In today’s changing culture, it is not surprising that even preparation for ministry is changing. As secular schools offer more and more degree programs online, those who wish to prepare for ministry also desire to do so. While this sounds horrid to some old timers who still rightly believe in the old time mentor to student, face-to-face seminary preparation (which I am completely in agreement with, by the way), for some, the modern opportunities that online education presents are a welcome way out from a situation where, years ago, would have left many who are called into ministry and even those who are already in ministry, without preparation. I stress what I mean: Face-to-face seminary education is the best, but if you are in a situation where it is either an online education or ministry without academic preparation, then by all means, go for the online classes. You will learn much, and you can find a mentor right where you are. It is the second best thing and by no means second class ministry preparation, considering you will choose your seminary well.
Now, getting a M. Divinity online may be tricky. The problem is that not many institutions offer that degree fully online. Most seminaries will allow you to do one out of three years online, or perhaps more. That helps a lot, but sooner or later, you will have to relocate to a seminary and finish your degree and if that is impossible for you, because of distance, family obligations, or ongoing ministry, you will have a hard time finding a seminary that can help you. The reason for this is that the ATS (Association of Theological Schools), an association that accredits seminaries, will not allow for this degree to be offered 100% online. Most seminaries that are respectable are accredited by the ATS, hence the difficulty in finding a M. Div. fully online.
As far as I know, there are two seminaries that are accredited (regionally accredited) and that are not accredited by the ATS, thereby offering an online M. in Divinity: Luther Rice, and Liberty Baptist Seminary. There are others out there which have no accreditation, and you may attend them at your own risk. But look closely before you do, and make sure your chosen ministry path will not require an accredited education, or that this seminary will actually make you hard for your degree, offering you all of the knowledge you need and deserve.
If your theological beliefs are not conducive to either one of these schools and you need a M. Div., consider mixing your options. You might even save some money in the meantime and end up with a more varied education. Many seminaries will allow you to transfer in as many as 30-50 credits from another institution. That is about half of the 93 credits usually required for a M. Div. This allows you to take your ministry related required courses at the institution granting your degree and then going elsewhere for your theology classes. Your degree will show Liberty, or Luther Rice, but your transcript will show Reformed Theological or Wesley Biblical, or wherever your theology classes were taken, so that you may show them to your denomination or church. With some brief explanation, you should have no problem being respected for the classes you took wherever you go. If you plan on being a professor, however, you may want to plan a post graduate degree at an institution closer to the kind you wish to teach at. However, the extra degree should not be viewed as an obstacle, but as an opportunity.
If you choose to go this route, do not pick seminaries based on cost, but on what is closer to your convictions. You may even find a third or fourth seminary out there that has good accreditation and offers this degree fully online (though I don’t know of any and I did a pretty thorough investigation) but whatever you do, do not try to go for the easy one or the cheap one. Do make decisions based on what is best for your education and future, not on today’s needs and comforts. If taken seriously, an online education can be as good as a resident one, but if not taken seriously, it can be an enormous waste of time and of money, not to mention the damage it can do to your ministry calling.
Written by Luciana Damascena. Luciana is a student at Liberty Baptist Seminary, currently in the M. Divinity program. She is a full time career missionary with BCM International and is serving in Portugal along with her husband and two children.