Alumni Director Nate Wambold recently engaged in an e-mail dialogue with Dr. Jonathan Master, Dean of the School of Divinity, about the M.Div. (and other School of Divinity topics) offered at Cairn. The interchange is below:
NW: Thanks, Jonathan, for taking the time to discuss this. I came upon the idea of having this dialogue as I encountered curiosity about our M.Div. from our graduates. I want to be sure that our alumni hear about our exceptional program. First, can you tell me a bit about your background and how you came to Cairn?
JLM: Thanks for starting this conversation, Nate. Well, I came here as an undergrad in the 1990’s. My father taught at the school and my older brother had graduated from here. Initially, I came for one year, but I ended up staying for four. It changed my life in many ways. How I got back here as a professor is a bit of a longer story. The short version is that my wife and I were looking at some other teaching opportunities, and Dr. Williams intervened and asked me to apply here. In the process of interviewing and visiting, I strongly felt that this is where I wanted to be.
NW: I know exactly what you mean. My story, as you know, is similar in many ways to yours, but now onto the main reason for our conversation. For how many years has a M.Div. been offered at Cairn?
JLM: We first started offering the M.Div. about twelve years ago, in 2002. From the very beginning it’s always been a fully-accredited program, recognized as meeting the highest regional standards. That hasn’t changed. At the same time, the program has gone through some other changes in the last twelve years, most recently in 2012. To tell you the truth, I couldn’t be happier with the direction in which it’s heading.
NW: What are some of those changes? Can you describe the way that the program has kind of evolved over the years?
JLM: At the outset, the program was explicitly designed to fill a niche for those whose schedule and commitments kept them from being able to attend a seminary during conventional academic hours. There was also an initial philosophy of keeping the biblical language requirements a little lighter than a traditional seminary. While our scheduling philosophy still takes into account the realities of working adults (classes are only on Tuesdays and Thursdays, mostly afternoons and evenings), we’ve definitely placed a renewed emphasis on biblical languages and the traditional tools of biblical exegesis, as well as systematic, historical, and applied theology. It’s a very robust program, but one which offers scheduling and scholarships which take into account the realities that many of our students face.
NW: PCB (as we were once called) had a long-standing association with Dispensationalism. Can you talk about that a bit?
JLM: Dispensationalism is certainly part of our theological heritage, although I think people underestimate the extent to which that took shape in different ways during different eras. That is to say, the way the doctrinal distinctives worked themselves out in one decade actually looked quite different than it did in another. Changes to the statement of faith – even on issues related to dispensationalism – happened several times in the history of the school, sometimes in ways that might appear to be tightening; sometimes in ways that made it appear looser. In any case, some of the specific features of dispensational eschatology are no longer a part of our university doctrinal statement; and that’s been true for quite some time. While the School of Divinity still has professors who would call themselves dispensationalists, not all would. We are careful to make sure that any new faculty members are respectful of and conversant with our past distinctives, but we unapologetically use the new university statement of faith as our guide. Incidentally, it is pretty conservative statement on basic doctrines of the faith, and it also takes a stand on highly significant matters such as the inerrancy of scripture and the reality of the biblical account of the creation and fall of man. So, while we are not all dispensationalists, we are all still on the conservative side of evangelicalism in our theology.
NW: So you feel pretty confident that a student would still graduate from Cairn with a pretty clear and objective view of what Dispensationalism is?
JLM: I would think so, although we don’t have any classes that directly cover the systems of biblical theology as such.
NW: So then, considering the way you have articulated the program directionally, philosophically, and academically, can you identify the type of student who would be very well suited for our M.Div., and what type of student might begin and feel disappointed, frustrated, or like he wasn’t getting what he hoped for.
JLM: One of the big challenges that many students face is the workload, which involves a lot of reading, writing, and language study. It’s so worthwhile for ministry preparation, but let’s face it, it’s time-consuming and difficult. In 2 Timothy 2:15, Paul exhorts Timothy to, “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved, a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth.” That’s what we’re looking for: people willing to give their best in order to rightly handle God’s word—unashamed workers.
That’s what we’re looking for: people willing to give their best in order to rightly handle God’s word—unashamed workers.
On the other side, I think that if there was a very specific confessional or denominational tradition that a student wanted to be immersed in, we’re probably not the school for that. There are many seminaries that are devoted to training their students in a specific confessional tradition or licensing them for a particular denomination, and we’re not that. Our faculty and student body comes from a wide-range of denominational backgrounds. We’re pretty conservative, so if someone were looking for theological education in a kind of academically skeptical tradition, then we’re not the place for that either.
NW: I know of many graduates who will be pleased to hear how rigorous our program is. Now, many programs often are well known for standout professors or even specific things for which a program is well known. Maybe it’s languages or church history, or homiletics or what have you. What does the M.Div. at Cairn offer in the way of “specialty”?
JLM: Well, some programs certainly make their name by hiring a well-known writer. The problem with that is that the writer may or may not teach—or teach well; and besides, he’s only one person. I think we’re best at giving the tools for exegesis and exposition, which includes Bible classes, languages, and the applied theology courses related to homiletics and those kinds of things. I also think all of our professors are outstanding in the classroom and work extensively with students even beyond the classroom walls.
NW: Solid relationships with professors—this has been a long-standing hallmark of Cairn overall. I talk to alumni every week whose most fond memories are of the professors they have had here. That is great.
[blockquote align=”right”]Train everyone well. Value ministry training as you would legal training or medical training. [/blockquote]Well, in a minute, I want to enter a “lightning round” where you get only one to two sentences to answer a few final questions, but now I am wondering (even though I know that you and your colleagues have tremendous respect for so many other M.Div. programs around the world) what do you see as the greatest weakness or loss in M.Div. programs out there that Cairn seeks to either “correct” or counteract with a particular emphasis (or lack of emphasis).
JLM: Too many M.Div. programs are watering down everything—biblical studies, languages. theology, ministry classes. This is bad for students, and, in my opinion, bad for the long-term health of the church.
NW: So the solution for this is…?
JLM: Train everyone well. Value ministry training as you would legal training or medical training.
NW: Yes, excellence. The roles filled by those with a M.Div. are too serious to take lightly. This surely seems logical. Okay. I can see your responses already growing more terse, so let’s just run through a few quick things.
If you had to pick two (and you do) outside of the Bible (of course) what are the two books that every M.Div. student should read and why?
JLM: That’s a really tough question for two reasons. First, I think that every one of our professors would answer it differently, which is another way of saying there is no clear answer and certainly no Cairn answer. Second, it’s very hard to name just two. That said, my two would be The Institutes of the Christian Religion, by John Calvin, and On the Incarnation, by Athanasius. Even as I write those two, though, I’m second guessing myself…
NW: That’s why we call it the “lightning round”; you’ve no room to second guess…
By the way, what’s your favorite production sports car?
JLM: Another impossible question. I’ll say Alfa-Romeo Giulietta; but again, I’m second guessing already…
NW: Okay. That one was just for fun, but a passion for automobiles has been a hallmark of your family for years, so I just wanted to put that in there. Next I am wondering about this. I know we’ve been talking about the M.Div, but in our undergrad program (which you also oversee) do students still read through the entire Bible multiple times in the course of their education here?
JLM: They do. I don’t know offhand how many times they read through every section of the Old Testament, though it’s at least once for class. The NT gets read through several times when all is said and done.
NW: Can you talk about the name “School of Divinity?” How did it come to be called that and what all does that encompass?
JLM: When the university changed its name in 2012, it seemed like a good time to look at the names and configurations of the schools. It wasn’t the first time, either—our school had changed its name before when the ministry departments were added to it. From my perspective, School of Divinity made the most sense for us. It was representative of the full-range of our majors and courses, and it most precisely and effectively served to represent our graduate degrees as well. It’s a standard name for the kind of university-based school that we have.
NW: And now thinking about the idea of a university structure, I know you have been a pastor at two churches and a Seminary professor; now you are here at Cairn as a Professor and Dean of the School of Divinity among other roles. Why have you chosen Cairn?
JLM: First, I can’t discount the influence Cairn has had in my own life. I experienced firsthand how transformative the education here can be and I want to do my bit in supporting it moving forward. Second, I believe in the educational model that Cairn exemplifies—both in the undergraduate and graduate divinity programs. I am strongly committed to an undergrad education with a significant core of Bible and Theology for all majors. Finally, while a huge part of me still wants to be engaged in the regular weekly work of pastoral ministry, I do think that the Lord has given me a significant opportunity to help train ministry leaders for service on the front lines of local church ministry.
NW: Well said. I am sure that there is some cross over in the skills needed in the pastorate and that of a university professor. As we finish up here, is there a moment, or event or anecdote of sorts that sort of typifies what you like best about your work here at Cairn?
JLM: I don’t know if I can think of just one anecdote, but the fact is that I have daily substantial contact with undergraduate students who are studying Bible and theology in preparation for other careers and thinking about how the teachings of scripture interact with their discipline. And at the same time, I rub shoulders with graduate students who are training for full-time vocational ministry. It’s an unusual combination and an unusual privilege.