- photos by Anthony Jinson
When Dr. Rod Casey, director of the Theological Education Initiative (TEI), first came to Columbia, he quickly fell in love with the trail systems, parks, and academic community. However, he quickly discovered that something was missing.
Columbia lacked the evangelical resources he was used to finding in Dallas. In Dallas, he attended lecturers at a local seminary and used their library to access a wide range of Bible commentaries. When this realization hit him, Casey’s vision for TEI started to form.
“[TEI] is a not-for-profit answer to the lack of an evangelical seminary in our area,” Casey says.
Housed in the lower level of Parkade Center, TEI offers a library, introductory theological courses, online access to a A.W. Tozer Theological Seminary in California, and lectures. These resources are made available to central Missouri church and campus leaders at little to no cost to them.
Bible commentaries cost around $30-$50 or more, so owning a commentary for each of the 66 books of the Bible can be an expensive venture, especially for a seminary student.
Casey knows this well. It’s something he experienced as a student.
“I couldn’t afford – while I was in school – the commentaries that were needed,” Casey says. “The Evangelical Free Church pastors would’ve had most of them, but it was embarrassing to ask them. Although I did from time to time.”
Once arriving in Columbia and seeing how little resources were available to church and campus leaders, Casey said he thought, “somebody ought to make the resources that I paid for available for free, or at an affordable cost.”
So that’s what he did. Overseen by Bellyn Whitteker, TEI’s executive assistant and self-proclaimed book lover, the TEI library is composed of four main sections: popular non-fiction by evangelical authors, peer-reviewed periodicals, biblical commentaries, and references books.
Only TEI members are allowed to check out books, but the process to becoming a member is quite simple: stop by their office and meet Bellyn; attend one of their events; or take one of their theological courses through the Emerging Church Leadership Institute (ECLI).
TEI’s website states that, “ECLI is a classroom-based environment [designed] to equip emerging leaders with the theological, philosophical, and practical tools necessary to sustain healthy faith communities.”
While many people might have an interest in learning about or deepening their knowledge of the Bible, Casey clarified that the ECLI classes are specifically for those wanting to share the Bible with others.
“We’re not teaching people the Bible. We’re teaching the Bible to people who are teaching people the Bible,” he said.
A total of six classes are available through ECLI, but only one of the six classes is offered each semester. If students take one class each semester, then they’ll finish the program in three years. Each class costs $35 dollars and the money goes towards the textbook and copies needed for the class.
Another educational opportunity offered by TEI is the ability to participate in classes at the A.W. Tozer Seminary, which is located in California. The TEI office is equipped with high-quality video equipment that allows students to virtually take part in classes.
This service is provided so that local church leaders can pursue a theological education at a seminary without having to move away from Columbia. In addition to offering this resource, TEI also sponsors one credit hour for every three to help with the financial cost.
For people interested in theological discussion, one of the most popular ways to become involved with TEI is through the lectures they host annually. The lectures feature visiting scholars and other theological practitioners such as book authors and local pastors.
Whether Columbia’s church leaders are looking to further their personal education, understand how to better communicate the Bible to others, or are interested in borrowing resources, TEI is there to help. It’s Casey’s original vision for Columbia come to life. Maybe one day there will be more than one TEI office in central Missouri, but for now, Casey is simply glad he’s able to provide the resources local church leaders need at an affordable cost.