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Futurizing Theological Education

by Jay Gary, PhD, Mar. 2, 2003

doorway-future-lI just turned in a proposal to the Evangelical Theological Society to speak at their November 2003 meeting in Atlanta, on this subject of “Futurizing Theological Education: case studies in foresight.”

Here is the ETS proposal, so you can get the drift of why evangelicals need to change the way we educate our graduate students, both in the M.Div and D.Min areas:

In the context of openness of God debates, how are Doctor of Ministry programs building a theology of the  future that is both evangelical and christocentric, yet open to the human future? Jay Gary, developer of the popular Perspectives mission study program and now president of of Colorado Springs, Colo. will share experiences of evangelical educators in designing Doctoral and M.A. programs that help future leaders of faith communities cultivate foresight about the church’s and society’s near-term future. The premise of this session is that evangelical leaders  need to be intentional about their literacy with both the first-century context of Jesus and the changing the  21st century landscape. This latter futures fluency is a hermeneutic built on a Christian world view comprised of hindsight, insight and foresight. While this session is on practical theology, it may also be of interest to theologians and educators that focus on: the historical Jesus, biblical eschatology, varieties of  millennialism, curriculum development, leadership studies, organizational development, future studies or  new models of transformational missiology.

I HAVE ALSO SUBMITTED A PROPOSAL ON THIS SUBJECT TO the American Academy of Religion, which meets immediately after the ETS, in Atlanta, Nov. 21-23, 2003. Here is that proposal, with more in-depth development than the ETS one.

Futurizing Theological Education: a case study in foresight


While many institutions have pursued the ‘globalization of theological education,’ fewer have launched projects designed to ‘futurize theological education.’ Where ‘globalization’ relates to the dimension of space, ‘futurization’ relates to time. Globalization uses dialogue to resolve the problem of the other, while futurization uses foresight to enlarge a community’s potency towards systemic problems. This paper will 1) review the field of religious futures as developed alongside the World Future Society since 1980, 2) distinguish epistemological futures from pop-futures inquiry, 3) introduce the ‘foresight’ model of Richard Slaughter of Australia and summarize how it is being used at the M.A. level in business, 4) share how a Leadership Studies program at a U.S. graduate religious institution has begun to refocus their program on foresight studies through help from professional futurists and theologians conversant with future studies, 5) exchange stories of ‘futurizing theological education’ and institutional models of assessment.


Religion, so it is popularly thought, preserves the past with its conventions. It doesn’t create the human future–in all of its possibilities. In popular parlance, ‘religionists’ are considered backwards, closed, dogmatic, fatalistic, foreboding, pessimistic, reactionary or regressive.

By contrast, humanists or ‘futurists’ are thought to be anticipatory, creative, forward-looking, open, optimistic, progressive and scientific. Even though these stereotypes are ideologically naive, in some cases, they carry a ‘ring of truth.’

The premise of this paper is that the two worlds of religionists and futurists can converge. Through study and practice, religionists can become futurists, with both critical thinking skills and creative imagination. Before they even start, religionists usually have a strong background in hindsight and live by insight, and can add foresight to that skill set.

Over the past decade the ‘globalization of theological education’ has been a priority among institutions, and North American schools have worked to integrate the global and multicultural context into their programs of theological education.

Yet to date, fewer institutions have pursued the ‘futurization’ of theological or religious education that helps students cultivate foresight related to the changing context of congregations and society.

Where ‘globalization’ relates to the dimension of space, ‘futurization’ relates to the dimension of time. Globalization uses dialogue to resolve the problem of the other, while futurization uses foresight to enlarge a community’s potency towards systemic problems.

This paper will:

1) REVIEW the theoretical field of religious futures, as it has developed since 1980 under the tutelage of the World Future Society, noting contributions to the field by Jewish, Christian, Islamic and Esoteric futurists; including Ziauddin Sadars’ _The Future of Muslim Civilization_, 1986 and Earl Brewer’s and Richard Kirby’s _The Temples of Tomorrow_, 1993.

2) CITE various examples of how religion has often been impoverished through catastrophic millennialism and enriched through constructive millennial theologies (Catherine Wessinger), and the continued need for work by scholars on comparative eschatology in all religions.

3) CONSIDER the challenge that a changing future presents for paradigm change in theology (Hans Kung), in terms of epistemological futures (Ken Wilber), and how sources of problems can be located in worldviews and solutions can arise from deep-seated shifts at this level. Epistemological futures will be contrasted with surface pop-futures inquiry (John Naisbitt or Alvin Toffler), the latter often offering unconscious support for the status-quo.

4) DEFINE the ‘Foresight model’ of Richard Slaughter, Australian author of _Futures for the Third Millennium: enabling the forward view_ (Prospect, 2000), as the ability to create and maintain a coherent forward view and to use these insights in socially constructive ways. This will be compared to the doctoral research of Wendy Schultz on core capacities of _Futures fluency: explorations in leadership, vision and creativity_ (PhD thesis in political science at Univ. of Hawaii, 1995).

5) SUMMARIZE how applied future studies are being taught at the M.A. level in business programs in the U.K., the U.S. and Australia, with special focus on the University of Houston at Clear Lake and the work of Peter Bishop. Mention will be made of how various graduates of Bishop’s program have positioned themselves in market research or as ideational leaders within various denominations or charitable foundations.

6) SHARE a case study of how a Leadership Studies program at the PhD level at a major religious institution has begun to refocus their program on foresight studies, by obtaining help from professional futurists or theologians who are conversant with future studies.

7) SOLICIT the experience of faculty, deans and administrators on whether work has been done on standards of ‘futurization’ or models of assessment that evaluate their graduates’ leadership abilities and effectiveness as change agents.

Postscript: July 2003: Neither ETS or AAR accepted these proposals this year, but I’ve circulated versions of them elsewhere, and they are getting a hearing. Our July consultation in San Francisco gathered several graduate theological educators to look at this subject of foresight. I welcome any feedback on this subject. Please email me your critique: Jay Gary

jaygary_sDr. Jay Gary is president of, a foresight consulting group. Over the past twenty years Jay has helped non-profits, foundations, civic leaders, and strategic alliances to create more promise filled futures. He also teaches strategic foresight, innovation and leadership at the graduate level and through professional development courses.

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