Update: Online MDivs now more flexible

GBHEM quick to change recent ruling

Last week’s discussion on Online MDivs (“Online MDivs in Dispute“) yielded lots of discussion on the merits of online v. classroom education. Read the comments, you won’t be disappointed!

But in an update, it seems that the GBHEM has stepped back its ruling and allowed MDivs to be 2/3 online (it was 1/3 as of their last ruling).

I take personal credit in that we had a 200% jump in hits from Nashville, TN (home to GBHEM) since the publication of that blog post:

OK, probably not.

For more info, Joel @ Unsettled Christianity has the posted statement from GBHEM:

Having carefully considered these matters, the University Senate resolves that:
1. All United Methodist seminaries and Asbury Theological Seminary be allowed to offer two-thirds of the Master of Divinity degree online, with one third of the degree required to be in residence.
2. The only “online courses” allowed to count toward a degree for a candidate seeking ordination in The United Methodist Church be offered by one of the 13 official United Methodist seminaries and Asbury Theological Seminary.
3. The Senate reconfirms its June 2010 decision to require that all official transcripts of University Senate Approved Schools identify the courses that are taken online. For this purpose, the term “online courses” includes those that offer some instruction on campus.
4. Effective January 2011, few if any additional seminaries will be invited to join the list of non-UMC schools approved for the education of those seeking ordination in the UMC.
5. All non-UMC schools currently approved for education of UMC candidates for ordination must continue to meet the “Criteria for Evaluating Non-United Methodist Schools of Theology” contained in Appendix B of The University Senate: Organization, Policies, and Guidelines. A necessary means of fulfilling these criteria includes either (a) having at least one full-time UMC faculty member with a Ph.D. or Th.D. employed on a long-term contract teaching the course(s) in UMC history and doctrine, (b) or partnering with a United Methodist seminary to offer the required courses in history, doctrine, and polity. This policy will take effect in August 2012 and will be applied as schools are regularly reviewed.

A few thoughts:

  1. 2/3 online seems about right to accommodate rural and non-relocating students. Both United and Iliff’s current progams will be fine.
  2. Hybrid courses (which are mostly online but have some on-site instruction) are considered to be “online classes.” A technical detail but will impact the way how Seminaries describe classes. If they are predominantly online, they are online classes…period! Seems like all the face-to-face will have to be week intensives or Winter/Summer classes.
  3. Unrelated, but it’s sad to me that we say “All UM Seminaries and Asbury” in this document all the time. Sad both in that Asbury has such dominance in our seminarian crop that we *have* to pay attention to it, and that our denomination in the past didn’t just take them in under their wing and place the same requirements on Asbury that the rest of them were on. Forcing accountability back then coulda gone a long way to fixing our current predicament, and none of the solutions (ie. MEF vouchers to students rather than seminaries) would bring theological accountability to Asbury either. Sigh.

So, there you have it: 2/3 of an MDiv can be done online or in hybrid classes. What do you say?

Print Friendly and PDF


  1. says

    Jeremy, you connect online better than most people. Most people say things they wouldn’t say to a person’s face in electronic media. You have been on the forefront of rules concerning this through various blogs and sights you have worked on, thoughtful expression, etc.

    1. Online classes force more learning to happen through visual media as apposed to aural, tactile, etc.

    2. Most professors have a difficulty using technology as it is, much less teaching through it, and not around it.

    3. Good classroom professors, especially ones who use the Socratic method and other effective models are probably going to have difficulty being as effective in the virtual/visual only environment.

    4. We should study how it is that people learn best, before we switch to an all visual system. I get my inspiration to read the seminary books from classroom discussion and argument myself. I hate reading mindless responses to others take on a book they hardly read.

    5. There is value in being away from family and even a two year old who I love, In order to do graduate level work. It is difficult to write a 10-20 page paper on the Gospel of John with a two year-old grabbing your ankle, and a parishioner wrapping on the door. There is a blessing in going to a separate space, a separate community. Dude, it would of totally sucked if you had to live in Oklahoma but gone to Boston online. I love our state, but man what a formative experience you must have had there. There are some intangible benefits of being in a physical community together, eating together, being able to smell someone else’s breath.

    The way we do Church is changing. For example, I use facebook as a tool to learn peoples’ names and talk about worship planing, with other pastors, etc. while many professors think it is just an online game or time-suck (which it can be). Seminary is going to change. The key is having the proper use of technology, being able to interact with it, and being able to learn through it in various and effective ways, and sir I think this may be your area of calling. Keep up the good work my friend.

  2. says

    RE: Online Classes

    I’ve done two classes online so far (along with over a year of residential seminary learning). One class was done badly. The teacher for the first was somewhat detached. We did our reading and assignments and “responding” to classmates in an online forum was required, but it wasn’t great. The second class was wonderful. We had reading and assignments, but we also had to do postings each week. Folks were encouraged to respond to each other and the teacher responded on many postings (showing he was engaged). His feedback and participation clearly added to the class and aided my understanding and even with an unexpected bout of appendicitis I felt I learned tremendously from the class.

    Online class can be done badly, lazily even OR it can done in a way that is just as engaging as class is when it is done by motivated people in a classroom with a gifted professor. It’s up to training and adaptation. Some classes like languages are clearly better off being taught in person, but w/ most there is little difference with a good teacher. (Also drawing from conversation with many other folks in Seminary).

    RE: Asbury

    I second Jim in asking for clarification on your concern over “theological accountability.” I’m a pretty standard Methodist, at least I think I am, and considered a half dozen seminaries before ultimately choosing Asbury because, though it is far from regional airports and in a rural community, I felt God clearly calling me there/here.

    I believe a majority of the faculty here is United Methodist and clearly a majority of students are. I feel I’m a keen observer and I’ve never once seen something taught which contradicted Discipline that I know. Asbury teaches vibrant, orthodox, Wesleyan faith; I haven’t seen anything else.

    Are you more concerned about Asbury than say… Claremont? Has that institution (one of the 13) had more appropriate “theological accountability” with its official status?

  3. says

    @Jim and John,

    I’m a “big-tent” United Methodist, so don’t paint me as narrow. But I want the people in the big tent to play by the same rules and be accountable the same way.

    My stress is on the word “accountability.” Currently, if the 13 seminaries start walking down a theological path that the GBHEM deems not in sync with United Methodism, then there are penalties. We saw this with United and with Claremont this summer. As much as I was in support of those seminaries, I was more in support of the system that worked. They were held accountable for their actions. The Methodist method worked.

    However, Asbury is under no such requirements. Their requirements are simply staffing requirements, filing requirements, course curriculum requirements, etc. If their checklists are marked, their grads are in good standing with the UMC. This is the same with any other UM-approved seminary, not just Asbury. If any UM-approved seminaries started a multi-faith initiative like Claremont, GBHEM would have no standing whatsoever to revoke their role. I wonder what would have happened if Asbury had done it.

    Does this mean grads from Asbury are errant theologically? Not at all, and to use an anecdotal fallacy, some of my dear pastor friends are from Asbury. However, I have to wonder why the only two pastors that I know that only do infant baptisms grudgingly are from Asbury. Again, anecdotal fallacy, but this is a blog so you are used to such things. Why is that? And if the source is the seminary, where is the accountability?

    Now, one can come back and say that gay-loving seminarians are predominantly from the UM seminaries and such beliefs are contrary to UM doctrine as well. Fine. But there’s accountability and if you wanted to bring a theological charge to those seminaries, then the GBHEM is equipped to deal with it. Not so with UM-approved seminaries.

    Again, I’m a “big-tent” United Methodist. I want the people in the big tent to play by the same rules and be accountable the same way. And to make rules for “The 13 + Asbury” is to give preferential treatment to a seminary that doesn’t have the same accountability as the others. That’s my problem.


  4. says


    I wasn’t intending to come across as accusatory; I hope that’s not how I was received.

    1. On baptism; though I have not yet had the official UM Theology class, it was also covered in my basic Christian doctrine course. The reasoning behind baptism was covered and that for infant baptism was focused on in discussion. The consensus was that baptism is something that God does, not us, so being an adult is not necessary. I think your example is a clear example of correlation w/o causation. Many in the class leaned in the direction of adult baptism before the class and at least as the class ended seemed to have moved more in the UM direction. More evangelical people are often attracted to Asbury because of its orthodox reputation and the evangelical movement has strongly influenced people’s understanding of baptism (among other things).

    2. There is accountability in this: If Asbury experienced theological drift the UMC could simply delist it as approved. That’s some pretty strong accountability if you ask me.

    Side note: There are many doctrines aside from the two most debated in the church that we hold dear. Entire sanctification, for example, is one that we have and that Wesley was passionate about, but I’ve never heard preached on from a non-Asbury graduate. There are many others like that. I’m sure that if you were able to sit in (and i realize this is not possible) on theology classes at Asbury you would find a Methodist theology at least as robust as that being taught in our official 13.

    To your broader readership: There is little reason to worry about Asbury Seminary and it’s graduates. They are orthodox in their faith, are (largely) conscious of the Holy Spirit and love our church founder John Wesley and his understanding of faith that we Methodists still hold dear.

    Thank you for providing this opportunity to respond.

  5. Chris Adkins says

    Interesting info re: UMC seminaries. I have a different perspective as I have a masters in another field and am looking to obtain an M.Div. or equivalency for personal purposes. Let me also state I am not UMC but hold to a sacramental Wesleyan perspective. Anyways I never really gave the UMC seminaries any thought as I thought their thinking re: online education and degree programs was fairly out of touch. While I haven’t completely made up my mind I’m down to Indiana Wesleyan; Wesley Biblical; and Lubbock Christian for M.Div. and Holy Apostles for a Certificate of Advanced Graduate Study in Theology. From my perspective as an adult “coming into” the ministry an advanced graduate certificate or 6th year type program is the most logical; and if I must obtain an M.Div. the one with rteh most flexibility makes the most sense. Again I’m not UMC but then again we are still from the same “theological family”.

    One thing that is coming more to light is theological degrees don’t make a lot of sense for those called to ministry later in life. I’m seeing and hearing of more 6th year programs (CAGS, CAS, post masters certificates, etc) whether they last 18, 24, 30, 30, or 48 semester hours. They capitalize on the experiences already gained and offer degree advancement rather than a 2-3 sidestep for “another” masters. The M.Div. is a peculiar program in our world in that is just a really big masters degree and offers very little otherwise especially if your a bi-vo pastor. Most companies recognize the M.Div. as equivalent to a 30 hour MA or MS if applicable to pay raises. Additionally the advanced graduate certificates can often be what gets somebody a job or gives them a leg up professionally rather than having an M.Div. and a secular masters. I’m certainly not saying this is the only reason why somebody should obtain a degree but it is something that can be considered. Case and point- a friend of mine as an M.Div. with an emphasis in counseling. The total semester hours were 96. The program was regionally accredited and they had obtained their counseling licensure. However they were bypassed for a job by a person who had an MA in pastoral counseling (33 semester hours) plus a Post Masters Certificate in family therapy (24 semester hours). 96 semester hours -vs- 57 semester hours. The person with the M.Div. spend a year + longer in school and wasn’t able to get the job at a Christian counseling center….BTW the person with the lesser hours wasn’t even licensed they were chosed based on “degree” qualifications; and they both had about the same amount of relevant studies.

    Just something to think about.

    • Chris Adkins says

      my apologies I forgot to add the person with the lesser hours who got the degree completed “ALL” their graduate work online except for an practicum (3-6 hours).

  6. Nate says

    I’m a UMC ordination candidate at a non-UMC seminary (no UMC options in my area) and was informed by my academic advisor yesterday that UMC students cannot take online courses at non-UMC seminaries and have it count toward their MDiv / UMC ordination. I am floored! How were we supposed to get this information?! And what is the rationale behind such a decision? I’d say I’m disappointed but I’m more confused at this point.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *