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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Jay's picture

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

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sensing people here who are unwilling to read and understand the article.  Do we really need to resort to hostilities simply because we may not agree?

"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

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

Jay wrote:

 Do we really need to resort to hostilities simply because we may not agree?

Definitely not. ... I'm not convinced there is even any actual disagreement. Just preference for slightly different emphases... among the same actual points.

(I'm reading some Alvin Plantinga right now. Not a fan of his comfort level with theistic evolution, but one thing I'm loving is his ability to find every single point of agreement he can in order to focus like a laser on what's actually in dispute. It's really refreshing.)

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

Larry wrote:

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.

I recognize the importance of respecting authorial intent--I was merely pointing out that if one is accustomed to hearing the term 'convenience' in a positive light, and the article uses it negatively, it may cause a bit of dissonance. 

I stand by what I said--it's not convenience that's the problem--it's the motivations of individual students choosing online programs over residential that's the problem. And in spite of the disdain for doing something that is 'easier', I think getting more done in a shorter period of time with less effort is not always a bad thing. This efficiency of convenience is why I started using kettlebells for my workouts instead of going to the gym to use their weight machines, for example. 

But yeah--students living across the street opting for online courses because they want to skate--that's not a good. Just like the students who borrowed my homework (without asking) before class, or tried to get me to blow a test because the professor graded on a curve--they had the same lackadaisical attitude, in spite of their full-time student status. The flesh is like water, desiring to follow the most available path of least resistance.

Larry's picture

Moderator

Maybe it’s just me, but I’m not sensing people here who are unwilling to read and understand the article.  Do we really need to resort to hostilities simply because we may not agree?

It maybe just you. But there are no hostilities that I have seen.

As for my post, if people weren't unwilling to read and understand, then my comments don't apply to them. 

But again, it seems that Ben was clear in this article and in previous articles that distance ed was a good option for some. And yet there was some seemed to accuse Ben of denying that, in spite of what he said. Ben was also clear that he was talking about a particular kind of student and a particular kind of convenience. But there were some who completely missed that in spite of it being right in a very short article. So in the end, if people missed that, we have to wonder why.

Aaron may be right that there wasn't much disagreement, though I do think there is a distinct difference in philosophy among some. One person who argued against Ben confirmed that he actually agreed with Ben. It was an odd moment. 

Larry's picture

Moderator

I stand by what I said--it's not convenience that's the problem--it's the motivations of individual students choosing online programs over residential that's the problem.

In the article, that's the definition of convenience. The motivation is convenience, in essence, and a particular kind of convenience (again, defined in the article). What you are doing here is saying that the identified problem  (the motivation of a particular kind of convenience) is not the problem and then in the next phrase agreeing that the motivation of a particular kind of convenience is a problem. I think it's incoherent in terms of a response. Again, in responding to the article, you can't just change the definitions or referents and then act like you are responding to the article. 

And in spite of the disdain for doing something that is 'easier', I think getting more done in a shorter period of time with less effort is not always a bad thing. 

Well no it's not always a bad thing, and there's no disdain for doing something easier. But we have to define what "more" is in any given situation. Because "more" may be less. Is it "more" when you miss out on major parts of education? I would say No. It reminds me of a sign that says, "If you don't have time to do it right the first time, why do you think you will  have time to do it better later?" 

So again, there are many different factors that lead to different things for different people, but it's important to interact with this article on its own terms. If one wishes to make a different point, consider writing a different article and use "convenience" in a different way. 

Susan R's picture

EditorModerator

As a reader, here is how I'm interpreting this article.

The set up of this article was:

When a student is determining how and where to receive his theological education, he must consider various factors, including the faculty, library/research resources, doctrine, tuition costs, ministry philosophy, location, family situation, current and future ministry plans, etc. 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. But one factor seems to often tilt the scales in favor of distance education—a factor that should be almost irrelevant for those truly seeking theological education. That factor is convenience.

So- a student has considered all the factors listed, and 'convenience' tilts the scales.

Is it difficult to take a lower-paying job that allows greater flexibility for schooling in order to be better prepared for ministry? Yes. Is it a challenge to move to a new location so that you can receive more from your theological education? Certainly. Is it a sacrifice to spend hours and years getting properly equipped for a lifetime of ministry? Absolutely. Is being in gospel ministry hard? Yes—it is supposed to be.

So- residential programs may mean a lower income, moving from home or hometown, and spending more time immersed on one's education--this is 'harder', which is presented here as more virtuous/spiritually advantageous.

As for online programs, later in the article something gets thrown in that wasn't in the set up:

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! ...
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?

I believe am engaging with the article and attempting to understand the whether the point being made here is valid. From my interpretation of what the author is saying (having not been blessed with psychic powers as of yet), it seems to me that if one has done due diligence as described, and convenience tilts the scales because of the later mentioned 'shorter, less rigorous program' then choosing convenience is a problem because it is rooted in sloth.

Making a sacrifice to uproot and move across the country (or across the globe) for the sake of the best education is the stumbling block to more and more would-be students today...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.

It seems here that the idea that moving across the country to go to the 'best' school is being equated with the student being more serious and dedicted. I've met students in Christian colleges and seminaries, and I've been one. This doesn't track well for me.

And so much of this article appears to assume that the online option is inherently inferior because it is not 'in person' with professors and classmates, and they are 'less rigorous'. Am I misinterpreting? Or do we accept this premise? I'm having trouble with that. 

Craig Toliver's picture

The tide of the Digital economy is irreversible and online education whether we like it or not is riding that wave.

We do many things out of convenience. I deposit a check via an App instead of driving to the bank. Is that laziness? Or efficiency?

The Internet and technology has been a huge "disrupter" in every aspect of society:

  • Dating: Tinder et al
  • Shopping: The decline of Sears, JC Penny, and even Macy's with the rise of Amazon, EBay, Etsy, et cetera
  • Banking: and "Fintech"
  • Buying cars when the buyer "knows" the 'real price' of a car by searching the Internet. 
  • Taxis: with Uber and Lyft

Education is the same. Students are consumers too and they make decisions partially based on economic forces (even though they may not know this!)

There is nothing sacrosanct about the resident seminary model. It's worked for centuries but it is not found as a model in the Scriptures.

The institutions who rail against online education are the ones who don't offer it. I can't blame them for that. GM mocked Ford's aluminum truck body because they didn't have an offering.

Ultimately God makes the man not the seminary!

 

 

Jay's picture

It seems here that the idea that moving across the country to go to the 'best' school is being equated with the student being more serious and dedicated. I've met students in Christian colleges and seminaries, and I've been one. This doesn't track well for me.

And so much of this article appears to assume that the online option is inherently inferior because it is not 'in person' with professors and classmates, and they are 'less rigorous'. Am I misinterpreting? Or do we accept this premise? I'm having trouble with that. 

I got the same vibe as well, and I noticed but didn't comment on the switch in the 'set up' that Susan mentioned.  Thanks for putting words on that, Susan.

The thing that I keep getting stuck with on this article (and this is off topic, but germane), with the way that society is changing around us, I doubt very much that we will be able to have seminaries and colleges for ministers and pastors in the future.  We've already seen attempts in Canada to shut down institutions for training pastors (IIRC) and to remove the accreditation of law schools that refuse to bend the knee to the LGBTQ Baal.  So how do we, now, train men to minister in an environment where formal training for ministers isn't available?  I refuse to believe that God can't use pastors who haven't been able to learn Greek and Hebrew, but surely there is some strategy or methodology that we can learn from - maybe from our brothers and sisters in China or those who were under the Iron Curtain or something like that.  Obviously, there has to be some sort of 2 Timothy 2:2 practice - but what else can we be doing now, before things get even worse?

"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

Bert Perry's picture

Per what Susan and Jay note, my pastor noted in the sermon yesterday that the nearest Bible college is burning through reserves at such a rate that they're likely to end up bankrupt within a decade.  Along the same lines, a number of young people from my church who have attended that college are choosing to drop out, and when I looked up that school's curricula, it struck me that the degree programs were such that theoretically, you could have all your classes for all 2-4 years in the same room, just having the professor walk in with his laptop and such.

It also strikes me that the premiss behind the book of 3 John, and really the premiss behind the whole culture of "circuit letters" going to multiple churches, was a way of getting around the need for a localized Shul  for this training.  We might do well to consider it. 

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

TylerR's picture

Editor

I've heard Bauder say something like:

  • The Bible College trains Christian workers
  • The Seminary trains Christian leaders

There is something to that. I'm still not so sure leaders cant be homegrown in local churches without a Seminary. Quality control is the perennial issue, but local churches do a pretty poor job of that already in the ordination process, so there's that. I see the future as unaccredited Seminaries. I believe it will be increasingly difficult for ministers to get an accredited education from a Seminary in the next generation, because of the demands the institutions will face. I see a massive return to the churches for theological training in the coming generation.

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 believe am engaging with the article

When you change the definition of key words, you are not engaging with this article but one of your own making. 

From my interpretation of what the author is saying (having not been blessed with psychic powers as of yet), it seems to me that if one has done due diligence as described, and convenience tilts the scales because of the later mentioned 'shorter, less rigorous program' then choosing convenience is a problem because it is rooted in sloth.

So it sounds like you agree with at least one point of the article. There's no psychic powers needed. Simply reading the article (and the others) and the explanations which were given is enough. But this leads me to wonder why you make a big point to pretend to disagree. The idea that the particular convenience noted shows up in the article isn't a switch at all. It was the premise. That doesn't make sense to me. No reasonable reader would expect every single detail to be included in an opening line.

It seems here that the idea that moving across the country to go to the 'best' school is being equated with the student being more serious and dedicated.

No, I think that was specifically answered multiple times by pointing out in the article and in later comments by the author. that there are many factors involved in the decision.

And so much of this article appears to assume that the online option is inherently inferior because it is not 'in person' with professors and classmates, and they are 'less rigorous'. Am I misinterpreting? Or do we accept this premise? I'm having trouble with that. 

I think that isn't so much an assumption as an argument and I don't think there is much doubt about it, at least the first; the second is frequently true but not always. The question is whether the cost of it (total cost, not just financial) is worth it. There is always a tradeoff and people have to make the decisions based on various factors. 

Larry's picture

Moderator

I see a massive return to the churches for theological training in the coming generation.

I imagine people like Ben Edwards (who wrote this), Kevin Bauder, and Dave Doran would agree with you on this. They are already where you say it is going.

Larry's picture

Moderator

We do many things out of convenience. I deposit a check via an App instead of driving to the bank. Is that laziness? Or efficiency?

Depositing a check is the same as education? Is that really an argument we should take seriously?

The Internet and technology has been a huge "disrupter" in every aspect of society:

True, but many believe that is not a good thing. There are a great many studies that are indicating that computers are a negative in the classroom. They provide nothing of benefit and they provide much demerit.

There is nothing sacrosanct about the resident seminary model. It's worked for centuries but it is not found as a model in the Scriptures.

But wasn't the primary mode face to face? Letters were a second option because it wasn't impossible to be there face to face.

The institutions who rail against online education are the ones who don't offer it.

That's not true. And it may be (and actually is the case) that some of the biggest promoters of online education have no experience of it in the classroom and have no way of actually comparing it. 

Ultimately God makes the man not the seminary!

But God uses people to do it, right? 

Jay's picture

We do many things out of convenience. I deposit a check via an App instead of driving to the bank. Is that laziness? Or efficiency?

Depositing a check is the same as education? Is that really an argument we should take seriously?

The comparison is valid for the point that Susan is making.  The strategy (education) is still the same - it's in how the education is delivered.  This also doesn't answer her question either.

The Internet and technology has been a huge "disrupter" in every aspect of society:

True, but many believe that is not a good thing. There are a great many studies that are indicating that computers are a negative in the classroom. They provide nothing of benefit and they provide much demerit.

People said that automobiles and airplanes did the same thing.  Hey, we kill people much more efficiently now with bombers and fighters and guided cruise missiles when we fight in wars police actions.  Should we stop using all of these things as well?  Or do we incorporate them into our strategies for transportation and defense?  If not, then what's the difference?  One delivers your new equipment from Amazon.com much quicker?

"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

Larry's picture

Moderator

The comparison is valid for the point that Susan is making.  The strategy (education) is still the same - it's in how the education is delivered.  This also doesn't answer her question either.

It wasn't Susan. It was Craig. And the comparison isn't valid. Depositing a check isn't the same as getting an education.

People said that automobiles and airplanes did the same thing.  Hey, we kill people much more efficiently now with bombers and fighters and guided cruise missiles when we fight in wars police actions.  Should we stop using all of these things as well?  Or do we incorporate them into our strategies for transportation and defense?  If not, then what's the difference?  One delivers your new equipment from Amazon.com much quicker?

Isn't is clear that you are reaching significantly? Are you familiar with studies (or reality) of computers in classrooms? Bringing automobiles, airplanes, killing people (where did that come from????), Amazon, and the like into it won't change the issue at hand. 

At the end of the day, there are two different issues at play here.

1.  Bad analogies. Even if the argument is good, the analogy or comparison is bad because it doesn't compare equal things.

2. The best means to deliver/obtain education. I doubt that anyone disputes (though perhaps some do), that all else being equal, face to face is better than distance. The question is what level of inequality justifies distance or offsite education. I am not sure what the answer to that is. But the article at hand addresses one component of that--laziness and a desire for the easiest way out. Do you think that laziness is a good reason for distance ed?

 

Dave White's picture

At the end of the day - online education is a reality!

  • If resident seminary education is the ideal AND if schools offering only resident education are correct in their critique that online education is defection for whatever the reasons ...
  • Online education is a reality!
    • It is working for some men!
    • And churches are calling those men
  • I really doubt that online-education / resident education would even come up in an ordination council or church recognition council
  • At the end of the day ... men will make choices as they are lead of the Lord
  • And that's good enough for me

Update: Liberty has a full online MDiv. My guess is that their enrollment is greater than Faith's, MBU's, Detroit's, Central's & Virginia Beach's combined

TylerR's picture

Editor

You make so much sense, it should be illegal! Agreed. 

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?

Bert Perry's picture

With regards to the actual difficulty and nature of suffering for Christ, one historical point of reference is that rabbinic training in the time of Christ is said to have been 12 years.  In contrast, Jesus interacted with His disciples for three, and yet it was His disciples who faced crosses, executioners' axes, and the like.

We might infer that, with reference to a central point of the article, that we ought not assume that various arbitrary points of difficulty in attending a particular seminary will be critical for that pastor's development.  Rather, we ought to assume what any good coach assumes in training his athletes; that there is training which is beneficial and appropriate, and there is another level of difficulty which is actually damaging.

For example, in my youthful sport of cross country, it was beneficial for the boys to ramp up to about 90-100 miles per week in August, followed by a decline through the season--and before the state meet, we'd be down to about 30-40 miles.  For girls, somewhat less, and for either sex, going much higher, or even getting to this level without adequate preparation, was harmful.  You'll see the same thing in any other sport, and really any other endeavor.

So if we want to argue the superiority of local seminary, it's not about (per Central) getting a job at FedEx to pay one's way.  It's about the real experiences that are relevant to ministry. 

It ought also to be noted--ahem, abyssmal pastoral pay scales, the "right boot of fellowship"--that perhaps living on SPAM and ramen in seminary might contribute to pastors being willing to suffer abuse from their churches instead of confronting it.  Just sayin'.  Might also contribute to pastors feeding that--if your academic career has been one of "suck it up for the Gospel", guess what: you're also likely to take that attitude into ministry.  Plus, it's going to generate pastors who fight like the dickens for their jobs, because quite frankly they were working "at FedEx" and not learning a trade they could ply outside church doors.

You wonder why we have so many nasty fights in our circles?  Look at how we're teaching, brothers.

And per Dave's comment, the reality is that if fundamental seminaries really value the distinctions between their branches of fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism, they're going to need to have the online/remote option.  There was a time when many would tolerate difficulty for the sake of difficulty; that time has, thankfully, gone.

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jay's picture

And per Dave's comment, the reality is that if fundamental seminaries really value the distinctions between their branches of fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism, they're going to need to have the online/remote option.  There was a time when many would tolerate difficulty for the sake of difficulty; that time has, thankfully, gone.

Actually, this is already largely in place.  BJU has an online program (several MA's and an M.Div), as does Central.  I didn't see anything for DBTS, but I'm sure there's something there. There may be other IFB (non-Conservative Evangelical) institutions out there that offer online coursework, but I'm hard pressed to think of someone else.  IIRC, Calvary Lansdale was looking into this before they unfortunately had to close.

"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

Larry's picture

Moderator

We might infer that, with reference to a central point of the article, that we ought not assume that various arbitrary points of difficulty in attending a particular seminary will be critical for that pastor's development. 

Herein I think you are responding to a different article. At no point were "arbitrary points of difficulty" a consideration. Nor was a "particular" seminary. 

It ought also to be noted--ahem, abyssmal pastoral pay scales, the "right boot of fellowship"--that perhaps living on SPAM and ramen in seminary might contribute to pastors being willing to suffer abuse from their churches instead of confronting it.  Just sayin'.  Might also contribute to pastors feeding that--if your academic career has been one of "suck it up for the Gospel", guess what: you're also likely to take that attitude into ministry.

Or it might that pastors took the words of Jesus seriously about the importance of the gospel and the character qualities needed to pastor. 

Jay's picture

Oh - you're right.  Thanks for the correction, Josh!

The correct Central is at www.centralseminary.edu, for those inclined to check the link.

"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

Rob Fall's picture

Check out Marantha's on line offerings/

Jay wrote:

And per Dave's comment, the reality is that if fundamental seminaries really value the distinctions between their branches of fundamentalism and conservative evangelicalism, they're going to need to have the online/remote option.  There was a time when many would tolerate difficulty for the sake of difficulty; that time has, thankfully, gone.

Actually, this is already largely in place.  BJU has an online program (several MA's and an M.Div), as does Central.  I didn't see anything for DBTS, but I'm sure there's something there. There may be other IFB (non-Conservative Evangelical) institutions out there that offer online coursework, but I'm hard pressed to think of someone else.  IIRC, Calvary Lansdale was looking into this before they unfortunately had to close.

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

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