Changing a Seminary: The Future of the School of Divinity

By: Wolfgang Vondey
Wednesday, October 12th, 2011

It’s no secret, the School of Divinity is getting a new building! But what is less known is that the faculty of the School have been working long and hard on changing their curriculum to adapt to the changing face of a seminary in the 21st century. When the new building goes up, it will house a very different School of Divinity. Just what exactly that means, however, is still up for grasps. So why don’t you join in the discussion? What should the perfect seminary look like?

One of the key issues of our times is certainly the cost of seminary studies. The length of programs contributes to this issue. Eventually, today’s seminary graduates are either in debt and enter into professions that do not help pay off that debt any time soon. Or students are forced to drop out of school before completion of the program. Those who get through with no financial burdens are far and few. On the other side, many students no longer intend to go into church ministry. For many, “ministry” can mean different things, and a seminary can no longer serve only those who stand in the pulpit. So what is the answer to this dilemma? One possibility is certainly to shorten and revise the degree program. But that step has inevitable consequences on how the whole program is laid out. What exactly should be cut in order to arrive at a shorter program? What courses are necessary and what is indispensable to a seminary degree?

The School of Divinity engaged in a long-term study on “The 21st Century Minister” and arrived at interesting observations of what needs to change to adapt to the times and to serve our students better. Yet, task force committees, faculty meetings, group discussions, and an intensive plan to revise the curriculum by the Fall 2012 still leave some of the hard questions unresolved. The difficulties concern of course the tough questions that get at the core of what a seminary represents. Well, what some think it should represent, what others think it once represented, and what still others believe it can no longer represent. Take for example, the question of biblical languages. What do you think? Should Biblical Hebrew and New Testament Greek be required courses for a Master of Divinity degree? What about preaching classes?  Do we really need spiritual formation courses? Can we dispense with doctrine and systematic theology courses? Do we need to know all of the history of Christianity? What about … well, you tell us. (The previous questions are really only theoretical; I am not indicating that any of them are actually discussed). What kind of courses are not needed at the new seminary? What do you find useless in your current profession, in your calling, in your field of ministry? And what kind of courses are sadly missing? How about a class on gender issues, or sexuality, or …?  If you could choose, what courses should be offered at the School of Divinity in the future? This is a time where the School of Divinity redefines itself as a seminary! It’s our chance to make a difference!  Let’s hear from you!

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Wolfgang Vondey
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80 Responses to “Changing a Seminary: The Future of the School of Divinity”

  1. Matthew Brake says:

    While methods of practical ministry change from generation to generation, PRINCIPLES do not.

    I think doing away with the systematic theology, history, or language requirements would be a disaster for the 21st century minister.
    I know that practitioners tend to call for a reduction of the “theoretical” courses, I believe that in a postmodern age, it is important to understand our beliefs, our history, and the foundational languages that form our beliefs.

    While the School of Divinity’s Practical Ministry elements could be improved (I probably got more practical ministry training out of a weekend at Willow Creek’s Leadership Summit, Catalyst, Exponential, or from reading an Alan Hirsch book), the biggest contribution the School of Divinity can offer people is an understanding of the Church’s history, beliefs, and those things that make us uniquely “Christian” ministers.

    • Thanks, Matthew. I am curious how you think our practical ministry curriculum could be improved. How were those training sessions you mention more effective?

    • James Coleman says:

      I like your focus on that which makes us uniquely Christian. Claremont School of Theology is moving to an interfaith set up where ministers get trained in Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. This arrangement at minimum dilutes differences and as a result may end in some humanistic perspective, which in the end will inevitably remove the divine.

  2. Stephen Dodson says:

    Dr. Vondey,

    Thank you for giving everyone the opportunity to contribute to the discussion. I am attending seminary to prepare myself to teach the Word. I expect my future ministry efforts will involve teaching at the local church level; ministry focused on spiritual formation, equipping, discipleship; and hopefully teaching at the seminary level. Knowing the Word is my first priority, but in place of pastoral or traditional church ministry training, I would like to focus on more educational or psychological training from a spiritual perspective. For example, knowing how to be a better more effective teacher, learning how to best equip and train people, discovering how people learn and assimilate information both intellectually and spiritually. The body of Christ is for the most part biblically illiterate and lacking in discipleship, maturity, and spiritual development. Do we need to come up with new models to address the equipping of the saints? Is it enough to assume that process is happening behind the walls of the church? I’m hoping seminary will help me prepare to meet those needs and be a part of those solutions.

    Thank you

    • Thank you, Stephen. Your concerns are certainly shared by our faculty and others. What kind of courses do you think would fulfill what you seek? What would be a proper course on educational and psychological training? What course would prepare for equipping and training people? I am thinking here in terms of people’s calling. Where some are called to the church, others find their ministry in schools, businesses, missions, volunteer organizations, etc. How could a course prepare for these differences? What would you call such a course? DO you think you would find enough students to fill up the classroom?

    • James Coleman says:

      I think it is important to recognize that an M. Div is really about the ministry of the word and thus cannot reasonably focus on the details of a particular practical ministry. To this end, the university might offer more double majors where the student comes out with two masters degrees, one in divinity, one in education for example. Another popular double major would be divinity and counseling.

      Some type of combined program would help folks get jobs outside of the church as may be necessary. Real ministry should not be limited to the local church. It should be inherent in the life of the believer regardless of vocation.

  3. I believe it is esential for the School of Divinity to do more to poise itself connecting with the online community known formally as the Distance Education students. We struggle in taking certain courses such as the New Testament, Old Testament classes, and the language courses as they are taught and provided at only certain times in the year. Personally, as a result of the log jam this created in my M.Div. program, and the need to get more “residency” requirements done, I had to drop down to the MA in Military Chaplaincy program. I am not going into the Military but that program fits my needs and is a perfect fit. Therefore, I would be ecstatic to see our school develop an actual chaplaincy program that would help the 21st century “tent makers” to be respectful of the diversity of religions in our world and to help teach proper ettiquette in spreading the Word in their professions and different work place situations other than from the pulpit.

    We are engaging and connecting with people in a much different way today so I feel more practical education is needed. There is enough software available today to address that need on a persoanl basis versus spending 4 semesters to learn what most forget as a result of tending to the parishoners needs. I’m not a big advocate for languages as a requirement for an M.Div. as a result. Ask a 30 year veteran of the pulpit and most of them will tell you that they long stopped using it just like a business major who was required to take calculus. (Atleast this is what I have found in my research) Maybe consider making the languages part of the Doctorate program for those who have that calling.

    Finally, make more classes available in the summer semester. For those of us trying to get classes in the summer semester, there just isn’t enough offered or we end up taking classes we really don’t want to in an effort to just get credits. This alone would help reduce the time period and allow us more freedom to finish without sacrificing our initial goals while taking classes we feel are more suited to our own individual callings.

    Also, by adding 2 more satellite campusses, strategically located in Chicago and Los Angeles would possibly allow for more residency and/or modular classes to be offered to the students and help reduce travel costs, which also helps reduce the cost. Maybe the staff might gain some insight by looking at how Phoenix University modeled their school to address the needs of the online community.

    Thanks for the opportunity to allow me to contribute to the forum.

    In Christ,
    Rev. Randy

  4. Pat Greene says:

    I started seminary in 2007 as a part-time student. I have heard that the program at Regent is longer than several other school. This has not phased me time wise; however, I am sure it will once I graduate in 2012.

    I definitely find systematic theology an important part of the curriculum. It provides the basis to answer the questions that both Christians and non-Christians ponder. Personally, the message preparation and preaching was not applicable to my call to minister to God’s people outside of a church setting from a wholistic perspective. I would like to see the practical theology track improved by provding more courses teach the applicability of God’s word in today’s society.

    • Hi Pat, and thank you for your comment. What do you suggest concretely for improving the practical theology track? What kind of courses exactly would “teach the applicability of God’s word”? What do you mean by that? Any suggestions would be welcome!

      • David Blevins says:

        Dr. Vondey and Pat, the key word and the appeal of the track is the word “practical.” We understand “practical” to be descriptive of or concerned with the actual doing or use of something. Pat, your concern is to have more courses that teach the applicability of God’s word in today’s society. Dr. Vondey, you request suggestions for courses. When I went through the practical theology track, I was drawn to it because of the word “practical.” I loved the academic (language, history, theology, critical thinking, etc) and desired to use it in practical ways. Sadly, my experience was that at the end of my track, I was very practical for hob nobbing with others who have M.Div after their name and looking into PhD programs but that was about it. I really was no “practical” good to the man or woman who lost their job or suffered infidelity or were having child issues, etc. For me, the academic and practical were “pressed against one another in the crucible of life” 3 years later when I entered a CPE residency. Thus, my suggestion, rather my plea to the School of Divinity is require the students to have no fewer than 2 units of CPE for graduation. I would like for them to have 4 but I believe 2 will be enough to see the light of the “practical.” Thank you both for your time.

  5. Chris says:

    Offer the practical, but don’t get rid of the academic concentrations. We need both. There may not be the Jobs out that that pay very well, but we need theologians and historians who are well trained and sensitive to God’s Spirit. We can’t get rid of them.

  6. Meron Berhane says:

    Hello…I thank you for this opportunity.

    Here are my suggestions, definitely keep the languages, Church History and the theology courses. But do we really need three Spiritual Formation classes? Perhaps the SFRM1 could be reduced to a one credit course and SFRM II could be eliminated since most of us (students) are already involved in some type of ministry with a local church. Lastly, we could definitely reduce the electives.

    Thank you,

    Meron Berhane

    • Thank you, Meron. These are helpful thoughts. Don’t you think reducing the electives would encounter resistance? The more required courses, the less flexible the program becomes. Since we have students from all kinds of ministries and vocations, should we not rather offer electives so that you can choose what courses fit your calling?

  7. Chris Alix says:

    I think this could be a great step in the right direction. However, I don’t want the seminary to loose it’s identiy. I think that the languages should be apart of the mdiv program but is it necessary to have 3 spiritual formations. I also agree that students like my self are going into debt and as a future missionary that is hard to rectify. I would love to not have to pay so much to go to semninary. I pray God gives you all wisdom for our future.

    • Yes, Chris, you are absolutely right on the debt issue. That is a major determining factor for the School to revise its program. We want to serve our students not only in what we teach but also in the form and length of the program.

  8. Nicholas Daniels says:

    This is difficult because I have gotten so much out of my time at Regent. The languages are essential, so removing them would be detrimental to the overall understanding of Scripture. Both Systematic theology courses are also absolutely essential for they provided me with an overview of the “big” theological topics. However, as a theology student, perhaps church history could have been reduced to a single class. Yet, I’m not exactly sure how church history could be reduced to a one class survey. Moreover, church history majors would most definitely require a more detailed survey that would go beyond one class. So really as far as the core classes in the MDiv, I wouldn’t really recommend any change, particularly for those such as myself who desired to go on to PhD studies.

    On the practical side, I took a lot of teaching and preaching classes (electives and required courses), which contained a lot of overlap. So perhaps in this area there could be some reduction of courses. The Spiritual Formation classes were extremely important for me, so I couldn’t recommend a reduction of courses there, but perhaps examining the overlap in teaching and preaching classes (and in other classes) would be helpful in finding some areas that would shorten the program. This is a difficult question indeed!

  9. Ben Wiles says:

    Dr. Vondey,

    I always enjoy reading the Renewal Dynamics blog. It helps me maintain a life-giving connection to Regent University since my 2009 graduation.

    I am in agreement with those that expressed concern about taking away language and systematic theology components from the program. However, I disagree with the suggestion that the seminary de-emphasize spiritual formation. I’ll elaborate further…

    I am in my twelfth year as a pastor in Arkansas. I came to seminary in 2005 out of a strong sense of call to academic studies. I knew that in the short time I had been serving in full-time ministry that I was not prepared to lead this church any further. I did not have the theological chops or the big-picture perspective to assist me in making good decisions as a church leader. At Regent University, I was exposed to church history, systematic theology, and biblical studies. All of which have deeply enriched my preaching and teaching ministry.

    Spiritual formation effected me personally, however. As a result of Dr. Chandler’s approach to SFRM 501-503, I came to the (theological) understanding that there is no area of my life that should not be brought under God’s leadership. I lost 100 pounds and took up running. I began to address financial issues (admittedly an ongoing challenge with student loans!), and the love of God was brought to bear on areas of hurt and emotional need. In my view as a pastor, and now as a university teacher, i think the need to focus on the whole person, as opposed to simply the intellect, is indispensable in producing “Christian Leaders to Change the World.”

    I agree with Nick that there was probably a bit of overlap, particularly in preaching classes (I had to take two of them in my program of study). But overall, I am satisfied that the M. Div. program I completed was God’s very best will for my life.

    I will be in prayer for the faculty of the School of Divinity that you are attentive to the Spirit’s leading in these very important matters.

    Shalom!

    • Hello Ben, and thank you for these important words. It is good to hear from your experience at Regent and your evaluation of the program since graduation. The area of spiritual formation is essential to our seminary and will certainly be maintained. The question remains, however, to what extent these courses occupy the curriculum if we decide to shorten the degree duration. Which of the Spiritual Formation courses did you find absolutely essential?

      • Ben Wiles says:

        Sorry for the delay in my reply here.

        I found the first formation course (SFRM 501) to be the highest impact. The internship added very little to my experience. 503 was good and the off-campus retreat was a good experience, but again not to the same degree as 501. There are probably a lot of reasons for that.

        501 was my first modular experience. I’m sure that would be memorable for a lot of reasons. Perhaps I would have felt the same way if my first modular had been a theology class. But I feel that the overview of the different areas of spiritual formation opened up “space” for the Holy Spirit to work in my life in the ensuing years.

        The internship did not mean as much to me because I have been serving as the pastor of my congregation since 2000. I didn’t need an internship – I was living one. That is not to say that the internship would not be effective for students who were not involved in ministry in some way. The practical experiences I have had as a pastor – before, during, and after seminary – have been formative in their own right. Seminary gave me a method for reflection and application.

        503 was not as good as 501 but it was close. There were some major things that happened there (including some reconciliation that was much needed between myself and another student). But I was tired and ready to graduate. I probably could have put more into it and thus gotten more out of it.

        Every syllabus from every course I took at Regent claimed to have a spiritual formation component, but that did not always come through in the class. Perhaps the faculty needs to buy in a bit more to the concept and then seek to better integrate it throughout the curriculum. Allow 501 to serve as a catalyst and have faculty serve as “spiritual directors” for the students instead of just advising them. Most of my advising didn’t come from a faculty member anyway. I had a plan and I followed it. No offense. But I LOVED the conversations I had with the faculty with whom I was able to form relationships. I think you could leverage those relationships to further the vision for spiritual formation and free up some room in the course of study at the same time.

        One more thing – Regent is known as a school that does an exceptional job in the arena of distance education. I am a product of that program. 2/3 of my degree was earned online 1/3 was web-enhanced with modulars (I earned an M. Div. there). There will be have to be some structure in place to ensure that your distance students aren’t left out in the cold on the relationship building. Even though I felt I formed some strong relationships there, I still felt a bit left out at the commissioning service. It seemed that there was a whole other group of faculty members at Regent that I never had the opportunity to get to know. Not sure how you can remedy that, but it does have implications for this discussion.

        Thanks again!

  10. Todd Gangl says:

    I graduated Regent in 1997 and even then I remember many talks with fellow smeinarians about the lack of Spiritual formation classes and the need to have them. That would be the last thing I would remove from the courses at Regent as that is where the whole process of assimilation of what we have been taught from our head to our heart and out through our lives takes place. to simply train individuals to have knowledge is not enough. Regent should mandate that knowledge must become action and action life before a student is sent into their mission field.

    • Thank you, Todd. Your historical perspective is very important. A lot has changed since 1997, including our increasing emphasis on spiritual formation. Your perspective is very helpful.

  11. Bernie Bannin says:

    Dr Vondey –

    I greatly support the effort to look closely at the Divinity programs.

    I am convinced that two separate, but equally important, tracks are needed. 1) A practical ministry track and 2) an academic track.

    Academic Track:
    Those pursuing an academic track will continue to need a strong background in Biblical languages and will need to study longer to satisfy requirements needed for entrance requirements for a PhD later (an MA with at least 72 credit hours seems to be the standard minimum if I am correct). Even more language requirement than we currently have might be considered for this track.

    Practical Track:
    Gone are the days of a pastor devoting 40 hours to sermon prep every week and doing exegesis as a normal part of that process. The English tools (software, English lexicons etc.) are now robust enough that, with a semester or so of language familiarization (to teach how to responsibly use the tools and lexicons) a pastor can utilize the available English tools to do a very sufficient job of sermon preparation. Offering a 48-60 credit hour MDiv could be a great solution for professional ministerial training without extensive language training.

    Professional Studies:
    If Regent, however, is interested in ever providing MDiv degrees that will pass muster with the traditional denominations (e.g. Methodist) the 90 credit hour MDiv will continue to need to be offered. Revising the 90 credit hour MDiv to satisfy the requirements of traditional denominations may be another approach that could improve the program.

    Non-Professional Studies
    For those that are wanting to study ministry but are not preparing for the professional ministry position, a 36 credit hour MA with a mix of history, theology and a small amount of language familiarization could be a great solution!

    Biblical Languages:
    I also recommend that the Biblical Languages be available as electives for those who may want to pursue them but may not need them for the shorter degree programs (they should remain mandatory for the academic track). Additionally, if the language classes were taught by SOD but also cross-listed as undergrad classes (500 level) many students in the RSU Biblical Studies program would definitely be interested, I think. And if these language courses could then also be offered online then you will be tapping into a very pressing need nationwide! Virtually no undergraduate school offers Greek or Hebrew on line that I know of (and I worked admissions for a couple of years). We have experience teaching Greek and Hebrew online and offering a 1 year course (2 semesters) at the 500 level would generate great interest and possibly even act as a significant recruiting avenue for SOD once the student finishes their Bachelor degree!

    I am sorry I was never able to take any of your classes :-)

    Bernie

    • Hello Bernie, thank you for your detailed response to my post and the time you took to evaluate your experience of the seminary. I can affirm that we intend to offer a practical ministry track and an academic track–actually in the form of two different master’s degree programs. The MDiv will remain as a more comprehensive degree. The 90 hours of the MDiv are no longer standard in many seminaries, and that has probably contributed to the financial burden of many graduates. Here you make some important distinctions between professional and non-professional studies that we will need to look into more closely. Your ideas about the biblical languages are probably very similar to what we are thinking at the moment.

  12. Matt Cloninger says:

    I agree on reducing the spiritual formation courses to two. I think spiritual formation should be an integral part of EVERY course and many of my professors provided as much. I also believe that history of the church is too important to decrease and should actually be increased. Not a whole lot of my church history training really involved understanding the church fathers nor how the Bible was assembled, yet this formed the basis of our 2000 years of history as a faith!

    I would also recommend adding courses on mediating conflict or family systems theory. While easy to dismiss as counseling courses, these have become important in navigating our current social constructs within the church which no longer places a high premium on deference for clergy. Far too many pastors/rectors are getting burnt out and leaving the ministry early into their careers because they are not prepared to navigate the emotional/psychological trauma that congregations are capable of.

    Thanks for asking for our input!

    Blessings,
    Matt Cloninger, M.A. Practical Theology
    Class of 2005

    • Hi Matt, and thank you for your comments. The integration of spiritual formation is exactly what we endeavor to achieve. It is not always readily apparent where this is done and how it is accomplished, but you are certainly right that we need more integration. I can also assure you that we have more emphasis on the church fathers since your graduation, especially with the addition of Prof. Coulter to our faculty. Last but not least, I also agree strongly with the need to have courses on conflict management and other social and personal areas of concern and ministry. Thanks!

  13. Vic St Clair says:

    I graduated from Regent in 1989 and have been in ministry ever since, although I have not always made a living from it. I have had the awesome privilege to help plant 4 churches in the former communist part Germany as well as Albania. I am now establishing a counseling ministry in Broken Arrow Oklahoma . I must say that my education at Regent has been paramount in my understanding on how things work in the Kingdom of God. I cannot imagine what I would have done if I didn’t have Dr Williamn’s Systematic Theology to fall back on when I was trying to figure out to deal with a particular theological controversy, nor how would I have ever been able to communicate in word and deed the gospel to a people who have never heard it with out understanding the world Christian movement in the Perspectives Course by Dr Foltz. Dr Holman’s class on how to read the Bible carries me through to this day. The one thing that we didn’t have that has helped me immensely was Neil T Anderson’s teaching on living in the freedom that Christ has won for us (Victory Over The Darkness and Bondage breaker). The other thing that was missing from my education was how counsel people. I was able to remedy that with a master’s study from the School of Psychology. The long and short of what I am saying is I needed everything I got in my degree program and then some to be able to do the ministry. I certainly think it would be a mistake to alter things to make the program lite. Thanks for listening to me and I wish you all of God’s wisdom as you make you decisions.
    Blessings,
    Vic St Clair, Class of 89

    • Hello Vic. I appreciate the time you took to give us this important perspective of our history at Regent. Not many of our faculty from 1989 are left at the School, and many things have changed in the make-up of our students and the kinds of ministries they pursue. We have done some extensive research in the kind of program we need to offer and found that we simply cannot remain on the parameters of past decades if we want our students to be abel to become Christian leaders who change the world.

  14. Doug Dowdey says:

    Greetings. Thank you Dr Vondey for taking such an interest in maintaining the integrity of Regent School of Divinity and creating a forum to enlist the thoughts of former students. I graduated with an MDiv in 2006 and the experience of Regent far exceeded my expectations. While I am certain that the curriculum has changed since then I also felt that the Spiritual Formation courses should have been left up to the student and not mandatory. I also understand that the scope of ministry has changed but would remind you this will continue to evolve until the King returns. One major benefit of the languages is it gives you an added advantage when seeking employment as a University Professor. They also contribute to further education should one desire. Doesn’t Regent still offer the MA track? Another suggestion would be to consider a student’s previous ministry experience and allow a certain amount of that experience, when verified, to transfer to credits while cutting the cost overall. Finally when I attended one issue we had was trying to fill classes that were required since many times classes we needed were not available or canceled. It almost reached a point that you just took a class because there was not another one. I am sure there are many factors that are involved in making courses available but streamlining that process might shorten the process. Thanks again for the opportunity to share and may God continue to bless Regent University.

    • Hello Doug, and thank you for your insights. I think you are touching on the important difference between the required core courses we offer and electives. That is precisely why we need your feedback! If we change the curriculum and offer courses that we think are important, it would be a disaster to see no students taking those courses either because they don’t need them or because they do not understand (yet) that they need them. Here we need to do a lot of educating our faculty and students, don’t you think?

  15. Diane Fiazza says:

    As an alumna (1984) from the second graduating class of what was then the School of Biblical Studies, I had the privilege of studying under Dr. J. Rodman Williams. I would hope that if one of the hallmarks of our school is renewal and power and presence of the Holy Spirit, we would have Dr. Williams’ books as part of the curriculum. His courses were transformational in my life.
    Please keep the courses on doctrine/systematic theology at the core. They helped me to learn to THINK about what I believed and why and to back that up with Scripture.
    Lastly, we must know where we have come from to know where we are going. The history of the faith and the church movements is critical.
    From the Holy Spirit, doctrine and history, the practical will follow.
    “Keep the main thing, the main thing!”

  16. Dan Mularski says:

    I have been out of the loop of what is going on in the SOD curriculum, but here are some suggestions:
    Equipping ministry leaders with Christian vs other worldview perspectives
    A sound knowledge of intelligent design concepts
    At least 1 or 2 required business classes (management) for those planning on leading organizations / churches
    A rigorous public speaking course to optimize each person’s style

    • Thank you, Dan. I wonder if some of these suggestions are not better left to joint degree programs at other schools (business or otherwise). For a seminary, having enough qualified faculty who are equipped to teach such a variety of courses in different disciplines is difficult.

  17. Robert Eric Walker says:

    Among all the great classes I took while at Regent, the most helpful (and one of the toughest) was Principles of Bible Study I and II. Oddly enough many seminaries don’t offer such a class. Though for me it was harder than Greek and harder than Hebrew, yet I’m so glad it was required. It’s the gift that keeps on giving and I make use of it every day.

  18. Paula Hill says:

    Good Afternoon,

    Thank you for the opportunity to express our views on this subject. I agree with most of the previous comments, we should not do away with the fundamentals and foundational courses, othewise, we have nothing to build from or on. I enjoyed my time at Regent and consider all my courses beneifical in shaping me into a well-rounded ministry leader.

    I like the idea of Ministry Tracks with curriculms that focus on a particular field of ministry with fundamental courses built in, maybe reduce the course, time and credit wise, i.e. 1 credit hour, 3 week overview of language or preaching, for those who are not on that particular track but need to at least be introduced to the subject matter.

    Another idea to reach the masses, could be a two-year associates program, in practical ministry application, spiritual formation and leadership, open to people already working in ministry without the benefit of seminary.

  19. My hat is off to you for asking the tough but absolutely essential questions about developing good Christian leaders and doing it in a way that is responsive to the student’s needs and their budgets. Ministry needs and people’s lives have changed and we have to change in response.

    I work in the area of leader development and consult for churches, colleges, seminaries and mission organizations that are asking similar questions — how can we effectively train the next generation of leaders in an effective and responsible way?

    In some ways it’s a balancing act — lowering the requirements so you get more students through enables you to increase the quantity but may decrease the quality. Raise the standards to increase quality and you reduce the quantity of students who have the time or money to participate.

    As you know, a large percentage of those who enter ministry don’t finish well.

  20. Edward Kornkven says:

    I am a prospective student and will give you some of my thinking, FWIW. I will most likely take a lot of the program online and in intensives. Cost is a big issue, and I am looking at ways to get credit by examination or other alternatives to save even the cost of a course or two. I’m an older student and in the near term, will need to continue in a career that also requires learning to keep those skills current. So, I’m comfortable with absorbing information on my own, but have limited time and money. That means, for example, that I don’t want to spend time and money for a seminary class that simply covers a book that I could read (or have already read) for myself.

    I’ve observed that in my profession and others, even in other realms of life such as sports and music, the top-notch “players” are the ones who are *very* strong in the fundamentals. Skimping on those fundamentals is an easier path to mediocrity. I would urge Regent to hit their fundamentals hard. I think those must include languages, interpretation, OT/NT, theology, history and probably others.

    What I hope seminary will help me with first and foremost is in building a solid foundation and framework for grappling with scripture and other revelation and knowledge (e.g., natural, supernatural, philosophical). I think I need tools (fundamentals), mentors and guided study to sort through those issues. There is important content to add to that framework no doubt. It sounds like you are inclined to keep that part elective as much as possible which I would prefer.

    I’m sure you are sensitive to the fact that other seminaries are not your only “competitors” these days. I have given some serious thought to going a “practical ministry” route such as BSSM, IHOP or Randy Clark’s school. I have a natural teaching/academic bent that those schools don’t pretend to address, but also a hunger to see the supernatural power of God touch people. I am considering Regent in part due to your stated renewal perspective. It hasn’t been clear to me however, how that perspective works into the curriculum. What I imagine that to mean is that (some of?) the faculty will teach from that point of view — which is fine. But I wonder if you have considered making some of that “supernatural ministry” content more explicitly a component of the MDiv program. The church continues to struggle with these issues and their authentic and effective expression. Perhaps a partnership with one of these schools that is teaching people to “do the stuff?”

    Speaking of partnerships and reducing costs, maybe something with Christian University GlobalNet — if not a partnership, at least accepting their credits?

    Thanks for listening.

  21. Lelia Fry says:

    Please accept my thanks to you for seeking reflections and insight from those who have gone through the SOD’s programs in past years. In response to your call for feedback, I would just urge you to consider ways to meet goals/expectations that may not always involve the classroom or might not look like what you would expect in a traditional class in a certain discipline. I offer a few suggestions, and although can already think of both benefits and complications involved with these ideas, hopefully they might at least spur further “outside of the box” thoughts.

    1) Aid in the spiritual formation of students through some type of internal mentorship program. Perhaps each year students would be either a mentor or a mentee, pairing up students in the first part (half?) of their degrees with students in the latter part (half) of their degrees. Or if not every year, perhaps this could be implemented in certain stages of the degree program(s). Something like a mentorship program could certainly not replace the important spiritual formation aspect of the program, but rather, as a supplement, it might help reduce the required number of spiritual formation courses, while at the same time students on opposite “ends” of the program a chance to network and gain insight from each other. As a student in the first part of doctoral program, this is something I am intentionally seeking out.

    2) Offer sessions during Modular Weeks (or even as simulcasts) on conflict resolution, counseling, mediation, etc. Perhaps you could partner with the School of Psychology and Counseling for these sessions. Similar sessions with other schools might also be beneficial, e.g., tips on financial and business management in churches or para-church organizations or on the usefulness of various media outlets for ministry. Focused individual sessions might be able to provide students with enough basic information and resources to at least know where to look for more information or help if needed.

    3) Incorporate presentations into some of the normally more “academic” courses (i.e., theology, history, and biblical studies). While the requirement would probably need to look the same for all students, the method of the presentation might vary even among students within a given class, say preaching for MDiv students with plans to minister versus presentation of a short paper for students pursuing the MDiv with goals for future academic study, or something else creative. Allowing students to be creative and take some ownership of the material (and presentation of the material) in this way might even add another helpful dimension to the learning environment.

    4) In reference to the languages, I’m afraid I can only speak as one who has followed the academic track to a Ph.D. program, so my comments may not be as helpful for thinking about preparing people for church ministry or other ministries. (Although, I would state that I have had innumerable opportunities for ministry in my current academic setting, just as our professors had with us at Regent!) I can confidently say that I needed more rather than less focus on languages in my studies. I had quite a bit of a learning curve ahead of me when I began my doctoral program in terms of facility with ancient languages in particular. I should also make it clear that it had been a few years since I had taken classes, and despite my professors sage exhortations to “keep up” with the languages, I confess that I was not diligent in using and practicing what I had learned . Thus the vast majority of the fault for my own deficiency rests squarely on my own shoulders. Nevertheless, I see that I could have benefitted from additional work on the ancient languages, particularly in some of my biblical studies courses. What would this look like at Regent? I’ve been thinking about that but am at a loss. Still, something inside of me feels the breath knocked out of its lungs, so to speak, when I hear mention of taking away the languages. The add so much depth to one’s knowledge of the Bible and the history of the people who have encountered it for so long!

    Again, I hope that these suggestions might help in some way, even if just providing catalysts for other ideas! I also reiterate my thanks. The attention given by/through the “task force committees, faculty meetings, group discussions, and [intensive planning]” to revisiting what the seminary degree(s) should really prepare students to do is much appreciated!

    • Hi Lelia. As someone who intimately knows the program, these are solid contributions to our discussion. In particular your thoughts on “keeping up” with the languages is going to add to our already “heated” debate. :)

  22. sorry I hit the submit by mistake

    One study we have come across shows that people fail in ministry for three main reasons: problems in their relationship with God (self dependence?) problems with relationships (could be with their team, constituents or family) and problems in character.

    surprisingly, lack of competence training (skills and knowledge) didn’t factor in that strongly. Besides rethinking the content, we have found it equally important to rethink the process. Indeed, we have seen that using other process dynamics can really boost the impact in what you are already doing or even while reducing the courses you plan to offer.

    I can’t go into it all here but would be glad to discuss it further if interested. I”m not saying we are doing it perfectly but we have learned a lot and seen considerable fruit.

    For our website http://www.leadersource.org or to call in Chesapeake 757-204-4757

  23. Perry Shelfer says:

    To me discipleship took place when under the skilled mentoring of learned professors I had to deal with the hard courses…all the time the Holy Spirit was working with the “mush in my brain” in having me to think as a scholar and respond as a healer. I do not feel that it is time to pull back…to make it easy. MDiv. students need the process of what courses like Greek, Hebrew and the Principles of Bible study will do to the body, mind and spirit. Did I like it? No! Do I appreciate it…absolutly! When noted Universities like Emory have dropped Greek and Hebrew as a requirement from the M.Div. degree…it is my opinion that Regent should not. I was actually able to teach Greek to my daughter from what I learned from Dr. Story. I have taught Princples of Bible Study to tenagers and adults for years from what I learned from Dr. Holman. We need to instill a passion for the Scriptures in people and even though I don’t use Greek in every prepared lesson or sermon, I still have the tools. As to theolgy…Regent had the best professor I know to this day in Rodman Williams…why end those courses? He would want us to take “Renewal thology” to the next level…to the next application…to the next generation.

  24. Greg Hardy says:

    Greetings Dr. Vondey:

    I am a 1990 MDiv Regent graduate and have been in the ordained ministry for 16 years. I would strongly advise you not to turn the MDiv program into MDiv light. Do not shorten the program. We used to have a saying during my time at Regent and that was the full year of Greek and Hebrew separated the boys and girls from the men and women. It also separated the MDiv from the MA. I have encountered enough MDiv light folks in ministry spreading bad doctrine and can tell you that the body of Christ needs men and women who are as 2 Timothy 2:15 says: “Be diligent to present yourself approved to God, a worker who does not need to be ashamed, rightly dividing the word of truth.”

    Since Regent does not have a denominational affiliation it is important to make sure there is an MDiv program that will be recognized by various denominations in the body of Christ. Keep it scholarly and more practical. Dr. Williams’s theology courses were invaluable. I especially remember his Holy Spirit: Presence and power course. I find myself time after time coming back to his material. Dr. Homan’s Principals of Bible Study, Dr. Ruthven’s Expository preaching classes, Dr. Rea’s Old Testament classes, Dr. Prosser church history courses, and Dr. Story’s commitment to excellent Greek exegesis did much to make me a student of the word.

    This being said Regent did not prepare me for church splits, working with chronic saints, church politics, building a church from scratch, etc. I have had to learn much of this on my own in the real world of the ministry. Taking a clinical pastoral education course was invaluable to me. Finding a way to add to the MDiv practical ministry through what is known as a call, assignment, etc in a parish would have been extremely helpful. This can only be done if the Regent Seminary experience finds a way to work with other denominations to place students in a real life parish as is done in many seminaries.

    God’s blessings,

    Rev. Greg Hardy

  25. Missions coursework has been substantially reduced since Howard Foltz and Peter Prosser left the school. Missions is the basis for the church’s existance. There needs to be a number of courses in various aspects of missions: missions in the local church, reaching unreached people groups, cross cultural entry and adaptation. Otherwise we just graduate people that can pastor a local church but like everyone else they spend 99.5% of the missions budget on people that are already reached. If we are to bring closure to the great commission we must spend money to reach those who have never heard the gospel before. In addition, coursework on pentecostal holiness and christian history is important to undergird the missiological mandate and foundation. It’s like rebar in concrete.

    • Hi Stephen, actually, we did not reduce the missions curriculum. It is still a major, although we have renamed some to the courses. In a sense, “mission” is somewhat misleading to many if we think of going out to far away countries who haven’t heard the gospel but neglect to be a witness in our own backyard. This shift is recognizable. But I must say I believe it is a good one.

  26. Rev. Mike Pici says:

    The messages already posted have been quite insightful. I agree that languages and other practical courses are needed. One of the most useful classes I took at Regent (CBN) was “Unity of the Bible”. It has helped me formulate a comprehensive understanding of our most important asset, God’s Word.

    Rev.Mike Pici
    Class of ’86

  27. Deb Vaughn says:

    I would hate to see courses such as Systematic Theology and the OT/NT courses be reduced. Those classes, along with the courses in Pastoral Theology, Church and Ministry, Preaching, etc are the ones I draw on most heavily. I also will confess that other than my alphabets, I did not retain my Greek or Hebrew, and I’ve only been out a year. (However, to compensate, I taught myself how to use an electronic lexicon.) With the training I received in learning the historical background and historicity of the Scripture, I feel confident that I can communicate a strong Biblical message because I had the courses in systematics and OT/NT. For many of us the memorization (and retaining) of biblical languages is an uphill climb. I want to be able to contextualize and USE the languages than conjugate them.

    Truthfully, what pastors (or in my case, chaplains) need are the TOOLS to then use in ministry. Having a working knowledge of something like Bibleworks or Libronix keeps biblical study tools in my hands. As libraries move more and more to eBooks, it would make sense to publish our tools in eBooks as well. I did have a few texts towards the end of my tenure which I purchased for my Kindle. I’d be more likely to do that in the future. (In fact, I don’t know the last time I purchased a “paper” book — most everything has been on my Kindle!)

    Another important piece to be effective in the global economy and political realm is to have adequate missions and/or world religions training. Both the World Religions and Missions and the Local Church have been essential as I teach, preach, and minister in an increasingly interconnected world. If we can not take our biblical studies and set them in context, we have lost the ability to communicate to an increasingly diverse and non-Christian world.

    In terms of longevity and spiritual formation, for those of us who were Distance students, it would be helpful to have a more pro-active partnership with our sponsoring congregations. I sought out (and still maintain) a mentoring relationship with experienced women pastors. It was a significant part of my Spiritual Formation portfolio, one that I took seriously. It would have been helpful for the school to reiterate to our congregations that their mentoring and oversight is a necessary “piece” of the Distance student’s spiritual growth.

    Thanks for asking for feedback — hopefully this was helpful.

    Peace-
    Deb

  28. Monica Masiko says:

    I’ll throw in my “two-cents,” for what it’s worth. I have given much thought to the course requirements at Regent, as I plan to pursue a PhD. I desire to contribute in a meaningful way to theological scholarship, through research, writing, and teaching. I became quite concerned that Regent was not going to adequately prepare me to enter a PhD program. I no longer feel that way as I have sifficiently modified my course track. Some of my concerns have been noted by others above.
    -One of my greatest concerns is the overlapping material, specifically in the Practical Ministry/Ministerial Leadership type classes. Perhaps that curriculum could be re-examined? I attended another seminary before Regent and had an excellent core requirement class titled Pastoral Care. I do not see this as a core req at Regent. Perhaps it would be a worthy sub for one of the PMin core courses we now have? I also felt quite strongly that those courses were designed for people interested in pastoring mega-churches. Perhaps they should be electives, since, as with my case, that is not my calling or purpose for obtaining an MDiv.
    -I am also concerned about the potential overlap in the preaching classes (having read the syllabii), but I have yet to take those. I look forward to gaining skills in public speaking and hope they will do that. I am concerned about being properly prepared to dialogue in academic settings and would love it if there was class for that, perhaps in lieu of one of the preaching classes?
    -Regarding Spiritual Formation classes, I am glad that I was able to make a thesis request and as a result, I do not have to take SFRM 2 or 3. That does not mean I do not want Spiritual formation. I think it is so important that it should be an aspect of every class, with accountability measures to go along with it. I would recommend keeping SFRM 1, and elevating the importance of the portfolio, making it available to all our professors.
    -Regarding Greek and Hebrew: now that I am more properly educated in hermeneutics and have begun my first Greek class, I am so upset that I did not have Greek earlier in my Christian walk. I now have an urgency to understand Greek in order to read Scripture for myself, rather than reading someone else’s interpretation. I wish that I could properly convey the importance of this to those who do not see the need for biblical languages. I think they should be taught in our churches, in our Christian schools, etc.

    Thank you for inviting my two cents.
    Blessings, and much gratitude,
    Monica

  29. Jim Kerwin says:

    I hope the faculty is bearing in mind that it needs something beyond Solomonic wisdom to come up with a solution. The elusive “right answer” doesn’t exist. What is needed, after all the debate, input, and consideration, is this — what is God’s “right answer” for RUSOD at this time? I hope there is as much time being spent in corporate faculty prayer and fasting as there is in committee meetings. To arrive at something other than an inspired solution would put Regent on the path so many other theological institutions have followed – to spiritual irrelevance.

    That said, I appreciate the desire for our feedback. As a matter of full disclosure, I should state that I came to Regent with nearly twenty years of full-time ministry under my belt, so my goal was to study “impractical” theology, as opposed to practical. My views are no doubt somewhat biased as a result.

    As I look back over my years at Regent, some classes and lessons stand out.

    Hermeneutics: I agree with the respondent who said how vital Dr. Holman’s Principles of Bible Study classes were. And the writer was correct – for many students those courses were tougher than language courses. I don’t think I worked harder in any other course; but it whet my appetite for Dr. Holman’s hermeneutics courses (which were even harder). Considering some of the nonsense I hear preached from pulpits (yes, sad to say, some of them are Regent graduates), I’m guessing that hermeneutics at any level is perhaps being emphasized less than in the past. That would be a mistake. Surely a graduate education can deliver us from proof-texting and ripping verses out of context. A re-infusion of hermeneutics would help.

    Theology & Church History: It was my great privilege to sit under Dr. Williams for several courses in theology and Dr. Prosser for two semesters of church history. But I’ve often wondered – why couldn’t the two subjects be combined? So much of church history has to do with doctrinal struggle and formation; so much of theology can be understood better against the backdrop of the historical events in which it took shape. (Here’s one side note: I was amazed in my two semesters of church history, taken years apart, at the surprising ignorance of the history of western civilization among a large minority of grad students. Pre-reqs ought to be checked more thoroughly.) And it’s not just ancient church history that’s of interest. Even in a “renewal” school, how many understand the doctrine of sanctification that was preached at Azusa Street, but is now repudiated by most Pentecostal groups? How many know that Seymour went on record, in writing, that speaking in tongues could NOT be the initial evidence of the Baptism in the Holy Spirit? What happened in fairly modern church history that changed those doctrines? As I think more about it, an interdisciplinary approach between theology and church history probably wouldn’t reduce the number of classroom hours; but I think the subjects studied together would reinforce each other.

    Languages: The only way to preach the whole counsel of God is to know the whole counsel of God. Part of that, like it or not, requires us to have a working familiarity with (but not necessarily a mastery of) the original languages. I wish I had been able to take more classes along these lines. I’m hoping to use my alumnus privilege of taking additional courses and spending that time exclusively in Hebrew.

    Spiritual Formation: Why do we have these courses? A variety of arguments could be put forth, but I’m looking at this from a more organic viewpoint. I wonder. Did we start needing spiritual formation courses when we began to put more emphasis on hiring faculty with impressive CVs, rather than hiring academically qualified men and women who were godly role models with shepherds’ hearts? The dictum of most academic institutions is “publish or perish.” The guiding theme of a truly spiritual institution should be “impart, disciple, and reproduce, or be irrelevant.” Don’t get me wrong – I want a grad-school education to be academically rigorous. But don’t just teach us about prayer – model the life of prayer before us. Don’t just teach us about the various historical moves of the Spirit – move in the gifts of the Spirit yourselves and show how spiritual history is made. Don’t just teach us theology – day by day demonstrate what it means to “walk in the Light” before a holy and righteous God, and and impel us by example and exhortaton to be transformed into the image and likeness of Christ. Don’t don’t let us settle for anything less. We need something more than 2 Timothy 2:2; the real, lasting fruit, the deep life changes, may well arise out of 1 Thessalonians 2:8 instead.

  30. As a class of 94 member, my knowledge of the school may be dated. However, I do have two suggestions.

    1. I have heard from those still associated with the program that it has become too intellectualized over the last few years. There is too much emphasis within the faculty for “scholarly” writing than there is attention to student development and the Holy Spirit. If that direction continues, the school will be no different than hundreds of others.

    2. I have learned more about effective public speaking through Toastmasters than any class I took at Regent. If you are going to be an effective leader in the church, then you need to be an effective communicator. Every student should be required to take speech craft early and incorporate speeches in all classes.

  31. A framework might include three components, Information, Impartation and Transformation.
    Information would included academic rigor and content – whatever subject matter is deemed appropriate.

    Impartation incorporates the life of Jesus by the power of the spirit in spiritual formation and community life. One example would be Bonhoeffer’s approach to seminary training.

    Transformation sees the fruit of the seminary experience as a transformed life, church, community and world. Goals of this aspect would be evangelism, discipleship, church planting, compassion ministries, social justice and the great commission.

    May the Lord bless and guide you in this holy endeavor!
    Jim Pennington D. Min., 2009

  32. Bryan Carraway says:

    Thanks Dr. Vondey for seeking alumni input into this discussion. Here are my thoughts on the matter of curriculum restructuring:

    1. I recommend reducing the credit hour requirements of the M.Div and M.A. This will help students graduate with less debt and in less time. It will make the program more competitive nationally and if a rigorous class-by-class anaylsis is done of the curriculum some classes can be found to be “optional” not “required.” A 60 hr. M.A. program is quite a lot when other disciplines grant a graduate degree in 39, 45, or 48 hours.

    2. We must keep the systematic theology courses and history courses in place. They are foundational. We can’t lead others without a thorough understanding of the Word of God and without an appreciation of where the church as been throughout the ages.

    3. Biblical language courses should be required for those in an academic track but should not be required for those in everyday, practical ministry settings: chaplians, pastors, youth workers, etc. A basic Greek/Hebrew intro course designed to also teach proper use of modern software tools (Bibleworks, etc.) is sufficient in my opinon for most.

    4. Seminary ought to teach to the skill sets needed in a profession; not soley focusing on theology/spiritual formation (though of course those are no doubt important). That means the curriculum must include a “ministry as business” course which covers such isses as budgeting, PR, marketing through social media, etc. I think there should be a basic “ministry leadership” course which covers basic principles of HR/hiring, vision casting, leading groups through times of crises, etc. These are skills ministers and pastors must possess but many seminaries leave them with no equipping in these areas. What a shame to be able to exegete a passage but have very little skill in leading, communicating, or running a minsitry efficiently or effectively.

    May God continue to bless our School of Divinity!

    Bryan Carraway, M.A. Practical Ministry 2002

    • Hi Bryan. You should probably be in on our discussions. It is funny how much of your suggestions reflect the discussions in our hallways. You can imagine that opinions are divided on the extent of these and other changes.

  33. Barney says:

    The M.Div program at Regent is very extensive, and that is what separates Regent from all the seminaries in the area (that and accreditation). This is one of the reasons why I am proud to be a current M.Div student at Regent. However, I absolutely agree that the cirriculum has to change to meet the changing times and to prepare future leaders for 21st century ministry. As far as the language requirements I do not believe that Regent should take these course away, but I do believe that they should be revised. Instead of full blown language courses as a requirement I suggest that maybe the Divinity school should offer introductory courses that give an overview of greek and hebrew (each being its own separate course). They could give an overview of the language, teach some of the language (mostly vocab words found in the Bible), and show how it relates to ministry and biblical interpretation. And then offer the more extensive courses, that are currently required, as electives. This is because, currently, the language courses are VERY fast-paced and most people learn just enough to pass the course but really do not have a good grasp of the language, and barely use what they learned in ministry. Also, professors really do not take the time or better yet have the time to show how these languages can give us a better understanding and interpretation of scripture. This should be at the center of the language courses. They also should not be used to “weed out” who deserves to be in the M.Div program or the M.A. program. However, overview courses could really focus on how they help us interpret scripture and how this relates to ministry, and if persons are more interested in furthering their knowledge of the biblical languages then the more comprehensive courses are available.

    I also absolutely agree that courses that focus on dealing with gender and sexuality issues in the church and society IS A MUST for a 21st century seminary. These and other issues that are becoming more prevalent in society needs to be addressed in seminary, and the Divinity school needs to prepare ministry leaders on how to properly and effectively address these issues while upholding Christian principles. Also, I would suggest offering a course on technology as it relates to ministry. This course could show how technology can be properly and effectively used in church and ministry, and how we as ministry leaders should address and approach various techologies that are emerging in society. Also, discuss their effects on society as a whole and how Christians should respond to these effects; i.e social networking, cloud computing, multimedia, etc. This course could even instruct students how to develop a technology department within their church, and what technologies are necessary to be effective in this technological age.

    DO NOT get rid of the Spiritual Formation courses. Most seminaries focus on church, ministry and preaching but they do little to help develop the integrity, well-being, and spirituality of ministry leaders. These courses are a must in the 21st century, and this is one of the many things that impressed me about the Divinity School.

  34. Justin Driscoll says:

    Dr. Vondey,

    I am very glad to see some open discussion about the changes coming to the mDiv program. While I am somewhat excited about potentially needing fewer credits to graduate, I also do not want the quality of the program to suffer as a by-product of fewer hours.

    One of the main reasons I came to seminary was because I felt like I needed to take some time to analyze why I believe what I believe and find some resources to help me better understand the background of Christianity to make me a better minister / Bible teacher. As much I want to finish my degree, I like the broad scope of the degree since it encompasses all of the major topic areas, OT, NT, Systematic, church history, languages, and more. Is faster better? Yes, it is expensive but didn’t we all know the cost before we signed up? Should we speed up the time of medical school since it is expensive and long because the country needs more doctors? Would you rather see a doctor that has taken time to really learn how to be a good doctor before you go under the knife? Isn’t seminary important enough to spend the time learning as much as we while we are here? Don’t we owe it to the people we minister too?

    I believe the church needs more modern-day theologians who can teach the everyday Christian seminary-level material. In the world in which I operate, I am not seeing an interest or an ability to teach the same type of material I am learning in seminary. I feel like most Christian’s barely know the names of the books of the Bible let alone have an answer for the Trinity or the Resurrection, which are the back-bone issues of our faith. So I came to seminary to do something about it rather than just complain about it. It is a hope of mine to raise-the-bar within the local church to bring the common Christian man / women to a higher level of understanding of their faith. Will Regent continue to produce high quality theologians if we put them on the fast track just to simply get them to the graduation stage? Yes, the school might graduate larger numbers of students but what has to suffer to accomplish this? In my opinion, the experience of graduate school is just as important as the degree earned at the end of graduate school. If everyone is receiving a terminal degree in two years with little depth behind it, doesn’t that cheapen the degree as well?

    The importance of the original languages has ceased to be important everywhere except in academia. Some might not agree with me on this but I grew up in the church and not once ever considered or knew that the Bible was written in another other language but English. I was in my early twenties when I began to learn that the Bible was originally written in Hebrew and Greek. With that said, I do not feel the academy should discount the importance of a few learning the original languages to keep the importance of this skill alive during our modern area. I personally have not taken a language class yet, but frankly, am excited to do so. One of the main reasons I am interested in learning the original languages is so I can be a better teacher of God’s Word. How can I explain what the original author really meant if I do not have an understanding of the language the author originally wrote his letter in? Furthermore, how can I exegete the Scriptures if I can’t read the original manuscripts? Wouldn’t I be a better Bible teacher if I knew the original language the Bible was written in? I do not have a Bachelor’s in Bible from a Christian college, but it is my understanding that most Christian colleges require their students to take some language classes. If that is the case shouldn’t a Master’s program be a little more rigorous than an undergrad program? Does it cheapen the mDiv if it has less rigorous language requirements than the BA? Maybe this won’t be the case in the end but it is something to consider.

    Where do these proposed changes leave students interested in going on for their PhD? I know all PhD programs have different requirements but will the revised mDiv provide enough flexibility for students interested in pursuing a Phd, especially since that language classes are required in nearly every PhD program? From a practical standpoint, if the mDiv now has fewer language requirements won’t that mean the university will need fewer teachers to teach the languages, thereby, resulting in fewer options for language classes. Will the university still employ a teacher that can teach theological German if that isn’t really a priority anymore with this new program?

    I am positive there are people far smarter than me thinking about the cause and effect of these changes, but I am glad for the opportunity to contribute to the process.

    Thank you!

    Justin Driscoll

    • Thanks, Justin. Your thoughts resonate with many of us. I think the concerns we have for the education of “everyday” people will be further emphasized in a new curriculum in several ways, as will be the need to train students for doctoral programs. These are very different vocations, and we intend to form opportunities for both dimension of the Christian life.

  35. Christopher Wilson says:

    Dr. Vondey,

    I cannot stress this strongly enough: a class in critical thinking/ logic should be mandatory during the first semester. Students will be exposed to a lot of diverse view points during their studies and will need the tools to properly evaluate and assimilate the information. I already had a background in philosophy before entering the program but was shocked that students would be taught all of the subjects that are taught at the seminary level without first being taught how to think critically.

    Apart from that, I think that there should be more electives and less core courses as this could lead to the increased specialization sought after. The languages should be an elective chosen by those who will need them and spiritual formation should be eliminated as a subject and instead integrated into all of the classes at some level.

    Your brother in Christ,

    Chris

  36. Curt Brunk says:

    I’m with Matthew Brake in the first post. It would be a disaster “dumb down” the degree for any reason. Know that is not the heart behind the effort, but hoping that simply increasing enrollment is not either.

    In the end the degree has to be something substantial because the work is substantial, and frankly the stuff that passes for good theology out there is getting scary. Theology, History, Language are all crucial.

    As Matthew also noted better practical issues can be found elsewhere, but that would not be an argument to lessen them there, but rather to strengthen them as finding good stuff in the marketplace can be very tough, and expensive.

    As a person who has tried to hire Regent Divinity graduates but found them wanting, this whole conversation is unnerving.

  37. Travis Snow says:

    Wow what an opportunity! All my hypothetical musings about what a seminary should be might finally gain a hearing! But alas, I don’t think I have the one size fits all answer after all. But a few key suggestions…

    Let the seminarian take control of their own spiritual life. Spiritual formation, including the private study of God’s Word, prayer, and other spiritual disciplines are immensely important, but in my opinion, are not, and have never been, best facilitated in a classroom environment. I have never met anyone whose prayer life was encouraged by classes falling into the ‘Spiritual Formation’ category. I hope I’m not offending anyone by saying this, but in many cases, these classes are viewed as “fluff” or “blow off” classes. The spiritual life is something which the individual needs to take responsiblity for privately and in the context of the local church. If they can’t do that, they shouldn’t even be in seminary in the first place. Seminary is not known for making people more spiritual. Seminary is where people who already have some foundations laid should come to go to the next level and to pursue their vocational objectives. Forcing people to pray, journal, do retreat etc. for a grade, is not the spring from which these wonderful disciplines should spring. If a Spiritual Formation component is kept in the curriculum, perhaps a one 3 dredit hour course would be enough.

    • Thanks, Travis. Your experience resonates with others.

    • Linda Sharp says:

      I have to disagree with the comments about Spiritual Formation. This class has been an incredible help – we don’t all come with the requisite skills required to grow in the required areas spiritually – in fact, we don’t all even know the categories. I have seen tremendous growth in the members of the class of which I am currently a part. I have two colleagues currently in different seminaries – both have Spiritual Formation classes (named differently) and also find it very valuable.

  38. Marc says:

    I have many things I could say–but as both an alum and current Divinity student, here are three recommendations I would make:

    1) Make both Hermeneutics AND Principles of Bible Study requirements. This two classes, both very different, yet extremely vital in doing responsible exegesis (and teaching laypersons to go and do likewise).

    2) When push comes to shove and there are only so many courses to fit into a shortened degree program, allow Practical Theology students to choose either Greek or Hebrew. Don’t require them to take both (even though in an ideal seminary world, they should).

    3) Make sure that students who gradudate with an M.A in Biblical Studies actually have that written on their diploma–instead of just “Master of Arts”. For more pain-filled details on this, ask Jason Wermuth.

  39. Linda Sharp says:

    Thank you for the opportunity to provide feedback. I came to Regent after completing a terminal degree in Music Performance and holding a post-doc fellowship in same with Music Education. I taught in public schools and college/university settings for many years. Regent’s program appealed to me because of its depth, and the charge to develop leaders who are equipped to change culture. I have seen the demise in the field of education and the “thinning out” of solid curriculum so that teachers who have been through most universities are 4 years long and 1/2 inch thick. Many go back for administrative degrees for the salary benefits from similar institutions, and the installation of the Dept. of Ed. federally and state level has led to curriculum standards that have resulted in an almost illiterate culture in people under 30 years old (a published statistic last week stated only 10-12% of HS graduates have a working knowledge of history/government. Hence, the occupy wherever movement). This is reflected in some seminaries, sadly, and gradually into the culture of the church. In a culture with few standards, an entitlement mentality, historical and moral illiteracy, this puts a huge burden on churches to be light bearers. I used to think teachers and churches were the last best hope for children who are vulnerable. Schools have become enemy territory, so churches who raise a standard are left with the task of leadership. It would be a disaster to decrease the “depth” of the curriculum at Regent, with the God-ordained task of molding leaders. I want to be able to defend sacred texts with knowledge and understanding (as my great teachers in my music studies made me dig out the “why” of interpreting music in performance). I am in horror of the theological bent of some major denominations, and seminaries. I watch and listen to podcasts from all types of places, and see students and faculty stumble through messages sloppily written and delivered in sloppy attire. Not everywhere. There are places where the standards are high. This is the place I chose as the place with the highest standards. Please do NOT remove those parts of the curriculum that prepare us for leadership in this really dark age. That said – there are ways to prepare us. I have read through many excellent suggestions. While internships right now seem to be the option for “practical” experience, I would borrow one helpful thing through my experiences in a College of Education. Students there at different levels completed “Field Experiences” of a limited number of hours – usually 15-20. This would be extremely helpful. There are countless opportunities in the immediate area. I also urge the SOD to mandate some experience in counseling, financial management, team building, etc. for future pastors. I was a victim of spouse abuse, and when I reported to my church leadership, I was told to pray harder. It was a long journey for my children and me to climb out of that, and I felt rejected by God for a long time for taking action that my church said was sinful – leaving the abuser. Practical knowledge of even where to refer in many areas would be helpful. I also took the class “Global Perspectives in Ministry” 3 times at my home church – it was offered as CEE, or university credit, or for audit. That was a foundational and pivotal part of my journey here. I know it is offered online. I agree that modular weeks could include webinars or “inservice” programs in some of the practical areas. Last thought – i know it is not an area up for consideration, but I am puzzled about really low attendance at chapel, or at church. When I came for preview weekend, I was comforted by the thought of having a faculty mentor. I learned after a few weeks that this doesn’t happen until second year or so. I would really benefit from that as a first year student – someone who could talk me through what I really need to do to grow (i.e. chapel, leisure time, prayer before study, etc) as well as someone to talk to. Ministry never ceases to be lonely at times, but isolation is deadly. Isolation from a worshiping community during seminary is even worse. Since we all come from different backgrounds, preaching and worship styles, all the more important to come together and experience God together in new ways. The flesh is always going to pull us away from that. I have concern about that – we will never be able to lead people in ways we have not been willing to go, and attending church/chapel is a foundational principle we will be addressing for the rest of our lives as God’s servants.
    Thank you.

  40. Donald Tucker says:

    Part of the issue here is clarifying what the purpose of the MDiv is. To what extent does the degree serve the church (at large) and the church (local)? Is there is a larger purpose of informing practice, dogma, spiritual development and the like? If so, then “academic” skills may be needed to serve its larger purpose. If it is primarily or exclusively for serving the local church, then a more practical approach may be needed. For example: what about courses in financial management and budgeting, development of non-profits, and fund raising? It would be sad to have a pastor who is a great preacher but bankrupts the church or lacks organizational skill or ignores legal and regulatory requirements. But it would be equally sad if a pastor was a great fund raiser and the coffers were full, but the people were spiritually dead because the leader doesn’t know anything about spiritual formation. Seminaries seem to fall somewhere in the middle between these two purposes, but that begs the question as to whether the end result is broad enough and deep enough to serve either purpose well enough. Great discussion.

  41. James Coleman says:

    I appreciate being invited into a conversation that will affect the lives of many believers who are trying to take their faith to new levels of expression. I recognize the enormous difficulty in creating a curriculum and quite humbly suggest the following new classes be REQUIRED for all students pursuing an M. Div:

    LOVE
    After much reflection I think there should be specific classes on how to love, what love looks like, and how it manifests itself on a continual basis. If shared love is the primary means of evangelism, we’d better be able to talk about it intelligently as well as being master practitioners.

    INTERPERSONAL COMMUNICATION
    This should be a required course as Christianity is a relational religion. Recent findings on human communication should be attached to create practical tools on how to use conversation in love.

    DISCIPLESHIP
    It should be a requirement of every M. Div student to develop a discipleship course for new believers. It should directly address that fact that in many churches people “get saved” and in many cases are left out on their own. In my opinion a discipleship course must cover more than basic Christian doctrine, delving into lifestyle choices, thought strategies, and roadblocks to successful Christian living. If the church is called to make disciples, this seems to me very basic. It is my current passion, as I am spending a good majority of my free time working on projects such as these. Clearly advanced classes could cover discipleship for more seasoned believers.

    HEARING FROM GOD?
    If a person does not know how they have heard from God, they cannot actually know whether or not they are doing his will. This class should be a requirement covering hearing from God, working with others claiming to hear from God, handling contrary claims, defending that one has heard from God and treatment of all of the philosophical and epistemological problems of claiming that one has heard from God.

    PERSONAL THEOLOGY ON CHALLENGING CHRISTIAN TOPICS
    This class would cover topics like abortion, women in ministry, homosexuality, handling sin in the church, qualifications for leadership in the church, war, how we should spend our money, etc. It should involve conversation and thought experiments where ramifications of those positions can be experienced and get/offer immediate feedback on points of view. This could be the class where you discuss debt in the context of the education.

    MEMORY TRAINING
    As memory is a skill and vital to any academic effort, let alone our ability to act in the world, specific education on this would be very, very helpful.

    I myself and working on developing materials incorporating all of the above in my current ministry context.

    The following should be a required one day seminars:

    UNITY IN THE CHRISTIAN CHURCH
    This should be a required one day seminar. The lack of unity in Christian expression is a sign of what I believe is a serious problem for Christianity. With over 25,000 denominations in the US alone, we should start to make sense of this and work toward some sort of explanation…

    HANDLING THE PLURALITY OF RELIGIONS
    Our neighbors do not believe as we do. How do we handle this? What are the implications on how we live and interact economically, politically, relationally, etc.

    Regarding some existing courses, the following are my suggestions and requirements:

    On Languages
    Limit the requirement to one semester of Hebrew and one semester of Greek. Any classes beyond the two introductory courses should be optional.

    On Spiritual Formation
    These should be required. Spiritual formation III had great impact on me.

    On Doctrine/Systematic Theology
    One required class.

    On Preaching/Prep of biblical message classes
    One required class.

    On History of Christianity
    One required class

    Principles of Bible Study
    One required class

    Church and ministry
    One required class

    World Religions
    One required class. The interview with a clergy member of a different faith is INDISPENSABLE.

    Church administration
    One required class

    Biblical Interpretation
    One required class

    Internship
    Required. I actually extended mine over a period of a year and found it to be extremely helpful.

    In conclusion, all of the courses listed here in my opinion should be required. Electives should then be chosen with a particular ministry focus in mind. Advisers should work closely, indeed intimately, with the students to make sure the electives are wisely chosen.

    Blessings,

    James

  42. Beverly Wilson-Nwawuba says:

    Hello Dr. Vondey,

    I would like to see a Divinity program that includes institutional chaplaincy for student not going into the military. My desire is to be a hospital chaplain, but the only program offered at this time is geared toward military chaplaincy. When I looked at the requirements for an institutional chaplain it requires a MDiv if you want to first accepted into a residency program or to be considered for a paid position as chaplain. I would like to see a program geared toward the institutional chaplain as well as programs gear toward equipping students to work in NGO’s and other para-ministry positions in addition to the church ministry.

    Blessings,
    Beverly Wilson-Nwawuba