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Theological education as an ongoing relationship in community (Article in Sapientia)

The North African theologian Augustine of Hippo supposedly made a statement that could quickly summarize the purpose of theological education: "To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek him, the greatest adventure; to find him, the greatest human achievement. Our lives find their purpose and meaning in the triune God, and theological education is the critical element of our lifelong journey to grow in our knowledge and love of God.

Our God is a person to love, not a book to study, principles to believe in or a confessional statement to affirm. Christians believe in one God who exists eternally in three persons. Our relationship with our triune God evolves and grows over time. We are all theologians, and when we think about our God, connect with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, and align our lives with God's ways, we are doing theology. For this reason, theological education is the process of falling in love with our Creator. We can only love a God we know. As our knowledge of others becomes more intimate, our love for them increases. Theological education is an invitation to receive God's love and to gradually return love to the God who first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Growing in our knowledge of God is a lifelong process. We are called to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior (2 Peter 3:18). Although we have received God's grace and know him as his children, our understanding of who God is and what he has done for us is a gradual process. God is immanent, close to us, personal. At the same time, God is transcendent; he is beyond our human understanding; he is majestic. Theological education guides us to know God, and although it is a lifelong process, the reality is that, even in all eternity, we will never be able to fully comprehend our awesome God. We grow in our understanding of the triune God, and this process will never end. We will never cease to admire and worship the High and Lofty One, the One who lives forever and whose name is Holy (Isa. 57:15).

The adventure of theological education takes place in formal, informal and non-formal ways. Formal education, as an organized pedagogical system that follows a curriculum and usually awards academic degrees, is the most familiar mode of theological education. Bible institutes and seminaries are the most common theological institutions in which theological education is provided. I have devoted my academic career to studying and teaching in these places because I strongly believe in the importance of formal theological education. Understanding and knowing God is the most important activity we can pursue, surpassing traditional human sources of value and gratification such as power, wisdom, and riches (Jer. 9:23-24). Formal education provides academic credentials, demonstrating the rigorous theological training necessary to instruct others. However, while formal theological education is important and necessary, we must remember that our God cannot be reduced to any human curriculum. The traditional seminary title is Master of Divinity, but this title never represents a degree because, as seminarians often joke, no one is ever a "Master" of Divinity. We can formally study God, but we can never fully understand him.

Local churches and theological institutions work hand in hand in our lifelong journey to know, love and serve God and others.

Formal theological institutions and academic degrees are essential, but theological education transcends classrooms and schools. Non-formal theological education takes place outside the traditional school system. Congregations, faith communities and small groups are vital in theological education. Any formal theological education that does not serve the body of Christ loses the meaning of its existence. Both seminaries and congregations exist to glorify God and to promote and further God's mission (missio Dei). The mutual interdependence between theological institutions and the church provides the indispensable connection between formal and non-formal theological education. Local churches and theological institutions work side by side in our lifelong journey to know, love and serve God and others.

As crucial as theological institutions and educational opportunities in congregations are, the most profound method of theological education occurs in informal contexts. Informal education relates to everyday, unstructured activities. Our theology becomes practical and relevant in what Hispanic theologians call the everyday. God constantly reveals himself to us through his creation. The Holy Spirit indwells believers and guides them to know God and live for him. Our daily activities, casual and structured interactions with others, and the whole of our existence become opportunities to grow in our relationship with our triune God. Theological education is not merely concerned with deep and sometimes obscure propositions, but with our understanding of the God who wants us to live for him.

Theological education is our lifelong journey to know and love our triune God.

Theological education is our lifelong journey to know and love our triune God. It is a communal adventure. Theology is practiced and lived together. Our God exists eternally in perfect community; we are relational beings created in his image. The Holy Spirit indwells, guides and empowers all believers; no one person, denomination or movement owns the Holy Spirit. We can only fully know God in community. We need each other locally, nationally and globally. Thus, the universal church becomes essential to a holistic theological education curriculum. Different theological perspectives and cultural experiences are gifts to be welcomed with open arms, not threats to be avoided. Our mutual interdependence in theological education should lead us to be humble theologians who recognize our mutual need.

Theological education is the most excellent romance for all of us. Our triune God takes the initiative to reveal himself to us, and we respond to him in faith and love. God invites us into a personal and eternal relationship with him by his grace. Theological education receives this invitation and passes it on to others, an invitation to walk together in the most incredible adventure of our existence. We are all theologians because we are all children of God who together grow in the grace and knowledge of our Father. We are loved unconditionally. What an amazing reality to receive and share with others for the rest of our lives.

Note: This article appeared here on March 11, 2024 in Sapientia at the Carl F. H. Center for Theological Understanding.

Octavio J. Esqueda

Esqueda (PhD University of North Texas) is Professor of Christian Higher Education and Director of the Doctoral and EdD Programs in Educational Studies at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. He is the author or editor of several books, including Christian Education: Retrospects and Prospects (Kerigma Publications, 2022), and The Hispanic Faculty Experience: Opportunities for Growth and Retention in Christian Colleges and Universities (Abilene Christian University Press, 2023).

Esqueda (PhD University of North Texas) is Professor of Christian Higher Education and Director of the PhD and EdD Programs in Educational Studies at Talbot School of Theology, Biola University. He is the author or editor of multiple books, including Christian Education: Retrospects and Prospects (Kerigma Publications, 2022), and The Hispanic Faculty Experience: Opportunities for Growth and Retention in Christian Colleges and Universities (Abilene Christian University Press, 2023).

The North African theologian Augustine of Hippo allegedly made a statement that could quickly summarize the purpose of theological education: "To fall in love with God is the greatest romance; to seek Him the greatest adventure; to find Him the greatest human achievement". Our lives find their purpose and meaning in the triune God, and theological education is the critical element of our lifelong journey of growing in our knowledge and love of God.

Our God is a person to love, not a book to study, principles to believe, or a confessional statement to affirm. Christians believe in one God that eternally exists in three persons. Our relationship with our triune God evolves and grows over time. We all are theologians, and when we think about our God, connect with the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, and align our lives to God's ways, we are doing theology. For this reason, theological education is the process of falling in love with our Creator. We can only love a God we know. As our knowledge of other people becomes more intimate, our love for them increases. Theological education is an invitation to receive God's love and to gradually love back the God who first loved us (1 John 4:19).

Growing in our understanding of God is a process that lasts a lifetime. We are called to grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior (2 Pet 3:18). Even though we have received God's grace, and we know God as his children, our understanding of who God is and what he has done for us is a gradual process. God is immanent; he is near to us; he is personal. At the same time, God is transcendent; he goes beyond our human understanding; he is majestic. Theological education guides us to know God, and although this is a lifelong process, the reality is that even in all eternity, we will never be able to fully comprehend our awesome God. We grow in our understanding of the triune God, and this process will never end. We will never cease to admire and worship the high and exalted One, who lives forever and whose name is holy (Isa 57:15).

The adventure of theological education happens formally, informally, and non-formally. Formal education, as an organized pedagogical system that follows a curriculum and usually awards academic degrees, is the most familiar mode of theological education. Bible institutes and seminaries are the most common theological institutions where people pursue theological training. I have devoted my academic career to studying and teaching in those places because I firmly believe in the importance of formal theological education. Understanding and knowing God is the most important activity we can pursue, surpassing traditional human sources of worth and gratification like power, wisdom, and riches (Jer 9:23-24). Formal education provides academic credentials, demonstrating the rigorous theological training necessary to instruct others. However, even though formal theological education is important and necessary, we must remember that our God cannot be reduced to any human curriculum. The traditional seminary degree is the Master of Divinity, but this degree never represents a title because, as seminarians often joke, no one is ever the "Master" of Divinity. We can formally study God, but we can never fully grasp God.

Local churches and theological institutions work hand in hand in our lifelong journey to know, love, and serve God and others.

Formal theological institutions and academic degrees are essential, but theological education transcends classrooms and schools. Non-formal theological education happens outside the traditional school system. Congregations, faith communities, and small groups are vital in theological education. Any formal theological education that fails to serve the body of Christ misses the point of its existence. Seminaries and congregations both exist to glorify God and to promote and advance the mission of God(missio Dei). The mutual interdependence between theological institutions and the church provides the indispensable connection between formal and non-formal theological education. Local churches and theological institutions work hand in hand in our lifelong journey to know, love, and serve God and others.

As crucial as theological institutions and educational opportunities in congregations are, the most profound method of theological education is in informal contexts. Informal education relates to daily and unstructured activities. Our theology becomes practical and relevant in what Hispanic theologians call lo cotidiano (everyday life). God constantly reveals himself to us through his creation. The Holy Spirit dwells in believers and guides them to know God and to live for him. Our daily activities, casual and structured interactions with others, and the whole of our existence become opportunities to grow in our relationship with our triune God. Theological education is not merely interested in deep and sometimes obscure propositions, but in our understanding of the God who wants us to live for him.

Theological education is our lifelong journey to know and love our triune God.

Theological education is our lifelong journey to know and love our triune God. This is a communal journey. Theology is practiced and lived together (in community). Our God eternally exists in the perfect community; we are relational beings created in his image. The Holy Spirit indwells, guides, and empowers all believers; no person, denomination, or movement is the owner of the Holy Spirit. We can only fully know God in community. We need each other locally, nationally, and globally. In this way, the universal church becomes essential for a holistic theological education curriculum. Different theological perspectives and cultural experiences are gifts to receive with open arms, not threats to avoid. Our mutual interdependence in theological education should lead us to be humble theologians who recognize our need for each other.

Theological education is the most excellent romance for all of us. Our triune God takes the initiative to reveal himself to us, and we respond in faith and love to him. God invites us to a personal and eternal relationship with him by his grace. Theological education receives this invitation and passes it along to others, an invitation to walk together in the most incredible adventure of our existence. We all are theologians because we all are God's children who together grow in the grace and knowledge of our Father. We are unconditionally loved. What an amazing reality to receive and share with others for the rest of our lives.