SBTS offers new degree emphasis in biblical spirituality

Communications Staff — December 16, 2011

The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary now offers a degree emphasis in biblical spirituality. With the new program, Southern gives students the opportunity to pursue the study of biblical spirituality for credit in the master of divinity, master of theology, doctor of ministry and doctor of philosophy degree programs.

“Our students need to study spirituality because at the heart of their task as ministers is the cultivation of spirituality in the lives of the individuals under their ministry, as well as spirituality in the life of their congregation as a whole,” said Don Whitney, associate professor of biblical spirituality. “And as ministers, they are also required by Scripture to ‘be an example of those who believe’ [1 Tim 4:12], and this points directly to the development of their own spirituality. Our biblical spirituality curriculum is designed to prepare our students for all those responsibilities.”

Russell D. Moore, dean of the School of Theology and senior vice president for academic administration, spoke of the need for churches to learn about authentic Christian spirituality: “Our churches are facing a crisis when it comes to spirituality. Some congregations are captive to faddish and wisdom-deadening forms of pseudo-spirituality while others are in bondage to an arid rationalism. Churches and church leaders are longing for a healthy holistic Christian spirituality. Southern Seminary is ready, with such outstanding scholars as Don Whitney and Michael A.G. Haykin, to address this need.”

According to Whitney, who is also senior associate dean of the School of Theology, the addition of the program sets Southern apart in the world of theological education as the only North American institution that offers a degree emphasis in biblical spirituality in each of the four degree levels.

Whitney, who brings 24 years of pastoral experience to the classroom, and Haykin, professor of church history and biblical spirituality, will teach the majority of the biblical spirituality courses, with theology and biblical studies professors contributing other courses and doctoral colloquia. The biblical spirituality curriculum involves a cross-disciplinary approach by involving professors from the areas of systematic theology, biblical studies, historical theology and church history.

“It is such an honor for me to teach in our biblical spirituality program with Michael Haykin,” said Whitney. “He is both a treasured colleague and a dear friend. He is a world-class scholar, a committed churchman, a devoted husband and father and most importantly, he is a man of God who faithfully practices biblical spirituality.”

Furthermore, spirituality, Whitney explained, is an area often overlooked for academic study among evangelicals. For this reason, Whitney argues it is important that evangelicals promote a view of spirituality rooted in a proper understanding of biblical authority and soteriology.

“Biblical spirituality is one of the fastest growing areas in theological education, but until our program at Southern there wasn’t a terminal [Ph.D.] degree program in an evangelical seminary to prepare scholars specifically for teaching spirituality. Now we are adding to that the option of emphasizing the study of biblical spirituality at four different degree levels,” Whitney said.

Whitney pointed out the opportunity for influence Southern now has as one of a very small number of seminaries nation-wide to offer a master of theology in biblical spirituality, and the only evangelical seminary known to offer a doctor of philosophy in spirituality.Like other Th.M. programs at Southern, the biblical spirituality degree allows students to participate in doctoral-level coursework as well as take master of divinity courses with additional requirements for course credit.

Biblical spirituality courses include historical studies about Patristic, Reformation, Puritan and Baptist spirituality, as well as biographical studies of various Christian figures. Along with the program’s core course of Personal Spiritual Disciplines – which is required for M.Div. students – with its emphasis on the daily, practical aspects of private devotion to Christ, there are also courses emphasizing congregational spiritual disciplines.

“No one should have to come to seminary in order to learn how to pray and meditate on Scripture, but realistically we know that is ideal and not always the case. But even if every student came from a ‘perfect’ church and all were sufficiently instructed in personal spirituality, they would still benefit from our biblical spirituality curriculum by learning how to teach others about these things. So, they need to learn not only the practical spiritual aspects of being disciples of Jesus, they also need to know how to disciple others. They need to be able to teach others how to pray and meditate on Scripture,” Whitney explained.

More information about the biblical spirituality programs is available at www.sbts.edu

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