Portal Courses:  The Doorways into the Master's Curriculum

The first courses students take in all three Master's programs are the portals--team-taught and interdisciplinary 4-hour courses that serve as introductions and prerequisites to the rest of the coursework in each program.  There are four (see below for course goals):

  1. Interpretation Matters:  introducing content and method for the study of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament
  2. Context Matters:  introducing half the content and method for the study of History of Christianity and Practical Theology
  3.  Conversation Matters:  introducing content and method for the study of Theology and the other half of the History of Christianity
  4. Vocation Matters:  introducing content and method for the study of the Practice of Ministry and Christian Ethics

 We are placing these four "matters" of importance at the front and center of our Master's curriculum, thereby suggesting that they are essential for  pastoral formation, knowledge, wisdom, education, and ongoing leadership.  They serve as shared touchstones throughout the curriculum. For example, even though "Interpretation Matters" focuses on Bible, professors in all fields continue to remind students of interpretation skills in all their interpretive work in other areas. In "Context Matters" students learn the skills for exploring historical, ecclesial, and geographical contexts--skills necessary for understanding any context in which students learn and carry out their ministries.  "Conversation Matters" offers students the opportunity to understand significant conversations that have taken place among Christians throughout the last 2000 years and those that continue today as among people who seek to understand the Holy in the modern world.  Finally, in "Vocation Matters" students begin to develop the skills for discerning and nourishing their vocation even as they explore ethical norms and implications for their work and the work of faith communities.

The Primary Goal for the Portal Courses  

To introduce students to four key matters (capacities/tasks) in which ministers continually must engage to lead vital communities in the way of Jesus.  These four invitational courses serve as the only prerequisites to the rest of the curriculum.  Therefore, these courses introduce to students:  

  1. Methods for engaging in each task; i.e., shared interpretive strategies and values,

  2. Theological/historical/biblical/ethical content that is pertinent to the task; i.e., shared language/vocabulary/stories, and

  3. Ongoing practices of leadership that are relevant to the task; i.e., shared practices of communities and leaders.

Goals of Each Portal Course 

Interpretation Matters: serves as Introduction to Hebrew Bible and Introduction to New Testament.  The goals of this course are to : 

  1. Acquaint students with the content of the Hebrew Bible and New Testament (relates to point 2 above);

  2. Understand how these texts came to be valued, and continue to be so, by Jewish and Christian communities (relates to point 2 above);

  3. Enable students to employ various strategies and frameworks for interpreting the biblical texts, and other texts, which are foundational for Jewish and Christian communities (relates to point 1 above);

  4. Explore ways in which biblical interpretive strategies are effective in leadership practices (e.g., preaching, care, formation, education, worship, etc.) (relates to point 3 above).

Context Matters: serves as half of Introduction to History of Christianity, and Introduction to Practical Theology.  The goals of this course are to:

  1. Introduce students to ethnographic and historical tools and skills, largely drawn from the fields of sociology, psychology, anthropology and historical studies, for understanding communities, especially the particular faith community in which a student lives and works (relates to point 1 above);

  2. Give students opportunity to reflect on historical/theological/ethical dimensions of the use of social scientific tools for analysis of communities in other areas of the curriculum (relates to point 2 above);

  3. Provide students opportunities for reflection on intersecting cultural diversities (i.e., race, gender, sexuality, nationality, class, ethnicity, age, ability, etc.) in history and current human living (relates to point 3 above);

  4. Give students opportunity to learn/acquire basic frameworks for understanding cultural contexts in relation to broader Christian movements in history (relates to point 2 above);

  5. Demonstrate ways of employing ethnographic and historical skills in the leadership practices of preaching, formation/education, care, worship, administration (relates to point 3 above).

Vocation Matters: serves as Introduction to Practice of Ministry and Introduction to Christian Ethics/Moral Discernment.  The goals of this course are to:

  1. Introduce students to the tools and resources for developing vocational identity and moral discernment (relates to point 1 above);

  2. Introduce students to various historical and contemporary models for ministry and leadership in Christian communities (relates to point 2 above); 

  3. Help students integrate spiritual practices and formation in their own sense of and nurturing of vocation (relates to point 3 above);

  4. Help students adopt responsible leadership practices in light of their own deepening understanding of vocational identity and moral discernment (relates to point 3 above).  

Conversation Matters:  serves as Introduction to Theology and half of Introduction to History of Christianity.

The goals of this course are to:

  1. Introduce students to the contextual character of theology as a discipline across time and to the worldviews that have informed it (relates to point 1 above);

  2. Introduce students to basic theological vocabulary and issues of theological method so that they might begin to develop their own theological voice and to listen and understand other voices in Christian communities (relates to point 2 above);

  3. Introduce students to issues of global Christianities in a multi-faith world, including practices and skills that attend to listening and understanding (relates to point 3 above); 

  4. Enable students to begin to articulate their own understanding of Christian faith informed by historical understanding and embodied in contemporary contexts (relates to point 2 above);

  5. Help students lead communities with the logic and poetics of theological discourse (relates to point 3 above).


Phillips Theological Seminary offers Christian graduate theological education
in service of intelligent, just, and compassionate religious and civic communities. We welcome
students to a safe space for truth-seeking conversations about the Bible, Jesus, and faithful living.
Courses available on campus and online for certificate, diploma, MDiv, MAMC, MASJ, & MTS
programs, and on campus for the DMin program.

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