Dr Manfred Kohl’s Opening and Concluding Presentations at this very important Global Forum
HISTORY, REALITY, PURPOSE, AND GOALS
Dr. Manfred W. Kohl, Canada
I am a theologian. Very few people know that I my first training and work was as a carpenter, or cabinet maker. My family has been in this ancient trade for centuries. As a child, I played with wood shavings and little pieces of wood. To have a splinter in my finger or sawdust in my eye was a commonplace experience. And I was fascinated when I heard one day that Jesus Christ had a similar upbringing. We – the boy Jesus and I – had many things in common. I went into an apprenticeship program to become a certified craftsman. For years I studied under masters in the trade to become a master myself, and I was proud when I completed a piece of furniture or worked on a new building putting in doors, cupboards, or entire wood floors or ceilings. Quite early I learned that I was not the only craftsman involved in building. There were others who worked with stone, with pipes, with wires, or with roof tiles. I had to learn to work together with them. I watched the electrician, for example, working next to me. What he did was fascinating to me. I never wanted to be an electrician, but I needed him and he needed me to complete an assignment. I learned to respect, and even admire, him. We became friends.
While in my teens and during my apprenticeship I had an encounter with Jesus Christ that changed my life forever. I began to study the Bible and to learn theology. My spiritual home was within the southern German Pietistic movement. It was great! I learned the Bible, memorized long passages, and began to follow – and tried to imitate – Jesus Christ. “Jesus Nachfolge“ war das Thema der Pforzheimer Stadtmission, des Süddeutschen EC, und der Liebenzeller Mission. (I thought a sentence in German would prove to my German colleagues that I still know the language!)
I learned early that we Pietists will go to heaven, but that only those who believed as we did are real children of God and followers of Christ. People like you, and all these liberal theologians, would never be with Christ or with God for eternity. You may smile, but I was convinced that I and my friends were the only righteous ones. You may call this childish or stupid, but that was my spiritual background and my belief for a long time. Over the years I have discovered that there are still many who have this same understanding. I am afraid there may be many million Christians who have the same beliefs and attitudes within the various Christian camps. Not once did I remember my experience as a carpenter of having an electrician, another type of craftsman, as my closest friend.
In my early twenties I spent Christmas vacation in a small village in the Austrian Alps. In that village there was only one church, a Roman Catholic chapel. A sermon I heard there hit me like lightning from above. That Catholic priest spoke from the same Bible and used the same language I was used to. After the service I asked him three times if he belonged to or came from the southern Pietistic movement. He said, “No, but I love Jesus with all my heart.” This priest walked on crutches, because he had lost both legs while a missionary among the rebels in the southern islands of the Philippines. I wrote about this missionary. We became friends for life. After him I met hundreds, even thousands, who were not Pietists but who also love Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord, and who also became my friends. I also learned that God our Father determines who are my siblings. God has only children, no nieces or nephews.
Each of us here has his or her own theology, tradition, and faith experience. We will hold on to these, and rightly so. But I hope and pray that we will have hearts and minds big enough to hear and see the others with respect and treat them with dignity. (Be sure to look at the posters on the walls around you.) We surely can learn from each other, and hopefully some of us will become friends, even friends for life and for eternity. Don’t misunderstand me; I am still a theologian with deep Pietistic beliefs and a Christ-centered understanding of Scripture. I have met many sisters and brothers from other Christian camps. I have learned from them. I admire and respect them. I do indeed have friends from everywhere. We are all involved in training the next generation of leaders for our ministries. Let us tell them of the experiences that we will hopefully have here.
About five years ago Dr. Dietrich Werner, at that time the theological education expert at the World Council of Churches, asked me if I could gather together some Evangelical leaders to meet with his colleagues in Geneva. I invited a large number of Evangelical leaders, and they all came, even though they had to pay their own travel and accommodation expenses. We had a great gathering, just sharing what God is doing in and through our various ministries. We prayed together and shared meals together. At the end of this meeting I made a remark on what a blessed learning experience we had had and added the sentence, “We should have a gathering where all the Christian church families and traditions would sit around the same table, especially those who train the next generation.” Everyone looked at me as if to say, “Manfred, why don’t you do it?” So it began – with Dr. Dietrich Werner and myself. Then came Dr. David Esterline, and he and I agreed to co-chair such a meeting. We met in England, and Dr. Wonsuk Ma and Dr. Rosalee Ewell joined us. We met in America, and Dr. Stephen Bevans and Dr. Daniel Aleshire joined us, as well as a number of advisors. We met in Germany, and Dr. Rufus Ositelu, Dr. Daniel Buda, and Dr. Joseph Shao participated. All these names you will see on the last pages of your program. Here we are. We can celebrate. It is happening. It is reality.
Nobody will believe the amount of correspondence and work necessary to bring together such a group of theologians, but we did it. Thank you to everyone who helped. A special word of thanks also goes to our sponsors. Everyone knows the reality that without funding such a gathering is impossible. The last page of the program lists all the friends who helped financially. A word of thanks to Overseas Council Europe who have sponsored this event. Rev. Andreas Kammer and I represent OCE.
Tomorrow morning we will begin, with our first session. We will sit at round tables, where there is no top or bottom, where everyone is equal. Every participant will be assigned to a particular table. After each short preliminary presentation/introduction, we can all share openly, listen to each other, and learn diligently. We will pray with each other and for each other.
Let me by reading the last paragraph of the letter you received earlier:
Outcomes. The hoped for results of learning and listening beyond the boundaries of regional and confessional networks, of praying and studying together, and of being open to the work of the Holy Spirit will be increased trust, ongoing mutual dialogue, new friends, and new partners of cooperation among Christian leaders of Christian formation and theological education.
It is my sincere prayer that the Lord will bless each one of us as we interact with each other.
035M/GFTE Dorfweil May 2016
Concluding message of the Global Forum of Theological Educators (GFTE)
We, 90 theological educators, give thanks to God for the first meeting of the Global Forum of Theological Educators (GFTE), which met May 16-20, 2016 at Ferienstätte Dorfweil, Schmitten (near Frankfurt). We are grateful to the organizers for their bold vision and careful planning for this exceptional new global forum.
The GFTE’s composition is unique: for the first time, key theological educators from the six major church confessional families—Orthodox, Roman Catholic, Protestant, Evangelical, Pentecostal and Independent churches—came together in one united forum in order to learn from each other and to share about the current situation of theological education and ministerial formation on a global scale.
Drawing on reflections from the book of Acts, participants gathered in the Spirit of Pentecost, aware that the core conviction of Christians—from whatever strand of Christian tradition they come—is to witness to the reality of God‘s transforming love while standing together, not allowing anyone to become isolated. There was a clear sense that each had something to contribute to the common table.
The GFTE meeting was a unique moment, as it is the only time in the recent history of Christianity that such a diverse spectrum of leaders in theological education has joined together to underline the common tasks that face all Christian traditions. Some of these tasks include: building up new leadership for the mission of the church, strengthening the sense of unity between Christians, giving witness to justice with peace in the world, and supporting all aspects of theological education. The meeting was characterized by a deep sense of humility and of mutual openness in prayer and dialogue.
Participants realised with new urgency:
We are living in a critical stage of World Christianity. The landscapes of Christian traditions are changing dramatically—in some countries the existence of Christianity is under threat and Christian minorities are challenged to remain steadfast in hostile environments; there are institutional frameworks of theological education that are crumbling; there is growing religious illiteracy and ignorance that help foster prejudice and extremism; theological institutions are often under pressure to conform to government or other external forms of accreditation requirements. In our many contexts we realize again that unity and cooperation in theological education beyond the traditional divides are not a luxury or mere specialized vocation for some, but are essential to the future of theological education. Cooperation and dialogue in theological formation are required for the majority of settings in which the church finds itself in the 21st century.
We are glad therefore that the consultation in Dorfweil has provided an occasion to recognize each other as Orthodox, Evangelical, Mainline Protestant, Pentecostal, Roman Catholic or Independent theological educators contributing to a common task of theological education for the sake of God’s reign in the world.
We are aware that we can complement each other and need each other with the different gifts we bring to the common table in the area of theological education. The need to overcome stereotypes and caricatures of each other is crucial not just for theological education but also for our witness in a world that is torn apart by wars, violence and so many types of injustice. We have been made aware of the need to continue conversations started in this first gathering, to foster friendships and collaboration birthed from our dialogue, and to seek together, as educators, to work toward transformative theological education that serves the churches and God’s kingdom.
We recommend that the next gathering of the Global Forum of Theological Educators take place within the next two to three years – and that the Executive Committee undertake the necessary planning and develop increased communication among present and prospective participants.
With thanks to God—Creator, Redeemer, and Giver of Life.
Dr Manfred Kohl
Ambassador Overseas Council.
Theologian, Carpenter, cabinetmaker. Currently declares himself as being very “active retired” and in the process of changing over to “retired active.” and remains being an Ambassador for the Overseas Council.
He is currently engaged in ministry assignments with special tasks concerning the Lausanne Movement, the World Evangelical alliance, and Peacemaker Ministries. Over the last decade he has spoken, preached and taught in Bethlehem, Palestine; Seoul, Korea; Istanbul, Turkey; Kiev, Ukraine; and numerous cities in China, central Europe and the Middle East. He is the co editor of the ICF theological journal and is currently working on various books two of which are in Portuguese.
He has undertaken many visits to Africa and is well known to many of the Bible colleges in South Africa
His wife is Dr Barbara Kohl and they live Hubbards Nova Scotia Canada.