The Degree Decision Quandry

I have finished another semester at Southern Seminary. At this point, my mind turns to what I’m doing here and what the best way for me to finish is. If I continue to pursue a Master of Divinity in Christian Ministry here at Southern, I will be here roughly three more years. If I switch my track to the Master of Arts in Theology and the Arts, I will finish in approximately a year and a half. Honestly, that has its appealing points to it at this point. This is an incredibly tough call, though, and far from made. Here are some of my thinking points, and I appreciate any contributing thoughts.

The Master of Arts is an esteemed degree. Many great ministers have had Master of Arts degrees (the first I think of is Mark Driscoll, who I admire greatly among living preachers, as well as friends I know) and some schools offer almost exclusively Master of Arts degrees with specializations and only a standard Master of Divinity offered without specializations. Indeed, one of the most prestigious evangelical Bible schools, Wheaton College and Graduate School, has no M.Div. degree at all, and yet its M.A. program has turned out some of the most notable pastors and scholars of the last century. Southern Seminary is a bit different, featuring not only a host of M.A. degrees with specializations, but M.Div. degrees with specializations as well. The M.A. track is recommended mainly for those not going into direct pastoral ministry. However, currently, the Theology and the Arts track is only available in the M.A. The M.Div. track is currently going through a “wait and see” period, and there is the possibility that it will not come to fruition, at least in an expedited manner.

Meanwhile, the Master of Arts in Theology and the Arts is a very unique degree. The only other degree like it in the evangelical world is Fuller Seminary’s M.A. in Worship, Theology, and the Arts. The engagement of the arts in the life of the local church and the universal Church as a whole is a wide open field right now. With such an exclusive degree as only Southern and Fuller currently provide, this would set me up for unique ministry opportunities in and of itself, even if it is not a Master of Divinity. It provides me with a masters degree that allows me to teach on theology, the arts, and the relationship between the two. It helps me to make theologically astute visual art, literature, film, and whatever else God calls me to do.

However, there are things that I must consider. The Master of Arts is not a Master of Divinity, and that is just that. The M.Div. is what is typically pursued by pastors. It is also what is typically required if one decides to pursue a higher theologically-centered research degree such as a Master of Theology (Th.M.), a Ph.D., or a practical degree such as a Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.). The M.Div. has more Greek/Hebrew study and more practical classes such as preaching and counseling that are not required study for the M.A. students. This is why the M.Div. is generally not the track most recommended for pastors in comparison with the M.Div.

On the other hand, these classes can be taken by M.A. students for no credit, at their own discretion. Also, again, there are many, many pastors who have been very successful in the M.A. track. Meanwhile, the track is highly recommended for those who are going to be teachers, which is what I intend on doing. The fact is, while I do see myself helping plant a church and being a contributing elder, the role of head pastor is not something I would necessarily choose for myself. This brings me to my next area, which has a great influence on this decision: just what do I want to do?

The way I see it, what I do best is teaching and writing. I loved being a youth pastor. I love teaching people about the Bible, art, literature, music… I just love teaching, especially people in their teens and twenties, but even more mature people as well. I also love making stuff. I love writing (both fiction and nonfiction), making short films, creating artwork… and if these can be instructive and encouraging to people in their spiritual walk, all the better. So, I basically see myself as someone who will end up being a teacher, elder, writer, and artist. I could possibly be a teacher in a released-time program like the Christian Learning Center I went to during my high school years. I think – nay, I know – that a program like that has a tremendous impact, and my background in both theology and the arts would be most resourceful in engaging a generation entirely driven by a passion for visual media.

I also could see myself being a co-pastor/elder at a church similar to Sojourn. The Southeast needs more good, solid churches. I can’t see myself escaping being on a pastoral staff. A church that has good, solid, biblical theology and is engaged with the culture surrounding it is desperately in need in Atlanta and much of North Georgia. It would be great to be a part of an Acts29 plant down there or to help reform an existing congregation to be both more biblical and more mission-oriented.

I could also, interestingly, see myself pursuing another degree after this, but not in theology. To get another M.A. or even a doctorate in an area of the arts & humanities such as literature, creative writing, or art and actually begin to really engage these on an academic level, even possibly becoming a teacher at a college. Honestly, I would absolutely love to teach on the college level, as that is where I was most developed into who I am today.

Meanwhile, I cannot see a way around me working in developing literature, videos, possible films, and other artwork for the edification of the Body and for engagement with the culture as a whole. I think this may be where I end up working most.

Still, there is part of me that wants to stick around for the M.Div. I have been assured that they are trying to make the M.Div. in Theology and the Arts a reality. That would be an incredible degree to have. It would mean more exposure to the languages. The languages aren’t everything, and I don’t think you have to be fluent in them to be a good pastor, but they can certainly provide help. Even though I can use all sorts of software (see my ongoing pondering over whether to get Logos or Accordance for my Mac on my Twitter page) as well as interlinears and Bible dictionaries as permanent crutches, there is nothing like having a bit of first-hand knowledge. Also, it would provide me the chance to pursue a higher theological or pastoral degree should I ever choose to do so. The extra time here at Southern would be a hassle, but extra time at Southern would also mean extra time at Sojourn, which I’m sure would do nothing but further prepare me to be a church planter/pastor/elder/whatever.

Lastly, there is a ray of comfort in the knowledge that if I go for the M.A., I can apply the credits to a M.Div., trading the former degree for the latter one at a later time.

Pray for me about these things and offer any suggestions. I’m content in not knowing right now, but decisions have to be made eventually.