Wednesday, August 19, 2009

Why I switched from 2-yr MTS to 3-yr specialized MDiv program

I started off doing a 2-yr Master of Theological Studies (MTS) degree. Why did I switch to 3-yr Master of Divinity (MDiv) degree that is also available in Singapore? Isn't that a waste? Has my initial intention to study something related to science, and other religion shifted? Does my intention to seek ordination in America means that I intend to stay in America for good? These are the questions that some of my friends asked me when I was back in Singapore. I intend to write an article to explain it.

My initial reason for choosing a 2-yr MTS degree was because I wanted to do only academic theology, and my aim was to teach at a seminary one day. I did not see myself serving in a church setting, after having served in my church actively from 1995 till 2007. One of the main reasons is because my conviction demands me to engage the society, other academic disciplines such as science and philosophy, and I don't see how this can be fulfilled at the church level.

During my 1st semester at Boston Uni School of Theology (BUSTH), I wanted to try out whether I was suitable for theological studies. If my grade shows that theological studies is not my cup of tea after all, then I will pack up at the end of my 2-yr program and it will be just as what a Chinese Singaporean minister said to me "出国去泡泡两年也好" (immerse overseas for 2-yr is also good) before I left Singapore in 2007. In my first semester studies, I felt as if I was like a fish swimming in a water (this is a metaphorical statement). I found theological studies to be my natural habitat and I enjoyed it much more than when I did my engineering studies, even though I had a tough beginning. It took me some time to get used to academic mode of writing, and I had to work harder than other students who already had academic background in religious studies.

When I entered my 2nd semester, I took philosophical introduction to theology as my 1st theology class. I discovered that theology has a life of "its" own. To take up a calling in theology means that I be committed not only to the academic institution, but also to the faith community. I gradually saw the vision of theology reaching out to the church as well as the seminary as being the platform to educate clergy, and theology itself as the discipline to dialogue with other disciplines.

The churches in Boston also gave me new paradigm in envisioning mission of a church. A church is not just taking up the mandate of sharing the gospel by sending out mission trip, holding mission rally, and conducting Sunday school, but it is much more than that. I have seen churches educating the laity to address social issue on a legitimate platform and within a social sphere, and it is part of what it means to love God and to love others as ourselves. I have seen churches exploring care for the whole earth as it is our mandate to care for God's creation. I have seen churches looking at after-death issues and discussing with the retirees the options available for managing household, body parts and organs, will, trustees after they are gone, and this is what it means when everyone is part of Christ's body. If all these are what it means to be a church of Christ, then I definitely want to be a part of it not just as a laity but as a minister.

I then discussed with my academic advisor the implication of switching to a 3-yr MDiv program. Even if I do not proceed beyond the MDiv, at least I could still educate the laity and be a minister to them. I eventually petitioned to switch over to 3-yr specialized MDiv program during my 2nd semester. My school has the flexibility of allowing us to carry the credits over when switching program. I also realized that Reformed faith (perhaps due to its influence in Southeast Asia) is part of my identity, and has thus began my inquiry process in the Presbyterian Church (USA).

Now, I would like to compare the difference in the curriculum after I have switched over. I would like to highlight that I am pursuing a specialized MDiv with concentration in Theology, Philosophy and Ethics, not a general MDiv, due to my needs. In the comparison below, I have given the name of the professor teaching the class and where. If it says "from Princeton Uni", it means this instructor comes from Princeton Uni and teaches at my school then. If it says "at Andover-Newton", it means I took the class at Andover-Newton. Unless otherwise stated, a class is usually 4-credit hour. The BOLDED classes are those not offered by TTC or SBC in S'pore. Those marked with asterisk are classes I have to take after I switched to 3-yr specialized MDiv. By the way, I am going into my 5th semester.

1st semester (Fall 2007)
1. Hebrew Bible I (by Dr. Katheryn Pfisterer Darr)
2. Church History I: Survey (by Dr. Christopher B. Brown)
3. Science Literacy (by Dr. Olga V. Naidenko)
4. Science and Religion (by Dr. Nathaniel Barrett)

2nd semester (Spring 2008)
1. Christian Social Ethics (by Dr. John Hart)
2. The History of Christian Theology in Philosophical Perspective (by Dr. Garth Green)
3. Sociology of Religion (by Dr. Lynn Davidman from Brown University)
4. History and Methods of Comparative Religion (seminar format by Dr. Catherine Cornille at Boston College)
5. German Reading for Graduate Students (non-credit class by Ursula Mangoubi, a German instructor at Boston University College of Arts & Sciences)

3rd semester (Fall 2008)
*1. Intro to Christian Worship (by Dr. Karen B. Westerfield Tucker)
2. Theology II: Contemporary Christian Theology (by Dr. Shelly Rambo)
*3. New Testament Greek I (by Dr. James Christopher Walters)
*4. Social Science Perspectives on Church and the world (by Dr. Nancy Ammerman)
5. Theological and Economic Ethics of Globalization (by Dr. Nimi Wariboko at Andover-Newton Theological Seminary)

4th semester (Spring 2009)
1. Race and American Christianity (Briallen Hopper, PhD candidate from Princeton University)
2. Intro to New Testament (by Dr. Jennifer Knust)
*3. New Testament Greek II (by Dr. Jennifer Knust)
4. Hinduism, Buddhism and Islam (by Dr. Mark Heim at Andover-Newton Theological Seminary)

Summer Term 2009
*1. Elementary Biblical Hebrew I & II (by Keith Stone, PhD candidate, at Harvard Divinity School)

5th semester (tentative, Fall 2009)
1. History of Western Ethics and Social Philosophy (seminar format)
2. Theologies of Dialogue
*3. Presbyterian Polity
*4. Field Education I
*5. Hebrew Reading and Exegesis I (2 credit hr)

6th semester (tentative, Spring 2010)
*1. Pastoral Care and Counseling
*2. Intro to Preaching
*3. Field Education II
4. Chinese Philosophy OR Contemporary Theological Systems (undecided which one to take yet)

As you can see, my curriculum is such that 2-yr MTS + * classes = 3-yr specialized MDiv. Regarding whether I have changed the nature of my focus, YES and NO. Yes, in the sense that I am now envisioning theology as permeating the laity level, not just the academia. No, in the sense that I am still seeking to engage culture, other religions, issues related to globalization, and science, which is the original intention why I chose to study at BUSTH.

Does it mean that since I am pursuing ordination in Presbyterian Church (USA), I will stay in the U.S.? I have explained that if church means more than just preaching the gospel, then I definitely want to be part of it, and if possible as a minister. I may not be able to commit full-time if I am given the opportunity to teach at a seminary setting. I am still searching where God is calling both my wife and me to. It might be Singapore, U.S. or other parts of the world, I am not sure. Our desire is to be close to our family members, and I foresee myself ministering in a multi-racial and multi-religious context.

Do not hesitate to email me if you have any question. I will be most glad to answer them.

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