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Beginnings of Theological Education in Thailand

Protestant missionaries began their mission endeavors in Thailand (known then as "Siam") in 1828. There were five major mission groups: the London Missionary Society (1828), the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (1831), the American Baptist Foreign Missions (1833), the American Presbyterian Mission (1840-1844), and the American Missionary Association (1850). However, only the latter three continued un61 the period of King Rama the V. The American Presbyterian Mission played a major role in evangelism and was the major supporter in the founding of the Church of Christ in Thailand (CCT).

Currently there are more than forty seminaries in Thailand. The major ones are the McGilvary College of Divinity (1889), the Bangkok Institute of Theology (1941), the Thailand Baptist Seminary (1952), the Pentecostal Theological Seminary (1970), the Bangkok Bible College and Seminary (1971) and the Lutheran Theological Seminary (1976). The focus here will be on the two associated with the Church of Christ in Thailand--the McGilvary College of Divinity (MED) and the Bangkok Institute of Theology (BIT).

McGilvary College of Divinity

The beginnings of McGilvary College of Divinity go back to 1887 when Daniel McGilvary, the first Presbyterian missionary in Northern Thailand, opened a class in his home to train elders of the local churches in evangelism and church administration. In 1889, with the coming of William C. Dodd, a formal training school for pastors was opened. The following year, he was transferred to the nearby province of Lamphun and the school moved with him. In 1894 Herbert Irwin took charge of the seminary. At that time there were forty students. Between 1896 and 1912 the seminary fell into hard times and went through several changes.

In 1912, under the leadership of Henry White, the seminary became firmly established. It moved to its present location and a formal training program resumed. To honor its founder the school was named McGilvary Theological Seminary, and later renamed Thailand Theological Seminary. In 1974 the seminary and the McCormick School of Nursing and Midwifery were brought together to establish Payap College. Later, Payap College was granted university status, and the seminary became the McGilvary Faculty of Theology.

This new status gave it greater freedom to devise programs. It continues to fulfill its original purpose of equipping God's servants for the church, particularly in Thailand and the Southeast Asia, to transform the life and ministry of the church, which in turn will lead to transforming society. With the vision of "equipping God's servants to transform society on the basis of the Gospel," the college has three main objectives:

* To equip God's servants so that they may have a sound Christian theological understanding, emotional and spiritual maturity, and competence in ministries. Moreover, they will follow Christ's example in serving the Lord in the church and society, particularly in Thailand and Southeast Asia.

* To equip God's servants so that they may be able to transform the church and society on the basis of the Gospel.

* To be a center for learning, researching, and providing theological resources that promote an ongoing development of the church and society.

McGilvary College of Divinity offers bachelor and master degree programmes (the latter in both Thai and English), and several short-term (non-degree) programmes (e.g., in preaching, leadership development, and theology in the Asian context).

Bangkok Institute of Theology

The Bangkok Institute of Theology began in 1941 when Chao Wei Chen from Shanghai, China, opened a Chinese Bible Training Center in Bangkok with six students. The following year the group moved to the Phetchburi province because of wartime conditions under the Japanese. A total of eleven students finished the two-year course, of whom two female students were ordained as pastors.

In 1947 Graham Fuller, of the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Missions, reopened the center in his home at Jane Hey School, Sapan Sawang, Bangkok. When he retired from missionary in 1951, Clifford E. Chaffee and his wife became responsible for the school. Faculty personnel were secured from Hong Kong, including Mary Hsu, Ruth Sung, Abraham Hsu, Shang Ying and Joseph Ho.

In January 1960, the center was registered as a religious school with the Ministry of Education of the Thai Government, with permission to teach in both Thai and Chinese, and carried the name "The Bible Training School." A new half-acre site was purchased for the school on Sukhumvit 31 Road, and the school moved there in July 1960.

In 1970, the school became a member of the Association of Theological Education in South East Asia (ATESEA), and the next year the school name was changed to the Bangkok Institute of Theology. In 1975 the school was a member of the Association for Theological Education in South East Asia, the Asia Theological Association and the Association for the Promotion of Chinese Theological Education. In 1995, BIT became the first theological school in Bangkok to offer an accredited M.Div. degree.

The Korea International Mission sent its third missionary in 1981, Hong Shik Shin, to work as a full-time faculty member with BIT. In 1987, the Korean International Mission (KIM) withdrew its missionary work from the Church of Christ in Thailand. Dr. Shin then formed and became the president of the World Mission Partners and has kept the collaborative spirit of working along with BIT ever since.

In 1980 BIT started the Bachelor of Theology degree programme, which was accredited by the ATESEA and ATA in 1984. In the same year BIT began the Master of Divinity programme in cooperation with the Presbyterian General Assembly Theological Seminary in South Korea. New facilities were built and dedicated in 1985.

The year 1991 marked a milestone for BIT. It celebrated its jubilee year with the slogan "Fifty Years of Force Dedicated in the Building Up of the Church." Apart from a series of activities two new programs were launched: a non-residential program and a school of ministry. In 1995 under the institute's faculty development plan, Seree Lorgunpai earned his Ph.D. degree in Old Testament from New College, University of Edinburgh, Scotland, and was appointed as Director of Extension Studies and later as Dean of Studies.

In 2006 BIT affiliated with the Christian University (CTU) and became a divinity department in May 2008. The new status has opened a new era for BIT. It is recognized and accredited by the ministry of education of the Thai government. It now grants the Bachelor of Arts in Theology and the Master of Arts in Theology. Also the non-degree program, entitled the School of Ministry (SOM), was re-launched in June 2011, training lay leaders from churches in the urban areas.

In 2011 BIT celebrated its seventieth year of serving Thai churches, under the slogan, "70 Graceful Years, Edifying Thai Churches." The primary goal for this celebration was to unite as a BIT community, and to thank God and those God has raised up as supportive partners in BIT's 70 years of fruitful ministry. Virat Setsoponkul took over as the head of the BIT-CTU and was installed in January 2011.

Challenges Facing Theological Education in Thailand

Two Types of Students. Most bachelor level students in Thai theological institutions come straight out of high schools. They are relatively young. Their lack of maturity, self-discipline, critical thinking, self-control, clear purpose in life, experiences, and leadership skills can lead to difficulties in becoming equipped to serve the Lord after their graduation.

Master students are more mature and have more experiences, but their number is relatively small, for different reasons. Those who already have a bachelor degree can apply for a job that gives a significantly higher salary than becoming a full-time minister. Many already have a clear goal that is outside a fulltime Christian ministry.

Faculties. In the past, we have encountered the problem of not having enough full-time lecturers in each institute, and for each discipline. Some lecturers need to teach more than one discipline. A lecturer is also expected to be actively involved with a local church. Moreover, as a seminary has to be recognized by the Thai government, it has to fulfill accreditation and quality control requirements. As a result, lecturers are overloaded with work. They have less time to improve their theological teaching, to do research, and to build spiritual relationships with students.

Textbooks. The lack of human resources leads to the problem of producing theological resources in Thai language. There are a very limited number of textbooks, articles, journals, and commentaries. At the same time, most Thais have limited ability to read English texts. A related problem is that most do not know how to study on their own outside the classroom, and depend instead on the lecturer's lectures and handouts.

Curriculum. Since the theological curriculum in Thai seminaries often follows that of the west, the pedagogy and theology need to be contextualized in the Thai context. We need to develop teaching methodologies that are suitable for the Thai learning style, and Thai theologians who can develop Thai theology to respond to the actual situations in the country.

Recognition from the Government. Thai law requires all educational institutes, including seminaries, to be accredited by the ministry of education. The framework that they set affects our designed curriculum. For instance, bachelor students have to take general education courses. This is helpful, but it significantly increases the total credit hours they need. Since Christianity is neither influential nor common in Thailand, the design of the theological curriculum needs to comply with the framework set by this department of the government. Seminaries need to find a way to produce a unique curriculum to preserve the religious identity, yet which the Thai government can understand and is willing to accept.

Financial Resources. Most students have limited funds, and often depend on scholarships provided through theological institutions and from other resources. In addition, with small enrollments, income from tuition fees cannot cover the needed expenses of the institution. Therefore, theological institutions have to find other ways to raise funds from individuals, local churches and other organizations.

Relationship between Theological Institutions and the Local Church. It is important to develop a close relationship between the theological institution and the local church to promote more partnership and co-operation between the two. For example, church leaders must understand their role in field education. Students who have their field education in churches need church leaders to supervise and coach them. Theological institutions exist primarily to serve the church. At the same time, the church must be cooperative and support theological institutions in various ways, helping to equip their prospective pastors and ministers.

Some goals for theological education in Thailand

* To work together among and within the theological institutions, particularly in the areas of a) developing curriculum, b) productive working relationships between students and faculty and c) sharing and supporting the development of theological resources.

* To provide theological education for lay leaders so that they can serve the Lord alongside the full-time ministers in the church.

* To encourage Thai theologians to contribute to the overall theological resources such as theological articles, books, and journals responsive to the Thai context. To join efforts in pursuing theological education and theology among the different theological institutions.

For over a century, theological education has been treading and finding its way in Thailand. The past experience taught us a lot. We see the goals, but in order to reach it we need to be accompanied from churches and other theological educators from home and abroad alike. Scattering of resources has been a waste, and we cannot afford to repeat it. Hopefully, through synergy and sharing of resources, we will be able to raise the profile of theological education in Thailand.

DOI: 10.1111/j.1758-6623.2012.00151.x
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Title Annotation:Select Surveys on Theological Education in Emerging Asian Churches
Author:Boonyakiat, Satanun; Churnai, Varunaj
Publication:The Ecumenical Review
Geographic Code:9THAI
Date:Jul 1, 2012
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