Theological Education in Kenya
Theological education in Kenya was founded on the premise of equipping and training local people to assist missionaries in their work. The early missionaries strove to determine what type of theological education was best fit for the indigenous population. At the time, these missionaries were mainly from the Church of England, Church of Scotland, African Inland Mission, Pentecostal Assemblies of God, and the Methodist Church among many others.
There has always been a local perception that theological education in Kenya, and most parts of Africa, is for people who did not or could not excel in other careers outside of the church. However, the truth is that theological education should provide a holistic leadership that can speak to the social, economic, and political spheres of the time. Theological education exists to equip the church to participate in God’s mission in the world. It is about following Jesus, learning from him, growing to be like him, and so becoming fishers of men wherever he sends, as Jesus taught in Matthew 4:19.
The history and context of theological education in Kenya started with the introduction of a center for training church ministers during the colonial period. The training center was the first Anglican divinity school in East Africa and was founded in 1903 in Frere Town, Mombasa, Kenya. The purpose of the divinity school was to teach God’s word to newly freed slaves. Frere Town was a town created by the British Governor of India and East Africa. Frere was named after an active Anglican layman working for the abolition of slavery. It was probably the first theological college in East Africa.
In 1955 the divinity school moved from Mombasa to Limuru, about 30 minutes outside the Kenyan capital city, Nairobi, and was renamed St. Paul United Theological College. The college was run by Anglican, Methodist, Presbyterian, Reformed, and Quaker ministers. Since then, St. Paul's United Theological College, now St. Paul University, has made an exceptional impact on the African Independent Churches by training their pastors in theology.
After Kenya attained her independence in 1963, the running of theological schools was left in the hands of church boards to coordinate with the missionary partners overseas. During this time, theological education was affordable and many were trained both locally and overseas. Since the church was and is the main consumer of theological college graduates, it has played both a positive and a negative role in the growth of theological education in Kenya.
Theological training takes many forms in Kenya today. For one, it happens in local churches through preaching, Bible study, and other organized activities where believers are systematically taught God’s word and application in their lives. There is also Theological Education by Extension in Kenya, popularly known as TEE. This is conducted in churches and is set up as Bible study groups that gather for a longer period of time. The primary textbook of TEE is the Bible and there are also reference study books which help the students study the Bible and apply it to life. At the end of the study the students are awarded certificates of completion.
In Kenya, we also have some churches that have ministry schools which deal mainly with topics such as outreach, exorcism of demons, and preaching. There are always divided opinions on ministry school and formal accredited theological schools. Those in ministry schools always point fingers at those in theological colleges saying that they have no connection with God since there their approach is more academic than spiritual. Whereas, those in theological schools cast aspersions at those in ministry schools saying that they do not have a firm grasp of the word of God and are hence prone to heresy.
At a more formal level, there are institutions of higher education that are residential and non-residential, distance learning programs, and in some internet savvy African countries, internet classes. Bishop Hannington Institute of Theology (BHI) in Mombasa is an Anglican-affiliated college. Despite being an Anglican college, there are students from other denominations who also attend the college.
Bishop Hannington Institute of Theology (BHI) is named after James Hannington, the first Anglican bishop of East Africa who was martyred in 1885 by being speared on his way to Uganda. BHI offers a three-year diploma in theology to ministers mainly of the Anglican church, Methodist, and other denominations. BHI started as a center called the Coast Bible Institute in 1991 with six students. Today the college graduates over 25 ministers every year. Since its founding, the college has trained over 400 ministers. The graduates of the college serve as church ministers or chaplains in secondary and primary schools, hospitals, and the armed forces.
Theological education in Africa has experienced challenges. The greatest challenge has been poor enrollment of students in formal theological schools prompted by the lack of resources. Many potential students cannot afford tuition and fees.
Another challenge to theological education in Kenya is combating heretical teaching. Kenya has witnessed the formation of many churches. These churches are mainly founded by pastors who do not have any formal theological training, but they have large congregations since they seem to address the people’s needs through preaching of what is in fact heresy. Many young people who would have joined theological training so as to become pastors see no need to, since they have witnessed ministers who can attract large congregations. This calls for sound theological education in order to avoid heretical teaching and spread of a prosperity gospel.
Africa is dealing with many contemporary issues such as corruption, AIDS, ethnic division, and political turmoil. The Kenyan church and the society in general need well trained pastors, ministers, priests, and lay leaders who can guide and lead members of the church and society. Africa direly needs Christians who can live out the transformational gospel of Jesus Christ in every sector of society. According to Torres, “The only theology that the Bible knows is a functional theology, that is to say, a theology in dialogue with the concrete reality, a theology in the service of praxis” (In Torres in Fabella, eds; 1978:213). The goal of theological education in Kenya should be transforming lives and maturing believers to become the salt and light of the world.
Rev. Dr. Martin Olando Wesonga has been the Principal of Bishop Hannington Institute of Theology (BHI) in Mombasa since 2013. He holds a Doctor of Theology from St. Alcuin Seminary and a Masters in Theology from Daystar University, Kenya. Prior to joining BHI, he served as Youth Pastor at St. Paul Anglican Church, Machakos, Kenya. You can contact Fr. Martin here.