By Dr. Jay Sklar, Professor of Old Testament and Dean of Faculty; Chair, Curriculum Committee
As an educational institution, we are constantly looking for ways to strengthen our programs so that our students will be better prepared to face the challenges of ministry in today’s rapidly changing world. The current revision of our Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree program is the result of a process begun several years ago and grew out of a desire to make the degree as formative as possible for our students. Led initially by Dr. Bryan Chapell (then president of the Seminary) and Dr. Donald Guthrie (then vice president of academics and associate professor of educational ministries), the process has continued under now President Dr. Mark Dalbey, and Dr. Jay Sklar, professor of Old Testament, dean of faculty, and chair of the Seminary’s Curriculum Committee.
In considering how best to restructure the program, we sought input from seasoned pastors, church leaders, and other Covenant Seminary alumni, whose knowledge and experience of ministry “in the field” were invaluable. We also benefited greatly from the insights of many current students through their participation in special focus groups. We were guided in the entire process by four main principles:
1. Continue a solid foundation in biblical and theological training. Our mission statement makes our purpose clear: Covenant Seminary exists “to glorify the triune God by training his servants to walk in God’s grace, minister God’s Word, and equip God’s people—all for God’s mission.” We cannot do this without a solid understanding of the very Word that speaks of God’s grace and equips us for every good work. The revised MDiv, like its predecessor, therefore demonstrates Covenant’s commitment to:
- The study of the original languages of the Bible (Greek and Hebrew).
- In-depth training in biblical interpretation.
- Biblical studies courses covering all of the Scriptures.
- Extensive coursework in systematic, biblical, and historical theology.
Thus, our graduates are well trained in reading, understanding, and applying God’s living and holy Word.
2. Fit the degree to the types of activities our graduates will actually be doing. For example, our alumni consistently tell us they spend a significant amount of time providing pastoral counseling and care. In the revised curriculum, therefore, we have:
- Added a one-credit-hour counseling practicum to give students more of a chance to develop this skill before graduating.
- Added two ministry practicums in the middle year that will give the student opportunities to get out of the classroom and engage in local, live ministry under the supervision and direction of professors and local ministry practitioners.
- Arranged course schedules so that MDiv and MA students can study together in as many classes as possible; this will help to ensure that pastoral students do not learn in an “MDiv bubble” but are constantly interacting with the very people they will one day serve and serve with in local congregations.
3. Increase intentional integration of what students are learning, rather than leaving the work of integration up to students. What this means is that some courses will better combine and integrate elements that were previously taught in separate courses. A few new elements designed to further unite theology and practice in meaningful ways have been added as well. A few examples include:
- New Testament Exegesis and Communicating the Scriptures. In this course, students will spend the first part of the semester translating texts from the Greek and the second part of the semester preaching on those very texts.
- God and Humanity, Foundations for Counseling. This course, to be team-taught by a systematic theology professor and a counseling professor, will help students integrate their theology of God and man—who God is, who he has made us to be, and the impact of sin on human living—with their approach to pastoral care and counseling.
- Psalms and Wisdom Literature and Worship. This course, to be team-taught by an Old Testament professor and a practical theology professor, will integrate deep study of Israel’s inspired hymnbook with learning how to plan and lead worship services today.
- Cohort Groups. Previously used in a more limited way, these relationship-building peer groups have an expanded role in the new program, through which students will have additional ways of interacting more intentionally with the material covered in specific courses.
- MDiv Capstone Course. This course will give students an opportunity to further synthesize and integrate what they have learned over their seminary years.
4. Enable more students to finish their degree in three years. There are two reasons for this principle. First, the longer students are in school, the higher their debt load tends to be at graduation. Second, the less time students are in school, the faster they will be able to enter into the calling God has in mind for them. Thus, the revised MDiv:
- Has been shortened from 103 credit hours to 93 credit hours, with the major cuts coming in the number of elective hours in order to preserve our strong biblical-theological foundation.
- Will enable MDiv students to graduate in three years at double the rate they currently do (from 25% of students to 50%).
We are convinced that the revised MDiv degree will better equip our graduates to fulfill their calling to lead and shepherd God’s people well. We are blessed to be part of the process of shaping such future church leaders as we seek to fulfill our own gospel training mission, and we are excited to see what King Jesus will do in and through us and our students in the days and years ahead. Please join us in praying that the Lord will give us his wisdom, strength, and grace in accomplishing his mission!