Doing Theological Education in a Poverty and Oppressed Context: a Philippine Scenario

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In February 2005, the author interviewed 27 theological educators from three different Protestant-Evangelical seminaries in the Philippines regarding the role of theological education in addressing the problem of poverty and oppression. Partial but important conclusions appear in this short article. The first section of this article speaks about the present situation of theological education in the Philippines as perceived by theological educators. The second section speaks about the necessary recommendation to amend the present conditions.

Present Perceived Conditions of Theological
Education in the Philippines
The perceived purpose of theological education to be contextually relevant does not match up with the disciplines in which their graduates excel.

Theological educators believe that theological education exists to serve their churches and their denominations through equipping future church leaders for contextually relevant church ministries. A few of them also pointed out that one of the purposes is to develop church workers who would become catalysts for social transformation. However, a majority of these theological educators also believed that their graduates excel primarily in the area of Biblical scholarship. Biblical scholarship, according to the understanding of these theological educators, refers to competency in Biblical languages, translation from the original language to English, Biblical exegesis, and systematic theology. Scholarship is perceived as simply engagement of the Biblical texts, theological literature and reformulation of theological confessions that adhere to denominational confessions. Consequently, Biblical studies ignore the social realities of the church with which the Bible is supposed to engage. Ministry to the poor and oppressed was rarely perceived as a discipline where their graduates excel. Theological educators pointed to colonialism, among other factors, as the major rationale for the relative lack of attention to poverty and oppression.

Theological educators identified colonialism as the major reason for the relative lack of attention from theological education in the Philippine towards poverty and oppression. Other factors exist but many of them could be attributed to the aftermath of colonialism, such as the dualistic orientation to theology, the lack of models for theological education, and a Western curriculum that tends to favor middle-class Americans. Protestant missions contributed to the cultural and educational expansion which America espoused as its colonial policy in the Philippines. Theological education wore colonial clothing from the very beginning. Such education miseducated the early Filipino Christians because it modeled theological education from the West which was designed for middle-class white America, dualistic in viewing reality and therefore alien to the contextual reality of the country.[1] To borrow Paulo Freire’s word, Filipinos became “objects” or depositories of knowledge crafted in the West instead of becoming “subjects” who would have the ability to critically observe, analyze and make conclusions about things essential to their contextual reality (Freire 2000, 3, 4). Consequently, theological education disconnected itself from the real life issues of the Filipino people. The presence of colonialism continues to be seen though the power of money coming from the West according to a former dean of a seminary.

Despite the commendable efforts of theological educators to raise social consciousness and to equip students to minister to the poor the relative lack of attention to poverty and oppression continues.

Despite the efforts exerted by theological educators to raise social consciousness and to equip students to minister to the poor, they could not help but witness the...
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