What is the best context for studying theology?
There is a bewildering array of options for studying these days. With the advent of the internet and social media, courses are being offered online and direct to the various smart devices around. There are still the more traditional forms of face to face to teaching, there are blends of these two environments and more besides. There is part time, full time and half time study. The accent is on flexibility of time, delivery, programme and location.
What is the best mode for the study of theology? What is the best environment for growing in the knowledge of God?
One of the fundamental impulses of quality education in the knowledge of God over the years has been the impulse towards community.
This principle may trace back to the nature and actions of our God. The triune God is revealed as ‘community’ of mutual love relationships with perfect fellowship being expressed in (comm)unity amongst the persons of the Father, Son and Spirit. This circle of fellowship breaks open, by grace through the forgiveness of sins offered on the basis of the Son’s atoning death, to include believers who are then called into community with other believers in Christian congregations. Our Lord is gathering a people to himself, not just persons.
Fellowship with other believers is an outcome of our knowledge of God and then, in turn, a support for continued growth and maturity in that knowledge. The Bible contains many statements describing the contribution the children of God make to each other. Many of us will know the reality of this as we have been shaped by our interaction with other believers in the context of rich and vibrant Christian communities focussed around the word of God.
A quality theological education will seek to exist in a community context that facilitates this process as best as possible.
At Moore we certainly believe that theological education ought to reflect this reality as best as it can.
How does this play out in our context?
At Moore we believe the best possible theological education is full time and residential. Of course we realise that this will not be ideal for everybody but nonetheless over the years what has been offered at Moore has been predicated on these two factors. Full time study in a common programme means that a year group stays together so that relationships can form over the course of one, three or four years. Students and lecturers study together and then eat together at morning teas and lunches.
Residential means the creation of residential communities where students, student families and lecturers can live side by side.
Within all of this a myriad other smaller groups, both formal and informal are created. It is within these structures that relationships are formed and flourish.
What kind of a community is it?
It is of course a learning community.
Students and lecturers help each other through discussion, sharing of ideas and resources and other support when required. The community context means that lecturers are accessible and students are able to observe their teacher’s lives as well as hear their teaching. Theological study also puts a student in touch with a wider ‘community’ of distant and past voices via the writings of great ones reflecting on the Biblical witness.
It is a supportive community.
As Christian people live together, and as lives are shared, needs become known and met. There are countless stories over the history of the College of tangible help given at the good and bad times of life: meals supplied at the birth of children, time and resources freely given during times of illness and stress. This support often extends beyond attending College as the relationships formed during College continue long after people have left.
It is a shaping community.
As the Proverb says, ‘iron sharpens iron’. Under the influence of the word of God lives are slowly changed. Stories are told, ministries explored, insights are shared and lives are observed. All of this is used by the Lord to challenge and shape his people. It is not always easy to live with others, as we may all know. The fact that Moore is a community of forgiven sinners is integral to the entire process of being shaped by God as people learn to bear with one another as well as rejoice in one another.
Is it a perfect community? You know the answer to that! Isn’t that why grace and mercy are so essential?
The rich sense of community that is a feature of life at Moore means we carefully consider issues like part time study and distance education and where we do these things try to do them in way that also reflects this core commitment.
Our God is a community making God. Nothing beats genuine community, sustained time with ‘bodies in space’ as a terrific context to grow in the knowledge and love of God and all that means in transformed lives.
The popular saying goes that it takes a village to raise a child. I guess we would say that a community is the right context in which to raise a faithful theologian.
Dr Bill Salier
Vice Principal, Moore College (2007-2014), from 2015: Principal, Youthworks College