Because life is a series of edits

A Degree of Transition

In Family, Places & Spaces, Seminary, Westminster on April 16, 2008 at 5:02 am

A reader named Kevin recently left a comment inquiring as to my reasons for transitioning from a Masters of Divinity to MA degrees in theological studies and educational ministries at Covenant. As I just wrote my official transition request letter to the seminary faculty a couple of weeks ago, I thought I’d post it here for him (and anyone else) who might be interested.

Obviously, there’s a lot more to a decision like this than a one-page letter can capture, but for the sake of everybody’s attention spans, this should suffice for now. Feel free to leave a comment if you want more specifics and I’ll be glad to share a few (or at least make some up).

Dear Covenant Faculty,

This letter is an appeal for your approval of my request to transition from Covenant’s M.Div. track to a dual-track of M.A.T.S. and M.A.E.M., effective at the end of this spring semester. My reasons for making this change stem from both calling and common sense.

In 2005, my main reason for coming to Covenant was to invite new voices of input to speak into my life – personally, emotionally, spiritually, theologically. I had little aspiration to pursue ordained pastoral ministry, but had set my sights on the M.Div. nonetheless, as it was the most comprehensive degree Covenant offered.

After two years as a full-time seminary student, as well as this past year as a part-time student also teaching full-time at Westminster Christian Academy, a switch from the M.Div. to a double masters in theological studies and educational ministries seems apropos to equip me in my call to write at a popular level and teach at a high school level.

If all goes according to plan, I anticipate finishing the M.A.T.S. one year from now, then completing the M.A.E.M. the following year. The conclusion of these degrees is important not only for what it represents of my studies, but also for the sake of beginning to reallocate resources of time and finances to our four daughters’ education.

Megan and I look forward to staying in St. Louis after completing these degrees. In addition to our involvement at Memorial Presbyterian, I plan to continue teaching at Westminster in the areas of Biblical Ethics and New Testament, as well as be of any help to the seminary (and The Schaeffer Institute) that I can.

All that said, I would appreciate your endorsement of our plan by approving this request. It goes without saying, but thank you for your investment in my life and ministry in my time at Covenant. I count it a privilege to have had this opportunity to learn from you.


Craig Dunham

PS: For more information about my thought process, please consult Drs. Douglass, Guthrie, or Barrs, as they have been on the receiving end (perhaps to their chagrin) of most of my degree transition conversations and know my heart in the matter.

I’ll let you know what the faculty say when I hear back from them next week.

  1. Thanks Craig. I am in a similar situation as to not pursuing the M.Div and ordination but still have a passion to teach on the High School level, do some writing, and teaching in my church. My wife and I have two kids and another one on the way so pursuing my MDiv is starting to get ridiculous as it is draining us financially and emotionally. All that to say thanks for the encouragement and it is good to know that we don’t have to have certain degrees to do what God has called us to do.

  2. Kevin, the best advice I would offer with regard to degrees is to focus on figuring out who you are, where your best fit is, and what God may be calling you to do there, then figure out what (if any) degree you may need to do that well. As you’re probably aware, there are a lot of good guys with PhDs looking for jobs.

    While I would have loved to have finished the M.Div., I came to the realization that, in coming to seminary in my mid-30s with a wife and four young daughters, the window of opportunity wasn’t wide enough to fit through without significant financial, emotional, spiritual damage similar to what you’re experiencing. I’m not saying it can’t be done (and I know families who are doing it), but it wasn’t worth it to me for what I feel called to do.

    While I’ve learned a tremendous amount in seminary (and will continue to do so in pursuing the MATS and MAEM degrees), 80% of my education has been naming things from my 12 years of ministry with The Navigators. I try not to second-guess God’s hand or plan in the way He has led us, as I have few regrets about our time with the Navs or at Covenant. By God’s grace, it’s all been Psalm 16:5-6: “The Lord is my chosen portion and my cup; you hold my lot.The lines have fallen for me in pleasant places; indeed, I have a beautiful inheritance.”

  3. It’s nice to hear reassurances that others are “struggling” (although that isn’t quite the right word) with the decision to remain in a particular degree program. It is difficult, sometimes, to reconcile a sense of calling with God-given gifts and abilities, and also with current employment (e.g., your job at WCS). Can I ask: was there a vocation in mind when you enrolled at CTS? You mentioned that you wanted more “input”–it seems a fairly high price for a simple expansion of knowledge.

    I’ll be praying for you and yours during this time. And I’m sure you’ll be “approved” by the faculty!

  4. I came to Covenant with the intention of my seminary education benefiting my teaching and writing, so yes, these were the vocations in mind when we decided to make the transition. Indeed, it was a high price (for all of us), but the sense of God’s leading was equally high, not only to the community we were leaving, but also to the one we were joining, which was important.

    At the time, I thought surely the path would be the M.Div. and then onto a doctorate, but even during that first semester I think I sensed these were probably more my desire for a credential than an experience. Seminary has been a letting-go process of some of my dreams – first the semi-idol of a PhD; second the hope of the M.Div. – for more of what I sense God’s dreams are for my family, ministry, and self.

    Charlie Peacock’s lyrics in the chorus of “William & Maggie” capture the struggle for me:

    I’ve been thinkin’ about you and me and everybody in between
    It seems we’ve suffered one too many dreams
    of things that weren’t so bad, it’s just they were never things that we could trust
    Are we still pretending they’re enough?

    What about your own wrestling?

  5. I think you and I share a lot in common. I, too, came wanting–not a pastorate–but theological training to assist in my teaching. Like you, I thought the M.Div would be the track to get me there. And, like you, I have had to sacrifice my idol of Ph.D worship (and my jealousy at those who have the opportunity to attain one–esp. at a school like Edinburgh or Cambridge!).

    I think perhaps you had a greater sense of calling than did I; you’re only a little bit older, but obviously have more responsibilities and commitments. I’m thankful that our family is still small and young, and these times of upheaval are borne a bit more easily.

    Quite frankly, I don’t know how seminary will turn out. Tuition increase, not-so-sure sense of calling, and all our family in CA is making for a tense decision time around here. But, as you pointed out, it becomes less about MY dreams, and more about those which God has for us.

    I guess I’m still waiting for my Monty Python and the Holy Grail moment where God parts the clouds, tells me his plan for my life, and I respond: “Good idea, my Lord.” To which God so eloquently replies: “OF COURSE it’s a good idea!”


  6. I found out quickly after we moved here (six. years. ago.) how very important a sense of calling is. And I was very grateful for God giving both Clay *and* me that same strong sense of calling to come to seminary. Being a member of one of those 35-and-over people with 4+ children, I would have been ready to pack it in and move back to KC by about Thanksgiving of 2002 but for that calling.

    Sanity and lack of sin would be nice to have to, but even so, our fledgling and flagging efforts (aided by abundant stubbornness) to follow God’s call have brought us to the point of seeing the light at the end of the tunnel… 2 classes to go after this semester!

  7. Great to hear you process through the time of transition in your life. It is encouraging for me even though I am in a different transition and in a different season of life. Being in my mid twenties, married, and no children makes life much different for me. But, I am still trying to figure out more of who I am and where I fit best. Thanks for the help.

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