I have already mentioned in my first two posts (see “#1, doctrine” and “#2, faculty” ) that my colleagues at Western Seminary found through surveys of incoming students and prospective studentsthat the three most important factors considered when people choose a seminary are:
(3) Academic Reputation
After this post I will continue to discuss a variety of other areas to consider. As I’ve mentioned this will include things like pedagogy. I will discuss cost, location, and more. Today I want to talk about (3) academic reputation.
This one is hard to qualify because “academic reputation” can mean a variety of things. For example, one could argue that Princeton Theological Seminary, Duke Divinity School, Yale Divinity School, Fuller Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School and other institutions with excellent academic reputations should be on everyone’s short list of seminaries. This isn’t true. We may consider these schools to be the leaders in classic academia, but not all seminaries/divinity schools address the same topics equally.
Likewise, as I noted in (1) doctrine you may want to go to a seminary where (A) you affirm most of their core values allowing you to build upon shared beliefs with your colleagues or (B) you may want to go somewhere that intentionally challenges your traditions and affirmations. If you are a big-tent evangelical it may not be advantage to go to Fuller where many students will share your outlook, even if the academic reputation is great. Likewise, one must ask about the nature of a seminary’s academic reputation.
As I’ve addressed in other posts there is a major traffic jam ahead of those wanting to teach biblical studies. If you are deciding between a path through academia and a path through the pastorate you may not find a school with an academic reputation strong in both areas. Some may be better at sending students into doctoral programs while others may be producing thriving pastors who are avoiding burn-out, who show intimacy with Christ, who know how to shepherd people rather than manage them, who know how to teach them rather than lecture them, and so forth. So no, “academic reputation” is not univocal.
That said, traditionally, if you are thinking about academic reputation through the lens I suspect many of you are using, then yes, Yale, Harvard, Duke, Princeton, Fuller, Trinity, and schools like these are your best bet. They are top-notch. They have a ton of academically successful faculty. You have a better chance of advancing in academia with one of these schools giving you a degree (though this is never the only factor in establishing a career in academics). But make sure that this is what you want to do. Again, the school with the best academic reputation for sending students to doctoral programs in the study of Second Temple Judaism may not have the best academic reputation for preparing people to pastor a country parish with eighty members.