Spoiled for Riches
February 2, 2016
I'm off to South Africa to give a series of lectures in Cape Town at a new seminary that has been started in Hout Bay. This "township" (Imizamo Yethu) is literally next door to our new campus, which is an exciting prospect for a number of reasons.
After reading this piece, which I am in agreement with (but would add that recent hires of Dr. Morales and Dr. McGraw have been excellent additions), I realized how spoiled America is for theological education. There are so many seminaries where one can get a solidly Reformed education. Even RTS on its own would place the U.S. "first" in terms of countries offering a Reformed theological education for aspiring ministers.
There are, however, many seminaries in Europe, Asia, Africa, and Africa that are in desperate need of lecturers and resources in their native tongue. If given the choice, I'd rather visit one of these continents than go down South to the U.S.
Naturally, the travel is easier to the U.S, and the pay is generally very good. But the need is far greater in other parts of the world, even if you're not sure about your general safety as well as whether you'll end up in the wrong city in a country where no one speaks English. (I once landed in Xiamen, China, when I was supposed to be in Wenzhou. Not cool.). I wish more Profs from North America were willing to go to other parts of the world to teach or that churches would fund their pastors to do overseas teaching at no expense to small seminaries.
In my opinion, Africa doesn't need missionaries from other continents in the same way they may have in past generations. Africa needs Africans, whatever colour, to be trained to minister to their own people.
At the seminary where I lecture, we do not charge tuition to our students. We want to train as many men as we can, most of whom are already in the ministry, but have not had formal theological training, to preach Christ. And we don't want them to be handicapped by fees they cannot pay. Some even have trouble affording getting to class!
We want Nigerian Anglicans who are against homosexual unions to know the doctrine of justification by faith alone - the latter not always a given, though the former usually is.
My only worry is that in the process of going down to teach others our good theology, we don't also end up impressing upon or revealing to them our somewhat anemic spirituality that may consist, for example, in spending more time on Facebook debating the merits of Donald Trump as the next president than reading the Bible.
A friend of mine was recently in China, lecturing at a Seminary I visited last year, where I profited much from the obvious vibrant spirituality of the students, and he wrote to me:
Awakened at 4:45 AM today by the church here meeting for Monday AM prayer (in the room next door) ... they met for worship sang and prayed for the better part of the day. Hmmm, maybe this helps to explain why the Western church is so anemic? I thought I should get up and have my "devotional" time.
So, yes, the U.S. is spoiled for theological education. The best theological education is still in the States. But with all of the good theology there can be a sort of spiritual laziness that creeps in which isn't so obvious in other countries where their theology isn't perhaps as precise as ours, but their zeal and devotion to Christ (in the context of real persecution) makes me feel deeply ashamed about the time I waste on matters of relative unimportance.
There's a huge difference I've noted in the students in China compared to students in the U.S. I've lectured at several seminaries in North America, but the students in China (and Africa) seem to have a greater desire to learn. You can usually gage interest based on the types and numbers of questions that are asked.
Perhaps having access to such good theology, in a context where persecution equals having to endure a mean comment on social media, means that other parts of the world may have more to teach us about a robust Christian spirituality, notwithstanding their dearth of theological resources, than we'd like to admit.