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Help with determining future degree plans


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Hello Everyone,

In quick summary, I should be completing my bachelors within a year in a non-religious field and have been contemplating and researching pursuing a masters. I am hoping to use this education to work primarily in an “educational” environment, by this I do not necessarily mean an academic role, but I am not looking currently extensively looking to follow a pastoral/evangelical route though at a future time possibly. To elaborate a bit more to explain my desires:

Things I would most enjoy doing:

-Leading Bible Studies, church history studies, etc.


-Research and publication

-Working as a Professor

Callings that may are not currently my focus:


-Christian counselor

-Missionary work

-Church administration


With that being said, I would not entirely oppose any of the above. I also feel like some learning in each would add a “roundness” to my understanding of Christendom as a whole. Due to this, and my lack of exact position not being decided, I am weary to rule out professional degrees.

I have researched various degrees, programs, seminaries, universities and realize like everything there are differences and that in many cases it is situation. From my general searching it seems like Mdiv->ThM->DDiv is the typical route for pastoral workers moving towards theologian/Upper Clergy. While MTS/MaTh->?->PhD is the typical academic route.  With Mdivs typically being longer than both MTS or MATh degrees by 50ish hours. I am aware that a lot of congregations will only hire pastors who have an Mdiv, and a lot of ThM programs require an Mdiv or equivalent studies for acceptance.

With this understanding, I have the following questions:

1.)    If you do not have an Mdiv, but later receive a DDiv, does this fit the requirements for most congressional pastor positions?

2.)    Am I missing a general step for the academic route? I have seen several PhD/DDiv/ThD that state an MDiv or MDiv/ThM is required or equivalency. How is this achieved? I would assume a MaTh/MTS plus something (Thmm)? Or can one generally move straight from one of those into a Phd, but not ThD/Ddiv?

3.)    If wishing to pursue mainly academics, is the above questions worth it? Should one just complete an Mdiv, and follow up with a ThM then into a doctoral? If one is later called to ministry would they be “allowed” to by larger denominational standards? For instance, could a PhD in theology be a pastor at most denominations that require an Mdiv?



Any other information that is pertinent would be much appreciated!

Thank you

Edited by Airrickark
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Your interests are pretty broad, which isn't bad of course, and many have completed an MDiv for that very reason. But that adds time and usually money. The 'problem' with keeping all of these doors open is if you decide on an academic path then you may have to get another M* (e.g. MA) to be competitive at many top programs. The reason many people have multiple M* degrees before starting a PhD in religion/religious studies is because of such broad interests. Compare, for example, the interests and motivations of the average student interested in Egyptology or Classics. You don't hear about how they may, in the end, want to preach the good news of the gods (if only!). Thus it is still commonplace, at least at some universities, for one to start a doctoral program straight after college. Anyways, this can only possibly help answer #2. But really there is no single path; much of what determines where one will end up, especially for something like an MDiv, is  based on anecdotes (here!) if even just chance. I'm suddenly reminded of Seneca's 'life will follow the course on which it began, and it will neither reverse nor halt its course.' ?

Edited by sacklunch
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I would say evangelical-seminary professors inhabit the space between “academia” and “ministry” which might be what you’re looking for. Some are in ministry, some are not. Some are pastors while teaching, others are directors of think tanks or of other projects while teaching. They publish but mainly in Christian journals and publications. They teach others in the same faith background without the pressure for interdisciplinary respectability that shapes religion/history/philosophy departments.

1. Pastors positions typically require an M.Div. because it’s a well-rounded degree. It gives the baseline training in all the disciplines you listed (both in your interests and the ones you are not interested in). I’m not sure if a D.Div fulfills that requirement, though I’m seeing less and less D.Divs in general.

2. You will need a Masters degree to pursue any doctoral-level study (at least for the humanities). Part of this is that the Masters degree gives you a flavor of what subjects and discussions scholars are engaged in that would allow you to contribute to the broader scholar community.

An M.Div gives you a broad overview of every seminary discipline (biblical studies, church history, ministry, preaching, counseling, etc...). Because it’s so broad, it typically requires you to do a ThM/STM on top of it (an additional one-year) so that you can narrow your interests and find which discipline best fulfills your intellectual curiosities. An MTS (Master of Theological Studies) is generally more flexible than an MDiv and allows for a student to pursue research that an MDiv might not allow. From those I’ve spoken to, MTS CAN allow you to go straight into a PhD once you’ve demonstrated your research chops.

3. The route you laid out might be the best approach if you want the flexibility to teach and maybe be a pastor in the future. On a more practical-level, however, I would say doing a PhD (over a ThD) might dissuade you from being a pastor down the line, or if you end up not liking your PhD push you towards ministry instead. While it’s perhaps overstated in churches that academia might cause someone to lose their faith, there’s definitely some truth to it.

For example, my field is in religious history in the U.S. If I was an evangelical and I’m learning a lot about evangelicals and their issues with race, gender, whiteness, etc, I’m often put in an indefensible position about my own religious tradition. Intellectually, I won’t be able to make assertions to a congregation that evangelicals were on the right side of history or that my congregations’ faith-tradition has historically been a force for good. It’s hard for me to preach on what it means to be a good Christian in the workplace if the tangled histories of Christianity and capitalism prevents me from proposing any benign combination of the two. It’ll be hard for me to say that the Bible is infallible if the notion of its infallibility was a historically created claim by fundamentalists to combat what they perceived as the “liberal modernists.” I can’t make any claims about our “modern culture” which congregants might want but my discipline shows that there might not be anything that is “modern culture.” In short, a PhD changes the way you think about particular subjects in a way that might not be the most helpful to your congregation and might actually weaken your ability to meet other people’s needs.


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Your interests seem very broad, and "half-baked"--which is not an issue, since we were all in that stage once upon a time. Based on your post, however, I think an MDiv would be a good option for you. An MDiv would keep all your doors open, and even be a good stand-alone terminal degree if needed. 

Also, keep in mind that being a professor at a university is not the easiest thing to do, and you will require some maturing of interests before considering that as a viable option. Maybe after the first year of MDiv you can be in a better place to decide if academia is where you want to go. 

I myself did not decide until after my first year of MTS to go the academic route, and it took me several years to get myself ready for this endeavor and to mature as a student and applicant. Additionally, you should know that languages are very important and often a limiting factor for many people.

Edited by Averroes MD
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Thank you for your reply, my interests are quite broad I admit. I’d say partly due to the fact I’ve always enjoyed a holistic approach to learning. Religion has long fascinated me even before I found faith. I guess my rationale is, obviously the word is only spread through evangelism and those who understand how best to proselytizing and teach. However, at the same Its long been the history, people, nations, and movements that influence the way those are looked at, taught, and how they connect us. I guess part of my issue, Is I not only want to better understand the doctrine of my faith, but the real-world reality of it as well. I think Marth raises several points in his post that also play into this.



I’m glad you took the time to type all that up, it is much appreciated! Thank you. To elaborate a little bit, I was a convert to the LDS church in my very early adult years, I was the only member of my family who has had interest in religion and thus mostly did it alone. By that time, I most of the major religious texts, Sutras, Vedas, Quran, Hadiths, The Talmud, The New Testament, Gnostic works etc. I joined the church knowing its beliefs were unorthodox at best, and blasphemy to others. Fast forward a few years, and I have since left the LDS church. The reason I share this, is I think your explanation is very truthful about the logic of knowledge and rationality versus faith and connection to those establishments who have done wrong. At times for instance, I would lead prayers or lessons on BOM studies that referred to horses in text. Historically there is no evidence of horses (or most other things) in the Book of Mormon. Despite knowing this, I continued. I think a conversation I had with a member of the church shortly before my departure was wise advice however. He was a published Mormon apologetic and held respectable positions in the church, he was also very “real” though and had 4 degrees from various institutions. Our talk about my struggle with the validity and proof of the church essentially boiled down to him saying (paraphrased) the following points

·         He has struggled with those things himself for many years, and still doesn’t have those answers but that lead him to seek truth, to learn, to explore, to enjoy the good in life while acknowledging the bad and overall made him a wiser, more caring individual.

·         That all religions of the world have some truth. All of them have doctrine that can lead to a better life and provide some guidance and wisdom to situations, they also all have doctrine that has can cause oppression, hurt, pain and more.

·         That if the wisdom you find is true, whether it brings you closer to God, or further away from faith, the main importance is that it is true.

·         That what leads to a better wholesome, loving, happy life that doesn’t cause harm to others should be implored. If it is something you have faith against, then obviously don’t do it, it isn’t for you. At the same time you should attempt to show why you belief those things are harmful to that person, but remember that the above is more pivotal to each.

Without boring you any further, I believe that is very similar to my thinking and my perspective while looking at faith, religion, and theology. At the same time, slightly counter to your last paragraph I don’t believe understanding wrongs of the church or even fallibilities of some doctrine are necessarily “bad”. For instance, I’ve grown up in the south while it isn’t true of all you quite often seen those who attend church every Sunday yet are racist and spew hatred everyplace else. Sometimes the very institution has racism or hate or oppression as part of roots despite it being a place of faith. I would say that a good priest/pastor/minister/etc. should understand those issues, and try to correct them, and enlighten those around them. This obviously should be balanced in a way that doesn’t cause issues, which is where wisdom and understanding comes in. I once attended a sermon (visiting an old friend) in a church in Jasper Tx (the area if you are unaware is infamous for racial tensions, and discrimination, and hate crimes) there minister had just come back from a trip in southern California visiting family. Roughly he explained how he wanted to attend church that Sunday and happen to find one right down the road from his hotel. He arrived, the church service was only in Spanish (which he did not speak). He went on to explain that a member of the congregation come to him realizing his confusion (as he was debating on leaving), and offered to translate for him, and did so for the entire hour of the service. Afterwards, another member after speaking (through the translator) found out he was staying in the hotel insisted he come and stay with him as he had a small guest house on his property (which he did for over a week) and it was all based solely on their mutual love for God. He explained the story, and then condemned his congregation essentially explaining that none of his members have shown even a 1/10th of what he saw towards outsiders. Whither it be in church, or what he had observed about the members in the community. He took the time to explained and taught how the churches (generally) had used the book to promote racism and hate in many ways, and then preached on the love of the God, and left it up to the members to learn from it and decide if their thoughts where correct. It was one of the most heartwarming, truthful, loving, reprimanding, rebuking speeches I have heard to this day. While my summary doesn’t do it justice, I honestly believe those issues need to be addressed both through facts, and faith which is why I don’t entirely agree with the assessment. Though I can see how in many cases without tact, and understanding, they do directly conflict, and I am by no means attempting to disregard your ideas.

Also thank you for elaborating 2-3



I appreciate your honesty and thanks for the advice. Ill say roughly, I have horrible insomnia and was on a bit of stent when I posted my 1st bit. Looking at it again, It didn’t quite articulate as well as I had hoped, or really presented some of my desired things to learn in a right manner. I explained above in the reply to Sacklunch a bit more regarding my broadness. However, I feel like I need to add, I honestly can’t say I want A over B. Because I think all aspects of theology will help me in my overall personal goals, even the once I mentioned that I wouldn’t prefer. My desire from framing it that way, was to see if there was any insight of the above “groups” one way or the other.

As for academia in a university I would like to think I understand the basis, and most of my concerns where with those peculiarities specific to theology. I am still quite young (under 25) and I think that has some influence on my naivety and writing in many ways which can be misconstrued. This year I should hopefully publish my 1st two scientific papers to journal (avocationally I am an arachnologist, with a specific interest in the order Scorpiones). I have several “colleagues” (They say colleague, I say mentors) who are Phds and one has even had me present in his class on the occasion. I do understand the research, the time, the technicalities, the review, the publishing, the resourcing, funding etc. I say this not to boast, but demonstrate I am not entirely oblivious to the publish or perish, difficult requirements, and dedication required in advanced academia.  

With that, I believe your advice on waiting a bit into the degree to see exactly where I want to go may be best. I figured that would allow me to see the topics and areas more in depth than I have previously and would allow for better knowledge to decide specific interest.

 If it is not to personal, may I inquire as to what pushed you into academics? Also, was your MTS your first masters degree? I saw your bachelors was in Arabic. At this point would you say the MTS prepared you enough for academia? Do you have any other advice on things you did or would recommend to do to prepare?

I’m also aware most later academia in theology require advanced French/German, while biblical studies require advanced Hebrew/Greek is this something that institutions generally want you to do in house? Or is transferring in/testing out of generally okay? Whichever I choose Mdiv/MTS/etc I am definitely looking for one that offers languages, hopefully even one that allows a concentration or more than just basics. I am bilingual, and can typically skim my way through French readings and get the jist, overall though language has fascinated me almost as much as religion (I know more broadness :X)


Any more ideas, thoughts, advice, rebuttals, considerations would still be appreciated



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The fact that you know a bit of French is good. Language requirements differ based on specialty. But, in general, you need to know about 2-3 source languages very well, and have at least reading proficiency in two modern languages of scholarship, such as French and German.

However, if you have no source languages down, then you have a long way to go. These require years of effort, and you will already need to be at an advanced level in at least one of them (if not two) to get into a good PhD program. If you plan on going the academic route, I strongly suggest utilizing EVERY summer you have to do immersion studies, such as at Middlebury.

I think 3-4 years is what is necessary to reach a decent level of proficiency in a source language to get into a PhD program (and then continue studying the language there "in house"), but that's only if you do it intensively and consistently throughout those years (and during every summer). Otherwise, it can take 4-6 years or longer. This is just my opinion and experience. Bottom line is that you need at least 3-4 years of intensive language study before you start the PhD. In my field of Islamic studies, for example, you can't do diddly if you don't read Arabic. 

MDiv and MTS are both great starting options for you, especially since funding can be generous. I think the MDiv will offer you more years and summers to study a source language, and will also be a better fall back option in case you don't go on to academia. Good luck!

Edited by Averroes MD
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