ICETE Manifesto on the Renewal of Evangelical Theological Education

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The origins of the Manifesto go back to meetings of the International Council for Evangelical Theological Education (ICETE), held at Chongoni, Malawi, in 1981. As a new body linking programmes of evangelical theological education worldwide, ICETE determined to draw up for public consideration a “Manifesto on the Renewal of Evangelical Theological Education.” After wide consultation, and several revisions, the following statement was unanimously adopted by ICETE in 1983, and was subsequently published in Theological Education Today 16:2 (April-June 1984) 1-6, and in the Evangelical Review of Theology 8:1 (April 1984) 136-43. This third edition (2002) incorporates minor changes in wording and presentation, together with a revised preface.

ICETE wanted a very specific kind of statement for its Manifesto. It wanted a statement that would clearly articulate the broad consensus on renewal which it believed already exists—often unrecognised—among evangelical theological educators worldwide. And, realising how far short evangelical theological education often falls with respect to such renewal, ICETE also wanted a document which could provide encouragement, guidance and critical challenge in pursuing renewal.

In using the Manifesto one must therefore carefully recognise both what it is trying to do, and what it is not trying to do. The Manifesto is trying to define those aspects of the renewal agenda for evangelical theological education which appear already to have gained very broad agreement, but which nevertheless have not yet been attained in large measure in practice. The Manifesto is not trying to present a comprehensive model for quality theological education. Rather it is attempting to identify certain specific gaps in our achievement of such a model. Nor is the Manifesto seeking to designate every form of renewal which ought to be pursued. Rather it is attempting to identify those particular aspects on which consensus now seems to exist. The expectation is that, once we recognise how much agreement already exists among us in what we have yet to achieve, we will be able to work together for its implementation in a better climate of understanding, with more attentiveness, with a greater precision of focus, and with an increased motivation to explore additional points of agreement. The Manifesto is intended therefore not as a final step, but as a specific, practical first step in an ongoing cooperative venture in renewal.

Through republication of this Manifesto in a third edition, ICETE and its constituent movements seek once again to declare publicly their commitment to the renewal of evangelical theological education, and to secure for themselves and for others a continuing sense of common direction in pursuing such renewal.


We who serve within evangelical theological education throughout the world today, and who find ourselves now linked together in growing international cooperation, wish to give united voice to our longing and prayer for the renewal of evangelical theological education today—for a renewal in form and in substance, a renewal in vision and in power, a renewal in commitment and in direction.

We rightly seek such renewal in light of the pivotal significance of theological education in biblical perspective. Insofar as theological education concerns the formation of leadership for the church of Christ in its mission, to that extent theological education assumes a critically strategic biblical importance. Scripture mandates the church, it mandates leadership service within that church, and it thereby as well mandates a vital concern with the formation of such leadership. For this reason the quest for effective renewal in evangelical theological education in our day is a biblically-generated quest.

We rightly seek such renewal in light also of the crisis of leadership facing the church of Christ around the world. The times are weighted with unusual challenge and unusual opportunity, demanding of the church exceptional preparation of its leadership. In many areas the church is faced with surging growth, of such proportions that it cannot always cope. In many areas the church is also faced with open hostility without and hidden subversion within, distracting and diverting it from its calling. Everywhere the opportunities and challenges take on new and confusing forms. The times demand an urgent quest for the renewal of theological educational patterns, that the church in its leadership may be equipped to fulfil its high calling under God.

We rightly seek such renewal also in light of the condition of evangelical theological education in our day. We recognise among ourselves exciting examples of that renewed vitality in theological education which we desire to see everywhere put to the service of our Lord. Things are being done right within traditional patterns and within non-traditional patterns, which need attention, encouragement and emulation. We also recognise that there are examples in our midst, usually all too close at hand, where things are not being done right. We confess this with shame. Traditional forms are being maintained only because they are traditional, and radical forms pursued only because they are radical—and the formation of effective leadership for the church of Christ is seriously hindered. We heartily welcome the wise critiques of evangelical theological education which have arisen in recent times, which have forced us to think much more carefully both about our purposes in theological education and about the best means for achieving those purposes. We believe that there is now emerging around the world a wide consensus among evangelical theological educators that a challenge to renewal is upon us, and upon us from our Lord. We believe that there is also emerging a broad agreement on the central patterns that such a renewal should take. New times are upon us, and new opportunities. We wish to pursue these opportunities, and seize them, in obedience to the Lord.

Therefore, in order to provide encouragement, guidance and critical challenge to ourselves and to all others who may look to us for direction, we wish to assert and endorse the following agenda for the renewal of evangelical theological education worldwide today, and to pledge ourselves to its practical energetic implementation. We do not presume that we are here setting forth either a full or a final word on these matters. But we do make this expression after extended prayerful reflection, and we wish to offer the hand of warm friendship to all those who may likewise feel led to endorse these proposals, and to express to them an invitation to practical collaboration in this quest, for the sake of Jesus Christ our Lord, the evangelisation of the world, and the establishment and edification of the church.

Therefore, we now unitedly affirm that, to fulfil its God-given mandate, evangelical theological education today worldwide must vigorously seek to introduce and reinforce…

1. Contextualization

Our programmes of theological education must be designed with deliberate reference to the contexts in which they serve. We are at fault that our curricula so often appear either to have been imported whole from abroad, or to have been handed down unaltered from the past. The selection of courses for the curriculum, and the content of every course in the curriculum, must be specifically suited to the context of service. To become familiar with the context in which the biblical message is to be lived and preached is no less vital to a well-rounded programme than to become familiar with the content of that biblical message. Indeed, not only in what is taught, but also in structure and operation our theological programmes must demonstrate that they exist in and for their specific context, in governance and administration, in staffing and finance, in teaching styles and class assignments, in library resources and student services. This we must accomplish, by God's grace.

2. Churchward orientation

Our programmes of theological education must orient themselves pervasively in terms of the Christian community being served. We are at fault when our programmes operate merely in terms of some traditional or personal notion of theological education. At every level of design and operation our programmes must be visibly determined by a close attentiveness to the needs and expectations of the Christian community we serve. To this end we must establish multiple modes of ongoing interaction between programme and church, both at official and at grassroots levels, and regularly adjust and develop the programme in the light of these contacts. Our theological programmes must become manifestly of the church, through the church and for the church. This we must accomplish, by God's grace.

3. Strategic flexibility

Our programmes of theological education must nurture a much greater strategic flexibility in carrying out their task. Too long we have been content to serve the formation of only one type of leader for the church, at only one level of need, by only one educational approach. If we are to serve fully the leadership needs of the body of Christ, then our programmes singly and in combination must begin to demonstrate much greater flexibility in at least three respects.

Firstly, we must attune ourselves to the full range of leadership roles required, and not attend only to the most familiar or most basic. To provide for pastoral formation, for example, is not enough. We must also respond creatively, in cooperation with other programmes, to the church's leadership needs in areas such as Christian education, youth work, evangelism, journalism and communications, TEE, counselling, denominational and parachurch administration, seminary and Bible school staffing, community development, and social outreach.

Secondly, our programmes must learn to take account of all academic levels of need, and not become frozen in serving only one level. We must not presume that the highest level of training is the only strategic need, nor conversely that the lowest level is the only strategic need. We must deliberately participate in multi-level approaches to leadership training, worked out on the basis of an assessment of the church's leadership needs as a whole at all levels.

Thirdly, we must embrace a greater flexibility in the educational modes by which we touch the various levels of leadership need, and not limit our approach to a single traditional or radical pattern. We must learn to employ, in practical combination with others, both residential and extension systems, both formal and non-formal styles, as well, for example, as short-term courses, workshops, evening classes, holiday institutes, in-service training, travelling seminars, refresher courses, and continuing education programmes. Only by such flexibility in our programmes can the church's full spectrum of leadership needs begin to be met, and we ourselves become true to our full mandate. This we must accomplish, by God's grace.

4. Theological grounding

Evangelical theological education as a whole today needs earnestly to pursue and recover a thorough-going theology of theological education. We are at fault that we so readily allow our bearings to be set for us by the latest enthusiasms, or by secular rationales, or by sterile traditions. It is not sufficient that we attend to the context of our service and to the Christian community being served. We must come to perceive our task, and even these basic points of reference, within the larger setting of God's total truth and God's total plan. Such a shared theological perception of our calling is largely absent from our midst. We must together take immediate and urgent steps to seek, elaborate and possess a biblically-informed theological basis for our calling in theological education, and to allow every aspect of our service to become rooted and nurtured in this soil. This we must accomplish, by God's grace.

5. Continuous assessment

Our programmes of theological education must be dominated by a rigorous practice of identifying objectives, assessing outcomes, and adjusting programmes accordingly. We have been too easily satisfied with educational intentions that are unexpressed, or only superficially examined, or too general to be of directional use. We have been too ready to assume our achievements on the basis of vague impressions, chance reports, or crisis-generated inquiries. We have been culpably content with evaluating our programmes only irregularly, or haphazardly, or under stress. We hear our Lord's stern word about the faithful stewardship He requires in His servants, but we have largely failed to apply this to the way we conduct our programmes of theological education.

Firstly, we must let our programmes become governed by objectives carefully chosen, clearly defined, and continuously reviewed.

Secondly, we must accept it as a duty, and not merely as beneficial, to discern and evaluate the results of our programmes, so that there may be a valid basis for judging the degree to which intentions are being achieved. This requires that we institute means for reviewing the actual performance of our graduates in relation to our stated objectives.

Thirdly, we must build into the normal operational patterns of our programmes a regular review and continual modification and adjustment of all aspects of governance, staffing, educational programme, facilities, and student services, so that actual achievements might be brought to approximate more and more closely our stated objectives.

Only by such provisions for continuous assessment can we be true to the rigorous demands of biblical stewardship. This we must accomplish, by God's grace.

6. Community life

Our programmes of theological education must demonstrate the Christian pattern of community. We are at fault that our programmes so often seem little more than Christian academic factories, efficiently produce graduates. It is biblically incumbent on us that our programmes function as deliberately nurtured Christian educational communities, sustained by those modes of community that are biblically commended and culturally appropriate. To this end it is not merely decorative but biblically essential that the whole educational body—staff and students—not only learns together, but plays and eats and cares and worships and works together. This we must accomplish, by God's grace.

7. Integrated programme

Our programmes of theological education must combine spiritual and practical with academic objectives in one holistic integrated educational approach. We are at fault that we so often focus educational requirements narrowly on cognitive attainments, while we hope for student growth in other dimensions but leave it largely to chance. Our programmes must be designed to attend to the growth and equipping of the whole man of God. This means, firstly, that our educational programmes must deliberately foster the spiritual formation of the student. We must look for a spiritual development centred in total commitment to the lordship of Christ, progressively worked outward by the power of the Spirit into every department of life. We must devote as much time and care and structural designing to facilitate this type of growth as we readily and rightly provide for cognitive growth. This also means, secondly, that our programmes must foster achievement in the practical skills of Christian leadership. We must no longer introduce these skills only within a classroom setting. We must incorporate into our educational arrangements and requirements a guided practical field experience in precisely those skills which the student will need to employ in service after completion of the programme. We must provide adequately supervised and monitored opportunities for practical vocational field experience. We must blend practical and spiritual with academic in our educational programmes, and thus equip the whole man of God for service. This we must accomplish, by God's grace.

8. Servant moulding

Through our programmes of theological education students must be moulded to styles of leadership appropriate to their intended biblical role within the body of Christ. We are at fault that our programmes so readily produce the characteristics of elitism and so rarely produce the characteristics of servanthood. We must not merely hope that the true marks of Christian servanthood will appear. We must actively promote biblically approved styles of leadership through modelling by the staff and through active encouragement, practical exposition, and deliberate reinforcement. This we must accomplish, by God's grace.

9. Instructional variety

Our programmes of theological education must vigorously pursue the use of a variety of educational teaching methodologies, evaluated and promoted in terms of their demonstrated effectiveness, especially with respect to the particular cultural context. It is not right to become fixed in one method merely because it is traditional, or familiar, or even avant-garde. Lecturing is by no means the only appropriate teaching method, and frequently not the best. Presumably the same may be said of programmed instruction. Our programmes need to take practical steps to introduce and train their staff in new methods of instruction, in a spirit of innovative flexibility and experimentation, always governed by the standards of effectiveness. This we must accomplish, by God's grace.

10. A Christian mind

Our programmes of theological education need much more effectively to model and inculcate a pattern of holistic thought that is openly and wholesomely centred around biblical truth as the integrating core of reality. It is not enough merely to teach an accumulation of theological truths. Insofar as every human culture is governed at its core by an integrating world view, our programmes must see that the rule of the Lord is planted effectively at that point in the life of the student. This vision of the theologically integrated life needs to be so lived and taught in our programmes that we may say and show in a winsomely biblical manner that theology does indeed matter, and students may go forth experiencing this centring focus in all its biblical richness and depth. This we must accomplish, by God's grace.

11. Equipping for growth

Our programmes of theological education need urgently to refocus their patterns of training towards encouraging and facilitating self-directed learning. It is not enough that through our programmes we bring a student to a state of preparedness for ministry. We need to design academic requirements so that we are equipping the student not only to complete the course but also for a lifetime of ongoing learning and development and growth. To this end we must also assume a much greater role in the placement of our students, as part of our proper duty, and experiment in ways of maintaining ongoing supportive links and services with them after graduation, especially in the early years of ministry. By these means each student should come to experience through the programme not the completion of a development but the launching of an ongoing development. This we must accomplish, by God's grace.

12. Cooperation

Our programmes of theological education must pursue contact and collaboration among themselves for mutual support, encouragement, edification and cross-fertilisation. We are at fault that so often in evangelical theological education we attend merely to our own assignments under God. Others in the same calling need us, and we need them. The biblical notion of mutuality needs to be much more visibly expressed and pragmatically pursued among our theological programmes. Too long we have acquiesced in an isolation of effort that denies the larger body of Christ, thus failing both ourselves and Christ's body. The times in which we serve, no less than biblical expectations, demand of each of us active ongoing initiatives in cooperation. This we must accomplish, by God's grace.

May God help us to be faithful to these affirmations and commitments, to the glory of God and for the fulfilment of His purposes.