Shaw and Dharamraj - "Challenging Tradition"
6:33PM Jul 8, 2020
Jonathan J. Armstrong
Today it's our delight to be speaking with Dr. Perry Shaw and Dr. Havilah Dharamraj, co editors of the text that we'll be discussing today, Challenging Tradition: Innovation in Advanced Theological Education. That text is available from Langham partnership. Dr. Perry Shaw is professor of education at Arab Baptist Theological Seminary in Beirut, Lebanon. Dr. Perry Shaw, we're very grateful to have you with us today. It's good to be here. And Dr. havilah. Dom Raj is academic dean and head of the department of Old Testament at the South Asia Institute of Advanced Christian studies in Bangalore, India, Dr. Dunham rocks. We're very grateful to have you with us as well.
Good to be here.
The first question that I would like to ask you is Christian education has been practiced since Jesus Send the first disciples. And there's obviously a very long tradition that stands behind our current practices of theological education. What do you see as indications that innovation is needed in theological education today?
To begin with, you need to realize that the tradition we have is not from the first century, the classic model of theological education, which has had kind of silos of Biblical Studies, historical studies, theological studies, and ministerial studies is development that emerged at the beginning of the 19th century in Germany at the height of the Enlightenment, and it reflects a very much important paradigm. What's been recognized over the last 50 years is the model is not necessarily providing the sort of holistic view Integrated Learning that the western Academy needs and is even less relevant in missional contexts, which is most of the world. And so part of the idea of the word innovation is to not to reject the tradition but to really restructure it. It's not so much content as an approach that provides greater integration and has very missional focus. So the church in majority world has tools that will lead to a level of theological leadership in as you look at Advanced theological education, the classic model is trying to develop Christian scholars in some of the research that's being done and the majority will Yes, scholarship is valuable, but more important is theological leadership, developing men and women who can provide a theological framework for addressing local contextual issues to provide legal For the church as they confront local issues, and that means much more of a dialogue between theory and practice, it often leads to a more a less of a library approach some more a mixture of library and practice in sort of education you do. So this is all some of the factors that contribute to a need for an innovate innovation to what's happening. Dr. Raj, if I can ask you to reflect on that
question with us as well. What are the signs that you see in your context that alert you to the fact that innovation is required in this discipline?
When we're asking this question, in the light, suppose, continuing it from the first century from Jesus and his disciples to now if it could be loosely bound to students, student education for me, that something that we have lost Along the way, is the community aspect that Jesus taught his disciples in community and the disciples learn from each other as well as from Jesus and like community. It seems to me that that is a limit element of theological education that we need to recover rather than innovate or move forward. That is one very important aspect that we need to recover from having lost it in those centuries when we pushed more towards the individual rather than the
culture shock Shaw, Dr. Tom Raj. If I could ask you both to reflect on this question. How is it that the that the opportunities that technology present offer us new ways of doing theological education today, how much of the innovation that you see that needs to be done is generated by this, these new opportunities that technology bring
clearly there is The opportunity for doing connecting people of expertise from other parts, different parts of the world in a way that was much more difficult. 30 years ago, even as I'm sitting here in Beirut, I have doctoral students that I'm supervising in the Philippines, in Dubai, in Spain, Ethiopia, this was simply not possible 30 or 40 years ago, so part of the connectivity is bringing people of shared interest with expertise together in the pursuit of understanding and new ways of looking at ministry, ministry practice and reflecting at a deep level on those issues. So there's some of the things that I would see as significant.
I'm thinking more in terms of catching up with technology that is now animating this generation We cannot continue to teach the way we taught even three or five years ago. So, a couple of years ago when I overhauled
the basic model that I teach,
called destiny. introduction, I revise the material compared to the print text that we used to have before. And so similarly with a model called critical thinking, where social media became quite an important part of helping to teach critical thinking, as well as, say watching movies, going on to websites to do to listen to both podcasts and video material. So my sense is innovation needs to move theological education to where people really are, rather than expecting people to come in to seminaries Be tutored in media with which they do not have daily transaction.
If I can add another observation, in that the way that we do education needs to reflect this changing environment. In the past, a large part of the education was the delivery of the tradition. So there tend to be a very didactic approach of giving information today, the information is that the students fingerprint their fingertips, on their mobile phones, on their computers. And so it is less an issue of getting the information but more assessing information that is already out there. Many of our students around the world are good at getting information. They're not good at evaluating what is quality information and what is not quality information. And so this will need to be a major paradigm shift in the way that we look at our education, in that we're doing less of the delivery of content and more for the development of skills in assessing what is good content and what is bad content. For example, one of our exercises our study skills Professor does at our school, it gets students to download gives them a topic, that they have to research on Google that to download six examples of responses to the topic that are found just simply on Google throwing it into Google. And then they the students are required to look at the strengths and weaknesses of each of those. And there is a tendency, particularly in our world, for the students to have an approach to information that it almost like it's the sense of God, if it's in print. It's totally trustworthy, and they need to learn to go beyond that. So finding pathways for helping students to assess in information. Information that is readily available is one of the greatest challenges I think we face in contemporary education.
Dr. Shawn, Dr. Tom Raj, you both are not only teachers and scholars, but also institutional leaders in your respective institutions. How does one provide for quality and ensure quality in a context that is rapidly innovating.
In global higher education in general, there are three basic principles that need to be taken into account. And within those three principles, you can basically do whatever you want, you need to have, what you're doing needs to serve the purpose of the school have an appropriate quality and an appropriate quantity. And those are fairly well defined in terms of one of the the weaknesses of traditional education in general and specific patients. We often haven't thought through carefully why we exist. What is the point purpose of the organization that we are serving of the curriculum that we're trying to develop. And having a clear understanding of what kind of outcomes we're looking for and clarify a pathway to curriculum and quantity. I mean it within the framework of the European Bologna process that made very clear definitions of the sort of quantity we're looking at. I won't go into a lot of details quality. A lot of it is now seen within the global accreditation standards to which there is a lot of comparability between different standards. So what you see in Britain, in Asia and Africa and America, in Australia, these are very similar sorts of things. At the cognitive level, it's usually follows somewhat the classic Bloom's taxonomy, educational objectives, and so just ensuring that you're building the different levels at appropriate level. Once you have those frameworks in place, you actually have a lot of freedom for innovation. accreditation standards really tell you process they tell you outcomes. And so within that border area, there is a lot of creativity occurring. It's not unique to theological education or experiments happening in higher education in general are wrestling with in the 21st century. What does education look like while sustaining appropriate standards?
bodies, like I said, the international council for evangelical theological education, helping to build standards like this and so we have the Beirut benchmarks for example, that looks at the standards for maintaining quality in doctoral programs. So while we have these benchmarks and these standardizations available and there's another thing I would like to add We move towards innovation. Let's say in a masters or a doctoral thesis, we are looking to cross the boundaries that traditionally fence in disciplines. So we are looking more to fuse disciplines, move across disciplines in our research projects. So for example, I have a Master's dissertation coming up in which my student is going to look at songs that are said in narrative texts in the Old Testament, and then he is going to as part of his dissertation, compose psalms himself that will serve a comparable purpose as the biblical sound does within his own community. Now, this student is musically gifted and musically trained. And so to ensure that standards are met for both components, but the biblical component and the music component, we would need to evaluators of that thesis. So as we start innovating and moving out into crossing the traditional boundaries, that separate disciplines, we will have to work more in tandem with people who specialize in other disciplines and this may move out into psychology or sociology, or music or performance arts, like theater or dance. And I think we have to be open to such collaborations, if we want to keep pushing the boundaries.
Thank you both for those responses. If I
could ask you both.
resources are limited, of course at an institution and resources for innovation are limited. How do you to prioritize where innovation should be focused in your respective institutions,
it often comes back to the dynamics of the leadership and the faculty. Innovation is often a culture more than a specific set of tasks. So you know, our colleagues, we have a president who promotes innovation that is appropriate innovation. So we simply look at as we look at particular issues, often their contextual issues, we'll ask the question, to what extent are we adequately addressing this particular contextual issue? And if we're not what new pathways Do we need to have to address that issue? So for example, we were very aware of the rising issues of inter communal conflict between groups within the Middle East, and we asked ourselves, are we adequately addressing this in terms of our students who was at college, so we both created an institute for Middle East Studies that has peacemaking initiative, as well as building peacemaking. And reconciliation is a fundamental part of our regular curriculum. So sometimes it's being aware of contextual issues. Sometimes the culture of innovation occurs for school. If I go into a school to do consultancy, I have to see where the schools at with some schools, they're not ready for innovation, in which case, I will challenge them more simply a local class in terms of lesson planning in terms of course development, to try and think in a more creative way within the framework of their own teaching. If the school is more open, we'll go back to the to the basic issues of what is the context shaping our way of understanding our education and looking at innovation from that perspective. So it really comes back to the culture that exists within a school. Is it a culture that promotes innovation, if it is the choice of innovation generally will be shaped by issues that are arising from the context of the schools not ready for innovation. Often we have to start with small steps.
Dr. Shah before we even transition there, can I ask you to bore down into that a little bit? What are the signs that you see that indicates to you that a school is ready for innovation?
My experience has been it always starts at the top is the president of the principal, his post innovation will take place. If the president or the principal supports innovation and has a good relationship with faculty, then there is a potential for innovation. So I try to get a feel for where the President is, in terms of his or her perspective on innovation. Another issue is the extent to which the school is aware of its contact context. And and readily. I mean, I'll ask what are some of the contextual challenges you're facing, if they readily are able to To go into the contextual challenges meaningfully and to evaluation and more rather than very careful analytical view of the interrelationship between contextual challenges, I think the school is ready to move forward. Thank you very much.
Yes. Would you be willing to chair to? Where is it that innovation must be prioritized given that all of our schools resources have limits?
When we began to think about innovation in our institution?
We agreed among the faculty that the doctor of ministry program, the demon program was good place to start with innovation with respect to dissertations, because here were people who are already rooted in their context while they were doing their doctoral research. And so it seemed to us that response to context would come quick and fast if we started pushing innovation, as concerns dissertations in this particular program, but when it came to innovation in let's say pedagogical styles, or when it came to innovation and assessment patterns, we prefer to start with the baby classes that is with masters. The MA m fresh and is looking forward to absorbing innovation. So we started with pedagogy and assessment more at the mid level. And so, we work from both directions from the demon and from the MA towards mth and to PhD programs. I suppose we will finally end up with the PhD dissertation. And that might be the last one that we address simply because That is a larger bite to chew off.
If I can ask you both as leaders in innovation, you to hone your own thinking in this regard. How do you stay sharp
as innovators yourselves? I do a lot of reading. I mean, education is my field. So I'm in touch with the world of higher education. I'm involved with a number of networks of people within the broader higher education Academy and wrestling with how innovation takes place in those areas. More specifically, there is a journal which I contribute to and I receive regularly the teaching professor, which is quite good short articles, looking at new ways of doing things so that helps me to keep in touch with with innovation. It's also continually reviewing what I am teaching and asked, Is there a better way to teach so a lot of it is attitude. As a teacher, am I willing to take the You expect to new experiments, try new ideas. So those are some of the main areas. Keeping the again, this is where technology can help big a part of global networks, such as the international council for eventual theological education. And we had a triennial in November in Panama, a very valuable time for networking, sharing ideas, talking to other people that are also interested in looking at new ways of doing things. So finding networks that are concerned, the church globally and the way pathways to doing more quality training for the leadership for the church globally. Sort of network can also be a valuable pathway for being fresh and thinking new ways in innovation.
Besides the ways that Barry mentioned. I keep watching to see how
trends developing within the sector universities around us and keep tracking those trends, especially those that are going into disciplinary, for example. And we're watching to see what we can learn from them, and then absorbed back into theological education. Besides universities, there are also these invitations, we sometimes get to do brainstorming, such as the group that the temporary foundation is setting up. And they really get to cross pollinate to hear of ideas that perhaps we've never even thought of before. So brainstorming groups that we get invited to those are wonderful places for generating fresh ideas. And third place that I keep tracking plans is what is happening in the corporate world. And a good example of what's happening there is this increasing interest in telling stories Rather than making PowerPoint presentations, for example, storytelling is becoming a big thing in our part of the world, and I hear in the rest of the world as well. And I am thinking now to make that a big part of at least a couple of courses that I teach so that my students will learn storytelling, the techniques, they're off, to be able to transfer much more smoothly than they do now. What they learn in the classroom back into their ministry contexts,
Dr. Shaw, like dominoes, together your experiences in theological education span the globe, and we could mention first the UK, Lebanon, India, Australia, Singapore and also the US. Where have you seen innovation flourish? And what were the factors that led to this flourishing
The areas that I see innovation flourishing is where the situation is so difficult that they have no choice but to innovate. So, probably one of the most innovative programs for theological education globally is the past theological center based in UK, delivering theological education to the emerging leadership from the Persian speaking church, which you think this is simply an impossible task. They're trying to train people on the ground inside your brand, where there it is simply impossible for them to do direct communication to these people that do it for a lot of indirect pathways. And in the process, they've developed a very innovative mixture of sending courses in using data sticks, mixed with annual two week conferences, in which they do post trauma counseling, mixed with a whole variety of other sorts of approaches, and they have no Virtually no resources in theological resources in the Persian language. So they've developed the video programs. It's a whole mixture of ways of trying to find different ways of getting to a community that is growing rapidly needs leadership, but which the actual training is seems impossible. And I just push them to think in an innovative form. It also pushes them to rethink the content of your theological education, because it needs to be an education that is landed and grounded in the needs of the community. So that's one area that I've seen in another country where I've seen quite significant innovation is Cuba, where similar issues simply moving around Cuba, limited internet limited this limited that and in the process, number of schools have developed some very creative approaches to doing theological education response to the situation. countries where the context is very intense. They also tend to do develop quite innovative approaches. So I've seen some good innovation in much Chinese churches and schools like China graduate school theology, which is delivering for the Chinese speaking church. So I think one of the main factors in innovation is when you're pressed to do innovation, by the context by the difficulties,
Dr. Dada Raj, thank you so much for that response. What are the greatest challenges that you have faced personally, as an innovator in theological education?
So far, what I found works when we are trying to read theological innovation in a theological institution is that we need to have a good team, a team that believes that this is the way forward when there are members in that team who aren't invested into the idea. That's when You start getting lag. So if there have been challenges, it might have been in that direction. But I should say that sometimes the challenge can also list not with the faculty Diem not with the student community you can get sometimes a similar kind of drag when some students cannot see why we need to innovate at all, especially in a country like India, which tries to maintain status quo and sees value in meetings at school. Sometimes it's hard to get the students to see why we need to push out let's say beyond the cognitive and start exploring the affective and behavioral. So they can be challenging in both directions, both with faculty and with the student community.
Dr. Shroff, I can ask you to reflect on that same question, what are the greatest obstacles that you have faced and overcome as an innovator in theological education.
There's a it's like a fun little equation called the glitcher equation which says that for change to take place, and dissatisfaction multiplied by vision multiplied by feasibility needs to be greater than resistance. So it's really if innovation to take place, you need to have all three of those factors. First of all, it needs to be dissatisfaction but the Dharam Raj mentioned that in India, often there's not dissatisfaction unless there's dissatisfaction with the way things are, you can't move. There needs to be a vision for what could be. And if the vision is in place, it gives you some motivation that dissatisfaction vision won't lead to change if people don't think it's feasible. So trying to develop these pathways and often those pathways can be small steps on the journey, so for example, our collection is building actually on a situation where there is already a level of dissatisfaction. And the book is trying to provide some vision of what could be but also trying to give a collection of feasible pathways, some of which have already been tried. So, generally whence one person has tried a pathway, it makes it more feasible for others to take that pathway. And that was one of the motivators behind the book was, first of all, to give vision and to give feasibility so that we have a chance to overcome the resistance that will naturally come to change.
If I may add one more observation.
As we begin to push forward into new pedagogy into new ways of doing pedagogy and into new ways of doing assessment, it is possible that Some of our colleagues or students, I wonder if you're not coming down, what used to be the waste with things. Maybe they think of the affective and behavioral realms more as a watering down of what used to be before concentration on the cognitive. And we need to help the team see that where we're going is actually more holistic, rather than cutting back on quality standards and what we're trying to do in no way dumbs down waters down. What we've been doing so far.
Dr. Shaw got on Raj. Logical education is a very special business in that it directly touches these questions of the unity of the church, the students that come to your schools. at many different ecclesial communities. What is it that we can do as Christians to pursue the Unity for which Jesus prayed and john 17, I would say that the number one
factor is humility.
I'm currently working on a new collection. And one of the issues it's looking at teaching across cultures, and one of the big issues that's being talked about is the need for theological humility, or cultural humility. And in this way, we come as learners rather than telling people exactly how they should think and behave and believe within the community of faith, recognizing that there is diversity, recognizing that we have much to learn from one another. So having a sense of cultural theological, personal humility, I would say as the major effect of for promoting the unity of the body of Christ,
one of the ways that we We could promote unity in the body of Christ is to. As I said earlier, we cover the sense of community where we've been going I know in India has been towards competitiveness or competition, where we continuously trying to prove ourselves better than the other, whether we have a faculty team or whether we are students. And so just to move forward to help the team and the community realize the value of working together. I think that helps us to recover the sense of a body or a building whichever metaphor the New Testament uses to recover that sense, I think is the way forward to building unity among ourselves.
We're very grateful today to be speaking with Dr. Shaw, Dr. Tom Rogers. co-editors challenging tradition innovation in advanced theological education. We're very, very grateful to have been speaking with you today. Thanks for joining us.