Monday, September 30, 2013
a significant national encouragement
I spend Friday in Sydney, at the inaugural Learning and Teaching Theology: The Way Ahead conference. Hosted by Sydney College of Divinity, it is a follow up to the recently completed Transforming Theology project, which tested the claims of Australian theological colleges that they provided a transformative learning experience.
It attracted about 80 people, from theological colleges all around Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia. It was great to be at a conference discussing not what we teach, but how we teach, and thus to find common ground across disciplines. I was there to give a paper – Embodiment and transformation in the context of e-learning. I had also been invited to be on a plenary panel of four, on the place of integration in theological education. I was also to be, quite unexpectedly, encouraged.
The opening address was by Dr Les Ball. His book Transforming Theology (Mosaic Resources, 2012) documents the recent research into the Australian theology sector. His conclusion is that the claims, by theological colleges, of offering transformation in education, were much ahead of the reality, based on student experience and analysis of curriculum. Despite all the social changes of the last 35 years, theological colleges remain remarkably uniform and remarkably unchanged.
During question time, he was asked if he had come across any signs of hope. He gave two examples. A new topic introduced at ACU called Community Engagement, in which all students have to participate in a community project.
And us! From Adelaide! The new Bmin at ACD taught by Uniting College. In Ball’s book, Transforming Theology, we get three mentions
- Our philosophy of practical ministry preparation and engagement. “The teaching faculty have been strategically appointed to promote such a commitment.” (page 104)
- The use of personal preliminary interviews. “This is not a case of granting credit for prior learning and thus shortening the course, but rather it is a matter of course planning to connect with actual experience, either past or projected.” (I wonder if he’s talking about our candidate Formation panel processes and our Bmin practice stream), (page 110)
- the way we have altered radically our disciplines to reflect our developmental educational philosophy, in contrast to traditional departments of OT, NT, Theology, Church history … “a complete rethinking of the nature, the structure and the progression of content, skills, and formative elements, to facilitate a development in students.” (page 146-7)
It was a very encouraging moment, to hear our degree being affirmed, publicly, in front of 80 people from theological colleges around Australia. At the same time, it gave pause for ongoing reflection on where we, as Faculty, put our energies and focus.