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Imagining the Future of Theological Education: Episode 4

Podcast Episode 4


A conversation with Rev. Dr. Fernando Cascante, Executive Director of The Association for Hispanic Theological Education in Orlando & Rev. Dr. Sarah Drummond, Founding Dean of Andover Newton Seminary at Yale Divinity School in New Haven, CT, bringing together diverse perspectives on theological education in America today.

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Read the show notes for Episode 4

Community-Based Models of Theological Education

Rev. Dr. Fernando Cascante and Rev. Dr. Sarah Drummond join hosts Dr. David Mellott and Dr. Deborah Mullen, reflecting on the history of religious education in America at the community level and in degreed programs. The conversation provides insight into how an ATS task force recently updated standards to create more equitable, contextual learning environments for theological education. Finally, participants share their hopes and thoughts for the future of theological learning.

3 questions covered in this episode

  1. How has religious education in North America evolved at both the community level and degreed level?
  2. What are 5 essential words Bible institutes should keep in mind when providing theological education to their communities?
  3. What considerations did members of the ATS task force charged with developing new standards focus on when developing the recently approved standards?

Episode Summary

The conversation considers the history and current state of community-based models of theological education, including the role of Bible institutes in serving communities. Participants discuss how the recently approved ATS standards may lead to more equitable, contextualized and collaborative approach to theological education.

Conversational Highlights:

2:45 – What is the unique contribution of Bible institutes and other community-based models? How can religious education at the community level be more equitable, hospitable and inclusive to persons of color?

  • What is the unique contribution of Bible institutes and other community-based models? How can religious education at the community level be more equitable, hospitable and inclusive to persons of color?
  • Accessibility
  • Adaptability
  • Affordability
  • Contextuality
  • Missionality

9:10 – How do Bible Institutes inform pathways for those served?

  • ATS task force reflected on a pathway for students who want to pursue master’s level theological education but may not have an undergraduate degree
  • From a community perspective, theological education may be viewed through the lens of a “garden hose” metaphor, spreading its resources across a broader landscape than the “pipeline” of a program equipping students for a pastoral role

11:42 – What were some insights gleaned by the ATS task force responsible for the redevelopment of standards? How are these standards designed to make theological education more equitable and inclusive?

  • New standards have been streamlined, by moving to a higher level of abstraction that focuses not on practices, but places huge focus on principles of high quality education
  • ATS standards focus on two objectives: leadership development and accrediting to support quality control. Many denominations delegate the quality control function to ATS
  • ATS accredits two types of institutions – freestanding seminaries and divinity schools embedded in a university
  • Accreditation emerged in the early 20th century to bring professional accreditation to pastoral education. Redevelopment of standards sought to reject traditional mindsets of traditional approaches to theological education

25:16 – What are the new questions theological institutions are considering when it comes to their programs and accreditation?

  • The questions are moving away from ‘do you have enough?” to ‘why are you doing this and what is your purpose’? What are you trying to accomplish and can you fulfill this purpose with integrity?
  • Accreditors are moving out of micro-managing, and the new standards name a value, allowing institutions to provide evidence of how they are leaning into a value

28:34 – Imagining the future of theological education, what would you like to see?

  • New standards take the stigma out of other types of non-degreed forms of education
  • New standards focus on effectiveness and collaboration across congregations, Bible institutes, seminaries, etc.
  • Collaboration and cross-fertilization become crucial across varied types of environments
  • Looking toward the future, there is a hope to move from forced assimilation to a contextually appropriate experience with a high degree of collaboration