At a meeting of theological college leaders I recently attended, someone distributed copies of an interesting article concerning the failures of academic theology (you can view the article here). Dry, rationalist academic theology, which is heavily dependent on the historical-critical approach, is often wholly inadequate for training people for ministry. Yet sadly, many Christian colleges are allowing academic theology to dictate what they teach their students, when what is needed is a return to church and biblical theology. The re-emergence of biblical theology (which is re-asserting itself once again within academic theology circles, somewhat ironically because the current postmodern Zeitgeist permits any and all approaches as equally valid) is particularly exciting, though the church might well wonder what all the fuss is about, given that this has been its approach for two thousand years! (For further insight into the rise of biblical theology, see my book review published in Evangelical Quarterly last year and available here).
So why am I harking on about this? Not wishing to blow our own trumpet, but here at the Midlands Bible College we have always sought to marry relevant, applicable theology with a rigorous academic approach. Our students are not required to learn dusty, irrelevant theology for the sake of it. Rather, our aim has always been to see a practical outworking of what is learned while studying at Bible College. As such, the college has developed a range of interesting modules all revolving around a central theme and aim: sound biblical interpretation and its application across a range of ministry settings. Throughout our programmes, we are keen to demonstrate how what we teach has a bearing on ministry and how we view the world today. Even at the popular, non-academic level this blog is keen to demonstrate how a Christian and biblical worldview should be used to analyse and respond to current society, to provide imaginative solutions to pressing political issues. Thus, when taken as a whole, our undergraduate programme exposes students to a range of issues, develops practical skills, and brings theology alive, equipping students to serve God in an effective and relevant manner. Long may this be our guiding principle, even when the current faculty are long gone, because I sincerely believe this is one of the factors that has made us so successful and punch well above our weight.
If you have thought about studying theology I would urge you to consider carefully each institution’s philosophical approach to theology, that it does not simply teach theology as an academic discipline, but one which has massive practical ramifications. Naturally, I hope you will consider what we have to offer. But whatever you decide to go for, make sure academic theology is not being taught at the expense of church and biblical theology so essential for ministry, whether lay or full-time. All theology should be academic and rigorous, and my comments above are not in any way meant to suggest we demand anything other than sheer hard work from our students. But we want to see all that academic study channelled into a practical outworking, rather than merely seeing a kind of ivory tower theology which has no impact outside of a clique of theologians whose philosophical approach is purely rationalistic and observational.
© Calvin L. Smith 2007.