The Road Ahead

By Timothy R Butler | Posted at 7:47 PM

I've been trying to figure out where I am headed, in a number of ways, for some time. In different ways, I've tried to make some strides in two particular cases over the past week. I'll deal with one way now, and one in a future post, I hope.

For the past four or five years, I've realized my calling is in academia. I'm a theologian at heart and in the present time, academia would appear to be the best place to go to work on such a pursuit. Instead of the more practical pastoral ministry, this is a ministry, but one for the mind more than the heart. That is to say, my “patron saint” would be Thomas Aquinas and not Francis of Assi; John Calvin rather than John Wesley; C.S. Lewis rather than Rick Warren. The need for both is strong; these are a complementary pursuits. Knowledge does not save, but it does provide a stable foundation for faith — it is the well tilled soil in which carefully planted seeds can thrive.

I am aware that I am squarely aiming myself for a field that is “highly competitive,” which means I must be as well qualified as possible if I hope to actually crack the nut and get in. With that in mind, I'm considering exactly what kind of training I need to take aim for. Some have advised me to make my next goal a MA in Religious Studies, presumably continuing to a Ph.D. in the same. This would be useful, but is rather limited: should I ever wish to do anything in the other realms of ministry, I'd be totally unqualified by many standards (be they legitimate or not). Moreover, while I readily admit and appreciate the usefulness of anthropology, sociology and other disciplines which inform the Religious Studies field, they are not the part of the Critical Study of Religion that I have the biggest affinity with. I'd rather focus on Christian theology and philosophy and supplement that so as to make myself able to teach World Religions and other similar courses.

It seems to make the most sense to take aim for some kind of seminary degree. Ultimately, I am mostly convinced to aim for a Ph.D. track (be it directly from a school that would start me off working in that direction immediately or working through a masters and then finding a place to continue later), but along the way I must decide whether to go with a MA in Theology or a M.Div. For my purposes, the former is mostly what I need, and would allow me to reduce the amount of time I have left to reach my goal in about six to seven years rather than seven to eight. But, again, it leaves something lacking in ordination qualifications, which I think might be a mistake. Therefore, I am mostly leaning toward an M.Div. Although I do not see myself in a pulpit ministry, I do want to pursue ordination eventually.

That is not the end of the discussion, of course. My big decision is whether I should aim for the local PCA seminary, which is small and I've been looking at for some time (Covenant), or perhaps I should instead aim for a PC (USA) seminary back East. Some of those who advise me seem to think (I suspect correctly) that the well established PC (USA) seminaries may be more oriented to the scholarly, rather than practical, and therefore better suited for an academic career. This, of course, could be crucial to actually making it into a good position down the road.

Right now, the two seminaries I'm looking most closely at are Covenant and Princeton, but I'm still doing a fairly cursory consideration. Some others that I'm planning to examine more closely are Fuller and Union. I've briefly considered Concordia, which is also in town, but I think I've ruled that out, along with Trinity. The main criteria that will end up deciding what happens are class sizes, academic job placement success rates and scholarliness. Cheaper would be nice too, but none of them are going to be cheap. I would like to stay here in St. Louis, or nearby, but I don't want to shoot myself in the foot either. I'm most likely aiming to stay within the Reformed tradition as opposed to the more Evangelical seminaries.

Any recommendations, would, of course, be appreciated.

Tags: Academia
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