Monday, September 12, 2011

Revamping the Masters of Divinity Degree

Seminary is something that I think about a lot. In part because I've done some course work there (at TEDS). In part because several friends have completed seminary, are going through it now, hope to go, or hoped to go. It's a frustratingly long program. Brian LePort's post a few weeks back rekindled my thinking process to the point that I would like to propose what a Master of Divinity curriculum would look like if I were the one designing the program from scratch.

First, I think we can shorten the program a little bit, trimming it down to 78 credit hours. This makes it doable in three years or less for everybody who attends full time. This is largely done by reducing the number of electives, but also by applying some trimming in a couple of places (specifics below). Second, the curriculum hopefully would have a little bit of a liberal arts type of feel. Classes hopefully would be taught and designed to encourage pastors to be life long learners. The biggest challenge is that a Master's of Divinity in some senses is a 'professional degree' and in some sense isn't. Any curriculum needs to walk a fine line there. However, seminary is not trade school. It should not seek to replace the things that churches are supposed to be doing to train their future leaders. It is an academic institution that should be seeking to give future and current pastors the training of the mind necessary to be effective ministers. I think some discussions about seminary veer off course because people don't understand or like the purpose of seminaries.

Here's how I would structure things. First, I would have two distinct tracks, one for those who want an MDiv and intend to go on for a PhD, and another for those who want to enter into pastoral ministry. The tracks would share a large core of courses together, but there would be two areas where they differ. First, introductory languages would be taught differently depending on your track. Pastors will learn the language alongside Bible software like Logos, Accordance, or Bible Works (for the record I am in love with Accordance, though I've never used the others). Pastors are going to forget the finer points of the languages over time, so give them something that will help them excel at the basics (this is no different than teaching statistics students how to do regression analysis using SPSS - something regularly done in most universities). If you're going the academic route, then you better learn the languages inside out. The second area of difference lies in the concentration. There will be a different concentration depending on your area of focus, pastoral ministry (perhaps even different focuses depending on the type of ministry) and academic ministry (definitely different focuses depending on your desired field of study). The specifics of the concentration areas as well as the specifics of the rest of the curriculum are laid out below.

Languages (12 credits following the two track approach outlined above)
Introductory Greek: 3 credits x 2 semesters
Introductory Hebrew 3 credits x 2 semesters

New Testament (12 credits)
Gospels: 4 credits
Acts and Paul: 4 credits
General Epistles: 4 credits

Old Testament (12 credits)
Pentateuch: 4 credits
Historical Books and Wisdom Literature: 4 credits
Prophets: 4 credits

The OT and NT classes form the backbone of the curriculum, where you would not only learn the texts, but also learn theological interpretation, historical exegesis, and background. For example in the class on the gospels, you would cover not just the gospels, but also 2nd temple Judaism and you would learn exegetical tools to help you understand narratives. Yes, you would learn exegesis piecemeal this way, but I don't think many pastors do hardcore Greek or Hebrew exegesis. Students going on for a PhD could take an advanced exegesis course to shore up any deficiencies.

Religion (22 credits)
World Religions: 3 credits

Church History (2 semesters): 2x3 credits
American Church History: 1 credit

Western Theology: 4 credits
Non-Western Theology: 3 credits
Development of a Doctrine (say atonement) Through History: 2 credits
Ethics: 3 credits

I think that there's a lot of 'fat' in most ST programs. The typical three semester course can be trimmed to one covering the truly major topics (creation, sin, atonement, eschatology, ecclesiology, sacraments, scripture, trinity, christology, and pneumatology). Also, every seminary needs a required course on world religions and non-western theology. Period.

Counseling/Psychology (4 credits)
Introduction to Psychology: 2 credits
Introduction to Counseling: 2 credits

Whether you're a pastor or a professor you'll be involved in counseling. Many pastors enter ministry under-prepared, often not knowing when they don't know enough.

Spiritual Formation (1 credit)
Spiritual Formation Groups: (0 credits - every semester enrolled if traditional student)
Holiness: 1 credit

Electives (6 credits)

The core curriculum ends here. Below I'll outline two possible paths for ministry focus. The first will be the pastoral ministry focus. The second will be for someone going on for academic ministry in Systematic Theology.

Ministry Focus (9 credits)

Pastoral Track
Counseling Elective (perhaps marriage counseling): 1 credit
Sociology: 2 credits
Worship: 2 credits
Denominational History: 1 credit
Field Education: 4 credits

A note on the field eds. You would have three of them, and two would also have seminars associated with them to try to integrate theory and praxis. One would be a preaching field ed. You'd have seminars on preaching, but you would also have to work with your local pastor and preach in your church. The second would be on church administration. A very significant amount of nearly every pastor's week is spent on administrative tasks, but seminaries often provide no training. You would learn the basics in a few seminars meanwhile working with a local pastor gaining an appreciation for all that goes on unseen to make everything run smoothly. The last field ed would be a traditional internship.

Systematic Theology
A Great Theologian (say Barth, Aquinas, Augustine): 3 credits
Philosophy Topic (say Language, Mind, Society): 3 credits
Field Education: 3 credits

Here I'm not exactly sure how to structure the field eds, but 3 of them have to be done says ATS. Perhaps one could be on pedagogy, with the student teaching a class session in the Western Theology course.

Is this proposal perfect? I'm sure it's not, but I think (and hope) that it still meets the goals of reducing credit hours and improving the curriculum. What do you think?


  1. I like what you did here. I haven’t given this as much thought as you have, so it’s nice to see what you’ve developed so far. I'd swap the intro to psych for a discipleship/teaching course. I don't think a broad sweeping treatment of psych would benefit as much as contextualizing it within a ministry context.

    I'd also consider having a preaching course before having the field ed seminars. Depending on where the seminary is, the average local pastor may not be able to provide the same constructive feedback for a foundation in homiletics due to ministry demands or training. A preaching class will not make a person as skilled as practicing it, but getting things started can be daunting and I wonder if seminars would be able to do that.

    I’d also push for a follow up to the sociology class for something regarding missiology/evangelism. Perhaps it can be combined into one course. I’m not sure on this one.

    I’d maybe have 1 or 2 credit class on hermeneutics before the OT and NT curriculum so that the basics do not have to be taught again for every class and would allow you to look at genre specific decisions and interpretation. It would also free up the student to take the books in a varied order.

  2. Thanks for the feedback. I'll pick these up in reverse order.

    I thought long and hard about whether or not to include a hermeneutics course and decided against it. I think I want to see the core OT/NT courses taught sequentially, it's the only way to keep the number of credits down and have background and texts integrated. For example, 2nd temple Judaism is necessary background for all of the NT, but you don't want to teach it all 3 semesters. So just teach it with the gospels and refer to the background when necessary for the later classes. Teaching general hermeneutical principles would need to be built into one of those courses as well, perhaps the class on the Pentateuch.

    Missiology/evangelism is another class I thought long and hard about. I'm not sure that it warrants a separate class (though most seminaries disagree with me here). It'll get touched on in the sociology class and in the Acts and Paul class. I also think it's an area where pastors are more likely to read on their own and are more motivated to think deeply about. I also think that the environment of your church largely determines the pragmatic aspects of your outreach strategy.

    You have to have 3 field eds. My goal is to try to use them in a way to integrate academic learning with practical ministry application. I also think I value preaching less than most people do, which is why I didn't want to give a full class to it. To flesh this point out a bit too, you would work with the professor on your sermon as well as your local pastor. Also, you would record your sermon so that the professor could see how you did.

    I'll defer to you on the first point. I don't really know how to best train someone for counseling, if you think an intro to psych wouldn't be that helpful, I'll trust your judgment.