As some of my readers know, I have a Masters of Divinity (MDiv) degree from a well-known evangelical seminary. I also received an M.A. in Church History from the same seminary, which served as a springboard to my future graduate work in American history and an eventual job as a history professor.
When I arrived at seminary I figured out pretty quickly that I did not want become a minister. But I still decided to finish the MDiv degree. Though I knew I would not enter the ministry or even pursue ordination, I thought that broad training in theology, Biblical studies, moral philosophy and practical theology would help me to be a more thoughtful Christian in the church, the academy, and public life.
I thought about my decision to finish the MDiv degree after reading Martin Marty’s response to Libby Nelson’s recent Inside Higher Ed piece on the decline of seminary education in America. Marty believes that the way to revitalize theological seminaries and divinity schools is to “locate” them “in the public economy.” Here is a taste of his piece at Sightings:
Now to the attached source. If its author, Libby Nelson, writes about a “crisis in theological education,” even if it takes off from the story of one seminary, she wisely confers with and cites leaders, such as Stephen Graham, of the Association of Theological Schools. Together, they chronicle chiefly the fiscal dimensions of downturns and changes in the public ethos out of which the cohorts of seminarians traditionally have come. Name anything that hits higher and especially graduation or professional education in most fields, and you will find that it hits all this harder in theological and ministerial education.
We won’t repeat what is in the source. The single purpose here is to try to locate seminaries and graduate divinity schools in the public economy, whether this refers to notice, status, spirituality, politics, or more. Leaders, of course, are asking how to adapt and innovate. As online education increases at the expense of group-“formation” of leaders, as more and more second-career candidates turn to theological education even as the total number of aspirants to ministries decline, they are brain-storming, think-tanking, praying, planning, and hoping. They can point to many positive signs and to the need for ever-better educated and trained religious leaders, even as they have to ask whether the old model (often of denominationally-based) seminaries based on liberal-arts undergraduate training will meet the needs of ministries when science-and-religion, belief-and-unbelief, indifference and “difference,” spirituality and alternatives, are warring for allegiance and commitment among among citizens.