Wheaton College MA Biblical Exegesis Degree
Are you looking at seminary programs or graduate degrees in Bible or theology? Have you considered Wheaton College’s master of biblical exegesis degree? This was the degree that I pursued from 2009-2012 (along with a master’s in historical and systematic theology).
Before moving away from my job as a middle school music teacher in Las Vegas, I sensed the LORD calling me into vocational ministry, but I wasn’t sure if I wanted to pursue a pastoral or an academic ministry route. So I prayed about it and chose to study at Wheaton College Graduate School. This has been a great path; I received an excellent education at Wheaton while learning the “in and outs” of ministry through a local church (something that I’m currently continuing as a pastoral resident under Joe Thorn).
Choosing a graduate school or seminary is no easy task; there are a ton of programs out there. I thought it might helpful share some of the strengths and weaknesses of Wheaton’s Biblical Exegesis program for those considering it.
1. World-Class Faculty: Wheaton’s profs are writing commentaries and scholarly works that make waves both in the evangelical and non-evangelical world (Moo, Block, Walton, Perrin). These scholars are committed evangelical Christians whose world-class scholarship influences believers around the globe. It was a true joy to study and learn from them: I studied NT exegesis and Romans from Doulgas Moo (who wrote the Eerdmans commentary on Romans), Letters to Timothy and Titus from Dr. Laansma, Ancient Near Eastern Backgrounds from John Walton (who wrote the NIV commentary on Genesis), Jewish Backgrounds and NT criticism from Nicholas Perrin, and Ezekiel from Dr. Block (who wrote a commentary on Ezekiel). These professors challenged me to think critically and consider the original context of the Bible. Also, they equipped with tools that I will use for the rest of my life, even if I only teach and study the Bible in a non-vocational setting. Thus, if you attend Wheaton, you will not be disappointed with the faculty.
2. Rigorous Setting: The biblical exegesis degree is very difficult. This is not an extended small-group Bible study, but a laborious, mentally rigorous, extended academic training in the practice of biblical exegesis. You will leave equipped in the areas of hermeneutics, exegetical methodology (word studies, grammatical and literary analysis, critical issues), nt and ot theology, and backgrounds, and you will be expected to have a reasonable competency with original languages. To finish your degree you have to pass a 6 hour comprehensive exam in which you translate a passage in Greek from the NT, a passage in Hebrew from the OT, and then write a commentary on the spot on both of the passages showing that you have mastered all of the tools given to you. (Not everyone passes this test either; the year I sat the test, at least 4 of my classmates failed, and if you fail twice you do not get the degree!)
3. Focus on Original Languages: Sadly, many MDiv programs overlook the importance of working in the original languages. This is not the case with Wheaton’s Biblical exegesis program; the original languages are taught and if you haven’t learned them before you start grad school, you can acquire them for free with the ancient language scholarship! This alone made Wheaton’s degree extremely attractive.
4. Evangelical Setting: Wheaton is thoroughly evangelical and you will learn from professors who love the LORD and are committed Christians. Thus, you will learn in a setting that friendly to the evangelical faith and will encourage you to use your gifts for the glory of God in the local church.
1. Cost: Wheaton is not a cheap institution to attend, and unless you save up or have some other financial resources, you will likely have to take out school debt to pay for the over $700-per-credit-over-40-credit-program. While there is some financial help offered, the program will cost many over $30,000-40,000 (that is enough to put a good down payment on a house!). Granted, not everyone will end up in debt (I am thankful this has been this case for me), but I know many that do. This is linked to the next weakness:
2. Lack of Job Marketability: While some students have gone on to secure full-time ministry positions or spots at PhD programs, I would venture to guess that many do not (myself included). Many pursue work in another field while laboring to find full-time pastoral positions, and others just end up in another field (I met a student once whose husband completed the exegesis program and could not find a position in a church, so he went to law school!). If you hope to pastor in a church, you will need to acquire your ministry skills education elsewhere–like through the local church; for some that will be a real strength to the program–some might argue that typical MDiv programs have way too many classes on practical ministry courses. For others, this will leave you with a great academic degree, but no training in the ministry skills that most churches expect you to have (biblical counseling, preaching, shepherding).
3. Lack of Theological Unity: While the professors all claim an evangelical faith, they are not united on their theological perspectives. Some will be Reformed and others will be Arminian. Some will urge you to employ Christocentric exegetical principles while others will push you away from it. Some will be dispensationalism while others Covenental. While the diversity can be helpful, at other times it will leave you utterly confused! Who is right? Can I employ typology or not? Should I interpret the NT in light of the OT or the must I interpret the OT in light of the NT? Must I know all my genitives or is it ok just make up my own categories? Should word studies be contextually driven or must I dig into the secular sources to actually understand a particular lexical form? Can I use the hermeutical principles employed by the writers of the NT, or must I assume that, while they were inspired, it is not okay to interpret the OT as they did (coming up with the right doctrine from the wrong texts)?
Conclusion: I am glad that I went to Wheaton and earned an MA in Biblical exgesis. I use my training as I prepare sermons, lead small group Bible study, and seek to grow in my personal knowledge of Scripture and theology. It was a great cost (financially and time-wise), but for the rest of my life I will use these skills to help others understand and embrace God’s Word. In the end, it was worth it and I would do it again if I were in the same scenario.
What about you? Have you completed Wheaton’s Biblical Exegesis degree? What are you doing now? Are you considering the program? Was it worth it?