Posted by: Petros | April 22, 2009

Dependency principle: Theological education is a special case

I have had a chance to look at Glenn Schwartz’ organization, World Mission Associates, and the article that E. Ouoba has recommended as denouncing dependency in mission.  Now much of what Schwartz says is interesting and he is undoubtedly right to conclude that churches ideally should become independent.

At one point however he is wrong in his interpretation of mission in the NT:

Look at the spread of the Gospel in the time of the New Testament, and you will find that the Apostle Paul did not use outside funds to plant churches. In fact, one transfer of funds we find in the New Testament is from mission field churches back to the mother church when there was a famine in Jerusalem (II Corinthians 8). Another is when mission field churches contributed to the support of their missionary, the Apostle Paul (Philippians 4:15).

This view is actually an argument from silence.  Paul and Barnabas were sent by the church in Antioch and undoubtedly received some support from the mother church. But Paul also received help from Philippi while planting the church in Corinth (Act 18.5): he made tents with Priscilla and Aquila, evangelizing the Jews only on the Sabbath; but when Timothy and Silas arrived from Macedonia presumably with one of Philippian Christians’ many financial gifts, Paul could now devote his full-time to evangelism instead of working full-time to support himself: Ὡς δὲ κατῆλθον ἀπὸ τῆς Μακεδονίας ὅ τε Σιλᾶς καὶ ὁ Τιμόθεος, συνείχετο τῷ λόγῳ ὁ Παῦλος διαμαρτυρόμενος τοῖς Ἰουδαίοις εἶναι τὸν χριστὸν Ἰησοῦν (NA27). The NIV translates that when Paul and Timothy arrive, “Paul devoted himself exclusively to preaching“.  BDAG explains συνέχω :  “was wholly absorbed in preaching… in contrast to the activity cited in vs. 3.”

But interpretation issues aside, may wisdom prevail.  In many cases, Schwarz is right.  The dependency that he speaks of is often unhealthy and undesirable.  Theological education, however, is a special case.

In the early church, theological education was not the same as today, with our models of heavy infrastructure of buildings and administration.  This Western model which is being applied in Africa with varying degrees of success and failure.  The early church however has examples of scholars (Paul, Aquila, Clement, Origen) and schools (Alexandrian Catechetical school) in antiquity.  We know that these schools required varying degrees of patronage.  Origen, the third century Alexandrian scholar depended heavily upon patronage.  Modern Universities have too required the largess of patrons.  The colleges of Cambridge, for example, often bear the names of their patrons (e.g., King’s or Queens’ College).  Harvard, Yale and other Ivy league schools sit on huge endowments.

French Africa is one of the poorest regions of the world.  Apart from Haiti, I can think of no other part of the world that is as poor.  If theological education there will have any kind of sophistication at all, it will require patronage–and I am not too concerned where it comes from–whether locals sources, such as an endowment of land from the former emperor of Central African Republic or from international sources.  It requires organizations like the Langham Partnership which channel funds from generous donors to doctoral students.  If we want to establish a credible doctoral program on African soil, the more patronage the better.  The reason for this is that the activity of research and writing requires resources that are beyond the ability of national churches in French Africa.

Schwartz himself is a good example.  He studied at Messiah College and Fuller Theological Seminary.  These schools have received heavy endowments.  I can speak of Fuller since I receive their very exciting offers to support their educational endeavors because of our past support for one of their students (Moussa).  Basically, Fuller misses no opportunity to ask for a handout.  Why should we expect African seminaries to beg with any less zeal?  Indeed, their need is greater because the ratio of Christians per theological schools is much higher than here in North America.  Schwartz could not have received his education without such endowments.  But the fact remains, while the principle of independence for local churches in Africa can be achieved for the most part, theological education is going to require help because the funding necessary is far beyond the ability of national churches.  Consider a typical doctoral student in North America requires between 50,000-70,000 US per year to support himself and his family while studying at Wheaton or Fuller; that alone probably exceeds the annual budgets of most national church denominations.  This very morning a dossier for a distance education student who wishes to study full time at the doctoral level presented a budget for $20,000; hardly an insignificant sum and not easily produced by a National church.

So we have two choices with regard to theological education.  We can say that Africa can do it on her own and it won’t happen.  Or we can find ways to channel the funds of God-fearing donors to the venture of theological education in Africa.


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