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Between Athens And Berlin: The Theological Education Debate by David Kelsey


David Kelsey is Luther A. Weigle Professor of Theology at Yale University Divinity School in New Haven, Connecticut. His article is based on his convocation address in 1996 inaugurating a new academic year in which YDS, under the leadership of its new dean, Richard Wood, set out to develop new curriculum and programs recommended by a review committee, which was chaired by Kelsey. This book was published by Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,1993. It was prepared for Religion Online by Ted & Winnie Brock.


Epilogue: Morals of the Tale


What makes theological education theological? Four major families of issues have emerged in the course of our review of the major books contributing to the recent discussion of this question. Two of the issues are explicitly clear to the writers. One of these is a set of issues generated by theological educationís need to address pluralism. The other is a set of issues generated by theological educationís need for unity. Two more issues turn out to be implicit in what contributors to this discussion wrote. One of these is generated by theological educationís need to negotiate between two ultimately unsynthesizable types how best to formulate conceptually both the issues and the proposed resolutions of the issues.

Issues of Pluralism and of Unity

Our review of literature on the nature and purpose of theological education suggested several points about how to address issues of pluralism and unity. The central positive moral about how best to address both issues of unity and issues of pluralism has repeatedly been this: Focus on the end of theological education, not on its methods or structure; conceptualize theological education teleologically and not functionally or formally. Some efforts to deal with issues raised by pluralism and by fragmentation focus on pedagogical methods and on the functions comprising the educational process. There can be no question about the enormous importance of these matters. Theological education would benefit immeasurably from a great deal more sophistication in these regards. However, attention to these functional matters will not deal with the roots of the issues raised by pluralism and fragmentation because they do not identify and clarify the overarching end of the entire enterprise of theological education. Improved pedagogy and revised educational processes may make existing schooling function better educationally, but they will not of themselves make it more adequate to the facts of pluralism or to the need for unity.

More often, efforts to deal with fragmentation and pluralism focus on reforming the curriculum of a school. Issues raised by several sorts of pluralism are addressed by adding some courses and rearranging some existing courses into new "programs." Issues raised by fragmentation are dealt with by organizing the formal structure of the schoolís array of already defined courses. Curricular reorganization is certainly not irrelevant. However, attention to these formal matters will not deal with the roots of the issues raised by pluralism and fragmentation because it does not challenge the ways in which the component courses are themselves defined and designed; it simply rearranges them. The more basic issues have to do with the relation between the overarching end of theological education and the respective ends of individual courses. Resolution of the basic issues turns on just how the end of theological education is understood.

Our literature review yielded at least four morals about how not to address issues raised by pluralism and by fragmentation in theological schooling. The first of these "negative" morals is this: Focus on clarifying the end of theological education, but do not define that end as the training of clergy; in other words, avoid what Edward Farley calls the "clergy paradigm" of theological schooling. The point here is not to denigrate the importance of educating clergy; nor is it to deny that education of clergy is embraced by theological education. Rather, it is to urge that the end to which theological education is ordered, whatever it may be, is an end that is basic to the well-being of far more walks of life than just the peculiar calling of the clergy. Further, experience has shown that theological education defined as clergy education suffers from the "happiness paradox": that is, just as we cannot achieve happiness by a course of life defined by the pursuit of happiness, so we cannot achieve the education of superlative church leaders by a course of study defined by the roles and tasks of church leadership.

Closely related to the warning against the clergy paradigm, a second negative moral pointed out by our literature review is this: Focus on clarifying the end of theological education, but avoid definitions of that end that are explicitly or implicitly individualistic. Of course, it is individual students who learn, and in the end each individual student has to do his or her own learning. Moreover, people learn in different ways; there is no doubt about the desirability of designing schooling to be as individualized as possible. What is at stake here, however, is not the pedagogy but the view of human personhood that is implied by schooling. Inherent in Christian understandings of the realities of the human condition and of what personhood might be if it were set free to flourish, and in Christian understandings of society and church, is a strong stress on human sociality and an equally strong resistance to the ways in which individualistic views of personhood erode or deny sociality. A theological account of what is theological about a theological school ought not to become complicit with individualistic pictures of what it is to be a learner and a teacher.

A third negative moral arising from our literature review is this: Focus on clarifying the end of theological education, but do not define that end by reference to the "essence" or "underlying structure" or "identity" of faith or of the "Christian thing" or of "the church." For one thing, to do so begs far too many issues raised by different sorts of pluralism. While there surely are important family resemblances among various actual communities who call themselves Christian churches, it is far from clear that they all share some one thing called "the essence of the church." No doubt there are family resemblances among different concrete practices and symbols of the Christian life, but it is far from clear that they are all expressions and manifestations of some one underlying "structure" or "essence" of faith-as-such. No doubt there are family resemblances among differing construals of the "Christian thing," but it is far from clear that they are all variations on the "essence" of Christianity or of Christian theology. It is unlikely that the basic issues raised in theological schooling by the pluralism of pluralisms that confronts it will be addressed at their root if the end of theological schooling is defined in so essentialist or formalist a way.

This way of defining the end of theological schooling, furthermore, risks dealing with issues raised by fragmentation in distorted ways. As we saw in our examination of Newmanís rationale for including theology in the curriculum of a university and in other proposals to overcome fragmentation in theological schooling, it is very difficult to give material content to the idea of an "essence" that unifies schooling without its becoming dangerously open to ideological distortion. The danger of proceeding in this way is that one may unify theological schooling but in doing so may hide larger inequities in the arrangement of social power and may validate particular oppressive arrangements of power.

A fourth negative moral is this: Focus on clarifying the end of theological schooling, but avoid doing so in a way that systematically disengages theology and lives of faith, both communal and individual, from the public realm. This appears to be what happens, however unintentionally, when issues raised by pluralism and by fragmentation are dealt with by construing theological schooling as a movement from "source of wisdom" to "wise living," or from "basis-of-theory" to "application-of-theory," or from a mode of "inwardness" or "subjectivity" to "outward manifestation and expression." The tendency to talk in this way is understandable. The combination of issues raised by fragmentation and by pluralism looks easier to deal with if the issues raised by fragmentation can be confined to the "ivory tower" realm of academic theory and only subsequently applied to the pluralistic, public "real world"; it looks easier to deal with if issues raised by pluralism can be confined to the private realm of consciousness and only subsequently expressed in the public realm. However, the former misconstrues the relation between theology and action, as though theology were theory systematized in the academy to be applied in practical cases later on; and the latter misconstrues the relevant pluralisms, as though they were alternative outward and public manifestations of a single mode of inwardness. In each of these cases theology and the life of faith are systematically disengaged from the public realm, and then have to be reconnected to it by a move that turns out to be very difficult or even impossible to make.

Issues Involved with Negotiating between "Athens" and "Berlin"

Our literature review also suggested several points about the third set of issues, which has to do with negotiating between the "Athens" and "Berlin" types of excellent education. These issues were implicit in the literature; we had to tease them out of the discussion in the course of our review. The central "positive" moral about how best to negotiate between these two models is this: Focus on the nature of the basic movement of theological study as a theological question, not as a question about the psychology of learning, nor even as a question about the logical relations among various subjects studied in theological education. The question to be asked, then, is this: Is it most theologically adequate to see the movement of theological education as a movement from source (of "revelation," of "wisdom about God," etc.) to personal appropriation; or as a movement from source to application of source in life (especially, perhaps, the life of church leadership); or as a movement from source, to doctrines implicit in the source, to applications of doctrines to lifeís problems; or as a movement from sources, to theories about the sources, to applications of those theories to life; or in some other way? Every answer to the question about the theological adequacy of any particular picture of the movement of theological education is tied to some picture of the nature of Christian theology itself. As we saw, different understandings of the nature of theology bring with them different implications about the movement of specifically theological education, and vice versa. Too often the answer to this question is left implicit in proposals about the nature and purpose of theological education, and the answerís coherence with the view of theology that the proposals adopt is left unexamined.

This positive moral brings with it several negative ones. If you judge the theological education is some version of a movement from source to personal appropriation, you will negotiate from within the "Athens" type of excellent education and on its terms. Very well. However, do not suppose that it is adequate to negotiate with "Berlin" simply by appropriating the stress of the "Berlin" type on theological education as "professional" education (construed as paideia-like "clergy formation") while minimizing its stress on Wissenschaft. Theologically speaking, "Athens" as a type of excellent education is insufficiently capable of critique of its own idolatries and susceptibilities to ideological distortions. It needs the "Berlin" modelís stress on wissenschaftlich inquiry to radicalize its own traditional form of "critical" thinking in the direction of ideology critique. On the other hand, if you appropriate the "Berlin" modelís stress on Wissenschaft on the "Athens" modelís terms (wissenschaftlich education as paideia-like "formation" in capacities for critical inquiry) do not suppose that you can omit the other pole of "professional" education, for as we have seen, Wissenschaft is theologically relevant only insofar as it is tied to church leadership roles. The "Athens" typeís theological insufficiency in the face of our tendencies toward cognitive idolatry and ideological self-serving means that it needs the Wissenschaft pole of the "Berlin" type as a corrective; but it cannot appropriate that without distorting what it appropriates unless it also appropriates the "professional" education pole, and vice versa.

Conversely, if you judge that theological education is some version of the movement from source to application, then you will negotiate from within the "Berlin" model of excellent education and on its terms. Very well. However, do not suppose that it is theologically sufficient to appropriate "Athens" solely into the "professional" education pole of theological education on the "Berlin" modelís terms (construing "professional" education as, say, paideia into the habitus of faith). As we saw, "professional" education according to the "Berlin" type is, theologically speaking, too open to individualistic and functionalist corruptions and in need of the inherently social and collegial character of the "Athens" typeís paideia. However, if the goal of one pole of theological education is cultivation of capacities for Wissenschaft, and if the goal of the other pole is cultivation of faithís habitus, theological education ends up with two overarching goals and is inherently incoherent. In any case, the "Berlin" modelís Wissenschaft pole is also too individualistic, theologically speaking, and in need of correction by the "Athens" typeís paideia. If "Athens" is to be appropriated into "Berlin" on the "Berlin" modelís terms, it must be incorporated into both of its poles.

In either case, never suppose that you can synthesize the two types of excellent theological education. It may be that for historical reasons no American theological education can abandon either type. All the same, the tensions between them are unavoidable. The best that can be hoped for is an unstable truce, constantly threatening to break down into educational incoherence. The underlying reason for this is that each type presupposes a different view of the nature of "reason" and, indeed, a different view of "human nature." A decision to negotiate from within one of these two types and on its grounds is at the same time, however implicitly, a decision to adopt its underlying assumptions about what it is to be human. Oneís "appropriation" of aspects of the other type, then, is always a matter of abstracting it from its conceptual home in one kind of view of "reason" and "human nature" and grafting it into an alien conceptual field. As a result, the seeds of conceptual confusion about the nature and purpose of theological education, if not seeds of outright incoherence, are as omnipresent as they appear to be historically unavoidable.

Issues of Conceptual Formulation of the Discussion

Finally, our literature review yielded important morals about formal features of discussions about what makes theological education theological. The decisive moral in this regard seems to be this: Examine with great care the conceptuality that is taken for granted by all parties to a debate -- especially if the debate shows signs of becoming interminable. It is very likely that the fruitlessness of the debate is rooted in the way or the conceptuality in which the issues have been posed. In particular, examine closely the contrast terms everybody seems to have agreed to use. For example, are there ways in which such conventional contrasts as "theory/practice" or"academic/professional" or "objective/subjective" serve as much to obfuscate issues as to clarify them? How far do the pictures of the nature of theology that underwrite proposals about the nature and purpose of theological education require misleading distinctions? How far do assumed pictures of the nature of "reason" and "human being" dictate the proposals? More ambitiously, is there some alternative conceptuality, hopefully one that is modest and unelaborate, that would clarify where conventional terms obscure, and that would allow us to pose fresh and productive questions where conventional questions have proven unfruitful? This moral is an invitation to think as hard about the formal features of the debate as we think about its material content when we are caught up in it.

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