Minecrafters, mapmakers and educated people: European Baptist teachers discuss trends in theological education in Europe

July 11th, 2018

“What should theological education be like? How does theological education for the 21st century work successfully?” Under these questions, 20 teachers from 11 different European countries and 13 different baptist schools met from 27th to 30th June in the Donauhof of the project church in Vienna. The Consortium of European Baptist Theological Schools (CEBTS) invited participants to give keynote addresses and discuss trends and perspectives in theological education.

Daniel Drost told how the Dutch Baptist Seminary (Netherlands) considered what a 2025 graduate should be able to do. They identified three basic tasks: prayer, explaining the Scriptures and giving spiritual direction. Therefore, the Dutch see the core tasks as: Following, Understanding and Leading. Einike Pilli of the Tartu Theological Seminary (Estonia) tried in a similar way to answer the question from the end: “What are the two or three most important things a school wants to see in its students at the end?” Working from the answers to this question, it is necessary to ask what methods of learning lead there. Since many goals relate to the personality of the graduate, the personal commitment of the teacher and the provision of feedback and mentoring to students become more and more important. In addition to the subject curriculum, the teacher him/herself is very important as a ‘curriculum’, namely what atmosphere of learning is made possible and which role model he/she gives.

Simon Jones of Spurgeon’s College (England) has years of experience in exit interviews with graduates and sees future pastors as ‘mapmakers’: “We do not give the students a map, they are put in the position to do it themselves, to create a map and navigate”. He also sees the pastors of the future as ‘entrepreneurs’, who take responsibility and take high risks. There was much debate among those present as to whether pastors should be bi-vocational in the future, that is, consider their vocation to pursue a secular profession alongside a pastoral profession, as many churches cannot offer full-time jobs and also added value could be seen in life experience.

Anthony Cross of the International Baptist Theological Study Centre (Amsterdam) took us on a journey through history, showing how necessary deep theological understanding is for sustainable pastoral ministry and how it has been fought over and won over against reservations about education. Cross says, “Parents sometimes give children not just what they want, but what they need, and as shepherds, we need to give communities not just what they want, but what they need.” He emphatically recommends to preach “not against Theology” from the pulpit “but always to refer to Jesus as a teacher who has not allowed shortcuts in thinking, but has gone into the depths”.

Marion Carson (Scotland) addressed the importance of responsible and empathic preaching, in the context of her personal life experiences. She proposed to increase the developmental stages of the faith (according to Fowler or others) in theological education. Jan Martijn Abrahamse (Netherlands) made a plea for more humour in theology, because the Bible itself is full of clowning and – like Jesus – vulnerable. Abrahamse says: “Theology has arrived at the university in the right place when it is laughed at.”

From Romania, Sorin Badragan reported that many students are able to participate in online studies and thus serve in the local community and study on the side. Henrik Holmgaard from Denmark described the new generation of students as ‘minecrafters’, who like to build something like the computer game of the same name and need resources and tools to do so. In his opinion, new pastors need good pastors to follow as mentors, just as Paul was mentor to Timothy. 

Against the backdrop of a large-scale study, Being Christian in Western Europe (the Pew Research Center), published in May 2018, theologians have discussed megatrends in all countries. In all the countries of Western Europe, except Italy, Christians who understand themselves as Christians but do not attend church (71%) are in the majority, compared to those who visit a church at least once a month (22%). One key finding of the survey was particularly discussed: that the majority of regular churchgoers are more strongly opposed to immigrants, Muslims and Jews and also more nationalistic than the rest of the population. In addition, attitudes to ethical issues such as legal abortion or homosexuality differ significantly between the majority society and the church-related minority. Michael Rohde (Germany) asked: “How can we prepare and empower students and communities to discuss these and future ‘hot potatoes ‘?”

Theological education is facing great challenges. The attendees are jointly convinced that theological depth in all disciplines is necessary and the learning of the biblical languages remains important. At the same time the demands on a pastor are diverse and therefore the learning methods must be more holistic.

Those present were impressed by the development of the Vienna project church, as it works with many young people – on the one hand theologically profound and at the same time initiating social and missionary projects that serve refugees and other people in Vienna.

Report by: Michael Rohde (member of the Comission of Theology and Education of the European Baptist Federation, Germany)

IBTSC Conference: Evangelicals and Oppression

May 30th, 2018

 From 18 to 20 April 2018 IBTSC Amsterdam hosted a conference on the topic of ’Evangelicals and Oppression: Eastern European Perspectives’. During the three days 13 papers were delivered, ranging from life stories of Siberian Baptist women under Stalinist pressures to the practice of religious freedom in the pre-World War 1 era in the Russian Empire. The papers were delivered by Ian Randall, Miriam Dobson, Constantine Prokhorov, Galina Prokhorova, Lydie Kucova, Koos-jan de Jager, Johannes Dyck and others. Professor Walter Sawatsky, Dr. Ian Randall and Dr. Constantine Prokhorov signed copies of their publications at the conference.

The keynote speaker, Professor Emeritus Walter Sawatsky, opened the conference with a wide-ranging overview of Eastern European Evangelicals, emphasising that suffering was a trait of identity for these believers. Today, there is an important lesson in Eastern European Evangelicals’ story, which leads to the way of life which calls for standing against what Sawatsky defined as “redemptive violence thinking“. The papers were followed with lively discussions. And last not least – during coffee breaks the participants were able to enjoy warm spring weather and engage in conversations. A selection of the conference papers will be published in IBTSC Amsterdam publications – Baptistic Theologies and Journal of European Baptist Studies.

Pictured above are Professor Walter Sawatsky, Dr. Ian Randall and Dr. Constantine Prokhorov who signed copies of their publications at the conference.

New Director for IBTS Centre Appointed

April 30th, 2018

 The Board of IBTS Centre are pleased to announce the appointment of Revd Dr Mike Pears as Director of IBTS Centre as of 1st August 2018.

Dr Mike Pears began his doctoral studies in Prague in 2011 and completed his doctorate in Amsterdam, being one of the first IBTS Centre students to graduate at the VU. His ongoing research interests include: the theology of place, especially as that relates to issues of power and inequality; the use of ethnography in relation to theology and mission; urban theology. Along with Prof. Paul Cloke (Exeter University), he is co-editing and authoring a series of six books entitled Mission in Marginal Places currently published by Paternoster.

In terms of both conviction and identity Mike is strongly baptistic. The core aspects of his faith have been shaped and enriched through a broad variety of ministry and mission contexts including significant involvements in inner-city London, Vancouver, Frankfurt, Sofia, and Bristol. This breadth of experience has deepened his appreciation of the way that Baptist identity is expressed and grounded in diverse contexts and how baptistic convictions are embodied in various cultures.

Mike’s view is that ‘IBTSC is strategically situated, both culturally and geographically, to encourage research and learning of baptistic theology and spirituality across Europe, the Middle East and further afield. At the same time its primary areas of research – identity, mission and practical theology – present a particular resonance with key contemporary themes both within the theology and mission of the church as well as in wider society.’

Chair of IBTS Centre Board Revd Dr John Weaver stated that ‘this appointment comes with the unanimous approval of the Board and with their enthusiastic appreciation of the gifts that Mike will bring to the post.’

EAAA Library Conference in the Ukraine

April 4th, 2018

IBTS Centre is a member of the Euro-Asian Accrediting Association, an organisation that was founded to help (theological) educational institutions in Eurasia reach international standards and to provide them with accreditation that is in accordance with their academic and spiritual level. For over 20 years they’ve been doing an excellent job, and there is much more to come!

In March, they organised a library conference in the Ukraine for all the librarians of the participating schools. I was privileged to be present at this conference as a representative from both IBTS Centre and BETH. The two day conference took place at Kremenchuk Evangelical Seminary, located in the city of Kremenchuk, which is about a 5-6 hour drive to the southeast of Kiev. In attendance were approximately 50 people, including librarians from various institutions in the Ukraine, Russia, Belarus, Moldova and Central Asia. We stayed at the seminary and our sessions took place in one of their class rooms. Good food was provided by the kitchen staff.

We had a very full program with excellent presentations by many of the participants. They ranged from very practical (library arrangement, organization) to very technical (cataloguing standards, working with Koha), making this a very useful conference for every participant. I was asked to present my personal experience in working with distance learning students. In addition to the official programme, we also had a chance to present our institutions and libraries to each other. This taught me that you should have metal shelving in a library, because then you will at least still have something left after a fire!

This conference could well be the first step towards founding an official Eurasian theological library network. The plan is to organise a similar conference next year, so perhaps in a few years’ time we’ll be able to welcome representatives of this network at the annual BETH conference.

Before and after our travels to Kremenchuk I spent some time with our good friends at the Ukrainian Evangelical Theological Seminary in Pushcha Voditsa on the outskirts of Kiev (see image below). Many of the staff at UETS are (former) students of ours and it was very good to (re)connect with them. Thank you, UETS, for your hospitality!

And I wouldn’t be a librarian if I wouldn’t have come back with a suitcase full of books!

Pieter van Wingerden (Librarian IBTS Centre Amsterdam)

Dr Anthony R. Cross (Adjunct Supervisor at IBTSC) Lecture Trip to Ukraine, February 2018.

March 16th, 2018

 At the invitation of the All-Ukrainian Union of Evangelical Christians-Baptists Churches (AUC ECB), and its First Vice President, the Rev. Igor Bandura, Dr Anthony R. Cross visited Kiev and the headquarters of the Baptist Union in the nearby city of Irpin.  Addressing members of the AUC ECB council and the leaders of the Ukrainian Baptist educational institutions Dr Cross explored themes from his three most recent monographs: Recovering the Evangelical Sacrament: Baptisma Semper Reformandum (2013); “To communicate simply you must understand profoundly”: Preparation for Ministry among British Baptists (2016); and Useful Learning: Neglected Means of Grace in the Reception of the Evangelical Revival among English Particular Baptists (2017).

Rev. Dr Sergiy Sannikov

One of the papers Dr Cross delivered will be translated and published in the journal Theological Reflections: Euro-Asian Journal of Theology, as will an interview conducted by Oleksandr Geychenko, a Professor at Odessa Theological Seminary. Dr Cross also presented a paper at an ecumenical day conference at Dragomanov University, Kiev, on ‘Crucial Issues of Contemporary Theology: Recent Trends in the Development of Liturgical Theology’, organized by the Rev. Dr Sergiy Sannikov, a lecturer at the Odessa Baptist Seminary, a former member of the Board of Trustees of IBTSC, and also a member of the Executive Committee of the EBF. With the participation of Dr Sannikov and other Ukrainian Baptists in attendance, the day conference was yet another opportunity which showed the breadth and depth of Baptist theology, commitment to unity, liturgy, and dialogue, and is a timely reminder that there are many such opportunities for productive ecumenical engagement if we have the vision to share in them.

As of 1 January 2018 there were 2,600 churches and groups, 320 church plants, over 110,000 members in the AUC ECB, with weekly worship attendance of around 200,000. The AUC ECB is served by six seminaries, four institutes, and eleven regional colleges. Dr Cross reports that here there are great opportunities for Baptist churches, colleges and seminaries in the West to seize, not only for prayer, but to foster and develop links with Ukrainian Baptists as a genuinely and fruitful two-way reciprocal relationship which will further build Christ’s church and the spread of the gospel.

Dr Anthony Cross

Reflecting on his visit Dr Cross encourages prayer for the seminaries and colleges in the development and spread of reflection on theology and practice in dialogue with the global Baptist community as well as for the situation in the East of Ukraine, for the churches in uncontrolled territories which are required to register according to new regulations set in place and the relief aid to refugees and people in need in the occupied territory.

A more detailed report on the visit is available http://www.ibts.eu/newsletters/

Conference in Minsk

December 19th, 2017

Toivo Pilli, Director of Baptist and Anabaptist Studies at IBTSC Amsterdam, participated in an international conference in Minsk on 9 December 2017. EBF General Secretary Tony Peck  (UK) and Mateusz Wichary (Poland) also offered papers. The conference was organised by Minsk ECB Theological Seminary and the Institute of Evangelical Faith (Pentecostal seminary). Bringing together about 90 pastors and scholars from Byelorussia, Lithuania, Poland, the USA, and other countries, the conference commemorated the 500 years of the publication of parts of the Bible in Byelorussian and the role of Francysk Skaryna. The first book, the Psalter, translated and published by Skaryna in the Old Belorussian, was printed in Prague in 1517.

Leonid Michovich dedicates Skaryna Hall during the Minsk conference.

Toivo Pilli’s presentation ’The Bible and the Revival: An Estonian Case Study’ focused on the use of the Bible in the 19th century Pietistic Revival in Western Estonia, then part of Tsarist Russia. The revivalist believers not only used the Bible for devotional purposes and for preaching, they also used Biblical texts to interpret their newly found focus on repentance and new birth, baptism upon personal confession of faith and congregational understanding of the church. The Bible also helped these believers to explain persecution and to balance outbursts of religious emotionalism, guiding the movement towards more sustainable and stable patterns of worship.

The topics of the conference, however, included a wider panorama: the legacy of Protestant Reformation, and the use and interpretation of the Bible in the life of evangelical churches, such as the Baptists, Pentecostals and others. Within one day, in three topical tracks, 25 academic papers were delivered.  IBTSC Amsterdam continues to have close and friendly links with Minsk Theological Seminary.

Recruiting a new Director of IBTSC

November 10th, 2017

 Job title: Director of the International Baptist Theological Study Centre (IBTSC) Amsterdam

Location: The Baptist House, Postjesweg 150, 1061 AX Amsterdam.

IBTSC Amsterdam exists to help train leaders and conduct research that can aid the Christian church in its mission and ministry in Europe and beyond through internationally focused, European based, baptistic theological education. IBTSC’s primary areas of research and education lie in Anabaptist/Baptist histories and theologies, Missiology, and Practical Theology – Identity, Mission and Practice.

IBTSC is constituted as a Dutch Association (Vereniging) and is a collaborative partner within the Faculty of Theology of the Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam for the delivery of a PhD programme. IBTSC is also an approved partner of the University of Manchester for an MA programme.

IBTSC is looking to appoint a suitably qualified person to the post of Director of IBTSC who will carry forward the IBTSC commitment to deliver high quality theological education and research from a baptistic perspective in an international context. As well as developing researchers, educators, and leaders who can serve the mission and ministry of churches in Europe, the Middle East and beyond, IBTSC desires to facilitate learning and theological reflection in and for the churches, pastors and theological leaders of the EBF member bodies.

Application process

Full details of salary, responsibility and duties, and person specification as well as an application form are available by contacting the IBTSC Administrator, Marianne van Zwieten (administrator@ibts.eu) or calling +31 20 210 3025.

Applications must be completed and returned by 28 February 2018.

Interviews will be held on 19-20 April 2018 in Amsterdam.

Appointment of a non-EU candidate will be subject to approval of a visa/work permit.

News from IBTSC

September 25th, 2017

At a meeting of the Board of IBTSC on September 21, David McMillan was appointed as Interim Rector following Stuart Blythe’s departure. David has been involved with IBTS and IBTSC for some years managing the relocation of IBTS to Amsterdam and establishing IBTSC as a legal entity in the Netherlands.  David and his wife Dorothy are members of BMS World Mission, seconded to IBTSC.

We recently produced a newsletter with lots of latest developments including the move to the new Baptist House.  Click on the picture to read the newsletter.