1. Convenient for students
Online...... doesn't make us unique, but it does distinguish us along with the leaders of seminary education. Bethel Seminary (where Mike Cline who was interviewing me went) certainly is one of the leaders here. Asbury Seminary is as well. Others like Wesley Biblical have joined.
The flagship seminaries like Duke and Princeton will survive without programs that allow you to do most of your courses online and then only come to campus once or twice a year for intensives. But most seminaries will wither away without these sorts of options. The Wesleyan Seminary immediately joins a small group of leaders who offer seminary degrees without making you move somewhere.
2. On the job training
Study while in ministry... really puts us in a small number. Bethel Seminary has this option as well, but who else but us and them does? And even then, my impression is that Bethel has not geared their curriculum (yet) to maximize the learning in relation to being in a local church while studying specific topics. My impression is that "in ministry" for them simply means the same as #1 above--you don't have to leave your church to train.
By contrast, in our program, you do action research on your local congregation and its environment every week! The sample below brings this out.
3. Integrated foundations with practice
Learn Bible, theology church history in the context of ministry...... nowhere, and I mean no one, has this integrative piece, not the way we do. The sample says it all.
Sample week at our seminary:
You'll remember that someone gave our seminary concept a rather scathing review a few weeks ago. I really felt sorry for him because he really has no idea how much more the typical seminary student is going to like our way over business as usual--and how much sounder the paradigm is pedagogically. Purists are usually wrong. But even more often, they end up marginalized.
I was looking at a week from one of our online courses starting this Fall. Three features of this week jumped out at me because these are assignments his seminary couldn't assign even if they wanted to!
- Do Action Research assessing the “human needs” of both the immediate context of your church, as well as any target areas on which you believe your church should focus (50 points).
- Review and evaluate the demographic research you did for the Cultural Contexts of Ministry course.
- Explore the biblical question, “Who is my neighbor?” in relation to your local context.
First, since you are on location in a church, you don't just explore in the abstract what the possible human needs of a community might be. You actually explore the needs of your community, of your church's community, the place where you are ministering. Other seminaries can't do this, because they don't require you to be at a church!
Second, you bring something from a previous course into this one. With the possible exception of Bethel, other seminaries just aren't sequenced so intentionally to where you build like this from one course to the next. From the discussions we've had with accrediting bodies, they'll crown us king just for this alone. NO seminary anywhere maps out the curriculum in the detail we have.
Finally, his seminary might have a class where you do exegetical work on Luke 10, the final bullet above. If you're lucky, they have a class on Luke you can take. If you're lucky, you'll have a Bible prof who is interested not only in what scholars of Luke have said and their own pet projects but in applying the text to today.
What they do not have is a Bible prof "dropping into" a missional class. Some at least have "missional" courses, rather than old style evangelism classes. And it is possible that a practical prof might do a class on the Parable of the Good Samaritan, maybe. But no seminary brings a Biblehead into the same class (so to speak) with a Missional prof with as much intentionality and integration as our program does.
If you thought IWU was being picked on by a big gun, don't feel bad. In my honest opinion, there's simply no seminary pedagogical design that comes close to what we're proposing. May we be good stewards of what God has entrusted us with...
... and of course, we don't expect to be the only ones for long. This is too good for others not to borrow! Purists like our detractor will be fighting the visionaries in their own faculties in the days to come, not to mention their own administrations urging them to get with the program!