NBTS E-Story

19th Century Theological Education in China, India and Japan

An eager crowd of students, faculty, and RCA church folk from around the region-gathered for dinner and an energetic lecture on January 29, at the invitation of the Reformed Church Center. The Rev. David Alexander (NBTS '80, GSED '81) received this year's Albert A. Smith Fellowship for research into the history of the Reformed tradition and provided an overview and analysis of Reformed missionaries and education in Asia in the 1800s.

Attendees enjoyed viewing many wonderful photographs of missionaries of the Reformed tradition who did the great work of conducting theological education in China, India, and Japan. We learned about the ways the preparation gained at Rutgers and NBTS in the 19th century resulted in the planting of vital and lasting Christian communities in places far from New Jersey.

The presenter described and contrasted three models for theological education in those places. All three were biblical and effective in their setting. All three had the same goal in mind: their intent was to produce leaders who were learned "gentlemen theologians." They based their work on Henry Venn's 3-Self Principle: that churches established by missionaries should aim to be self-governing, self- propagating, and self-supporting.

The characters in this drama are legendary: David Abeel, Elihu Doty, John Van Nest Talmage in China, the Scudders and John Wykoff in India, and Hepburn, Verbeck, and Booth in Japan, just to name a few. All these missionary-educators had one thing in common: they were able to appreciate and lift up whatever truth was found wherever it was found. This intention enabled them to affirm God's truth in the far-flung places of the world to which they were called.

Seminarian Leah Ennis noted that from the class, RCA History and Mission, she had already learned about domestic and global missions throughout RCA history, "But I did not know the extent that the RCA (with other denominations) impacted countries like India and China in the way of Christian Education and formal seminary education."

Rett Zabriskie, the stated clerk of the RCA Classis of Passaic Valley, recommends that anyone interested in how Christians in general and RCA Christians in particular live our their faith attend the short, informative programs of the Reformed Church Center. "David Alexander's paper suggests how a causal relationship between the ways NBTS and Rutgers influenced one another and the ways mission work has been carried out in China, India, and Japan."

For those unable to attend, but interested in knowing more, David Alexander's lecture was recorded and will be made available both as an audio presentation and a video-taped CD. If you are interested in either one, please email Barbara Fillette, the director, Reformed Church Center - bfillette@nbts.edu.

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