai. The reporter took the opportunity to interview presidents, vice presidents, and provosts from 20 seminaries all over the country and experts from China and abroad. In those interviews, they were asked to give their views on the curriculum setting and training goals of Chinese seminaries and the challenges they are facing.

Adhere to the Correct Guiding Principle for Running a Seminary to build good Chinese Theological Education

Pastor Kan Baoping, Secretary-General of the China Christian Council

This conference played a crucial role in theological education nationwide. The future of Chinese Churches depends on our theological education today, for the seminaries are the birthplace of the shepherds. God gives every theological educator this responsibility and entrusts us to create a good educational environment, to insist on the correct guidelines and to set up reasonable curricula. Training and communication help us to reflect on our purpose for running seminaries. Also, it inspires us to evaluate our recent educational methods to examine how well those methods are helping us achieve our educational goals.

Challenges in Theological Education

Cai Ruiyi, President of Taiwan Baptist Theological Seminary

Churches and seminaries are inseparable. It is often said that, todays seminary students are tomorrows shepherds; and the seminary today is the church tomorrow. The aim of theological education is to train preachers for the times for the church. Any preacher must take up the responsibility to preach, to care and to lead. These three responsibilities remind the seminary to design courses so that the students will understand the Word, know how to preach the Word and learn how to become preachers. To preach, to understand the Word and to be a preacher are the three core tasks of theological education. The guiding principle of theological education curriculum design is to a have a balance of these three parts. The church faces a constantly changing situation, so we should constantly update our courses. The need to constantly update courses is an unending challenge of theological education.

Theological Education and Management

Dr. Manfred Kohl, Ambassador for Overseas International Association

To do theological education well, we have to learn how use the resources we have. God has given us a lot and he wants us to use what we have been given responsibly. Good management helps us to be better. We need to train our students, future pastors, to be excellent pastors and serve with effort for God and Gods Kingdom. Theological education needs to be reflected in our daily lives, as taught by Jesus and practiced by Jesus and his disciples.

Theological Education Should Respond to the Need of the Times

Zhou Yongjian, President Emeritus of China Graduate School of Theology

Because of the changing times, seminary education should first position itself well and hold on to its mission to foster good shepherds who are kind, faithful and wise. Seminary education includes but shouldnt be limited to theological study. It should be a comprehensive educational experience - academic, spiritual and practical. In addition, seminary education should keep pace with the times and understand the current needs of the church and society, improve itself and offer quality teachers and students, and plan for future development. While focusing on self-improvement, we should open ourselves up to overseas exchangessending excellent people to study abroad and introduce well-known scholars abroad to teach some courses to learn from their experiences and strengths. If we do so, the future of Chinas theological education will be bright.

Teacher Training is the Lifeline of the Development of Seminaries:

Gao Ying, President of Yanjing Theological (f)

The lifeline of Seminary development is teacher training. Just as the aim of theological education is to pass on our faith, the fortress of sustainable development of seminaries is teacher training. The quality of the believers depends on the quality of the pastoral staff; the quality of the pastoral staff depends on seminary education. And the core of seminary education is teacher training and candidate development. So the priority for the seminaries should be the training of teachers. The quality of teacher training lies in the top leaders of the seminary. The presidents and deans must themselves be an example and promote teacher training. Instead of just talking about teacher training, we need to put it in our agenda, discuss it in our meetings, find a team and come up with a practical, specific and feasible plan that can be implemented in 5 or 10 years. Teacher training is a systematic project and a long-term task that takes leaders who will lead a team of prayer warriors to pray for this task and ask the Lord to add our faith, help us overcome difficulties. With perseverance and year after year implementation of the training plan, we will gradually see the result.

Seminary Education should Properly Respond to Secularization

Yu Daxin, President of China Graduate School of Theology

The word secularization comes from the Latin word saeculum, meaning now and the present. Secularism refers to the life philosophy that only the present is meaningful; there is nothing to seek beyond the present and there is nothing that is ultimate. The contemporary world is pervaded with this secularization. To respond to this phenomenon, theological education must strengthen the interaction of the transcendence, strengthen the real experience of gods presence, strengthen the consciousness of the last days and the knowledge that God has shaped and is shaping history. This kind of theological education must emphasize the building up of spiritual life and the broadening of the horizon of the last days. Spiritual intensity is indispensable in the fight against secularization.

Teachers in Seminaries Need to Improve Their Ability to do Research and to Write

Interim Director Lin Manhong, Deans Office of Jinling Union Theological Seminary

Teachers are the communicators of knowledge. To communicate knowledge is not as simple as just passing it along. If it is just that, then teachers are simply the porters of knowledge. The communication of knowledge requires the reprocessing and refining of knowledge to allow it grow in new soil, which is the doing research. To do research is not to grasp more information and knowledge; rather, it is the meditation on that knowledge and the fostering of new things. Teaching without researching may just be the passing on of the old knowledge, rather than the knowledge that may grow in new soil. Writing is the way to record the results of the research. Through writing, we leave the future generations the raw material that they can continue to think and update. In this way, the knowledge passes on from generation to generation. To do research and to write is the mission for teachers in seminaries.

Seminary Curriculum Should be Balanced in Two Kinds of Courses

Huang Chaozhang, President and Dean of Fujian Theological Seminary

If the obvious curriculum and the hidden curriculum can complement each other well, we can not only efficiently complete the assigned teaching contents (or tasked) but also avoid the filing duck way of teaching. But how to do it in actual operation is a question worth considering. Usually, too much student participation and interaction will affect the completion of the teaching tasks. Therefore, the heuristic method of teaching seems to suit our current situation better.

Theological Education and Culture

Wang Zhenren, South China Seminary

I think theological education in China should pay attention to the education of Chinese culture. The traditional Chinese culture is also a part of Gods revelation. China has a long history and extensive and profound culture. Theological education in China should be rooted in the soil of Chinese culture and relate itself to the actual conditions of the Chinese Church and society. South China Seminary offers the course Christianity and Chinese Culture to help the students better understand the Chinese culture and the positive role it can play in relationship with the Christian faith.

Seminary Students Need to Participate in Church Practice

Lou Shibo, Vice President of Zhejiang Seminary

Theological education itself is an indispensable part of Church ministries. One great mission for the seminary is to train qualified personnel for the Church. Seminaries and churches are Kingdom partners as close as lips are to teeth. Real participation in the church can help the students understand the current situation of the church and thus adjust their directions to the meet the needs. It also helps the students theological thinking to be closer to reality (theology is actually the church in thinking). When the students gain a better understanding of the churchs real needs while they are at school, they can serve and lead with more efficiency and effectiveness in the future when they leave the seminary. Theological training should not leave out church participation and practice. How to help the students who are currently in theological seminaries to effectively participate and do internships at a church is something we need to coordinate and work on.

Theological Education and Holistic Education

Wang Hong, President of Shaanxi Bible School

Growth is the core of the holistic education. In theological seminaries, the core of education is spiritual growth. To push forward the students growth, we need to start from an all-around education policy that emphasize the development of student's virtue, intelligence, physical conditions, mind, and community service. Students growth will be facilitated through the classes, tested through field-work and enriched through fellowship. After all, growth and maturity cannot do without verified conditions and challenges. Seminaries should be a place that offers those practices and provides guidance for the students.

Principles in Setting Curriculum for Seminaries

Xiang Xian, Dean of Anhui Seminary

There are several principles for setting up the curriculum. The Office of Academic Affairs should play a crucial role in carrying out those principles. A few things to note: first, as a provincial level seminary, different from national or regional seminaries, we should focus more on practical theology and also pay attention to cultivate the students skills such as reading music and playing the piano. Secondly, our curriculum should reflect the demand of cultural education in seminaries and we should strengthen the cultural and worldview courses. This is good for students better understand of the culture and society and will prevent the danger of standing aloof from the world.

Theological Education and Spiritual Formation

Wu Ziwei, Assistant Principle of Hunan Bible School

Without a doubt, spiritual formation is the core of holistic education and the soul and key goal of seminary education. Hunan Bible School uses every detail of school life to shape the students spiritually. In all the classes, no matter what is the subject being taught, the teachers are required to describe the effect or effort of this course for the students spiritual growth. The students are organized into growth groups so they accompany each others growth. Also, one-on-one mentoring and fellowships help the students grow.

Thinking on Inner Mongolia Theological Education

Zhu Junwei, Vice President of Inner Mongolia Bible School

The basic principles for having effective analysis, evaluation, correction and adjusting of currently used curriculums are as follows: 1. Are the traditionally formed and currently used curriculums in line with the general law of education? Is the particularity of theological education been reflected? 2. Does the curriculum by itself already reflect the relationship between teaching and learning? 3. Theological education in China should establish a standardized form to serve the Chinese churches; at the same time, local seminaries should not be dogmatic but achieve unity within diversity. 4. Theological education should not be behind closed doors; rather, seminaries should keep close relationships with the church and make the curriculum more thought provoking.

My View on the Hidden Curriculum of Theological Education

Wang Jianhua, Vice Dean of East China theological seminary

The hidden curriculum reflects the seminary culture, teachers quality, interpersonal relationships, values and criteria for success. Though it is not a quantitative course, it runs through the whole educational experience of the students. If the explicit courses are the bones and flesh, then the hidden courses are the tissuesenabling the explicit courses to be worked out in real life. The students are taught in explicit courses, but in hidden courses they are mentored. The two go together in the real content of education. Theological education is not only intellectual education but also personality shaping. The hidden curriculum is crucial for the students to grow and is an integral part of theological education.

Keep Up with the Development of the Times and Do A Good Job in Theological Education

Yang Hongliang, Assistant Dean of Northeast China Theological Seminary

I benefited a lot from participating in the Chinese Christian Theological Education Fair. Under the unique social and religious situation in contemporary China, social changes have significant impact on theological education. On the one hand, theological seminaries have to make adjustments to face the challengesimproving teaching facilities, training qualified teachers and updating educational philosophies to keep up with the times and avoid being excluded by society. On the other hand, the government should administer the laws, regulations and policies concerning religious affairs; also, the government should guide the seminaries into standardized and institutionalized construction to help theological seminaries play a more active role in Chinese society.

The website China Partner has a good brief explanation of seminaries and Bible schools in China, along with a fairly extensive list.

Original article:

It is also posted at Kuanye.net.

Image source: Joann Pittman

ChinaSource Team

Written by members of the ChinaSource staff.  View Full Bio


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