For a scholar bone-weary of the educationalist wars, Lee Schulman’s introduction to The Formation of Scholars is both balm and hearty invitation to risk the reading of the book that follows. His emphasis on the carefully vetted vocabulary of ‘formation’ and ‘stewardship’ frames up the work’s inspection of what must change in this pinnacle of educational achievement that we call the PhD without neglecting what must be conserved.

The book’s lead-off chapter (‘I. Moving Doctoral Education Into the Future’) profiles the dimensions of what is at stake. On the one hand, massive numbers of human beings enroll in doctoral programs. On the other, a shocking half them leave their programs prior to completion. The challenges that foment the carnage are both long-standing or traditional and relating to new challenges around novel technologies and other environmental variables. This early attention to the both-and dynamic in a context that lends itself to revolutionary screed is encouraging from the outset.

The Carnegie Initiative on the Doctorate (CID) professes to bring to this formidable nexus a jaunty confidence that things can improve, motivated in part by the doctorate’s native inclination to ask hard and uncomfortable questions. An early axiom that corresponds to this hopefulness is the expectation that, where hard questions are unleashed in a permission-giving environment, profitable changes will be identified and in time implemented. 

The formation of scholars, we are told at this early juncture, involves identity, training, and formation. The process cannot be reduced to any one or even two of the features of the long path that is entailed. Already, hope becomes anchored to scholarly integration and intellectual community, two motifs that will recur throughout this volume. A third critical concept—at least in this reviewer’s eyes—emerges in this first chapter, that of the steward. It is worth pausing to absorb some defining expressions:

‘The contemporary environmental movement has adopted the word steward by focusing on sustainable management that will make resources available for generations to come. Here the emphasis is on people living in concert with the environment and on preservation with an eye towards the future. A steward, then, thinks about the continuing health of the discipline and how to preserve the best of the past for this who will follow …’

‘A fully formed scholar should be capable of generating and critically evaluating new knowledge; of conserving the most important ideas and findings that are a legacy of past and current work; and of understanding how knowledge is transforming the world in which we live, and engaging in the transformational work of communicating their knowledge responsibly to others.’

‘By invoking the term steward, and by focusing on the formation of scholars who can indeed be good stewards, we intend to convey a sense of purpose for doctoral equation that is larger than the individual and implies action. A scholar is a steward of the discipline, or the larger field, not simply a manager of her own career.’

In this first chapter, such agreeably anchored thinking leads to a brief advance look at the structure of a book that is meant to tease out the implications for both continuity and change which such concepts all but require.

The book’s second chapter (‘Setting the Stage for Change’) sketches the relative novelty of doctoral education in America and its migration from an environment whose chief virtue was that ‘no one is in charge’ to the point where established traditions often pass unexamined from one cohort and one generation to the next.  The survey sheds light on two distinct stories:

‘On the one hand, the story is of change—gradual, yes, but ongoing and significant as PhD programs have evolved in response to new funding source and incentives, more and different students, recalibrated purposes, and other changing circumstances both within and outside of the academy. On the other hand, the story is one of stasis—of structures and assumptions that have become increasingly difficult to budge.’

These stories in turn engender ‘four larger ideas’ that become the stuff of ensuing scrutiny: (a) The (Partial) Myth of Money, (b) The Power of the Disciplines, (c) The Double-Edged Sword of Decentralization, and (d) Students as Agents of Change and Improvement. The last of these—students as change agents—comes in for persistent mention precisely because the CID discovered that students are both deeply invested in their programs and capable of enacting real change when they seize or are granted the opportunity to become genuine actors in the process which has claimed a large share of their lives.

The authors open their third chapter (‘Talking About Purpose’) by conjuring the often terrifying beast called ‘qualifying exams’ and then arguing that the purpose of this mile-demarcating ordeal is about as opaque as can be imagined. The obvious desideratum of clarity is then pursued by way of the three-part metaphor of mirrors, lenses, and windows:

‘Mirrors, lenses, and windows improve vision—and thus understanding and motivation to change—by providing new views. Mirrors allow us to see ourselves … Lenses enhance the ability to see by sharpening focus and magnifying detail in one area .. Windows provide the opportunity to gaze at the work done by our neighbors.’

The burden of this chapter lies in its implicit exhortation of doctoral constituencies to summon the courage to design to purpose. Encouragement towards amply populated conversations about purpose and then the identification of the structural components that sustain its pursuit pervade the chapter, together with the recognition that not all of these conversations will be easy ones.

The book’s fourth chapter (‘From Experience to Expertise’) explains how one learns to think like a practicing and productive member of his or her guild. Where lies the path from early experience to that established presence and competence that are captured by the word ‘expertise’?

The CID discerns three principles that mark the road with milestones. The first is ‘progressive development’. This developmental pathway includes the acquisition of research competence, a fluency in the art of teaching what one has learned, and those interactions within one’s field that produce enduring professional identity. A second element of becoming expert (somehow, the adjective seems more accurate than the noun) is ‘integrative learning’. The most effective doctoral programs encourage their subjects to ‘make connections across settings and over time’. Thus, one becomes fluent in the history and dominant dialects of one’s discipline as well as capable of conceiving of that discipline as one among many, some of which are in fact contiguous with one’s own area of expertise.

Finally, the CID makes a plea for ‘collaborative learning’, rooted in the conviction that the world is becoming ever more complex and so isolated research ever more incapable of comprehending sizable pieces of it. A series of three imperatives rounds out the chapter, calling for greater awareness of the structure(s) of an expert’s knowledge and the need consciously to introduce students into these; a call to students to develop a keen sense of how they learn; and a plea to all to interact as genuine partners.

The fifth chapter (‘Apprenticeship Reconsidered’) engages the hoary ‘apprenticeship model’, its roots extending back to Medieval origins and its whispered ‘When it works…’ dynamic acknowledged out loud.

‘The solution, it seems to us, is not to abandon the apprenticeship model but to reclaim and urge it in directions more purposefully aligned with the vision of learning that is needed from doctoral programs today, combined with known ways to foster that learning.’ CID’s solution becomes ‘a shift of prepositions: from a system in which students are apprenticed to a faculty mentor, to one in which they apprentice with several mentors.’

CID would pry the apprenticeship model from its one-on-one ‘Darwinian’ manifestation and reconfigure it ‘more broadly as a theory of learning and a set of practices that are widely relevant’. The constituent elements of this theory and practice are then described with reasonable specificity. One might query, however, whether the apprenticeship model requires incarnation in a one-on-one relationship and whether its relecture as theory and practice risk a gnostic dissipation of its genius.

In what is arguably the strongest entry of the volume, chapter six (‘Creating and Sustaining Intellectual Community’) focusses on ‘intellectual community as a synthesizing concept that pulls together our major themes: the formation of scholars, integration of research and teaching, and stewardship. Intellectual community is also essential to the new vision of apprenticeship …’ It is, after all, precisely in community that the noble ideas put forward by so many educationalists and both identified and named in the present volume become real. They are of little value as abstractions. Yet they are both generative and catalytic when they take shape in the mix of human beings united by a common intellectual cause.

The chapter approaches intellectual community from three principal angles. First, it names the characteristics of intellectual community. Next, it identifies activities that foster such community. Finally, it describes the impact of such community upon the formation of scholars, both in its presence and its regrettable but too common absence.

Nowhere is the belief in doctoral formation as plainly evident as in the final summons of the book (Chapter 7: ‘A Call to Action’). One senses that the principal and supporting actors in CID consider the PhD too valuable to be left untouched. Reform is needed and meaningful change will require all constituencies to bend shoulder to harness.

Five appendices provide details and documents of the CID methodology.

This reviewer is engaged in a thriving theological university in Colombia, where a long history of providing solid, undergraduate level is producing adventurous forays into graduate level education, with a PhD beckoning from just over the horizon. In this context—where words like ‘relevant’, ‘practical’, ‘interdisciplinary’, ‘contextual’, and ‘accessible’ are often considered self-authenticating icons worthy of enthusiastic genuflection—The Formation of Scholars brings its thoughtful examination of what one might call ‘responsive traditioning’. In this reader’s experience, the book achieves this with all the refreshment of an August rain. The Formation of Scholars should remain at the elbow of all shapers of high-level graduate education.

Los salmos bíblicos hablan con claridad sobre el hecho de que alabamos motivados por un conocimiento parcial.

Uno no puede conocer a YHVH exhaustivamente, nos enseñan. Paradójicamente, la alabanza parece más dinámica precisamente cuando el salmista llega al límite de su propia capacidad para conocer a YHVH. No es que la alabanza habite en el vacío insondable del misterio. Uno no se lanza al gran vacío, allí para alabar. Más bien, uno conoce a YHVH verdaderamente por medio del observar sus caminos en la creación, redención e instrucción, entonces con el tiempo uno se da cuenta de que las virtudes de YHVH superan tanto el conocimiento como la articulación.

Uno comienza con lo que uno conoce de YHVH y alaba con eso.

Grande es el Señor, y digno de ser alabado en gran manera;
y su grandeza es inescrutable.
Una generación alabará tus obras a otra generación,
y anunciará tus hechos poderosos.

Salmo 145:3 (LBLA)

El salmo ciento cuarenta y cinco, como muchos otros, yuxtapone la inescrutabilidad de YHVH, por un lado, y la declaración directa de que el paso normal del legado de una generación a otra incluirá la convocación para conocer los actos de YHVH, por otro.

No existe ninguna contradicción sin sentido en esto. Por el contrario, YHVH llama la atención a las mentes de los individuos, comunidades y generaciones. Sin embargo, los que conocen a YHVH se recuerdan a sí mismos cuán poco de él saben. 

La alabanza es suficiente para aquellos que conocen a YHVH. Pero nunca es exhaustiva.

‘La verdadera religión’, por tomar prestada una frase del Nuevo Testamento al hablar del Antiguo, no supone que el Alto y Santo no sea conocible. De esa forma se encuentra la espiritualidad sin sentido capaz de enervar, aburrir y fascinar por partes iguales.

Tampoco supone que lo conozca exhaustivamente. Ahí está la idolatría proteica.

Los salmos nos instan a la alabanza que es suficiente para que podamos conocer a un Dios que se revela a sí mismo. Alaba sus obras y con mucha expectativa espera más.

Sin embargo, eleva las manos abiertas hacia su cielo en lugar de crear imágenes de él con dedos controladores y agarradores.

El ojo escrutador del Señor no siempre es una noción agradable para los escritores bíblicos. En su agonía, Job lo encuentra implacable. Los pecadores, nos dicen, lo consideran risible y a veces un tigre de papel destinado a asustar a la gente, pero bastante incapaz una vez que se obtiene un ángulo claro de las cosas.

Por otro lado, el escritor del salmo ciento treinta y nueve se deleita en la visión ilimitada de Dios en su vida. Ciertamente, después de relatar la imposibilidad de esconderse de su creador, él pide aún más transparencia:

Escudríñame, oh Dios, y conoce mi corazón;
pruébame y conoce mis inquietudes.
Y ve si hay en mí camino malo,
y guíame en el camino eterno.

Salmo 139:23-24 (LBLA)

Tal es la notable conclusión de un poema que insiste en que puedes correr pero no puedes esconderte, y luego afirma que una vida sin escapatoria es algo bueno:

¿Adónde me iré de tu Espíritu,
o adónde huiré de tu presencia?
Si subo a los cielos, he aquí, allí estás tú;
si en el Seol preparo mi lecho, allí estás tú.
Si tomo las alas del alba,
y si habito en lo más remoto del mar,
aun allí me guiará tu mano,
y me asirá tu diestra.
Si digo: Ciertamente las tinieblas me envolverán[f],
y la luz en torno mío será noche;
ni aun las tinieblas son oscuras para ti,
y la noche brilla como el día.
Las tinieblas y la luz son iguales para ti.

El escritor no señala qué experiencia de vida, qué dilema existencial puede haber despertado en él pensamientos de huida de Dios. No provee ninguna circunstancia para la hipotética auto-maldición que invocaría a la oscuridad para que lo cubra en sus sombras. Tales detalles sugieren que el hombre ha vivido mucho o al menos ha conocido el lado oscuro de la experiencia o por lo menos que ha sido estudiante de lo vivido.

También aparece asombro por la gloria de ser humano y una agradecida negación a dejar que el crédito de ese esplendor recaiga finalmente en la criatura que lo manifiesta.

Oh Señor, tú me has escudriñado y conocido.
Tú conoces mi sentarme y mi levantarme;
desde lejos comprendes mis pensamientos.
Tú escudriñas mi senda y mi descanso,
y conoces bien todos mis caminos.
Aun antes de que haya palabra en mi boca[c],
he aquí, oh Señor, tú ya la sabes toda.
Por detrás y por delante me has cercado,
y tu mano pusiste sobre mí.
Tal conocimiento es demasiado maravilloso para mí;
es muy elevado, no lo puedo alcanzar.

La vida vivida de esta manera transparente puede no ser siempre algo dulce, parece sugerir el salmista. Existe demasiada oscuridad en los márgenes de este poema para que nosotros pensemos eso. Sin embargo, es maravilloso. Uno es tan profundamente conocido que sólo las hipérboles, imágenes y exclamaciones de la poesía se acercan a decirlo bien.

Artesanía: Salmo 138

La arquitectura ontológica del hebreo bíblico distancia a YHVH de sus criaturas humanas y al mismo tiempo le acerca más a ellos.

La altitud de YHVH—él es representado como elevado, exaltado y levantado—se asocia a una paradoja apasionada con su proximidad a los más humildes. En un pasaje emotivo pasaje del libro de Isaías, él es exaltado y sin embargo vive con el humilde y abatido. En el salmo ciento treinta y ocho, él mira al humilde con precisión exquisita.

Porque el Señor es excelso, y atiende al humilde,
mas al altivo conoce de lejos.

Salmo 138.6 LBLA

Las concepciones ordinarias de poder exaltado son subvertidas otra vez en la segunda línea del verso citado, pues allí el salmista percibe de lejos a la persona que se exalta a una proximidad aparente con YHVH. Intentar acercarse a YHVH por medio de la auto-exaltación es de hecho distanciarse en una hazaña trágica de autoengaño. 

YHVH, el altísimo, mira y se acerca a sus hijas e hijos cuando se han vuelto los más humildes.

El poeta que está detrás del salmo 138 no concluye sus reflexiones con esta hermosa observación, hecha en abstracto. Más bien, él expresa una declaración y una súplica conmovedoras, llena de la mucha humildad que él ha descrito.

Aunque yo ande en medio de la angustia, tú me vivificarás;
extenderás tu mano contra la ira de mis enemigos,
y tu diestra me salvará.
El SEÑOR cumplirá [su propósito] en mí;
eterna, oh SEÑOR, es tu misericordia;
no abandones las obras de tus manos.

Con una regularidad inesperada, los salmos asocian las declaraciones del cuidado de YHVH más confiadas de sí mismas con las peticiones más sentidas para que dicho cuidado no flaquee.

El salmista ha conocido, en algún nivel conoce, que el cuidado intencional de YHVH no se interrumpirá por las agonías de dudas de la experiencia humana. Empero, su palabra final— ¡No abandones las obras de tus manos!—clama con un temor discernible porque el amor tan celebrado de YHVH no se agote mientras su propia vida no esté concluida.

Con una autoconciencia notable, con extraordinario entendimiento de la gloria como de la degradación de la existencia humana, el salmista ubica su propia y frágil vida dentro de una frase que se ha vuelto familiar para el lector como una firma descriptiva de la creación de YHWH: la(s) obras(s) de tus manos.

El poeta se conoce como un objeto de esa misma artesanía. Junto al sol, la luna y las estrellas, él vislumbra en sí mismo las huellas del Maestro Artista. Sin embargo, él sabe que, aquí abajo, algunos intentos fallidos al crear belleza terminan descartados en el piso del estudio, muy arruinados por accidente o por fallo inherente para convertirse en algo bueno.

Por un momento, se pregunta si YHVH, creador y sustentador sin defectos, podría también permitirse dicho lapso momentáneo. 

¡No me descartes…!

… clama el trabajo en progreso que es el ser humano. 

¡No me descartes…!, clamamos mientras leemos, encontrando nuestra condición en él. 

La tradición bíblica lucha poderosamente con el exceso aparente del compromiso de YHWH para con David y su ciudad.

No corresponde a la tradición mosaica el hacer promesas sin destacar las responsabilidades que devienen de la generosidad divina. Sin embargo, uno o dos clásicas declaraciones del pacto ‘davídico’ o ‘sionista’ hacen exactamente eso. A mi juicio, los errores teológicos más grandes están al lado del camino donde uno intenta restringir la libertad divina. Aun así, debemos considerar la posibilidad de que una condicionalidad implícita habite incluso en las promesas más absolutas de YHWH para con David y su descendencia. A la final, YHWH es en el drama bíblico un maestro en el rescate creativo de situaciones puestas en peligro por la debilidad humana, la terquedad, o ambas.

Si estas advertencias suenan densas y en algunas ocasiones se alejan del texto que tenemos al frente, no están desvinculadas de él. La misma lucha de la tradición sugiere que los puntos de vista que podríamos catalogar como ‘teológicos’ emergen de la felicidad de las propias promesas de YHWH.

Dejemos que los salmos —presumiblemente uno de los géneros menos cautelosos cuando se trata de articular las cosas que realmente importan—yuxtapongan el juramento seguro de YHWH para con David a un gigantesco si que ambula como un fantasma por los pasillos de Sión y sus edificios reales/religiosos:

El Señor ha jurado a David
una verdad de la cual no se retractará:
De tu descendencia pondré sobre tu trono.
Si tus hijos guardan mi pacto,
y mi testimonio que les enseñaré,
sus hijos también ocuparán tu trono para siempre.

(Salmo 132:11-12 LBLA)

Aunque un lector pedantemente lógico podría con dificultad tragarse la apariencia de una contradicción ingenua, la tradición que aquí está inscrita es consciente de dos realidades. Primero, el legado poético está muy consciente de la inescrutable firmeza de YHWH. Segundo, no negará la responsabilidad profundamente arraigada que el misterioso camino de YHWH con aquellos en los que cae su amor exige en las vidas, aunque infrequentemente se hayan acercado a él. Más a menudo dichas personas —David siendo el primero entre ellos—se ven atrapados en la red del amor divino. Les resulta difícil —si, en teoría, no imposible—liberarse de la red tenaz, envolvente y retentiva que está en sus pies, sus piernas, sus brazos y en todo lo que son.

Las promesas de YHWH. Seres humanos más o menos arruinan el posludio. YHWH encuentra un camino. 

Pareciera que en tal redención dialéctica sobreviven este mundo y el próximo, no sin tragedia pero sí sanos y salvos.

Si Paul Simon solo pudo encontrar cinco formas para dejar a su amante, el escritor de Salmos 119 claramente le supera. Versículo tras versículo de este poema acróstico –significa que la primera letra de cada línea sigue al alfabeto en un patrón claramente identificable– enaltece la palabra, la ley y la promesa del Señor con un lenguaje usualmente utilizado solo para elogiar el amor romántico.

Me regocijo en tu palabra como quien halla un gran botín.

(Salmo 119:162 LBLA)

Aunque las líneas específicas de este salmo audazmente enfocado han encontrado su camino a la espiritualidad judía y cristiana, para muchos lectores modernos el salmo mismo parece ser tedioso y—me atrevo a decirlo—un poco obsesivo. Un poema como este da primacía a la forma y luego a su contenido. Incluso un lector compresivo tiende a concluir, cuando ve al escritor llegar a la quinta línea que empieza con la letra “ayin”, que debe darse un descanso.  

Sin embargo, vale la pena sujetar la impaciencia moderna con forma, repetición y ley, lo suficiente como para preguntar qué tipo de alma genera una celebración épica de la instrucción divina. ¿Quién, por ejemplo, podría decir esto sin una sonrisa burlona?

Tus testimonios he tomado como herencia para siempre, porque son el gozo de mi corazón.

¿Quién, sin ironía, afirma esto? 

Quebrantada está mi alma anhelando tus ordenanzas en todo tiempo.

Algunos aspectos de dicho perfil vienen a mi mente.

Primero, el escritor está profundamente consciente de su propia fragilidad. Él habita en un mundo donde abundan la amenaza y la traición, uno donde sus pies parecen resbalar al menos que pueda situarlos firmemente en los cimientos de la instrucción divina. 

En segundo lugar, él cree que YHWH crea y sostiene el mundo. La palabra del Señor para él es un subconjunto de su proyecto de sustento del mundo. El caos y el orden no son teóricos para él, sino más bien las articulaciones de su existencia diaria. 

Tercero, él encuentra en la instrucción de YHWH como dadora de vida. Una y otra vez, contrapone una petición por la instrucción vivificante del Señor ante la desintegración de la vida y la esperanza.

Cuarto, él ha encontrado rica recompensa al dedicar una energía formidable al dominio de los prefectos de YHWH. Su enfoque a ese conjunto de aprendizaje que él cataloga como preceptos, ley(es), promesa y palabra(s) es todo menos pasivo. Él enérgicamente busca su recompensa y las anhela cuando parecen distantes.

El erudito bíblico Walter Brueggemann nos ha enseñado que los salmos hablan a nuestras vidas al grado que hemos sido destrozados o desorientados por los eventos. Uno no esperaría que un salmo nomistico como este—con su concentración inflexible sobre lo que está establecido y verdadero—encaje muy bien en la observación de Brueggemann. Sin embargo, sorprendentemente, parece ser así.

En toda su artificialidad sintética, el salmo 119 nos pide que consideremos si los seres humanos más destruidos o amenazados podrían necesitar, más que nada, una palabra. 

El poeta que está detrás de nuestro salmo 104 contribuye a un compendio que añade a la acción de YHWH en la historia una celebración a su obra en creación. Es una bella rareza.

Curiosamente, dos características de la participación divina en la creación entretejen la celebración del salmista. 

Primeramente, el salmista observa la acción divina no solo en la creación original, sino en el continuo sustento de las criaturas de YHWH. Cuando se toca esta nota, vemos también la colaboración de las criaturas. YHWH provee los recursos necesarios, y las criaturas responden reuniéndose si son animales, y en la labor del campo y del hogar si son humanos. 

Él hace brotar la hierba para el ganado,
y las plantas para el servicio del hombre,
para que él saque alimento de la tierra,
y vino que alegra el corazón del hombre,
para que haga brillar con aceite su rostro,
y alimento que fortalece el corazón del hombre

Los árboles del Señor se sacian,
los cedros del Líbano que Él plantó,
donde hacen sus nidos las aves,
y la cigüeña, cuya morada está en los cipreses.

Los montes altos son para las cabras monteses;
las peñas son refugio para los tejones…

Todos ellos esperan en ti,
para que les des su comida a su tiempo.
Tú les das, ellos recogen;
abres tu mano, se sacian de bienes.

(Salmo 104:14–15 … 27-28 LBLA)

En segundo lugar, no es solo el salmista el que se regocija en esta colaboración modelada y de sustento. YHWH mismo se alegra por esto, tal como el poeta en su contemplación.

¡Sea para siempre la gloria del Señor!
¡Alégrese el Señor en sus obras!
Él mira a la tierra, y ella tiembla;
toca los montes, y humean.
Al Señor cantaré mientras yo viva;
cantaré alabanzas a mi Dios mientras yo exista.
Séale agradable mi meditación;
yo me alegraré en el Señor.

Aquí la creación no es objetivada de ninguna forma impersonal o mecánica. Es una comunidad viva y con aliento, diseñada por YHWH, poblada por seres que son totalmente dependientes de su provisión y encargada, en el caso de los seres humanos, de convertirla en una provisión ampliada y extendida para los demás. 

El ciclo de vida y muerte se reconoce, un asentimiento dado a las temporadas de fulminante escasez. Nada de esto nubla o limita el regocijo del salmista, ni presumiblemente, el del Creador.

Los esfuerzos humanos sobre la vastedad del mar y en el desafío del suelo contribuye a una visión doxológica. 

Hay sinergia, colaboración, e incluso una cierta imitación de Dios en todo esto.

Solo al final los “pecadores” y “los malvados” manchan sus glorias. Estos quedan encomendados al justo poder de YHWH. 

El mundo como lo vemos no es, podríamos pausar para considerarlo, inevitable. Tampoco es ordinario. Es la obra de manos divinas. Todo se inclina al regocijo. Es una invitación incluso ahora a la risa apreciativa, a un corazón que se alegre al considerarla. 

¡Bendice al Señor, Oh, alma mía!

Emmanuel Bellon begins this work by scanning the historical background of theological education in Africa (Part One: History and Financial Challenges of Theological Institutions; Chapter 1: The Historical Initiatives). By managing to squeeze in the book’s first paragraph the phrases ‘endemic financial challenges’ and ‘the carcasses of struggling institutions littering every corner of the continent’, Bello signals that his will be no Pollyanish reading of events. Indeed, at the turn of a first page we find theological education in Africa described by one authoritative assessment as ‘the weakest element of the entire enterprise of Christian Missions’.

Bellon faults, inter alia, the widespread adoption of the Berlin model of education by missionary educators and the institutional reliance on donations via the hoary model of ‘faith missions’ for the debris that clutters the landscape he surveys. But to mention one aspect of theological education as practiced elsewhere that has been imported on to African soil would be to blunt the author’s severe criticism of the entire project, which has left Africa bereft of sustainable models for institutional life with real capacity for survival and perseverance in the continent.

In spite of the obstacles to which Bellon alludes, African theological scholarship has advanced apace and found its voice on a global platform. Yet the ache in Bellon’s lines persists, because the institutionality that would assure a future for such advances on the part of African churches, scholars, and believers remains largely absent. This is the particular burden of the work under review. Its author will not stray far from it.

A chapter on ‘calling’ to Christian leadership (Chapter 2: Opportunities for Training: The Call to Christian Leadership Ministry) might at first seem to represent a detour from the topic of financial viability for theological institutions. Yet in the logic under development, this is not so. Bellon is at pains to uncover the personal element of those who are most immediately effected by the viability of centers of theological training or, as it happens, the absence of the same. His narrative makes it appear that the infrastructure of African theological education may be designed for a population entirely other than the corpus of the called that are assuming leadership of African churches.

Two observations emerge. First, the project of theological education faces from the outset the difficulty of proving its worth to doubters. Second, the very structures it has assumed from early missionary initiative are too often not those that are attractive to emerging church leaders.

Training is not offered at accessible cost and format. Additionally, institutions staffed by faculty who have been shaped by accredited universities outside of Africa have chosen to ignore the migration towards accredited status that other education institutions have experienced. Bellon describes a landscape pitted by both quandaries and ironies. At no moment has the African church more desperately needed well-trained leaders. Yet the institutions arguably most concerned with shaping those leaders are beset by institutional weakness and an aversion to the changes that would render the viable today and tomorrow. 

Bellon begins his consideration of financial models (Chapter 3: Matching Financial Resources) by rehearsing the opaque arrangements under which missionary teachers and administrators were funded ‘from abroad’ with little or no attention given to the real cost of this phenomenon. The consequences as missionary staffing for diverse reasons became less plentiful are in retrospect quite obvious. First, the true cost of theological education and its outcome in the form of student fees were—respectively—never calculated and abysmally low. Second, when the flow of missionary staff diminished, no provision had been made for hiring African successors at a living wage.

Given the circumstances he is describing, Bellon’s prose is occasionally and appropriately biting, nowhere more so than when describing inequities that are invisible to one party but painful and even exasperating to the other. 

The need for survival overshadows any contractual commitment that holds no bright future. Consequently, many of the students completed their studies but did not return to their institutions. The trained African graduates could not have imagined when they began their journey that they would be in a situation in which they might end up with the same qualifications as their missionary faculty friends, but be offered a standard of living far lower than their counterparts … In addition, some graduates did not attempt to return to Africa for fear that a weak economy could not provide sufficient opportunities. Instead, these individuals availed themselves to whatever employment opportunities could be translated into a stable livelihood abroad and settled into those positions. Therefore, the reality was that initial educational contracts and agreements with funders and contracting theological institutions were constantly broken. Graduates learned to live with the guilt while struggling African institutions grew bitter about students who abandoned them.

Bellon anchors his consideration of ‘matching financial resources’ in a comprehensive survey of the theological college’s stakeholders. Each of these has a particular angle of interest in the institution itself and at times an array of them. The difficulties that lie alongside the advantages of multiple stake-holding constituencies is that each of these brings its own concerns and passions to the seminary. Sometimes these do not align with the core concerns of the school. In consequence, theological colleges can be pulled away from their core precisely because such stakeholders tend to be highly influential and even essential for the institution’s viability.

The author surveys as well sources of income based on data largely culled from a survey of Majority-World theological seminaries carried out by Overseas Council International. Few features of the landscape encourage. Yet Bellon concludes Part One of his work by surveying as well the need for change, possible agents, of change, and obstacles to change. His direction suggests that he, at least, finds reasons for hope that theological education in Africa can in fact be placed upon a firmer footing.

Bellon leads us next into a discursive review of the Apostle Paul’s view(s) regarding what today we might call ‘missionary support’ as a means of sustaining his apostolic project (Part Two: Biblical Foundations for Financial Sustainability; Chapter 4: Missionary Support for Ministry). Since chapter 4 is the only chapter in ‘Part Two: Biblical Foundations for Financial Sustainability’, the section might have more accurately been titled ‘Pauline Foundations…’. With a depth and subtlety proper to a work that is not primarily an exegetical endeavor, the author discerns a parallel between Paul’s multilayered views regarding ‘missionary support’ as his calling, on the one hand, and the role of leaders and faculty of African theological colleges on the other. The recourse to Paul is seasoned with a suggestive reference to the biblical Levites, who ‘administrated (sic) grain, animal and fruit offerings in the temple, which they were divinely authorized to use for their livelihood as they served in ministry to priests to Israel. It was therefore appropriate that they derived their livelihood from this sources. Just as God appointed the Levites to ministry so should the staff of a theological institution be supported out of the proceeds of missions.’

By this reviewer’s lights, the paradigmatic line—a dotted one, to be sure—that links Levites to theological faculty is a straighter one than that which links the apostle the same body. For this reason, I find Bellon’s treatment curious and worthy of a return visit at some point.

Meanwhile, Bellon pivots to the fact that—though such missionary support of theological faculty is appropriate—the institutions in question are seldom in a position to offer it.

Institutions must be held accountable both spiritually and materially regarding how they meet the needs of their faculty and staff.

Strong language, and with a moral edge. But how?

Bellon’s answer begins with a summons to avoid the most trouble-making features of donor engagement with the theological college. These are exacerbated when the donors live in the West and the college finds its place in Africa, to cite an example not far from Bellon’s field of survey. Yet the author is at pains to insist that such cross-cultural mutuality is a very Pauline dynamic, the value and legitimacy of which should not be questioned. 

The delicate dance fails when donors insist on their own preferences to the detriment of the college’s creativity; when fundraising efforts cast local realties and players in a pitiful or otherwise negative light; and when the donor-college conversation fails to move all the way to creation of ways for the college, its people, and its mission to thrive in a healthy ambience where the actors (faculty and administrators, chiefly) are honored by compensation levels worthy of their labors.

Yet the burden of the book’s Part Two would escape our grasp if we were to imagine that Bellon is advocating one particular way of sustaining the work of a theological college. His attention to the Pauline example now takes the form of an extended treatment of Paul’s ‘tent-making’ occupation. For reasons that touch upon personal integrity, a prioritizing of the extension of Paul’s gospel, and an visible demonstration of the need for Christian believers to work with vigor and diligence even in the least respected trades, Bellon finds Paul to be an exemplar for a second economic model for theological schools.

One glimpses near the end of chapter five in the midst of Bellon’s powerful argument for a tent-making theological institution that his constructive contribution to the institutional dilemmas he has so painfully sketched out has leapt out of the blocks. Theological colleges have the right to ask for donations, just as Paul did. Yet they are also well advised to diversify their income streams via tent-making, just as the apostle also found it prudent to do.

This sensitivity translates into responsible interdependence that is healthy and praiseworthy. As sponsorship grows, respect and trust for partners can also strengthen. In a responsible, interdependent relationship, donors are blessed as they give, and recipients are able to fulfill the divine mandate to train men and women for church and society. Lack of sensitivity can significantly hinder the work of God as sponsors might feel tempted to break relationships causing the work of a ministry to suffer. This Paul described as being a burden to the donors, which should not be.

The author’s introduction of the term ‘responsible interdependence’ is a promising antidote to the mantra of ‘sustainability’ that appears so self-evidently virtuous and absolute in the eyes of many Western donors and organizations, yet lands with a thud among Majority World institutions precisely because of its stunning capacity to overlook the fact that nearly all such Western organizations—and educational ones par excellence—are in some real way donor-dependent. ‘Sustainability’ often comes as a recipe delivered from West to non-West for the baking of a respectable cake, when in fact it is seen from the other side as merely the latest chapter in a long book of Neo-imperialist prescriptions.

Bellon is eager to exit this stage and to begin a genuine conversation about trust-building. He is to be commended for this.

What is more, he finds an instructive parallel between the ways in which the apostle Paul was criticized for his tent-making option and the way that theological institutions fall under critique for launching out (yet) again in modern tent-making directions. Bellon does not imagine that a complimentary tent-making frontier is any kind of easy answer for theological institutions. He does insist that in the ‘dynamic tension’ of making the effort divine grace is to be discovered.

Bellon’s  Part Three (Toward Financial Sustainability of Theological Institutions) and Chapter 6 (Church Ownership and Institutional Governance) narrate an almost farcical disconnect between church leaders and theological institutions. His read of how theological institutions were, in retrospect, almost destined to be orphaned when their missionary founders departed is not for the faint of heart. An extended quotation is necessary:

Certainly, theologians are important stakeholders who work with ideas and analytical tools that are exclusive to the discipline, like any other professional field. Donald Luck noted, “As remote and comical as fussing with ideas may seem, ideas are real and very important. They change the world. In other words, even by pragmatic standards, ideas are real because they have practical consequences.” Theologians expect the church—more than any other constituency—to be most sympathetic with lofty ideals and social causes. Instead, the result has been alienation. This slow but gradual drift between the academics and church leadership over the years has seen every effort for church ownership dwindle.

Aloof theologians are often not the kind of people with whom society easily associates. Theologians seem to spend considerable amounts of time analyzing the past but seldom make recommendations for the present. Their preoccupation with the future is always in doubt except when discussing signs of the end times and God’s divine judgment. They are perceived as scholars who take pride in challenging, questioning, and raising doubts about the activity of the church. They often come across as more arrogant than concerned about the simple biblical traditions of the past. This seeming arrogance and spiritual pride of theologians is an affront to church leadership, resulting in the church’s withdrawal of interest in whatever goes on in the theological institutions.

Regardless, the church is a major stakeholder in theological education. Therefore, ownership of the institution is worthy of consideration if these campuses are to experience sustainability—particularly financial sustainability. Yet, theological institutions desire independence from the church with regard to major decisions. This has further aggravated an already sour relationship. The OCI survey indicated that church leaders are not among the top three agents of change in theological education in Africa. On the contrary, they represent the top three obstacles to change in the institutions. The prevailing emphasis should be to explore various ways to work with, instead of against each other.

Such an essentializing description of ‘aloof theologians’, ‘the academics’, and ‘scholars’ provides this reader with multiple reasons to bristle.

But Bellon is barely getting started. From this point of his survey, he launches into a sustained argument for church-institution (the latter meaning the seminary or theological college) partnership where ‘ownership’ is a function of the church but mutual ‘responsiveness’ is at the core of the relationship. Although one might wish for a nuancing of certain of his points, this reader finds little that is worthy of disagreement. Even his seven granular descriptions of how ‘institutional leaders’ must strengthen this brand of church ownership draw a hearty if occasionally qualified ‘Amen’.

However, I miss a list of similar duties that are incumbent upon the church in this mutually responsive relationship. As a veteran of church-seminary tensions in multiple contexts—with the scars to show it—this worries me. Churches, it seems to me, are as capable of one-sided conceptions of ‘responsiveness’ as theological institutions are. 

Bellon signals the location where he will place the preponderance of responsibility for financial viability—the governing body—by dedicating an unexpected number of pages to how governance ought to function in (African) theological colleges, but seldom does.

Drawing heavily upon the above-referenced survey produced by Overseas Council International (full disclosure: this research occurred during the presidential tenure of this reviewer at Overseas Council) and the superb doctoral dissertation of Jason Ferenzci (Serving Communities: Governance and the Potential of Theological Schools; Carlisle, 2015), Bellon next surveys a number of factors that in concert create a climate in which organizational health can thrive. Summarizing, Bellon writes that…

Effective governance of theological institutions can be achieved if there is a community of trust, presence of alignment, responsive integration, a strong enabling CEO, and succession planning. It is the confluence of all these factors that makes a difference. The governance process is like a concert in which a fluid function centered on the board but [draws] expertise, skills, and time of the rest of the organization as well.

The first two, and indeed the conventional, revenue streams in African theological education are tuition and donations (Chapter 7, The Role of the Third Stream). The duo holds sway of course in other regions as well, although Bellon implies that the ‘charitable’ approach and economic realities of Africa have rendered the impact of the first stream negligible and the second stream an uphill watercourse. Thus the need for a ‘third stream’, which the author defines as ‘any revenue generated by theological institutions apart from tuition and donations … for the sole purpose of fulfilling the core mandate of theological education at an African institution.’ 

Though income generated in this way often lies outside the expertise available on the staff of African theological colleges, a quick look at mission history persuades Bellon that the effort is a viable one. In addition, the current climate make ‘short-term capital projects … a more compelling case for support than long-term capacity building projects’ when the third stream and the second stream are taken into view at the same time.

If Bellon’s rehearsal of aspects of healthy and unhealthy institutional structure has at times appeared a worthwhile if pedantic exercise, it is in this seventh chapter that the reader discovers the destination to which his method leads. This is also the moment when Bellon makes his unique contribution to the discussion via a metaphorical turn that produces the vocabulary of the ‘God-given seed’. Again, a full quote is merited:

The God-given seed is the talent or resourced divinely placed within the reach of every theological institution to develop third stream projects successfully. The seed supports an institution’s mission to generate financial resources for continued development of leaders and like the biblical talent in Matthew 25:14-28, God has provided every theological institution a seed to guide the success of a third stream project. Of course, seeds will differ with every institution, as some institutions are better endowed the others. Nevertheless, all institutions have been gifted with a seed. Consequently, theological institutions must trust God to open their eyes to identify and explore their unique seed for the benefit of the institution.

God-given seeds come in all forms and shapes, such as land, buildings, expertise, the student body, faculty, administrators, churches, affiliations, and the like. Although these things are often obvious by most standards, institutions often overlook God-given seeds in areas critical for the success of third stream projects. Discovery of God-given sees is often hindered by policies, customs, traditions, and the culture of an institution. Sometimes these hindrances are wrapped around the policies of primary sponsors such as churches and mission agencies.

Bellon then walks his reader through critical decision points that will keep the nurturing of the God-given seed from burdening theological and institutional leaders and from distracting the college from its shared vocation of training Christian leaders. The board and what are sometimes called talented ‘raving fans’ are brought into the picture as key assets for this delicate dance, which can in this reviewer’s experience otherwise begin to resemble a slow-motion train wreck. A catalogue of third-stream projects introduces some thought-provoking options and moves the discourse in the direction of concreteness and practicality. 

To his credit, Bellon is acutely sensitive to what can go wrong or at least throw up novel challenges as the God-given seed is identified and projects to operationalize its promise get underway. These include mission drift, management challenges, financial loss,  and what the author calls ‘nonprofit privileges’.

In my view, the value of Bellon’s experience as a theological educator rather than a more generic institutional advisor shows its face here. He has seen in all their horror the frustrations of both theological educators who endeavor to develop third-stream projects and of allies of the college whose experience is limited to the business world. Not all good ideas transfer smoothly across this dotted line. Bellon knows this, and so is well placed to educate his readers to the reality that it may be some time before victory is declared and a parade organized.

Bellon is so confident in the promise of such third-stream projects as to declare that even foreign donors ‘should not gravitate toward the usual piecemeal grants that provoke and appetite but do no satisfy hunger … donations can be used to primarily focus on addressing the weak state of institutional structures that threaten (sic) the future of theological education in Africa … These then become seed grants to kick-start third stream projects, under requisite professional guidance and support. This strategy is to ensure profitability. Although conations can fluctuate along local and foreign economic trends, the are an essential part of advancing theological education across the globe.’

Bellon is not arguing for the cheap ’self-sustainability’ that is often preached by Western donors and other partners. Rather, he wants Africa’s Western partners to remain close, but to re-configure their engagement with African theological colleges in a way that supports the march towards viability that has to date never adequately been undertaken.

Bellon’s eighth chapter (Strategic Collaboration and Modes of Delivery) constitutes a survey of areas in which institutions might fruitfully collaborate rather than guarding their own institutional prerogatives. The list, a long one, would make for fruitful contemplation at a gathering of suitably desperate institutional leaders.

Chapter 9 (Leadership Development) argues that leadership development and succession are matters that ought to be approached proactively rather than in the moment of crisis. In few corners of this sprawling work does Bellon sound quite as contrarian against the backdrop of his Africa context.

Unfortunately, quality leadership development has been sporadic up to this point given the assumption that leaders will always emerge as a natural course of nature … In other worlds, mimicking specific leaders is not the key to leadership development anymore. Instead, new forward-thinking mentoring is a clear departure from the former charismatic change-leader syndrome that characterized so much of leadership development in the past.

Bellon follows this observation with a rehearsal of what good leadership looks like—both in the leader himself or herself and in the leader’s institutional ecosystem—in an African theological institution. Although the Western reader may engage the chapter as a detour from the volume’s declared them, it seems that Bellon’s apologia for its inclusion might well include that in African theological institutions there is no enduring financial viability without effective and well-supported leaders.

A final installment (Chapter 10, The Wheels of Financial Sustainability) gathers the contribution of the previous nine into the metaphor of a wheel with six spokes: church ownership, institutional governance, third stream projects, strategic collaboration, modes of delivery, and leadership development.

The image of the wheel works not only because of the convenience of being constructed of spokes. It also draws this reader’s mind to the notion of a journey, conceivably of a long and arduous one.

The image would not be alien to the tone of Bellon’s work. Emmanuel Bellon has served up a four-course meal: One part cri de coeur over the sometimes abysmal state of African theological institutions; one part gritty determination that these critical theological colleges can in fact move towards sustainability; one part nuts-and-bolts instruction regarding how to get started and then gain momentum on the path to sustainability; and one part resilient hope that African church and society can in fact be nourished, led, and served by superb graduates of the theological schools he knows so well.

No one is better placed than this author for the tough diagnostic and prescriptive work that we have in Leading Financial Sustainability in African Theological Institutions. Ghanian-born Bellon is a veteran of the sometimes thankless task of theological leadership in today’s Africa, where the burgeoning growth of Christian churches would seem to render theological education an easy task, but never does. Bellon drives home the reality that achieving financial sustainability in the continent’s seminaries and theological colleges is no mere economic challenge. Rather, it requires deep theological undergirding, life-long growth in leadership skills beyond the classroom, broad collaborative instincts, and a measure of outright daring.

Dr. Bellon’s observations are pertinent beyond Africa, for the issues he addresses obtain across most of the Global South and—indeed—in the venerable institutions of the West, where financial sustainability is also every day’s challenge. Leaders and governing boards of theological seminaries will find in Bellon an empathetic and knowledgeable mentor.

Times like these are best met with lament.

Not with firm declarations and explanations in the name of God, or calls for peace and stability above all else. As though we knew more, understood more than we do.

Just lament. We have been given words for it, why not use them?

Yet even in this present darkness one must confess a persistent hope, one that will not die.

Gerard Manley Hopkins captures this tenacious hope as only he can.

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
     It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
     It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? 
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;      
     And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;      
     And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. 

And for all this, nature is never spent;      
     There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; 
And though the last lights off the black West went      
     Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent      
     World broods with warm breast and with ah!
         bright wings. 

          —Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ, The Grandeur of God

Come. Brood now, brood again over us.

El salmo 103 insiste que vivimos en un mundo en el que una clara visión lleva a la gratitud.

La bendición es realidad. No reconocerlo significa que alguien se ha quedado ciego, quizá aún que ha sucumbido a una mentira. 

Sin embargo, la gratitud requiere una elección—y aún aquella elección continua que se convierte en disciplina—porque por alguna razón desconocida somos propensos a olvidar. La bendición es un hecho, pero la gratitud rara vez ocurre por naturaleza. Requiere practica, disciplina, incluso cultura, para que la bendición se responda con acción de gracias. 

Es por esto que el salmista emplea la figura extraña de exhortar a su propia ‘alma’ a que bendiga al Señor. No es que las bendiciones de YHWH son difíciles de ver, es solo que son fáciles de perder. Son más fáciles aún de olvidar. 

Bendice, alma mía, al Señor,
y no olvides ninguno de sus beneficios.
Él es el que perdona todas tus iniquidades,
el que sana todas tus enfermedades;
el que rescata de la fosa tu vida,
el que te corona de bondad y compasión;
el que colma de bienes tus años,
para que tu juventud se renueve como el águila.                                                    

El Señor hace justicia,
y juicios a favor de todos los oprimidos.
A Moisés dio a conocer sus caminos,
y a los hijos de Israel sus obras.

(Salmo 103:2–7 LBLA, énfasis añadido).

La mayoría del tiempo el último recurso de interpretes sinvergüenzas es insistir que ‘el idioma original afirma verdades que no se entienden en la traducción’. Sin embargo, en este caso es parcialmente cierto.

Las palabras en cursiva son participios del idioma hebreo. En al hebreo clásico el sentido de este es usualmente una actividad continua. Aunque no puede ser el caso con la última cadena de participios—YHWH dio a conocer sus caminos a Moisés solo en el pasado—la preponderancia de la evidencia sugiere que debemos bendecir al Señor aquí precisamente como aquel que habitualmente actúa de esta forma. Es su naturaleza, su hábito divino, el trabajo fácil de su mano derecha. 

Sería una carga para el idioma, pero tendría más sentido traducir esto con la forma del definitivo en inglés, junto con un gerundio: El que está perdonando…El que está sanando…El que está redimiendo…El que está rodeando…El que está satisfaciendo…

En pocas palabras, así es como es YHWH. Tú puedes contrastarlo con otros señores, si quieres, y dar gracias porque has caído bajo el cuidado de este. 

Cuando vemos claramente, en un mundo gobernado como este salmo insiste en que el nuestro es gobernado, bendecimos a su Gobernante. Le damos gracias. Nos volvemos agradecidos.

No se nos pide aquí que superemos la realidad con esfuerzos psicológicos. Se nos pide que veamos las cosas como son.  

De lo contrario, sería lo más extraño, como los tropiezos de un ciego, los placeres infundados del adicto a conspiraciones, o la mujer que se ha apartado totalmente de la realidad. 

¡Escucha, alma mia!