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Keynote address on theology and unity in Oslo consultation

Oslo consultation by Rev. Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary, WCC, on the “The future of theology in the changing landscapes of universities in Europe and beyond”, 6 June 2012.

06 June 2012


Oslo consultation on the “The future of theology in the changing landscapes of universities in Europe and beyond”, 6 June 2012

1. The future of theology in Europe and beyond – the significance of this consultation and its theme

It is a great privilege to welcome you on behalf of the WCC to this international consultation which has been developed as a joint initiative between WCC-ETE program, the MF School of Theology and the Conference of European Churches. While the organizers of this conference for good reasons have decided to focus on “The future of theology in the changing landscapes of universities in Europe and beyond” I would like to take the liberty of widening our perspectives and to contribute some reflections specifically related to WCC under the title “Theology and unity in the changing landscape of World Christianity”.

The context for this consultation offers different perspectives to the reflections on theology and unity. Let me mention some of them:

- It is a personal privilege to welcome you in this Norwegian School of theology here in Oslo as an important part of my own theological journey and formation is connected to this house.

The theological understanding of unity as a gift given in and through the Gospel and the sacraments, as this particularly is developed and shaped in the Lutheran tradition and confession, has a potential for the ecumenical movement. I have come to appreciate this perspective. As a student of this faculty, and as a pastor and servant of the ecumenical movement I have tried to focus on this gift in many contexts. As the 500th anniversary of the publication of the radical and critical theses  of the university professor Martin Luther is approaching in 2017, we are reminded of the potential of theological reflection and discussion. The upcoming anniversary can have an impact on theology and the unity of the churches, if it becomes a new reflection – and celebration – of the meaning of the Gospel in different contexts today.

-  It is also a common privilege to welcome you together with other Norwegian colleagues to this country, Norway, which has an important Christian heritage and long history of state-church relations which just recently has entered into a new stage: The dissolution of the traditional state-church status which was welcomed in the Church of Norway as a way to strengthen the independence of the Church of Norway. Hopefully it can also lead to a strengthening of the public relevance of Christian theology in this country. This new situation raises several questions to the dynamic between theology and church unity. The Church of Norway needs to reflect on its identity and structure as to what unites this church, as the state and the King are not offering a framework for the unity of the church any longer. The relevance of ecumenical theological reflections for this process is quite obvious. These changes reflect also the changes in the Norwegian society: from a rather mono-cultural and mono-religious society towards a more multi-cultural and multi-religious society. A substantial part of the immigrants in Norway are actively practising their religion. Many of them are Muslims or Christians, and the landscape of religious worshippers is rapidly changing in a city like Oslo. The theological institutions and educational systems have new challenges to face here and in Europe. I am convinced that they can benefit from the work done by ETE and connect to different church traditions and new developments through the theological institutions represented in this network. And many of them are well represented n this consultation.

- The role of theology to reflect and to give relevant contributions to the unity of humankind, within this nation and beyond its borders, is particularly called for again these days. In the on-going trial against a terrorist and mass-murderer claiming to serve an ideology of protecting the European culture and Christian heritage this becomes particularly obvious. The bottom line of this ideology – as any other ideology and praxis of discriminately favoring one group against another – is that we are not equally sharing the same dignity and status as human beings. Some “are to be regarded as ‘animals’”, as it was literally said in the Norwegian court just the other day.  – Facing these disastrous ideological distortions of what truly constitutes humanity, the public relevance and critical role of Christian theology has become even more manifest and obvious again. Everybody has become aware how much we need (and cannot just take for granted) solid ethical values in society. Everybody who claims a faith in the one God has to prove how this faith serves the one humanity, whether we are Jews, Muslims or Christians.

This international consultation provides an opportunity to share experiences and to develop common perspectives on the role and relevance of Christian theology and theological education both in university and in private higher education institutions in rapidly changing contexts of societies in Europe and beyond. Seen historically it is both a timely and unique event and opportunity for at least three reasons:

a) This conference provides an opportunity to continue the so-called Graz process of theological faculties in Europe[1] which has attempted to form a European forum of dialogue and exchange of theological faculties from Protestant, Roman Catholic and Orthodox background to seek for common answers to the ongoing processes of reorientation within the European Higher Education Area which have been started by the so-called Bologna process;

b) This conference in a more particular dimension provides a chance to focus specifically on important changes, potentials as well as risks with regard to the positioning and role of Christian theology within current academic environments, public universities as well as private higher education institutions which are a obvious not only within Europe, but in many other contexts and continents as well;

c) This conference provides an opportunity to highlight the strategic role and accountability of Christian theology and theological education in the context of World Christianity. Christian theology for our understanding always and in all continents has a double accountability: Christian theology relates to the church – and we emphasize – always to the whole church – by providing solid grounding and critical reflection for authentic Christian public witness, mission and social service of Christian churches in a context which is marked by massive changes in the landscape of World Christianity. And Christian theology relates to the world – and we emphasize to the whole world – as the Gospel of Jesus Christ irrevocably relates to the whole world and its reconciliation with God. Theological faculties have a unique position to contribute to the understanding of what that means, as they are placed in the realm of universities. The old and fundamental key vocation within the ecumenical movement, to relate the whole  Gospel, the whole Church and the whole world properly to each other, therefore has a fundamental importance for what is going to be considered about the present and future of Christian theology and theological education in this conference.

d) This conference for us finally is both timely and unique as it is part of the preparatory process through which the WCC has started its journey - together both with its member churches as well as many other ecumenical partners - to prepare for the forthcoming 10th assembly of WCC in Busan, Korea, in 2013. The theme of the forthcoming assembly “God of Life, lead us to Justice and Peace”  confirms and deepens what we would like to affirm on the double accountability of any Christian theology: Christian theology is – as orthodox traditions have reminded us – rooted in doxology and prayer. Christian theology is invited to join with the prayers and longings of the whole church for the one God of Life who sustains and renews us. And Christian theology is invited to listen and reflect on the cries for justice and peace in this world, to relate the essence of the Gospel to the agonies of people and creation suffering today. As Christian theologian I am also called to listen together with others – and through the ears of others. A joint Christian-Muslim visit to Nigeria last week taught me some substantial lessons about that.

There is a creational, even cosmic horizon for Christian theological reflection suggested with the theme invoking the God of Life.  What is combined in the very notion of the World Council of Churches therefore, the reference to both the whole church and the whole world, is the common ground and double accountability of Christian theology today. We invite you to contribute to the theological reflection of this theme of the double accountability of theology, to serve the communication of the one Gospel both with the whole church and with the one world, facing current divisions in both. Thus we hope that the findings of this Oslo conference and subsequent processes will also be made heard in the Busan assembly next year.

To summarize my starting point in other words: Theology is an imperative for ecumenism. And ecumenism is an imperative for doing theology today. Theological reflection today requires attitudes, a culture and structures of mutual accountability of theology within the wider ecumenical context. We all need to be challenged by others. And we also need to be able to challenge others in an accountable way. Ecumenical sensitivity and competence in theology and theological education widen the horizons of denominational theology. Proper Christian theology relates to, reflects and nurtures the mission of the church to serve the one humanity and the one creation, building a culture of a just peace day by day. Denominational identity and reference do not have to be contrary to ecumenical theology and theological education, but there is no future for any denominational identity or theology without solid ecumenical accountability and global responsibility.

2. The historical role of theology for the formation of European universities and for the formative period of the missionary and ecumenical movement

Let me continue my reflection with a second step, a short threefold historical reminder on the role of Christian theology in Europe, in the churches of the South and the ecumenical movement which might be helpful for an international forum of this kind:

a) First a biblical reminder on the beginnings of theological education: It is fascinating to read the first chapters of Acts after the Apostle Paul heard the famous Macedonian call ‘Come over and help us’ (Acts 16,6ff, part. v. 9) as an account of how theology and theological education were started and inculturated on European soil: Theology and theological education were uplifting for those who were searching for deeper meaning (Lydia, the first women to be converted in Philippi Acts 16,11ff). Theology was liberative for those who were enslaved and dehumanized by the ancient mafia of a harbor town who misused women for money (Acts 16,16ff). Theology was provocative for those who were disturbed by the Christian mission as it questioned false Gods and dependencies (Acts 16,19ff). Theology was challenging for those who claimed and limited the validity of God’s blessings and grace only for their parochial and denominational interests (Paul in Thessaloniki Acts 17,1ff). Theology was inviting for a religious discourse for those who were seekers from popular religious and philosophical background, but without any deeper knowledge of the essence of Christian faith (Paul in Athens, Acts 17,16ff). In other words: Theology and theological education in earliest times were related both to the wider church as well as to the world. Christian theology was accountable, contextual and multi-faceted from its very beginning, sensitive to different audiences and religious settings.

And it is very clearly stated already in this period: “So he (Paul) reasoned in the synagogue with the Jews and the God-fearing Greeks as well as in the market place day by day with those who happened to be there” (Acts 17,17).  Thus from the very beginning there is not just one model and primary venue for theological education, but several settings. In the situation of St. Paul there seemed to have been at least two, the synagogue and the market place. Theological teaching and reasoning took place within the religious community - at that time the Jewish synagogue or the first small Christian local communities - as well as in dialogue with the general public, the audience of the market place. Thus we can say that in the synagogue-type and the market-place-type both church related seminaries as well as theological faculties in public university settings are pre-configured as prominent and important places for theological discourse and reflection. Both types of theological training and discourse are alive and vital in different settings of World Christianity, each of which contribute to the one crucial task to allow for public witness of the Gospel in dialogue with contemporary society.

b) A second historic reminder is due on the role of Christian theology for the emergence of European universities: The project outline of this conference had reminded us of the historical role of Christian theology which was obvious at the founding period of late medieval universities in Europe. It was around theological faculties that universities were built up in this context. It is worth recalling that Christian theology historically was inseparably bound together with the creation of the moral and cultural fabric of European societies in past centuries. From the rise of the institution of the university in the late Middle Ages onward, Christian theology - because of its base in divine revelation - was regarded as the highest and dominant faculty, superior to the faculties of arts and sciences, the faculties of law and medicine. While the positioning of theology as ’crown of science’ due to processes related to the emancipation of scientific reasoning from church dogma in the context of enlightenment could not be sustained, Christian theology in a majority of western countries continued to claim a legitimate place as a distinct discipline in the universitas litterarum of the modern university.

With the Protestant Reformation - having liberated theology from the rigid, scholastic framework and emphasizing its existential and biblical character and leaning strongly on the universities like Wittenberg, Marburg, Zurich or Geneva - a development began which led to the historical alliance between Christian faith and critical reasoning in higher education – an alliance which was to mark the face of Protestant Christianity (to some extend this has also become a mark of the Roman Catholic Church) in Europe in subsequent centuries. Visiting several Orthodox theological institutions over the last years, I have become aware of the substantial work in many countries to renew and to establish these institutions after the communist period.  Many of these institutions combine open-minded academic work with the formation of those who have the call to serve the churches. The orthodox theological faculties in countries like Greece haven another history and have had this dual objective for a long period of time.

It is quite interesting from this background to see that scholars like David Kelsey from Yale have made a distinction between two types of theological education: the ”Athens”-type of theological education, which in the tradition of hellenistic philosophical educational formation focusses on a holistic Christian paideia, a personal (trans-) formation towards full embodiment of all Christian virtues and knowledge of God. On the other hand there is a ”Berlin”-type of theological education, which – based on the newly founded  research oriented type of university in Berlin 1810 - focuses more on  disciplined critical research on the one hand, and "professional" education for ministry on the other.[2] It is the ”Berlin”-type of theological education in state related theological faculties of theology located in public universities which emphasized theology as ”Wissenschaft” which has been predominant in much of European and American settings. The ”Athens”-type of theological education which focuses on theological education as holistic personal formation and paideia to reflect the goodness of God, has continued to play a major role in church related theological education institutions both in Orthodox, Roman Catholic, monastic and church seminary contexts both in the South and in the North.

According to the biblical foundations and the understanding of theological education as it is held by a majority of WCC member churches both the spiritual, ethical and priestly formation (personal transformation) dimensions of theological education as well as the academic research aspect of critical reasoning (academic competence) are two sides of the same coin and inseparably related to each other. This may lead to the question how current trends in higher education university environments allow for an integration of the personal transformation and the academic competence aspects within the integrated learning process of given institutions of theological education. This is a question which is at the heart of this very institution and its establishment more than 100 year ago and which also should remain on its agenda in the present and the future.

c) A third historic reminder should briefly refer to the significance of theology for the modern ecumenical movement as a whole: We refer to the fact that is was through the world missionary movement in the 18th and 19th century that the coalition between Christian mission and education, Christian faith and critical academic reasoning was globalized, although it was first predominantly shaped in western and to a large extend colonized forms. The interrelation between faith and education found visible expressions in uncounted examples of schools, church related seminaries and universities. It is the commitment to education in Christian mission which led to the fact that a substantial number, if not a majority, of educational institutions in countries of Africa, Asia and Latin America was founded by Christian mission. It was therefore quite natural that in an early phase of the International Missionary Council (founded 1924) a key commitment was made to build up indigenous forms of theological education in the churches of the South. This was a goal already articulated in Edinburgh 1910, but then strategically implemented only with the 1958 founded Theological Education Fund (TEF) of IMC in London  which laid the foundations to an impressive number of interdenominational theological colleges in the churches of the South.[3] The commitment to theology and theological education since the integration of TEF into WCC in 1976 (which led to the Theological Education program – PTE and later ETE - of WCC) remained strong on the agenda of WCC. It also found its visible expression in its commitment to the Bossey Ecumenical Theological Institute (founded in 1946) which contributes to capacity building through Master of Ecumenical Theology programs for all WCC member churches and beyond.

It was in the missionary movement that theological reflections on Christian unity and witness for justice and peace were becoming most urgent and pressing. This was also a dimension of how to respond to colonialism and the need to establish another paradigm in a post-colonial period. It should be remembered that it often were theologians who lead the struggle for liberation from colonial bondage.  Through the work of the WCC programme on theological education new trends for contextual theologies, for inculturation of the Gospel and for more authenticity in theological reflection in the churches of the South were gaining ground. Key themes of the international ecumenical theological discourse in the second half of the last century, such as the debate on Gospel and Culture, Church and racism, Christian and national identity, Christianity and other world religions, Christian faith and world peace were all pre-configured and reflected upon in the world missionary movement and its conferences related to International Missionary Council (IMC).

Thus the influence and role of theological reflections from theological faculties, institutes and seminaries on earlier stages of the ecumenical movement was quite remarkable and high. The ecumenical movement of the post World-War-II period also can be seen as a passionate attempt of committed academic theologians to correct and widen the theological horizon of Christian churches, particularly those churches which theologically had not been sufficiently able to resist the temptations of narrow minded nationalistic or racist and colonialist ideologies in the decades before.  The ecumenical movement was – in some countries at least - a movement of theological metanoia!  It were the best and most qualified academic theologians and church leaders in the founding period of the WCC in the first decades after the end of Second World War who contributed actively to the early formation of the ecumenical movement and the WCC.[4]

It is an open question therefore to what extent this heritage of a coalition between Christian faith and (higher) education, between academic theologians and the ecumenical movement, which has marked the first century of the ecumenical movement, will continue to mark also the future. The situation both of fragmented World Christianity as well as a deeply divided world at the beginning of the 21st century essentially calls for a renewed ecumenical commitment and movement. This movement needs the informed participation, committed solidarity and solid contribution of academic Christian theologians (in all the various disciplines) in order to serve the unity of the church and to bear witness to the unity of humankind and the integrity of creation. That is one reason why we called together this consultation.

3. The changing landscapes of World Christianity, the concept of unity and the crucial role of theology/theological education in a widened ecumenical frame of reference

What are key features of current changes in World Christianity as well as in our societies which challenge our concepts of unity and demand for a new role of theology/theological education?

Most of us are familiar with the general trends of the so-called gravity shift in World Christianity from the North to the South which has accelerated in the past three decades. The somewhat theoretical, but illustrating  projection of the gravity center of  World Christianity has indicated that this gravity center around the year 1400 was still around Budapest, but by 2010 has moved to somewhere in Timbuktu, Mali, in East Africa and continuous to shift southwards.[5]

Many also know that this shift in concentration from the North to the South also implies a re-balancing of denominational composition and spiritual vitalities: Alongside with "historic Protestant churches" new charismatic or independent churches which are more evangelical, Pentecostal, or indigenous in outlook play a major role everywhere. Pentecostal churches which are only about one century old now account for nearly one-quarter of the global Christian community. The “Great European Migration” which has brought Europeans into all regions of the earth (from 1500 to roughly 1950) has given place to a new historical era which is marked by a second “Great Reverse Migration” from the South into the North which gradually also has brought forms of charismatic Christianity into western countries.[6]

Fewer colleagues in academic theology in the West have the chance to realize and learn from important new theological developments in the churches of the South which have become more self-conscious and contextual in their own theological reflections. How many books are there in western theological libraries on recent Asian or African contextual theologies? How much is known on the intense theological discourse on HIV/AIDS, human sexuality, social discrimination or concepts of masculinity in Africa? How much is translated or available from the new Asian theologies of indigenous cultural resilience (resistencia; Widerstandsfaehigkeit) and/or eco-theology? How much do we know about Bolivian indigenous eco-theology of ‘buen vivir’? New prophetic and cultural theologies are a vivid expression of the inner pluralization and dynamic and diverse contextualization of World Christianity.

It is important for academic institutions of the West to realize that a phenomenon like Pentecostalism is not just a remote and far away phenomenon somewhere out there down in the South.  The example of the Church of Pentecost in Ghana which has grown rapidly to 1.3 million members and 9,300 congregations and has only 700 full time pastors, but 50,000 ordained lay leaders (10 new churches are planted each week, and 70,000 new converts joining the church in a year) shows a church which is an international player and present now already in 60 countries throughout the world, sending out missionaries also outside Africa. The attention to new forms of non-western Christianity within western theological academia however still is low and exceptional although things begin to change. The enormous zeal and interest of Pentecostal and Independent churches for theological education and biblical scholarship is a visible challenge for institutions of theological education in any country.

An overarching feature of the new ecumenical realities is also that in all European societies the presence of populations with different or no religious affiliation has increased and is continuously increasing. What happens in Syria or in other Middle East countries, what happens in Nigeria or in Sudan between Muslims and Christians has immediate direct or indirect consequences also for ways in which religious minorities relate to majorities in western societies (or vice versa). Interfaith dialogue has become an imperative and a challenge for theology also in Europe. This is why we need a fruitful cooperation and strengthened dialogue between Religious Studies and Christian Theology in European universities (but not the replacement of one with the other).

The WCC assembly in Busan will provide a prominent opportunity to reflect on the implications of the changing realities of World Christianity for the very task of ecumenical dialogue and cooperation. WCC in preparing the Busan assembly has deliberately widened the spectrum of participating ecumenical partners even beyond formal WCC membership – while intending to maintain the ecumenical achievements which have been made in the existing fellowship with historical mainline churches. Both the forthcoming WCC key documents on church unity, on mission and on the church will probably reflect new concepts of unity beyond consensus or convergence documents between the so-called historical churches. Common understanding of unity, mission and the church in the ecumenical movement in the future instead will have to take into account the poly-centric character of World Christianity. There is the vision for a deepened and more committed ecumenism which is envisioned as an accountable, life-promoting and participatory fellowship of a wide variety of Christian churches.

While some have argued that the future of World Christianity might see a “scenario of North-South confrontation between two Christianities: the one liberal, rational and socially concerned, and the other traditional on social issues, conservative in beliefs and moral issues, and interested in the supernatural and in personal salvation rather than radical politics”[7] we confirm – looking at it from the core mandate of WCC to serve the unity of the one body of Christ to serve the unity of humankind - , that we have to keep the different streams together. To ‘stay together in Christ’ (as the Amsterdam 1948 founding message of WCC has obliged us to do. They have to stay in vital dialogue on the essential and common elements of our joint Christian heritage rather than allowing for a long-term split, divergence or structural apartheid in World Christianity (which was one of the reasons for having the initiative of the Global Christian Forum which was started with consultations from Harare 1998 onwards and the first Global Christian Forum in November 2007 in Limuru, Nairobi). We have realized since several years now that Christians from all different streams of Christianity do share some strong commitment for justice and peace, for integral and authentic church mission and evangelism and for Christian spirituality and prayer across all often (over-)used labels to categorize these streams, may these be ‘ecumenicals’ ‘evangelicals’; ‘liberals’, ‘conservatives or ‘charismatics.’

What is the role of Christian theology/theological education with regard to these changing realities of World Christianity and the reconfiguration of the ecumenical movement? World Christianity scholars like Andrew Walls have criticized Western theological academia for not yet fully realizing both the potentials and the tasks which are coming ahead with African and Asian Christianity coming of age and not yet fully listening to the articulation of their distinct and new theological voices.[8] Western theological academy is in peril and should be rescued from a trend withdrawing both from the public arena as well as from isolating itself from vital international ecumenical dialogue.[9]

The key tasks of theology/theological education for deepening the ecumenical vision and dialogue in facing a radically changed World Christianity for our point of view are fourfold[10]:

a)       theology/theological education have to deepen our understanding for the differences and hat we have in common in contemporary forms of Christianity beyond our own denominational categories and cultural horizons (first mandate: enabling deeper understanding of Christian tradition/s and its diverse profiles).

An example could be to shed light on the polarities between worldviews and theological mindsets which are characterizing particularly western Christianity - with its emphasize on cognitive understanding and verbal expression of Christian faith, rejection of supernatural powers and preference of rationality rather than emotion on the one hand - and other forms of non-western Christianity which are based on spiritual worldviews, pre-Enlightenment concepts and the importance of charismatic power or supernatural energies of the Holy Spirit.[11]

b) theology/theological education secondly should identify and reflect common essential elements in the biblical foundations of our faith and in church history which despite different ecclesial or theological positions can be shared together across confessional and ‘continental’ differences, acknowledging that we are one humanity struggling with the same questions, though in different contexts (second mandate: identifying and reflecting common theological ground).

An example for this task could be the new documents produced by the Commission on World Mission and Evangelism (CWME) on the understanding of mission and the forthcoming Faith and Order document on dealing with moral controversies while keeping the unity of the church of Christ (see: “Moral Discernment in the Churches” Faith and Order Study document; and also the new mission statement of WCC: “Together towards life: Mission and Evangelism in Changing Landscapes”)

c) theology/theological education thirdly have to equip Christians from different denominational and cultural backgrounds for pastoral ministry and for common witness for the God of Life and joint service for a just peace (third mandate: ministerial/pastoral formation and enabling joint witness and action).

As example for this task one could refer to course offered by various faculties of theological education for leaders of immigrant churches in Europe like the African Theological Education in Germany”(ATTIG –program) in Hamburg University.

d) Theology/theological education finally have the contextual and critical-prophetical role to articulate the public role and responsibility of Christian witness in relation to current trends, challenges and shortcomings in society (fourth mandate: prophetic, critical and discerning role of theology over against society).

An example in this area could be recent statements from theological faculties or joint commissions in the area of medical ethics, nuclear disarmament or bio-diversity issues. And we see the urgent needs for new perspectives for the public reflection on economic justice, accountability and sharing of wealth. We definitively need more work on economy and ecumenism.

It is my conviction that we are only at the beginning of a process to learn what new forms of theological education, missionary training and ministerial formation are adequate and needed for the new realities of the changing landscape of World Christianity in the beginning of the 21st century. We know that Europe is not any more the norm-giving model for the rest of the world anymore – that also applies to theological education. The implications of the third major transformation process of World Christianity towards a non-western religion of the South (after the first one from Hebrew culture to Hellenistic culture and the second during European missionary expansion) for theological education are far from being spelled out.

Recent publications and studies of WCC-ETE program, particularly the World Study Report on Theological Education from 2010 and the ETE reference document ”Magna Charta on Ecumenical Theological Education” have given very helpful suggestions on how to spell out the relevance of theological education for the unity of the church by strengthening ecumenical learning and formation, by courses on World Christianity and Ecumenics and by international research partnerships in theological education.[12]

4. Is Europe a special case? - Challenges from shifting realities of mission/ migration and potentials for mutual partnership between European theological academia and global contextual theological developments

Returning to the specific European context of this consultation some have argued that Europe is a special case: The manner and degree to which secularization, modernization, demographic shifts and individualization have deeply left their marks on societies in this region is unique and not necessarily comparable with the rest of the world.[13] Doing contextual theology therefore certainly also implies to be relevant and to do research on these specific and perhaps uniquely European phenomena. But on the other hand it holds true that global trends in World Christianity are not making a halt at the threshold of European societies. Despite all restrictions on visa and immigration regulations there has been a remarkable growth in independent and immigrant churches in most of the European countries. According to the International Organization for Migration (IOM), migration is considered to be one of the defining global issues of the early twenty-first century. More and more people are on the move today than at any other point in human history. There are now about 192 million people living outside their place of birth, which is about three per cent of the world's population. This strongly affects also Europe. The Mapping Migration in Europe study from 2003 has explained that among the estimated 24 million migrants that were in the EU around 48.5% belonged to Christian Churches. A further 30.9% were Muslims, and about 20.5% belonged to other religions.[14] Thus “Non-European migrants to Europe represent not the de-Christianisation of European Society but the de-Europeanisation of the European Christianity.”[15] In Italy for instance Christian immigrants present half of the Protestant Christian population nowadays.[16] The new missionary realities present also shifting constituencies for theological learning in European theological faculties and church related seminaries. How do theological faculties in Europe develop accessible and appropriate forms of theological education for this new target group?  This is a matter of serious concern for several partners in mission agencies and churches in Europe.[17]

Andrew Walls has repeatedly alerted us on serious challenges of the Great Reverse Migration for theological education in the North:  “The Great Reverse Migration that has brought so many Africans and Asians to the West needs to be thought into any serious consideration of world mission, and of the development of theological education and scholarship. The human resources of the African and Asian Christian diaspora, the skilled and scholarly who have migrated to the West, need not be lost to Africa and Asia; such people have a vital mediating function. Truly global thinking in theological education needs to ensure, on the one hand, that African and Asian scholars now working in Europe and North America are able to maintain their cultural and theological links with their homelands; and on the other, that they are available to assist in the processes whereby African and Asian and Latin American biblical and theological thinking can penetrate the tightly knit world of the Western theological academy.”[18]

In addition there is a concern in the international debate on partnership and cooperation models in theological education that European faculties remain open and accessible for exchange and common research projects with partners in the global South. It is a common conviction of many engaged in cross-border activities and contacts that Europe should not become a closed fortress with regard to theological research and education.

We have moved beyond a stage where the majority of theological research and exchange projects from churches of the South are done with European theological education institutions. There is a lot which is happening in South-South exchange and in cooperation projects within the regions of the South. But the European heritage and potential of theological research and reflection should not shy away or be neglected. European theological faculties should continue to play a major role in international discourse and learning partnerships with churches of the majority world. Perhaps there should be a deliberate process to bring together and to share on innovative models of North-South partnership as there have been strong indications (during the Hamburg ETE consultation of international partners in theological scholarships programs in April 2012) on how much new forms for theological faculty development programs and scholarships for theological research projects are still needed for the future of theological education in the majority world.[19]

5. The public role and responsibility of Christian theology in university contexts in Europe and beyond

Coming back at the end to the key theme of this consultation which emphasizes the public role and responsibility of Christian theology in university contexts in Europe and beyond we want to affirm: Churches and theologians should be more confident and also publicly affirm that Christian theology has a vital role and contribution to make for the future of higher education and for university developments in this continent and much beyond. Universities from the very roots of this notion have a mandate to relate to the ‘universum’, both in the sense of the universum of knowledge as well as to the universum of the world. The fellowship of Christian Churches, organized within the WCC, from the very root of its mandate have a mandate to relate to the universal human family, the whole inhabited earth and to the catholic heritage and tradition of the whole church on earth. In a context where the EU has challenged all universities to respond to the EU’s Agenda for the modernisation of universities[20] with proper ways to internationalize its programs Christian churches should be confident that we have something to offer. This is because from its very essence Christian theology and theological education are marked both by contextuality and by catholicity. Therefore Christian theology has an internal dynamic and interest for internationalization which is due to the relevance of the one Gospel for the whole world, the inhabited earth.

While we affirm that in modern university contexts there are good reasons for the discipline of Christian theology to enter into interdisciplinary collaboration with several other disciplines like religious studies, ethnology, sociology and history we also - on behalf of our member churches - need to stand up and raise our voice for the legitimacy and need for Christian theology to have a distinct presence in the future framework of modern universities. There are subtle and overt factors at work which could lead to a marginalization of Christian theology in European universities, just to mention as example

a) Decreasing number of theology students and subsequent teaching positions in certain European countries and their higher education institutions;

b) Cases of faculties of Christian theology which have been integrated into larger faculties or humanity and sometimes transformed into departments of religious studies;

c) Decreasing number of institutes and chairs for teaching intercultural theology, Ecumenics and World Christianity;

d) Plans for national digital public or university libraries which completely leave out the discipline of Christian theology (like in Switzerland);

e) Decreasing number of state research grants available for research projects in theology proper.

We want to affirm: Christian theology has much to contribute for the future of European university systems.  Christian theology has a public responsibility and need to be visible in the landscapes of higher education in the future. While the ‘religious factor’ is on the increase globally and in many regions of the global South, universities in the European context cannot risk to marginalize or downplay the role Christian theology has played - in cooperation with religious studies - to look into issues which are of fundamental importance for our societies like the ethical and spiritual values which are guiding our social and political developments. Christian theology both in the past as well as in the future can gather momentum and good arguments for a more humane and holistic concept of social and political development. That is urgently needed in a context which increasingly is marked by a one-sided dominance of natural science, commerce and economy in our understanding and practice of university education. We need both in depths studies of Christian theology proper as well as the developing discipline of religious studies for coping with this overall task.

Governments and ministries of education should be more aware of the crucial role Christian theology can play for developing a common basis of shared values in society and looking into root causes of religious fundamentalism and extremism. Christian theology has a public role of articulating parameters both of a new ecological life-style and sustainable model of development as well as of a culture of peace in interreligious dialogue which is urgently needed in our increasingly diversified and fragile religious landscapes of societies both in the West as well as in other contexts.

In summary and conclusion: There are reasons enough to remind universities that Christian theology has a vital function for the future of higher education in Europe, both East and West, and much beyond, in universities and higher education in Asia, Africa and Latin America. The churches have a special responsibility to accompany, to strengthen and to encourage institutions of theological education and theological research and to interact with them for the future of ecumenism in the changing contexts of World Christianity today as we see it in any part of the world and also in Norway today.

As the WCC, we believe in the mutual interdependence between theology and the quest for unity:

- Serving the unity of the churches – given in the Gospel of Jesus Christ;

- Following Jesus Christ, serving the one humanity – in every nation and in the inter-national community;

- Caring for the one world and the one creation together with all people of good will and faith.

Let us do this to the honor of the One God of Life.


[1] See: Die Zukunft der Theologie in Europa, Oekumenisches Forum. Grazer Jahrbuch fuer konkrete Oekumene, Jahrgang 25, 2002 (Themenheft)

[2] Between Athens And Berlin: The Theological Education Debate by David Kelsey, Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Co.,1993

[3] For the history see: Christine Lienemann-Perrin: Training for a Relevant Ministry. A Study of the World of the Theological Education Fund, Madras/Geneva 1980; ETE- Jubilee Issue on the history of PTE/ETE in the World Council of Churches, Ministerial Formation, No 110, April 2008; Dietrich Werner, Theological Education in the Context of World Christianity – an unfinished agenda, IBMR Vol. 35, No 2, April 2011, p.92ff

[4] See: Konrad Raiser, Theology in the Ecumenical Movement, in: Dictionary of the Ecumenical Movement, WCC Publications 2002, p. 1115-1120

[5] For the details see: Atlas of Global Christianity, ed. By Todd M. Johnson and Kenneth Ross, Edinburgh University Press, Center for the Study of Global Christianity, 2009

[6] See: Andrew Walls, Mission and Migration: The Diaspora factor in Christian History, Journal of African Christian Thought 5, No 2 (2002)  6,10; also: Jehu J. Hanciles, Migration and the Globalization of Christianity, in: William R. Burrows and others (eds), Understanding World Christianity. The Vision and Work of Andrew Walls, Orbis Books 2011, p. 22fff

[7] Sebastian and Kirsteen Kim in reference to Paul Jenkins in: Christianity as a World Religion, London 2008, p. 224

[8] Andre F. Walls, The Significance of Global Christianity for Theological Education and Christian Scholarship, in: Ogbomoso Journal of Theology Vo. XV 2010, No 1, p. 5

[9] “The western theological academy is in peril. It might be time for Christians to save the academy….When I look at the Western academy today, I see much slavery to Mammon. The greatest kudos now attaches to projects which will bring the largest research grants. The corporate world has taken over the management of universities and is steadily corrupting them..Scholarship in many quarters ceased to be a vocation and become a career, and its structures are such as to undermine the ideas of a community of scholars and institutes competition among them. Professors only live by competing with other scholars…”; Andrew F. Walls. A.a.O. p. 8

[10] See for a similar, though different attempt to re-formulate the role of theology for church, university and society: Die Bedeutung der wissenschaftlichen Theologie in Gesellschaft, Universitaet und Kirche, EKD Texte 104, Hannover 2009

[11] Kirsteen Kim has recommended for the future of theological education: “To show Christianity (in institutions of higher education) as it is requires a significant shift in theological education and the study of Christianity in general. Religio-cultural and geographical dimensions and perspectives from international relations need to be incorporated. And, most importantly, the views of Christians from different parts of the world need to be an integral part of any kind of Christian studies. Hearing from one another will help Christians in Europe and North America to recognize that their churches are inculturated and contextual in the same way that African, Asian and Latin American churches are.” In: Sebastian and Kirsteen Kim, Christianity as a World Religion, p. 229

[12] See: World Study Report on Theological Education, Section I, 6 (page 30ff) on “Theological education and the unity of the church – interdenominational cooperation and ecumenical learning in theological education”; ETE Reference document “Magna Charta on Ecumenical Theological Education” from 2008.

[13] See: Grace Davie in her study: Europe: The Exceptional case. Parameters of Faith in the Modern World, London: Darton, Longman and Todd, 2002

[14] Darrel Jackson and Alessia Passarelli, Mapping Migration in Europe, Brussels, CEC 2008, p. 29

[15] Mapping Migration in Europe, p. 24

[16] Jehu J. Hanciles, Migration and the Globalization of Christianity, p. 237

[17] See also: Frieder Ludwig/J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu (eds.), African Christian Presence in the West. New Immigrant Congregations and Transnational Networks in North America and Europe, Africa World Press 2011

[18] Andrew Walls, World Christianity, Theological Education and Scholarship, in: Transformation: An International Journal of Holistic Mission Studies, 2011 (28: 235ff), p. 237

[19] See Communiqué of the joint ETE/EKD international consultation on theological scholarship programs in Hamburg, Missionsacademy, April 2012

[20] Supporting Growth and Jobs - Agenda for The modernisation of Europe’s higher education systems COM(2011)1063, Brussels 20.9.2011

By Rev.  Dr Olav Fykse Tveit, General Secretary, WCC