So You Want to Go to Seminary?

I receive a letter like this two or three times a month and thought it might be a good idea to jot down a brief response. First, the letter; then, the response.


Hello Scot,


My name is [Kip]. I’m a recent graduate of [America's Finest University]. I’ve been thinking a lot about going
to graduate school or seminary in the next couple of years and I’m
wondering where to start the search. I’ve heard interesting stuff about
Biblical Seminary, where I know you’ve been a visiting professor some.
I’ve also heard positive things about Mars Hill Graduate in Seattle and
Regent in Vancouver. I’d like to get your opinion on seminaries and
graduate schools and I’d like to ask it two different ways: one more
general and one more specific to myself.

1. If you were going to seminary/graduate school in the next two years what would be the top 5-7 schools you would consider.



2. I’ve really developed an interest in first century history. A lot of
this interest has been generated by reading stuff from N.T. Wright and
listening to guys like Rob Bell. 


3. I also have a
lot of interest in some of the central figures of the Emergent movement. …  I’d like to go
somewhere that will prepare and enable me to pursue a career as a
professor either in seminary or university program.

Here’s my response:

First, everyone interested in going to seminary needs to read Derek Cooper’s  So You’re Thinking about Going to Seminary: An Insider’s Guide.
This is the kind of book that draws this kind of response: (1) why didn’t someone write this book already? (2) I wish I had known this stuff before I went to seminary. (3) This book will save almost everyone weeks of worry and wondering. This books covers everything — balanced and fair and clear and organized and practical.

Second, the single-most important element that guides one’s choice of seminaries is knowing what you will do when you graduate. If you want to pastor in the Evangelical Covenant Church, the denomination that sponsors our university (where I teach) and our seminary, then you will want to go to that seminary. In other words, choose the denomination where you will serve.

If you want to be a professor and you know what you want to study, then your seminary/graduate school can be narrowed down to where you will be most prepared for what that specific field of study. We need to get more specific: PhD studies are narrow studies — one does Old Testament or New Testament or the Ancient Near East, and then within that one chooses a specific field or discipline — say Pentateuch or the 9th Century BC or Historical Jesus Studies or the Dead Sea Scrolls or Hebrews.

Third, the reality is that the majority who are in your shoes are still discerning but are prompted to move forward into seminary studies. This means that you will need to explore your options while in seminary and you may lose a little time in the exploration phase but it is what most do.

Fourth, be open to new leadings. There is no reason to lock in and lock down and not reconsider your options. Some come to seminary to become pastors or missionaries and sense they are gifted for professor-ing. Others come to seminary thinking of becoming professors and find themselves pastoring and loving it.

Now, brother, I’d rather not list my favorite seminaries but you are right that I have a special relationship with Biblical Seminary in Hatsfield, PA — I really like what they are doing with a missional focus. I’ll return back to the big point I’d like to make: To decide which seminary to attend it is wisest to begin with what you want to do when you are done.

I’m game to hear the advice of others.

Blessings,

Scot

About Scot McKnight

Scot McKnight is a recognized authority on the New Testament, early Christianity, and the historical Jesus. McKnight, author of more than forty books, is the Professor of New Testament at Northern Seminary in Lombard, IL.

  • http://www.mytrueself.typepad.com Jennifer

    I’m a student at Mars Hill Graduate School, and it is the most difficult, and more wonderful place I have ever been. I suppose the academics are the same as what anyone else is doing, but the kind of personal formaiton (deconstruction and reconstruction) that happens seems to be rare. I never imagined that seminary could be so life-giving on a personal level – although what they ask in order to get there is very hard.
    Sorry to sound like a commercial, but I love my school :-)

  • http://manofdepravity.com Tyler (Man of Depravity)

    I’m at Multnomah Biblical Seminary in Portland.
    I thought what you had to say was well put Scot. I think the choice of a seminary is understated because it will influence your theology and so many other core beliefs. This isn’t to say that it determines those things but it will certainly influence them. If I could choose all over again (not sure I would choose different) I would have researched theological stances of seminaries.

  • http://www.theophiliacs.com Tony Hunt

    I am just beginning the local discernment process for my possible ordination. I am Episcopalian but I used to be more free church Pentecostal. One of the most challenging but rewarding things for me in this process is that it is discerned by my local congregation first, then my diocese, all before I ever (am supposed) to step foot in a seminary. It makes it all bigger than “MY” call or “MY” ministry. So bring some others alongside to discern with you.

  • Matthew

    I would only humbly add that “What to expect in Seminary” by Cetuk is a good complimentary volume to Derek Cooper’s book and deals more with spiritual formation and what to expect in terms of the spiritual journey of seminary. This is especially helpful if you are coming from another degree or career field and are thinking only about classes and subjects you’ll take.

  • Norton

    Shameless plug: I went to Denver Seminary and loved it. Here are several reasons why: Denver, Colorado (!), diversity of theological persuasion, solid biblical studies dept., focus on praxis (the counseling school there helps this), engagement of cultural trends and postmodernism, strong mentoring program, and did I say Denver, Colorado? :)

  • RJS

    If you want to be a professor (in any field):
    (1) Be prepared to work and study hard – you are developing expertise and understanding not acquiring information and passing courses.
    (2) Make connections, become a known quantity.
    (3) Get your Ph.D. from the best school you can get into and work with the best people you can. If your discipline requires a Masters, get this from a school that will help you get into the best Ph.D. program you can.
    (4) Make your self sufficiently flexible to teach and research in a relatively broad area (improves your chances of matching with a position).
    (5) Learn to write – practice constantly. No matter what discipline writing well is indispensable. You will be judged on your ability to write.

  • http://www.missio-dei.com Mark Van Steenwyk

    I know this doesn’t exactly answer the question…but I wonder if seminaries haven’t become overrated. When it comes to ministry, I’m finding seminaries to be increasingly irrelevant. Even schools like Biblical and Fuller have strong limitations. Seminaries and grad schools are still essential for those wanting to be professors…but isn’t it fair to point out the disproportionate ratio of grad students to available jobs? Especially in fields like early Christian History or New Testament studies.
    I’m not saying this as an anti-intellectual. I graduated from Bethel Seminary with every intention of continuing on with a PhD. I wanted to be an ethics professor or practical theologian. But I discerned that there were enough respectable theologians but too few people doing theology on the streets in a way that radically embodied the ethics that Hauerwas only talks about.

  • http://nijaygupta.wordpress.com Nijay K Gupta

    If you are not already affiliated with a denomination, or even if you are, I recommend going to a place that has professors who come from various backgrounds (denominationally). This variety helped me to appreciate the advantages of different groups and learn to respect and live with one another, agreeing in the majors and having charity and respectful disagreement in the minors. If you are interested, I recommend such places as Gordon-Conwell (my alma mater) or Regent College. Of course I hear good things about North Park… :)

  • http://www.andyrowell.net/ Andy Rowell

    I loved my MDiv at Regent College and am now doing my Th.D. at Duke Divinity School. I think there are many good schools out there. I would add to Scot’s advice:
    (1) Pay attention to what books you like (and don’t like) and where the authors teach.
    (2) Visit some schools and see what chapel is like and what the students are like.
    See my post:
    Seminaries for Evangelicals
    http://www.andyrowell.net/andy_rowell/2006/03/seminaries_for_.html
    See also my post:
    What are the largest seminaries in North America?
    http://www.andyrowell.net/andy_rowell/2006/07/largest_seminar.html
    For a perspective similar to Scot’s (and in Scot’s blogroll to the right) see Regent College professor John Stackhouse’s posts (and the comments):
    Seminary: Who Needs It?
    March 8, 2007
    http://stackblog.wordpress.com/2007/03/08/seminary-who-needs-it/
    Thinking about a Ph.D.?
    July 4, 2008
    http://stackblog.wordpress.com/thinking-about-a-phd/
    Ph.D. Applicants: Don’t Apply Unless You Mean It
    October 11, 2008
    http://stackblog.wordpress.com/2008/10/11/phd-applicants-dont-apply-unless-you-mean-it/
    Qualifications for Teaching at a Small Christian College
    November 22, 2008
    http://stackblog.wordpress.com/2008/11/22/qualifications-for-teaching-at-a-small-christian-college/

  • RJS

    Mark (#7),
    I don’t think seminary is irrelevant to ministry at all. In fact, I think the “book learning” is essential and becoming more so for many kinds of ministry.
    In an increasingly educated society many in ministry will need to know enough to be a believable witness. Now “believability” requires practice which matches faith, and it also requires an intellectual credibility.
    Having letters after ones name does not confer credibility – but study and knowledge do, whether from self-study or formal classroom study. Most are not sufficiently disciplined, savvy, or self-directed to develop this expertise independently.

  • http://julieclawson.com Julie Clawson

    Okay so I’m commenting as a current seminary spouse at the moment. The weirdest thing about seminary we have found is how basic it is – granted Mike is still in gen eds, but its all about memorizing dates and names (a very basic review for those that know history already) and not deep engagement with the theology. Austin Seminary is a good school, but I get to hear his daily frustrations with the format. But it was chosen to help give him a broader (mainline) theological perspective since his undergrad and masters is from an evangelical school.

  • http://www.tgdarkly.com/blog dopderbeck

    I am a Biblical Seminary (Hatfield PA) student. Well, sort of. In my day job, I’m already an academic (a law professor). But I love theology and I’ve long felt a pull towards more formal theological training. So Lord willing I’m going to be taking some courses at Biblical, both online and hopefully some on campus. Whether I end up getting a Certificate in Missional Theology, or a Masters, or just take a few courses, I don’t know. For what it’s worth, here was my thought process in choosing where to take classes:
    1. Accessibility. I needed a place where I could take some courses online and where I could get to campus if need be.
    2. Relationships. For my particular needs and journey, I feel that I need a place where I can develop relationships with my fellow students and teachers. I felt comfortable with some of the folks I met at Biblical. Hopefully that will develop well.
    3. Theological fit and focus. I like what Biblical is doing with missional theology. I spoke and corresponded with some of the folks there and felt that the faculty would challenge me within a framework that I already feel is good and appropriate. In other words, it seems neither too “conservative” nor too “liberal” for me.
    I also looked closely at Fuller (which has some very cool online programs) and Regent in Vancouver — and who knows, maybe I’ll get to take some classes at those places some day as well.
    On the desire to be a professor: I’d echo what RJS said, and I’d also add this: in any field, it’s incredibly hard to land an academic job. If that’s your interest, and you have the gifting for writing, publishing, and public speaking, by all means go for it — but realize that the path to academic careers is often long and winding, and many people end up finding ways to pursue academic gifts and interests without becoming tenure-track faculty. In other words, be patient, open, and flexible to the doors God opens and closes.

  • Scot McKnight

    Mark,
    You will find many, including yours truly, who will sympathize with the problems in seminary education. For me, I’d like to see a greater emphasis on formation.
    Having said that, there is an unquestioned need for pastors and leaders in the church to be theologically educated and articulate — and capable of stating their views both in creative, fresh ways as well as with quick dispatch.
    More today need the extra year and not less time — yes, it’s expensive. But why do we want our doctors to have a complete and reliable education and think that pastors and leaders can get by with less?

  • Scot McKnight

    One more comment: I’ve met few pastors without a seminary degree who don’t admit they wish they had gotten a seminary degree.

  • Luke

    Something I would look at is if they were up-to-date with the latest scholarship. Some seminaries, particularly evangelical ones, are still stuck in the 1970s only utilizing a strict historical-grammatical exegesis. I would make sure they emphasized things like narrative/literary criticism, social-science criticism, intertextuality, etc. Also, evangelical schools are generally very strong on languages and grammar, but very weak on backgrounds. For instance, I’m in a ThM program (120 credit hours) and we only have 1 credit hour of required background courses! That’s crazy if you ask me! So I would look to see if they have a holistic emphasis, where you’re not just getting Greek and Hebrew and systematic theology, but you’re also getting backgrounds and missiology.
    Bottom line: the professors make your seminary experience. Make sure they have good professors. Also, pick a good degree where your time won’t be wasted. I feel like 40% of the classes I take are superfluous and a waste of time, but unfortunately my school doesn’t have a MA program that suits my needs. Because of that, I’m left paying a bunch of money for some really crappy courses that are a waste of time. I guess that’s a common thing at evangelical seminaries: it’s tough to change things. Conservatives don’t like change, and it takes them a while to incorporate new things into their curriculums.
    The main schools I would look at if I were doing it all over again:
    1)Fuller Seminary
    2)Denver Seminary
    3)Wheaton
    4)Dallas Theological Seminary
    5)Asbury Seminary
    Fuller & Wheaton would probably be my number 1 choices, but they are extremely expensive. They are solid on all departments, especially their OT, NT, and intercultural studies (their intercultural studies is second to none). They’re non-denominational, which is good, but b/c of this some consider them “liberals”, which is ridiculous (except Wheaton, they’re not really considered liberals). I’m at DTS right now, which is great, it’s just geared more for pastors and they don’t have much for academics. They have some missional emphases but not as much as they should. Some scholars are up-to-date and incorporate various kinds of criticisms in their exegetical processes but not as many as should. It all depends on what you’re looking for

  • Rebeccat

    I kind of have to second Mark’s questioning of seminary. (Hear me out!) First of all, I think that one of the problems which is endemic in the church, particularly evangelical churches, is immaturity. I think that in good part this traces back to having so many young, inexperienced (in the ways of the world and life) people going straight into seminary from college, getting a job working in a church and then spending the rest of their ministry resisting the urge to go into difficult spiritual places for fear of losing their livelihood. Which is of course, not to say that being young necessarily means being naive and immature. And I doubt that many pastors conciously avoid going into hard places – I think they see it as remaining faithful. But that said, I think that we’d do much better to have pastorates dominated by people who have had time to be seasoned up before tying their spiritual formation and their livelihood together. I would go so far as to say that because this is not the norm, many (most?) churches are places where the spiritually mature are seen as threatening and unwelcomed, but the spiritually immature can go and feel comfortable living out their days in comfortable immaturity.
    Tying in with this issue is the practical reality that seminary, as it is currently/normally structured, is a real roadblock to the older Christian who feels a call to ministry. Even programs designed for working adults require many tens of thousands of dollars, endless hours away from either work or family and may be geographically inaccessible. I am quite certain that there are many Christians who have been around the block and are well suited and perhaps even called to ministry who simply cannot jump through the hoop of seminary.
    Now, none of this is to say that “book larnin’” isn’t vital to pastoring well. However, I think the church as a whole would really benefit from creating a variety of routes into ministry along with seminary. In particular, I think that the church is in dire, desperate need of finding good ways to bring mature Christians into leadership positions which the current seminary model does more to hinder than to help.

  • Jason

    Great!
    I’d add: to decide which seminary to attend it is wisest to BEGIN DOING N-O-W WHAT YOU WANT TO DO WHEN YOU ARE DONE!
    Obviously as best as you can. Seminary is not the place to discover your calling, its A place to develop that calling and to deepen it. I challenge those that want to go to seminary to take a year to experience the area of ministry they want to invest their life into before they go. Again, as best you can.

  • Rebeccat

    Scot: “it’s expensive. But why do we want our doctors to have a complete and reliable education and think that pastors and leaders can get by with less?”
    If only we paid our pastors like we do doctors!
    Scot:”I’ve met few pastors without a seminary degree who don’t admit they wish they had gotten a seminary degree.”
    Yes, and I’ve met few Chevy owners who don’t wish they had a Mercedes Benz in the garage instead. But the Chevy gets them to work in the morning nonetheless. :)

  • Scot McKnight

    Rebeccat,
    Good ones … fun ones. Now back atcha:
    I suppose pastors don’t want to carry the burden of malpractice insurance.
    If you’d like to drive a Chevy instead of Benz then go for it!
    Now for a serious response …
    I taught seminary for more than a decade; the average student at matriculation (not graduation) was 32 … which means most had already had a decade of non-clerical work in the business world. I don’t know of any seminary that has a majority of students fresh from college.
    And it seems to me that the seminaries are doing everything they can to make education possible for the person with a family. Many now have block scheduling and night classes and cohorts … I could go on.

  • Your Name

    As a Fuller seminary graduate who has learned to appreciate this experience as time has moved on,I would say the kind of student body and the qualityof professors is very important. The practical ministry focus at Fuller’s M.DIV program was not strong,but the quality of the teaching was very high. All the professors expose you to mainline methodologies in biblical and theological studies, in an evangelical context. And the diversity of the student body,both international and US (and denominationally!),was a real blessing to me in terms of theological reflection. I had classed where I had students who were graduates of Harvard Law and Medical School and those with deep experience of ministry who didn’t have college degrees,Koreans, Africans, Europenas to those fresh out of college. The ferment from this mix was the icing on the cake for my seminary experience. Diversity is very enriching and crucial to one’s seminary experince!

  • Rebeccat

    I dunno, Scot. The 30 somethings around me are rarely paragons of maturity. I recently looked into spiritual direction and no one I saw would even consider someone for training until they are 35. One training center set the bar at 40. (they all consider people younger on a case-by-case basis, but their basic model is that, like being president, the work requires someone older.) I would also be interested to know how many seminary students have worked outside of church and ministry settings. Most of the people I know who went into seminary had spent their 20s doing missions or youth ministry. OTOH, the best pastor I have know went to seminary after teaching high school for 20 years. He was able to do it because his wife worked full time and the denomination paid for his schooling and provided a stipend. Then again, I also know a shocking number of people with MDiv’s who are not working in any sort of ministry.
    And while I do know that seminaries are working to get people with families in, the fact remains that you are requiring people to invest many tens of thousands of dollars, often in the form of debt, to go into a career that doesn’t pay well. When, ultimately, the job is one which is directed to a lead by the Lord, requiring this level of financial output just to get started is a bit unseemly to me.
    I don’t think there’s anything wrong with seminary. But it does seem a bit like requiring people who want to drive to get a Mercedes Benz when many people can do quite well with a solid Chevy. I just really think we need to be thinking seriously about other ways to train people for ministry outside of seminaries.

  • Rebeccat

    “the job is one which is directed to a lead by the Lord”
    Sorry – that should be “the job is one which is directed to AND lead by the Lord”

  • SNC

    I would agree with Mark. There are enough arm chair theologians and not enough living embodiments of the gospel. I’m leading a mission-shaped community in my city and do not have either a bible college nor a seminary degree. I have take many seminary level courses but always as I needed to grow in those areas. I have found that through my own reading and through intentional mentorship with likeminded practitioners that I have gained enough understanding to lead. I would love to see a movement away from ivory towers into local learning collaboratives, where people aren’t crippled by debt and removed from their contexts in order to lead mission-shaped communities. The need for thinking and discernment has never been higher, but the need for seminaries to provide that is becoming more and more irrelevant in my opinion.

  • http://www.mytrueself.typepad.com Jennifer

    Rebeccat,
    One of the reasons I love my seminary (Mars Hill Grad School) is the way in which I (and my peers) have been forced to deal with our immaturities, our defenses, our broken ways of approaching other people. I think Mars Hill might be unique in the way they approach this stuff (its very intense) but I find it hard to imagine that other schools are not hitting on these issues in some way.
    I hear your argument about not needing a Mercedes when a Chevy will do…but for me, and alot of of my friends at school, seminary isn’t an indulgence (although it is a great privilege). I know that I am there because I need the formation. It’s much more than just getting a piece of paper at graduation. And its much more than just learning a skill set so I can function well in a job.
    I have a family, and we make a lot of sacrifices for me to go and do this…but for the sake of my heart, there is nothing else I can do.

  • RJS

    SNC (#23),
    You are right there are not enough “living embodiments of the gospel” – but this is the aim, the goal for each and every Christian. Not just Christian leaders, pastors, and teachers.
    It is non-negotiable that pastors should be striving to be “living embodiments of the gospel.” Otherwise the problem isn’t knowledge, it is spiritual formation and maturity. But leadership and teaching, especially today, require more than this alone.
    In many levels of our society the knowledge is necessary. You must know what you teach, at a much much higher level than the average lay Christian. It doesn’t necessarily require a degree – but it does require much study.

  • Rebeccat

    RJS, “It doesn’t necessarily require a degree – but it does require much study.”
    I 100% agree with this. A person who hasn’t devoted themselves to BOTH spiritual formation and study should not be allowed to minister. My concern is that, someplace like Mars Hill notwithstanding, a degree can affirm the study, but not necessarily the spiritual formation. And a lack of a degree does not necessarily indicate a lack of study. So we have too many people who have a degree and no spiritual depth and too many equipped people with no degree who are excluded from ministry. The system can work, but I just don’t think it is wise to allow it to be THE way we go about training and empowering leaders.

  • Taylor

    If you want a reformed experience look into Covenant Theological Seminary in St. Louis. It has excellent professors and doesn’t have the brash attitude that some wings of the Calvinist camps are known for. Be prepared to study on Friday nights too.

  • Your Name

    Folks, don’t forget that seminary isn’t just for pastors and missionaries any more. Many go for the counseling education because they want a rich biblical anthropology along with good counseling skills.

  • Brian

    This is slightly off topic, but I would advise anyone entering seminary not to do so without having a plan B in mind. A sizable percentage of students who enter seminary do not end up where they thought they would after graduation, especially in the long term. This is true to some extent of all academic institutions, but the nature of such situations is a little different in the case of seminary students who intended to work in a church.

  • http://www.samandress.blogspot.com Sam Andress

    As a graduate of Fuller Theological Seminary, I urge you to look closely at Fuller. The biblical studies and theology/ethics faculty is second to none in scholarship (e.g. publishing and lectures) as seminary faculties go and you will find yourself immersed in a robust evangelicalism that goes beyond the shallowness of doctrinal arguments to theological thinking. Fuller also has a deeply missiological bent to it even in the school of theology.

  • mark begemann

    hmmm… i have no desire for a seminary-type career (i.e. pastor, missionary, biblical counselor, etc.) as i feel led to other career areas. i have no denominational alliances and have always felt that a denominational school would hinder the breadth of learning. i just want more knowledge of God in a structured program led by great professors so i can use that knowledge to embody the Gospel.

  • http://www.theophiliacs.com Tony Hunt

    I must decry the “you don’t need seminary” kind of language. Having come from a denomination which did not value (as a broad attitude, there are of course many educated clergy and professors in the fellowship) a thorough religious education, and our theology and Bible reading suffered in a very tangible way.
    Mark #7 – I wonder if perhaps you would have ever heard of Hauerwas had you not gone to seminary. Even if you had I wonder if you would have comprehended him without a theological education.
    SNC #23 – You make very good points about being removed from context and given great debt. Both are issues that should be a significant part of future Christian educational endeavors. Still if you are leading a missional group, surely if you want to “reach-out” to the world around you you must have the tools to do so. In this educated society of ours you will have to be able to converse with influences from science, anthropology, pluralism. Your bible reading must be done in light of our church fathers (and mothers) past and present. You need to understand hermeneutics and the social worlds of our two testaments. These are not things which someone does not just easily pick up. So while reform may become desireable, the religious education need has never been higher.
    Rebeccat – Perhaps the strains that religious education put on some families might imply that we need for our pastors and leaders to consider celibacy for longer periods of time (or for life) in order to meet the needs of the community.
    Even if one wants to study hard for themselves they need the tools to know that they are studying correctly and aptly.
    Scot – As far as formation and education together, do you think that smaller seminaries that more resemble monastic communities, who worship with a daily office or something might combine the two? Even still, the teachers in these smaller institutions will need an education from another larger place. And so I am with you we need both. Perhaps larger schools could do seminary plants?

  • Tony Hunt

    Am I the only one who looks back on their wordings and thinks that they sound like an idiot? Blogs…sigh

  • Scot McKnight

    Tony,
    Yes, I do think the smaller seminaries can do formation and intellectual development the best. Probably those that are solely shaped toward formation do the best.

  • http://www.mysticallimpet.blogspot.com Travis Greene

    Scot @ 19,
    Duke Div has a pretty young student body. I think the average age is mid-20′s, with a large portion directly or recently out of college.
    Not saying it invalidates your point, but as a counter-example…

  • http://timmhallman.blogspot.com Tim Hallman

    My criteria for choosing a seminary:
    1) it had to be within reasonable driving distance from where I was currently living in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
    2) it had to be one of the best seminaries in evangelicalism (and on my denomination’s approved list – which, fortunately, is broad).
    3) it had to have strong language programs
    4) it had to have a strong, rigorous academic reputation.
    I ended up choosing Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; it was only a four hour drive once a week every week for many semesters. As a senior pastor, many of my comrades in the denomination and city had also attended the same school, so the school came with high, personal, recommendations. Professionally, I already knew alot about the Bible and about practical ministry stuff, but I wanted to know the Bible better, I wanted to be challenged to think more theologically as well as more critically. I wanted to have better mental tools to sort and sift the ideas floating around in the Christian world and the the world in general.
    It took me five years to finish my M.Div from TEDS; I had some credits transfer in from a prior masters program, and I was senior pastor full time of a congregation here in town. And we had several children in those five years. And other stuff happened. But I’m really, really, really glad I was able to pastor full time while I went to school, it really helped with praxis.
    As has been already stated: know why you want to go and what you want to do when you’re done with school, what you want to get out of it, and be pleasantly surprised by what else you learn and experience along the way.

  • chad

    RJS (Comment #6) “Get your Ph.D. from the best school you can get into and work with the best people you can. If your discipline requires a Masters, get this from a school that will help you get into the best Ph.D. program you can.”
    “Best” seems complicated.
    What would be your criteria for “best?”
    Endowment? (helps if the school can help you fund the PhD)
    Academic reputation? (whose measuring stick will you use? – reputation depends on the vantage point)
    Strength of program? (seems reasonable, but again, it likely gets subjective quickly)
    I took similar advice (get into the “best” program) from my profs at Duke Divinity and ended up in Princeton Seminary’s PhD program. I quickly realized how subjective “best” can be.
    Any thoughts??

  • http://erika.haub.net Erika Haub

    As a Fuller grad, I echo the comment above regarding student body. The diversity at Fuller (ethnic, cultural, theological, programmatic), was invaluable!
    Scot, I did want to serve in the Evangelical Covenant Church (and am!), however for me it was incredibly valuable to go outside the very small world of our particular denomination (not meant as an insult–not remotely!–I love the Covenant!) and engage my theological studies in a more diverse community. Fuller was an excellent fit for me: I would not have done it any other way!
    Now, it came at a cost! Staying in the denominational family often insures a no to low-cost degree, and Fuller is extremely expensive. I lucked out with one of their very few scholarships, but putting my husband through these past years has helped me realize how costly it is to pursue high level theological education without entering significant debt, OR compromising ministry hopes and dreams.

  • RJS

    chad,
    “Best” is subjective, although it is usually possible to determine the top few programs in any discipline (3 to 20 programs depending on the size of the discipline).
    One of the best measures is student placement. If you want to be a professor look at the number of students from a program who now have academic position. These are the schools and programs that will help your application get serious consideration. If many others have been successful from the program, you have a good chance as well.
    We are searching for one or two assistant professor positions this year (in a science department) and have 190 applications. We will interview 8 to 10 people.
    dopderbeck hit it in #12 – it is hard to land an academic job.

  • Scot McKnight

    RJS and Dopderbeck,
    Our last two positions have attracted 250 applications — total.

  • Jeremy

    This is why I go to Mars Hill Graduate School.
    http://vimeo.com/1674183
    http://vimeo.com/1403142

  • http://www.goingtoseminary.com/ Ryan Burns

    Scott, thanks for this post and your insight. I think your make a good point of first knowing “why” you want to go to seminary, as this will help you narrow down the list. That said, I’m not entirely sure I agree with pastors staying within the denominational family. Now, sure, a lot of times that make sense. However, a lot can be said about going to a seminary that might be more of a denominational cousin. If you want to be a denominational pastor, a good first step is to see what is required to be considered for the job. If your denomination requires you attend a speciffic seminary, then case closed. If not, then be open to spreading your wings a little bit (just my 2 cents). Also, for those who would like some further online discussion regarding going to seminary, I wanted to invite you to visit us atgoingtoseminary.com. Again, thanks for the post Scott.

  • Scot McKnight

    Ryan,
    I like your point and I would stand with you in spreading one’s wings … if the local seminary/denomination permits such, and you probably know that many don’t.
    It is important for future pastors to ask denominational leaders about expectations.

  • Your Name

    To put the choice of a seminary into biblical context, I suggest Philippians 1:9-10a: “I pray that you will keep on growing more and more in love, together with true knowledge and genuine sensitivity, so that you will be able to choose what is best.” A lot of people today say what is best is subjective, but I don’t think Paul would agree, nor would a reader of the Old Testament. “Teaching” (didaskalia) meant something different for the biblical reader than it did for the Greeks (TDNT!). What is best according to the Bible is what agrees with what the Old Testament Law says–as interpreted by Jesus. Though I know it goes against our subjective postmodernist worldview, there are some seminaries that rank at the very top. I wrote an article for Christianity Today years ago in which I suggested that the best seminaries were Trinity, Fuller, Westminster, Gordon-Conwell, and Asbury. I think a case can be made that these five are still the best seminaries.


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