The Needs of Missiological Approach in Theological Education in Asia

Unity in Diversity

Author: Tim Hyunmo Lee - Professor of Missions, Korea Baptist Theological Seminary 

Section: Practical Theology, Missiology  & Intercultural Studies


Christianity has a long history in Asia. It used to be told that, because Christianity moved westward since the time of Pauline missionary works, it took long time that Christianity finally reached to Asia. It is not true. In spite of serious lack of historical evidence, there is an assertion that the first Christian arrived at China before the 1st century was ended Subsequently St. Thomas’ Indian mission, Armenia’s acceptance of Christianity as the official religion, and strong missionary movement of Syrian orthodox churches(Nestorian) to the east spread out Christianity to wide areas of Asia in earlier time. In spite of such a long history, however, Asia had never attracted attention in church history. Asia had been always a side area and a mission field where never earned highlights.

Around the end of the 20th century, dramatic change has happened in this area. Since Christianity has got out of traditional Christendom that molded around only western white people, Asia became one of the centers of gravity in Christianity. Asian churches are emerging as one of the mighty forces of missionary movement. China is forming the great Christian force under the persecution. Korean Church having comparatively short history becomes one of the most important Christian influences. Waves of revival are proliferating across the borders of Cambodia and Vietnam. Protestant churches in the Philippines are rapidly growing. In disregard of such affirmative changes, Asia is still marginalized in the area of theology and theological education. Someone even criticizes that Asia is still under the colonial rule of the western theology and western theological education. Theological education in Asia, where conservative and evangelical theology occupies a dominant position, continues to import western pattern of theological education and busy to convey it even without changing wrapping papers.

The purpose of this paper is to make analysis of the problems of Asian theological educations on the basis of the characteristics of Asia and propose some solutions. Specifically it intends to propose missiological approach as a solution for the problems of Asian theological education. Missiological approach denotes an endeavor moving toward cognition of critical realism recognizing both of text and context. Through this approach, the proposal aims to recognize and accept the diversity of Asia, and preserve the unity of faith.

1. Situational characteristics of Asia

   Contemporary Asia retains many unique characteristics which western Christendom had never experienced. At the same time, Asians experience many changes within just one generation which the west had experienced step by step through the long period of time. This is why the pre-modernity, modernity, and post-modernity coexist in every area of life in Asia. Diachronic system or diachronic analysis which works in the west creates confusion in Asia, because Asia experiences too many changes within a quite short time.

   Asia has retained well developed systems of philosophy, ethics, and religion. It might be a major reason that Asia creates differences in the mission history compared to Latin America and Africa, even all of them belonged to the third world. It is why the western Christianity couldn’t easily replace Asian traditional culture. The traditional philosophy and ethics in Asia, however, are going through radical changes in the diverse contexts.

1) Collapse of oriental traditional cultures and rapid westernization and secularization.

   Until China was defeated at the Opium Wars, historically Chinese had never doubted that they were the center of the world. Confucius advocated highly advanced system of philosophy at 500 years before coming of Jesus. In the ‘Warring States Period’ of China which covered the period from the 8th century B.C. through the 3rd century B.C., the “Hundred Schools of Thoughts” already brought forward various thoughts and philosophies which were recognized as the parents of most of western thoughts presented after Enlightenment in Europe. China was truly the center of the world until the 13th century. When Chinese were awakened about the different parts of the world after defeat at the Opium Wars, China was bewildered by the changed status of the west. Fall of Chinese culture brought about the collapse of oriental traditional culture. Colonial rule over Asian countries by the western countries started from the end of the 19th century, caused to disintegrate traditional culture and created a period of cultural chaos which the western cultural traits replaced Asian ones. Right after close of colonialism, Marxian communism took over these areas. The oriental traditional culture underwent hardships again and was shaken even to its root. After fall of communist regimes, Asia had to face the era of globalization without proper preparation. Asians had lost even a chance to swim against the current of westernization.

   Contemporary, Asia is in a huge cultural confusion. New trials to preserve the traditional values and the irresistible currents of westernization were jumbled together. Such a chaos incurred vast confusion in value and belief systems of Asians. Certain generations who received western style education place their value system on western foundation and older generations who educated in old schools adhere to traditional values. Too much speedy changes of values disturb social stability and most of Asian countries go through social disorder.

2) Wounds by wars and revolutions

   During the 20th century, Asia has been a battle field of numerous wars and revolutions. Beginning with the Boxer Rebellion (1900), the Russo-Japanese War(1904), The 2nd World War (1939-45), the Nationalist-Communist Civil War of China(1948-49), the Korean War(1950-53), the Vietnam War(1960-75), the Cambodian War(1979-89), the Soviet War in Afghanistan (1984-89), and the border disputes between Pakistan and India which are still under way left numerous scars in the recent Asian history. Those wars were happened in many different relations; between nationalists and the western imperialists, among imperial countries which competed for colonial occupation, between civilian forces, between democratists and communists, sometimes among communist countries. Those phenomena were unprecedented. Those war histories show abridged chronicle of thoughts in the 20th century. Through such conflicts, the far right and far left wing factions were stood face to face always in Asia. Ideological confrontation could be experienced not only in the area of conception, but also in daily lives of ordinary people. Even today, various ideologies are still survived and produce many conflicts in Asia. Many different concepts of society, feudalism, Marxism, democracy, nationalism, and individualism are coexisted.

3) Rapid Industrialization and Informatization

   Asia was a poor and less developed area by the 1960s and was not uneasy to be called the third world. From the 1970s, however, Asia began to experience noteworthy economic growth centered around so called the five dragons. In the 1980s, China joined the flow of economic growth and, finally in the 1990s, India began to take part in Asian economic growth. Asia today becomes the growing power of global economy. Previously Asia was far behind of western level of informatization. Today this area is a Mecca of IT industry centered on emerging countries like Japan, Korea, Taiwan, Singapore, and India. China and India where recently experienced sudden changes by open-door policy have both pre-industrialized status and highly advanced informatized status at the same time. This means that the areas where are unstable even to supply electrical power and areas where enjoy the satellite telecommunication and high speed internet system live together.

4) Coexistence of pre-modernism, modernism, and post-modernism in daily life

   The 20th century was prescribed as an era of modernism. An era of modernism accepted the knowledge based on positivism as the fact and was controlled by realism which recognized absolute truth. An era before modernism acknowledged idealism rather than scientific knowledge. As modernity came into the society, the pre-modernity quickly moved out. At the end of the 20th century, however, modernity was pushed out by post-modernity. Relativity surpassed objective thoughts. On the other hand, in Asia, those three different trends surged at the same time. Within a country, three different trends which have different backgrounds and belief systems live together and affect lives of ordinary people. Asian youth demonstrate post-modern life style, no less than the westerners, even they do not know the term of post-modernism. However, modernistic thoughts are dominant on their basis, which come from western style education. At the same time, in the kinship or in the crisis, pre-modern values are still working without trouble.

5) Revivals of Nationalism and Traditional Religions

   As Asian countries gradually gain power in economy and politics, nationalism is rapidly restored, which had been suppressed under the colonial rule. The currents of time breaking away from old political feudalism and dictatorship contribute to raise voice of nationalism. They oppose old endeavor which tried to fit everything into western norms or restrained themselves by institutional bonds, and long for liberation in many areas. They try to provide new meanings and values to the traditional cultural traits which had fallen into decay by the force of westernization. Recent restoration movement of Confucius in China is a typical example. Anti-American and anti-Western movement lifts up its voice unprecedentedly. Such movements bring about the revivals of traditional religions. Saffronization movement springs up in India and the hindutva group (upper classes in the caste system) stirs up strong nationalistic Hindu movements. Although Universal Declaration of Human Right is world-widely accepted, missionaries and Christian churches in this area are heavily persecuted now.

6) Coexistence of Globalization and Anti-Globalization

   Globalization is an unavoidable trend in Asia. As Asia becomes world factory with affluent labor forces of higher education and low wages, Asian countries have no choice but to share the fate of globalization. Although there is lots of dissatisfaction about Chinese products, the west couldn’t carry on daily life without Chinese products. Asia earns more benefits from globalization compared to Latin America or Africa. However, although Thomas Friedman, a champion of globalization, emphasizes that globalization doesn’t imply Americanization, or westernization, globalization is recognized as Americanization in many parts of Asia. Asian nationalistic groups affected from liberation movement quickly take part in anti-globalization movement. America is no longer a symbol of virtue in Asia.

   Today it is delicate to define the trends of Asia in short. While the western influence is overwhelming in most areas of economy, politics, thoughts, society, culture, and education, backlash couldn’t be overlooked.  It is because the western and non –western elements are coexistent. In a sense, contemporary Asia is a monster. All members of a body, head, heart, hands, feet, trunk, and soul, are made by products of different eras. Asia became the most serious spiritual battle field of pluralism. Theology has to be shaped in this context and concern and do works of prophet.

2. Analysis of problems of theological education in Asia

   The speed of change in the world is accelerating in the 21st century. The trends of change in the modern societies, however, are anticipated to move negatively rather than affirmative direction. Theological education needs to provide proper response to the anticipated adversity. However, theological education of Asian evangelical churches is evaluated not to react properly to the secularized trends of contemporary Asia. Let’s analyze several points in this matter.

1) Losing dignity of the Gospel

   Korean churches gradually lose their social influence, in these days. Public criticism of Christianity is elevated extremely high since taking of hostage in Afghanistan and candle demonstration. It is not came from transient emotion, rather from accumulated response of that Christianity didn’t provide healthy influence to Korea society. More serious thing is that such criticism is not limited to Korea. The similar criticism could be found easily in many parts of the world. Today while Gospel spreads broadly in geography, on the contrary, the depth of gospel is getting shallow. Negative response to Christianity in some areas of Asia does not come out from religious differentiation, but from the ill reputation and deeds of Christians in that society.

   John Stott points out properly that the most urgent need of evangelical churches for today is to recover “visibility of the gospel.” Losing dignity of the gospel in the society is not merely a matter of Christian life, but a theological problem. It denotes that the weaknesses of evangelical theology are revealed and theological education of evangelical churches has severe problems. Theological education of evangelical which based on legitimate doctrinal education becomes the target of criticism to bring about the present situation to isolate faith from daily life.

2) Impersonalizing Theological Education

   Theology was derived from lives of church community. Theology had to relate to real life in the context. Theological education in Asia, however, gradually lost personal exchange and limited itself to mere intellectual exchange. Kun Won Park notes “theology is no longer a study for all people, but an academic course only for a few people who aim to be ministers.” Seminary became a religious ivory tower taught philosophies and thoughts. Such a tendency is growing in so-called well developed church and in Christian organizations where stress on scholarship. Emphasizing on field experience is regarded to imply lower level of theological education. Schools boasting of higher scholarship tend to exclude field education from their curriculum. Young Chul Park states “because theory oriented inclination of theology is so chronic and powerful, it may not be solved just through re-emphasis on practical aspects of theology.” More fundamental changes in the ways of cognition and concepts of theological education are seriously needed.

3) Fail to respond properly to the attacks of various trends of theology

   Generally we believe that, in Asia, evangelical churches are strong. However, it does not mean that churches in Asia are not affected by various trends of theology. Liberation theology originated in Latin America affects Asia in diverse ways in the 21st century. While liberation movement focused on political strife failed to exert an influence in Asia except Korea, flexible types of liberation movements produce effect on various levels of Asian people. Especially Catholic Church in Asia silently makes changes silently but prudently. Catholics change ecclesiology and changes in concept of mission are succeeded. Asian evangelical churches regard such diverse trends of theology as mere controversies of western churches and they concern only to stick to their theological position by faith and do not raise their own voice about such controversies. Diverse trends of theology are recognized as the voices of real world. Asian evangelical churches have to bear the responsibility to raise voices to construct their own theology with evangelical perspective of Asia. Contemporary Asian evangelical churches are, however, striving hard to stand on the defensive or to flee from responsibility by evading debates. In a near future, this attitude would create more difficulties in the fields.

4) Lack of ability to answer to the practical problems of Asia

   As previously mentioned, Asia is experiencing a tremendous cultural chaos. Rapid westernization, secularization, wounds of wars, quick industrialization and informatization, admixture of pre-modernity, modernity, and post-modernity, revivals of traditional religions and nationalism, and clash between globalization and anti-globalization are all realities of Asia today. Theology should be reflections of God’s Word projected to theSitz im Leben (real situation of life). Asian evangelical theology, however, didn’t provide proper answer and only offered theories apart from reality which fitted in the frames of western theology. It is deserved to be called still the colonial status of western theological education.

   Moreover, theological exertion to make available proper answers to such problems of Asia seems to be absent in Asian evangelical theology. Evangelism and mission could not happen in vacuum. Rather these are complex things produced in real life situations. Evangelical theological education shows little interest to provide theological answers to real life situations. Such trends promote Asian Christians to devote themselves to individualization of faith and mystic charismatism. Churches gradually lose pulling power in the society and are blamed to be irresponsible from the society. These phenomena indicate that theological education is generally failed in Asia to apply biblical principles to Asian situations.

5) Lack of ability to respond to pluralistic society

   Asia is in a more pluralistic situation compared to any other continents. It is a scene of the hottest competition of religious pluralism. Influence of various kinds of pluralism is unavoidable in every aspect of life; culture, values, ideology, economic system, and politics. Evangelical theological education is not able to educate students to stand firm on appropriate position in such a pluralistic society. Rather only criticizing pluralistic situations, it teaches them to escape from reality by avoiding confrontation or to recommend bellicose and combative attitude. It might be a part of reason that mission endeavor in Asia is passive. We have to nurture their abilities to respond properly to the pluralistic situations in the ways being biblically sound and never devaluating the Gospel. Frankly evangelical theological education in Asia is lacking in this aspect.

6) Fail to respond to the challenge of traditional religions.

   Asia is a birth place of most of world religions.  The core countries of all world religions except Christianity locate in Asia. As post-modernism is suddenly rising at the end of the 20th century, most of world religions grow so fast. Asians have to confront various religions inevitably in everyday life. Not only world religions, traditional religions including Confucianism and tribal religions are increasing. In such unfavorable conditions, evangelical theological education seems to fail to develop proper theology of religions in pluralistic circumstance. Some groups developed theology of religion with evangelical perspectives, but it may not be applied well to theological education in Asia.

   In missiological standpoint, world religions in Asia are of significance. In the last part of the 20th century, it was said that a remarkable growth of global mission took place world-widely. However, strictly speaking, that growth has happened only outside of major world religions. The growth arose only in Latin America where Catholic faith had syncretized with shamanism, Africa where had affected strongly indigenous religions, and former Communist blocs where communist regimes had eliminated religious consciousness. Missiological break through has not yet happened among hard core Muslims, nor among Hindus, nor among Hinayana Buddhists. In the 21st century, missiological break through into those hard core groups has to be made. Under such circumstance, proper theological training in the world religions is urgently requested in theological education.

   As putting those problems together, theological education in Asia has following needs. First, there is a need to exalt the essence of gospel, not to be left as cheap grace. Second, practical aspect in the structure of theology as well as theological education should be emphasized. Third, theological education which responds sensitively to the situations of Asia and provides biblical answers, at the same time, not compromises the biblical teaching has to be promoted. Those requests could not be accomplished just by revision of curricula of seminary. Fundamental changes in the ways of access and cognition of theological education are needed. The writer would like to present the concept of missiological approach to meet the need.

3. The Need of Missiological Approach

   Missiological Approach is defined as exertions to put graft eternal Word of the Bible into the changing worlds. Harvie Conn names it trialogue in theology, anthropology, and mission.  Key inquiry of Missiologists is “What would be Words of God given to the people in a specific context?” A role of bridge between theology and culture has been a major concern of Missiologists.

   For a long time, in the evangelical camp, gospel and culture are regarded as standing in opposition. From the beginning, cultural anthropology adopted and utilized models of developmentalism and diffusionism in its developing stages. Because scholars in liberal wing adopted these models promptly, evangelical camp made strict precautions on anthropology importing those models. Alternatively, evangelicals who were excited for noteworthy progress of mission works in the 19th century stuck to triumphalism backed by colonial rules. Anthropologists blamed loudly for evangelical missionary works to be a religious imperialism or cultural imperialism. As a result, culture stood in opposition to Christian gospel. Conservatives never tried to respond carefully to local cultures, rather they believed that protecting western form of Christianity from damage in non-Christian cultures would be their responsibility.

   However, since the 1950s, as Christian anthropology came into being by Eugene Nida, one of forerunners, evangelicals began to change their relations to culture rapidly.  Although, in the beginning, evangelicals alerted against the concept of contextualization because this concept was coined first in ecumenical camp, a contextual theology became a major issue of evangelicals soon. Presentation of essence of gospel properly in the contexts without compromising grew into the core task of missions. For this task, change of epistemology had to be followed inevitably.

1) Need of Change in Epistemological Methods

   Paul Hiebert is one who explains excellently epistemological issues in the trialogue of theology, anthropology, and mission. He stresses that epistemological change is not an issue which decides liberals or conservatives. Due to confusion of this, change of epistemology causes a misunderstanding that it would be a determinant to decide liberals or conservatives. Rather it brings about paradigm shifts.

   Traditionally theologians believed that theology was a product of idealistic approach. Idealism is an opposed concept to realism or materialism. It is a view that an idea or idealistic thing takes precedence over a realistic or materialistic thing in theory and practice. Idealism gives priority to idea, because it believes that, without idea of human beings, material things couldn’t exist independently. Though idealism has a danger to be relativism in the objectivity of recognition, it becomes a foundation to acknowledge idea of human subject as absolute truth (universal concept). Due to such foundation, idealism could be easily come in theistic thoughts. Idealist theologians, therefore, emphasize systematic theologies, because idealistic approach focuses on unchanging structures of universal truth.  This approach assumes that ultimate truth could become known to human reason and truth should be non-historic and non-cultural in attribute. The purpose of this approach pursues unique systematic understanding of ultimate truth theoretically consistent and ideally logical. Idealistic approach, however, makes to miss the understanding of historical events and positions in the Bible. Namely, it fails to teach how to react to the trends happened in historical and socio-cultural contexts. Ebeling, therefore, criticizes that systematic methodology constructed after Reformation was identical to the medieval Scholasticism after all.   

Theology is not equal to revelation. Theology is a reflection of eternal Word to the socio-cultural contexts. Even alike in the west, in the non-west, an approach to identify established western theologies to revelation is not appropriate. Donald Stultz affirms the followings.

The time is past when Western theologians have all the “definitive answers”; Asian theologians now bear that responsibility and willingly accept it. The latter have discovered that Western “definitive answers” do not automatically fit the Asian situation and often answer questions not asked in Asia.

   After an elapse of age of idealism, realism was appeared as a new methodology of theological study. Realism is a view that material objects exist independently of our sense and subjectivity and these are recognized as a purpose and norm of correct cognition.

Biblical theology is constructed on the basis of realistic approach.

  A crucial question is what it meant at the time of the Bible written. This approach assumes that essence of revelation is historic distinctively. It views that written revelation in the history is the Bible and the Bible is the absolute truth. Though idealism and realism seem to be contrary to each other in a general outlook, these have a similar limitation. Naïve realism as well as idealism fails to answer properly to the problems in specific cultures and people today. Therefore Paul Hiebert considers that epistemologically naïve idealism and naïve realism are similar ways of recognition and both of them are not ready to embrace culture.

   Previously mentioned, Asia presents many situations which request different theological answers from the west. In these contexts, idealistic approach or realistic approach results in failure providing answers for typical Asian problems. Douglas Elwood states about this dilemma. “In pure academic and philosophical areas, Asian theology has nothing to provide. It would not be constructed from knowledge of books. Rather it gains legitimacy from the work places where day-by-day life is verified.” Namely, Asian theology has to be proved in daily work places. At the occasion which theological education as well as theology bases on idealism or naïve realism as an epistemological foundation, Asian theological education couldn’t be released from the blames that it speaks for impractical and non-historic western theologies in a speculative method.

   Missiological approach refuses the epistemological method based on naïve idealism or realism. Critical realism was suggested as an alternative proposal of a method of epistemology, and Paul Hiebert applied it to missiology. Critical realism perceives both of transcendental truth and outer object(culture) as substance. For this purpose, it makes a distinction between theology and revelation of the Bible. The Bible or revelation is acknowledged definitely as a source and norm of Christian life and an ultimate criterion judging theological truth. Theology, however, is perceived as human understanding or interpretation of the Bible. Various life situations and circumstances affect theology. As different understandings come to human life, theology could be altered and developed. At the same time, critical realism acknowledges social sciences, like cultural anthropology and sociology, to a certain extent and understands them as maps or models. It recommends placing maps over another in order to access close to substance and absolute truth. It is much the same as architectural design drawing is not a single sheet. A building is one entity, but it has many different design drawings, drawing of structure and other drawings showing electric power lines, plumbing, lighting, foundations, and mechanics. Intending to view whole building, we have to look all drawings at the same time by putting one over another. Though each drawing is real and a fact, however, one is not a total substance. Missiological approach adopting critical realism utilizes various kinds of knowledge and put forth efforts to look them overlapped each other.

   Theological education in Asia is requested to change epistemology first of all. It has to admit the limits of idealistic or naïve realistic approach of epistemology handed down from western theologians and comprehend new way of perception. Critical realism could result in a new way of perception which makes possible trialogue in theology, anthropology, and mission. Trialogue could form a foundation to reflect carefully the realities in Asia to theological education.

2) Need of Theology as Practice

   Although it seems to repeat the controversies of the 1960s and 1970s, confrontation of theory with practice has to be mentioned again in the 21stcentury. Gustavo Gutierrez criticized that traditional theology was an ortho-doxy which sought legitimate doctrines and said that theology needed for today was an ortho-praxis which pursued legitimate and critical practices needed in the context. Evangelicals refused to accept the concept of praxis in a determined manner, because the praxis of Gutierrez included political liberation, necessity of ideology to achieve it, and use of righteous violence.

   However, evangelicals encounter new difficulties in Asia as well as other parts of the third world today. Christianity loses credibility, dignity, and holiness gradually. Even Christians are recognized as hypocrites whose lives don’t come along with their words. Gospel loses the power to reform the society. Possibly it originates in individualism of faith which is inevitable weakness of evangelical theology. Evangelical Christians are negligent in building responsible behaviors and communities in the society. As a result, evangelism comes up against a big snag. Rather Chinese churches are healthy due to continuing persecutions but within a short time they would face the same problems if there is no appropriate provision against the attacks of capitalism.

   In order to resolve such difficulties, we have to get out of theological structure which is too much theory oriented. By origin, theologia could not be distinguished theory part from practice part, which was an integrated body of practice and theory, spirituality and intelligence, and missions and scholarship. Theology should be a theory and a practice. Because Asia is free from western intellectualism, there is no need to apply intellectualism into theological education in Asia. Rather praxis is needed to develop critical practice with evangelical perspective to meet the needs of contemporary Asia, which needs not be the same to ecumenical praxis suggested by liberation theology. Evangelical praxis may be constructed in the direction of including emphasis of Lordship and recovery of proper position of sanctification and glorification in soteriology. Change of theology must go with change of theological education.  If theology of evangelical praxis is established, theological education would embrace the courses of training evangelical praxis in daily life, not only courses of transmitting theories simply. Demands to change theological education into more practice oriented disciplines have been existed for a long time.

   Structural change of education emphasizing praxis in Asian theological education is an urgent demand. For it, traditional structure of theological education needs to be realigned giving more weight to training than teaching. Seminary education bent on theory has lost the effectiveness of nurturing minister candidates. Seminaries have to establish the new structure emphasis on both of theories and evangelical praxis.

4. What the Missiological Approach in Theological Education Is All About?  

   “Fourfold pattern” of theological education has long history and most of seminaries in Asia follow this pattern. Though this pattern itself is not a fault, utilizing it as a tool of theoretic education on the basis of western traditional epistemology fail to answer to the existing problems in Asian contexts. Therefore, the writer suggests grafting missiological approach into theological education. Tite Tienou and Paul Hiebert have presented three stages to perform theology of mission using critical realism. The writer attempts to modify and apply them into theological education.

   The first stage is to analyze and understand the contexts which we are living now with the perspective of cultural insiders. Tienou and Hiebert call it the stage of phenomenology. So far, evangelical theological education employs “from above” approach which emphasizes presence of transcendental God, and His revelation, and perspectives of God. Evangelicals assume that analyzing and understanding the contexts has to be accomplished in the fields of secular studies, not in the sphere of theological education. Moreover, idealistic or naïve realistic cognition of theology strictly has prevented including knowledge of cultural anthropology, sociology, statistics, history, and general science in theological sphere. It makes us to stay out of touch with realities of life.

   Two phases of work are required in order to understand realities of life from participants’ point of view. First, academic endeavors to reconstitute various scientific approaches of cultural anthropology, sociology, and history coming measure up to Christian perspectives have to be done. Many parts of secular studies hamper themselves to be utilized as tools of theological education, because they base on materialistic and evolutionistic standpoint. In the same way that Eugene Nida, as a forerunner, reconstituted missionary anthropology by changing premises of secular anthropology with Christian standpoints, we strongly recommend studies of Christian perspectives in other secular studies. Theological education has to embrace the courses to make understanding of realities utilizing studies with Christian perspective as tools. Second, emic and etic perspectives must be well balanced. Theological education in Asia preferring western knowledge often understands its own contexts with etic perspective. Losing emic perspective ends in failure to answer properly to our own problems from the beginning. However, excessive reliance on emic perspective is deprived ability to comparison and goes negligent to pursue meta-cultural answer. At the first stage theological education has to realize that theology could not be constructed properly without keen analysis and understanding of real problems of the world.

   The second stage focuses on Bible study about the revealed problems. Bible study at this stage must synthesize all knowledge of systematic theology, of biblical theology, and of historical theology. A metaphor can be used explaining this stage, which a judge investigates and decides from constitutional law, statutory laws, and case or common laws. Systematic theology compares to constitution, biblical theology and church history compare to statutory laws, and case study compares common laws. It depicts a process of pursuing answers to the problems, which starts from principle of revelation acknowledged as eternal truth, goes on biblical theology showing works of God in specific historical situations and church history as divine providence revealed in history. If it is necessary, concrete cases could be added in a process of study. Missiological approach is an effort to pursue practical answers to the real problems of the world, not an attempt only to seek after substantial truth. Though this process pursues solutions, the core of it is to examine problems and attempt to change them, by re-analyzing the problems in the light of biblical revelation. Namely, biblical answer should have power to reform the situations provoked problems, not only provide solutions. Seminary has to develop curricula to train students this process.

   Completing this process, we reach the final stage. The third stage is one to implement what achieved in the second stage practically in churches and communities. It does not leave the answers over theories, but develop them to the forms of praxis. In this process, critical realism has to be utilized as the way of cognition. It is a procedure to put biblical theology and church history over knowledge of systematic theology, and put various practical cases over them, and again put scientific knowledge (anthropology, sociology, statistics, and history etc.) based on Christian perspectives over them and to construct whole building with synthetic drawings.  Theories and praxis resulted from this procedure should become mission of church. The principal point of this procedure is to prevent that scientific knowledge takes Word of Bible a prisoner Major and minor things must be demarcated clearly.

5. Unity in Diversity

   Theological education in Asia has to produce properly new Asian answers to the typical Asian problems, not follow the established answers made in western contexts. Then, theological answers resulted from the studies and education adopted missiological approach are contextual theologies with local forms. This means that these theologies would be different each other depending on location and context. It is very difficult to accept such results in the cognition of idealism or naïve realism. Where is the truth, if we recognize different answers each other? Is the Bible only a case book?

   Actually theological educators in the third world already have confronted this question. Limits of local theologies and contextual theologies were pointed out. An answer of it would be ‘unity in diversity.’ The more emphasis on praxis ends in more different forms of theological answer. We should be able to admit and assimilate such diversity. At the same time, however, there should be a unity in diversity. The unity should be eternal Words of God. The authority of Bible should not be compromised. If unity does not exist, it couldn’t be a biblically sound answer. Recently such a conflict in evangelical camp is expressed in the terms of local theology and global theology. Local theology and global theology must control each other and have to be communicable and well balanced. Namely there should be mutual unity. Unity in diversity is a goal which Asian theological education intends.


   This paper analyzes the problems of theological education in Asia and proposed an alternative. Theological education must be a procedure to pursuit proper biblical answers to the typical problems of Asia. An alternative proposal is missiological approach. Though missiological approach requires change of epistemology, such changes does not happen with easy. However, Asia eagerly needs the new way of cognition in theological education.  New way of cognition would construct new structure of theological education. It would be not easy to break away from western traditions and influence, because many leaders in Asia who have to accomplish this procedure still think in the way of traditional cognition. Also evangelicals in Asia are not familiar to new ways of cognition in theology, rather ready to reject utilization of praxis concept, even though it is reconstructed with evangelical perspective. But we have to remember that Christianity is not a product of the west. Asia has a responsibility to study and educate theological answers fitted into Asian problems. Though it would be a painful job, it has to be done. Theological education has to analyze and attempt to understand realities first, and considers seriously practical approaches to them. Also theological education must be careful that the Bible should not be captured by scientific knowledge, and ready to utilize them appropriately. The results of this procedure should be admitted as mission of church in Asia. The 21st century would be an Asian century, which voices of Asian churches would be more signified. Such a new trend would start from the reconstitution of appropriate theological education. It is sincere expectation that evangelical seminaries in Asia fully recognize current needs and implement a new approach.


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Hiebert, Paul G. Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues. Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994.

Kane, J. Herbert. A Concise History of the Christian World Mission. Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978.

Kang, Hyo Baek. China? China, China!  Seoul: Yejunsa, 1995.

Lee, Hyun Mo. Understanding Contemporary Christian Missions. Daejeon: Korea Baptist Seminary Press, 2007.

Moffett, Samuel Hugh. A History of Christianity in Asia; Vol. 1: Beginnings to 1500. New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992.

Netland, Herold A. Dissonant Voices: Religious Pluralism and the Question of Truth. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991.

______. Encountering Religious Pluralism: The Challenge to Christian Faith and Mission. Downers Grove: InterVasity Press, 2001.

______. “Globalization and Theology Today.”In Globalizing Theology, eds. Craig Otto and Harold A. Netland, 14-34. Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2006.

Newbigin, Lesslie. Truth to Tell the Gospel as Public Truth. Grand Rapids: Eerdmans Publishing Co., 1991.

Park, Kun Won. “New Horizon of Theological Education for World Churches.” Christian Thoughts (1993. 3): 30-2.

Park, Young Chul.“The 21st Century and Theological Education of Evangelicals.” Bible and Theology  Vol. 22 (1997): 261-95.

Stultz, Donald. Developing an Asian Evangelical Theology. Manila: OMF Literature, 1989.

Stott, John. “Twenty Years after Lausanne: Some Personal Reflection.” IBMR Vol. 19, Issue 2 (April 1995): 50-55.

Tennent, Timothy. The Theology in the Context of World Christianity. Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 2007.

Tienou, Tite and Paul G. Hiebert. “From Systematic and Biblical Theology to Missiological Theology.”In Appropriate Christianity, ed. Charles H. Kraft, trans. John Kim and others, 193-219. Seoul: Word of Life Press, 2007.

Wright, Chris. Thinking Clearly about the Uniqueness of Jesus. London: The Evangelical Alliance, 1997.

[1] Samuel Hugh Moffett, A History of Christianity in Asia; Vol. 1: Beginnings to 1500 (New York: Harper Collins Publishers, 1992), 288.

[2] J. Herbert Kane, A Concise History of the Christian World Mission (Grand Rapids: Baker Book House, 1978), 12-5.

 [3] Ken R. Gnanakan, “The Training of Missiologists for Asian Contexts,” Missiological Education for the 21st Century,  eds. J. Dudley Woodberry and others (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 1996), 114.

 [4] Hyo Baek Kang, China? China, China! (Seoul: Yejunsa, 1995), 205-38.

 [5] Paul G. Hiebert, Anthropological Reflections on Missiological Issues (Grand Rapids: Baker Books, 1994), 20.

 [6] Joseph D’Souza, “Indian Church and Missions Face the Saffronization Challenge,” Global Missiology for the 21st Century  ed. William D. Taylor (Grand Rapids: Baker Academic, 2000), 391-2.

 [7] Thomas Friedman, The World Is Flat, trans. Sand C. Kim and others (Seoul: Chang Hae, 2006), 21-6.

 [8] Young Chul Park, “The 21st Century and Theological Education of Evangelicals,” Bible and Theology vol. 22 (1997): 261.

 [9] John Stott, “Twenty Years After Lausanne: Some Personal Reflections,” IBMR (April 1995): 53-4.

 [10] Kun Won Park, “New Horizon of Theological Education for World Churches,” Christian Thoughts (1993. 3): 30-2.

 [11] Young Chul Park, 276.

 [12] Stephen B. Bevans and Roger P. Schroeder, Constants in Context: A Theology of Mission for Today (Maryknoll: Orbis Books, 2006), 286-95.

 [13] Hyun Mo Lee, Understanding Contemporary Christian Missions (Daejeon: Korea Baptist Seminary Publishing, 2007), 38-9.

 [14] Harold A. Netland, Dissonant Voices: Religious Pluralism and the Question of Truth (Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1991), Harold A. Netland, Encountering Religious Pluralism: The Challenge to Christian Faith and Mission (Downers Grove: InterVasity Press, 2001), and Chris Wright, Thinking Clearly about the Uniqueness of Jesus (London: The Evangelical Alliance, 1997).

[15] Harvie Conn, Eternal Word and Changing Worlds: Theology, Anthropology, and Mission in Trialogue (Grand Rapids: Zondervan, 1984), 128.

[16] Tite Tienou and Paul G. Hiebert, “From Systematic and Biblical Theology to Missiological Theology,” Appropriate Christianity  ed. Charles H. Kraft, trans. John Kim and others (Seoul: Word of Life Press, 2007), 204.

[17] Conn, 61-5.

[18] Ibid., 143. Eugene Nida contributed to develop the study of linguistics into the discipline of anthropology within evangelical community.

[19] Hiebert, 31-2.

[20]  “Idealism,” The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 4.

[21]  Hiebert, 33.

[22] Thomas N. Finger, Christian Theology: An Eschatological Approach (Scottsdale: Herald Press, 1985), 19.

 [23] Gerhard Ebeling, Word and Faith (Philadelphia: Fortress Press, 1963), 82-3.

[24] Donald Stultz, Developing an Asian Evangelical Theology (Manila: OMF Literature, 1989), 23

[25] “Realism,” The Encyclopedia of Philosophy, vol. 7.

[26] Hiebert, 33.

[27] Ibid.

[28] Do