History & Heritage
Taiwan Graduate School of Theology Introduction
The origin of “Taishen” (台神), known as “Taiwan Theological College and Seminary” (台灣神學院), can be traced back to 1872, making it one of the oldest theological institutions in Asia. Since the school’s inception, Taishen has set up campus in various locations before finally establishing its’ current campus on Lingtou, the lower part of the Yangming Mountain, overlooking Taipei city. In 2015, Taishen registered to and acquired accreditation from the Taiwan Ministry of Education as “Taiwan Graduate School of Theology” (台灣神學研究學院).
Shortly after Dr. George Leslie Mackay (偕叡理, later known as馬偕, 1844-1901), a missionary from the Presbyterian Church of Canada, arrived in Taiwan in 1872, he began evangelizing and discipling students just as our Lord Jesus did. When classrooms weren’t available, Dr. Mackay would often teach on the side of the road, under a shaded tree, or any location that could be used as a classroom. Dr. Mackay used the term “Peripatetic College” or “Itinerant College” to describe this form of education. In 1881, Dr. Mackay returned to his hometown in Canada and received support from local church communities to build a formal campus in Taiwan. Finally, in 1882, the first school building was erected in Tamsui, a coastal suburb in northern Taipei. It was then that the school was given its first formal name, Oxford College, in honor of the contributions received for building the school from churches in Oxford County, Ontario, Dr. Mackay’s hometown.
With Dr. Mackay’s passing in 1901, the role of College Dean was succeeded by Rev. William Gauld (吳威廉, 1861-1923). Rev. Gauld devoted himself to raising the level of theological education in the school and establishing the Presbytery to strengthen the church administration system. Rev. Milton Jack (約美旦) oversaw school administration from 1907 to 1916 and established the academic year system. In the spring of 1914, the school was moved to a temporary school building in Shuanglian, Taipei while waiting for a new campus to be completed.
In the past, there were attempts to merge the northern and southern Theological Schools (1925-26). The campus ultimately moved back north (1927-40) with a merger between the two campuses forming the United Theological Seminary (1940). However, classes were suspended during the Pacific Wars (1944-45). When the school was finally reopened after the war in 1945, it was renamed the “Taiwan Theological College and Seminary.” After the southern students returned to Tainan, Taishen was led by Rev. James Ira Dickson (孫雅各, 1900-1967) who was committed to improving the school’s infrastructure, standards for incoming students, and the granting of academic degrees.
Taiwan’s postwar ministry was on the rise after the war. With the rapid growth of churches, ministry workers were urgently needed. The old school building and facilities located in Shuanglian had also become inadequate. With postwar economic growth, noise pollution caused by the city’s development gradually affected student’s studies. At the 7th Taiwan Presbyterian General Conference of 1954, the seminary trustees were authorized to sell the old school premises and purchase a piece of approximately sixty thousand square feet of land perched on the lower part of the Yangming Mountain as the new campus site. Upon the completion of the William Gauld Memorial Hall, currently the administrative building, and the male dormitory on September 21, 1956, the seminary was ready to relocate from Shuanglian to Lingtou and begin classes. During the following year, the Christian Education Department was added, followed by the Church Music Department. Evening seminars also started to be held.
Under the vision and leadership of past presidents, Taishen continued to expand the scope of theological education in response to the diverse needs of theological ministry. Besides the addition of various academic departments, such as the Department of Religion and Philosophy, the Department of Church and Society, and a doctoral program in Pastoral Theology, etc., the school also started to provide on-the-job training courses and lectures for church ministers, such as the Mackay Memorial Lectures and Shuanglian Theology Lectures, in cooperation with Mackay Memorial Hospital and Shuanglian Church. Efforts were made to create a Department of Theology focusing on the education of local Christians at Taishen. Christian education and ministry courses were developed in conjunction with the Taipei Presbytery and Seven Stars Presbytery to offer ministry training courses to laities.
Up to this point, Taiwan Theological College and Seminary had been a school with a rich history, fully-functional and well-equipped facilities, beautiful surroundings, and ample curriculum, making it one of the top schools for theological research and training. However, with the increasing challenges of the current generation, the school recognized the need to keep pace with advancements in theological education. In 2004, the Legislative Yuan revised the “Private Schools Law” to include a “Religious Training College” clause. In view of this new law, Taiwan Theological College and Seminary could allow graduates of Taishen to obtain a degree recognized by the Ministry of Education and also be able to create connections with other religious institutions and seminaries at home and abroad. These connections provided an opportunity for theological education to be ranked among the list of institutions of higher education, recognized by the Ministry of Education, and to conduct academic exchanges with other institutions of higher education. Therefore, Taishen set out to begin discussions for registering the school with the Ministry of Education. In 2010, a “Taiwan Theological College and Seminary Consortium” was established to prepare for the process. On June 15, 2015, the “Taiwan Graduate School of Theology” was approved for accreditation and enrollment began under the new accredited school during the 2016 academic year.
Taishen is about to celebrate its’ 150th birthday. While the school has had its’ share of bumps along the way, Taishen has experienced God’s outpouring of grace even more. Theological education has entered a new era with seminaries in Taiwan filing for accreditation with the Ministry of Education. In response, Taishen continues to equip itself by listening to the needs of local churches and offering precious theological educational resources to Presbyterian Churches, other Christian denominations, and higher education communities in more innovative and diverse ways. In this fast-changing era, what Taishen has not changed is continuing to uphold the noble spirit of its’ founder, Dr. Mackay, “it is better to burn out than rust away,” serving God’s church wholeheartedly and fulfilling God’s calling.