Editor’s Introduction: The Future of Theological Education

[1] What is the future of theological education in the ELCA? That is the question that the authors in this issue wrestle with. This question has important implications for Lutheran Ethics because in our tradition, theology is supposed to be the sustained reflection on the faith with the intention to guide our proclamation, our praxis and our life together as a church. Without adequate theological formation the church runs blind and our ethics become reactionary or dangerously ideological. Additionally, theology is never done in a vacuum; if theology is truly incarnational then it is incarnated in concrete cultures, languages and communities. Unfortunately, for too long Lutheran theology has been myopically Eurocentric, dealing preferentially with concerns born of the White European and European decent experience. Both authors in this issue challenge us to reframe the way we understand diversity in the church and in theological education. Rather than as an accommodation done for evangelistic purposes, the inclusion of voices from the global south and marginal communities in the West should be seen as a more faithful expression of the incarnational word of God. As the late Lutheran Theologian, Vítor Westhelle, was fond of saying: God speaks dialect (the vernacular).

[2] The articles in this issue were born from a series of discussions at the ELCA Theological Roundtable regarding the impact of the work of the ELCA’s Theological Education Advisory Committee (initiated in April of 2013) on the various networks represented at the Roundtable. The Roundtable consists of two representatives from seven theological networks in the ELCA and the conference of bishops. The networks represented are: Asian Lutheran International Conference, Association of Teaching Theologians, Conference of Bishops, Conference of International Black Lutherans, Latino Scholars, Lutheran Alliance for Faith, Science and Technology, Lutheran Ethicists and Lutheran Women in Theological and Religious Studies. The conference of bishops and the Theological Discernment team of the office of the presiding bishop also have representation at the table. A unique feature of the Roundtable in the ELCA is its great diversity of ethnicity, gender, and race. After conversations with representatives of the latest permutation of the ELCA’s Theological Education Advisory Committee (TEAC) JLE commissioned two of its members to write articles reflecting on this conversations. We are grateful to Per Anderson from the Lutheran Ethicists network and Moses Penumaka, from the Asian Lutheran International Conference, for agreeing to share in written form their reflections on the future of Theological Education based on the work of TEAC.

[3] In the first article, Per Anderson, proposes that this process of rethinking how we do theological education offers an opportunity to be true to the Lutheran idea of the priesthood of all believers and consequently the need to provide all members, and not just rostered leaders, with adequate theological formation. As he sees it: “the Lutheran movement should become a network that serves a democratic turn to theological education for the whole people of God” (§1). Ultimately, he boldly claims, “in principle, the network should create democratic space for disruptive, prophetic, and emancipatory discourse and learning” (§18). What is at stake, according to Anderson, is the capacity of the church to be faithful to its core purpose of witnessing to the gospel in ways that are meaningful to today’s contexts. He sees the work of TEAC with cautious optimism.

[4] Moses Penumaka, writing from the context of Theological Education for Emerging Ministries (TEEM), celebrates the ELCA’s initiative to broaden the scope of theological education. He believes that TEAC can learn much from the way TEEM goes about forming leaders for the church. Particularly, he names how in the TEEM model: “the seminary goes to church and the church goes to seminary. Through TEEM, the church teaches and learns ways of ‘doing’ theology and ministry in a collaborative pedagogy of action-reflection-action.” (§5). This approach to theological education is much more accessible to so called communities of color and others for whom it would not be feasible to enter into a traditional four year seminary education program. Penumaka celebrates how TEAC seems to be moving closer to a more contextually sensitive approach to theological education where students’ rootedness in particular contexts is not seen as a deficit but rather as a source for theological enrichment, not just for the student but also for the church.

Carmelo Santos


Carmelo Santos

​Carmelo Santos, Ph.D., serves as associate pastor at St. Mark’s (San Marcos) Lutheran Church in Springfield, VA. He is also a lecturer at Georgetown University.