Robert Ferris - "Renewal in Theological Education"
1:22AM Jun 30, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
michigan state university
It is our huge pleasure today to be speaking with Dr. Robert Ferris. Dr. Farris is professor emeritus at Columbia International University. for 21 years, Dr. Ferris is served as missionaries in the Republic of the Philippines where Bob taught at VBS College of the Bible directed the Philippine association of Bible and theological schools and served as dean of Asian Theological Seminary. Dr. Farris is the author of the texts that we'll be discussing today, Renewal in Theological Education: Strategies for Change, originally published in 1990. Dr. Farris, we're very grateful to be speaking with you today.
Dr. Farris, in your book renewal in theological education strategies for change. This book came as the fruit of your research in 19. tene 88 to 89 as missionary scholar in residence at the Billy Graham center in wheaton, would you be willing to tell us what led you to embark on this research project from your perspective?
When I was appointed Graham center, missionary scholar in residence, the graham center wanted scholars and residents to publish a book during the year that they were at Wheaton.
what today is known as I set was founded in 1980. And in 1981. The following year, there was a consultation held in Malawi, at which Paul Bowers proposed the development of a manifesto on renewal and theological education. His concern was that the theological education by extension, folks in the residential folks were emphasizing differences between them rather than the things that they held in common. And he was concerned he was persuaded that there was a great deal that both can affirm. And so he was given the the assignment of developing a manifesto on Evan jellicle theological education. The, the process by which that book was developed by which that manifesto was developed is outlined in the book that we're discussing today. At the time, I served as executive director of Philippine association of Bible theological schools, and I was one of about two dozen theological educators on all continents, who received copies of the draft which Paul produced and I contributed generously in my comments on the draft, that draft and then a subsequent draft, and found that many of my contributions were were incorporated into the, into the final document. That document was accepted by the ISO board in 1983. And I went to the graham center in 1988, five years later and was of the opinion it was my perception that the the manifester had not received the the attention that it was due. And consequently, my desire was to to explore how to manifest used and accepted during the five year interval between 83 and 85.
Ferris the principles of the ice set manifesto are the following 12 contextualization church focused orientation, strategic flexibility, theological grounding, continuous assessment, community life, integrated programs, servant molding, instructional variety, a Christian mind equipping for growth and lastly, cooperation from the 242 schools that you surveyed. Did you find that the majority of schools were especially successful in applying certain of these principles? And on the other side, did you find that the there were certain principles that most schools found particularly challenging, thank you.
Well, actually, the values expressed in the manifesto were broadly affirmed in the survey. One of the most revealing findings of the survey, however, was that nearly 85 percent of the respondents indicated that they weren't. They weren't aware of the of the manifesto. So the manifesto itself, it seems, was a rock thrown into a pond that made no ripple.
but when presented with a man with values, articulated Manifesto, they theological educators strongly affirm those values. They indicated that they had attempted to implement those values in their institutions. But they also indicated that their realization of those values within their institution was somewhat below their, their their level of commitment. So what we had is we had a situation where people were committed to, to values which they had been unsexy, unsatisfied with their ability to implement it. And, interestingly, didn't seem to know anybody else who had done better.
Dr. Farris, you wrote this text renewal in theological education strategies for change in an effort to help schools receive the message of the manifesto. Now at a date of almost 35 years after the original publication of the manifesto in 1983, do we have enough historical distance to do an autopsy? Why was it that the manifesto didn't have the effect that it was intended to have in the early years in these schools lives?
I'm not sure. I don't know that we that we can identify anything more clearly today than we did them. The Manifesto. I don't know that the findings would be significantly different today if we if we repeated this study. I think that again, we'd find people large with the schools. The school is Administrators, theological educators largely are unaware of this Manifesto, that they affirm the values of the manifesto, that they've attempted to implement those values and that they're not satisfied with the way that they with the results that they've seen in their institutions. Perhaps the interesting thing is that even in the, in academia, the organization that Paul Paul Bowers at the time was leading. There were a number of institutions who said they've not heard of the manifesto five years after it was published. So we really didn't do a very good job of getting the word out. It seems. Dr. Farris
Would you be willing to retrace as much as you may have personal experience with a history of I set where did this institution come from Whose idea was it to produce? I set the international council for evangelical theological education, this umbrella group over these other eight regional accreditation agencies.
what was the mission precisely that the creation of this new organization was attempting to fulfill?
that we're talking about today,
there was a number of theological education. Yes. And it's at the founding of
The personal within the community within the world and what today is that we're living Alliance was the creation of theological education Commission and the call for renewal existed within the theological education commission. That was the commission that actually called the the consultation in hottest in England, where I set was was founded in the interim. Just in the in the years just prior to the founding of ice at in partisan in 1980. The there were associations of theological education that were accrediting account associations that were established in Asia, in Africa, in the Caribbean. And it seemed reasonable that there should be some coordinating body that would bring these together. And that was really the impetus for establishing eyes that
I said then
Held consultations in 1981 1984 1987. And as people came to learn about I set the the participation in the works in the consultations grew until in 1985 or 19. Rather in 2015 in, in Turkey, I believe you were there, there were over 200 over 200 delegates, maybe over 300 delegates that were
what was it about the manifesto precisely that you identified as deserving further attention and further exploration?
Well, the manifesto is a call for renewal and renewal.
I may be getting ahead of the story a bit but
When I was when I went to thievius, college a Bible. PDS, by the way is like Biola by Allah was originally the Bible Institute of Los Angeles. PBS was originally the first Bible Institute in seminary. That's how it got its name. So when I went to theistic, I was, I was looking for a better way to teach. And in the early 70s, I got involved in the theological education by start by extension movement. And I found in theological education, by extension, a community of people who were all looking for a better way to teach. And the problem was, that in the Philippines placed and I think, more broadly, as well, that all of us were trained theologically and none of us was trained educationally. And the issues that we're facing really were not theological problems. We knew how to Extra Jesus, we knew how to do our theology, we knew how to, to deal with the theological issues, what we didn't know how to do is to deal with educational issues. And it was that was the that was the impetus for the call that was the the source out of which the call for renewal was growing. Many people were recognizing that the, the, that the schooling approach to education was not serving as well. And we needed to do something different. Developing leadership for the for the, for the global church, and that that desire to do better is that was really the well out of which the spring out which the call for renewal group and because I sit with had had adopted this agenda of renewal and theological education. I was happy to be part of it.
Thank you Dr. Farris for those reflections. Dr. Farris since 2003, you've served with gate that is global associates for transformational education in the mission of advancing quality theological education worldwide. Please tell us about your strategic decision to become one of the founding members of gate.
Well, that continues the story that we just began. Because
as when I was teaching it phoebius
Dr. Ted Ward from Moody Bible from Michigan State University, came to to thievius one day and did a a faculty workshop for us and I immediately connected with him. This this man, he was a an astute thinker. He was quick to put his finger on issues. And I decided that if I were going to do something of education, he's the person I'd like to work with.
in it. So, in 1980
Let's see 19 not all 1977 I went to Michigan, I enrolled at Michigan State University and in a doctoral program in Educational Administration, that curriculum, and basically that was the turning point in my career. Because prior to that time, I my training had been in theology. And the interesting thing was that at Michigan State University, I wrote theological papers for my education, my secular education profs, and they loved them, because there were there was
a clear sense of
there was clarity about values and there was a, a philosophical engagement, what they saw is a philosophical engagement with educational issues.
And this, this blending of theology and education is something which
if I have been able to make a contribution at all, it has been in this it because of this blending of theology and and my theological interest in my educational interest in when I returned to the Philippines after completing the coursework, for That degree in 1980. That's what I was called to work with the Philippine association of Bible and theological schools. And in that role I traveled the length and breadth of the Philippines. We had, I think 45 Bible schools in seminaries that were members of the Philippine association of Bible and theological schools at that time. And I spent the next four years doing faculty workshops, regional seminars, national conventions, editing and quarterly bulletin, and basically investing my ministry in trying to strengthen theological schools in the Philippines.
When I came,
then I was asked to take up the dean ship of Asian Theological Seminary and continued to my To implement ATMs, the things that I've been talking about it with other schools in the Philippines in my role with pot. In 1988, we came back to the states and that's what I was at the graham center and at nine, we were expecting the Lord to send us into a nother ministry and international theological education and instead he led us to Columbia Bible, college and seminary at Columbia biblical seminary, I taught a course on non traditional approaches to ministry education, drawing on both my my work and renewable theological education in my in my background in theological education, by extension, the amount of material that we had to do to That, that I had to choose what I was going to incorporate in that class was so vast that when he said we really needed to offer an MA and international theological education, and we actually graduated a handful of students from that ma international theological education program. But what became evident is that the people who were looking for training in international theological education, already had master's degrees, what they needed was a doctoral degree. And so our initial effort was to develop a PhD in international theological education, in collaboration with University of South Carolina, because it'll be there in international theological education, there is some value in having a degree that's issued by a secular institution that didn't work out It really was not feasible for us to develop a PhD program at Columbia at that time. And so our our effort was redirected towards non a non formal approach to address some of the needs that we saw. And conversations were started that started in the year 2000 actually took form in 2003, as we began planning for gate and the first gate workshops, was held in Kiev, Ukraine in 2004. So that's, that's kind of the the pathway that that brought me into it.
Excellent. That's extremely helpful. Thank you.
Dr. Farris, some are talking about abandoning government recognized forms of accreditation for institutions of theological education and instead Pursuing some form of certification that could be recognized by global church bodies. What would your counsel be on this matter?
You know, I think that
it's common for people to assume that out in the ether something where there exists a platonic ideal of what good education good seminary education should be. But as soon as I say that, we realize that is not true. And accreditation is assumed to be the comparison of concrete institutions, here on terra firma, with that platonic ideal, but if the platonic ideal doesn't exist, then we realized that what's happening instead is that the, the standards of accrediting associations, accrediting agencies really represent somebody's idea of what the values are, what educational value should be, and what constitutes good education.
Now, to the extent that
the values ascribed by the accrediting Association overlap with the values to which God has called a particular institution, to that extent, accreditation will strengthen the institution. But the extent the values of the institution diverged from the values of the accrediting Association, accreditation will have the effect of drawing the institution away from its own values,
the direction of the
agency and that
therein lies the problem. Because accrediting agencies typically orient towards the secular universe. And the values of the secular University are very different from the values that drive a ministry education today, or at least the biblical values that should drive medical ministry education. And consequently, it's very, very important for schools to think carefully before they submit themselves to accreditation by an agency which is driven by values that are not at all biblical, and which tend to press the the institution to exist, those values as well.
Dr. Farris, what do you see as the greatest opportunities and challenges facing global theological education today?
Let's start with the challenges and I'm not To be very
direct here, there is no question that they the most urgent challenge facing theological education in the in the majority world today is the issue of funding.
that there are a number of factors that contribute to that. First of all, there is no school, university or college at least not graduate, tertiary level institution that is financially viable apart from infusions of funding, whether that in those infusions come from
endowments, which some schools
not the western schools, having in abundance, Whether those those infusions come from donations by donors, whether those come from wherever they come from, that schools cannot run on the tuition that they that the income that the school itself generates. This is a problem for schools because what is what is the school in the in the developing world supposed to do?
What is the school in the majority world do?
Does it come to the west and raise funds in the West in order to in order to underwrite the cost of his of his program? That's not a good solution. It creates dependencies which are very which are on guilty and leaves the the institution oriented towards the donors in the in the West rather than towards the church, that it's allegedly, to serve. Brought, what there's a number of schools, especially in Africa, that have broadened the scope of their institutions to become universities. And that's problematic as well. Because as soon as you broaden your, your, the scope of your programs to include arts and sciences, you have to have faculty members, too, who are qualified to teach the in the arts and sciences. And there's not that many evangelicals who have academic qualifications in the arts and sciences. Consequently, this in order to meet the demands of ministries of education and accrediting agencies, these schools Higher not having technical professors in the in the arts and sciences. And quickly, the arts and science programs begin to grow and they grow. They it doesn't take long before they're larger the enrollments in the arts and sciences is greater than the enrollment in in theological studies and faculties in the arts and sciences are greater or more numerous than the faculties of the theological studies. And at that point, the whole orientation of the institution shifts and the the What started out as an institution intended to serve deserve the church ends up very much like Harvard University. Yale Divinity School, Yale, Yale University, Princeton, University of Chicago, all of which were started to train pastors and today, I doing level or nothing, too. To promote that, that goal, and it really troubles me to see schools in the majority world that are embracing the move towards university
the, if we're going to address the issue of funding, the thing that we've got to do is find ways to do develop domestic sustainability. But that demands major change that demands rethinking the way that we go about training, who he is involved in training, how people are involved in training. And so if we're talking about challenges, that has to be considered the A because of the urgency that has to be considered a major challenge. Another challenge is reorienting the university problem. The values of the university, the seminary rather from the values of the university, the values of the church. Ministry leadership is not University leadership is is the latest. church leadership should not be elitist. Jesus model was the servant leadership. And that's what he calls for. And that's what our schools need to develop but reorienting the the institution from scholastic and scholarly orientation to a ministry and servant orientation is another major challenge. And then implicit in both of these is retooling the faculty to teach not just for transfer information, but for transformation of life and ministry. These these seem to be the primary challenges facing the church. As far as opportunities are concerned, well, the status quo is, is unsustainable. And consequently, realities are going to force change. The biggest impediment to change at this point probably is the willingness of the of the Western church to fund global theological education. If the if the western church would back off on on funding, then the church in the in the majority world would find sustainable ways to train its ministers. So that's, that's an opportunity. But it's also an opportunity that is deferred at this point because the game the way that the Western churches is engaging the church in the global church.
Thank you Dr. Farris for sharing those reflections. Dr. Farris, we understand that you are producing a new book tentatively titled ministry education that transforms Would you be willing to share with us for a few moments about that project that you're currently working on?
Now the book lays out the challenge, basically theological educators in the global church, specifically regarding teaching for life and ministry transformation, and it offers practical direction addressing these challenges.
good, so I guess we need to wait till this release to get a hold of the book until we hear more details. Well
this is not a book that is primarily about
methods or techniques that can be immediately applied if it is a philosophical and theological reflection on the state of the church as and brings to bear as well. Educational Research and theory that addresses the the issues of ministry training for
life and ministry transformation.
basically what the book does is it reflects the work has gone into developing the gate workshops and the there have been so beneficial to families many parts of the world.
Excellent. Thank you. Dr. Farris, if I may close with a question that we've been asking all of the participants in this interview program, and that is, what would it mean for the church to be united today? How would we recognize this unity? And what is it that we can do
as Christians today to pursue the Unity
for which Jesus prayed and john 17?
it seems to me that the the biggest problems with respect to unity is I have had an opportunity to interact with church leaders on every continent. The problems that we experience are are of our own making. There's there's so much of a tendency for us to build our own kingdoms rather than Christ's kingdom to burnish our own image and The way of Christ is the WAY is the path of servanthood. And that's, that was the topic that I addressed in my doctoral dissertation
at Michigan State University,
that developing servant leaders for the church is a, a, a huge concern for me. And the absence of a commitment to servanthood i think is one of the the biggest impediments to unity in the church. The other thing that I I would like to call for is for us to make space for one another.
For differences of opinion,
for us to be less dogmatic. Now, we we need, we need To test truth claims, there's no question about that. And the good news is that biblically, truth, truth claims claims can be tested. We need to be able to recognize heresy when we encounter it. But most of the things that divide us is Evan jellicle. Christians are not issues of heresy. There's simply differences within the family. And we need to be able to make space for one another, to accept one another's perspectives to honor one another, to respect one another to speak kindly of one another. Rather than then speaking harshly or dogmatically or separating ourselves from from one another. These These are my concerns.
It's been our delight today to be speaking with Dr. Robert Faris, professor emeritus at Columbia International University, and also author of the text that we've been discussing renewal in theological education strategies for change. Dr. Farris. Thank you so much for sharing your morning with