What Distinguishes This MDiv?
Over 200 years ago, theologian Friedrich Schleiermacher framed the basics of a theological curriculum: divided by disciplines, learned in theory and then applied to practice post-degree. Most accredited theological schools, including Phillips Theological Seminary, have operated with some version of Schleiermacher’s curricular frame for most of our history.
The PTS faculty came to a fork in the road in Fall 2012, while considering a curriculum revision for the Master of Divinity program. Did they want to tinker with the traditional frame or begin a more radical transition. If “radical” means “to the roots,” then the faculty chose the radical path.
What distinguished the new curriculum, which will be offered beginning with the Fall 2013 term, from either the former program—and, in several ways, from other Protestant seminaries?
- You will start with four, four hour courses. The faculty is calling them “portal” courses because these courses are gateways into the rest of the curriculum—indeed (and to shift the metaphor), the courses are foundations for a lifetime of theological education. Interpretation. Context. Conversation. Vocation. When you’ve taken these four courses, the world of the rest of the PTS curriculum and—not to be too dramatic—the world seen through thinking theologically will be available to you.
- These portal courses are team taught with at least two disciplines represented in the class at all times. Traditional courses of study leave integration up to students. In the portal courses, faculty will model how to talk back and forth across disciplines.
- The complexity of religious life and change today requires well-developed collaborative skills. The team approach in the portal courses will also model a collaborative approach to ministry.
- When you’re through the portals, you’re into the heart of the curriculum. Deepen your learning. Specialize. Make choices. Follow your passion. Be equipped for ministry and leadership.
- One of the companions throughout your program is conversation, especially theological conversation. For 4 semesters, you’ll participate in a theological reflection group with other students and led by a ministry practitioner. Again, you have an opportunity to integrate faith, learning, and ministry, in a community of conversation that matters.
- You’ll be required to include an immersion experience in your courses. Immersion experiences bring you into an encounter with yourself as you encounter others. Sometimes we speak of the difference between head knowledge and embodied learning. An immersion course provides a wonderful context for embodied learning.
- At the end of your course of study at PTS, you’ll take a final integrative course. Taught by a member of the PTS faculty and a ministry practitioner, we’re calling this course a “launch course.” Sure, many if not most of our students arrive at PTS serving in some form of ministry, so it is not as if you’re being launched from an ivy-covered tower (PTS has never had one of those) into “the world.” Rather, you’re concluding your time at PTS and you are re-entering the world as a rare species: the formally theologically educated! You will have a hand in personalizing the syllabus for this course, depending on your anticipated post-graduation ministry.
Why does all this matter? Because the way Christianity is being practiced in North America is changing radically. While there are many withering congregations and practices, there are also signs of rebirth and renewal, ancient practices being retrieved and experimentation with new practices and forms. At PTS, we want to participate in the renewal of how Christianity is practiced, and what form the church takes. We intend the new MDiv curriculum to be a means to that very audacious end.
We’re not practicing ministry in Schleiermacher’s world. I invite you to peek through the portals of a PTS education. What do you see?
Dr. Gary Peluso-Verdend
President and Associate Professor of Practical Theology