Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Seminary: Is it really an education?

I recently mentioned that in the fall I will be returning to seminary.  When such a pronouncement is made, I am usually met with a multitude of questions.  There is always the, why (which I will address in a subsequent post).  Others to whom I speak want to know, “What’s required for that,” since few of my friends or family are familiar with theological education on a graduate level.  And to be fair, I certainly had no idea about this particular field of study, nor the requirements thereof, before I entered seminary.  But after I began my graduate career, I attempted to explain the requirements by remarking that it’s like going for a doctorate, but not actually getting the title.  At which point I am generally met with incredulous smirks and comments about my affinity for hyperbole.   

I readily admit my weakness in the area of hyperbole.  Readily.  However, I don’t want to be misleading about the rigorous requirements of the program to which I am dedicating a great deal of time, effort, and (let’s be frank) money.  I decided to engage in a cursory inventory of graduate programs in which I would be interested, were I not head-over-heels in love with my education, and formation, at seminary. 

In the interest of reality, I looked at the two state universities nearest me to conduct this research, as I am not going to uproot my family for my graduate education.  They are: Colorado University, 30 minutes from my home; and Colorado State University, 90 minutes from my house.[1]    Naturally, the courses and degrees available at seminary do not have identical programs at these state schools.  Thus, I have chosen three, secular, academic tracks in which I would be interested as basis for comparison:

  • Master of Fine Arts | PhD in English
  • Master of Arts | PhD in Philosophy
  • Juris Doctor, a “law degree”

 These will be compared the closest programs available at Denver Seminary:

  • Theology vis-à-vis English
  • Apologetics and Ethics vis-à-vis Philosophy
  • Master of Divinity
To facilitate ease of comparison, I have ordered the degrees from least credits required to greatest, giving pride of place to the secular programs; and provided conclusions at the end of this post.    


 Master of Arts, Philosophy

Colorado State University: 30 credits (3-9 credits of thesis)[2]

Colorado University: 30 credits (4-6 credits of thesis)[3]

Graduate Certificate, Biblical and Theological Studies

Denver Seminary: 30 credits[4]

Master of Fine Arts, English

Colorado University: 45 credits (9 credits of thesis)[5]

Colorado State University: 48 credits (12 credits of thesis)[6]

Master of Arts, Theology | Apologetics and Ethics

Denver Seminary, Theology: 62 credits[7]

Denver Seminary, Apologetics and Ethics: 62 credits[8]

PhD, English

Colorado University: “The PhD program is a five year curriculum that comprises a language requirement and three basic components: coursework, a comprehensive exam, and a dissertation.”[9]

PhD, Philosophy

Colorado University: 85 credits with Diagnostic Paper, Qualifying Paper, Oral Exam, & Dissertation[10]

Juris Doctor  

Colorado University: 89 credits[11]

Master of Divinity

Denver Seminary: 97 credits

  • 2 foreign languages with qualifying exam scores of 70% or higher
  • 3 credits of mentored ministry experience
  • Oral Exams[12]

Based on the hour of research I conducted, which consisted mostly of locating the school and then departmental website multiple times because I kept forgetting to reference it, I am able to draw the following conclusions:

  • If I complete my theological education with a “Graduate Certificate” from Denver Seminary, I will have no letters behind my name.  Yet, I will have completed graduate-level academic requirements that at two other schools would earn a Master of Arts degree in Philosophy.  That is a challenge to quantify for friends and family, let alone potential employers.
  • There is a 14 - 17 credit difference between a Master of Fine Arts in English and a Master of Arts in Theology or Apologetics and Ethics.  At the graduate level, one is considered a full-time student when taking 9 credit hours per semester, making the difference between these degrees at least 1 year.
  • Similarly, there is a 12 - 8 credit difference between a PhD in Philosophy/Juris Doctor and a Master of Divinity.  This range indicates ½ to 1 year difference, with the extended time spent in the master’s program, not the doctoral ones!

Therefore, seminary education represents a greater investment of time, and resources, than even other fine arts doctoral programs.  Yet after such effort, one is granted only Masters status in the eyes of friends, family, and employers …and encouraged to go for that PhD afterward.

So the next time I say, “it’s like getting a master’s or doctorate, but without the initials,” I will at least know that I’m not being hyperbolic – I am being completely honest!



For further articles on seminary education see the topic on Patheos here; one of my former profs weighed in (Dr. Buschart – I thoroughly enjoyed his course and found it extremely formative).        




[1]In this report, where one university is not listed this indicates that in my cursory search I could locate no information about that particular degree in the specific program.
[12]  4/10/14 at 08:59 MST ~ amended from Master of Divinity, emphasis in Christian Formation and Soul Care, to reflect a more general course of study.

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