I have been studying toward the MTh in Reformed Theology with Union Theological College, using the BibleMesh platform. It has been in equal measure enjoyable, challenging, and fruitful. I am a trainee pastor at Christ Church, Loughborough, in the East Midlands, UK, and so am taking the course part-time and at a distance. In no particular order, here are a few of the reasons the course has been so helpful:
The content has been expertly chosen to cover not only the range of theological loci in order to have an understanding of the spectrum of Christian doctrine, but also to cover in some depth the development of the tradition of Reformed teaching. This has connected really helpfully with the training that is needed for ministry, with an intentional focus on applying learning to our pastoral contexts. There is a conscious effort to trace the development of key truths held by the church across the ages as heretical, and heterodox teachings have arisen and been dealt with in turn. This is achieved by looking at the development of creeds, councils, confessions, the Reformation, and post-Reformation periods. As such, students are equipped to handle the breadth of biblical doctrines effectively, recognizing the roots and dangers of heresies, and ensuring that preaching and pastoral care are effectively administered in the reformed tradition.
- Multifaceted learning
The mixture of different methods of learning (lectures, online talks, Cerego, reading primary and secondary texts) has been a real strength of the program. Coming at the material from different angles has reinforced learning and facilitated a deeper understanding. For each module, a number of key facts (people, dates, important works, key theological concepts, etc.) have been turned into a course to be studied via Cerego – this fantastic piece of software introduces you to the material to be learned, then tests you on it regularly, tracking how well you have learned it. In this way, it can prioritize re-testing you on the content you are finding it harder to remember so that you actually end up knowing it. This in turn makes the reading more profitable by providing a background understanding of the “vocabulary” and “landmarks” for sensitively engaging with a period far removed from our own.
- Rounded approach
There is a significant focus on the need to understand context, coupled with a healthy emphasis on reading primary sources. The insistence not only on hearing from the Reformers themselves, but also on working hard to understand why they were writing, has brought a clarity, rigor, and nuance of understanding which cannot be achieved by too heavy a reliance on secondary sources and a disregard for context. Furthermore, the self-conscious focus on historiography has been enlightening – the MTh has given me the compass with which to navigate the vast writings on the Reformation, testing assumptions and rooting out the reality behind them.
- Distance and Flexibility
It has been really valuable to be able to study while remaining in eldership and see the immediate fruit of my studies be applied in preaching and pastoral care. I am in my late 30s and have been an elder at my church for over 10 years, so it would have been very costly to uproot for a residential course; it has also been very affordable, which has been helpful for our small church with a limited budget!
Distance learning has meant that I do not have access to Union’s Gamble Library. However, the course provides online access to a carefully curated selection of articles, relevant to each assignment, as well as a good range of e-books for wider reading around each module. Furthermore, the BibleMesh platform provides forums where questions can be asked and thoughts shared, which provides an excellent sense of collegiality.
There is a built-in flexibility to the part-time master’s program, which has helped me a great deal. Having up to nine semesters to cover the four modules has provided the flexibility I need to take a semester off when our church will have a very busy season of outreach in the summer.
- Learning to write
Finally, I have thoroughly benefited from the focus on teaching students to write well. It may surprise some to know that the majority of assignments are only 1,000 words in length. However, the discipline and skills required to write such pieces well are rehearsed and made clear first, ensuring that we are ready when unleashed on a 3,000-word end-of-module assignment, or even the 15,000-word dissertation! One significant fringe benefit of this has been the clarity and focus of my preaching – which the congregation is definitely not complaining about!