Theological educators from all over North American convened in Pittsburgh on April 23 to celebrate the good and faithful work of Daniel Aleshire. He has led the Association of Theological Schools (one of Central Seminary’s accrediting bodies) for the past 20 years with grace and good humor. On his watch, nearly everything has changed in how we prepare women and men for ministry except the need to study the Bible, theology, and the arts of ministry. Old models are disappearing, and seminaries, like churches, must become more nimble and entrepreneurial in their pursuit of effective mission.
Peter Smith at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette described him as a “witness to revolution” in theological education. “I feel I’ve spent the last 10 years unbolting all the furniture on the ship, and we haven’t hit the waters that will shift the furniture all around, but we will,” said Dr. Aleshire in this April 22 article. Smith likens Aleshire’s even-handed demeanor to that of a ship captain maintaining calm in the storm. As the public face of theological education in turbulent times, he has offered perceptive insight about its unique challenges in the welter of higher education
Baptists of a certain vintage will remember Dan from his years of teaching at Southern Seminary, where he fostered greater focus on formation for ministry. With a keen eye for academic standards and an abiding love of congregational life, his life work has been about preparation of competent graduates for the work of the ministry. I remember him bringing samples of student writing that demonstrated dimensions of formation to faculty meetings, reading it tenderly to us, to remind us of why we teach. He has continued to hold forth the goodness of theological education for the whole association.
Dan’s capacity for friendship, always interlaced with professional excellence, is a hallmark of his ministry. When the diaspora from the “mother seminary” occurred, a generation of theological educators began to sow in new fields. Former colleagues and friends include Bill Leonard, David Garland, Timothy George, Alan Culpepper and Tom Graves — all went on to found or lead new schools, or in my case, help renew an old one. Dan has been unfailing in showing interest in our work and providing wise counsel for our unique schools. I was a beneficiary of his collegial friendship early in my professorial vocation, and he has remained a source of inspiration for my work at Central.
The schools that are part of ATS are stunning in their theological breadth. They span conservative evangelical, Orthodox, Roman Catholic, mainline Protestants and liberal traditions, and Dan has managed to keep them all in the same fold through patient conversation and respectful engagement. St. Augustine said that the call of the gospel is “to be on hand for everyone.” He has surely managed to do this. His kids joke that the way to wake him up was to whisper “seminaries,” and he would snap to attention.
Many generative initiatives have flourished under his leadership: women’s leadership development, racial inclusion, pedagogical approaches to multicultural education, governance issues, attention to educational debt, to name a few. His prescience has pushed affiliated schools to work toward thoughtful engagement with pressing demographic changes, which is essential for relevance. He has truly shaped a community of learning, empowered by his ability to read the ever-changing terrain of religion and trends in higher education.
One of Dan’s long time colleagues, Sister Katarina Schuth, OSF, observes that he is always full of hope. He can see something good in dire situations, and his graceful encouragement has kept many seminary presidents and deans from losing heart. He followed Helen Keller’s adage: “Nothing can be done without hope and confidence.” Dan’s confidence came from hard work. He always did his homework; thus, he possesses an encyclopedic knowledge of religious movements, the schools they birthed, and the shifting social landscape for churches. Dan’s hope arises from his deeply grounded faith, to which he winsomely testifies.
From the program for the “Gratitude and Blessing” celebration come these words:
Dan’s influence as a thought leader and advocate for theological education has garnered respect across the globe. Those who aspire to build their own centers of scholarship and formation worldwide look to him for inspiration, guidance, and his power to convene others who share his commitment to excellence, collaboration, and inclusiveness. … His wisdom, his vision, and his pastoral nature have made him a trusted a revered advisor, mentor, and friend.
It is a joyful thing to celebrate life well-lived through one’s vocation — especially when there is more productive life yet to be lived. Research and teaching will continue to claim him, for which we are grateful.
Daniel Aleshire has helped theological schools see that there isn’t just one good, but a variety of ways to be a good theological school. Central has gained much from his wisdom and attentiveness to our mission, and his encouragement has strengthened my leadership.