Should Undergraduates Major in Christian Studies?
Recently, Jeremy Mann penned a piece, titled, “Advice for Undergraduates Planning on Seminary.” For the most part, it conveys remarkable wisdom, exhorting undergrads to seize the opportunity to study, be strategic in forming friendships, get involved in some form of leadership, settle down in a local church, and labor to fight habitual sins. I wish someone had confronted me with such conviction when I was a willy-nilly, pimple-faced college freshman.
Interestingly, near the end of the piece, Mann suggests that seminary-bound undergrads consider majoring in something other than Bible and theology. He offers his last point as a “bonus” and admits its idiosyncrasy, yet it stirred my thoughts and caused me to consider the reasons that a seminary-bound undergrad should major in Christian studies.
First, too many “seminary-bound” students never go. As soon as they land a decent church job, education ends. Sure, they usually intend to go to seminary eventually, but life happens—marriage, children, mortgage—and suddenly moving to a different city to spend three to four years earning an M.Div. simply isn’t feasible. I regularly encounter pastors and church staffers who desired to attend seminary one day, but didn’t, or couldn’t, and now feel stifled in their biblical and practical skills. A professor once told me, “Those who go far start early and stay at it.” I encourage my students—as a matter of stewardship—to get whatever training they can as soon as they can. Don’t delay. Temporally speaking, the future isn’t sure.
Second, a bachelor’s degree in Christian studies offers significant advantages to the student who goes on to seminary. A 90-something-hour M.Div. is no small undertaking. With a Christian studies bachelor’s degree in hand, a student can often move more quickly through the degree. He or she can carry heavier course loads, avoid remedial language courses, and sometimes bypass introductory courses altogether and concentrate on upper-level electives. In fact, many seminaries offer bachelor-holding students an advanced M.Div. program that cuts roughly 20 hours from the degree and offers a pathway to even more advanced research programs (PhD, for example).
My colleague, Dr. Bryan Cribb, often compares the undergraduate Christian studies endeavor to mountain climbers seeking the ultimate prize: the summit of Mt. Everest. The bachelor’s degree, he explains, gets one to base camp. It signifies a certain level of achievement and readiness to move forward. From base camp, one may choose various pathways to the peak, but one fact remains: without getting to base camp first, the climb would be vastly more difficult.