Character and Virtue in Theological Education
An Academic Epistolary Novel
Dr Marvin Oxenham expertly uses the genre of the epistolary novel to help the reader understand the nature of character and virtue education and their relationship to theological education. This book will help educators respond to the increasing demands for formational and transformational education and enact concrete virtue related practices. Dr Oxenham draws on a vast array of disciplines, from educational philosophy and political science to theology and andragogy, in this winsome story that explores how global theological education can better contribute to the formation of virtuous students.
Written from the perspective of a seasoned educator from the Minority World who engages with correspondence from his friend and peer in the Majority World, this is the honest story of two friends who struggle with their challenges and dreams. Academics will find this book compelling reading that, like good works of fiction, they won’t put down, and, like good reference works, they will return to again and again. This book offers a chance to rediscover an ancient tradition and explore a new frontier in theological education.
Dr Marvin Oxenham is ideally suited to be published in this area of character and virtue studies in theological education. He is course leader in a masters course on theological education at London School of Theology and has written course material on the subject. He is supervising PhD students in the area and recently arranged a Europe-wide conference on the subject. This area of study in theological education is relatively new and growing. I saw some of the contents of this book when it was still just a manuscript and consider it a very useful and innovative contribution to the overall literature on theological education.
Graham Cheesman, PhD
Honorary Lecturer, Queens University Belfast, UK
Former Director, Centre for the Study of Theological Education, Belfast, UK
Character and Virtue in Theological Education by Marvin Oxenham is a breath of fresh air in theological education for our generation. The mission and vision of theological education was the formation of those who obeyed the call of the Lord for ministry and mission. This was through academic excellence, character, and spiritual formation. Today we have an overemphasis on academics with only lip service given to character and spiritual formation. This book brings us back to the centrality of character and virtue. Without this re-envisioning we are headed for fossilization. Look at Paul as he deals with Timothy and Titus. In ministry, what matters is who they are in Christ, while the study of God’s word is for all followers of Christ. The Bible is the transforming Word and it is the need of the hour if theological education is to impact the church to be salt and light. A must-read for all theological educators if we want to see impact and not status quo.
Ashish Crispal, PhD
Regional Director for Asia, Overseas Council
I strongly endorse Marvin Oxenham’s Character and Virtue in Theological Education. Marvin’s characteristically creative contribution to this topic flows from his long engagement and deep well of international theological educational research, observation, collaboration and influence. He is an avid conversation leader and effective advocate of learning and dialogue at the institutional, regional, and international levels in theological education.
Ralph E. Enlow, Jr., EdD
President, Association for Biblical Higher Education
In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul writes that Christians are to be “hidden with Christ in God. When Christ, who is your life, appears, then you also will appear with him in glory” (Col 3:3–4). In the media, marketing, and celebrity-frenzy cultures which affect even theological educators, there is a tendency to jump quickly to the glory part of the Pauline text and not take too seriously the idea of hiddenness. This book displays in creative and engaging ways why we are called back to life in Christ, even that hidden life. Christian virtues are not only fundamental for educators and those who call themselves followers of Christ, they are fundamental for the church and for our participation in God’s mission. This is a must-read for educators all around the globe.
Rosalee Velloso Ewell, PhD
Theological Commission World Evangelical Alliance
At a time when the purpose and focus of theological education is being widely questioned – in both Western and Majority World contexts – there is a need to hear a voice advocating for a neglected aspect of the discourse: an emphasis on character and virtue. Marvin Oxenham, with his roles in, and contribution to, a global network of theological educators, is very well placed to be able to explore this theme in a clear, relevant and nuanced manner.
Allan Harkness, PhD
Founding Dean and Advisory Director,
Asia Graduate School of Theology Alliance
It would appear that the most fundamental goal of a good theological education should be to facilitate our students’ growth in Christlike character, virtue and integrity. Yet, oddly, much current evangelical theological education appears to devote minimal attention to character and virtue. I suspect there are multiple reasons for this. Some may see this as solely the task of the local church. Others may balk at the challenges of teaching and assessing affective educational objectives – the more so in an era of online learning. And furthermore, government accreditation rules do not permit much attention to the character of students. Those who fulfil the academic requirements must be passed. Personally, I have long been concerned about the marginalization of character education in much contemporary theological education, as well as about the way that, in earlier Bible colleges, such education was often trivialized as a set of rigid rules. Therefore I find it particularly heartening that a theological educator of the caliber of Dr Marvin Oxenham has written and been published in this area. As other endorsements testify, he has an ideal background for this task and I am confident this book will make a valuable contribution to a critically important cause.
Patricia Harrison, PhD
Graduate Research Supervisor,
London School of Theology, UK, and Asia Graduate School of Theology Alliance
Senior Advisor, Theological Education by Extension
Character and virtue are the highest attributes we expect from a deep and consistent study on theological education, not only for teachers and students but extended to our local church and our vast circle of influence. Dr Marvin Oxenham, in a brilliant and biblically based way, describes the means and conditions by which we will achieve this goal – a commitment to the Word and a humble heart.
President, Associação Evangélica de Educação Teológica na AméricaLatina
Today in evangelical circles, a lack of an integrated focus on character transformation may be because of the spiritual impatience in the long journey of transformation, a tendency made worse by the pressures of a culture of relentless hyperactivity. This activist impulse, when blended with our culture’s thoroughgoing pragmatism, can devolve into a handful of pre-packaged simple steps to spiritual success. Yet, the preparation of religious leadership is particularly concerned with meaning, purpose and identity. This novel on character and virtue is a useful resource for theological educators as they reflect on the central place of moral formation in preparing authentic leaders.
Marilyn Naidoo, DTh
Professor, Practical Theology,
University of South Africa, Pretoria, South Africa
Emphasis on character development has been a “missing person” in evangelical theological education. Recent efforts to balance cognitive learning outcomes with an emphasis on ministry competency development have been a necessary corrective, but ancient education’s striving for imbricating virtues and character into learning have now become conspicuous by their absence. Dr Marvin Oxenham noticed this and has begun leading an effort to re-integrate character education into our evangelical theological curricula. His longstanding experience in quality assurance and evaluation in theological schools, in addition to the more recent emphasis of his doctoral studies, have enabled him to bring character education into the spotlight. This emphasis constitutes yet another necessary balancing factor in our efforts to train men and women for ministry vocations across the world.
Paul Sanders, PhD
International Council for Evangelical Theological Education
The issue of character and virtue education has become increasingly pressing in the contemporary world. This is seen starkly in the increased emphasis on character and ethical decision-making in accreditation standards across the world. In theological education the issue is of prime importance as character and virtue are make-or-break in the success of those seeking to serve others. With his strong background in the classics, in theological reflection, and in contemporary higher education, Marvin Oxenham is ideally placed to address the topic of character and virtue in creative and meaningful ways.
Perry Shaw, EdD
Professor of Education,
Arab Baptist Theological Seminary, Beirut, Lebanon
Author, Transforming Theological Education
Public perception and trust towards religion and religious leadership has been waning for many decades, shaped at least in part by the unfolding of stories of sexual misconduct, abuse of minors, and the failure to report such abuses. Indeed, in many contexts around the world, the future of religion as a viable social institution is at risk due to significant (and now increasingly public) failures in character and virtue on the part of its leadership. There has never been a time when the cultivation of character and virtue has been a more pressing issue to the world of theological education than it is today. In Character and Virtue in Theological Education, Oxenham brings fresh insight to the conversation that honors the past, present, and future of theological education from a global context. And because virtue is both caught and taught, I especially appreciate the manner by which he puts out his insight in this book – that is, not only through thorough research and academic discourse, but also through visions (of what seminaries might become), dreams, and story. My hope is that more would catch on to this vision – for the sake of Christian witness and the global kingdom of God.
David C. Wang, PhD
Editor, Journal of Psychology and Theology
Associate Professor, Biola University, La Mirada, California, USA
Table of Contents
Part I: The Vision
- 1 A New Start
- 2 When Crisis Strikes
- 3 The Vision in a Nutshell
- 4 Three Key Definitions
- 5 Why Not Spiritual Formation
- 6 Character and Virtue in Higher Education
- 7 Character and Virtue in theological Education
- 8 Virtue for Social Impact
- 9 Virtue for Political Impact
- 10 Discipleship as Virtue
- 11 What Churches Want
- 12 A Fresh Expression
- 13 An Aristotelian Framework?
- 14 Justifying Aristotle
- 15 A Global Heritage
- 16 A Manifesto for Character and Virtue in theological Education
- 17 Considering Objections
- 18 Whose Character? Which Virtue?
- 19 A theology of Character and Virtue – with Method
- 20 Virtue in Ancient Cultures
- 21 Character and Virtue in the Old Testament
- 22 Virtue in the Classical Era
- 23 Virtue in the New Testament
- 24 The Roman Road to Virtue
- 25 Virtue from Cassian to the Carmina Burana
- 26 The American Case Study
- 27 Historical Fragments
- 28 Virtue after Postmodernity
- 29 A Question of Practice
- 30 Taxonomies of Virtue
- 31 Virtues Described
- 32 Character as Sought
- 33 Character as Caught
- 34 A Venue for Virtue?
- 35 Virtuous Curriculum
- 36 Character as Taught
- 37 Andragogy of Virtue
- 38 The Assessment Dilemma
- 39 Assuring Quality
- 40 Ten Years Later