Justo González’s The Theological Education of Hispanics (1988) and Hernandez and Davis’ Reconstructing the Sacred Tower (2003) represented the first two social scientific studies to explore Latinx experiences in theological education. Since 2003, various reports, articles, papers, and evaluations have been published and numerous surveys conducted, but until now a digest of this information has not been available all in one place. The third resource in this line of research is Spanning the Divide, an updated volume which seeks to be the go-to compendium of up-to-date research on Latinxs in Christian theological education.
The authors divide their work into four parts. Part One explores the educational options available for Latinxs seeking theological education. Latinxs pursue theological education in a myriad of institutional contexts, and their experiences in these institutions differ significantly. Students in theological institutions also report mixed experiences; some have attended seminaries that embrace Latinx perspectives, while others do not. The authors highlight the many barriers Latinxs face when pursuing theological education—finances, location, cultural differences, and few options for Latinxs seeking to minister in their home communities.
Part Two explores the characteristics and experiences of Latinx students in theological education, from demographic information and vocational pursuits, to the nature of effective preparation for those seeking to minister in Latinx communities. In general, Latinx seminarians are “satisfied with their seminaries’ performances in the key categories that drew them to their particular school,” such as academic excellence, theological fit, faculty mentoring, and financial aid (143). Latinxs who are able to see their cultures and perspectives recognized and affirmed in seminary spaces are also more likely to feel better prepared for ministry than those who do not.
Part Three focuses on Latinx faculty in theological education, exploring their career trajectories, experiences in comparison to faculty of other racial and ethnic backgrounds, and relationships with students and faculty. The authors also explore the teaching, research, and service activities of Latinx theological faculty. Overall, while Latinx faculty do experience racial discrimination and labor exploitation in their places of work, they nonetheless derive great joy from mentoring and teaching students.
The final section attends to alternative theological education pathways for Latinxs, such as Bible institutes. The authors explore the histories of the Hispanic Theological Initiative (HTI) and the Association for Hispanic Theological Education (Asociación para la Educación Teológica Hispana, AETH), and include case studies examining alternative programs in theological credentialing for Latinxs.
This book provides thorough research regarding Latinxs in theological education. Grounded in studies spanning several decades, the book is packed with data from surveys, focus groups, and interviews. The authors also center social justice concerns throughout the text. This is especially true in chapter 10, where the authors go beyond sanitized notions of “diversity” and “inclusion.” Beyond reporting about the landscape, they provide recommendations aimed at creating equitable spaces for Latinxs in theological education.
There are certain aspects of the book that would have benefitted from further development. For instance, the book (and extant research) features more data on Catholic and Mainline Protestant seminaries than on evangelical Protestant seminaries. This is unsurprising, as Latinx enrollment has historically been higher in those institutions than in evangelical schools.
However, as Latinx Protestantism, particularly Latinx evangelicalism and Pentecostalism, continues to grow in the US, scholars will need to pay attention to how Latinxs are embracing and reshaping evangelicalism through their enrollment in evangelical seminaries. Additionally, some of the data sources for the book are over fifteen years old. Though the addition of more up-to-date research could have provided a more accurate picture of Latinxs in theological education, that is an expensive and time-consuming proposition. The authors deserve commendation for a volume that so richly surveys the landscape of Latinx theological education.
As the Latinx population continues to grow in the US, works such as Spanning the Divide help researchers, theological educators, and institutional leaders understand the unique challenges that Latinxs face when entering theological education, and how we can create more equitable educational spaces. One can hope that people in positions of influence will hear the words of the authors and create more inclusive spaces supportive of Latinxs and other marginalized groups.
Michigan State University