What Seminary Degree Do I Get if I Don’t Know What the Future Holds?

by Thor Madsen May 28, 2019

In the spring of 1987, I visited Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, mostly to investigate the campus and its immediate surroundings. I had already decided to pursue graduate study at TEDS based on a family connection to this school, but I knew almost nothing about it otherwise and knew even less about theological studies. I hoped this visit would be a good start, if only to minimize the hassle of registration later that year.

After some self-guided exploring, I stopped into the student development office and asked if I could talk to someone regarding degree programs, because I had not ironed out even that detail. Master of Arts? Master of Divinity? Master of Theology? I had no idea which way to go, because I could see myself doing just about anything for the Lord, from pastoral ministry to overseas missionary service. I knew I was supposed to do something in ministry, but I had no clear idea of what.

Surprisingly, when I asked for a quick, advisory session, they said to me, “Yes, Dr. Kantzer is on campus today, and he would be glad to speak with you.” My parents had taken theology courses from Kenneth Kantzer at Wheaton College in the 1950s, so I recognized the name, but I didn’t know that I would be talking to an evangelical VIP, which Dr. Kantzer certainly had become long before coming to TEDS. To this day, I’m glad I dressed well for the occasion which, Mrs. Madsen informs me, cannot always be assumed in my case.

The central question I had for Dr. Kantzer was, “Which degree should I pursue if I don’t know what the future will bring?” His answer would be the one that I would now give to any student coming to Midwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, where I currently serve. “In that case,” he said, “you should get the Master of Divinity. It’s the one that you’d need for pastoral ministry and also the one that you’d be expected to have as a PhD applicant.” There was no hesitation from him at all on this point: get an MDiv. I would offer the same advice today, some 30 years later, should anyone ask me which degree to pursue at MBTS or any other Bible-believing seminary. Get the MDiv.

The Master of Divinity is the Swiss Army knife degree that has everything in it for the prospective pastor, missionary, denominational worker, and eventual scholar. It provides a solid foundation in biblical languages, Old Testament, New Testament, and theology. It equips the student to do evangelism, defend the faith, counsel biblically, and preach well-organized, expository sermons. Even the hands-on, practical tasks of ministry are covered by the MDiv, especially church administration and special occasions like baptism, the Lord’s table, weddings, and funerals. The MDiv does not cover these topics in exhaustive detail—obviously not. But it takes some good, first steps and provides a basis for later refinement and understanding.

Hardly any Christian gets to study the Bible intensively for several years and to learn how it applies in many spheres of practical ministry. Most of them would rejoice in having a Bible at all in their own language, to say nothing of huge libraries, Christian bookstores, software tools, and the like. But most people reading this article do have these wonders at their fingertips and around the corner, and many of them will be MDiv students and graduates. Therefore, with the same benefit of experience, they already know what I discovered 30 years ago: when the door opens for MDiv study, go through it.