Online Vs. in-Person Education: Theological Training Is Supposed to Be Hard

"In my previous post considering Dan Wallace’s recent article discussing online vs. in-person education I concluded that, especially regarding theological teaching, in-person education is superior to distance education—all other things being equal. But rarely if ever in life are all other things equal." - DBTS Blog

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TylerR's picture

Editor

Yes, I agree.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

T Howard's picture

Ben Edwards wrote:

I assume the invalid premise you are referring to is something like: “Doing what God requires means purposely seeking out hardship and suffering when it can be avoided or mitigated within the bounds of Scripture.” But as I already stated, that is not a premise in my argument. I think you are reading that in to what I am saying for some reason.

Ben, I'm trying to understand what you've said, and I want to give you the benefit of the doubt, but here are your statements:

Quote:
If you believe you are called to serve God in the gospel ministry, then you have been called to share in the suffering that all of God’s true servants have endured. You are not called to a life of convenience and ease but of hardship, difficulty, and sacrifice...

If you choose an online degree, a shorter program, or a program without a biblical language requirement because of convenience, what does that say about your commitment to the task you claim God has given you?...

If you believe God has given you a desire to be a church leader but are looking for the most convenient way to get a theological degree in preparation for that work—STOP! 

Quote:
The Christian life is not about what is easiest and most convenient, but about doing what God requires. And he has told us repeatedly that what He requires entails hardship. If you think you found an easy, convenient path to serve Christ, you probably found the wrong path, because that’s not what serving Christ looks like.

From these statements, I understand you to say the following...

  1. What God requires for a man interested in ministry by necessity involves hardship and difficulty. A man who tries to avoid or mitigate hardship and inconvenience is not serving Christ properly.
  2. Theological training by necessity should be hard (not just academically challenging). A man who tries to avoid or mitigate the hardship and inconvenience of in-person theological training by taking on-line classes is not serving Christ properly.

Does this accurately represent the argument being made in the quotes above and in your article?

If so, the problem with this argument is that God doesn't require us to purposely seek out the road of greatest hardship and difficulty in every aspect of life. If we can avoid or mitigate hardship and difficulty (within the bounds of Scripture), we can do so and still serve Christ properly. Therefore, if someone chooses to attend on-line classes because of the hardship and inconvenience involved in uprooting his family, changing his job, and leaving his church that does not necessitate that he is serving Christ improperly or that he is not able to pastor effectively once he graduates.

If I still haven't properly understood your article and your argument, then please forgive me.

Jeff Straub's picture

At Central we do both. I am glad we can for we have some students who genuinely cannot come to Minneapolis. For example, we have a number of students from Africa and glad for them.

My current classes have both resident and online students. The principle regret is that the serendipitous mentoring that comes outside the class but in the halls is absent with our distance students, try though we do. 

I hear men say that it costs money to relocate to go to school. McCune asked me how I would pay for my Phd when I went to Southern.  Call me pious, but I believe if God orders something he is fully capable to meet the need. My degree cost me $40k. Quite unexpected a family member gave me $10k my first year. I had some debt when I finished but not for long. I think the finance issue is a non issue.

i am grateful to both Wallace and Edwards emphasizing the better way. I believe that in a decade, when the fruit of these changes will be seen in our churches, it will be our congregants who will be the poorer. I also hope my cardiologist didn’t do online education. 

Church history is more than a bunch of facts, homiletics is more than outlines, theology classes are more the taking notes. Today, after Bauder finished his class, he and the residential students went for lunch. The class really ended when the lunch was over. 

Online education is here to stay . . . But is it as good as or better than sitting in a classroom with fellow students? The jury is still out as far as I am concerned but I am doubtful.

Jeff Straub

Jeff Straub

Jeff Straub's picture

It seems to me that the NT model was interpersonal, life on life. Granted, there was no internet. But do we really think that Jesus would have discipled the 12 this way if he had had it? In knife sharpening, the steel edge of the blade needs to feel the roughness of the stone to file away the dullness of the blade. As interesting as this online conversation is, it is really a poor substitute to a cup of coffee over a common table with a group of like or unlike minded individuals. Ben for example had to defend himself from the accusation of shaming others. I find the notion incomprehensible. But since I don’t know the man who made it, I have to challenge him in this rather awkward way because it is the nature of an online discussion. Now the brother who doesn’t know me may think I am attacking him, so detached is this kind of a forum. This is one reason why I seldom read and less often post here or anywhere.

Jeff Straub

T Howard's picture

Earlier, Larry asked me to provide my seminary experience. I've shared it before, but here is the cliff notes version:

  • In 2009, God called me to bi-vocational pastoral ministry. I was 34. I had a family of 6. I had a good paying job. I was serving as a deacon in my church and leading the young adult ministry.
  • Because of God's call on my life, I knew I needed advanced theological training. My formal education included a B.A. in English and an MBA.
  • There are no conservative evangelical seminaries in my area. If there were, I would have attended one in person no doubt. Three seminaries I knew the most about were Liberty, Baptist Bible Seminary (Clarks Summit, PA) and Southern. I wanted my theological education to be rigorous and challenging, so I ruled out Liberty.
  • I applied to both BBS and Southern and was accepted at both. I then tried to find a job that would support my family of 6 in either Louisville or Scranton, but nothing ever materialized. I took that to mean that I should stay put and pursue on-line education.
  • At the time, Southern's MDiv program only allowed 20-something credits of online classes. BBS, on the other hand, had just allowed it's entire MDiv program to be completed on-line. So, I chose BBS.
  • The first year of seminary, I took 9 credit hours each semester. That on top of a f/t job, rearing 4 children, teaching / serving in my church every week, etc. was a bit too much. While I survived, I learned that I could not sustain that pace and 1) remain sane or 2) remain married. So, from then on, I took at most 8 credit hours a semester. That was usually two or three classes.
  • About half way through, I took a year off because I could tell my family relationships were suffering from my lack of time and attention to them.
  • Part of BBS's program requires a f/t 1 year internship. I negotiated with the seminary to allow me to keep my f/t job and spread the internship out over two years. I reasoned that if I am planning to be a bi-vocational pastor, I might as well start by being a bi-vocational intern.
  • I graduated in 2016, after 6 years of classes, with no seminary debt. God blessed my job and allowed me to provide for my family and pay for my seminary expenses primarily through my bi-annual bonuses.

As I think back to my seminary experience, I would say that it did involve hardship, sacrifice, and a significant investment of time, energy, and money. I believe the BBS MDiv program, at that time, was academically rigorous and challenging. My favorite classes were the originally language classes because 1) they were challenging 2) they opened my world to be able to read and understand the Scripture for myself without the veil of an English translation and to evaluate how commentaries and other secondary literature interpreted and drew conclusions from the text, and 3) Dr. Rodney Decker was a recognized scholar and expert in Koine Greek linguistics. Sadly, the program has changed (not for the better) since I graduated, and I probably wouldn't choose it today.

When my last child graduates from high school (2024), Lord willing I will pursue either a ThM or a masters in applied statistics. Both of those degrees will most likely have to be on-line programs.

 

TOvermiller's picture

T Howard wrote:

I believe the BBS MDiv program, at that time, was academically rigorous and challenging. However, the program has changed (not for the better) since I graduated, and I probably wouldn't choose it today.

I'm currently enrolled in the online M.Div. program at BBS and following a similar tact as you did, taking 2 classes per semester and 1 per summer. I recently completed a four-semester Hebrew cycle online (a series of four 3-credit Hebrew classes) and am not enrolled in a Greek exegesis class. I've found these classes to be academically rigorous, challenging, and personally stimulating in all the ways I would expect. I've also found the ministry-oriented classes to be quite practical, thorough, and applicable to my ministry as a pastor. I am very pleased with the experience there.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | www.studygodsword.com
Blog & Podcast | www.shepherdthoughts.com

TylerR's picture

Editor

Jeff wrote:

My current classes have both resident and online students. The principle regret is that the serendipitous mentoring that comes outside the class but in the halls is absent with our distance students, try though we do. 

I hear you. I was willing to trade that for mentorship from my pastor, and it worked.

I hear men say that it costs money to relocate to go to school.

Yay for the GI Bill! People are in different places in their lives. It does cost money, and what works for one guy won't necessarily work for another. One method isn't always the best. I'm glad your PhD worked well for you, and you had little debt.

i am grateful to both Wallace and Edwards emphasizing the better way. I believe that in a decade, when the fruit of these changes will be seen in our churches, it will be our congregants who will be the poorer. I also hope my cardiologist didn’t do online education. 

Hey, we'll see, won't we! I don't think your cardiologist parallel works ...

Church history is more than a bunch of facts, homiletics is more than outlines, theology classes are more the taking notes. Today, after Bauder finished his class, he and the residential students went for lunch. The class really ended when the lunch was over. 

No argument there. I've never had lunch with my professors. I did just sent Andy Hudson a copy of Vlach's book, so we can chat about it sometime soon. You can develop relationships through virtual education. Again, I think men who do distance education can and should find mentorship through their pastors.

Online education is here to stay . . . But is it as good as or better than sitting in a classroom with fellow students? The jury is still out as far as I am concerned but I am doubtful.

It depends on the person.

It seems to me that the NT model was interpersonal, life on life. Granted, there was no internet.

Yes, in the context of the local church!

But do we really think that Jesus would have discipled the 12 this way if he had had it?

You seem to be making Jesus the seminary, when I content it's the local church. I love online/virtual education because you can (1) get good theological training, then (2) apply in your local church, under the mentorship of your own pastor, right now. In the online model, the seminary ACTUALLY comes alongside and helps the local pastor train his guy. In the traditional model, the guy moves far away and may never return!

In knife sharpening, the steel edge of the blade needs to feel the roughness of the stone to file away the dullness of the blade. As interesting as this online conversation is, it is really a poor substitute to a cup of coffee over a common table with a group of like or unlike minded individuals.

Local church, not the seminary.

Ben for example had to defend himself from the accusation of shaming others. I find the notion incomprehensible. But since I don’t know the man who made it, I have to challenge him in this rather awkward way because it is the nature of an online discussion. Now the brother who doesn’t know me may think I am attacking him, so detached is this kind of a forum. This is one reason why I seldom read and less often post here or anywhere.

Ben's article read that way to me. I read it several times, and came back it to a week or so later, and still thought it implied that. He responded, clarified things, and I let it go. No worries. I know written communication loses things that in-person communication has. That's just the way the world is. At work, I rarely speak face to face with corporate attorneys for insurance companies we investigate. There's little point. They send bloated letters, I read them and respond. This means we have to be very careful with what we write. It's just the way the world is.

Online is a good option for some people. Choose a good school, which emphasizes strong academics and has a language requirement. Try for virtual options, if you can. But, online/virtual may not be for you! To each his own.  

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Jeff Straub's picture

I will risk another response here . . . perhaps I will regret it.

First, you are taking this discussion very personally . . . I wonder if it too personal for you? I don't think anyone is criticizing you for what you did. But some might have an opinion that what you did was good but not best. I am not saying this is true as I don't really know what you did and I cannot observe your ministry to evaluate the fruit of your training. I am not sure even if I could that I would render my opinion, at least voluntarily.

Life on life in the class room will not be replaced by online education. Is one better than the other? Better for what? and for whom? It is certainly better for me in that I don't have to invest time in distance students when they drop by my office to chat. But actually this is the part of teaching I enjoy most and what I miss when the student is distance. I don't meet his wife, his children, I don't know his struggles, his blessings. I don't see his strengths and weaknesses up close and personal. Moreover, Ben's point was that convenience alone should not be the consideration of moving to go to school vs doing online education. Theological education is demanding in and of itself. We who have been doing this a while (this is my 15th year of teaching) have met students who were looking for the easy way. There isn't one for good theological education.

Second, I am all for pastoral mentoring , though I seldom see it done right. If your pastor met with you, prayed with you, read books with you, had you into his home, hung out with you, rebuked you, encouraged you, challenged you, instructed you and otherwise was intimately involved in your life, you were blessed indeed. Many students don't have that kind of a mentoring relationship with their pastor which is really too bad. We at Central strive to have this, not as a substitute to a student's local church but as a complement to it. It is intentional on our part. Few churches have the intentional mentorship model of say a Capital Hill Baptist and Mark Dever. Now that is intentional mentoring done right!

Third, there are any number of reasons why distance education is less fulfilling than onsite, personal interaction with faculty being only one. Distance ed students seldom have access to the resources that on campus students have -- libraries and books being chief among them. We are in the digital age but digital resources are still expensive. I have a Logos library worth ???? something like $9000 if I were to go and buy everything I have. But that is not enough to complete the MDiv much less anything more robust.

Fourth, the notion of pastoral mentoring vs. classroom education has a robust history in North America. Not every pastor is equally qualified to train every student in every disciple. Don't expect me to teach you Hebrew. Having a group of qualified men with unique educational strengths can give students a variety of educational options.

Fifth, under the seminary model, the guy moves away . . . ok? So? . . . Not every student preparing for ministry will find a ready opportunity in his home church. Moving is a part of the ministerial job description. My son "moved" to Africa so he could train Africans. I have moved many times in 40 years of ministry. Moving to go to college or seminary are just two of many moves.

I am not opposed to local church teaching or mentorship . . . But it needs to be done right. If students were getting this IN their local churches, why would they be coming to us in the first place? Why isn't your pastor teaching you Hebrew and Greek?

Finally, you think that my analogy with my cardiologist is faulty. Why? It's not faulty just because you don't like it. The point is, there are some things that CANNOT be learned via online. Many years ago, in the early days of distance learning, I did an EMT program in northern Alberta through a rudimentary online program. We still had to go to some classes for hands-on work. Its really hard to learn CPR in front of a computer screen. Patient triage involves many things that really need more than simply a computer screen to teach. I just don't think brain surgery or cardiology or dentistry or veterinary medicine will be done online even if you can take some courses online like anatomy.

Jeff STraub

Jeff Straub

TylerR's picture

Editor

It's not personal. I thought I was being good-natured on the thread. I think both options are good for people. It just depends. My apologies if I seemed upset; I'm not!

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ben Edwards's picture

T Howard

If I may venture an opinion, I don’t think you radically disagree with what I am actually saying. In your discussion of your education, you 1) would have preferred in-person education as better if you could have made it work and 2) intentionally chose a more difficult program because you thought it would be better.

Now imagine someone else is asking you what you think they should do for theological training. They say they could move to a good seminary but would rather not because they believe an online degree seems more convenient. And, it looks like a particular online program would be shorter, easier to complete, and has no biblical language requirement, so they are choosing that program. Do you think you might want to say something like:

  • “If you choose an online degree, a shorter program, or a program without a biblical language requirement because of convenience, what does that say about your commitment to the task you claim God has given you?”
  • “If you believe God has given you a desire to be a church leader but are looking for the most convenient way to get a theological degree in preparation for that work—STOP!”

Let me try one more time to explain how you are reading something into what I’m saying rather than looking at what I’m actually saying.

Let me adjust the two false inferences you take from my statements:

  1. What God requires for a man interested in ministry by necessity involves hardship and difficulty. A man who is not willing to do what is good/better only because he is trying to avoid or mitigate hardship and inconvenience is not serving Christ properly.

    1. E.g., if a pastor thinks it would be better for me to go to the hospital and pray with my member before the surgery, but it’s more convenient to just send a text so I’ll just send the text, is he serving Christ properly? If a pastor thinks it would be better for me to spend time myself wrestling with a passage and forming my own sermon, but it is more convenient for me to utilize this sermon service that gives me outlines, applications, and illustrations so I’ll use those instead, is he serving Christ properly?
  2. Proper theological training will always be hard. A man who willingly settles for lesser training only because he is trying to avoid or mitigate the hardship and inconvenience of in-person theological training is not serving Christ properly. (See my hypothetical above)

Perhaps this will help. You seem to be missing a couple of things in your reading of my argument.

  1. I’m not making an argument for the superiority of in-person theological training in this post—so nothing I’m saying about hardship necessarily rules out distance education
  2. I’ve already stated that distance education is the right choice for some people. As has been noted, we have distance education students at DBTS. So it would make no sense for me to say that students who choose distance education options are serving Christ improperly (since I would be aiding them in their failure).
  3. I’m not just focusing on hard vs. easy. I’m focusing on good/better but hard vs. not as good/lesser but easy and allowing ease/convenience to be the sole factor in the choice between the two.

 

Ben Edwards's picture

(NOTE: the following is meant to be relatively light-hearted)

So, let’s say you read a post and think: “Of all the arguments against on-line seminary education, this is the dumbest I've read so far.” You can’t believe someone would say in-person theological training is better simply because it is more difficult and that someone is therefore sinning to choose distance education. You could at that point in time conclude you are right and move on. Or perhaps you might think “I am surprised someone would try to make an argument like this—maybe I am misunderstanding the author.”

Then, you may see statements where the author actually states that distance education is a viable option for some people. Statements like:

  • “When these factors are all considered, some students may find that the value of distance education compares favorably with the value of in-person education”
  • “Probably the greatest benefit of distance education is that it allows some students who should stay in their local church to be able to receive theological education.”
  •  “I have no intention of shaming someone who does not choose in-person education. In fact, I actually state in my article that distance education is the right option for some.”
  • “Any theological education done right will be hard, whether distance or in-person, so don’t eliminate options simply because they are not convenient.”

Then, you also see the same author explicitly deny the argument you originally thought he was making:

  • “I agree wholeheartedly that claiming in-person education is better simply because it is harder would be dumb—which is why I was not making that claim.”
  • “IOW, the contrast I’m laying out is not between choosing something that is easy vs. choosing something that is hard, but between choosing something that is not as good just because it is easy vs. not choosing something that is right/good because it is harder.”
  • “I assume the invalid premise you are referring to is something like: ‘Doing what God requires means purposely seeking out hardship and suffering when it can be avoided or mitigated within the bounds of Scripture.’ But as I already stated, that is not a premise in my argument.”

At that point in time, you could conclude at least one of two things:

  1. I was wrong about the argument that was being made
  2. Even though the author is explicitly rejecting the premise I think he is using and is making statements that are the opposite of the premise I think he is using, he is actually using that premise.

To conclude the second, I would think you would need to assume that the author does not realize he is saying “A is true and B is false” while in the same post saying “B is true” and then later saying “A is false.” I suppose someone capable of making the dumbest argument against online seminary education could also lack the intellectual capacity to realize they are explicitly stating the opposite of what they are implicitly arguing for.

That may be the case here. So, you are welcome to state for the fourth time that I am arguing that something is better solely on the basis of it being harder. But for the sake of convenience, I will decline to rebut the argument a fourth time, lest my sanity come under further questioning for repeating the same activity and expecting different results. I think that will be easier for both of us.

Jay's picture

It seems to me that we're conflating two types of students here.

  1. A group of younger men, most likely not that far removed from college, who want to pursue further education in preparation for future ministry.
  2. A group of older men, who are more established in life (jobs, kids, involvement in a church, etc) who want to refine their skill or take a step into exploring vocational ministry.

For the first group, I'd recommend in-person seminary.  For the second (as several others here noted), the online schooling makes more sense, and this is the group that I fall into.  I know that were I to pursue an M.Div, Th. M, or some other degree, it would most likely be through the online schooling option because that's what works best with my lifestyle and situation right now, and because I have a local church that I am very plugged into and ministering in now.

It seems to me like Ben Edwards is really writing for the first group, not the second group, and the article reads a lot differently for those of us in that group.  I know I literally raised my eyebrows (a few times) at some of the things I read by Ben.  The second group doesn't need the encouragement to avoid compromising the quality of their education or schooling.  They already know and are making sacrifices/hard choices to pursue their schooling.  The first group, on the other hand, isn't as encumbered with life's burdens and should be encouraged to stretch out and be challenged.

Either system, however, is good and better than no training at all.  I also think that those who desire the training desire a good thing and ought to be commended for their desires, not criticized for their perceived inability to 'suffer' for not picking what another seminary student or professor or staff member would prefer.

Finally, while Greek and Hebrew are great and very helpful for preaching / study, God is more than capable of using men in ministry who are interested in pursuing Him and preaching the Word faithfully but who have not had those classes.  To say that someone isn't qualified to preach or pastor because they haven't learned those languages is simply wrong.

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

TylerR's picture

Editor

You're so silly. Don't you know that Paul never appointed elders in churches unless they had MDivs from on-site, accredited seminaries?

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

TylerR's picture

Editor

It's a joke. Smile. It's not meant to be taken seriously.

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Larry's picture

Moderator

I realize it was a joke. I think it wasn't a good one because it appears to be mocking people who have engaged in a serious exchange of ideas by making it appear as if they said something they didn't. It doesn't contribute anything meaningful to a good conversation. It detracts from it.

T Howard's picture

Ben Edwards wrote:

Perhaps this will help. You seem to be missing a couple of things in your reading of my argument.

  1. I’m not making an argument for the superiority of in-person theological training in this post—so nothing I’m saying about hardship necessarily rules out distance education
  2. I’ve already stated that distance education is the right choice for some people. As has been noted, we have distance education students at DBTS. So it would make no sense for me to say that students who choose distance education options are serving Christ improperly (since I would be aiding them in their failure).
  3. I’m not just focusing on hard vs. easy. I’m focusing on good/better but hard vs. not as good/lesser but easy and allowing ease/convenience to be the sole factor in the choice between the two.

Ben, thank you for the interaction and clarification. Please forgive me for being uncharitable earlier. I would just submit to you that on-line seminary education done well can be both "good/better" and easier/more convenient (logistically speaking) than in-person education. Do you consider this a possibility? In that case, if a man makes his choice solely based on ease/convenience (i.e. "good/better but hard" vs. "good/better but easier/more convenient"), is he still a target of your disapprobation and unfit to be a pastor?

Jay's picture

I realize it was a joke. I think it wasn't a good one because it appears to be mocking people who have engaged in a serious exchange of ideas by making it appear as if they said something they didn't.

For whatever it's worth, there was no offense taken and Tyler's comment did get a chuckle out of me.  As a wise man once said in a movie: "Why so serious?"

Ok, so maybe that person wasn't wise. Smile

"Our task today is to tell people — who no longer know what sin is...no longer see themselves as sinners, and no longer have room for these categories — that Christ died for sins of which they do not think they’re guilty." - David Wells

TylerR's picture

Editor

A former superior of mine in the Navy just posted this; he graduated with his MBA, which he obtained with the GI Bill. It goes to Ben's point, I think. This man isn't a Christian, but that's not the point:

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

If we replace the word "convenient" with synonyms like "appropriate", "advantageous", or "conducive", this would be a whole different discussion.

I think for some, convenient carries the connotation of laziness and possibly even carelessness--like paying $2 more for a gallon of milk at the 7-Eleven.

But convenience can also mean seeking a solution that is not only the most efficient, but most effective. When we make choices--whether we realize it or not--we weigh many factors and come up with the answer that we believe is most advantageous to us. 

This choice could be the most responsible choice, or the most self-indulgent. It's worth the step back to weigh the choice of online vs classroom so each person can determine which option is truly best for them.

JD Miller's picture

Jeff Straub wrote,

Second, I am all for pastoral mentoring , though I seldom see it done right. If your pastor met with you, prayed with you, read books with you, had you into his home, hung out with you, rebuked you, encouraged you, challenged you, instructed you and otherwise was intimately involved in your life, you were blessed indeed. Many students don't have that kind of a mentoring relationship with their pastor which is really too bad. We at Central strive to have this, not as a substitute to a student's local church but as a complement to it. It is intentional on our part. Few churches have the intentional mentorship model of say a Capital Hill Baptist and Mark Dever. Now that is intentional mentoring done right!

Not to hijack this thread, but I am curious how many seminaries are addressing this issue and better preparing pastors to be be mentors- especially in places where the seminary model may not be an option for the next generation - I'm thinking Africa or China where even online learning my be restricted by the government.

TylerR's picture

Editor

On mentorship, let's take a step back from the pastoral world and just consider apprenticeship in general. Think about your job. Think about the role model(s) who taught you how to do the job. Think about who had a formative influence on you in your chosen profession, and why. It's likely someone who was experienced, patient, kind, a model of competence (not perfection), who took the time to show and teach a craft to you over time. It's someone who invested in you.

This problem of mentorship isn't restricted to the pastoral arena; it's needed in every field. And, pastors certainly don't have a corner on the market when it comes to advice on how to model what mentorship looks like. 

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Ben Edwards's picture

T Howard

No need to submit that scenario, since it's clear from what I've said I must believe that to be the case.

  1. As you note, I'm working on the assumption that distance education will almost always be more convenient/easier.
  2. The choice for theological education should be based on what is good/better.
  3. For some, distance education is the right choice.

Thus, I must believe that there are scenarios in which distance education is good/better and easier/more convenient.

But I don't think there is a scenario in which someone could make that decision based solely on convenience. As I've stated, I believe, all other things being equal, in-person education is superior to distance education. But when you factor in other important issues, distance education might be the right choice. Thus, I don't think it is possible for ease/convenience to ever be the sole factor in the choice.

Perhaps you are thinking of a scenario in which, after important factors are considered, it seems that the options for in-person education and distance education are more or less equal. Could convenience then be a factor that causes you to choose the distance option? Of course. But it would not be the sole factor, since other factors had to be considered in order to make them more or less equal.

Ben Edwards's picture

FWIW, if we replaced the word convenient with other words, it would probably no longer mean what I was trying to communicate. I'm using it to mean, as Merriam-Webster states: " suited to personal comfort or to easy performance." So words that don't carry that meaning would not be synonyms here.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Ben Edwards wrote:

FWIW, if we replaced the word convenient with other words, it would probably no longer mean what I was trying to communicate. I'm using it to mean, as Merriam-Webster states: " suited to personal comfort or to easy performance." So words that don't carry that meaning would not be synonyms here.

Part of what makes convenience a slippery concept is that it's easy to freight other ideas to it.... because they often go with it

  • Convenient and lazy
  • Convenient and self-indulgent
  • Convenient and cheap/low value
  • Convenient and short-term focused

And then there's the problem of overvalued convenience relative to other factors. (Which probably overlaps with "cheap/low value")

So we probably all want to say don't make education choices out of laziness, self-indulgence, short-term thinking or overvalued convenience. At the same time, nobody thinks that when all other factors have been properly weighed, inconvenient is better than convenient.

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Ben Edwards wrote:
 FWIW, if we replaced the word convenient with other words, it would probably no longer mean what I was trying to communicate. I'm using it to mean, as Merriam-Webster states: " suited to personal comfort or to easy performance." So words that don't carry that meaning would not be synonyms here.

That is sort of my point--your intent is to use 'convenience' with a somewhat negative connotation. However, the Bible uses the term (and terms like it, such as "commodious") to convey something that is suitable or seasonable or a proper fit. That may be why some are taking issue with your stance--because convenience itself is not a bad thing. As you pointed out in your article, motivations are what make something good or bad.

And let's face it--there are always going to be students, online and residential, looking for ways to skate through school. Ah, the stories I could tell... but there are only so many ways schools can winnow the wheat from the chaff.

I think it's also important to note that attitudes about college in general have changed. Students and parents are factoring in the cost-to-benefit ratio of university when many employers will accept work experience regardless of whether one has a degree. As CTI notes:

The rise of nondenominational churches, for example, means that fewer pastors are required to hold a seminary degree. . .

When the need is not viewed as urgent, a degree can be obtained at a lower cost, and churches offer training in the form of non-degree courses and workshops with eye to keeping young people ministering in their home church, I think incurring debt to enroll in a residential program is a tough sell, especially in today's education climate. 

However, I tend to agree with author Tom Nichols, who said in his book The Death of Expertise:

These are dangerous times. Never have so many people had access to so much knowledge, and yet been so resistant to learning anything.

AndyE's picture

When I was looking to get seminary training, I had a full-time job, a house, and three kids that were about to enter their teen years. My plan was to (1) find a new job in the general vicinity of the seminary, (2) sell my house, and (3) move to the area to attend in person.  I was going to fund my seminary training via the proceeds from the sale of my house.  I had several interviews with companies in the areas I was targeting, but nothing panned out. I was really quite surprised, but I took it as the Lord's leading not to uproot my family for this training.

Subsequently, I started to look at online options and ended up getting an MBS completely online via Virginia Beach Theological Seminary.  The downside was that I didn't really get to know the professors or other students very well, but I did get what I was looking for, and that was more advanced theological training. I also had full access to the Emory University theological library here in Atlanta, and so I had access to all the resources I needed to complete my papers and projects.  I was also able to pay for my classes with the salary from my current job, didn't need to go into debt, sell my house, or move.  Those were all positives.

Online education was not my first choice, but I"m glad that option was available to me.

Larry's picture

Moderator

That is sort of my point--your intent is to use 'convenience' with a somewhat negative connotation. However, the Bible uses the term (and terms like it, such as "commodious") to convey something that is suitable or seasonable or a proper fit. That may be why some are taking issue with your stance--because convenience itself is not a bad thing. 

A good hermeneutics course should be pursued whether online or in person because it would remind us that a word means what an author intends it to mean. That the Bible (or someone else) uses the term differently is really quite irrelevant. If people are taking issue with Ben because they are using a different definition of convenience, then they aren't taking issue with Ben at all.

Kevin Miller's picture

Larry wrote:

A good hermeneutics course should be pursued whether online or in person because it would remind us that a word means what an author intends it to mean. That the Bible (or someone else) uses the term differently is really quite irrelevant. If people are taking issue with Ben because they are using a different definition of convenience, then they aren't taking issue with Ben at all.

Along those same lines, a good linguistics course should be pursued as well, because if an author uses a word that has more than one connotation, but author decides to focus on one specific connotation to the exclusion of the others, then the author risks some misunderstanding taking place. If the author writes in a way that doesn't clearly deal with the potential misunderstanding, then the author really is the one to take issue with.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Along those same lines, a good linguistics course should be pursued as well, because if an author uses a word that has more than one connotation, but author decides to focus on one specific connotation to the exclusion of the others, then the author risks some misunderstanding taking place. If the author writes in a way that doesn't clearly deal with the potential misunderstanding, then the author really is the one to take issue with.

While Ben certainly doesn't need me to defend him, I will say that I think Ben was more than clear in his comments. There was really little potential for misunderstanding for people who actually read with an intent to understand Ben's point (rather than read with the goal of refutation, which often leads to an unsympathetic and even partial reading). Virtually every objection raised was addressed in the initial post, particularly regarding the topic of convenience.

For instance, Ben said, "One of the biggest selling points for online education is its convenience. You can now get your degree without any real disruption to your life. Fit your training where you want it in your schedule!" By this, he was explicit about the definition of convenience he was using and the mindset he was addressing.

But if that wasn't enough, he quotes Wallace who says, "some students are simply lazy. Online classes are, frankly, more convenient. Numerous pupils in theological institutes live on or close to campus but take courses online. Why? ... often it is because they want the sheepskin with as little effort as possible. Countless numbers could make the sacrifice but view the degree as more important than the education. They intentionally settle for second best.”

So again, I think Ben was sufficiently clear in his comments for those who were willing to read and understand them. 

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