In far too many cases, folks are content with the theological education they received during Sunday school, Bible Camp, confirmation, or at worse, some tv preacher who takes extreme liberties with interpretation, and for some reason doesn’t find a need to go any further. I really had no idea how widespread Biblical illiteracy was until I came across it in spades during my campaign work a couple years ago. Realistically, if the average Christian committed a mere 15 minutes every couple days to spend time in the scriptures, much of the Biblical illiteracy issue would go away. Unfortunately such an approach seems a rarity.
Optimistically, some of the problems might be due to an issue where the Holy Spirit puts fire on folks at different times, and many just arent there yet. Cynically, some may just be resisting the prompting of the Holy Spirit, and rather than being like the Berean dudes, they’d rather hear what some random tv guy has to say and take it as gospel, rather than seeing what scripture actually says..
Bible Study Groups
A few folks participate in Bible studies, and that can be pretty helpful, provided that the right environment is available. Disparaging those with sincere questions, or throwing out canned answers with little thought behind them often times leads to despair amongst some participants who then quit, leaving just a cloned group of like thinking, yet likely ineffective believers. Safe environment creation can be a major challenge, but alas for real education, and more so, for real change to occur in folks lives, it is a must.
Lastly, most Bible studies are very schedule, leader, and location dependent, as well as niche topics being impacted by the need for a critical mass. Ie, as much as I’d like to do a study on Sabellianism, I dont think I’d find many takers in Southeast MN.
For ministry volunteers, most people approach theological education from an informal learning point of view. Case in point, most Sunday school teachers rely on the included teacher aids (directed informal learning), plus prior education experiences, both formal(confirmation courses, from often many years ago) and informal(some small group Bible studies). The difficulty of such an approach is that it often does little to mitigate knowledge gaps beyond the material at hand, and secondly, its often not very time efficient.
Universitys and Seminarys
And of course, there is also the formal university, or seminary course of study. Such a course of study might include 20 different courses, which would total nearly 900 hours of classroom time, plus another 1800-2700 hours outside of class. Obviously the problems of time/schedule availability, finances, and the rather intense motivation required, preclude such for the majority of people. In addition, there is an assumption of an initial level of competence before starting down the path, and sadly, the necessary administrative hoop jumping needed anytime the word university or seminary is bantered about. Also, geography can play a role, in that the logistics may make such near impossible for many.
The average Joe in the middle
Thus, many folks are sort of in the middle, they have a zest for knowledge beyond what they see right at hand, but the aforementioned problems of formal study, just put such way beyond the scope of their current situation. As a result, the default learning mode for many is a series of books, often disjointed, some online discussions with peers, and in some cases anti-peers… and many years of feeling like they are pounding on sand, most noticeably, when they run up on the aforementioned knowledge gaps.
Opportunities abound online
The internet has opened some doors which may be beneficial. New podcasts, forums discussions, blogs, videos, wikis, and other user generated content appear every day, a great deal of it in the faith arena. Such content does have the potential to improve faith literacy… but it comes at a cost of the user having to sort out where the author may be coming from, as well as whats really important, both of which can be tricky to navigate. Ie, a dispensationalist may well be lost in covenant land, as would be the reverse, to say nothing of a Trinitarian in non-trin land.
Along that line of thinking, there is also the issue of unknowingly running afoul of ones denominational constructs. Its one thing to sit down and go through a Mormon course of study to understand where they are coming from, its another thing to do so inadvertently and find oneself embracing modalism. A similar deal would be a Lutheran mixed up with semi-Pelagianism, a Catholic embracing pre-tribulation eschatology, or an Arminian embracing Calvinism. Discernment can become a big deal pretty fast… If this was business, its almost bait and switch land, as often times one doesn’t get into troublesome aspects, until one is in the middle of a course of study. Again, no problem if one walks in with eyes wide open… but getting blindsided is another story.
Efficiency of Learning, Stickiness and Feedback
Another aspect is efficiency of learning. Most folks say, “whoa, I’d really like to know about topic abcde, but I just dont have the time” Perhaps they will read a book, or maybe an online essay and while such is helpful, it often times leaves some major holes, and far too often doesn’t stick too well.
Part of the efficiency of learning as well as the stickiness issue is the aspect of feedback… in far too many self study approaches, and even with online components, its lacking. I think everyone has had a favorite teacher who made learning simple, much of the time, such is feedback related. It may be motivation, tailoring presentation to the needs of the individual student, it may include periodic assessment, followed by extra help in ones weak areas, or it could even be acceleration through a course of study.
Feedback is vital for learning. If one is time starved, to skip feedback and assessment is a false economy, as without it, one often ends up running at much lower efficiency, or at worse, followed a rabbit trail in error, and thus has to go back and relearn things all over again.
Thus, a whole multitude of problems exist in theological education… the good thing is, most of them are solvable with the tools at hand, many of which are relatively recent and low cost developments. The two big questions that remain are… why hasnt anyone solved them?, or at least given said tools a good shot, and if they have, why have we not heard of it?