The Challenge Facing Theological Education Today

Kang Phee Seng
Eleanor and Wayne Chiu Professor (Theological Studies)
Vice President
Director of Center for Faith & Public Values


The story of the China Graduate School of Theology began fifty years ago, with four Chinese students who were studying theology in the United States. With a heart for China, they bravely and prayerfully received a vision of theological education from God. They were determined to further their studies in theology after graduation and return to the Far East ‘to establish an indigenous, inter-denominational, evangelical and graduate-level theological institution’ that would emphasise both the training of pastors and the scholarly pursuit of theology and theological reflection. 

At the inception of this vision, none of these four young students had even completed their first degree in theology. There was no faculty, no funding, no campus, no support from any denomination, and no students. But God has begun a new movement in the Chinese church through them. It may seem as if they had nothing to begin with when they started a new page in the history of Chinese theological education, but what they in fact had was a clear vision of theological education, which they transformed into a mission. They started to pass the vision on to others and gathered a team of committed Christians to be faculty members and board directors. Many others would pray faithfully for the cause. On the 28th of September, 1975, the China Graduate School of Theology held its opening ceremony.  

CGST’s fortieth anniversary is a witness to God’s abundant grace and faithfulness as well as the love and support of brothers and sisters in Christ. The  theme of ‘Carrying on the Mission with a Double Portion of the Spirit’ is a prayer to continue the vision of the founders. Forty years is not a short time, but as a Chinese saying goes, education is a hundred-year project. Theological education is more than just the establishment of a seminary. CGST’s vision is also a movement to advance theological education to a higher level. This is a task not for one generation but for many generations to come. It is a calling not for a few theologians but for the entire church. The fortieth anniversary is a good time to reflect on this calling. 

Theology is faith seeking understanding. One of the greatest challenges of theological education is to build a seminary that achieves a high academic standard.  With sound theological knowledge and solid academic training, students are able to acquire a proper understanding of biblical truths and the Christian tradition, as well as to uncover and examine the underlying presuppositions of contemporary value systems. Today many interpret the Bible and faith traditions according to their own preexisting beliefs.  Without rigorous and thorough training, a pastor would find it difficult to rise above the widely divergent views to lead the Church to become a truer witness for the truth.   

Theology is faith seeking dialogue. If theological education were to stop short at sound theological knowledge and solid academic training, then even at its best it would only be a study with little relevance to our lives. Theology begins with a dialogue between God and man. God reveals Himself to man, and man responds to God’s call and love. Therefore, theological education is a dialogue, not a monologue.  It seeks to communicate. Theological tradition is a dialogue in history, between man and God, and between one man and another. A person in dialogue with others lives in the present and learns from others as he listens genuinely and opens himself up to them, so that they can grow together in the pursuit of truth.  

Theology is faith seeking action. Education aims to mold a person for a better world. How does theological education do this? On the one hand, theology does not overestimate its ability to do so. On the other hand, the theology of the cross lifts up Christ, so that those who put their faith in Him, submit to Him and long for His kingdom will respond to the cross’s love through service and sacrifice. ‘Not to be served but to serve’ (Matthew 20:28, ESV), ‘I … yet not I but Christ in me’ (Galatians 2:20). We do not act because we think our actions alone can change the world. We act because when a person allows Christ to change him, the world itself is renewed by Christ through the service and sacrifice of Christ’s servants. 

The theme of ‘Carrying on the Mission with a Double Portion of Spirit’ is a resolution as well as a prayer. The term ‘double portion’ points to the affirmation and responsibility of the firstborn (Deuteronomy 21:15-17) to carry on the legacy of the founders. Passion is even more important than a sense of responsibility because theology deals with truth and life. This passion has to come from the Spirit who alone can give theological education its motivation, creativity and vitality. Hence we pray that the same Spirit that inspired and moved those four young theology students would continue to inspire and move us today, so that we, like them, may bear the prophetic calling for theological education. Because it is ‘not by might nor by power, but by my [the Lord’s] Spirit’ that this will be done (Zechariah 4:6).


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