A guest post by Dr. Douglas R. Cullum, vice president and dean at Northeastern Seminary
The buzz is everywhere. It’s virtually impossible these days to attend an academic conference in the field of higher education without finding someone talking about it. Whether the topic is technology, online learning, distance education, or MOOCs (‘massive open online courses’), the changing landscape of higher education cannot be escaped. One only has to peruse the section headings and blog titles of the Chronicle of Higher Education to get a sense of the mega-shift. There you’ll see headings like “The Digital Campus,” “ProfHacker,” “Wired Campus,” and “Technology.”
The upshot is clear: The way we access information and learn in our culture is changing. And, except for the most curmudgeon-like, most of us in the world of higher education are beginning to realize that the change is not all bad. In fact, intermingled among the challenges are a host of very exciting opportunities that promise to make high quality educational programs available to persons who otherwise might never have had the chance.
Theological education is no exception. Seminaries and divinity schools—those educational institutions that prepare people for Christian ministry and other theological, ministry-related vocations—are increasingly finding new ways to re-tool themselves so that they can meet the needs of people in the 21st century. Moreover, these changes defy the old boundaries of conservative or liberal, progressive or evangelical, Protestant or Catholic. Whether reading The Christian Century or Christianity Today, one will find the challenges and opportunities facing theological education to be regular features. Recent articles, for example, include “Face-to-Screen Learning” (Lawrence Wood, in The Christian Century, February 2013) and “Higher Education at a Crossroad” (Mark Galli, in Christianity Today, May 2013).
At stake is not whether theological education is needed in the 21st century, but how it will be delivered in order to meet the needs of today’s world. Seminaries across the country are increasingly beginning to augment their curricula with online course offerings and other forms of distance learning. And, for the first time in its history, the Commission on Accrediting of the Association of Theological Schools now allows seminaries to offer a fully approved graduate degree through distance education—the Master of Arts degree.
In addition, the changing face of the Christianity in North America is demanding creative responses. Christendom no longer holds sway in contemporary culture as it once did in 19th and 20th centuries. Grassroots organizations like Missio Alliance are challenging the theoretical, managerial, and professional models of Christendom and calling for ministry preparation that is praxiological, mobilizational, and spiritual. That is, ministry education must be effective in training spiritual healthy, reflective practitioners who are truly committed to rolling up their sleeves and working for the good of the people in their communities.
The capital region is privileged to benefit from this creativity in theological education. The Capital Region Theological Center offers extraordinary courses and programs for theological education at various levels. St. Bernard’s School of Theology and Ministry offers classes at the Pastoral Center of the Diocese of Albany. Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary has a campus in Schenectady. And, in January 2014, Northeastern Seminary will begin offering fully accredited programs for the benefit of those in the capital region.
It’s certainly true that higher education is changing and that theological education is no exception. The good news is that the Albany region is well on its way to becoming a wonderfully rich place to study theology and prepare for Christian ministry.
Northeastern will host an Information Meeting, at 4:30 p.m., Thursday, December 5, 2013, at the Bulmer Telecommunications Center on the campus of Hudson Valley Community College, 80 Vandenburgh Ave., Troy, NY 12180. Everyone is invited!
Douglas R. Cullum, Ph.D., is Vice President and Dean at Northeastern Seminary at Roberts Wesleyan College.