Combatting Biblical Illiteracy: What’s Trending in Seminary Education

“There was a time when one could assume some level of base knowledge, but that is no longer the case.”

How are seminaries preparing students for effective, transformative ministry in an ever-changing culture? In this series, we interviewed seminary leaders from across North America to get their first-hand take on what’s trending in seminary education.

What changes are you noticing in the level of biblical literacy of incoming seminary students over the past few years? Has this led to any changes in curriculum?

BOB WHITESEL, former professor at Wesley Seminary: Biblical literacy, from what I have seen, was on a slight downward trend, but it is now reversing itself with Generations Y and Z. Perhaps because of the availability of knowledge online, and perhaps because they want to fact check their pastor during their Sunday sermon, the younger generations seem to be increasingly biblically literate.

SAMUEL THORPE, Dean, College of Theology and Ministry, Oral Roberts University: Students tend to know Bible stories better than the theology of them. The meaning of Scripture tends to have been derived from students’ church background rather than intensive study. We have to put emphasis on theology in every area of the students’ academic development in specific courses and in the content of more general courses.

ED HINDSON, Dean, School of Divinity, Liberty University: There was a time when one could assume some level of base knowledge, but that is no longer the case. But rather than look at this as a problem, we consider it part of our mission: Educate and train people wherever they are. This has led us to reevaluate our curriculum.

KEITH S. WHITFIELD, Dean of Graduate Studies, Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary: Many students are coming to seminary with greater theological knowledge. This situation is a product of the quality of Christian conferences available now and the access to teaching online and on podcasts. From that standpoint, the level of biblical-theological literacy is up. But thorough knowledge of the Bible (events, history and flow of the story) does not match the theological knowledge of our students.

LEROY GOERTZEN, Doctor of Ministry Director, Corban University: At both the undergraduate and graduate levels, incoming students are far less biblically literate than in the past. The past few years are simply an extension of a rather long and steady decline that we have seen over the past 25 years. Some of this may be attributed to the fact that Corban’s move to a university from a Bible college with multiple schools and ever-increasing degree programs has changed the profile of the student body.

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Our curriculum requires that all students complete 24 semester credits of Bible and theology as part of their general education requirements. Teachers have made significant adjustments in teaching methodology to accommodate students’ needs. This is, of course, a rather involved discussion since educating today’s student requires a host of more innovative teaching approaches that dovetail with biblical literacy.

WILLIAM D. SHIELL, President, Northern Seminary: Many students start as youth pastors straight out of college but lack enough biblical training to supply a lifetime of teaching skills. We also discovered that many M.Div. (master of divinity) graduates did not receive adequate biblical training as well or wanted to refresh their training. We developed the master’s in New Testament primarily to bolster pastors and leaders’ understanding of the Bible and to help seminary graduates go deeper in their understanding.

Read about more trends in seminary education: