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Nanjing seminary leads the way in China's theological education

By Matthew Davies

ENS photo by Matthew Davies
Bishop David Lai of Taiwan donates five Books of Common Prayer in Mandarin Chinese to Nanjing Union Theological Seminary.   (ENS photo by Matthew Davies)

ENS photo by Matthew Davies
Students and faculty of Nanjing Union Theological Seminary present a model of the new campus, set for completion in 2008.   (ENS photo by Matthew Davies)

[Episcopal News Service]  Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, the largest of 17 theological institutions in China, has played a central role in educating Christians throughout the country for more than 50 years and its accomplishments are set to thrive with the completion of its new campus in 2008.

Bishop David J. H. Lai of Taiwan, while on his first official visit to mainland China, exchanged information with students and faculty at the seminary November 29, informing them about his diocese and educating himself in order to help the wider Church develop a deeper understanding of Christianity in the country.

"It is encouraging to witness the seminary equipping students with the spiritual training and knowledge that enables them to meet the needs of pastoral counseling and theological education in the Chinese churches," Lai said.

Known as the national seminary of the Church in China, Nanjing Union Theological Seminary was established on November 2, 1952 by the Three-Self Patriotic Movement Committee (TSPM), whose staff welcomed Lai November 27 as the first bishop from Taiwan to visit the organization.

In addition to training pastoral workers, teachers and researchers, Nanjing seminary works toward building unity between believers and non-believers. In order to promote the overall development of students, the seminary emphasizes "spirit, virtue, knowledge, health, and community."

Nanjing seminary prides itself as being "open-minded ... cherishing the distinctive characteristics of Chinese churches and willing to have exchange with other seminaries in China and abroad."

Each year several foreign delegations visit the seminary. "We receive groups of theologians, church and political leaders as well as other Christians and friends outside of the churches," said one faculty member. "These visitors learn about Chinese theological education through sharing and exchanging with teachers and students of Nanjing Seminary. They carry what they learn to other parts of the world."

Lai said he hopes to arrange exchange visits with the seminary and looks forward to an opportunity to welcome Chinese students to Taiwan.

Reopened in 1981 after China's Cultural Revolution, the seminary accepts students from all over China, but the entrance exam is very competitive with only about 50 out of 300 applicants being invited to join the degree programs each year.

Currently home to more than 170 students, the seminary is the only theological college to confer masters' degrees in China and a strong emphasis is placed on graduates assisting with the training of future generations of theologians. There are about 96 female students and 84 male students and the average age is 26.

The new campus in the center of Jiangning University City will accommodate around 500 students. The current campus will be kept as a research center.

Lai and his delegation were shown a model of the seminary's new campus, being built on land provided by the Chinese government.

Bishop K. H. Ting, president of Nanjing Union Theological Seminary, who welcomed Lai to his Nanjing home November 29, expects the new seminary "to be characterized by steadfast faith, excellent conduct and abundant knowledge," he said. "We share the love of God in this community, and we are also cultivated in character and virtue in the incarnation of Christ. I am confident that the future of Nanjing Seminary will be bright."

While visiting the Beijing headquarters of the State Administration for Religious Affairs November 30, its foreign affairs director Guo Wei emphasized the many good relationships the Christian Churches in China share with other denominations, citing the assistance China's theological seminaries receive from visiting professors.

Last semester a foreign professor taught Latin at the Nanjing seminary. This year two professors from England and two from Canada will offer classes on Biblical studies, Old Testament Hebrew and Church music.

The seminary has two regular programs: a four-year Bachelor's Degree of Theology (BTh) and since 1995 a three-year post graduate Master's Degree of Theology (MTh).

Courses for BTh students include biblical studies, theological studies, Church history and pastoral training, as well as some basic culture and language courses as required by the Chinese Ministry of Education for higher education in secular universities. In particular, students are encouraged to learn English, Hebrew and New Testament Greek.

The post-graduate MTh program aims to train theological teachers and researchers. The main courses are systematic theology, history of Christian thought, Western Church history, Chinese Church history, Old Testament and New Testament studies, and practical theology.

In addition to these two regular programs, in 2001 Nanjing Seminary developed a Post Graduate Studies Program for Pastors at the request of TSPM and the China Christian Council, to provide further education for church leaders.

The seminary currently has 30 full-time faculty members, which includes foreign professors and adjunct professors from other universities, 16 people working in administrative positions and four in the library and editorial office.

The seminary's library currently has more than 60,000 books, half in English and half in Mandarin Chinese. It also subscribes to more than a hundred journals of theology, history and philosophy.

Lai said he hopes that Amity Printing Company, founded by Ting in 1985 to publish and distribute Bibles throughout the country, might consider producing copies of the Book of Common Prayer as a liturgical resource for the country's seminaries.

Since the post-denominational era, the Christian churches in China cannot emphasize any one traditional form of worship, but welcome opportunities to broaden their knowledge of alternative liturgical customs.

Lai presented the seminary with copies of the Sung Eucharist in Mandarin Chinese, as used in the Diocese of Taiwan.

Faculty at Nanjing Seminary noted that they are working hard to "construct a framework for Chinese theological thinking, improve the quality of its theological education, and make Nanjing Seminary the best and most advanced seminary in China."

Related article: In China, Taiwan bishop shares 'harmonious' message on first official visit

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