Four Pillars of Learning and Theological Education

Workshop Talk Delivered at NATA-AGM, March 2014

In its Report to UNESCO in the document Learning: The Treasure Within (1996)[1]also referred to as the Delors Report, the International Commission on Education for the 21st Century, proposed the following four pillars of education as listed below:

  • Learning to know
  • Learning to do
  • Learning to live together
  • Learning to be
Learning to know involves “combining a sufficiently broad general education with the possibility of in-depth work on a selected number of subjects.”[2] The goal is “to provide the cognitive tools required to better comprehend the world and its complexities, and to provide an appropriate and adequate foundation for future learning.”[3] The scheme is first to provide general education as an introductory foundation for special education later on.

Learning to do involves “the acquisition of the practical skills needed in the workplace along with the ability to contribute as part of a team and to demonstrate initiative.”[4]

Learning to live together is re“garded as the main pillar of education of which the other are only supportive.[5] Brunton’sarticulation of this pillar is clear and concise:

… Learning to Live Together refers to developing an understanding of others through dialogue which leads to empathy, respect and appreciation. It requires that we understand ourselves and how we can use our strengths in concert with the strengths of others to achieve common goals. Students should be encouraged to engage in cooperative activities beyond the school that address social and community concerns.[6]

Learning to be was the dominant theme of the Edgar Faure report Learning to Be: The World of Education Today and Tomorrow, published by UNESCO in 1972,[7] the recommendations wherein were considered still very relevant. The pillar stresses the importance of the freedom to each individual to exercise greater independence and judgment combined with a stronger sense of personal responsibility for the attainment of common goals coupled with the necessity to value and promote the self-actualization of the individual’s potentiality so that “none of the talents which are hidden like buried treasure in every person must be left untapped” – that, by the way, explains the title of the document Treasure Within. Some of the treasures hidden within each of individual may be named as: “memory, reasoning power, imagination, physical ability, aesthetic sense, the aptitude to communicate with others and the natural charisma of the group leader, which again goes to prove the need for greater self-knowledge.”[8] Each individual has a unique endowment that is distinctive from anyone else and education must play an important role in tapping one’s individual worth and role in history. In Brunton’s words, learning to be

is the conviction that education should contribute to every person’s complete development – mind and body, intelligence, sensitivity, aesthetic appreciation and spirituality. All people should receive in their childhood and youth an education that equips them to develop their own independent, critical way of thinking and judgment so that they can make up their own minds on the best courses of action in the different circumstances in their lives. Education should enable people to live fulfilling lives.[9]

Can the UNESCO recommendations be applied to theological education? I submit that in some way or the other we are already attempting to do that. The UNESCO recommendations only highlight the importance of them so that we don’t falter with regard to one or more of the pillars and thus become off balanced. But, the challenge to theological education is to blend together the relation between the secular and the theological with the intent that our content will be in touch with ourselves (to be), with others (to live together), with our mission in the world (to do) in accordance to sound doctrine (to know). Certainly, this is not to ignore the three pillars for curriculum development embraced by the Senate of Serampore, viz, contextual education, interdisciplinary approach, and social relevance.[10] Relevance to context, current data, and humanity is the concern of those three pillars; which aren’t contradicted by but highly enhanced by the UNESCO recommendations.

Fig. 1.
 Four Pillars of Education[11]

Prevalent Models of Theological Education (Edgar)
The four typologies of theological education, diagrammatized by Brian Edgar,[12] with their inter-blending forms, might provide an insight into present models of theological education. The four typologies are considered to be
(i) Athens (Kelsey: 1993), the classical school relates to the context of the academy and focuses on individual transformation through gaining the wisdom of God (theologia). It involved study of scriptures.
(ii) Berlin (Kelsey: 1993), the vocational school relates to the context of the university and focuses on strengthening the church through training its leaders in knowledge skills (scientia). In this approach, theology is stripped of its spiritually transforming role and given an academic definition; its goal is now to train ministers and leaders to provide professional leadership to the church.
(iii) Jerusalem (Banks: 1999), the missional school relates to the context of the community and focuses on converting the world through emphasis on missiology. Theological education is seen as a dimension of mission and missiology is considered as the mother of theology.
(iv) Geneva (Edgar: 2005), the confessional school relates to the context of the seminary and focuses on knowing God through the study of creeds and the confessions, the means of grace and the general traditions that are utilized by a particular faith community (doxology).

Fig 2. The Typology in Diagrammatic Form (Edgar: 2005)

Of course, the typology is neither final nor free of criticism and Edgar agrees that it may not fully apply to non-western contexts (Obviously, the university model for ministerial training doesn’t apply very much in India – theology is not a university discipline at all here, though the tension to obtain for theology a scientific status is felt, especially where seminaries seek for university acknowledgement). With regard to the Indian context, an empirical study of curricula and objectives will be necessary before any classification can be decided upon. But, a cursory glance at the diagram above should not fail to suggest that theological education needs an interblending of all the models presented above. Theological education should aim the transformation of the individual, understanding of doctrine in light of history, context, and dogma; it should also not fail to provide ministerial training with development of theoretical and practical ministry skills and to enhance an understanding of Christian mission in the world.

Learning to Know

While there are a number of programs now offered in seminaries that do not pre-require a ministry-oriented degree like BTh or BD/MDiv for admission into (e.g. some MA programs), a general foundational introduction to Christianity is a general rule, though the general ecclesiastical efficiency of these degrees is questionable. For instance, degrees like MA in Church History and MA in Christian Counseling are specializations and may not have the breadth of ministry-oriented courses among the foundationals offered in the programs; these may generally fall under the Berlin model, with university like focus on the academic aspect of the discipline; though, deprived of the general ministerial intent. But, this doesn’t mean that they don’t cater to the need of the church. In fact, they could cater well as supportive equipping models for church and para-church ministries. However, a proper theological education is indisputably one that involves “combining a sufficiently broad general education with the possibility of in-depth work on a selected number of subjects.” The significance, therefore, of the BTh or BD/MDiv cannot be undermined as the main vein of theological education. In fact, they are the first professional degrees; while the rest are usually academic only. Whether, this broad general education should give more importance to the historical context of India than to the West is a contextual issue. The goal is to provide cognitive tools essential for comprehending the complexities of the immediate context without their being inefficient for comprehending the realities of other contexts; which implies that addressing breadth of knowledge in general education is vital. Consequently, topics such as scripture, general church history, general introduction to theology, general introduction to hermeneutics, ecclesiology, and comparative religions become vital.

With this regard, in India, the BD/MDiv degrees are not more specializations in their fullest sense. The rationale for a BD/MDiv is a matter of entry point, so that graduates can apply to them directly without the need to go through a BTh. However, the non-theological graduates are still required to do extra courses in a way that integrates BTh+BD/MDiv. At both Oxford University and Cambridge University, BD was a post-graduate higher degree; at Cambridge is considered a degree “so senior that it outranks aDoctor of Philosophy”.[13] Oxford discontinued offering BD since 2005.[14] At Oxford, a graduate in theology can directly apply for MTh.

But, in India, an MDiv is the first a professional degree (with regard to entry point for non-theological graduates); the specialized MTh that it leads to is an academic one. One issue to tackle is the level of redundancy that can be avoided in offering the MDiv program to a BTh holder and the form of equivalence that can be maintained in offering MDiv to non-theological graduates.

While mastery of learning tools such as numeracy, literacy, and life skills are presumed to precede entry to theological education (which in itself is a specialized discipline, in a way), the theological curricula must not fail to incorporate involvement of the major components of learning to learn such as concentration, memory skill, and critical thinking, which includes practical problem-solving and abstract thought.

Learning to Do

Some of the skills that theological education attempts to develop are research skills, public speaking, writing, witnessing, team work, problem solving, team leadership, and other practical ministry skills. The goal is to encourage the student to learn to analyze concepts, think through solutions for problems, articulate narratives and rhetoric of biblical wisdom, do research, and to move from concrete to abstract and back from abstract to concrete in order to translate general ideas into specific blueprints for practical and relevant action. Care must be given to emphasis not so much on certified skills as on personal competence in which inborn talents are enhanced through development of associate skills. Use of multiple intelligence and learning styles through participation in creative and innovative activities are keys to discovery and enhancement of personal competence that prepares the learner for the future to tackle issues that are yet unforeseen .

Learning to Live Together

This is a win/win approach of theological education. The goal is not only to promote attitudes and skills to live together with other Christians (denominations, churches) but also to live together with people of other faiths. The challenge of pluralism is, thus both internal and external. The objective is harmony but not at the expense of conviction. The means is not compromise, but collaboration, so that we have attitudinal maturity and practical wisdom to discover common grounds of collaboration for peaceful co-existence.

Learning to Be

Education should contribute to the holistic development of the person: of both mental and emotional intelligence, of sensitivity, aesthetic appreciation, and spirituality. Education should, in this sense, aim at the complete personality development of the person. The goal of theological education is not just to grant a degree at the end; the goal is to transform, to equip, and to unleash. The aim is not just to create a gospel worker but to help one discover the talents and gifts that the individual has and to help find ways in which those talents can be enhanced and expressed for the good of humanity in ministry and conduct. The goal of study is certainly that the servant of God will be able to present himself or herself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth (2Tim.2:15).

Affiliation with the Four Pillars of Faith

If the goal is the contention for faith, to build up in faith, then it’s also important to understand that faith is not a roof hanging upon nothing. The Bible relates faith with at least four pillars: Truth (the cognitive pillar), Love (the relational pillar), Patience (the consistent pillar), and Works (the active pillar).



(1Tim.2:7; Jn.8:32)

Learning to Know



Learning to Live Together


(Heb.6:12; James 1:4)

Learning to Be


(James 2:17)

Learning to Do

Concluding Remarks

In a time when distance education and online courses are becoming the growing trends, it is more important to pay attention to ways in which curriculum can be designed to promote Christian education as learning to know, to do, to live together, and to be. Sadly, much of so called “education” is not education at all. There is a spate of commercializing instances. The loss is irreconcilable when the goal is no longer learning, but only degree holding. Seminaries and colleges must pay special attention to providing tools for intellectual, spiritual, social, and missional formation of the individual. The 4 Pillar Model provides a relevant understanding that can be utilized for the future of theological education in India towards this end.


Banks, Robert. Reenvisioning Theological Education, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1999.
Edgar, Brian. “The Theology of Theological Education”, Evangelical Review of Theology (2005) Vol 29 No. 3, 208-217.
Kelsey H., David. Between Athens and Berlin: the Theological Debate, Grand Rapids: Eerdmans, 1993.
International Commission on Education for the 21st Century, Learning: The Treasure Within, UNESCO Publishing, 1996

[1] International Commission on Education for the 21st Century, Learning: The Treasure Within (UNESCO PUBLISHING, 1996).
[2] Learning: The Treasure Within, p.23
[3] “The Four Pillars of Learning”, Accessed on March 3, 2014.
[4] Ron Brunton, “The Four Pillars of Education”, The Teacher, May 2012, Volume 50 Number 7, page 14, NSTU 2012
[5] Learning: The Treasure Within, pp.22,23
[6] Ron Brunton, “The Four Pillars of Education”.
[7] Learning: The Treasure Within, p.23
[8] Learning: The Treasure Within, p.23
[9] Brunton, “The Four Pillars of Education”.
[10] “Indian Theological Colleges Look Forward With New Curriculum,” Press Centre, World Council of Churches, 24 February 2009, Accessed on March 3, 2014
[11] From Dr. Didacus Jules, “Rethinking Education in the Caribbean” Accessed on March 5, 2014
[12] Brian Edgar, “The Theology of Theological Education”, Evangelical Review of Theology (2005) Vol
[13] “Glossary of Cambridge Jargon”, Accessed on March 3, 2014
[14] Accessed on March 3, 2014

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