Surrendering to Ministry - Seminaries to Attend
So maybe the Lord has lead you to surrender to ministry. Wonderful! Congratulations.
If so, that is a great calling, to aspire to be an overseer, 1st Timothy chapter 3. Paul commends that.
Next steps? Often today a person will go to a Bible college or seminary to get doctrinal, leadership, and evangelism foundations.
But there is a dilemma: where? A large number of schools exist for theological education, but there are some top choices.
While talking to a wider group of friends lately, I've had some ask, "where should they go for a Bible degree or seminary?" It's a fair question. But posing it is easier than answering it, due to the mixed theological environment today among professors and administrators.
It is much harder than it once was, to keep track of a "good choice" of seminary/Bible college.
When you are asked that today, in mid-2021, the answer may differ from even five years ago. The rise of CRT, identity politics, and changing denominational outlines have impacted that choice. Sometimes cost has impacted choices too.
From my perspective the shift does impact choices quite a bit.
Seminaries to consider in my opinion:
1.) Liberty University Lynchburg, VA + Liberty University Online. (Baptists, SBC, SBC Virginia, Non-Denom, Bible church, etc.)
This is a highly well-known and Bible-based school. They expect of the student body Christ-centered commitments, which is a good sign to prospective Christ-centered students. You would be surprised some seminaries do not. Liberty has a world renown reputation for doing moral good, from a conservative viewpoint. Ignoring the past president of the school, the school has a previous and present tense reliable record (President Jerry Prevo, has history with Moral Majority). In addition, its being one of the largest online schools around means the above reputation while learning remotely is also an option for you. You do not have to worry about a broken online system. There is a track record of the online curricula working well. That has long since been such a core component of Liberty U, you'll get quality resources. The school can also and does mail you course books and items as an online student.
Also, theologically the school is not as limited (Independent) as it once way, 20 years ago. It has an array of evangelical, Bible-based believers now. Liberty is not just an independent Baptist school of the 20th century. At this point it is simply a pier one Christian university and seminary offering a diverse selection of degrees.
Doctrinally, I know personally of a wide spectrum of evangelical Bible believers who would be very comfortable at Liberty U.
This is a top choice school to be associated with in an everchanging world of denominational craziness situation (2019-2021 - in UMC, SBC, PCUSA, PCA, etc.). You should be able to focus on the Lord and study for Him, instead of worrying about your school's direction. Many solid staff are hired off other seminaries to come to Liberty U or Liberty's administration even, away from the distractions in other places.
Liberty is focused on core beliefs, research, and a pastoral approach to students. Those are all a win. The cost is also reasonable. Plus you have access to quality financial help options here. Many courses also transfer across emphases or degrees, so you can change a degree and still graduate on time. Beyond the above points, there are many student services that add an extra value to LU.
2.) North Greenville University. (Baptists, Bible church, Non-Denom.)
You will encounter a pastoral heart and excellent teaching at this school. It is a top choice given many of the faculty. NGU also has been in a rebuilding phase, but is creating a positive new identity. This school has a lot of influence in the East and Midwest USA, and not as much elsewhere (although reputation obviously is everywhere). But it is known, all over in a generally positive way in the USA. Locally, it trades prospective students with Gardner-Webb U and others. But NGU probably has an advantage in the future being more Bible-oriented.
From looking to hire a graduate at a church experience, over the years, their campus career services department is friendly, but is not especially helpful though for ministry. The placement system is difficult to use and there is little to no help from the staff on actually getting a ministry position out there. This makes NGU a bit disappointing post-graduation for you. I've also heard of cases of promising prospective students one thing, and then saying 'wait, no, sorry.' Once you graduate, you'll be on your own to find a position in ministry if you get good guidance, so that's not a deal killer. That's how it is many places. Just know that in advance.
The NGU new student recruiters are active to get you there. They are all about their follow up game. They'll constantly reach out to make sure questions are answered at NGU. A variety of some core degrees are available for Bible and Seminary. NGU lacks some other doctoral programs, however. For a bachelors or masters, it should be good.
3.) New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary /or/ Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary /or/ Golden Gate Theological Seminary. SBC. (various cities)
A major plus, these seminaries are discounted for those attending an SBC church while a student. The savings can be substantial, and allow you to graduate debt free. The three schools allow for healthy debate and have a generally happier on-campus freedom to interact among denominational discussions and theological positions.
This is true despite connections to some a decade ago, plus, who aren't great influences among administrations. However, these schools have remained somewhat independent of poor choices of other seminaries they were associated with previously. You could probably obtain a solid theological education, study missions, research, meet new friends, and serve at these to success for the Lord. They are generally conservative, Bible-based seminaries.
These three are good places in the future as a Southern Baptist to be in seminary. In the past this was not always so. Golden Gate for instance for years was seen as too isolated and small by many (rightly or wrongly). Midwestern ditto, it was seen as "way out there." Likewise, NOBTS under its former president had an independent streak. That was good and bad. It isolated them. He retired. There's a new president. Hopefully the new president is not just a Southern Seminary (see below) copyist, but time will tell. I've heard great things so far.
4.) Southern Evangelical Seminary (SES). Charlotte, NC.
As an up-and-comer, this is a good choice for future students. It fairly recently moved to Charlotte. This was a good move, as Charlotte has more to offer than where it was. You won't go wrong in that regard. Charlotte offers many churches of course, but also is a livable place with abundant suburbs and housing options. The school often hosts open houses to go visit or catch a lecture and meet professors.
They have some solid professors. Their professors are pastorally aware and have published in their fields. There are limited degree tracks; however, to choose from often when I've checked. You'll need to look into that.
However, North Carolina has a lack of people applying for associate-youth-children-worship ministry positions. Therefore, if your goal is to serve while going to seminary, this could be a really smart choice as a result. He who has ears to hear, let him hear. SES could provide opportunities on-campus and off. SES also has some name recognition and some loyalty in Christian circles. If there is a weakness, it was that they were bent towards one emphasis of theology in the evangelical movement for some time. However, I don't know if that holds true still. It is likely you would be welcomed with open arms as long as you are a Bible-based evangelical there.
5.) Dallas Theological Seminary. Dallas, TX.
Once a reliable bastion of conservative seminarians, DTS still largely is (I know personally of exceptions; however, in the past 10-15 years). Many people attend DTS, but then near graduation do not stay in full-time ministry. I am not sure why this is, but it is common. Acquiring debt is also an issue at DTS. You'll also be in Dallas, Texas, which is overall a very materialistic city, with many opportunities to be distracted from your call (I can say this having lived around there at times).
You'll also avoid a lot of the CRT mess in the UMC, SBC, PCUSA while at DTS. Drawbacks include some professors they are hiring these days are not as rock solid on theology as they once were. Since they hire cross-denominationally as well, DTS has people being pulled different ways in their teachings. Ironically, on things that matter less, they are known sticklers. So there's that, there is a kind of thought police at DTS on secondary or third order theological issues (eschatology, etc.).
So it's got ups and downs. Dallas, Texas is an extremely large city with many options to serve and connect to a variety of churches. There is also a glut of pastorally trained people in Dallas-Fort Worth so positions may be hard to come by for a new student. However, Dallas - Fort Worth is perhaps growing fast enough to override that (especially North and West Dallas, and somewhat East, though East already is over staffed with pastorally trained people). Also, in DFW, if you aren't into a very high paced environment, lots of toll roads, some crime near campus, this one may not be for you. Also, costs are a little bit higher there.
On the flip side, there is quality and nice-newish student housing and an active career services (have used them to seek out qualified candidates before in past). Also, some professors are very pastoral and pray for and care about students. Professors do keep and offer office hours. Chapel is held as well, with some noteworthy guest speakers.
There are a wide array of degree tracks at DTS. So that is also a positive win. Their library is active with loaning books, and you can get almost anything you need in the US loaned. DTS is in a rough part of town, but not as dangerous as it once was. It's safer that nearby Criswell, for instance. Another comment, parking has been and remains a strong challenge at DTS. So if you're an on campus student, factor that in. DTS also has online school options available.
Ok, above was the positive happy stuff for a future seminarian or college students. Now for some places to avoid, as a reality check, as someone who cares for your spiritual well-being. In addition, I would not want someone I knew to misuse-waste your time in the wrong pathway-school.
Seminaries to avoid in my opinion:
1.) Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary. Wake Forest, NC. (SBC)
Steer clear at all costs. While SEBTS may lure you with tuition discounts or being in a beautiful state, and a top city area, yet the experience on campus is not often good. You'll also have headwinds from the lingering negative reputation and view of the degree's named school SEBTS.
Most churches and pastors in the SBC which it SEBTS is supposed to serve as an entity -- now realize from revelations from inside by students and whistleblowers, that it is a toxic mess of Critical Race Theory and underhanded backroom type Baptist politics. You can google or look up on Twitter the recent forays of the President into endorsing liberal candidates to run the Southern Baptist Convention (Litton), defend CRT (while telling others they don't support it, double-speak), and more. It's a true mess. They make statements against what they actually do teach on campus. So know you'd also have duplicity there. Yikes. Chapel messages are often used to go after political opponents as well. I've known professors there to call people up and arm twist others to keep quiet about the CRT and identity politics on campus. There are -many- podcasts from concerned Christians about SEBTS. Don't go.
Add into all of this a heavy-handed administration and cronyism (Akin family cronyism, and more, like with Dr. Moore). Be so careful friend. Friends don't let friends go to SEBTS any more. President Akin at SBTS and now SEBTS has also been known as a bully to students and staff (I've witnessed it while at SBTS years ago, verbal emotional attacks on others). Former SEBTS President Paige Patterson, before, also did some bad stuff to students (major news stories on that). The news has covered these both extensively in the past three years around the USA. This is a place to avoid, for sure, do not even ask for the brochure, you'll be much better off. I would not as a Senior Pastor hire a SEBTS graduate associate or youth or worship leader without -serious- vetting on probing theological questions. Simply asking an SEBTS student if they believe the Baptist Faith & Message for instance, is not enough.
2.) Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Louisville, KY. (SBC, CMA, Non denom)
Once a truly great choice in the not to distant past, that time has past sadly. SBTS still has some solid faculty members holding on until retirement, who you will learn solid truth from in certain classes. It is a beautiful campus in a city with an airport that never sleeps (Local shipping giant UPS makes sure Louisville airport never, never, ever closes "SDF"). However, it is now also slightly toxic as a school or Bible college (Boyce at SBTS), too. This is a sad fall from prominence.
Southern went the way of pleasing the world in the past five years, appealing to acceptance from major liberal news outlets for the President to blog on, and endorsing Critical Race Theory and hiring CRT professors (such as from UofL), and then, pretending they didn't endorse it, but still teaching it and employing people as leaders who do. SBTS fired professors who questioned CRT and postmodernism at the school recently, in a huge dust up. Then denied it. So yeah, there is the danger of duplicity. There is a risk of postmodernism in certain OT and NT language classes with certain professors. You also have a powerful click. If you're an insider in the Mohler-York-Moore click, great. That applies to about 30 people ever, at any given time. If not, there's not much benefit from the name of the school any longer. The SBC seems to be taking a pause on endorsing recent developments at SBTS too. There is also very little benefit for their alumni in career placement. So that's not much hope as a resource.
Toxic individuals have gone on from SBTS to damage other entities, regularly. SEBTS president Akin was once dean at SBTS. Also, infamous Dr. Russell Moore who disparaged and attacked Baptists without mercy (while being paid by them still) went from SBTS as the main dean over to the SBC's entity, the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission, promoted liberalism, then resigned in May 2021 in a firestorm of hate letters he sent out to destroy other people. Ironically Russ Moore wrote a book "Why I Am a Baptist?" and then is no longer a Baptist (see Tom Nettles article on how odd that is, after 2021 SBC annual meeting post). Moore's also a huge CRT person still, now for CT. The list could go on. Adam Greenway is an Al Mohler servant, at SWBTS in Fort Worth and has shifted the school left too there (and fired-driven off some conservative professors). York and Greenway allowed a small group of liberals to takeover a Kentucky college previous to that, when they could have stopped it. Also, a while back, Thom Rainer was a dean at SBTS. Rainer raided LifeWay Christian Stores of funds for himself (enriched himself), then closed down its stores (which churches needed across denominations), then left in a massive pay controversy in the SBC (that made major national news). You get the idea. That's enough of a taste of what it really is.
Also, Southern is not long-term going to help you like it once did, 10-20 years ago, by its being known for a famous namesake in seminaries. So, 15-20 years ago it was the rising star Bible college (Boyce) and seminary, the theological serious Baptist school. Yes. It drew people from around the USA in that window of time. It was great. But now, the the SBTS name is so 'risky' to so, so many in the coming decade or two, people will avoid you, if you attended there. However, the exception will be liberal churches, they will probably rejoice SBTS has returned closer to its 1970-1980's low point of liberalism (by using CRT, identity politics, etc.), once again. Many other seminaries are starting again to take students that once went to SBTS, also. In addition, past known figures, like Dr. Al Mohler are now lesser in national prominence in the USA. His radio program went away and his blog is not as supported in Baptist life, as it once was, for some of the above mentioned reasons. Alumni also break into strange chants at things like the annual meeting of the Southern Baptist Convention (Dallas, TX one, 2018 being an example, where they gloated over a victory of a moderate candidate to the SBC presidency, etc.).
3.) Criswell College. Dallas, TX. (Bible or Baptist circles)
This in the late 20th century churned out conservative professors and pastors. However, it is not what it once was.
They have let go of conservative professors who do not support Critical Race Theory. A former President of the Alumni association is a dangerous fellow too. He's also associated with the sons of Thom Rainer who fleeced LifeWay Christian Stores, and are known to stir up trouble in circles. Former administrators like Brandon Smith, were liberal-leaning in theology while there and left that dent. Same is true of former president and now professor, Dr. Barry Creamer.
As far as campus, it is also fairly rundown due to ongoing, over decades, of financial stagnation. It's also a dangerous part of Dallas, TX (near DTS) for physical safety. Fortunately, the campus is essentially an inside campus. In short, there's no telling with Criswell. There is physical safety danger, they may once again will fire your professor who is a conservative, or they may make major changes that are not positive. There's also talk at times of Criswell being taken over by SWBTS, or another school. Criswell may have a bright future. However, there are a lot of unknowns there and bad news the past ten years.
4.) Duke Divinity School. Durham, NC. (UMC, Non Denom. circles, some Baptists)
Pluses, it's a beautiful area and well-known as far as people will get where you went for school. The divinity campus is very pretty. There have been some well-known professors teaching there in the past 20 years. They are published Christian authors.
Reasons not to go: this is a bastion of theological liberalism. Christian conservatives should not just rely on the namesake and fame, but should likely avoid this place. Graduates are more into listening sessions and CRT. Many students I've met openly celebrate professors who compromise key Christian beliefs. That is disturbing. There may be solid professors; however, you would also have a constant stream of pressure, going against the current, to cave on things you should not. I would not recommend personally.
5.) Wheaton. Wheaton, IL.
For those in the Midwest, Wheaton was a major namesake in Christian circles for many decades. The school today is veering between conservative and liberal convictions. Officially, it is supposed to be Bible-based. However, in practice, professors and counselors are hired who often don't uphold that very closely. Christian news reports some concerning developments at Wheaton every few years. It often seems to teeter between conservative and liberal in theology in -subtle- but risky ways (meant doctrinally the errors are subtle). Online searches of the controversies and news coming out of Wheaton and its leftward drift make it not the best choice today.
In the mid-20th century, it was an excellent choice for rock solid faculty. It partly was in the 90's-2000's, but that time has past. Certain professors have been challenged on their teachings being out of line, such Daniel Block (left SBTS for that), and also Douglas Moo (errors on theology of Paul and the Book of Romans). Yet they have been favored there at Wheaton. That...says a lot. There is a lot of skepticism of trustworthiness about the school among pastors, churches, and denominations in the past ten years. Often people driven out of conservative schools for liberal teachings, end up ... at Wheaton. So that's an indicator. Be cautious. You could potentially have some great professors there, but not all, despite what they say, are close to Biblical teaching.
Other honorable mentions:
Maybe good - Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Has a rich conservative history, and incredible alumni list.
Mixed picture - Gordon Conwell Theological Seminary. There are satellite campuses. They have a mix of faculty of varied persuasions. There may be better choices than this one.
Mixed, maybe good - Westminster Seminary. This school was pivotal in the conservative Bible movement holding together in the mid-20th century. All Protestant denominations owe it a debt of gratitude for that role, and the books of its professors then. Since it has had ups and downs. I've heard conflicting reports from people first hand. It is known for theology and apologetics (defending the Christian faith) and Christian counseling (Jay Adams, a seminal figure in that movement), with a Biblical bent. There is an alternate to it, on the West Coast too, which I know less about. However, one popular professor at the West coast campus is highly controversial on Law and Gospel questions. It would just take more research to make certain statements.
Likely (recently past 5-10 years) compromised - RTS in Charlotte, NC. This school is reportedly very into identity politics and CRT. However, in the past it has had conservative, Bible-based counseling. Not being an expert on RTS, I'm hesitant to say more. You may need to research and discern.
Maybe so - Pensacola Bible College - I have heard good things, but am not informed enough to say yes or no on it. It seems to be Bible-based, which is a win. As a local, regional school it seems to have name and awareness reach in pastoral circles and at conservative Bible-based seminaries in the Midwest and East.
Maybe so - Columbia International University - This seems to be a decent school. You would need to investigate if it fits your ministry goals and if you would like to, be able to, find work/support in Columbia, SC.
Probably avoid - Perkins Theology School Dallas, TX - This Methodist school has shifted leftward for several decades. It is known in its region, but less so around the US. There are better options.
Pondering those realities, I hope the Lord leads you to the right place for the right time in seminary or Bible college. God bless.