Roundtable Talk: Three Pastors Reflect on Theological Education

Graduates of Jiangsu Theological Seminary held spiritual books to take a picture during a commencement ceremony on June 17, 2022.
Graduates of Jiangsu Theological Seminary held spiritual books to take a picture during a commencement ceremony on June 17, 2022.
By Esther TianJune 28th, 2023

In recent years, theological education in China has been in full swing, but it has encountered problems and issues. For instance, there are the doctrinal disputes: some believers are increasingly rational; some are more arrogant due to an increase in knowledge—overconfidence; and some spend too much time in theology but not enough on seeking the Lord.

The Christian Times interviewed several pastors from different regions about the impact of theology on churches and the lives of believers from their perspectives.

Pastor Dapeng began serving the church in the early 1990s, transitioning from a rural church pastor to an urban church leader. Pastor Dapeng states that he is not opposed to theology because orthodox theology needs to be passed on as an apologetic work, but he objects to the idea that all believers study theology.

He argues that if one does not have the basic knowledge of the Bible and go to study theology, then one will usually believe whatever others teach you. Especially for pastors in their 30s and 40s, they only graduated from junior high school, and many of them do not like to read books or the Bible.

Therefore, he believes that applicants must be equipped with biblical foundations before studying theology because a denomination has a denominational angle and concept. These ideas are not necessarily perfectly biblical, and anyone’s theories need to be balanced within the Bible.

Pastor Dapeng himself has a junior high school education, but he used to read the Bible for more than 10 hours a day when he first came to Christ. So when he and many pastors participated in a theological training, he was able to use his theological view of the Bible to distinguish whether the lecturer’s teaching was true or false.

He was also offered an exceptional admission to a master’s degree, but he gave it up because he found that it took much time to really engage in theology: browsing books, writing up assignments and essays, even writing books, and so on. For a pastor, he thinks he should ensure that he has enough time before God to devote himself in order to be able to serve.

Moreover, Pastor Dapeng finds that after studying theology, some people do not love and resemble the Lord more but become more rational and proud. Some feel that they are the purest because of their theological education and that those pastors have problems with their teachings; they often criticize other denominations and their believers. There are even some false theologies mixed with human intention that bring people to a point where they deny or misinterpret the signs and wonders of the Bible, deny the absolute accuracy of the Bible, and even deny the duality of God and man.

Because there is no guarantee that all theological education will be passed on without human content, it is difficult to have accurate discernment for those who do not have a biblical foundation. Therefore, Pastor Dapeng suggests everyone first familiarize themselves with the Bible, establish their own theology from the Bible, and then choose to study a theology program according to personal circumstances.

Brother Chang Yuan (pseudonym), a church worker in the northern region, is also a Christian who loves to read, but he has a different opinion from Pastor Dapeng.

For the few illiterate and incapable elderly believers, Brother Chang Yuan feels that they don't need to study theology. It is enough for them to simply know and believe in God, but for others, studying theology is necessary because it leads to a greater understanding of God.

In Brother Chang's view, studying theology should be like reading the Bible; the more you read the Bible, the more you love the Lord, and after learning theology, you should also love the Lord more. He believes that people who can be moved by the Bible can also be moved by theology, because theology summarizes biblical beliefs. So after studying theology, people are not meant to be more rational but more emotional. He advises that when choosing theological books, readers should choose authors with a living biblical foundation.

Brother Chang also acknowledges that there are problems in theological education in the church in China, saying, “Due to the lack of Christian culture, many Christians in China, having studied theology, only memorize the concepts and do not live a life of walking with God. As a result, after studying theology, they just load up their brains with knowledge, and life itself does not change much. It can also be said that there is only rational understanding, and this cognitive system is relatively superficial, which naturally leads to superficial service.”

He emphasizes that Christians must be clear about the purpose of studying theology in order to know the Lord better, love the Lord more, and become more united. Not to picket the sins of others, but if the mentality is flawed, the devil uses it.

He believes that if one loves the Lord very much before studying theology but the contradictions between one and his fellow believers increase after studying, this is not a problem with theology but a problem with himself.

Brother Jing (pseudonym) is a young pastor whose church is very focused on theological training. He claims that believers need to have a personal experience with God on the one hand, and on the other hand, they need to strengthen their doctrine through theology.

Brother Jing is more concerned that some believers place too much emphasis on spiritual experience and signs and wonders, which can easily be taken away by heresies. Therefore, he believes that the church must use theology to teach clear doctrines to believers so that they can have a solid foundation.

Jing’s church is different from the general church in that its pastoral community is mainly made up of young people who will be provided with theological education. However, he says that in the pastoral process, he finds that theology does not change young people. When they encounter trouble, theology does not help them much. So he is also thinking about how to balance the relationship between believers and the Lord to make a breakthrough.

What position should theological education occupy in the church and the lives of believers, what kind of people are suitable for studying theology, how much time should be devoted to theology, and how to regard theological education are issues we need to think about.

- Translated by Charlie Li

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