My seminary education has perhaps reached the tipping point where the cost required in terms of money, time, and energy is beginning to outweigh the degree’s value theologically, professionally, and personally. God willing, I’m due to finish in May (at least with one degree), but I’m afraid I’m going to be disappointed by what I finish with when it’s all said and done.
The problem is this: after four years of study (two full-time, two part-time), all I’m going to end up with is an MA in Theological Studies, which is normally only a two-year program. Most of the classes I took at the MDiv level covered the requirements for the MATS, but the degree is not going to reflect all that work. Several MDiv courses are MDiv only (preaching classes, for instance), so I’ve paid for hours that don’t count for MATS requirements (though I’m sure they’ve been of benefit, cost not withstanding).
I recognize that I did this to myself by first switching to part-time last year in order to teach full-time, then making the switch from the MDiv program to the MATS earlier this year because of schedule complications and language struggles. At the time (and even still), my choices seemed limited because of circumstances (children needing to eat, failing Hebrew twice, etc.), so I went in a different direction from my initial one, letting go of the MDiv in the process and assuming the MATS would still stimulate.
Unfortunately, the MATS courses I’m taking now are much less challenging than their MDiv counterparts; though the workloads are similar in terms of amount of reading and papers, the content is much less technical and engaging (barely a step above a decent Sunday School class) and I’m bored. Weekend classes (like the one I’m taking this weekend on the Ancient Near East) tend to be too big and designed for folks interested in general explanations I’ve already studied rather than the more esoteric aspects of the Scripture that I haven’t. All this too quickly enables my preference to blend into the crowd and multi-task on something else (this post, for example), and I feel like I’m spinning my wheels.
Here’s an illustration of what I’m talking about: I have 40 papers (I’m not kidding – a two-page reflection for each of the 39 Old Testament books of the Bible, as well as one five-page paper) due between now and the end of November. I haven’t started on any of them, mostly because I’m not too motivated to write reflections I know no one is really going to read with any kind of technical eye (not to mention the fact that I often write blog posts longer than these assignments and they’re not going to take me all that long to do).
Granted, the purpose of the assignment may be to get students to interact with the Scripture at a personal level, but knowing the evaluation of said assignment will be little more than a completion grade given by some T.A. who has to read a hundred other sets of reflections is not really motivating to me. It’s what I call a “plop value” assignment; if it’s got good “plop” when you drop it on a desk, you get an A.
So much of what I studied the first two years was at a much deeper level than I am studying now, and the let-down of needing to study with little more effort than I put in at college (which was minimal) is palpable. I miss my full-time days of seminary and the single-focus of that time; in some ways it was harder because of all the extenuating circumstances (tiny apartment on campus, tons of technical reading, Greek and Hebrew out the wazoo), but it was easier, too, as the phrase “I’m in seminary” meant I was solely working full-time on Covenant’s most comprehensive degree.
I suppose one could argue for the blessing of a lighter load in the midst of everything else (full-time job, wife, four children, etc.), but it doesn’t work that way for me. Instead, I find myself sympathizing with the semi-sad narrative of the baseball player who couldn’t make it in the major leagues and is now playing AA ball somewhere. The good news is he’s still playing baseball; the bad news is he’s not playing it in the bigs. In case you’ve never been to a major or minor league baseball game, the difference is vast: sure, the fields are similar and the rules are the same, but the way things are played on the field is, as the saying goes, a whole different ballgame.