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Stewardship and Trusteesh
  By A.J. Philip  
  I ACCOMPANIED Prime Minister Manmohan Singh on his visit to South Africa on the occasi  
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Letter to Metropolitan
  By Rev A.P. Jacob and five other priests  
  Most Rev. Dr. Joseph Mar Thoma Metropolitan Most Rev. Dr. Philipose Mar Chrysostom Mar  
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Back to infancy -- they n
  By Shaheen Chander  
  ENJOYING a relaxed weekend, I was checking updates on the Facebook page. I came across a b  
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Seminaries in peril
  By Collin Hansen  
  A RECENT evaluation by the Swedish government threatens theological education throughout the Scandinavian country. The Swedish National Agency for Higher Education reported in June that state-supported schools must favour religious studies over theological education.

Schools that aim to train ministers for church service must shift resources toward general religious studies. This move may leave prospective pastors unprepared for church ministry.

This shift in focus means several theological schools currently training pastors fail to meet the new standards for accreditation.

These demands were not clearly stated before government inspections this past March, according to Pekka Mellergård, president of Orebro Theological College. Should Örebro fail to placate the agency, it will lose the right to grant recognized bachelor's degrees in theology.

Örebro, which educates 200 full-time and 160 part-time students from a variety of denominations, has already halted efforts to earn accreditation for a master's degree in exegesis. Students could ultimately lose government allowances, a necessity in the Swedish system of higher education. Nor would they be able to seek advanced education in schools that recognize only accredited degrees.

"The actual report was a serious blow against all theological education in Sweden," said Stefan Gustavsson, general secretary of the Swedish Evangelical Alliance. "The underpinning perspective seems to be old-fashioned Enlightenment thinking that theology is not real science and, therefore, eventually should not be part of the university."

Before 1994, only state-owned universities delivered formal theological education in Sweden. That year, the government allowed three denominationally owned theological seminaries, including Örebro, to grant recognized degrees.

According to Örebro officials, previous government inspections produced respectful dialogue, so this recent report was a surprising setback. Mellergård suspects the sudden tension stems from the new realities of disestablishment and pluralism.

The Church of Sweden broke away from the state in 2000. Yet, the bulk of prospective ministers still train in theological schools at major Swedish universities. According to Mellergård, the national education agency worries about the implications of confessional education at Sweden's most prominent schools, including Uppsala and Lund. Now the growing Muslim population is asking for equal recognition in state universities.

Additionally, the growing number of elementary and high schools started by Christians, Muslims, and Jews has upset the traditional order in Sweden. A short time ago, Sweden remained homogeneous and optimistic about the possibilities that science and secularism could build a model society. Then religion became a sensitive subject, prone to misunderstanding. Still, the recent report caught the educational community by surprise.

"The present situation is completely new, since it is no longer only the free theological schools that are questioned," Mellergård said. "For the first time since the foundation of higher education in Sweden, the very presence of theology at Swedish universities is seriously questioned by government sources."

Örebro professor Tommy Wasserman said the last government inspection was tense because new agents did not prepare by learning enough about the school beforehand. This oversight resulted in outright errors in their report, he said. Nor has the government supplied a clear definition of theology.
Instead, the agency has explicitly stated that proficiency in biblical exegesis will not suffice for accreditation. Theological education must include more courses in the history of religion taught by professors holding Ph.D.'s in the field. Wasserman regards this demand as onerous for a small school committed to training ministers.

Mellergård said this incident reminds school leaders that they may not be able to depend on the government. But he holds out hope that the political winds will turn in Örebro's favor.

Sweden's governing coalition includes the Christian Democratic Party and has the support of many Christians. Schools must accommodate government concerns by May 2010, shortly before the next national elections in September. Theological education could become a hot issue, Mellergård said.

"It is, in fact, unlikely that the government would be ready to offend Christian voters by closing down theological institutions," he said. (Courtesy: Christianity Today).

Jerusalem meets Mecca
  By G. Chenoweth & Caleb Benoit  
  COLLEGE freshman Nida Hassan, 18, walks between buildings to a campus lawn where students routinely fall prone across mats, praying toward Mecca, Saudi Arabia, the most sacred site of Islam.

But this isn't Public State U. It's Houston Baptist University (HBU), a confessionally Christian liberal arts school whose Muslim undergraduate enrollment jumped from 26 in 2006 to 61 in 2009.

Hassan's Shia Muslim parents emigrated from Pakistan, then settled in Sugar Land, Texas, 20 miles southwest of Houston. After Nida attended Catholic high school, HBU seemed right, even though she and her family retain their Islamic faith. She still fasts during Ramadan and prays to Allah during campus convocation.

Hassan insists that Muslims are respected on the urban, ethnically mixed campus founded by the Baptist General Convention of Texas. Hunter Baker, HBU's director of strategic planning, agrees, but says the school can prod students toward the Cross even while working toward its institutional goal to "bring Athens and Jerusalem together."

"Muslim students know what they are getting themselves into," Baker says. "Our seal has a Bible with a cross on it. We are out for evangelism."

President Robert Sloan, the man whose ambitious plan to turn Baylor University into a premier Christian research institution polarised the Waco campus in 2005, has brought a similar faith-and-learning vision to HBU -- one that has room for Muslim students. "It keeps us from being too insular," says Sloan, president since August 2006. "It also gives us an opportunity to learn how to witness right here, from experience."

Shepherding this spiritual nexus is Colette Cross, HBU's chaplain and director of spiritual life, who oversees the Community Life and Worship program (CLW) program, an 80-credit graduation requirement that includes Bible study, weekly chapel, and community service, among other options. Cross works with director of campus recreation Saleim Kahleh, a Muslim-background Christian who prays with students before intramural sports events. He says that recently a freshman Muslim woman made connections through Bible studies and basketball games, and is now "walking with the Lord."

Kahleh also runs an on-campus Alpha course, the popular co-curricular introduction to Christian basics. His last session featured three Muslims in a group of ten. Further, Cross hosts interfaith discussions with representatives from Hinduism, Islam, and Christianity. While comparative religion studies are typical at evangelical schools, a multi-religious populace is not.

"Our campus is very diverse on ethnic grounds anyway, so the religious diversity doesn't shock people," says President Sloan, noting that the student body comprises Hispanics, whites, and blacks in roughly equal parts. "I'm guessing we are the most diverse evangelical school in the country."

Houston's religious composition appears to have evolved with the industrial landscape. Since the 1980s, a municipal facelift initiative has improved parks, cultural centers, and theaters. New businesses emerged in aerospace, technology, and health-care industries.

Surfing the industrial wave have been large numbers of emigrants from historically Islamic countries. The 50,000 Muslims living in Houston, the fourth largest U.S. city by population, make Houston the second-fastest urban incubator of Islam. It hosts a group claiming to be the largest Islamic community organisation in the nation. The Islamic Society of Greater Houston operates 17 mosques, 4 schools, a funeral parlor, a senior citizens center, and a social service center doling out $40,000 per month along with free medical and legal service.

Though Muslims make up just 3 per cent of HBU's 2,200 students, this proportion far outpaces other Christian schools in large, Muslim-rich cities. HBU is one of 110 member schools of the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). A calculation of America's largest Muslim-populated cities, by percentage of total population, helps to put Houston Baptist in context. They are Los Angeles, San Jose, Chicago, San Diego, Dallas, and Houston. CCCU member schools with similar undergraduate enrollment in Muslim-rich cities include the Lyman Stewart-founded Biola University, on the edge of Los Angeles, and North Park University, on Chicago's North Side.

Biola reports no known Muslim students on campus (because prospective students must declare Christian faith upon admission), and North Park estimates less than 1 per cent Muslim enrollment.

Like North Park, HBU does not require students to sign a Christian faith statement, though it does require it of faculty and staff. Sloan sees this as a setup ripe for evangelism. "As long as we maintain our confessional association with the body of Christ, then we have a built-in opportunity to be at the frontiers of Christianity and the world," he says. "Interfaith dialogue is not our goal; sharing Christ is. While we don't want to single out certain groups, we're also not apologetic about who we are."

Muslims choose to enroll at Christian schools for pragmatic reasons, not theological ones, says Stephen Heyneman, professor of international education policy at Vanderbilt University. "Muslims are social conservatives," Heyneman says. "Where can they go to find a good education and a safe social situation? A Christian college. Parents care less about the preaching than the safety of the social atmosphere."

"The campus is a comfort to Muslim families," Chaplain Cross says. "It's a safe environment where students have an opportunity to express their faith, in the classroom and over pizza." Christians and Muslims' shared moral values provide a bridge over which the gospel can be expressed in a way that resonates with students like Hassan.

One way faculty build bridges is through theological coursework. HBU requires all students to take an Old Testament course, which Hassan says does not bother her, since Islam is an Abrahamic faith.

But HBU also requires New Testament and Christian Doctrine, material considered heretical to Muslims. Honors students like Hassan must also take Christian Intellectual Tradition. David Capes, chair of HBU's Christianity and Philosophy department, teaches the required Christian Doctrine course -- which may be Muslim students' first in-depth encounter with specifically Christian truth-claims. President Sloan believes Capes is uniquely qualified to make these accessible to Muslim students, since he co-hosts a call-in radio show featuring leaders from each Abrahamic religion discussing their similarities -- and deeply held differences.

"Capes's program is not soft interfaith dialogue... I think that's good, because for Christians, interfaith dialogue is not our end goal," says Sloan.

While students and even guest speakers occasionally fail to treat Muslims with respect, Hassan says she has felt little prejudice at HBU. "We're more open to talking about [Muslim] faith on this campus," she says. "We talk about things I might not agree with, but there's discussion. We are willing to argue for the sake of learning, but not necessarily to bash each others' beliefs." Still, Hassan says her experience has got her thinking. "The way I look at it is I can take the things I've learned about Christianity and go back and look in the Qur'an to ask why I believe the things I do."

That's one of Kahleh's goals, to express faith in Christ and see that seeds are sown in his students, whether they are Muslim, Hindu, or Buddhist.

"Interfaith dialogue is [part of] what the Calvinists would call a prevenient grace, a penultimate step in the evangelistic process or part of the total evangelistic process," says Sloan, -- "as long as we are not satisfied to end there." (Courtesy: Christianity Today)
Gregg Chenoweth is vice president for academic affairs at Olivet Nazarene University. Caleb Benoit is editor for The Daily Journal (Kankakee, Ill.)
UTC turns 100
  By Archana Sudheer  
  The United Theological College, Bangalore, has turned 100. A year-long centenary celebration was kick-started last week at a function on the college campus. The UTC is one of the oldest theological institutions in the country.

It was inaugurated in July 1910 under the name "The United Theological College of South India and Ceylon" as "a Christian College where students may obtain a sound theological education".

It was established through the co-operation of the London Missionary Society, the Wesleyan Methodist Missionary Society, The United Free Church of Scotland, the Arcot Mission of the Reformed Church in America and the Trustees of the Jaffna College Funds and the SPCK in Scotland also gave their support.

Interest in this ecumenical institution grew, and churches, missionary societies and other organisations from various regions of India and from abroad joined with the founders in support of the college.

In 1951 the Church Missionary Society and the Society for the Propagation of the Gospel became supporting bodies. The college had received help at various times from the Danish Lutheran Church and the friends of Dr L.P. Larsen, the first Principal of the college, and in 1959 the Danish Missionary Society became a supporting body.

In 1960 the Basel Evangelical Mission (now a member of the Association of Churches and Mission in S.W. Germany) and the Kolhapur Church Council joined the ranks, to be followed the next year by the Church of South India, and in 1963 by the Mar Thoma Syrian Church.

The Council of YMCAs in India joined as a supporting body in 1967 and the Church of India, Pakistan, Burma and Ceylon (now merged in the Church of North India) in 1969. Also, in 1969 the Board of Global Ministries of the United Methodist Church became one of the contributing bodies.

Following the merger of the Gurukul Lutheran Theological College and the Research Institute with the United Theological College for B.D., M.Th.and other degree programmers in June 1971, several Lutheran Church and Missions (Andhra Evangelical Lutheran Church, South Andhra Lutheran Church, Church of Sweden Mission, the Lutheran Church of America, the American Lutheran Church -- both presently merged in the Evangelical Church of America, India Evangelical Lutheran Church and the Leipzig Evangelical Lutheran Mission ) became supporting bodies of the College. The Malankara Jacobite Syrian Church became a contributing body in 1979.

The first home of the college was a building on Mission Road, Bangalore city, formerly used for the seminary, which had been founded and maintained by the London Missionary Society from 1841 under the name 'Bangalore Theological Seminary'. The permanent site of the College at 17 (new number 63) Miller's road, Bangalore, was acquired in 1912, and the building was first occupied in 1914.

In 1919, a year after Serampore College was granted permission by the Act of the Government of Bengal to grant degrees in Theology, the college was affiliated to the Serampore College for the B. D. Degree.

In 1949, the YMCA Training School was re-opened, and in September 1950, eight new rooms were added to the hostel by the Council of YMCA's to provide accommodation for their students. In 1976, the Senate of Serampore College granted autonomy to the College for the B.D., B.R.E., and D.R.K.Courses. The college has the freedom to set its own curriculum, evaluate the candidates and recommend them to the Senate for the award of the degree or diploma. The M.Th. and D.Th. courses continue under the regulations of the Serampore Senate.
Dalit Christ
  By James Massey  
  ON the theme 'Pastoring, Empowerment and Liberation,' my reflection is centred on two Biblical models, 'the model of Gideon' and 'the model of Jesus'. The Gideon model presents to us a young person who was once faced with a 'divine challenge' and who with a convincing pastoral persuasion accepted that challenge.

This case offers a very good model for those who are going to take up the pastoral ministry to the subaltern communities such as Dalits, Tribals, Other Backward Classes and the poor in general. On the other hand, the Jesus model, presents a perfect example of a 'divine-human partnership'.

Gideon's story begins with the description of a very oppressive situation in which once again Israelites were forced to live in. But with the appearance of a messenger (an angel), the scene got changed. He began his message on a very positive note. He told Gideon: "The Lord is with you, you mighty warrior."

It is something like saying in our Indian context to a Dalit, "The Lord is with you, you mighty, no less than a so-called Kshatriya (warrior)."
Gideon received a Divine commission from the divinely appointed messenger, who almost ordered him by saying: "Go in this might of yours and deliver Israel from the hand of Midian; I hereby commission you." (Judges 6:14).

Gideon's response to this Divine commission represents a very traditional example of an oppressed person's attitude. His response was: "But Sir, how can I deliver Israel? My clan is the weakest (ha-dal) in Manasseh and I am the least in my family" (Judges 6:25).

Here the Hebrew expression 'ha-dal' means 'Dalit'. Gideon is virtually saying: "I am a Dalit, how can I undertake such a great responsibility?" But we know from the details of the case history of Gideon, how he finally took up the Divine challenge and became an instrument of liberation of his people. But how actually this happens?

The state of the whole community of Gideon has been described well by the author of the Judges in 6:1-6. Verse 6 summarises their state in these words: "Israel was brought very low because of Midian." Here again, the Hebrew word 'dal' is used, which has been translated as 'low' or 'impoverished'. This word is also the root of 'Dalit' or 'dalot' in Hebrew. Therefore, the author definitely is laying stress on the 'Dalit state' or 'Dalitness' of the Israelites.

These verses 1-6 along with verses 11-27 reveal very clearly that in this Dalit state the Israelites not only lost their 'economic rights', but also their cultural (religious) and political rights too.

Verse 11 of Chapter 6 shows Gideon "beating out wheat in the wine press" in order "to hide it from the Midianites". Gideon also openly confessed his personal as well as his family's status by saying: "My clan is the weakest (a Dalit) in Manasseh" and in his own case he added: "I am the least in my family".

Gideon is honest and has a real human integrity. He did not feel shy to accept his weakness as well as the truth about himself. A large majority of us, especially the Dalits, find it very difficult to admit this truth about ourselves.

Such Dalits even offer many reasons by saying, "Now I have become a Christian, so how will I say I am a Dalit". But we must remember that the first step before entering the real empowerment of life is to admit: "Who I am?" Once we become sure about our identity, the rest will come from other sources and at that stage the process of empowerment begins in our life.

In the case of Gideon, the source was a divinely appointed messenger. In fact, that part of the story, which contains the encounter of Gideon with a divinely appointed messenger, reveals and offers to us a successful model of a pastor.

It tells us how a 'process of a genuine pastoring' can empower the weakest person -- even a Dalit -- whose psyche has been impaired through caste oppression.

It was because of the approach of the divinely appointed messenger as Pastor that Gideon's whole self was changed. After this, the first step he took was to bring the change in the life of his people by bringing their faith back in that Divine power, which was responsible for their liberation in the past and also was going to liberate them in future.

For this, even he had to dismantle the existing religious, theological and Church structures, which his people had adopted, which included 'the altar of Baal' representing the false gods and religion.

It is true that in Jesus we see a perfect model of a 'Divine-Human Partnership'. The unknown author of the book of Hebrews helps in understanding this relationship. This he does by introducing Jesus Christ as a priest. He compares Jesus as a priest with a Levite priest Aaron. We all know the role played by Aaron along with Moses in the liberation of Israel from the slavery of Egyptians.

Also, it was he who later on became the first priest of his community and also founded the highest order of the priestly class known as 'Aaronic' (Leviticus 3:2, Hebrew 7:11). But to reach that level, first he had to go through a most difficult experience by acting as a 'spokesperson' (Exodus 4:16) not only of his brother Moses, but of his whole enslaved community, namely the Israelites.

The details of the Israelites' misery, oppression and suffering at the hands of their oppressors in Egypt are listed in the first few chapters of Exodus. But the role played by Aaron as spokesperson of his people and of his brother is also stated in the book of Exodus. Aaron, his sons and other members of his clan Levi have to go through a most comprehensive and intensive training by becoming a part of the liberation struggle of their people. So Aaron's training as a priest was more organic in nature, which was not based on a predetermined curriculum plan of a theological education.

Beside the Aaronic order of priesthood, the other order the Bible refers to is the non-priestly or non-Aaronic order, the head of which, according to Hebrews Chapter 7 is Jesus Christ. The writer of Hebrews also sees Jesus in the model of Melchizedek, the king cum priest, who also did not belong to any priestly class.

From the description of the writers of the Gospels, it becomes clear that Jesus also has to encounter a number of powers and authorities on behalf of the poor, prisoners, blind and other victims of his time (Luke 4:14-19).

Through the act of incarnation, God not only identified with human beings by becoming a human being, he also fully became a part of human history. With this, two of the Old Testament prophecies also got fulfilled, which many hundreds of years earlier predicted about God's participation in human history.

So here (as part of the fulfillment of these prophecies) in the act of incarnation, we do meet God as a full human being, but not just as any human being, but one who became the poorest of the poor (in real sense a Dalit), who lost his other worldly identity for the liberation/salvation of His whole creation.

So through His this act in Jesus Christ as a lowest human being (ha-dal), God identified with all the human beings. As this act was inclusive, therefore services offered through this 'Divine–Human Partnership' was also inclusive.

So the first challenge is that if we wish our ministry to be acceptable, creative and fruitful, we have to identify willingly with those among whom we plan to work. It has to begin from the lowest with the least one. In fact, this is the first secret of any sustainable ministry, which today we need within the Church as well as in the society in general.

Jesus began his public ministry when he was about thirty years old. But right on the first day of his ministry, in his own local village Nazareth, he made his manifesto public, by describing very clearly, the purpose, focus, goal and scope of his ministry. The text of his manifesto was: "The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he has anointed me to bring good news to the poor. He has sent me to proclaim release to the captives and recovery of sight to the blind, to let the oppressed go free, to proclaim the year of the Lord's favour (Luke 4:18-19)".

We know Jesus was rejected by his own village people. Some of you have to keep yourselves ready for such rejection also. I am one such person who had to taste the bitter fruit of rejection. It is difficult to overcome rejection. One needs a real empowerment of the Spirit to do so. But once you come over that state, then nothing can stop you from fulfilling your ministry. Luke tells us: "Soon afterwards he went on through cities and villages, proclaiming and bringing the good news of the Kingdom of God." (Luke 8:1). The result was amazing.

When the disciples of John the Baptist came to find out from Jesus, if he is the one who is to come? Jesus in his answer told them: "Go and tell John what you have seen and heard: the blind receive their sight, the lame walk, the lepers are cleansed, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, the poor have good news brought to them" (Luke 7:22).

Jesus by following the dictate of his Nazareth manifesto, continued to work with the various excluded and oppressed groups of people. Among these people were the tax collectors, the other outcasts (Luke 15:1) and women (even belonging to lowest considered social groups, John 4:7-9). He welcomed the change in poor (Mark 12:41-44), in rich a person like Zacchaeus (Luke 19:1-9), in a non-Jew–Canaanite woman (Matthew 15:21-28) and a sinful woman (Luke 7:36-50).

Jesus continued according to the Gospel writers "visiting all the towns and villages", with his message of Good News of the Kingdom of God bringing to the poor, blind, captive and oppressed. But then he had to pay a price for that. He was rejected and abused with all kinds of titles and names. About this truth once he himself said: "For John came neither eating nor drinking and they say, 'He has a demon', the son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, 'Look, a glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners" (Matthew 11: 18-19).

This is the second challenge. Jesus' targets were both urban and rural poor, sinners, women and various groups considered outcasts in his time. Which ones are our target groups? Are we clear with the terms of our manifesto of our ministry? According to Jesus' model of ministry we have to be both clear about our target and goals and also have to be ready to face the consequences of the same.
Rev. Prof. Dr. James Massey is the Director of the Centre for Dalit/Subaltern Studies, New Delhi, and Secretary of the Board of Theological Education of the Senate of Serampore College (University). The article is excerpted from the Convocation Address he delivered at Dharma Jyoti Vidya Peeth

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