The Pilgrim Pupils
The Divinity School of Chung Chi College is the only multi-denominational divinity school in Hong Kong. It is also the only divinity school housed in a public university in Chinese societies. It conferred its first BA in theology major in 1972. Today, the BA in Theology programme has developed into one of the leading programmes in the region providing theoretical and practical learning in theology that prepares students for ministry and church leadership positions.
Prof. Ying Fuk-tsang, Director of the School, said, ‘The School is committed to fostering the knowledge and love of God through its scholarly engagement within the Christian tradition. It is also committed to social justice and practical engagement in a variety of ways that will empower its students to develop their knowledge and sharpen their skill to serve the Church and the society at large.’
Tam Wing-hang, a devout Christian since high school but who found the church’s instructions had not satisfied his quest for deeper knowledge and greater faith, chose to study theology at CUHK to instill new meanings into his spiritual life.
Now in his fourth year, Wing-hang found the most valuable thing about the programme is that it can renew his thinking about the Christian faith. He has learned about the multi-dimensionality of his faith and felt humble in God’s scheme of things.
Critical thinking and faith might sound incompatible at first. But the former is actually what the School values the most in its students’ education. Professor Ying said, ‘The programme provides training in critical and analytical thinking that would facilitate their making contributions to society. The students should be able to address important social and moral issues of our day as professionals with a pastoral orientation. It is significant to nurture young people to develop a stance in value and moral judgment.’
Full-time students are expected to be in residence in the Theology Building. Professor Ying stressed the importance of hostel living as it ‘helps to encourage the students to take an active part in university life and make full use of the opportunities to meet with the lecturers and fellow students outside classroom.’
Wing-hang saw fellowships with other students an essential facet of studying theology at CUHK: ‘You’d meet students of different ages, educational backgrounds, work experiences and church affiliations. We argue and debate, but we also care for each other. The more experienced in life would guide the less so in spiritual matters. You’d meet your life’s friends at the fellowships.’
A critical stance actually helps to consolidate one’s faith, as Wing-hang said, ‘The training here has changed the way I look at theology. One is necessarily limited in one’s view from the inside of the Church. But the School’s open attitude, critical stance and emphasis on universal core values have enabled us to see things from the unorthodox as well as the orthodox perspectives.’
Wing-hang was impressed by the professors who ‘would not tell us what the truth is but rather show us in class what is true to different people. We are exposed to the teachings and rituals of different sects and made to reflect and derive our own theological viewpoint.’
Apart from academic training, regular meetings are arranged for the professors and the students, such as the weekly Thursday Supper Meetings during term time. A meeting includes worship, meal and sharing among the students and their professors. It is not only beneficial to the students’ spiritual development and communal life, but it also encourages them to talk with their professors and give feedback about their learning in an informal way.
Instead of looking inward, modern theology reaches outward. In Wing-hang’s words, ‘I have been trying to get hold of more theological viewpoints. I have often reflected on my personal faith, and through sharing the fruits of my study I have tried to deliver God’s messages to society.’
Experiential learning is equally important in one’s spiritual lessons. To strengthen theology students’ cultural awareness and broaden their horizons, overseas study tours have been established since 2011 with collaborating international theological seminaries. Local church visits are arranged twice a year to let the students see up close the practices of different denominations in Hong Kong. Regular prison visits are also arranged to equip students with skills necessary to engage in pastoral work in the contemporary context.
Professor Ying added, ‘To let our students keep pace with the latest developments in churches in mainland China, our School has been organizing an annual visit for our students and teachers to theological seminaries and churches in different parts of China since 1996.’
CUHK theology students have to take up internships at churches or Christian organizations to put their knowledge into practice and reflect on the concepts of Theology and Christian Studies in real life situations. The field component offers students the opportunity to develop know-how in ministry settings. It is intended to be the bridge between formal university education and ministry life.
Does it take a leap of faith to throw oneself at theology? Wing-hang said, ‘If you are not entirely satisfied with what you believe now and are willing to reach out more and rethink Christianity, I sincerely hope that you would come aboard. Together we’ll find out God’s plan for the young.’
Published: Summer 2017
Last Updated: Summer 2018