A Worldwide Vision for Theological Education

The prayer guide Operation World has taught much over the years.


Operation World (OW) is widely regarded as the definitive volume of prayer information about the world and is the recipient of the ECPA Gold Medallion Award for Excellence in Evangelical Christian Literature.

OW has had seven editions published. The most recent is from 2010, which is a complete update of the 21st century edition, released in 2001. The previous edition was published in 1993. The original edition was produced in 1964, from South Africa, and was only 32 pages of basic information about 30 countries. It has  been translated into several other languages: German, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Indonesian, and in part into Italian. The cumulative number of copies printed in all languages exceeds 2 million.

By its estimates, only 16.7 percent of Christians lived in Africa, Asia, and Latin America in 1900. That figure rose to 63.2 percent by 2010 and is projected to reach 70 percent in a few years. Some movements have experienced especially remarkable growth. Today, for example, there are more than 600 million evangelicals in these regions — 12 times as many as there were in the year of my birth. Some in the media depict “evangelicals” only in terms of particular US subcultures, yet evangelicals in the global South outnumber those in the West many times over!

This rapid expansion of Christian movements, according Craig Keener has far outpaced the availability of theological education. He writes:

If some strategic oversight existed, Christians would rapidly redeploy the majority of theological resources from North America to provide training for these growing churches. Although various denominations are helpfully supplying many Bible schools in these regions, they cannot keep pace with evangelism. Traditional, multiyear education (in which most of us are involved) is not adequate to the task in such areas.

Lots of our members go to isolated places to give tuition in remote areas, just reaching a few people. Their missionary work is consuming a lot of energy and very costly. Another way which increased a lot recently, to teach people about the Word of God, is the use of internet, making it possible to reach people all over the world.

We and our brethren provide short- and long-term educational programs in real life and have correspondence courses. Those distance learning projects receive less and less interest, the contemporary youth more interested in the facility of internet and its apps or application software. Today there are so many software applications designed to run on a mobile device such as a mobile or smartphone, tablet, or even a watch, that those popular gadgets get the overtone.

We must be well aware that the majority has not really sufficient possibilities to get a good Biblical education and religious guidance via internet.

In many of the most needy areas, average Christians have limited personal access to the internet. Moreover, indigenous believers understand local needs better than Western Christians can from afar. Finally, not everyone knows which resources are best: the internet menu offers healthy fare, but it also offers junk food and the spiritual equivalent of potassium cyanide. So we need to supplement these resources where possible.

What we also notice with the many Bible apps is that people just get offered an amount of bible verses taken out of context and repeatedly presented to them, without some real good explanation or comparison to other Bible verses. The same as we see in  a lot of mega-churches is that lots of Bible verses or used, or better ‘mis-used’ to lure people in certain ideas or to excite them and to get money from them.

There are many global contexts where theological education is rapidly expanding.

says Keener.

Several years ago, the president of the Society for New Testament Studies suggested that perhaps a generation from now the major theological languages will no longer be English, German, and French but Korean and Chinese.

The trend of Mandarin becoming more and more, an important business and lingua franca can be seen already a few years. In many countries, like ours, Chinese is one of the favourite evening class subjects.

The president of the Society for New Testament Studies also noted the proliferation of resources in Portuguese and his own language of Spanish. Keener adds to this:

I would exceed my word count if I began listing high-quality seminaries I have personally visited outside the West.

Obviously, we cannot uproot North American theological institutions and transplant them into other cultures; indeed, investing in trustworthy indigenous institutions already engaging those languages and cultures would be far more cost-effective. Majority-world seminaries have many professors from their own cultures, and the need for training in the West will eventually decline.

In this time of global transition, however, many of the majority world’s future professors are still training in the West, and we have great opportunity to serve them. Serving those who are committed to return to serve their cultures is a great privilege for us, worthy of our deploying of resources.

Even as we seek to serve our international students, we also need to learn from them.
Some who humbly sit in our classes have planted churches on the front lines of the gospel, have endured persecution or poverty, have pastored megachurches, or have themselves taught more students than we have.
In many parts of the West, these students bring a vibrant faith and experiences that can enrich our own service for Christ. May the Lord grant us a global vision to witness what he is doing in our world today, so across cultures we may partner together for Christ’s mission.


Craig S. Keeners is professor of New Testament at Asbury Theological Seminary, and is the author of 17 books, four of which have won book awards in Christianity Today. One, The IVP Bible Background Commentary: New Testament, has sold more than half a million copies. His latest project explores the historiographic implications of the gospel genre. He also is writing a one-volume Acts commentary.

4 thoughts on “A Worldwide Vision for Theological Education

  1. Pingback: Isolated students and internet learning | Bijbelvorser = Bible Researcher

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