April 24, 2017

A Steady Hand for Theological Schools

            Theological educators from all over North American convened in Pittsburgh last evening to celebrate the good and faithful work of Daniel Aleshire.  He has led the Association of Theological Schools (one of Central’s accrediting bodies) for the past 20 years with grace and good humor. On his watch, nearly everything has changed in how we prepare women and men for ministry except the need to study the Bible, theology, and the arts of ministry.  Old models are disappearing, and seminaries, like churches, must become more nimble and entrepreneurial in their pursuit of effective mission.

            Peter Smith at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described him as a “witness to revolution” in theological education.  “I feel I’ve spent the last 10 years unbolting all the furniture on the ship, and we haven’t hit the waters that will shift the furniture all around, but we will,” said Dr. Aleshire in this April 22, 2017 article.  Smith likens Aleshire’s even-handed demeanor to that of a ship captain maintaining calm in the storm.
            Baptists of a certain vintage will remember Dan from his years of teaching at Southern Seminary, where he fostered greater focus on formation for ministry.  With a keen eye for academic standards and an abiding love of congregational life, his life work has been about preparation of competent graduates for the work of the ministry.  I remember him bringing samples of student writing that demonstrated dimensions of formation to faculty meetings, reading it tenderly to us, to remind us of why we teach.  He has continued to hold forth the goodness of theological education for the whole association.
            Dan’s capacity for friendship, always interlaced with professional excellence, is a hallmark of his ministry.  When the diaspora from the “mother seminary” occurred, a generation of theological educators began to sow in new fields. Former colleagues and friends include Bill Leonard, David Garland, Alan Culpepper, and Tom Graves; all went on to found or lead new schools, or in my case, help renew an old one. Dan has been unfailing in showing interest in our work and providing wise counsel for our unique schools. I was a beneficiary of his collegial friendship early in my professorial vocation, and he has remained a source of inspiration for my work at Central.

            The schools that are part of ATS are stunning in their theological breadth.  They span conservative evangelical, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, mainline Protestants, and liberal traditions, and Dan has managed to keep them all in the same fold through patient conversation and respectful engagement.  St. Augustine said that the call of the Gospel is “to be on hand for everyone.”  He has surely managed to do this.  His kids joke that the way to wake him up was to whisper “seminaries” and he would snap to attention.
            Many generative initiatives have flourished under his leadership: women’s leadership development, racial inclusion, pedagogical approaches to multicultural education, governance issues, attention to educational debt, among others.  His prescience has pushed affiliated schools to work toward thoughtful engagement with pressing demographic changes, which is essential for relevance. He has truly shaped a community of learning.
            It is a joyful thing to celebrate life well-lived through one’s vocation—especially when there is more productive life yet to be lived.  Daniel Aleshire has helped theological schools see that there isn’t just one good, but a variety of ways to be a good theological school.  Central has gained much from his wisdom and attentiveness to our mission.

Molly T. Marshall


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