One of the key ingredients of success to any degree is to make sure you understand your degree completion plan and are on track to checking off all the requirements. My degree (MAR = Master of Arts in Religion with a concentration in Biblical Studies), of course, has such specific requirements.
As I was preparing for the spring semester, I needed to spend some time to understand which sequence to take my classes in. Probably one of the recommendations I would have (and one that, sadly, I haven’t followed much myself) is to work with an advisor at the seminary to help you chart the course.
The good news is that my seminary provides its students course guide previews for at least some of its class offerings. This helps in estimating your workload for a given semester. Some professors just make you do more work than others, and you have to understand this in advance if you are loading more than one class onto your schedule at a time. For that purpose, it really also helps to connect with others on Facebook groups.
Then some other problems present themselves along the way: in my case, they are gender-related. Let me give you an example (especially tricky for a female in a complementarian world, i.e. women are not to teach based on Scripture such as 1 Tim. 2:12): I have to choose one class out of the following for a three-hour credit.
– Preparation of the Sermon
– Expository Preaching
– Communication in Christian Ministry
Now what’s a female seminary student to pick? Will I ever be preaching a sermon in front of a congregation? Most likely, no. I do believe that women should not be pastors based on the authority of Scripture (see reference above), but there are many other places a woman might put these skills to work, such as in a women’s Bible study or choosing a path that might make you the next speaker in the Women of Faith team or similar context. These are issues that can make selecting classes difficult, especially if you are of the female gender.
I decided to get my core New and Old Testament classes covered during the spring semester. As a Biblical Studies major, that should be my focus, right? In addition, I selected a Hebrew Tools class to get me started on improving my Hebrew. After struggling to start learning Hebrew via Rosetta Stone and other means (Pimsleur CDs are great for spoken Hebrew), I had taken a modern Hebrew class a while back locally, which gave me a basic grasp of the letters and sentence structure, but not much more – and certainly not a basis for reading Biblical Hebrew.
For real excitement, I chose my Old Testament Orientation II class to be a spring intensive in the land of Israel! This would mean doing very limited class work in the traditional sense, but instead seeing and learning on the go in Israel and then completing work, such as additional reading and writing papers when back home. My Old Testament professor was going to be part of this trip, and I really wanted to be able to spend time asking him tons of questions. The year prior, I had used an ESV journaling Bible to jot down all thoughts and questions I had while reading through the Bible, and I thought this might be a perfect way to get some answers!
My Hebrew Tools class was something I had really looked forward to. The teaching format was DVD lectures and then homework to intensify the learning. As I mentioned before, most of my seminary’s online classes are monitored by TAs or adjunct professors. What this means is that the person you see on the DVD (if your class has DVDs) is probably not the one who is actually reading your class work. This can be good or bad, depending on the responsiveness of the person who is monitoring your work. In Hebrew Tools, I was blessed to have a rather excellent TA whom I think very highly of in his knowledge of Hebrew and his dedication to his own learning. Regrettably, you can also have the opposite experience where communication is virtually zero – all you get is a grade, but not how the reader of your homework/discussion board entry/paper/etc. arrived at such grade. I so appreciate professors/TAs who take the time to tell you why what you did is good or bad.
In my assessment, going through the New and Old Testament Orientation classes lays a very solid groundwork for any work you are doing beyond that. Even if you have read through the Scriptures yourself, this is extremely important to give you the bottom layer to work from when doing any thinking about theology. I was actually surprised to see that there are students at LBTS who have never read through the Bible. They are truly struggling to make it through their class work, from what I understand, because of the time needed to read many of the portions of Scripture discussed. So if you are thinking about attending seminary, get on a regular daily Bible reading plan. One good place to start finding one is Biblegateway.com.