The Presbyterian Church of Taiwan has three seminaries: Taiwan Theological Seminary (in Taipei), Tainan Theological Seminary, and Yushan Theological Seminary (in Hualian). They often go by Taishen 台神，Nanshen 南神，and Yushen 玉神.
The seminaries are roughly similar in size and mission, but because they compete for students and resources, and serve different regions, they also work hard to distinguish their identities. The seminaries do really have different constituencies and spirits. Taipei probably really is a bit more metropolitan, more Mandarin speaking, and more academic. Tainan tends to be more “heartland,” more Taiwanese speaking, and more rural focused. Yushan serves more than dozen different aboriginal groups and sits on the East Coast. The reality, however, is that (in my opinion) this tends to be the exaggeration of small differences. Pretty much every teacher from Taishen speaks fluent Taiwanese and only a couple are from Tainan. Tainan has great academics, a wonderful international reputation, and some creative programs. Yushan’s pastors are as good (better?) than those produced at the other schools and its teachers probably do more original work than those anywhere else.
Today the three seminaries’ teachers came together to talk about ways to cooperate. Suanglian Presbyterian Church in Taipei provided support for the gathering and two elders from the church attended. For me it was a chance to connect to people I hadn’t seen in a while. I saw a former PTS classmate, Namoh Issing, who teaches in a similar field in Yushan. There were only four foreigners in the gathering. Besides me it was Chris Dippenaar, Ted Siverns, David Alexander, and a new professor, Bettina Opitz-Chen. The other foreigners are all at Tainan, although it was not always so.
In the morning, we had introductions to the three seminaries by their deans or presidents. In late morning we split into three groups: Bible, history/theology, and practical/mission. In the afternoon we reported back on these groups.
There were several key issues in discussion:
- Accreditation. Taishen has cleared its penultimate loop for government accreditation. All of the seminaries are seeking accreditation but it has been slow going (only the Baptist Seminary and the Catholic Seminary have succeeded). Initially there were high hopes for government funds and supports, but the concensus seems to be that accreditation is necessary but will not carry immediate benefits.
- Academic questions (plagiarism). One of the topics was academic performance. There is often the feeling here that three years of seminary is not enough for students, especially since the church work is so heavy and since students rarely come out of writing-intensive fields. I’ve struggled with what standard to apply to students, so this was helpful.
- Curriculum (church and society or social work; music). I was in the “prectical theology and mission” group which consisted mostly of the church musicians bemoaning their low status and need for respect in the church. I actually really do sympathize because church music is almost always unpaid here and hard to do as a career.
- Theology, ethics, etc. A background question is often how to relate to theological questions and problems. One of the elders shared that he often hears that the new pastors are not as effective as prior generations, even though the academics have become stronger. I suspect that part of what is happening in Taiwanese theological education is similar to the US, where ministry candidates’ immediate contexts are more and more divorced from the places and people they serve (instead of 30 year olds going to serve 4o year olds, it’s now 25 year olds serving 65 year olds).
- Relationship to General Assembly. There’s always an expressed hope that perhaps GA will better fund, equip, provide for the Seminaries. The schools are often turned away on the grounds that GA does not want to show partiality. What should/can GA do for the Seminaries.
All in all it was a good day. It was a bit of a trek to get to Tainan and back, but I enjoyed learning more about the other schools. I met the second reader for a student I advised this semester, and also connected to a friend, David Shinn, who is resident at Tainan this semester.