Where’s the Beef?

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.

  • Thanks for your explanation. I think the real test of any model comes ten years later. How are those MDiv graduates using their studies? How much Greek/Hebrew do they still remember and use? I think many seminaries still function under the illusion that if we teach it they will use it. While acknowledging that if you don’t teach it, they can’t use it we need to prepare people to continue using their knowledge for the next ten years in whatever circumstance they find themselves. It sounds like you are integrating the biblical knowledge into the courses and I would hope that this means in 10 years time they will still be using all they learned.

  • Benjamin Zimmerman

    Great response Dr. Schenck!

  • Jonathan

    Whoa whoa whoa…Are you telling me you’re going to do an integrative model!?! Why would you do that? Bible is for Sunday school, Theology is for the pulpit, history is for a once-a-year membership class – these things shouldn’t mix! It’s not like every current Christian Ed scholar is pushing seminaries this way…wait a second, I might be wrong on that :).

  • I have been thinking along the line of “every theology has to be practical” and “every biblical exegesis is in its essence theological” and “every theological construction” needs to engage with biblical theology” and “every reading is contextualized”, which also imply an integrated approach. So glad to see this. While I read Ben’s blog, I agreed with his concern, but it did not help me to come out with a solution. Thanks for this.

  • kenschenck

    I know a comment is not the best place to put it, but the design team is currently finalizing Week 7 of the Missional Church course (“Becoming a Sticky Church”), so this is completely at random. Here is one of the assignments for that week:

    a. Read Dr. Bud Bence’s introduction to the social gospel issue below.

    b. Now do a little research on the Social Gospel of the late 1800s and early 1900s. Consult at least three sources from the following:
    • Class notes from a church history course you have taken in the past.
    • A resource on American Church History in relation to this topic. In particular, most of you will still have Mark Noll’s, A History of Christianity in the United States and Canada (Eerdmans, 1992).
    • Websites dealing with the topic of the social gospel. A key figure here was Walter Rauschenbusch, the leading figure of the Social Gospel movement.

    c. Of the seven anti-social gospel statements Dr. Bence listed, select the one with which you most agree and the one with which you least agree.

    In the Discussion Forum called Social Gospel, post 1) a paragraph sharing what you reviewed/learned from each of the resources you consulted on the 19th century social gospel movement, 2) a paragraph explaining what you agree with in the paragraph you most agree with and 3) a paragraph explaining what you disagree with in the paragraph you most disagree with. Post your responses by 11:50pm Tuesday night.

    d. Now comment on at least two of the posts of your fellow students before 11:59pm, Thursday night, affirming or critiquing their observations and inferences.

    Now you tell me, who is more likely to retain their study of the OT prophets and of Raushenbush’s social gospel: our students, who study these two in the context of enacting social justice in their local community or someone who took a course in Minor Prophets and a Church History course.

  • James


    Thanks for taking the time to post this and to cross post on Ben’s blog.

    Sounds like you’re the guy to address the big concern that I could see at first blush:

    Would a hiring group (be that congregation/pastoral search commitee/elder board, or whatever), be able to expect that someone with an MDiv under this program will have the same training as under other MDiv programs at evangelical schools?

    It looks like it might offer less in some areas (languages) and more in other areas. Is that a good assesment?

    I certainly get a sense that the right ends are in mind, but I worry that some undue confusion might come to play.

  • I’d be interested in seeing a syllabus for the Summer Biblical Language Institute.

    I agree that the true test of the curriculum would be 5 or 10 years down the line. It’s possible that a well-designed Hebrew course that develops sustainable skills could yield more long-term use and retention than a full Hebrew course series at a seminary where the student learns it and loses it quickly. It all depends on how the course is taught, what the content includes, and how the other courses in the curriculum build on and interact with that language course. Hence, why I would like to see a syllabus.

  • James

    Cross posted with Ken, so further response to the post just placed:

    This is clearly advantageous and applaudable. Just as so many of our congregants will struggle with integrating their faith into every aspect of their life, so we should strive to integrate all of our training into every aspect of our ministry (as appropriate, of course!).

  • kenschenck

    Thanks James… I’m not sure which James is posting, but we have two (neo) Anglicans starting in our seminary this Fall.

    Karyn, the summer institute idea is really preliminary, but here is a draft outline I’ve developed for a 15 day intensive course either starting this or next June. Then there would be a follow up July course for forms:

    1. The Alphabet and the Interlinear
    2. Greek Verbs and the Analytical
    3. Nuances of Greek Tenses
    4. Nuances of Greek Nouns
    5. Word Studies and Concordances
    6. Connecting Words and Prepositions
    7. Adding to Nouns
    8. Adding to Verbs
    9. Standing in for Nouns
    10. Participles Helping Verbs
    11. Participles Helping Nouns
    12. Questions, Commands, and Wishes
    13. Purpose, Result, and Cause
    14. Timing and Quotations
    15. Conditions and Peculiarities

    These would be taught in terms of meaning, using the cheats almost all pastors that use Greek end up using anyway. Forms would not be memorized. There would be a one hour daily Q and A time concurrently online and onsite using Adobe connect (so you could take this course from Zambia). Then a group activity time on Blackboard or onsite, and you would submit exercises daily through Blackboard.

  • Nathan Hendershott

    First, I found the tone of Dr. Witherington’s post a bit concerning. It also seems a bit lazy to write a post on a widely read blog, relying only on a one-page ad for information. As is clear in your reply above there is more than meets the eye when it comes to the new M.Div degree at IWU.

    I do have one question; and unfortunately, not having a subscription to Christianity Today myself, I am relying only on Dr. Witherington’s description of the ad: Why phrase an advertisement in such a way that it ‘appears’ that the new M.Div degree offers “only one” class in Bible, one in theology, and none in church history??? This, if true seems to me to be the wrong way to go about advertising an M.Div degree.

  • kenschenck

    I feel confident that he did a little more research than just looking at the ad. He would not know everything I posted above, of course. I want to make it very clear that I am thankful to him for bringing our new venture into such a discussion! He is an honorable man.

    I don’t have a copy of the ad at hand, and I don’t remember exactly what it said. Suffice it to say, after our Grand Opening on October 2, there will likely be another with more information.

  • I too found Witherington’s tone a bit over the top, Nathan. Maybe he’s had a rough day, I don’t know. He likes the provocative stuff though, which is why I was surprised he took aim at the provocative advertisement.

    With that said, I also agree that the wording of the ad (which I haven’t seen with my own eyes and am taking from Witherington’s post) is well deserving of critique. But calling the entire degree “dumb” was highly uncharitable and a bit premature. Why not wait to see what this thing ends up looking like?

    Perhaps Asbury is worried they are going to lose some major cash on Wesleyans going to their own seminary? I know Witherington wouldn’t be that concerned personally with such a shift in enrollment, but I’m sure the institution of Asbury as a whole is concerned.

  • kenschenck

    Karyn, my idea was to alternate years. Greek the first year, Hebrew the second in a similar format, then Greek, then Hebrew…

    If we get enough demand, we could of course do both every year and Aramaic to boot. Our program is designed around demand, which is why it is financially viable in the face of an economic crisis (not to mention the fact that we can use the existing infrastructure of the largest private university in the state of Indiana.

  • David deSilva

    Greetings, Ken.

    I haven’t looked into the design of your curriculum too deeply, but I do like the idea of programming exercises in biblical studies, theology, and church history into every praxis course — just as we strive also here at Ashland to bring spiritual formation and practical ministry issues into our core Bible and Theology courses. As I read your description above (yes, after reading Ben’s critique), I can’t help but wonder whether or not all of that integration in praxis courses would go a whole lot better if there were more of a foundation upon which to draw before those practical courses (yes, the standard series of core classes in OT, NT, church history, and (historical?) theology). It seems to me that if your 75-hour degree delivers as well as you believe, you could have seriously raised the bar for everyone by giving yourselves (and your students) the benefit of the extra foundational coursework. I can’t accept so quickly that you all just found a way to give more in less time, while other seminaries give less in more time. You’re doing some very interesting things in less time, and perhaps taking some curricular strides forward in what you’re doing that we can all learn from. But what was driving the hours down from 90-ish to 75? I would guess, looking from the outside, that the mandate was to come up with the best program you could for the fewest number of credit hours possible (i.e., market considerations in the driver’s seat) rather than just coming up with the best program you could in the more standard range of credit hours (i.e., academic/formational considerations in the driver’s seat, with market considerations in the back). I’m as ready to be set straight on this point as to have my suspicions confirmed. 🙂

    On another note, I am wondering what percentage of your classes are covered by your full-time faculty. A rumor that I’ve been hearing, which you could quell or at least quantify is that your courses are taught predominantly by adjuncts.

    Kind regards,