I am an advocate for earning one’s seminary education from a distance. That is not to say that I dislike being “on location.” Honestly, I don’t think online education quite matches the experience of being in a class room with a professor and peers. Someday resources like Skype or Google Plus Hangout may bring the online classroom right into the physical one, but for now most forms of online learning consist of videos of recorded classes at best. Unfortunately, many have to make great sacrifices to go to a seminary campus. Often relocation is involved. Sometimes the “local” seminary lacks resources so the only option is to go somewhere else. For those who are active in ministry this may result in a Catch-22: leave your paid vocation to train for the same paid vocation without any assurance that the additional training will result in a pay raise although there is a guarantee that it may result in more debt. (If you haven’t thought about the debt let me recommend these post that I have written recently: “Seminary won’t solve all your doctrinal quagmires, but it may create some financial ones.” ; “Education for the sake of being educated.”; and “‘Too poor to take the vow of poverty,’ or, more on seminaries and student debt.”)
Amanda MacInnis was motivated by one of my recent posts on seminary education to re-post her thoughts on why going to a seminary campus is beneficial in “Benefits of Going To Seminary,” which I will summarize here:
(1) You will receive a new perspective on things.
(2) It can be a time of refreshing and healing.
(3) It can be a time of exploration.
(4) It can be a time to discover new gifts.
(5) It can be a time to network and develop new friends.
(6) It can be a time to focus.
You will need to read the post for MacInnis’ further commentary on each point. Let me say in response, “Yes, this is correct.” When I did my MA at Western Seminary near San Jose it was within driving distance of where I was living in San Francisco (and Napa for a while). I didn’t have to “go away” to seminary. When I moved to go to Western Seminary’s Portland campus for my ThM program I did move away. While in Portland I have developed new perspectives. I was able to do further, focused exploration. I think I have developed new gifts. I have been able to focus on my studies more here than while in California. Finally, I have developed a far stronger network and some wonderful friendships.
That said I moved to Portland from San Francisco because (1) I have had plans to do doctoral studies for a while and I knew I needed a second graduate degree to be prepared. (2) I had a job working with teens in a lock down facility for those with criminal or developmental challenges. I was burnt out by my job and my local church did not have enough room in their budget to offer me anything.
If in an alternative universe my local church–the San Francisco Lighthouse–would have had money to hire me I may not have left San Francisco. Technically, although the ThM is offered from the Portland campus only, it can be done without relocating. I relocated because I had nothing holding me back and I knew I would get more out of the program by being on campus.
If you have the option of doing seminary online, or via correspondence, with limited travel to campus, I would consider it if you are involved in ministry/education now.
In other news John Byron has written a post titled “Indebted for God? Seminarians and the Debt Trap” in which he addresses the student debt bubble from the perspective of a professor. He provides several points of advice that are worth considering if you are a seminarian or if you are considering seminary including avoiding accumulating a lot of debt as an undergraduate, avoiding credit cards, working while in seminary, and more.
In the same vein as my post on seminary and doctrinal quagmires (mentioned and linked above) Able Baker writes a post titled, “And it seems some people finished their tests in seminary,” where he challenges pastors to continue to think critically even after they leave seminary. He points out,
“All one needs to do is pick up a solid book on Christian history and one will clearly see that we the church are beautifully pluralistic in our faith and practice because we are figuring it out as we go. Every major doctrine we hold to as biblical usually has more than three solid ways of seeing it and they have all been arrived at through divinely ordained conversation or argumentation. I have had the all-to-naive assumption that Christian leaders, for the most part, believe that subjects like Atonement, Trinity, bibliology, etc. are all theories from our human end. I have learned the hard way that this is not the case… to many theologians, theory is the enemy of faith.”
He reminds readers that truth is truth and God knows the truth but that we are limited: “Our theology as evangelicals, both its application and interpretation are absolutely theoretical.” Then he encourages readers to continue to think critically in “Gospel soaked humility,” to continue to reevaluate what they believe, and to know it is OK to do so.