At the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society (ETS) in Denver, I was invited by Dr. David Dockery (currently the interim president of Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary) to speak on a panel about the future of Christian Higher Education and Theological Education. Dr. Dockery is one of the most widely and highly respected people in Christian Education today, and I am glad to count him as a friend.
He assembled a panel including Greg Baylor of the Alliance Defending Freedom (who gave a sobering but instructive analysis of where we are and what is coming in our culture), Dr. Don Sweeting, Chancellor of Colorado Christian University (and formerly President of Reformed Theological Seminary, Orlando), Dr. Felix Theonugraha, President of Western Theological Seminary, Dr. Melinda Stephens, Provost of Geneva College, and Dr. Nathan Finn, Provost of North Greenville University.
The Session was well-attended and well-received. It was recorded, so you should be able to access eventually. One of the questions I was asked was: “By any measure, we are seeing theological education become less of a requirement for ministry. The rise of church-based institutes for the training of pastors and other church leaders, the rise of on-line education courses, and the reduction in ordination requirements for denominations that require ordination as well as denominations that require no ordination or require no seminary training all point to a shrinking opportunity for theological seminaries. With so many churches not requiring accredited theological education, what is the future of the Master of Divinity degree?
In outline, here is how I answered:
1. Local church based training for pastors and church leaders can be a very, very good thing, but cannot provide what a seminary ought to [for instance, no local church could afford to employ an expert in the Old Testament, Ancient Near Eastern Studies and Biblical Languages — but to prepare students and future Christian ministry leaders to read the Old Testament well, they need to study with someone with that expertise].
2. Online education cannot compete with what a student receives from residential MDiv education. Reformed Theological Seminary was the very first accredited seminary approved to do online/distance learning, but all of our students prefer in person educational experiences.
3. The statistics provided by ATS show that institutions too quickly abandoned the MDiv, and reduced its requirements, to their own detriment and the detriment of their students.
4. The MDiv programs that survive in the future will have robust components of biblical, theological, historical, and pastoral theology. The MDiv reduction in credit hours is going to hurt us in the future.
In short, the content of a classic MDiv curriculum is more needed today than ever. You can learn about the RTS MDiv here: https://rts.edu/degree/mdiv/