Brief Reviews

Maria Liu Wong – On Becoming Wise Together [Review]

On Becoming WiseConsidering Another Path for Theological Education

A Review of

On Becoming Wise Together: Learning and Leading in the City
Maria Liu Wong

 
Paperback: Eerdmans, 2023
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Reviewed by David Kiger

Theological education is at a crossroads in North America. There is decline in seminary enrollment; it would appear that the culture of the United States devalues formal theological education. Yet, rather than despair, there are voices who are speaking about this situation as a new opportunity for growth and for God to work. This book is part of a series of books that imagines new models of theological education. The series, “Theological Education Between the Times” is sponsored by the Lily Endowment and is focused on bringing in a broad range of people for critical conversations about the shifting landscape of theological education. 

Theological education ought to be a priority for every Christian. This series of books highlights voices that have traditionally been marginalized in the North American context. The beauty of this series is that it highlights the many voices and perspectives that provide a broad and robust theological education. Traditional educational approaches are limited by the vehicle of our educational system which highlights productivity and mastery, to the neglect of experience and growth. For that reason, Maria Wong’s On Becoming Wise Together: Learning and Leading in the City is a hopeful book about the future of theological education.

Through an autoethnographic approach Wong details the different areas that establish a framework for theological education. Theological education begins for Wong in the process of waiting– a theme highlighted by the fact that this book was written during the pandemic’s isolating time. The process of waiting, Wong contends, is a path that leads to wisdom. In waiting, we can slow down and listen to the Holy Spirit’s voice, teaching us to find peace and reconciliation. Waiting attenuates people to God and to each other. The connections people make to one another are enhanced in the waiting process as people give their attention to each other.

Each chapter of the book begins with a photograph of an art installation that was designed by the author out of her own personal history. Embedded in each chapter are short vignettes into Wong’s life and these stories highlight the way that each chapter’s topic is theologically instructive. In addition to the theme of waiting, the chapters cover the themes of family, friends, learning, leading, and becoming. Out of these themes Wong creates a vision for theological education that is attentive to people who are near one another, and at the same time who are global. These global and connected people learn from experience and each other, prompted by the Spirit of God, and by consequence of that, become wise.

 


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The themes of this book emphasize community. Family and friends are obvious sources of community, but Wong works to detail how those groups are also instructive to the theological and spiritual development of individuals. Learning, leading, and becoming are only possible in community. Undergirding Wong’s project is a theme that who and how you love is more important than what you know. 

Wong suggests a more integrative approach to theological education. At its heart, this approach values all areas of life as areas for growth in formation. By valuing all areas of life, the complex and dynamic actions of God are evident in both the mundane and the extraordinary. Additionally, the different registers in which people live and work can be viewed as fertile ground for God to work. Education is a communal project that is a formative process in addition to being informative. 

In a world that is both more connected and more lonely than previous generations, On Becoming Wise Together suggests that theological education can be a space of meaningful spiritual connections made in the mundane as well as the significant parts of life. This educational model requires openness and awareness of the Spirit’s movement and a willingness to be together. With the Spirit and each other, theological education can become a formation into wisdom, a wisdom that acts justly, is attentive to the goodness of God, and that can transform the world.

David Kiger

David Kiger is the Director of Libraries and the Theological Librarian for Milligan University. He loves reading historical theology, cooking, and hanging out with his wife and their dog.

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