“Where should I go to seminary?” “And why?” As you may imagine, as Chancellor of RTS I get asked that question a lot. Usually, the person who is asking me that question is from a confessionally reformed denomination or background (about half of all RTS students are from such a background), and is trying to choose among the options available on the seminary market in our theological neck of the woods. So my answer assumes that as a starting point. Of course, we have a lot of students at RTS who do not come from a reformed tradition, but they love our high view of scripture, God and grace, and our friendly stance towards non-Reformed evangelicals.
Let me answer the question by pointing to five factors that you need to consider in your choice. These five things make a huge difference in the value of your seminary experience in preparing you for ministry. Faculty. Curriculum. Ethos. Church. Cost. There is more to be said than these five things, to be sure, but these are things every prospective seminarian should consider. You should go to the seminary with the best combination of faculty, curriculum, ethos, church opportunities, and affordability.
1. Faculty – Seminary is the interaction and relationship between you and the faculty (and your fellow students), so the quality of the faculty is of utmost importance. Who you study with, will have a belief, character and ministry forming influence on you. Seminary is much more than information transfer. Residential theological education allows you to form bonds of relationship in which you know and are known. Experienced pastor-scholars can speak into your life, because they have come to know you and you them. That cannot begin to be done merely virtually or digitally. That’s an area where RTS has unparalleled human resources. No seminary in the reformed world has more to offer than the faculty of RTS, in quality or quantity. They embody our theology, ethos and mission. They are what we commend. Take a look at the faculty of RTS. Mike Kruger, Kevin DeYoung, Sean Lucas, John Currid, Sinclair Ferguson, Carl Ellis, Derek Thomas, Scott Swain, Guy Waters, Chad Van Dixhoorn, Chuck Hill, Miles Van Pelt, Michael Allen, Scott Redd, Guy Richard, Mark McDowell and many, many more. 40+ top rank pastor-theologians (the largest reformed faculty in the world).
2. Curriculum – Not all seminary degrees are equal. Our MDiv and MA degrees contain significantly more content than most of our sister institutions do. We want RTS grads to learn more and know more. Many seminaries are cutting back on the biblical and theological content of degree curricula in order to make seminary more affordable. While affordability is a laudable thing, cutting back core content penalizes the student and the church. Pastors and church leaders need to know more, not less, to minister in our day and age. We are holding the line on high academic standards and we are not cutting corners on curriculum, instead, we are working to make seminary affordable in other ways. This is another area where RTS has a tremendous advantage. Take a look at RTS degree programs. The RTS MDiv has 106 credit hours. Compare that to many accredited seminaries where the MDiv has total credit hours in the low 70s, 80s, or 90s. RTS grads have a more valuable degree, because they’ve studied more, learned more and know more. That is hugely important in terms of both evangelism and discipleship in our time.
3. Ethos – The ethos, meaning “the characteristic spirit of a learning community as manifested in its beliefs and aspirations,” is hugely important in making your choice for seminary. At RTS, we want to prepare “winsomely Reformed” servants of the Lord. Some seminaries are winsome, but not reformed. Others are reformed, but not winsome. We want to be both. That’s why our motto is “A mind for Truth. A heart for God. A life for Ministry.” We want to model and commend embodied truth, love and mission. We want to graduate students who have theological backbone, tender hearts, and a bent to serve. This is another RTS advantage. Learn more about that here. This isn’t just a talking point for us. It’s part of our DNA. It’s something our founders aimed for fifty years ago, and that we still aspire to today.
4. Church – The perfect preparation for the church leaders that are needed for our time involves a combination of seminary and local church. So, you need to place a high priority on where you will be a church member, and where you will have opportunities to serve in a local church, when you are choosing a seminary. AT RTS, we believe that the best way to prepare the reformed ministry of the next generation is the rigorous and reverent education of our residential MDiv degree plus involvement and service in your local reformed congregation. This is another area where RTS has a great advantage. If you live in the eastern United States, anywhere from Houston to New York City, RTS is near you, and near hundreds of healthy local congregations. With campuses in Houston, Dallas, Jackson, Memphis, Atlanta, Orlando, Charlotte, Washington, and New York City, there are more opportunities for you to get involved in the life and ministry of a local church than if we were only located on one campus in one city. For instance, in Jackson, Mississippi alone, there are more than 40 paid church internships for RTS students in area partner congregations. Look at this brief video about the internships at RTS Jackson. When you multiply those opportunities system-wide, RTS students have hundreds of great preaching, teaching, service, ministerial training, and on the job learning opportunities in hundreds of churches.
5. Cost – Now, you have to be able to afford seminary if you are going to study. We understand. And at RTS we are doing everything we can to keep seminary affordable. In a sense, every student at RTS is scholarshipped, because even if you pay full tuition, you are paying less than 40% of what it costs us to provide that theological education. Furthermore, RTS’s tuition rate is lower than many of our sister institutions and we give more scholarships. RTS’s combination of academic excellence, affordability, financial aid is unrivaled. About 80% of our students are on scholarship. And about 90% graduate with no seminary-related debt. Overall, tuition is discounted by about 37% throughout the RTS system through scholarships. I don’t think you will find the equal of the combination of excellence and affordability provided at RTS. Pastors and prospective seminary students can learn about the incredibly generous financial aid provisions at Reformed Theological Seminary, here. Financial aid isn’t the most important thing in making your seminary decision, but it is often decisive in a person’s ability to attend. For instance, RUF interns, or a student who faithfully participated for at least two years in RUF, can qualify for a major scholarship by having their RUF campus minister complete a partnership recommendation form as part of your financial aid application. Tuition awards for Interns: 90% for the RTS MDiv & 67% for the RTS MA. Tuition awards for Student Leaders: 50% for MDiv & 25% for MA. Furthermore, current or former staff members of RYM, Campus Outreach, Cru, Young Life, Navigators, and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship who have served at least 2 years can qualify by having their campus ministry leader or supervisor complete a partnership recommendation form as part of your financial aid application. 50% tuition awards for MDiv students and 25% tuition awards for MA students. We have missionary partnerships too. Current missionaries on the field, those preparing to go to the field, or internationals working with MTW, Pioneers, and Wycliffe can qualify by having their supervisor complete a partnership recommendation form as part of your financial aid application. 50% tuition awards for MDiv students and 25% tuition awards for MA students. We also have a significant number of 100% Hughes Scholarships, and RTS spouses can also get 100% scholarships.