Smith’s New Book Calls for Reimagining Theological Education

July 5, 2023

Ted Smith and the cover of his book, The End of Theological EducationA new book by Charles Howard Candler Professor of Divinity and Associate Dean of Faculty Ted A. Smith has been published by Eerdmans Publishing Company. In The End of Theological Education, Smith examines the end of the dominant model of theological education, marking it not as a time for despair, but a time for hope and regeneration within the field.

In analyzing the deep shifts underway in theological education, Smith focuses on the history of religion in the United States from the colonial period to the present and connects current challenges facing theological schools with changes in contemporary society as a whole—including individualization, declining religious affiliation, a growing desire for authenticity, and the dilution of professions.

Rather than looking at theological education from a linear perspective of deterioration or advancement, Smith explores the concept through an eschatological lens, connecting to its ultimate purpose: knowledge of God “so deep, so intimate, that it requires and accomplishes our transformation.” Smith contends that this knowledge is meant for all people—not only those pursuing professional leadership of religious institutions—and urges readers to reimagine church, ministry, and theological education in light of this hope during this time of profound transition.

Smith’s third monograph is part of the Eerdmans book series Theological Education Between the Times (TEBT), which stems from the larger project of the same name led by Smith and funded by grants from Lilly Endowment Inc. Smith initiated the project in 2014 in recognition of seismic social, cultural and demographic shifts that demand a reassessment of approaches to theological education. Over its decade of existence, TEBT has gone through three phases, each one gathering diverse groups of people to think in critical, theological ways about the meanings and purposes of theological education.

The book series with Eerdmans grew out of a series of eight meetings that brought together 12 senior fellows—the majority of whom have been involved with TEBT since its inception—to be in conversation about theological education in the U.S. while also researching individual projects that have become the books in the series. Smith serves as editor for the series. His book is the ninth to be published in the series since 2020. A full list of all the works in the series so far is below.