Theological Training Courses

I have a question for my readers (yes, both of you!) today. Does your church run any kind of theological training course, and if so, what content does it have? I have been looking around at various things going on and noticed that most church theology courses tend to run for about 10-15 “sessions”, which either run on an evening, or for half a day on a Saturday. What I find more interesting, though, is what material is covered.

Here’s four distinct approaches I have noticed, with some reflection on their advantages and disadvantages.

1. Foundational

These courses don’t actually teach theology as such, but attempt to give people the tools with which they can study theology for themselves. Typically this will involve a focus on epistemology and hermeneutics, along with some history of the Canon of Scripture and why Christians believe it. The Theology Program is perhaps the best example of this I have come across.

Advantages – if it works well, you will have equipped people to think critically about their own beliefs and evaluate others

Disadvantages – many churches would rather give people “the answers” on a theological topic & feel uncomfortable with people “deconstructing” their theology

– it takes skilled teachers to do this well

2. Systematic

This is perhaps the most common approach. The course runs like a mini Systematic Theology, with one lecture covering each major topic. Newfrontiers has a “Word Plus” course that runs along these lines.

Advantages – Systematic Theology textbooks will provide a wealth of source material to teach from & can also be used as a course text

– churches can choose the topics they will cover, allowing them to explain their denominational stance on particular “key” issues

– each lecture can be taught by a different person without a significant loss of continuity

Disadvantages – not sufficient time to cover any one topic in much detail

– can simply become an exercise in giving people the “right opinions” on any given topic rather than encouraging them to think for themselves.

3. Topical

This simply takes one sub-topic of theology and covers it in depth. This might be pneumatology, or ethics, or ecclesiology etc. I have recently been listening to the St Aldates School of Theology lectures on eschatology which take this approach.

Advantages – Gives enough time to really cover all the aspects of a topic in depth.

– Allows time to reflect on differing opinions and come to strong convictions

– If a different topic is tackled each course, the same people can keep coming back to learn new stuff, rather than simply attending once

Disadvantages – Requires significant preparation, as ready-made course material is harder to come by

– Works best if led by one person as it needs significant continuity week to week

4. Biblical

Churches that are into expository teaching may well choose this option. It is more often termed a “School of the Word” than of theology. Essentially, you work your way through a book of the Bible verse by verse or chapter by chapter.

Advantages – course materials / study guides / commentaries are readily available

– can be used to teach good hermeneutical method

– gets people stirred up to do Bible study, and gets people more Bible-literate

– as with the topical approach, people can go on as many courses as they like if the book chosen changes each time.

Disadvantages – can mean that some of those “whole Bible” big topics of systematic theology never get addressed in depth because they are only alluded to in passing


Does your church (current or past) run any theological training courses?

What approach does it take?

Have you been on it and did it work well?

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