World Council of Churches

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Asian Forum on Theological Education (AFTE) Communiqué

Theological education in Asia has been constantly under review, aimed at making it more relevant in addressing the emerging local and global challenges as well as contextual issues, which demands that programs of theological education continue to strive to form Christian theological preachers and teachers who will witness to Christ.

31 August 2012

Rationale for AFTE

The global situation for theological education has changed. There is a discernible shift in the Christian demographic in the world church. In spite of numerous challenges, Asian churches continue to exhibit a healthy vitality and are assuming fuller responsibilities for their own governance and formation. Theological education in Asia has been constantly under review, aimed at making it more relevant in addressing the emerging local and global challenges as well as contextual issues. It has been generating ministerial practices and theologies which attempt to be faithful to both its Christian and Asian heritages. However, the rapidly changing situation in Asia demands that programs of theological education continue to strive to form Christian theological preachers and teachers who will witness to Christ while living harmoniously and in dialogue with their own brothers and sisters of the other Asian faith and cultures. 

The beginnings of AFTE

While the various churches in Asia have done much in developing authentic Asian theologies, much more could be done especially in their sharing with and learning from one another. For instance, while each of the Ecumenical, Evangelical, Pentecostal, and Roman Catholic theological education networks has its own associations to support them and agencies for accreditation, certainly more could be done in promoting conversation and cooperation across these networks. In an effort to address these concerns the Ecumenical Theological Education of the World Council of Churches (ETE-WCC) brought together representatives from a variety of theological associations to Bangkok in July 2010 to explore more meaningful ways to pursue active collaboration. The participants of the workshop affirmed the need for some sort of forum where such discussions can take place in a more concerted fashion. This resulted in the formation of the Asian Forum on Theological Education (AFTE), which had its first meeting in Singapore in June 2011 and the second in Jakarta in August 2012.  

Participants at AFTE

The participants were mainly theological educators who came from a variety of backgrounds, with very different stories and histories, and with a diversity of experience in Christian ministries. There were representatives from the mainline Protestant churches, the Evangelical and Pentecostal churches, and the Roman Catholic churches.[1]

Discussions at AFTE

The participants began by expressing their gratefulness to the Western missions for bringing the light of Christ to Asia. But they also acknowledged that this colonial history comes with the problems which denominational differences bring. This has exacerbated the challenge to realizing the prayer of our Lord “that they may all be one” (Jn 17:12). Convinced that efforts at developing a truly Asian Christianity (worked out amongst Asians and for Asians) might be a plausible way in which collaboration across the denominations could be fostered, they stressed the need for contextualizing the Christian faith. Contextual theology is best done in dialogue, not only with Asian resources but also with Asians of other faith traditions and Christian denominations.

The nature of AFTE

The participants were emphatic that collaboration does not mean the establishment of another structure, least of all a meta-institution to govern the various churches. Instead, what was proposed was some form of working arrangement where all the denominations or theological institutions or networks of organizations can come together to address issues beyond their own particular associations. The aim is the establishment of concrete links across the theological networks to facilitate mutually beneficial cooperative ventures. These efforts can also include the pulling together of resources so that they can be shared amongst themselves and especially with those in greatest need and even with colleagues and partners from across the globe. The proposal is for no more than a forum, a space more akin to an open tent or simply an old-fashioned umbrella where the representatives of the various institutions and associations can come together to work and dream together for a new vision of Christianity not only in Asia but also of Asia.

Contacting AFTE

AFTE invites you and your theological institution or network to the table in order to enrich the conversation. Meantime, you are also invited to participate in a “global survey on theological education,” which can be found in this online link:

[1] Amongst the institutions represented in these meetings are the Board of Theological Education of Senate of Serampore College (BTESSC), Association for Theological Education in South East Asia (ATESEA), Asia Theological Association (ATA), Asia Pacific Theological Association (APTA), Association for Theological Education in Myanmar (ATEM), Association of Theological Schools in Indonesia (PERSETIA), Christian Conference of Asia (CCA), Bangkok Institute of Theology (BIT), SSC (SCEPTRE), PTCA, PERSETIA, KAATS, ATEM, MATS, PATS, Vietnam Christian Mission and the FTESEA.