More and more seminaries, Christian universities, and Bible colleges are opting to train future ministers and missionaries online.
What happens when the movement toward online education is shaped by pragmatic or financial concerns instead of Scripture and theology? Ministry training can be reduced to a mere transfer of information as institutions lose sight of their calling to shape the souls of God-called men and women in preparation for effective ministry.
How might online ministry training look different if biblical and theological foundations were placed first? Teaching the World brings together educators from a wide range of backgrounds and from some of the largest providers of online theological education in the world. Together, they present a revolutionary new approach to online theological education, highly practical and yet thoroughly shaped by Scripture and theology.
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About the Author
Gabriel Etzel (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary and D.Min., Liberty University) is professor of Theology and Christian Leadership and Vice Provost for Undergraduate Education at Liberty University in Lynchburg, VA. Christopher D. Jackson (Ed.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is pastor of St. John's Lutheran Church and St. Peter's Lutheran Church in northeast Wisconsin.
Timothy Paul Jones (Ph.D., The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary) is the C. Edwin Gheens Professor of Christian Family Ministry and Associate Vice President of the Global Campus at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, KY.
Gabriel Etzel is associate dean, School of Religion, and associate professor of Religion at Liberty University.
Timothy Paul Jones is assistant professor of Leadership and Church Ministry at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in Louisville, Kentucky. He is also the author of Misquoting Truth and received the Baker Book House Award for excellence in theological scholarship.
Read an Excerpt
Past Patterns and Present Challenges in Online Theological Education
I have never been a traditional college student.
I have earned three degrees but never once lived on a college or seminary campus. While earning every one of my degrees, I have worked forty hours a week or more. In the process, I have witnessed a momentous shift in higher education — a movement from traditional, on-campus education in fall and spring semesters to an increasingly complex mixture of online and on-campus components scattered across the calendar. Now, I am privileged to lead the global campus at one of the largest seminaries in the world and to oversee the research of doctoral students in the field of online learning.
My circuitous pathway to this position began with a badly bungled telephone call.
The Great College Catalog Confusion
Sometime in my early teenage years, I discovered that everything I had any interest in doing — law, military history, and political science were piquing my interest at the time — would require a college degree. Halfway through high school, it occurred to me that I might need to find out more about what was required to go to college. Neither of my parents had finished high school, and no one in my family had ever earned a college degree; so, even though my parents encouraged me every step of the way, they didn't know precisely how to guide me. The high school I attended was a tiny fundamentalist academy where the faculty's only qualifications were certificates from unaccredited Bible institutes; so they weren't much help when it came to an accredited college education.
In the summer between my sophomore and junior years of high school, I went to the library, located the toll-free telephone numbers for a handful of colleges, and began making calls. I don't recall which college I called first, but I do recall the awkward conversation that followed. As soon as someone answered the telephone, I announced, "I need to know how people go to your college" — because I didn't know what else to say.
"Well, if you'll provide me with your address, I'll be glad to send you a college catalog," said the young woman on the other end of the line.
When I heard the word "catalog," what crossed my mind were the only catalogs I knew — department store catalogs, filled with products for sale — and I was certain she'd misunderstood what I needed.
"I don't want to buy anything," I replied. "I just need to know how to take classes so I can get a college degree."
"If you'll give me your address, I'll send a catalog so you can do that," she repeated.
After a couple more confused exchanges, I finally gave her my address, reasoning that I could simply throw their catalog in the trash once it arrived. A few days later, I was surprised to discover that a college catalog wasn't a colorful magazine filled with products for sale at all. It was exactly what I needed to figure out how to earn a college degree — a small book that explained the college's degree programs, tuition rates, and scholarships.
By the time I graduated from high school, I had sensed a calling to vocational ministry, and my resolve to find a way to earn a college degree was stronger than ever. My ACT scores had qualified me as a State Scholar, which covered much of my tuition, and our household's finances made me eligible for an educational opportunity grant for low-income families. Still, I didn't have the resources to cover room and board in addition to the cost of tuition and books. And so, I lived at home — about a half-hour drive from campus — and I worked one part-time job at the library and another part-time job at a Christian bookstore, in addition to serving as a worship minister on weekends. I couldn't always fit the courses I needed around my work schedule. The college I attended didn't offer summer or winter sessions, so I took three or four correspondence courses every summer from another college. Each of these courses came with a syllabus, sometimes supplemented with audiocassette tapes, and a list of textbooks. I completed the assignments and mailed them to a teacher with a self-addressed stamped envelope. A few weeks after sending off each assignment, I received my graded work back in the mail.
One of my tasks in my part-time job at the library was assigning call numbers to new books and cataloging them. Near the end of my first year as a college student, a new step was added to the process. I would verify the accuracy of each call number by accessing records at the Library of Congress through a computer connected to a network known (if I recall correctly) as UUNET AlterNet. I saw nothing but text on a blue screen, but I was in awe. Here I was, in a library in Kansas, looking directly at records that were located in Washington, D.C. Little did I know that this same technology was already in the process of revolutionizing education in a way that would change the future direction of my life.
A Better Way to Do This
During my last summer of college, a small-town church in Missouri called me as their pastor, and I moved into a parsonage next door to the church building. By this time, I had concluded that I needed seminary training — but the nearest seminary to my church was nearly two hours away. At this particular seminary, no courses were available via distance education, and no classes were offered in any format other than four days per week. Once again, I found myself driving back and forth to get an education — except that I was now driving almost four hours each day, four days per week. Meanwhile, a congregation of believers in a small town was looking to me for leadership and pastoral care.
I tried to make the best of those hours in the car, listening to audiocassettes of the Scriptures and to lecture series from Ligonier Ministries. Sometimes I spent a night or two in Kansas City instead of making the long haul home. Yet, the fact that I was missing from the church most of the week took a toll on my effectiveness as a pastor. Over and over during those many long hours on the highway, I found myself thinking, Surely, there's a better way to do this.
Three years after graduating from seminary, I found myself longing to complete a research doctorate, and it was my quest for a doctoral program that opened the door to experiencing a "better way." By this time, I was serving a church in Oklahoma, far away from any opportunity to complete a doctorate in any subject matter in which I was interested. During my first year in that church, I learned about a new doctoral program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Dial-up Internet was available almost everywhere in the United States by this point, and Southern Seminary was experimenting with doctoral courses that blended Internet-based discussions with on-campus seminars that were packed into intensive one-week and two-week formats. Students pursued their degrees in cohorts and completed their coursework together. Now, instead of making dozens of trips to campus every semester, I made only three trips per year.
When I was on campus in Louisville, I was able to spend focused time researching and writing with a community of fellow doctoral students. When I was at home in Oklahoma, I interacted with my cohort and our professors in online discussion forums. There we wrestled with content that we were reading and related our readings to our ministry contexts. This was by far the most enriching educational experience of my life — but it was possible only because of an explosive growth in online learning in the closing years of the twentieth century.
The goal of this book is to respond to the growth of online learning over the past couple of decades in ways that are biblically and theologically grounded, particularly when it comes to the ways that we prepare men and women to become leaders in the church. Our intent is to steer a clear path between an uncritical embrace of online theological education on the one hand and a complete rejection of this pedagogical modality on the other. First, however, let's lay a foundation for our study by taking a brief look together at the history of distance education, with a focus on theological education.
The Development of Distance Education
I have organized the history of distance education into four phases. You will quickly notice, though, that these phases haven't started or ended at precise points in time in history. Each one overlaps with others, revealing the rapidly shifting approaches that have marked distance education over the past three centuries.
The First Phase of Distance Education: Print and Postal Service (1700s–1990s)
At least one historian of distance education has suggested that the apostle Paul may have been an early distance educator, if distance education is understood as teaching without being physically present. Although — as you will see in the first part of this book — there are connections to be made between Paul's epistles and distance education, such a complete correlation seems to me to be too much of a stretch. I suggest that the first era of distance education as we know it began with the correspondence courses of the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries. The earliest surviving evidence of a correspondence course seems to be this notice in the Boston Gazette, dated March 20, 1728:
Caleb Phillipps, Teacher of the new method of Short Hand claims that "Persons in the Country desirous to Learn this Art, may by having the several Lessons sent Weekly to them, be as perfectly instructed as those that live in Boston."
Face-to-face instruction was the standard of comparison in this little advertisement ("as perfectly instructed as those that live in Boston"), and there seems to have been some skepticism regarding whether Phillipps's correspondence course could produce the same results as face-to-face instruction ("claims that [they] may ... be as perfectly instructed"). Like a quality online instructor today, Phillipps made consistent contact with his students and organized his materials into manageable chunks ("by having the several Lessons sent Weekly").
By the mid-nineteenth century, the inventor of the Pitman system of shorthand was using "Penny Postcards" to offer similar correspondence courses in England. In the closing decades of the nineteenth century, an American professor named William Rainey Harper offered what may have been the first graduate-level theological course in a distance format. At the Baptist Union Theological Seminary in Illinois, Harper experimented with teaching Hebrew via correspondence. The results of his experiments were mixed, but the primary impact of Harper's efforts would be realized later, on the shores of Chautauqua Lake in New York and through the birth of a new university in Chicago.
During the summers, Harper taught at the Chautauqua Lake Sunday School Assembly. The founding vision of Chautauqua was that "education, once the peculiar privilege of the few ... , [would] become the valued possession of the many." Already having experimented with correspondence courses as a professor, Harper became instrumental in the early leadership of a correspondence program at Chautauqua known as the Literary and Scientific Circle. Soon a School of Theology had emerged at Chautauqua as well. By 1883, Chautauqua was a state-chartered university, offering the first distance-education degrees in the United States.
In 1892, Harper became the inaugural president of the University of Chicago, and Chautauqua began to phase out its external degree programs. At the University of Chicago, Harper initiated the first university-based program of distance education. Still, even as Harper promoted correspondence courses, he never saw correspondence courses as a replacement for "oral instruction." Instead, he argued that distance education should remain organically related to a physical institution of research and higher education where face-to-face instruction occurred.
In the opening years of the twentieth century, Moody Bible Institute followed a pattern of distance education similar to the one that Harper had already established a few miles south at the University of Chicago. Moody's Correspondence Department provided theological education for laypeople as well as church leaders "who have not the time or means to take a college or seminary education." Their rationale reveals much about perceptions of distance education in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries:
There is a crying need for competent Bible teachers, and also for those who understand the Word of God and know how to use it in bringing others to Christ. ... [The] Correspondence Department has been organized for the benefit of those of both sexes who cannot, for financial or other reasons, attend the Institute personally. ...
For more than twenty years correspondence schools have been in existence. Several of these are of large proportions. Almost every conceivable subject is being taught, not only languages and literary departments of knowledge, but also scientific and practical subjects, such as civil and mechanical engineering, architecture, electricity, chemistry, etc. Education by correspondence is no longer an experiment. Not only is teaching by correspondence possible and practicable, but it has many advantages.
1. It is available for any man or woman who lives within reach of the mails. Distance is no barrier.
2. Studies do not interfere with daily duties.
3. There are no limitations as to age, sex, or race.
4. Each student is a personal pupil, coming under the direct, personal care of the teacher.
5. Studies are always ready and available.
6. Students can begin or drop study any time to suit their own convenience.
7. Each student sets his or her own pace. ...
Each course is taken up in sections, printed in pamphlets containing 40 to 60 pages, which can be conveniently carried in the pocket for study on train, street car, while lunching, or whenever time can be spared.
In the year 1900 no less than today, distance education was promoted as an accessible and affordable alternative for those who were unable to relocate to a physical campus. Correspondence training was already accepted in a range of technical disciplines. Moody Bible Institute seems to have borrowed its model of education from these disciplines, quite possibly as practiced at the nearby University of Chicago, and applied it to training for ministry.
The Second Phase of Distance Education: Print Supplemented by Multiple Media (1920s–2000s)
The second phase of distance education began when educational organizations began to supplement printed correspondence courses with other media. Radio, records, films, audiocassettes, compact discs, television programs, and eventually videocassettes and digital videodiscs buttressed the print content of correspondence courses. By the 1980s, Coastline Community College was broadcasting telecourses that led to college degrees, and Nova Southeastern University was beginning to offer computer-based graduate courses.
In Christian contexts, many of these courses were aimed at personal enrichment and the training of laypeople, much like Moody's Correspondence Department earlier in the twentieth century. In 1975, R. C. Sproul and Ligonier Ministries released their first series of audiocassettes, some of which made seminary-level content available to laypeople. The next year, Liberty Baptist College launched non-accredited training through the Liberty Home Bible Institute. Liberty took its first steps toward accredited distance education in 1985, offering courses for academic credit through the Liberty University School of Lifelong Learning. On-campus lectures were videotaped and mailed to students, who completed the same coursework as on-campus students and mailed assignments back to the university.
The Third Phase of Distance Education: Online Learning Supplemented by Other Media (1980s–2010s)
As Internet access began to penetrate millions of homes in the closing decades of the twentieth century, institutions that were already offering distance education courses moved rapidly into a new transitional phase of distance education. In this third phase, a computer connected to the Internet coexisted alongside other media; students in this transitional era frequently watched their lectures on videotapes or DVDs, but they also submitted assignments and interacted with professors and fellow students via email or discussion forums.
Excerpted from "Teaching the World"
Copyright © 2017 John Cartwright, Gabriel Etzel, Christopher D. Jackson, and Timothy Paul Jones.
Excerpted by permission of B&H Academic.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Table of Contents
Chapter 1: Past Patterns and Present Challenges in Online Theological Education,
Section I: Better Foundations for Online Learning,
Chapter 2: Paul and the Possibility of Absent Presence,
Chapter 3: Social Presence and Theological Education,
Chapter 4: Controversy and Common Ground,
Section II: Better Faculty for Online Learning,
Chapter 5: Online Faculty and the Image of God,
Chapter 6: Online Faculty and Theological Competency,
Chapter 7: Shaping the Spiritual Lives of Online Faculty,
Section III: Better Practices in the Classroom,
Chapter 8: Best Practices for Online Learning,
Chapter 9: Best Practices for Online Ministry Training,
Chapter 10: The Advantage of Ministry Training in Context,
Conclusion: To Teach, to Delight, and to Persuade,