Multiplying Excellence

BY ccrossley | 9 November 2007 |

Theologians Gather in Frankfurt

Chris Wright with a group of Langham-related participants

Chris Wright with a group of Langham-related participants at the OCI Institute of Excellence

For many years the Langham Partnership has enjoyed collaborating with the Overseas Council International and its linked movements around the world in helping to resource theological education in the majority world. As part of its efforts in this direction, OCI holds ‘Institutes of Excellence’ for seminary faculty and administrators in different regions. But this year for the first time it held one for all the Principals of their partner seminaries all around the world. So, about 100 Principals from every continent converged on a mountainside retreat centre near Frankfurt for a week in September.

Chris Wright was invited to participate in this, not only to represent LPI, but also as one of those asked to bring Bible expositions to the conference. Chris writes of his experience:

“If the concept of a grand party for theologians does not sound too much of a contradiction in terms, this was it! It was like being among a huge gang of friends from all over the world – including some whom I taught when they were students at UBS in India, but are now heading up theological institutions themselves. This great network of seminaries is, of course, part of our own natural Langham constituency, and it was wonderful to ‘piggy-back’ on this OCI event and meet so many Principals in one place for a few days.

Ivor Poorbalan with Ashish Chrispal
Ivor Poorbalan, Principal, Colombia Theological Seminary, Sri Lanka, with Ashish Chrispal, Langham Scholar and Regional Director for Asia, OCI

Out of the 100 or so present, around 20 had direct connections with LPI – either as Langham Scholars (past, present, and hopefully future), or as members of Langham Partnership Regional Councils. We had rich conversations and many reminiscences. It is so rewarding particularly to meet Langham Scholars in these positions of senior leadership.

During the week at Frankfurt, another seminal project was birthed. As Langham friends know, we now invest in supporting Scholars at doctoral programmes outside the West – in Africa, Asia, Central Europe, and Latin America. The big question, however, is: how can we and they be assured that the programmes they develop have that quality of excellence that makes them truly worthy of doctoral degree status? And who defines what ‘excellence’ means in new contexts? We do not want simply to transplant ancient western models and criteria in contexts where they are not culturally appropriate. Yet there must be some internationally recognizable standard that is not merely culture-relative.

Ashkenaz Asif Khan, Principal, Zaraphath Bible Institute
Ashkenaz Asif Khan, Principal, Zaraphath Bible Institute

A small group got together from OCI (David Baer, President), Langham Partnership (myself), and ICETE (the International Council for Evangelical Theological Education – Paul Sanders, Director), and set up a project to research this issue and come up with acceptable guidelines and criteria for ‘excellence in doctoral programmes’ – with particular focus on emerging majority world initiatives. It will build on the consultation for doctoral level theological education held in August at the Nairobi Evangelical Graduate School of Theology, and Douglas Carew (President of NEGST, and Langham Scholar) was also part of the planning group. It is exciting for me to see this development, since I called for something like it at a meeting of ICETE in High Wycombe four years ago, and then again in Chiang Mai last year! It’s good to be doing this in a triangular partnership and it should be of enormous benefit globally as such doctoral initiatives are expanding all the time.

Among other highlights of the week were the lively (‘highly entertaining’ would be more accurate) addresses by Luis Palau on evangelism and theological education, and a river cruise on the Rhine followed by a visit to the majestic Cologne Cathedral that took 600 years to build. In that vast edifice, monument to a Christendom of the past, it was exciting to reflect on the ‘human cathedral’ that our little international group constituted, shaping what kind of future? Not a new Christendom, but certainly a new era in world Christianity.”