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The Dean Reflects: A Vision for Theological Education

Theological education takes place amidst the joys, frustrations, complexities, messiness, promise, and hope of everyday life. It is here that The Lutheran Theological Seminary at Philadelphia (LTSP), in its long 152-year history, has encountered a plethora of opportunities and challenges, some met, others lost, that ultimately have made the institution what it is today, and will lead us as a community into our shared future with Gettysburg Seminary (LTSG).

At the beginning of the academic year, recognizing that we are moving ahead into what we hope will be a bright future, we need to keep in mind the following questions:

  1. KiranSebastian-2015-web200What does it mean to be “united” in a context where fragmentation caused by economic, theological, social, race, gender, sexuality, and status-related differences are all on the increase? What does this mean in a context where Christians and those of other living faiths or those professing no faith at all are drifting apart due to denominational or ideological and other pressures, when an increasing number of groups claim exclusive allegiance to this or that leader or organization? Has the ecumenical vision of the unity of the church and the unity of humankind faded to a tired old cliché?
  2. What does it mean to practice “theology” in a context where values of crass materialism and worldly “success” seem to dominate? How can we practice an inclusive theology with those laboring under the inherited prejudices of a stratified society and a triumphalistic faith?
  3. What does it mean to be a “seminary” in a context where preconceptions and predeterminations regarding communities and individuals are deeply embedded into the life of teaching institutions, even at the higher ends of the educational enterprise?

With these questions posing a challenge and enlivening my thinking, my vision for the seminary includes:

  • Rediscovering the meaning of ministerial formation in terms of committed service and inclusive hospitality;
  • Reorienting the curricula of various degree programs to respond faithfully and sensitively to the ongoing challenges of everyday life in a multi-faith and multicultural context;
  • Rejuvenating relationships with local communities and congregations, national bodies and denominations, and international partners and enablers;
  • Reaffirming the value of those who fulfill the Biblical mandate of being teachers of the Word, in terms of recognizing the worth and wisdom of their work;
  • Reintegrating those who for various reasons believe they have been sidelined in decision-making processes, and working toward pragmatic shared governance and a collective way of strengthening the vision and mission of our seminary;
  • Refocusing on the national and international character of the seminary in various ways, including the opening of greater opportunities for students from underrepresented geographical regions and seeking beneficial partnerships with other denominations and service agencies;
  • Revitalizing the commitment of our seminary to challenge all forms of discrimination, especially those related to race, gender, and class, including addressing the “wall in one’s head.”

Recognizing that it is by God’s light that we see light (Psalm 36:9) and that we should never be ashamed to give an account of the hope that is within us (I Peter 3:15), it is my conviction that the ongoing work, life, and witness of our seminary family will continue to illumine the cause of theological education in the United States and beyond, and function as a beacon of faithful commitment in the footsteps of the one who calls us not to be served, but to serve (Mark 10:45).

– The Rev. Dr. J. Jayakiran Sebastian is Dean and H. George Anderson Professor of Mission and Cultures,
and Director of the Multicultural Mission Resource Center

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