|A15 : by Tony Garland |
I was interested to read your question—especially about your science background and desire to serve the Lord in the area of teaching. As you may know, I also have a background in science. In my case, I graduated with a degree in Electrical Engineering from the University of Washington in 1979 and went on to work in the field of both electronics and software engineering for the next two decades. I didn't come to faith in Christ until age 34 (12 years ago today).
Now, as to your questions . . . If you are serious about teaching religion in a college setting, you will first have to do some soul searching and prayer before the Lord as to what sort of teaching in what sort of college you believe your gifts are to be used. This will basically divide into several alternatives:
- Teaching theology at the seminary level.
- Teaching bible at the college level.
Of these alternatives, the first will almost certainly require a doctorate (either Th.D. or Ph.D.) whereas the second may only require a master's level degree—depending upon the institution. Some institutions may require a doctorate for either.
Another very important aspect to factor in is whether you are called to teach "religion" in a secular/liberal college or whether you are called to teach "God's Word" in a more fundamental/faithful college setting? In other words, do you see yourself operating in a secular realm teaching many different religions in a pluralistic setting and therefore possibly operating in a semi-evangelistic role reaching those who do not yet know Christ? Or do you feel your calling is to equip believers who are at a bible college or seminary and who already know Christ, but desire to understand God's Word more accurately? These are quite different activities, but both offer the possibility of serving Christ with your gifts.
One caution I would mention is to be very careful about trying to combine academic respectability with the desire to teach the Bible accurately in a college setting which honor's God's Word. You will find that the vast majority of secular settings (and liberal "Christian" settings) which place great emphasis upon academic respectability also pervert or deny fundamentals of the Christian message as given by Scripture. For that reason, the number of openings for teaching at the college or seminary level in a setting which truly honors God's Word is quite limited—and seems to be dwindling with each passing year (based on current trends). On the other hand, many secular programs are interested in "alternative religions" and there are probably opportunities in this arena, but it may or may not be a person's cup of tea because you would be expected to teach many different religious views without 'biasing' your students toward any one particular view as being objective truth. This would be a very difficult/fine line to walk as a believer in Christ—one that I personally would be unable to do. But others seem able to minister in such pluralistic settings.
After exploring these ideas and questions further, I would recommend that you get the best bible training you can find given the reality of your living situation, economic resources, and views concerning what you see Scripture to teach in the way of more detailed doctrine. The schools that I would recommend reflect my own approach to what I see Scripture to teach. From the perspective of the broad spectrum of Christianity that is out there, I would be considered quite conservative, as our doctrinal statement reflects:
Having said that, I would suggest investigating some of the following schools. This might involve visiting their websites, requesting their catalogs, talking to people at the school, etc. There are basically two ways you can go here. One way provides "paperwork" which is highly regarded by accredited institutions. This requires that you attend an "accredited" institution on-campus and the cost is generally very high. Some institutions in this category include:
In the second category are schools which offer greater "distance learning" possibilities at much less cost. This is the route I chose to take because I felt I could obtain an equivalent (or nearly-so) education at a radically reduced cost and I wasn't overly concerned about the approval of others. In other words, having training from one of the following institutions is not going to get a person very far in the eyes of those who are interested in academic respectability first and theological soundness second. You may obtain equivalent or even superior education at these "lesser-regarded" institutions, often at a much lower cost. However, if respectability in the eyes of secular institutions or Christian institutions which emphasize academics over other more important elements of training is important to you, then these institutions are not likely to provide that:
As you can see, I'm not all that up-to-speed on what "the best" school might be. I've only listed two in the category of the expensive schools that are very highly regarded by others. And even then, I have some concerns about both schools—but primarily with Dallas Theological Seminary which has changed in some areas in more recent years.
You may notice that my list doesn't even mention a large number of well-known schools. Names such as Princeton, Fuller, Regent, and a host of others too numerous to mention. I have not mentioned them because I believe them to be more dangerous than beneficial in the training of those who desire to truly know God's Word. They are, on the whole, too liberal in their approach to handling the Scriptures and in some cases may lead believers toward apostasy rather than rooting them in God's Word. So a big caveat to consider: beware of the many schools that have a low regard for Scripture and place a desire to be "respected" in a secular world above teaching sound doctrine from God's Word. Many theology students have been shipwrecked on the shoals of such institutions!
As you can see by now, this is a large and complex topic. The basic problem which is before you is that true Christianity is not according to this world, yet most institutions of higher learning—even Christian ones—are dancing to the tune of this world. As a result, rather than forsaking the world and following God's Word alone, they are pandering to secular accreditation and academics which deny important aspects of the Christian faith. The result has been predictable: the steady downfall of once-respectable institutions of higher Christian learning (e.g., Harvard, Princeton, and many other names one could supply). This has led to the nearly constant off-shoot of newly established small institutions which seek to preserve the fundamentals of the faith and remain true to God's Word. But in their inception, they are not highly regarded by the big name movements and schools.
The basic cycle is as follows:
- A small school splinters off from a group which is headed for liberalism and apostasy.
- The small school struggles for many years. It is not highly regarded and not 'accepted' by other institutions—especially the big name places. Even though it has solid teaching, it is not well known or regarded.
- Over time, graduates and instructors from the school become better known and the school begins to gain some acclaim—generally because God honors those who honor His Word.
- The school becomes increasingly popular and begins to move toward seeking accreditation—thus beginning to lose control over the content (and instructors).
- As the school's fame increases, it strives more and more to interact with the academic elite in other liberal or secular schools. Eventually, academic respectability eclipses the importance of sound doctrine.
- The school slides toward apostasy. New and novel (even heretical) teachings are tolerated and even promoted—all in the interest of 'academic pluralism and investigation.' Professors who are out of line with the school's doctrinal statement are not disciplined.
- A small group of core professors become so concerned they leave the school to form a new school—WE ARE BACK AT STEP #1.
Just about every school you will investigate is somewhere in this cycle. Some that are the most highly regarded—especially in the area of job potential for graduates and accreditation—are usually already at steps 5 or 6. Thus, students flock to them at the point when they are often past their peak and on the way to decline. At this point, they still may look pretty good on paper (their catalog, doctrinal statement, reputation), but internally the doctrinal rot has already begun.
Well, I've babbled at some length here. I hope I haven't overwhelmed you. My main point is as follows:
You will constantly be faced with the choice of external respectability vs.. remaining true to the essentials of the faith as taught by God's Word. To the degree you optimize the former over the latter, you will be in danger. Since the devil is the God of this World, greater job opportunities are usually aligned with a path which requires you to compromise on important issues. Therefore, placing your desire for a teaching job above your desire to simply know God represents a danger. BEWARE!
If there are other ministries which you highly regard, I would recommend contacting them to see what they might recommend. If money is no option and you are willing to move to the school, I would recommend The Master's Seminary. If economic efficiency is important and you need to stay in your locale, then I would investigate one of the schools which specializes in distance learning. You will not be able to beat them for what you learn vs. what you spend. However, be aware that many other schools and ministries will turn their noses up at paperwork you may obtain from them. This is where you must boil things down to their most basic level: seek the Lord your God with everything you have and are capable of, and trust Him to direct your path!
God bless - Tony
p.s. - Since you have a background in biotechnology, have you considered using your faith and training in connection with creationist ministries such as some of the more major ones we list here?