Samuel E. Chiang - "Contextualizing Theological Education in Oral Contexts"
12:38PM Sep 6, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Samuel E. Chiang
Today it is our honor to be speaking with Dr. Samuel E. Chiang. Dr. Chiang serves as president and CEO of Seed Company, a member of the Wickliffe family of organizations. Previously, Dr. Chiang served as executive director of the International orality network. He was also chief operating officer of Transworld radio, and served as East Asia area director with partners International. Dr. Chiang has written on the church in China and orality. Dr. Chiang is also the author of the texts that we'll be discussing today, beyond literate Western models contextualizing theological education in oral contexts. Dr. Chiang, thank you so much for being with us.
Dr. Armstrong, thank you for inviting me to your show.
Dr. Chang as we
begin, in the prologue of this very interesting, very thought provoking book, you affirm that there are 5.7 billion oral preference learners in the world. Would you please help us understand what you mean with this phrase that will be new to many of us oral preference learners?
Sure, there are people in the world today who primarily receives their information, process their information, remember their information, and pass on the information in a way that is oral and more visual. When you look at the numbers together from the people who are total illiterates, which is approximately only about 300 million that's left to the people who are semi literate, to the people who are literate and to the people who are
highly, highly literate.
Those numbers From the UN data, when you add them all up together, it is approximately 5.7 billion people.
So, that statistic is based on un data is that correct?
Yes, what we have done is taken un data, population data and look at all the exceptions, which is in bury in the back of the word of the middle of the books that they have. And so it started doing calculations from there. And then what we have also done in the orality journal, the very first volume one number one, where my co editor, colleague, Dr. Graham Lovejoy have looked at numbers and comparisons and came to a conclusion. It is approximately 5.7 billion and these are using stats that are The government provides. And one of the things that people may be so very astounded with the fact that the number might be so high is that every single country is encouraged to use their own methods for decoration of literacy. So some countries for example, let's say that you are a literate person, if you could vote
using your fingerprints.
Other countries may say you are literate if you have four years of education, or you counted us literate as having six years or eight years of education. And then of course, in some countries, they say before the age of, for example, in one of the countries in Southeast Asia, before the age of 10, you're counted as a illiterates. But after the age of 10, you're counted as illiterate when you ask All of those exceptions of country decorations together you realize, wow, the world's population really have people who are 5.7 billion or oral preference learners, meaning that they prefer to learn in an oral manner. And on a literacy scale, there is not a real way to measure them well, because the way that they pass on information is oral and aural visual.
That is an amazing opening statement and eye opening for many of us. Thank you, Dr. Chang, for that clear explanation in the context of a conversation like ours, that specifically on theological education, this raises all kinds of questions to realize that the majority of the world's population cannot receive information or process information through literate means. One of the very interesting things that you say in the early part of the book that you've written here, You mentioned that there are oral models for theological education that are popping up in Institute's all over the world. Can you help help introduce us to this movement? What are these oral based oral model theological education institutes? And how do we get in touch with them?
then allow me to proceed on three separate strands. Where are they located? They're predominantly located in countries where geography set is much more or orientates. So for example, in the South
Asia, subcontinent, India,
and the African continent, and if you look at a stretch from
Kenya, all the way across
to Nigeria, there are oral schools that's popped up. second strand is that the Southern Baptist As we're working with people who are up in southern Sudan, actually did this in a very, very formalized way. And there have been write ups about that, in, of which back in the last decade, they showed that people who are trained in a very formalized way as, as a president of a seminary from America who witnessed this on oral examination, said your graduates are no the Word of God better than our graduates. I will not say which school that is. But they were able to describe back when the, when the formal education educators, were questioning them on an oral exam, and these are people who are pastors, etc. Who were able to respond in such a manner. that's a that's a formal and informal Formal and non formal education together, having some results. And the third strand that I would touch on is that these schools are popping up all over is actually described something like this. They have a cohort that comes together, they will be applying and they will be living together for approximately anywhere between 11 to 16 months, there will be Academic Dean who will oversee them. And as many of these people, some of them are elders of the church. Some of them are people who have graduated from seminary, and some of them are widows who never had any education. And in these schools, they would be co working together and they were put into their hearts 212 or two Hundred and 92 stories and in the morning they will learn to school and learn the stories accurately from the Bible. And then in the afternoon, they will actually go out on the streets and practice it. In the evening they would debrief together. I've been to one of those graduations in which there have been an academic dean, there have been cohorts of people who have in that
setting 200 and off stories tucked away in their hearts, and so they're able to speak from it verbatim. And when you ask them different questions about which story might represent or describe this, they will recount to you the biblical stories, which will illustrate these concepts and principles that we work with in the West, but for them, they understand how we think but they also chosen the concrete accurate Bible stories to tell, to illustrate that they understand your question to them.
This is absolutely fascinating. Are these Bible schools in existing networks? do they do? can we how would one find them and locate those networks? Are these accredited institutions?
All these schools are in a non formal space. And it's at the could you find them? Yes, we can. And so, do I have ministry names I could give to you. I could, if you invite me to do so. And so, I am absolutely flabbergasted in which how we see non formal education institutions are able to serve their
in this in this way with oral Bible schools.
This is absolutely fascinating. Dr. Chang, if I can draw our attention to page 19 of your book, I'll quote you here for a minute you write, whereas the West tends to focus on a process of establishing principles, moving to guidelines, observing practices, and collecting stories. The majority of the world reverses this process and moves from stories to practice, to guidelines to principles. Would you help unpack that statement for us?
Sure, Dr. Armstrong, allow me to move from where the majority of the world is. Most of those cultures are actually oral cultures and works with oral histories. So their methodologies of learning is for their means of passing on information from a very concrete stories point of view. May I give you one example as an example, We tend to think Genesis or even the first 10 chapters of first Chronicles, to be a royal waste of time. And, and yet those genealogies are so important in oral speaking cultures. They talk about them, they talk about family histories, and where they come from, and their mindsets and their hearts is layered with stories after stories after stories. So it's a collection of a library of full of stories. And so in the northwest, in, in, in the northwest, in a majority part of the world, how they transmit information is oftentimes in story formats, but it's not that doesn't just stop there. It it oftentimes is in poetry forms, pull oftentimes in Proverbs dances, Music arts, visual arts. And so these an even chance I'm thinking in, in the North Africa is seeing Egypt. Yeah. So many of the different oral cultures use these methodologies. And they are moved from the stories into some guidelines as they talk and converse about the stories and then move into from practices into guidelines into principles. Of course, for us, we tend to come from a very conceptual framework. And so everything framed for us is concepts. And if I if I may even just do this as an example, we in the West
would tend to
look at this if I may hold it up, and you could probably see that These are
in a westward column
simply shapes or circle square and triangle. But he many cultures in the northwest for example, it may be Egypt, they will look at this and say, Oh, this, that's that's, that's pita bread, they will look at this and they said oh, this is our stamp, they will say this is say, of course, this is the pyramids, or again, maybe in India, they will look at this as such a party our bread, they will look at this as a handkerchief, how we wipe our sweat.
And then they will look at this
and say that's the temple where we go in worship. What we have worked with is very, very conceptual terms and how they have worked with is with very, very concrete terms. And so in the in how we think about the Bible, Old Testament God, how he looks at himself. He call himself. I'm the rock. I'm the shepherd. And all of these are very concrete terms. And yet, we in the New Testament borrow from it, we say, oh, God is love, we understand conceptually. But people in the northwest talks about it in a very, very concrete way.
that was a little bit long. I hope that helps to explain the process of where we practice in certain ways bond from principle, to guidelines to practice, and then to have stories because we think in a conceptual way, to whereby they work in a very concrete way. And they work with story sets, their habitual way of keeping the library of knowledge in their hearts, to move towards practices guidelines, and then they stay there for a long time. And then they may come to principles, which might end up to be a proverb of some sort.
That's remarkably healthy. And thank you for your willingness to boil that down into a concept that I can understand. Thank you, sir. Dr. Chang. The essays in this anthology represent papers that were delivered at a congress that you organized at the Billy Graham center in 2012. You served as the Congress organizer, and you also edited the papers. What for you was perhaps the greatest lesson that you learned from the experience of organizing these events.
On behalf of the International orality network, and in conjunction with Billy Graham Center at Wheaton College, we were very grateful for Billy Graham center able to host us there and free. And so when we proposed this idea, we sense that there was a hunger when you asked me what is it that I learned from this event, I learned that the hunger continues continued in 2013, we organized one in Hong Kong to 014. We based on demand, we organized another one in Houston, Houston Baptist University, and then based on demand. Oklahoma Baptist University picked it up in 2015. And also based on demand, they start University hosted an all Africa wide or reality Congress like that at their campus last October 2015. It is the biggest thing that I learned is that there is so much going on in theological education that they are demanding and wanting and sensing there's newness in this that they must grasp. I would also say that Asbury Theological Seminary picked up this This forum on their campus, whereby their department heads came together to talk about and present papers with respect to orality and theological education. Greg Keener, provides a paper talking about memory and how people are learning. So there is the great interest from theological education from Old Testament point of view, because the, if you will, the trend is now on our synchronic study of the word from the Old Testament, larger passages that they're dealing with. From the New Testament is the oral performance aspect, how exactly was oral performance in the Gospels and Paul taking care of, and then also Christian education. So this piece is large. And then on top of that, a theological education, whether we are in Singapore, which I've done, faculty workshops, and then whether we're In the United States, you're discovering students do not have a strong sense of the arc of the argument of the book. And that they are working on small little pieces. And they realize that even in the classroom, how the students are learning are being Google iced, and how they are having to work with the students is in such a way that they got to consider how they are learning in this new century, which is much more aural and visual.
Dr. Chang, may I ask you very briefly to reflect just for a moment on the strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats for oral models of theological education.
The strength of it is, I think, more people in the Church capital See, we will be able to say, I want to learn that I want to be part of this. That anytime I'm a churchman and anytime people in the church who are willing, and have we seen this, and capable and desire of this, that's a strength and we want to be able to do non formal theological education in the church and help the layman to have a grasp of the Word of God. And that's that's strength. I would say if you were to point to weaknesses, it would probably be that the aspect of change is too much for many, many different institutions. And and because editing businesses because many business models have been built upon, how much hype can we create how much code We put into book or audio formats, and the revenue model D feeds institutions would be would be to find time, if you will, to look for a how this may pass. And so getting institutions continually to be involved over a long period of time would be would be one of those weaknesses out might to continue. If you're looking for the threats, I was saying that if there are groups who says, oh, we're just telling Bible stories, we don't have to tell it accurately. Then we really run into centuries worth of not telling Bible stories accurately, then we really be we really in F in that effort have taken down the authority The Word of God so so so the large pieces that would people be willing to tell the Word of God in its accurate way have been translated translated these say, it's not just memorizing well, memorizing isn't so bad. If we're thinking about even Hebrew, a culture, the first 666 year olds and 12 year olds, boys and girls, memorizing the five books for the boys, girls for for the sake of Shabbat, Psalms, Deuteronomy, Proverbs. They were all having to be WordPerfect. And that's okay. And so that's a different model. And and then, you know, even with that, it's another three years that they remember the entire Tanakh and then they get to talk about the text that is within them. I know you know all that. I know that your audience knows all that. But the biggest threat is that for many people, it may come at a time To say, well, we're just telling Bible stories will tell you tell to you the way that we want. What happens with that is that authority of the Word of God is subverted, and that's not good. That's a threat. If you're looking at opportunities, the greatest opportunity that we have is that so historians in general have suggested that if agendas were set in the first two decades of any century, those agendas, carry the weight, and the gravitas, essentially for the rest of the century. And we think that God has a purpose for morality in in the fullness of the opportunity for the rest of this century as we move.
Dr. Chang as we close if I can ask you to respond to one final question and that is, what would it mean for the church to do To be united, despite all of its vast differences and the vast differences of the culture in which the church is planted, how would we recognize this unity? And how can we pursue this unity?
I'm not sure I'm strong. That's a question that I've been giving a little bit of thought towards that, and I hope my humble answer would be, would be sufficient. I believe the church could become united, if we believe that the living word of God is a lie. And that they're not just the printed pages, but the very word that the bar is the living word that speaks with sound and that speaks to other people and is active working in other people's lives. I also believe that the church today if we were less so trying to figure out how many numbers we're trying to report.
Hmm. Even though That is important,
but much more looking at the outcome of discipleship and, and the idea that we could have an opportunity to be discipling in some people's lives. And if those numbers are not large, but if they are reproducing disciples, it would be one of the most beautiful things to unite the church together because we're followers of Christ, with lightened Saul speaking into society and into the marketplace. I really believe those two items, as simple as that they may sound are what comes to my heart in the uniting of church serving together.
It's been our honor today to be speaking with Dr. Samuel E. Chang, President and CEO of the Seed Company, a member of the Wickliffe family of organizations and also author of the texts that we've been discussing today. Beyond literate Western models. contextualize theological education in oral contexts. Dr. Chang, thank you for being with us.
Thank you so much. Thank you.