I value Ben Witherington’s values in a recent post no doubt alluding to our new seminary at IWU. He raises legitimate concerns about a seminary curriculum that doesn’t look familiar to him. I can’t force anyone to agree with our perspective, but I can present it.
Here is a clarification piece to help translate our foreign-looking program. We are so used to traditional seminaries that all look the same and all do things the same way that it is hard to decipher something that looks quite different. So I depart from my normal pattern of posting on Mondays and offer this piece. For further details, I offer our descriptions of the program on YouTube, as well as my own commentary elsewhere.
The disciplines of Bible, theology, and church history appear in our curriculum far more than merely in one course each:
1. Somewhere between a third and a fourth of our curriculum is dedicated to Bible, theology, and Church history…
2. … but it is packaged differently. Yes, there are only three required, distinct courses (old educational paradigm)…
3. … but every week there is a dedicated assignment in Bible, theology, or Church history, created by a scholar in that area…
4. … and students do about 10 pages of exegetical work on passages relating to a pastoral issue from weeks 4-7 of every praxis course…
5. … and they do about 10 pages of historical theology work in relation to that issue from weeks 8-11 of every praxis course…
6. … and it culminates in an “Integration Paper” of about 10 pages turned in the 14th week, which is a “pastoral theology” paper.
7. In addition, students have to pass a basic Bible content competency exam in the first 20 hours of the degree.
8. You can take electives in Bible, theology, and Church history. Each professor (including Bible, theology, and church history professors) will be encouraged to try to sell an elective in their field to our students at least every other year to begin with, and then yearly as we accrue more and more students.
9. Perhaps as early as this June and July we may have a “Summer Biblical Language Institute” that teaches a) the categories of Greek or Hebrew for use in preaching and teaching (June) and b) follows up with the specific forms of the language for those who want to continue on (July). In itself, this is a highly innovative approach to teaching biblical languages.
10. Students can also take Greek and Hebrew onsite with undergraduate students. One student is taking Greek this way this year.
11. Finally, we hope to unroll soon a new kind of MA in Biblical Studies, theology, and Church history that allows a student to set out their own individualized 36 hour course of study, supervised one-on-one with a Bible, theology, or Church history professor (Oxbridge model).
It is my firm conviction that what God has helped us to design here is not less Bible, theology, or Church history in terms of what the vast majority of students will take away. What God has helped us to design is a more effective pedagogical approach to teaching the Bible, theology, or Church history.
Let me put it this way. Most seminaries aim at the ideal in these areas, and fail in relation to the majority of students. We have aimed at what will be most effective for the majority of students and will, Lord willing, succeed with the majority of students. At the same time, we are devising creative ways for the “traditional minority” of seminary students to get these other “theoretical depth” features.
So we do less and give more, while traditional seminaries do more and give less.