The world has changed at a dizzying (and, concomitantly, nauseating, pace) in 2020, but one thing remains constant. Hebrews 13.8 declares, “Jesus Christ is the same—yesterday, today, and forever!” Yet, the Jesus Christ who is proclaimed in pulpits across the nation and spanning the globe is often conformed to the fashionable ideology of the day. He is not the same as he was yesterday.
The Church needs rock solid pastors and leaders who know the Lord and know the text. People who preach the same Jesus Christ the apostles proclaimed. We need leaders who have been trained well in Scripture.
I am in my fourth decade of teaching at Dallas Seminary. I have served under five of the six presidents this institute has had. One thing I have deeply loved about the school is its commitment to the word of God. It’s the only theological seminary I know of that, instead of offering a three-year Master of Divinity degree, offers a four-year Master of Theology degree. This has been the same from the beginning, 96 years ago.
The fourth year gives the student 33% more time than an MDiv to reflect, meditate, dialog, fellowship, and dig in. Things gel in that fourth year. And the high-level of biblically-based, earnest fellowship/discussions—from both the minutiae of the text to macro-current events that are reshaping our world, and everything in between—will almost never be replicated after you leave seminary. You will find that Christians—even Christian leaders—are usually just not that interested in the Bible. This sad state of affairs needs an equal and opposite reaction if evangelical Christianity is going to survive.
During the pandemic, potential students are really questioning the necessity of that fourth year, and questioning moving to Texas. It’s too expensive. It’s not necessary. I have a ministry right where I am. Dallas is too hot. It’s too great a sacrifice. My advice: Don’t shortcut your training when preparing for a lifetime of ministry. The Lord never put a premium on ignorance. His condemnation of the religious leaders of his day was both that they did not know the power of God or the Scriptures. Our students learn the biblical languages especially with a view toward faithful exegesis and exposition of the text. And yes, they pay a big price.
The One Dollar House
I grew up in Newport Beach, California. To move to Texas with my new bride was challenging. I was leaving a ministry in SoCal—a church where I was the assistant pastor. We bought a house for $1.00 (you read that right) and lived in it for most of my years of preparation in the ThM program.
(The house was part of the Homestead Urban Renewal program. Essentially, a lottery was set up for potential homeowners to get a foreclosed, dilapidated house in a very bad neighborhood for a buck and bring it up to city code. They had to own it for at least three years. Ours was at the very bottom of our list: house built in 1920, asbestos siding, lead paint, no AC, no heat, no shower, foundation shifting 12” from one end of the house to the other. And thousands upon thousands of roaches which we could never eradicate. We lived there for three and a half years, and we got to know poverty well—both because all our neighbors were very poor and because we shared in their economic state. We also got to see the underbelly of racism and oppression.)
In spite of our poverty, in spite of the sky-high crime rate in our neighborhood, in spite of the weather, in spite of the army of roaches, God provided for us. He saw us through our difficulties. He was faithful. The Sovereign of the universe, God himself, designed this wilderness experience for our good and his glory. These were formative years. We made the sacrifice because we believed that the ThM was the best way for me to prepare for a lifetime of ministry. And along the way, the Master Teacher put us through a curriculum of his own. I wouldn’t trade those years for a million bucks.
Tuition costs have gone up exponentially since the 1970s. And houses nowadays—even in Dallas—usually cost a bit more than a buck. But Dallas has one of the lowest unemployment numbers in the country. It’s been that way for decades. And DTS has made a remarkable, stunning offer to ThM students: fourth year free! The last twenty-four units will cost you nothing, nada, zilch—provided you take them the way they should be taken: on campus, in the flesh, in Dallas. The particulars are found at this link: https://www.dts.edu/admissions/tuition-aid/scholarships-discounts/last-year-free/.
Lots of things are competing for your time. But the deep-dive training that is a pastor’s and teacher’s requisite are a small price to pay in order to serve King Jesus for the rest of your days. And you just might find that the benefits and blessings that accompany you during the four years in Dallas are something that you would not trade for a million bucks.
The administration of Dallas Theological Seminary has neither endorsed this blog, nor was it even aware that I was writing it. These are my own reflections.