The Next 50 Years
VST started in 1971.
We wonder if faculty then could have predicted the kinds of challenges and opportunities that theological education faces now.
We asked the VST faculty to answer the following question.
What do you think will be big change(s) in theological education in the next 50 years?
Over the next 50 years the big shift that will occur in Indigenous theological education will be a shift to in community training. This shift has already begun with initiatives like the Teaching House that Moves Around, but this will continue in the future. Community training shifts the focus of theological training away from building capacity in individual potential clergy to building capacity in the community. As well, this shift will see urban Indigenous people making regular trips out to the land to connect with all our relatives. This does not mean newcomers are left out of the equation, but as they join in Indigenous theological education, they find their own identity enhanced and developed as we continue to walk in reconciliation.
The big change? More of the same. In the 1980s the acronym VUCA was created by US military to describe post-cold war conditions: Volatility, Uncertainty, Complexity and Ambiguity. Relevant today, it’s likely continue 50 years from now. Accelerated change, unexpected situations, complex problems, with unclear solutions: VST’s agility will continue to make theological education shaping thoughtful, generous, and engaged leaders possible. Deep in VST’s DNA is the capacity to embrace the moment with creativity and hope. Long may it thrive!
I’m pretty sure that ‘reflection-on-action’ will remain part of theological education, but the way of it, the where of it, the how of it will be different. Engagement with God’s people will still require attentiveness and relationship. Contexts and technological modes will zoom along but being with people will remain key to an incarnational faith. This assumes one essential thing: that we humans will go beyond reflection to action to meet the challenge of climate crisis. Or all is done.
Sarah K. Johnson
Over the next fifty years, students of theology will need to respond to changing social and ecological circumstances, adapt to the specifics of diverse local communities, and minister across interconnected global contexts. More than the what (content) or the how (methods), theological education will be called to equip students to reflect on the why (purpose). Recommitment to the heart of theological education—who God is and who God calls us to become—can empower grounded innovation.
God has established the world and it will not totter (Psalm 104:5). The Bible encourages us to rely on God for the stability of the earth. But climate change suggest that the earth is tottering. Though we are the cause, we struggle to find solutions. A theological challenge for the next fifty years is to both to learn ways to participate in God’s care for the world and to notice and rely on God’s faithfulness through upheaval.
With a rise in bi-vocational ministries, God will ask us to prepare more lay people and Elders to teach, preach, and extend the mission of the church into the wider community, in a less clergy-centred model. Leadership matters. But who does the leading may change. Seminaries that remain “close to the ground,” attending to what God is up to in the world will be in a stronger position to respond to the changing needs of the church for proclaiming and living the gospel of our Lord Jesus Christ in God’s broken, yet beloved world.
“It’s hard to make predictions —especially about the future.” Yogi Berra’s quip notwithstanding, let us prognosticate: what large churches are left on the west coast of North America in 2072 will be more visibly non-white in leadership and population, especially but not only Asian. Smaller gatherings of Christians will have proliferated—what some are calling “micro-churches.” There will be even less civic encouragement to identify as Christian and perhaps some public discouragement. We once worshiped in catacombs, so I suppose we can adjust to worshiping in living rooms.
Based on current predictions, in 80 years theological education will be addressing the dire effects of the greatest climate crisis this planet has experienced in tens if not hundreds of thousands of years . . . We will be asking: what does it mean in a world of mass extinction to be believers in God? To be faithful members of the church and other religious communities? What should our shared witness be? What is hope? How can we lessen the suffering of God’s beloved creation? How can we care for the poor and displaced both at home and elsewhere, because, as always, they will be the ones who will be suffering the most.
Seminaries will form students who see religion as a positive force for social change. Increasingly, students will expect their education to prepare them to participate in interfaith work, Reconciliation, and climate justice. A 2013 study found that many students enter seminary to learn how to make their religious communities better. Over the next 50 years we will see many activist students — thoughtful, engaged, and generous, as we like to say at VST.
I see us renewing the practice-based aspects of the Christian faith, bringing balance to our strong beliefs-based focus up to now. I think we will take the place of the body more seriously, that our whole personhood will be challenged, educated and built up. We will embrace the truth of failure as part of the process of innovation. Public and pastoral leaders will need tenacity and bravery to try something new, again and again.
In 50 years the centers of theological education will be in the majority world. They will continue to teach us to be followers of Jesus and formation crucial to vibrant churches and social impact in Jesus’ name. Immigration and mission from the majority world could bring life to churches in the West. The question will be whether churches and theological colleges in North America will be habituated in the parochial story of decline or “ready to receive new life from unexpected places” (Wes Granberg-Michaelson).