Shaping Theological Education at IBTS through Cooperative Baptist Fellowship Partnership

Launching a year of celebration with a gathering of academic theologians might seem strange! But this is what we did on January 25 in Amsterdam to celebrate the 75th anniversary of the International Baptist Theological Study Centre (IBTS).

Our gathering reemphasized the relevance and continuing need for open and serious theological spaces.

Imagine the diversity: 160 individuals, spanning all ages and representing at least 25 nationalities, came together. The main speaker, a Russian woman now residing in the Netherlands, shared her unique perspective. 

Respondents from Odesa, Ukraine, and Beirut, Lebanon, reflected on the conflicts in their homelands. A female professor from France drew attention to the issue of domestic violence.

Other voices included people from Myanmar who experience military oppression; Kazakhstan, who experience persecution for their faith; migrants to Norway wrestling with issues of identity; and Black American women who speak about a heritage of racial oppression. And many others!

In this company, doing theology is lively and invigorating. Indeed, it is life-changing.

We find ourselves caught up in the questions that matter. Our individual issues are placed in a new perspective. At least for a while, we find ourselves lifted out of our limited experience to see a broader horizon of the world as experienced by other people.

Above all, we discover afresh what it means to be in living fellowship as part of the worldwide body of Christ. 

As we embark on this anniversary year, we are reminded of the strength of our living fellowship, exemplified by over 30 years of collaboration between IBTS and the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship (CBF). It is important to acknowledge that without the incredible support of CBF, IBTS would not have reached this milestone.

However, our collaboration is about more than just our shared history. We are now looking to the future, asking ourselves, “What can we do now to prepare the church for the next 75 years and the turn into the twenty-second century?” 

IBTS was founded after the disruption of the Second World War, but the challenges facing us now could be even more daunting. Against this backdrop, my years as IBTS director have persuaded me of some key priorities.

First, we must continue doing theology well. By this, I mean the kind of theology that centers the person of Christ and takes real-world situations seriously. This kind of theology is for all kinds of people: medics, high-school teachers, janitors, journalists, politicians, and, of course, Baptist pastors.

Second, we must take our collaboration and cooperation even more seriously. Like CBF, IBTS has collaboration woven into its DNA, but this does not mean we can take it for granted.

Collaboration is hard work. It is much easier to focus on doing our own thing. 

So, we need to ask again about the purpose and nature of our partnership. It may sound surprising to say the primary objective is not the survival of our respective organizations, as valuable as they are. The purpose is that from it, there would be a vibrant community of God’s people who bear faithful witness to Christ.

The nature of our collaboration should draw us to reach well beyond the confines of our own community and culture to join hands with and learn from those different from us.

I look forward to seeing you at the CBF General Assembly, where we will continue to celebrate our journey together. If you can’t attend, you can join us virtually through the launch of our new

Director, International Baptist Theological Studies Centre Amsterdam.

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