One of the best things about an M.Div. degree is also one of the worst things about an M.Div. degree: there are so many different types of courses to take!
Most master’s degree programs focus on one discipline: English literature, mathematics, biochemistry, etc. While it may seem like an M.Div. is a religion degree, one religion course is not like another religion course. M.Div. students need to take courses in a broad variety of topics: the Bible, church history, theology, ethics, cultural/comparative studies (this may include courses in philosophy or another religion or the arts), as well as practical courses such as homiletics (preaching), church administration, or pastoral care.
The idea is to make us well-rounded, to give us theoretical knowledge as well as practical knowledge and skills. (For example, the Bible classes help us prepare to preach effectively and accurately from Scriptures.) But it also means that we’re studying a little bit of everything and feeling a bit unprepared in every area.
Last semester, dear reader, you may recall that I took a lot of theology because I absolutely love theology and feel it’s important to be as informed as I can be about what Christians have said and thought about our religion. But that means I need to catch up now in other areas. So here’s the course lineup for my FOURTH semester at Berkeley Divinity School at Yale:
Augustine with Prof. Christopher Beeley. Okay, you got me: this is another theology course. But I really need it if I want to continue my studies in theology. Besides, nearly every footnote in 20th and 21st century theology books mentions Augustine. So I will read a lot of Augustine this semester.
Book of Romans: This is a Bible exegesis seminar with Prof. Judith Gundry. We are going to go over the Book of Romans, Paul’s greatest theological treatise, with a fine tooth comb, and we’ll be reading commentaries on the letter as well as conflicting interpretations of it. We’ve only met twice, and it’s already fascinating.
Book of Joshua: Contemporary Hermeneutics with Prof. Carolyn Sharp. The Book of Joshua is a fascinating and troubling one, full of wonderful narrative as well as disturbing passages about the Israelites’ violent takeover of Canaan with God’s help. “Contemporary hermeneutics” means “some of the latest styles of interpretation.” This means, for example, that we will read feminist and postcolonial views on this book. The goal is to figure out how we will approach this book in our own spirituality, preaching, ministry, and scholarship. It feels like a real luxury to be taking two Bible courses in the same semester. If I were following the official grid, I would be taking an ethics course right now, but this course fit my schedule better, and I thought it’d be nice to spend a lot of time with the Bible this semester.
Prophetic Preaching with Prof. Nora Tubbs Tisdale. This is another seminar-sized course in which we look at a lot of prophetic preaching models and work on several topics commonly addressed in prophetic preaching: poverty, environmental justice/ecology, war and militarism, sexuality, and … I forgot the other topic.
Supervised Ministry Practicum: This is sort of a class with very brief assignments, but it is mostly a support and feedback work group for those of us who are doing supervised internships. Most of us are at churches, but one class mate is an intern at the Yale University Chaplain’s office, and another teaches religion at a private school.
(The normal course load is four courses per semester, but the only way to squeeze in more theology courses is to take an extra one now and then.)
All this coursework can sometimes seem like a long grind, and… well… it is. But tonight, I watched one of my fellow seminarians get ordained as a deacon in our chapel with about 200 people in attendance, and I was reminded of why we do all of this: to serve God and God’s people. May we put all of this learning to good use in the world.
Okay, back to the books. Oh, wait, I need to write a sermon first.