My Journey to Become a Biblical Scholar
Why I'm seeking degrees in biblical studies, my journey thus far and my plans for the future.
In 2015 after leaving a high-stress high-travel job, I realized that I wanted to use my hard-earned and God-given abilities for the Church. I had spent seventeen years as a Christian but hadn’t walked well with the Lord or really put him at the center of my life as I should have. It was time to get serious about my faith.
I love teaching and have done it at the technical college adjunct level and the professional level in the IT industry for years and the usual menu-driven serving “opportunities” in my local Church were not cutting it for me. I thought, why not exercise my gifts in this area to benefit the Church?
I typically jump into new ideas head first without thinking them through, so naturally, just like Dain usually does, I immediately tried to develop a class and approached my pastor with the idea, which was, met with little enthusiasm. His exact words to me were “We like people to be out serving the community instead of sitting around and studying.” Okay. I tried to explain to him that a balance of study and serving the community was better and that the Church needed to swing the pendulum back towards the study side a bit more, as my observation had been that almost everyone I knew was quite biblically illiterate. Let’s just say that didn’t go over too well.
That meeting was discouraging. And the more I thought about the interactions I’d had in the Church, the more I doubted. I think part of it has been the megachurch culture I’ve been immersed in, as these churches tend to treat parishioners like consumers (often while complaining that parishioners have a consumer mindset). But I doubted myself, my ideas, and my abilities. Who would want to be taught by me anyway? Why do I have the right to be a teacher or even be heard? Just because I’m a teacher in the IT world doesn’t mean I can teach in a totally different field. Why should anyone listen to me, I’m not qualified. I’m just a regular guy with an interest. I’m not a professor or pastor.
On top of that, most of the people I’d encountered were not interested in deep study or intellectual pursuits. They would rather do the Tim Tebow Bible study than dig into a systematic theology book. I was interested in reaching a different kind of person, but where were they? I was looking for people who were just as excited as I was about the Bible and the deeper more technical aspects of Bible study, languages, biblical history, etc. Then I thought, maybe instead of looking in the local church, I need to engage with other pastors, teachers, professors, or students in Bible colleges and universities. In fact, maybe I need to become qualified in order to be taken seriously.
Much of that was negative thinking, but still, it’s not unreasonable to get some training to be more qualified. Furthermore, in order to achieve the level of quality I felt comfortable with, I would need some education. I’ve always loved books and have spent years going through various theology books with other laity in the Church, but I tend to be a perfectionist and felt that I could be steering people the wrong way without putting in an effort to be professionally trained first. I wanted to take this seriously because, ultimately, this is God’s word. In addition, I knew that to teach in a traditional college or university, a master’s degree or doctorate in a related field is often required.
And so I started to see two or three potential paths. First, I could become educated at the master’s and/or doctorate level and teach at a college or university. This would have to be done gradually and I knew that this dream wasn’t going to happen overnight. I still had a family to support, and another twenty years of being in my career before I could retire. Once you build a career, it’s not easy to make a shift into something completely different, especially if you have people depending on you. Furthermore, tenured positions in traditional universities are becoming harder and harder to obtain. Currently, the field is saturated with Ph.D.-level graduates who are competing for these positions. Therefore, a pursuit for this reason may not be wise. I know that I will have to adjust my expectations and if getting a Ph.D. is in the cards, it’ll have to be for multiple reasons and mostly driven by my own love of studying and interest in the subject matter, regardless of career opportunities. On the bright side, I think this type of position will probably look very different in ten to fifteen years, at which time maybe there will be interesting opportunities. Second, I could build my own ministry of teaching, doing research and writing which would mostly likely be primarily online. I could start this right away, and grow it gradually before going full-time in retirement. I would have to figure out how to fund this ministry in the long term, but could easily fund it with cash on hand in the short term. This type of thing excites me and is a driver for me to obtain doctorate-level education (even though a Ph.D. would not be required in this scenario). Third, I could probably find a part-time or adjunct position at a Christian school, college, or para-church ministry (or even at a church) along the way.
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Having settled my direction somewhat, I shifted my efforts to finding a school. I considered a couple of traditional schools near me; Crown College and University of Northwestern, but soon realized1 that I would need a more flexible model because it wasn’t realistic for me to do anything other than a fully online program as a part-time student. I do not have the luxury of leaving my profession entirely, at least, not yet.
The first online school I tried was World Video Bible School (WVBS) where an unaccredited bachelor’s degree can be earned for free. I went with this school because I wanted to feel like I was making some progress toward my goal, and it was the only option I had found that wasn’t going to cost me anything. But I knew that I would need an accredited degree in order to accomplish my real goals.2
A friend pointed me to a better school with a path to an accredited degree; Christian Leader’s Institute (CLI), where I enrolled in an Associate of Divinity program. This excellent school is for all Christians but it does tend to deliver content in the Reformed tradition. The classes are actually free. If you want a degree you can enroll in a degree program and pay a very low cost for the degree itself. In fact, the cost is adjusted for cost of living per country. So if you’re in a country with a depressed economy and scarce resources, the cost is very low. While these degrees are not accredited through the Association for Biblical Higher Education, at the time of this writing the school is several years into the application process. They do have accreditation through the International Association of Bible Colleges and Seminaries and the Academic Council for Educational Accountability. But as mentioned, there is a path to an accredited degree through partner schools. Schools such as Liberty University, Calvin Theological Seminary, and others will accept credits from CLI.
At this point, it’s 2020 and I’m on my way to earning an Associate of Divinity and hopefully, a Bachelor of Divinity at CLI. The plan is to eventually transfer these credits to a master’s program at Calvin Seminary. But then I run across another program being promoted by a biblical scholar that I am increasingly following and appreciating; Dr. Michael Heiser. In the interview below with Heiser and the founder of Redemption Seminary, Dr. John Schwandt, I learned of a new Master of Arts in Biblical Studies degree.
There are many exciting things about Redemption Seminary, but the two things that first caught my attention and drove me to enroll were that at the time3, the seminary accepted life experience as a sufficient prerequisite, meaning, I could skip past my work at CLI and jump right into a more challenging program. Also, there was a path toward a fully accredited degree through a partner school.4 As Heiser says in the video, “You will graduate with an accredited Master’s Degree in Theological Studies.”5
I had been eyeing Dr. Heiser’s Awakening School of Theology (AWKNG) for a while, and so to hear that earning a Certificate in Biblical Studies from his school could be applied towards a Master’s Degree at Redemption Seminary was icing on the cake.6 Add to that a Logos library worth $25k that you get to keep after graduation and a reasonable cost to the entire program. Let’s just say I made no delay in applying!
And so I put CLI on hold, focusing more attention on AWKNG and Redemption. It’s been worth it. I am still slowly working on the ADiv/BDiv through CLI, and I will ultimately finish those degrees to have the credentials and fill in any gaps.
As of the time of this writing I have earned my Certificate in Biblical Studies & Biblical History from AWKNG and have four courses left before I graduate from Redemption Seminary, which I plan to have finished in 2024. Obviously, I’m slow rolling all of this because I have a pretty demanding job and a pretty large family to take care of. Priorities! But that is the beauty of the online seminary model; it’s flexible and allows one to have a life. :-)
I’m not teaching yet, but I have this vlog. Right now, as I have indicated in another post, the vlog is best effort. I’m really concentrating on finishing school, which could go on for a while. My plan for the vlog would be to eventually write about and make videos and/or podcasts about topics in biblical studies and other areas of interest. If an adjunct or church teaching opportunity presents itself after I’m done with this first MA, I may give it a go. But I have tentative plans to do a second MA in languages and eventually a Ph.D. It’s ok to take my time. In fact, it’s important that I do because this is a journey of discovery.
I’m often asked what I am going to do with this education. People tend to think I am interested in becoming a pastor, but I’m not called to be a pastor or missionary. I’m called to be a scholar.7 What is a biblical scholar? Research, writing & teaching, essentially. How does one become a scholar? By earning a doctorate-level degree in biblical studies or a related area, including mastery of the biblical languages, and then engaging in research, writing, and/or teaching.8 This isn’t easy to do for busy professionals with families. I can’t go the traditional route, doing full-time school in academia. But even if I could, I can’t afford a low academic salary, not to mention the awful stories I’ve heard about working in academia.
Since traditional academic positions in biblical studies are increasingly hard to find, I’m beginning to once again shift my thinking about where all of this is taking me. In my opinion, traditional academia is dying and I am starting to believe that the future of academia, especially in the area of biblical studies, is going to look more like Redemption Seminary than the brick-and-mortar institutions we are used to. Alternatively, I can see a need in the future for small, local seminaries, even underground seminaries, and maybe a network of smaller institutions related to a larger distributed organization. In the same way that parallel economies will be built in other areas, new academic guilds and institutions in biblical studies will manifest as a result of the failed traditional institutions and the needs of the global Church. These guilds and institutions will possess all of the professionalism, rigor, and legitimacy of the traditional but instead of academia serving academia, these new organizations will serve the Church. Not the institutional church, but the global body of believers. My perceived calling doesn’t match the traditional path, but if there is one thing I’ve learned throughout my life and career is that I never take the traditional path. I do have an entrepreneurial spirit, and maybe God has placed me into this difficult position, where I cannot easily take the traditional path because I am to create or participate in something new and different.
So there you have it. My journey. I will go into more detail about the programs at Redemption Seminary and AWKNG in future posts. If you’re reading this and are inspired to check out either of these programs, please reach out to me. I’d be happy to give additional insights. Thanks for reading!
Notice a pattern here? Haha! It took several “realizations” and changes of direction as I walked farther down this path. I expect there will be several more along the way!
WVBS has extensive material and exams. It is an impressive online tuition-free school. However, the teaching is from within a fundamentalist tradition which was not going to work for me. I’d been exposed to quite a bit of fundamentalism through the churches I had attended over the years and wasn’t looking to expand that knowledge base. Something told me their exegesis was lacking. I’ve since confirmed that. And so, I would not recommend this school unless it was the only option or you are interested in learning fundamentalism. I know that the school has many students from poor countries or countries that are hostile to Christianity. In this case, I am very thankful for the school as it provides biblical training to ministers who may not have other opportunities.
Unfortunately, Redemption Seminary is no longer able to accept life experience and does require a bachelor’s degree for admission. I was grandfathered in. They had to make this change as part of the accreditation process. However, I do believe it is possible to audit the courses, even without a bachelor’s degree. If interested, I would contact the seminary for more details based on your situation.
The degree through Redemption Seminary is currently an unaccredited degree with a path toward accreditation at another university. The degree is either a Master of Arts in Biblical Studies Diploma or a Degree, depending on where you live. The accredited degree can be earned through a short capstone program at Kairos University. And so at the time of this writing, there is a path toward accreditation. The seminary is in the application process for full accreditation, and so eventually, once approved, the school will be able to offer an accredited degree without having to do the capstone. Depending on timing, I may or may not have to do the Kairos thing.
I found out later that Dr. Heiser was actually on the Redemption Seminary board.
I will always leave room for God to adjust my understanding of what he has in store for me, so I am not entirely ruling out either of these vocations.
The definition of a biblical scholar may vary slightly depending on who you talk to.