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.


(ENTIRE BOOK) For Kelsey, “Athens” (based on the Greek paideia , “culturing,” “character formation,”) and “Berlin” (based on the German Wissenschaft, “orderly,” “disciplined critical research,” “professional”) represent two very different — and ultimately irreconcilable — models of excellent education. It is the case de facto, says Kelsey, that modern North American theological education, for historical reasons, is committed to both models, resulting in ongoing tensions and struggles. Kelsey shows how a variety of significant thinkers — Newman, Niebuhr, Farley, Stackhouse, and several others — fit in the Athens-Berlin framework.


  • Chapter 1: Between Athens and Berlin

    The "Berlin" type of excellent Christian theological education only emerged in the early nineteenth century, while the "Athens" type had emerged by the end of the first Christian century. But both types had undergone important modifications by the mid-twentieth century. Consequently it will be important to locate the recent discussion of Christian theological educators in North America by noting major ways in which the versions of each type that the current discussion received had been materially modified.

  • Chapter 2: “Athens” in the Mid-Nineteenth Century

    This chapter present a case study of a mid-nineteenth-century version of the “Athens” type of theological education that was highly honored, at least verbally, in some mid-twentieth-century discussions of higher education generally, in order to draw attention to ways in which the material modifications it introduced have proved to be problematic.

  • Chapter 3: “Berlin” in Early Twentieth-Century America

    This chapter gives a review of a series of proposals specifically about theological education in the first half of the twentieth century in the United States that accord with the “Berlin” type but make important and equally problematic modifications in it.

  • Chapter 4:”Athens”: Unity and Pluralism in the Current Discussion

    Two very different proposals about the nature and purpose of excellent theological education are examined in this chapter. For one, theology is faith’s inherent insightfulness or wisdom brought to a high level of self-conscious critical reflection. For the other, theology is critical reflection on the narrative of persons’ lives that attends to the concrete particularity of different persons’ experiences of God and to the ways in which those same lives have been victimized by injustice.

  • Chapter 5: “Berlin”: Unity and Pluralism in the Current Discussion

    Education will be unified if it is ordered to a single overarching goal. More particularly, theological education will be unified if all aspects of the enterprise are ordered to “doing theology” in an appropriate way. Furthermore, all parties agree that the chief criterion of this “appropriateness” is that it be done in a way that capacitates students to “do theology” themselves.

  • Chapter 6: “Athens” and “Berlin” in a New Key?

    Charles Wood’s proposal may point the way to something like a higher synthesis. In Vision and Discernmen (Atlanta: Scholars Press, 1985) he proposes a way through this impasse by a radical reorientation of the ways in which we have been posing the central questions. The overarching goal of theological education, according to Wood, is theological inquiry. Theological education will be unified when all aspects of it are ordered to that one end.

  • Epilogue: Morals of the Tale

    Here is a summary of the issues, and the morals about how best to discuss the issues that have emerged from this review of the recent literature on what is theological about theological education.