For more than 55 years, Alliance Theological Seminary has been preparing servant-leaders for mission and ministry in the world. This focus requires us to know the past and our traditions well. Future-focused education also requires many traditional disciplines to be taught within the context of ministry in the 21st-century. Sadly, the church is often the last institution to recognize the world has changed around them. While we have an eternal, timeless message, our methods of presenting and proclaiming that message must adjust accordingly. We are now living in one of the biggest epoch changes the world has ever experienced. The old R.E.M. song often rings in my ears: “It’s the end of the world as we know it” (1987). What is the change we are experiencing and how do we train leaders to engage that change effectively for the Gospel of Jesus Christ?
When Constantine declared Christianity as the state religion in 325 A.D., there were many positive benefits that resulted. The persecution of Christians came to a close. The Gospel could finally be openly proclaimed from the center of the culture. The secular government appeared to embrace the message of Christ. This allowed Christianity to come out of the shadows and begin to take the lead in culture and society. But along with these benefits came some serious systemic problems for the church. One of the negative consequences was a shift from incarnational Christianity to attractional Christianity. Prior to 325 A.D., Christians had been forced to be salt and light in the communities where they lived, many times living out their faith in contexts that were highly antagonistic toward the Gospel. In the midst of this persecution the church flourished. Tertullian proclaimed, “The blood of the martyrs is the seed of the church”. Attractional Christianity allowed the church to build buildings and invite the world to come to its services. While this allowed for beautiful cathedrals and the advance of Christian educational institutions, the missional nature of the church was lost for a large portion of our history.
This loss of incarnational missional discipleship resulted in what has been called “consumer Christianity.” We have still not recovered from this malady. In “consumer Christianity” the church focuses on providing a good show, good sermons, and good programs to attract the crowds. If people don’t like the show or the sermon, they can always move to a better church and pay their tithes for the services rendered there. Sadly, real discipleship often gets lost or neglected in this model. Here’s the problem: attractional and consumer Christianity will not work in an antagonistic culture. Christendom can be defined as a place or time where Christianity enjoys the place of privilege at the center of culture. For a large part of our history, western Christianity has enjoyed the benefits of Christendom. For better or for worse, that appears to now be coming to an end. It is time for us to admit that the church has lost the center stage of our culture and we are no longer setting the agenda. There is a silver lining, however, in the dark clouds the church is facing in the world today. While we are now being marginalized at a seemingly faster rate than ever before, we also have a chance to recapture our prophetic voice and incarnational Christianity once again. The prophetic always speaks best from the margins of society and often loses its voice when Christendom prevails. So the question for every seminary in this season has to be, “How do we prepare leaders for the church and mission of the future and not the past?”
In order to accomplish this task Alliance Theological Seminary is focused on three key areas of formation. Each of these three formational areas is featured prominently throughout our curriculum:
- Spiritual Formation – Leaders can no longer rely on growing spiritually in a Christian dominated culture. ATS is committed to teaching leaders deep spiritual formation so they can continue to grow and flourish in their contexts of calling.
- Biblical and Theological Formation – In a day and age where it appears that all of our foundations are crumbling, it is now more important than ever to raise up leaders with solid Biblical and Theological understanding. Integrating this knowledge with spiritual formation will allow our students to know God deeply through the Holy Scriptures.
- Missional Formation – It is time for the Church to be empowered witnesses of the risen Christ. We want to raise up servant leaders who will raise disciples of Jesus committed to the mission of God, living out their faith like salt and light in the world.
Thank you for your interest in Alliance Theological Seminary. We hope and pray we can serve you by preparing you to be servant-leaders for mission and ministry in our world.
Dr. Ron Walborn
Dean of Alliance Theological Seminary, Nyack, NY