When this website started in 2008, one thing that we wanted to offer was a way for readers to ask questions. Too often, especially when it comes to education, we have specific questions that don't have readily available answers online. Our "Comments" section has provided a good outlet to ask these questions since the beginning. We have just started a Forum that will take the Q&A to a new level and encourage others to join in. Keep in mind this is in its infancy so any suggestions or comments you have about the forum setup would be appreciated.
Questions from the Readers: What is the purpose of the Th.M. degree? Do I need a Th.M. degree to begin Ph.D. work?
These two questions were sent in concerning the Th.M. degree. Greg Moore answers.
Q: I am looking into masters degree in theology and saw the Master of Theology (ThM) at several seminaries. They said that you had have a masters to get into the program. Why would someone do another masters after already completing one in the same field?
Q: I am planning to get a PhD in Biblical Studies and the seminary I am looking at wants me to do a ThM first. Is this normal? I already have a MDiv!
A: Theology is such a strange academic field sometimes. This really stems from the fact that for centuries one of the key purposes of a university was to train clergy. Because the field has existed so long in so many countries, both in Europe, the U.S., and elsewhere, we now have an odd mix of degrees that is particular to our field of study. One of these is the Master of Theology degree. While in Europe this degree is often similar in scope to a Master of Arts, in the United States it is a different thing altogether. Concerning the first question as to the purpose of the degree, it is for someone to have a concentrated study in a particular area. This study is usually a mix of masters and doctoral-level seminars with a thesis. The idea here is that it will prepare one for teaching in a particular area (which is not the goal of a typical M.Div. program) and better prepares one for a Ph.D. (which is also not the goal of a typical M.Div. program).
The next question is "Do I need it to start Ph.D. work?" Not usually. In just about any other academic field you would do a bachelor's degree, a master of arts degree (or equivalent), and then go into a Ph.D. program. Seminaries in the U.S. have been designed so that students get a liberal arts background somewhere else and then come there for theological training. This led to the 3 year Master of Divinity programs that are the standard now. The Master of Divinity is a practical degree, meaning that it isn't designed to be a research-based, academic degree. Now, though, many are looking to go from M.Div. into Th.D. or Ph.D. programs. Because of that, seminaries now offer the Th.M. degrees as sort of a preparation degree for the doctoral programs. Normally, you'd be able to get time off of your doctoral program if you have a Th.M., so that is one benefit. The other benefit is that it can be a good qualification for teaching on the undergraduate level and the thesis provides you with great research experience.
There's always a disclaimer for this kind of thing, so here is mine. Dallas Theological Seminary's Th.M. is not like the one above. It is a four year degree done after your undergraduate degree. It is basically a combination of the M.Div. and the type of Th.M. I just described. I'll also say that some seminaries really push their M.Div. program and as a result push everyone that is interested in a Ph.D. or Th.D. into a Th.M. program first. That is likely the situation the student that asked the second question is in.
This question was recently posed to us and Greg Moore answers it:
Q: I am fairly far along in my bachelors degree but have decided not to go into the field that I'm training for. I want to do a theological degree, but I'm currently majoring in business. If I switch to a theological degree I'll lose most of my credits and if I transfer it'll almost be like starting over. Should I just finish this degree or switch to what I think the Lord wants be to do?
A: Great question. In most cases, if you're past your sophomore year, you'd probably be better off finishing the degree and then going for a masters. A masters in a theological field will take you 1 1/2 to 2 years if you're doing a Master of Arts. However, not having a background in Bible or Theology, I'd recommend you do a Master of Divinity degree, which is 3 years of full-time study. Still, though, you'd come out better as you'd have a masters by the end of it and it wouldn't be such a morale drainer (starting at the beginning would be quite depressing I'm sure).
This would be true if it was the other way around too - if you were doing theology and wanted to go into business. In that case, you would finish your Bible or Theology degree and go into a Master of Business Administration degree (a longer-than-average professional degree like the M.Div.). I've known plenty that have done both. I'd also say that many pastors I've spoken with realize that they don't know as much about the management of a non-profit organization (ie. their church) as they need to - especially in the beginning of their ministry. I think finishing the one and then going to the other on a masters-level will actually be beneficial to your future ministry and perhaps even open some job opportunities while you do your M.Div.
I've used Blackboard at several institutions and never been overly excited about it. I've developed and taught in a Blackboard environment I don't know how many times, but I always got the impression that it was designed by IT folks instead of educators. That being said, there are some new things that Blackboard has come out with that have impressed me so far. Here are three things that I've liked.
During the first part of this year, one of the institutions I worked at upgraded to a newer version of Blackboard Learn. It was a nice change - both aesthetically and practically. There were some great new features, including a redesign of how discussion boards are done, a persistent profile so that communication can now include a picture of the person (and a link to contact info, which is optional for the user), and new collaboration features, which allows for improved grouping of students and web-based projects that students can work on together and the professor can track who is doing what. Along with those, we had several new apps added. These are third party add-ons to Blackboard. The main one I'd like to mention is the Civitas Student Engagement App. This app allows you to see a visual representation of all of your students. They are color-coded based on the participation in the class. If they log-in multiple days, participate in online discussions, etc. they are ranked higher. While there is no grade attached to one's participation score, it does allow the professor to see if someone is not logging in or perhaps having issues that are preventing them from completing coursework. The professor can then contact the students using the app. There are many factors that you can select from to target specific groups of students. All in all, it has been surprisingly helpful.
Blackboard Learn is the main product put out by the company. When most people talk about Blackboard, that is what they're referencing - the online course system. However, Blackboard has several other products. One that I'm excited about is Blackboard Collaborate. Perhaps you've used WebEx or Adobe Connect as an online collaboration tool or perhaps to stream a lecture or communicate with multiple students at once. Well, Collaborate is Blackboard's entry into this market and has some features that make it attractive. For one, Collaborate has a nice set of features. It can do web conferencing, recording of lectures for later playback, instant messaging (which I don't myself ever using), screen sharing capabilities, and a design that allows mobile devices to be fully utilized. Check out Blackboard's Collaborate website for a demo.
Free MOOC Creator
I was at a demo recently of Blackboard's new MOOC creator. It is called Course Sites and allows the creation and implementation of open enrollment courses. If your institution has Blackboard Learn, it can create several free courses without having to buy the full product. From my understanding, anyone can create up to five courses free and run them through Course Sites too, which I'm sure will be appealing for those that would like to tinker in this arena. If you're interested at all in using or creating open courses, definitely give Course Sites a try.
In Part II we will be discussing options for studying in South Africa. In the last decade South African universities have seen more overseas students applying - many from the U.S. The appeal of these universities is three-fold.
Firstly, and perhaps chiefly, tuition costs in the U.S. and the U.K. can be prohibitive to many and stipends for doctoral work are no longer guaranteed and in many seminaries not available at all. The South African programs tend to be considerably less and allow most from western nations to pay outright without taking out education loans. In the realm of theological education this is attractive because many that enter this field end up working for churches or non-profits that are not near the high-end of the pay scale. For many of the universities, budgeting $2,000 a year would be sufficient. The programs are subsidized, which accounts for the pricing, but combined with them being considered equal to regionally accredited institutions in the U.S. makes them a good option for those that want to marketable in various regions.
The second draw for foreign students in South African universities is the choice of programs. If you want to study, odds are, they have it at one of the universities. The University of South Africa (UNISA) in particular has a massive amount of programs and many of the universities will have programs related to theology, church history, or biblical studies.
The third draw to these universities is the distance options. Being part of the British Commonwealth, South Africa has long followed the British model of higher education, which includes the research-based doctoral programs (and a large number of research-based masters options too). What this means for many students (depending on the school) is that if you have good research libraries near you, you can stay where you are and communicate with your sponsor/mentor through the various technological means we have available to us today. South Africa has been leading the charge in distance doctoral programs and now has several institutions that are able to offer quality programs that would be marketable where ever in the world you find yourself. Below is a list of institutions. I didn't include the estimated cost of attendance, because it is mostly the same for all of these. I'd recommend checking out the University of Cape Town and Stellenbosch University, as both are usually ranked high among international universities. South African Theological Seminary has a good introduction program that walks you through your research proposal, so that is often useful for those that haven't done that before. University of South Africa (UNISA) has ton of programs and is one of the largest universities in the world. Rhodes University and especially the University of Witwatersrand are both well respected, although the latter is a mouthfull.
South African Theological Seminary
University of Cape Town
University of South Africa
University of Witwatersrand
One of the major trends we've seen at this website in the last several years has been the increase in questions about distance education, specifically doctoral degrees (Ph.D./D.Phil, Th.D., D.Min., etc.). There are actually some good options out there. This post will cover some basic information about UK schools that offer distance options and what they would entail. This list isn't exhaustive, but should help you start your search.
The first thing you should know about doctoral programs in the U.K. concerns the format of the degree. The U.K. usually offers research-based doctorate programs. This means that there is no classwork, like in the U.S., and you undertake your dissertation after the completion of a research proposal. Because of this, you should have an idea of what you want to research topic to be and, because of this, you should have one or two professors in mind at the institution you're applying at that would be suitable mentors during this process. That's what they're supposed to be - mentors. They are helping you through these hoops you have to jump through. A professor/adviser that is distant, too busy, and/or a jerk will not aide you in your quest for a doctoral degree, so, if possible, meet with your potential adviser before or during the application process or, at the least, schedule a time to call them and discuss your possible research.
The other thing you need to be aware of is the cost. In the next two parts we'll discuss doctoral programs in the U.S. and in other parts of the world. Some UK universities will be much more expensive than many of those other programs that we'll discuss. That being said, The British Council has information for U.S. citizens on financial aid options (as well as some great top-notch information on studying in the UK in general). I've included an estimated cost for each of the UK universities listed below. The estimate is based on figures in The Complete University Guide and at the university websites. Always contact the university directly for the most up-to-date figures and keep in mind that prices can be greatly reduced through financial aid options.
Concerning online or distance options, there are a number of universities that you can either fly to a couple of times a year (for research and to participate in seminars) or that you can do completely from where you are in the world. Whatever school you're looking into, make certain they still offer the option that you're looking for and if you don't see it on the website, call and ask someone about it. I've noticed several institutions that sometimes have a distance option or don't advertise that they have a distance option. Below are some key institutions that have theological education of one kind or another, along with an estimate of the cost per year.
Bristol Baptist College (UK/EU Students - £8000, unclear on their website) (Non-UK/EU Students - £8000)
Highland Theological College (UK/EU Students - £3900) (Non-UK/EU Students - £11042)
University of Aberdeen (UK/EU Students - £3400) (Non-UK/EU Students - £12000)
University of Birmingham (UK/EU Students - £5135) (Non-UK/EU Students - £13200)
University of Bristol (UK/EU Students - £7200) (Non-UK/EU Students - £14000)
University of Cambridge (UK/EU Students - £6065) (Non-UK/EU Students - £13662)
University of Durham (UK/EU Students - £5400) (Non-UK/EU Students - £13300)
University of Kent (UK/EU Students - £4950) (Non-UK/EU Students - £12030)
University of Leicester (UK/EU Students - £2078) (Non-UK/EU Students - £5083)
University of Oxford (UK/EU Students - £5900) (Non-UK/EU Students - £15900)
University of St. Andrews (UK/EU Students - £3900-8900) (Non-UK/EU Students - £14000)
University of Wales, Trinity Saint David (UK/EU Students - £3750) (Non-UK/EU Students - £11000)
Wales Evangelical School of Theology (UK/EU Students - £4900) (Non-UK/EU Students - £9455)
I've had the opportunity to attend several secular universities, a Bible College, and a Seminary. Very different experiences. You can't paint any category of college with a broad brush, but there are some characteristics that differentiate the categories. These differences really don't make one better or worse - it really depends on what you're studying and what type of environment you prefer. These differences, though, come from the different purposes that each was originally created to address. Here is a (very) brief outline of the uniqueness of each type of institution with a bit of historical background.
Colleges and Universities
Traditionally, universities have consisted of several colleges that often share resources and are often guided by shared or affiliated administration. In the United States, things are a bit different in that many colleges aren't affiliated with a university and we often use the term 'college' to mean a smaller school. Colleges and universities have a long history of liberal arts education. ("Liberal Arts" just refers to the wide range of subject matter that one learns as an undergraduate - history, math, grammar/composition, fine arts, etc. It makes one "well rounded.")
Seminaries derive from the inherent necessity of the clergy to be able to read the Bible and Church Fathers (and by the Bible, I mean the Latin Vulgate). After the Reformation, education slowly became more systematized, and eventually what we think of as seminaries emerge. Seminaries today offer graduate-level degrees in biblical studies, theological studies, and ministry. Non-Roman Catholic Seminaries developed in the U.S. to meet the need for theological education of pastors, missionaries, and evangelists in the mostly non-Catholic nation. There was probably also some concern that the universities (esp. in the latter half of the 19th century) were becoming less orthodox (due at least partially to the higher criticism and other challenges to orthodoxy originating from Europe). The U.S. seminaries produced some great theologians in the 19th and early 20th century, but eventually the seminaries themselves were seen by many to be succumbing to unorthodox tendencies. A look at Princeton Theological Seminary really tells the story of this era. Princeton had produced men like Charles Hodge and B.B. Warfield, but later became the center of controversy surrounding liberal theology ('liberal' in this case refers to a philosophical shift, specifically in interpreting the Bible not as inherent, but as any other ancient document). There were many "tentacles" of this philosophy that touched many doctrinal convictions, none of which is the point of this article. Some of the Princeton faculty wouldn't affiliate itself with this shift and so formed Westminster Theological Seminary. Similar shifts happened in most seminaries at the time and really changed the overall theology of the larger American denominations.
Independent schools that only train people for ministry had been around for a very, very long time. However, in the middle part of the 20th century, as men were coming back from World War II, Bible Colleges began appearing to train many of the men for ministry. Most Bible Colleges were relatively small and connected to independent and/or theologically conservative churches. Their main goal was to train students for ministry in an environment that was more practical than what they saw in many of the seminaries. By offering their programs to people with little or no previous college experience they were able to train someone in four or five years for a ministry position rather than the student get a four year degree and then go to seminary for three years. The emphasis on undergraduate theological education didn't really catch on in the main denominations, but, I think, has been fairly common in independent churches since then. What made the Bible College concept truly unique, though, was its heavy emphasis on training in the Biblical text. You would think that any academic program preparing someone for ministry would have many courses dealing with the actual text of the Bible - since that's the basis of Christian faith. That's often not the case, though. Actually, as someone that has looked over a lot of seminary and Christian college transcripts, let me say that it is rarely the case. Curriculum from many theological programs involve a couple of survey courses of the Old and New Testament, perhaps some Biblical Languages, some theology, and a lot of ministry-oriented courses. Bible Colleges, on the other hand, usually will have many courses in the Bible itself (traditionally ensuring that each 4-year graduate would have a "major" in Bible even if they were in a different program). That's a huge curriculum shift from most seminaries. I did most of my undergrad at a Bible College and I certainly got a lot of Bible training. I found it was a foundational necessity and I can't even comprehend where I'd be theologically if it wasn't for this emphasis on the text as well as hermeneutics. I was fortunate enough to go to one that was also great at teaching their liberal arts core as well. That's not always the case, though, and Bible Colleges today can run the gamut from regionally accredited institutions to "colleges" that meet in a church basement. Many are unaccredited and so I would have to caution students that were considering attending. However, some offer a full liberal arts education on top of a full Bible program and can be a great foundational option.
I don't have a crystal ball . . . well, actually I do have a crystal ball . . . it was a gift, but it doesn't really work. If it did, I'd love to look into the future of higher education in the U.S. Specifically, I'd be interested in the future of training pastors, missionaries, educators, and others in ministry. There are no large Bible Colleges and as smaller institutions they face many financial troubles. What compounds their woes is that their alumni usually are in independent churches that don't pay them a lot and so they, in turn, don't contribute back to their institution like the alumni from law schools or medical schools or even typical universities. All that being said, I don't see them going away. I see them splitting into three groups. One group will stay between the 500-1000 student range, be innovative in their approach to education, keep their focus on their Bible-heavy curriculum, and do a great job at training men and women for Christian ministry. The other group will go the route of offering free courses, but not for credit. Many universities have already provided a lot of their courses free of charge this way and for those people that want to contribute to training others but don't want to start an accredited school, this option will be much more attractive in the next 10 years than opening up another unaccredited school. I think these will also have to be innovative, will have to have good, useful content, and will also do a good job of training men and women for Christian ministry. The third group are basically the other schools that don't adapt to the situations around them and that don't have (or want) the technology required to operate in a technological world (I personally hate that technology is a requirement now, but that is reality). These institutions won't train anyone for ministry when they go under - which happens all too frequently. I think too the differences between seminaries and Bible colleges will blur even more than they already have. Many of the seminaries also have an undergraduate option now, although it is far from their main focus.
I'm actually very excited about the future of theological education and am looking forward to see exactly how it will play out - especially as quality education becomes available online to so many overseas and as free education becomes available (although not for credit) through more and more institutions.
We are happy to announce a new feature specifically geared to aid those looking for a job in ministry or education. The Jobs Section (found in the navigation bar) will allow job seekers to quickly find major employment sites (like Monster, Indeed, etc.), ministry-focused employment sites, as well as those looking into employment in Christian or public schools (it includes links to each state's school employment site). We will be adding sites, such as job boards, large universities HR pages, and regional job opportunities as they are suggested. So feel free to leave a comment below on any sites you'd like to see added or any improvements we can make.
One of the top things I'm asked is about counseling degree options. One of the universities I'm affiliated with has an undergraduate counseling minor (very similar to a pre-counseling program at many other schools). One of the universities I went to as a student had several different degree paths for would-be counselors, including several masters programs and a Ph.D. I've taken a little counseling coursework and have done plenty of one-on-one student counseling, but I'm not a professional counselor and don't intend to be. However, I've met with enough counseling students to know where the big questions arise when they're looking at degree programs and I've compiled those together and tried to address some of them in this article. Your goals as a counselor will largely determine which direction you should go when choosing a degree program. Here are the three main options:
Option 1: Other Degree Programs
Make certain that counseling is what you want to do and that this field of study best fits your professional goals. That's one of the great things about tackling some of it in your undergrad years. Getting even limited experience would be very helpful in determining your interest in pursuing that. For others, social work, like helping the poor or working in an orphanage, is more your ultimate goal. If that's the case a Master of Social Work degree is more appropriate. A counseling degree is usually geared more towards clinical counseling (sitting in an office, having clients, etc.). For those going into ministry, counseling is a necessary skill to have. However, for most, having one or two courses would be more appropriate than having an entire degree in it.
Option 2: Church-based Counseling
Counseling within a local church may mean that you're on the pastoral staff and you're doing informal sessions with members. For some churches, though, counseling involves a more structured program that allows members and non-members to seek help. In these cases someone with a degree (but not necessarily licensure) can usually counsel. It really depends on the state, though, so do some research on your own state's law about operating a full counseling program in a church and the qualifications they seek.
Option 3: Professional, Licensed Counseling
Most professional counselors will seek licensure. This is done mainly because it is much harder to find a good, long-term career as a counselor without it. Getting licensed is a process that you have to do through your state. You are evaluated based largely (if not solely) on your education. If your degree program fits their criteria, then you'll be in. If not, then there's usually not a lot you can do about it (except go back to school). To have a standard for professional licensure in counseling, there is a specific type of accreditation that has been created and generally agreed upon: CACREP accreditation. They are an academic accrediting body recognized by the Council for Higher Education Accreditation (the government organization that recognizes valid accrediting bodies). If you graduate from a program that is CACREP accredited, then you usually are set to get licensure in any state. Of course, with a CACREP-accredited degree you can also do church-based counseling, which makes this option (usually) the best one for those wanting to begin a career in counseling. You can find a list of CACREP accredited degree programs HERE.
One of my favorite movies growing up is Raiders of the Lost Ark. In the movie, Indiana Jones travels around to recover the Ark of the Covenant from the Nazi's. At the end, he recovers it and the ark is brought back to America (I'm sorry if that spoils the movie for you, but it's been like 30 years so you should have seen it by now!). Dr. Jones sits down with the "government men" and they explain that "top men" are working on the ark and that it won't be going to a museum. It then cuts to a scene with the ark being put in a wooden box and pushed around a giant warehouse filled with similar wooden boxes. That scene has been etched in my mind since then as a symbol of futility.
When I began looking at masters programs in theology and church history, I saw the option that many had of either writing a thesis or taking some extra courses and skipping the thesis. As an undergraduate looking at those options I thought, "Why would I write some huge paper when I can just take a couple of extra classes?" As I made my way through my masters I realized that writing in my graduate program was totally different than what I did in my undergraduate program. Most of it was me - I had matured and I had focused my own research to several key areas that I really enjoyed not only learning about, but writing about too. Suddenly the thought of a thesis was not overwhelming - like the warehouse scene: filled with boxes that just went on and on. It was something that could be tackled because I knew how to write in my field by the end of my program. More fundamental, I learned how to research. I went to some great libraries as an undergraduate, but I often sat there and just stared at the rows and rows of books, not really knowing where to begin. By the end of my grad program I was sitting at my desk with primary sources, going to the library only when needed for secondary sources, and getting some real work done. I say all of that to just make you aware that it is doable.
Now, which option is better? It really depends. If there is any chance that you're going to continue to a doctoral program, then you should seriously consider the thesis option. If you want to write in your field or do extensive research on a particular topic, then you probably should go the thesis route.
If you are doing a more practical masters and aren't interested as much in the academic side of things (teaching, writing, etc.) then you might not be as motivated to complete a thesis. If you do a non-thesis option, that doesn't necessarily mean that you won't be prepared for doctoral studies. One thing I'd recommend if you go that route is to be strategic in your writing for each class. Almost all of the papers I wrote in grad school touched on church history and historic theology. At the end of my coursework I had a collection of great papers in one field of study. Some of those papers could be reworked into publishable articles or even a thesis or dissertation (as a basis for larger research).
I'd be interested in hearing your own experiences with either your thesis/non-thesis program or if you have any tips for those looking into such programs.
Mark Stevens is a former seminary student himself and currently researches and teaches in the area of theological studies.