I thought a little light fare for a Monday morning might be in order. The question is this: for students in a theological seminary who want to go on to a Ph.D. program in a biblical or theological field, what is the best degree for them to pursue?
The two main options I’m thinking about are the MA or the M.Div.
At several schools I’ve been associated with, the MA has been promoted as the best pre-Ph.D. degree. But I tend to advocate the M.Div. Here are a couple reasons why:
- Most seminaries have developed their faculty and curriculum around the M.Div., from which the M.A. is trimmed. In general, this means that M.Div. students are maximizing their seminary’s educational offerings in a way that M.A. students aren’t.
- As long as there are a few electives and a robust curriculum in place, M.Div. students tend to get better exposure to multiple disciplines within the theological fields, better preparing them for all of the factors that go into understanding the history of and influences on biblical and theological studies.
- Most students who come out of a seminary context are going to be looking for ecclesiastically oriented jobs when they’re done with their Ph.D.s; that is, they will be teaching in seminary or christian college contexts if they land a job. Some seminaries prefer and/or require an M.Div. for all their teaching faculty; and, going back to the M.Div. as the core of most seminary curricula, a faculty member with an M.Div. comes in with a better grasp of what a seminary is all about beyond his or her specific field of study.
- Related to point 3, many seminaries will want professors who have some handle on how their academic field of study is ministerially and/or spiritually formative. The M.Div. gives students some tools for thinking through various areas of “on the ground” practice (individual, church, missional) that an M.A. might leave aside.
- Also related to point 3, many folks who end up in theologically oriented or religiously committed educational institutions will want or need to be ordained. Some denominations will require an M.Div. for this.
- Many people who get Ph.D.s end up not securing academic employment. The M.Div. leaves more options open for securing a “teaching pastor” type job, especially if a student is part of a denomination with seminary requirements for ordination.
What are your thoughts? What’s the best way for a seminary student to prepare for a Ph.D. and why?
(Note that this is assuming a seminary context with some general seminary “tracks” toward theological education. I think that “religious studies” with a track toward a university post is a different animal altogether.)