ACT History

Bob Lynn once said there were three major pedagogical interventions in theological education in the latter part of the twentieth century: clinical pastoral education, globalization of theological education, and the case method as a participatory and dialogical approach to equipping people for ministry.

First introduced into theological education in the 1960s, the case teaching method was used initially by only a very limited number of professors. It was the catalyst that helped generate a new focus on the power of teaching and learning in theological education. The result of this process was a series of 50 workshops that were conducted for theological seminaries in North America to provide an opportunity for faculty to think about the ways they were engaged in the pedagogical process of the preparation for ministry.

In 1971, the Association of Theological Schools (ATS), with the financial support of the Sealtantic Fund, established the Case Study Institute (CSI), a three-week long training program held each summer in Cambridge, Massachusetts, with a focus on adapting the legal and business school case approach to theological education. This was the first of six institutes held at Episcopal Divinity School under the sponsorship of the ATS and the Boston Theological Institute with a grant from the Sealantic Fund. Faculty and cases for this first institute were drawn primarily from the Harvard Business School.

During the next five years, over one hundred fifty theological professors from the United States and Canada, representing a broad variety of theological disciplines, attended the Institute. Many became staff members of subsequent institutes and almost all contributed their writing skills to develop a body of nearly two hundred theological cases. In 1977 Louis Weeks, with the support of the Intercollegiate Case Clearing House in Cambridge and ATS, compiled the first bibliography of theological cases.

The Association for Case Teaching (ACT) was formed in 1978 by a group of graduates of the CSI. Invitations were extended to college and university faculty, parish clergy, and lay leaders to join seminary faculty as participants. This new constituency broadened the scope of the institute and enriched the variety of cases being written.

Between 1978 and 1990 the annual summer institutes were sponsored by ACT in conjunction with Fuller, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Garrett Evangelical Seminary, and Toronto School of Theology. ACT has sponsored additional case workshops in Africa, Asia, Australia, Europe, and Latin America.

Through the support of annual workshops for university seminary faculty, plus seminars and publications, ACT provided educational resources to strengthen pedagogical skills and to make the teaching of social science theory more applicable to life experiences. A Case Clearinghouse, co-sponsored by ACT and the Yale Divinity School Library, compiled around one thousand cases written since 1971.

In 1988 the collection was moved from the offices of ATS to Yale University Divinity School Library, where a staff implemented case distribution and began the task of entering the cases and the bibliography on computer discs. Yale librarian Steve Peterson was instrumental in the design and development of the first volume of the Journal for Case Teaching, one of the first professional journals that focused primarily on teaching in theological education.

ACT has equipped more than 1,600 persons in theological education in intensive and short-term workshops in the use of this dialogical method. ACT helped generate over 2,000 case studies in a variety of fields and more than 30 casebooks. The method has been shared with virtually every major association of theological schools in Africa, Asia, and Australia. There are networks of theological faculty members who have worked together to specifically expand and utilize the methodology for seminaries and congregations, especially in India, Australia, Indonesia, and South Africa.

During the twenty plus years of the association, there were more than 500 individual members and more than 100 institutional members including many of the theological seminaries in North America. The methodology is also used in universities and colleges, with chaplaincies, and in denominations and congregations in North America.

In the 1990s mediation and negotiation trainers in South Africa participating in the Empowering for Justice Reconciliation project adapted the case approach to their training in community conflict resolution. Rather than using cases written from a North American or wider African context, the trainers began writing cases that came directly from South African communities. They found that the process of objective analysis and group discussion of alternatives was particularly useful in racially and economically heterogeneous groups because it honed listening skills and broadened cultural understanding. With the application of the case teaching method to the South African model, the chapter on using cases in teaching conflict resolution began to be written. It is still a work in progress.

Most recently, a consortium of four schools, acting as institutional hosts for ACT, served as an important reflection of both the strength, growth, and diversity of the utilization of the pedagogical approach to enhancing the quality of teaching and learning in theological education. Yale Divinity School served ACT by archiving institutional records and collecting and distributing cases. San Francisco Theological Seminary and Golden Gate Baptist Seminary coordinated the Summer Institute and Advance Workshop.  Finally, Abilene Christian University accepted the role to be the institutional site base for administrative purposes.