BTFO Day 4: What the hell is a “Master of Divinity” anyways?

Stories from Day 4

The overall summary of Day 4 is that it rained right in the middle of the day, starting off softly and reaching a crescendo, and finally tapering off as the afternoon grew later.  In terms of specific events planned by orientation, none of them stood out to me as much as a couple of specific encounters, which I will examine now.  Speaking of weather, there was an unexpected and quite powerful tornado in my home town of Chesterland, Ohio; I would like to take a moment and give thanks to God that all my family and neighbors experienced merely property damage, and no physical harm.  In terms of notable quotes, we turn first to Dean Goettler, who said something very interesting, that made me really think (and is also part of my motivation for the below section), when he contended that “a Master of Divinity is a professional degree, and not just an academic degree, as it is not just a collection of coursework, but also one’s own process of vocational discernment as well as spiritual growth.”  This resonated with me, as I can sometimes have trouble concisely explaining to someone that my degree in Divinity is different than those of my classmates who are here to do a Master of Arts in Religion (MAR); while both degrees feature rigorous coursework, the MDiv also incorporates practical theology and experiential components that are focused on working out in the world, while an MAR is designed towards probable future coursework (and believe me, I am quite jealous of their programs, and wish I could do all of them in a row).  That said, another quote, this time from Pastor Julie Kelsey (the pastor for the Divinity School students, staff, and faculty) will help illustrate some of why I inevitably find myself drawn towards the MDiv side of the religious educational spectrum.  As is common for people at YDS, she saw me, didn’t know me, and thus introduced herself and spoke with me in the halls of the building.  We sat, and reached a point in the conversation where she said “when things look crappy, or when things look great, stop by my office and have a cup of coffee.  I have the awesome job of being asked to speak with people at length about anything and everything.”  For me personally, there is something that clicks too well, or makes too much sense for me to avoid the educational course that leads to societal expectations of my being approachable; in other words, although it is a hard choice, I would rather learn about theological principles of pastoral presence and apply them in the real world, as opposed to the equally important but far more theoretical work of attempting to dissect in detail the meaning of such scriptural passages using linguistics and anthropology and the like.  As a final point along these lines, and as means of introducing the next section of this post which will examine the MDiv and what it means, I would like to add that part of my academic expectations as an  MDiv include a requirement to do a bi-semester report and essay of sorts, which are only accessible by my advisor and a few deans involved in the process.  Conveniently labeled one’s “MDiv Portfolio,” this is essentially an online brief narrative account of what I expected, what I experienced, and how I understand those two components as a unified whole pointing me towards a life’s worth of work combining expectations and outcomes in ministry.

“MDiv” means what, exactly?

So those of you who have spoken with me or watched this blog know that I am in a Master of Divinity program, but understandably, many people might not know what that means; I figured I would spend a section of this post giving a brief overview of what a divinity school is/it does, how MDiv’s work exactly, and related concerns.  As is my habit, I will start off early with a link pointing to a general introduction, and then go from there.  The name “Master of Divinity” is luckily the same acronym as the Latin title, Magister Divinitatis (which as a linguistics nerd I find wholly more appealing), and so MDiv can be used interchangeably to refer to either title.  No matter the language, the implication behind the Master level coursework is a change from previous practice, where it was a graduate degree that was oddly called a Bachelor of Divinity.  It is a significantly more work- and time-intensive degree than nearly all humanities degrees, and can often give scientific master programs a run for their money, as well.  This is a necessity, however, given the requirement of both sound theological education and practical experience and education alongside it; after, the majority of people who pursue an MDiv are seeking to become parish pastors, and thus need to be prepared to wear quite a few different hats on the job.

So we have the sort of dictionary definition of what this degree involves, but it is done differently from school to school; luckily, YDS is nice enough to have a section of that aforementioned MDiv Portfolio that lays out a clear set of expectations for what one’s experience here would encompass.  I am going to reproduce it here for your benefit:


The MDIV learning goals are as follows:

Religious Heritage
Students will show the ability to interpret the Biblical texts, the diverse history of the Christian tradition, and the fundamental documents of the Christian tradition, and to apply the insights of such learning to contemporary settings.

In addition to knowledge of the diversity of Christianity and the interdependence of their tradition with that of other traditions, students will further show the ability to articulate and examine the specifics of their particular Christian traditions and communities in ways that serve their vocational and professional goals.

Cultural Context
Students will show an understanding of culture on the practice of ministry, including

  1. an awareness and interaction with the artistic work being done at the ISM and in the Yale University and New Haven communities
  2. attention to the wider secular context in which ministry is practiced, and to the development of the ability to articulate and integrate meaningful engagement with the wider culture
  3. participation in extra-curricular learning and engagement with the broader community
  4. a well developed understanding of the impact of race, class, gender and the global context of contemporary Christianity on the practice of ministry.

Personal and Spiritual Formation
Students will exhibit the requisite capacities for a life of pastoral leadership or professional ministry, showing evidence of an ability to articulate faith in God, and the integration of that faith with academic work. Further, students will show a knowledge of and sensitivity to diversity within the Christian tradition. To that end, they will have participated in the worship life of the school and/or a local congregation, and/or individual and communal practices of prayer or spiritual disciplines. Students will exhibit a commitment to peace and justice and the dignity and safety of all, and that they are emotionally mature, able to take initiative and practice self-care, and to work effectively with other people and within institutional structures. Students will be aware of the broad range of YDS activities and opportunities available for their Spiritual Formation.

Capacity for Ministry and Public Leadership
Ministerial graduates will show ability to exercise the practice of leadership for ministry through the priestly, pastoral and prophetic and organizational roles, including

  1. Strong and able worship leadership skills
  2. Proven leadership of congregations in the full range of relevant ministry responsibilities
  3. Adequate training for appropriate pastoral care-giving
  4. A readiness to analyze and form responses to societal needs, to injustice, to poverty and to other societal ills
  5. The development of a practical ecclesiology, in areas of public ministry including chaplaincy, teaching, advocacy and social justice work.


In a lot of ways, this small section of the Portfolio explains the aim and methods of my MDiv degree quite a bit more clearly than I could hope to achieve. If you’re thinking that sounds like a lot of work, you’re entirely correct;

As a related point, I am starting to realize that after I finish my intended joint degree (MDiv/MBA), I am entirely far too tempted to stay for one extra year at YDS and pursue an STM.  The more appealing Latin is rendered Sacrae Theologiae Magister, which is the source of the ordering of the letters in the acronym; in English, this second-level master degree is entitled a Master of Sacred Theology.  Given my propensity to relate things to ethics, I can see myself picking a very ethics-related topic, perhaps something like Greek Church Fathers and the Ethics of Salvation or the like.  More on that in ~4 years, or sooner if I get additional details.

Closer to “moved in” – A Short Photo Essay

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