Blog Archives

Lunch with Greg Beale!

Earlier today, the Th.M. students at Western Seminary had the chance to eat lunch with Dr. Greg Beale from Westminster Seminary. And, we had a fabulous time talking about Peter Enns‘ book Inspiration and Incarnation and how the discussion around that book developed at both Wheaton and Westminster (yes, the very first question anyone asked was what Beale thought about that whole situation), inerrancy and how you interpret Genesis 1-2, New Testament theology, the use of the Old Testament in the New Testament, and interesting/exciting areas of study for new biblical studies scholars. All that in just over an hour. It was fascinating.

Why am I telling you this? Mostly because every now and then I like to rub in how great our Th.M. program is by pointing out the cool things that we do. I realize that this may frustrate those of you who are not a part of this amazing program. And, I’m okay with that.

If any of the Th.M. students who were at the lunch happen to see this post, I’d be curious to know what you found most interesting in the conversation. So, let us know what you thought.


A postgrad survival guide

Quite a few of you are either current, former, or even future postgrad students (Th.M. or Ph.D.). For those of you who have been down at least part of that road, what do wish wish would have been included in a “postgrad survival guide” that someone just handed to you before you started your program?

I was looking back over the posts that I’ve written in the last year in my Tips for the Th.M. series, and I ran across quite a few others that revolved around the idea of how to succeed/survive in a postgrad program. So, I’ve started to wonder if it would be worth supplementing those with some other posts on the subject and eventually compiling a free resource on how to survive your ThM/PhD program.

I’d love to hear what you think. What would you add/delete? Would something like this be useful?

Here’s what I have based on what I’ve already written, grouped into a few logical categories.

Part 1: Introductory Issues

  • Are you sure that you want a postgraduate program?
  • Is academic Bible/theology a waste of time?
  • Should pastors pursue postgraduate work?
  • How to choose a postgraduate program.
  • How do you apply to a postgraduate program?

Part 2: Surviving Your Classes

  • How to succeed in a postgrad seminar
  • How to read well

Part 3: Surviving the Research Process

  • Why you should use journal articles
  • How to use journal articles well
  • The danger of over-research-itis
  • Using Google Scholar in research

Part 4: Surviving the Writing Process

  • Constructing strong arguments
  • The importance of clear and concise writing
  • Writing research proposals
  • Understanding the research proposal process
  • Finding good thesis/dissertation topics
  • Picking a thesis/dissertation topic
  • How to tackle something the size of a thesis/dissertation
  • How to use quotations
  • Common errors in research writing
  • How to take criticism

Part 5: Surviving Your Oral Examination

  • Answering concisely
  • Saying “I don’t know”
  • Summarizing your research

Part 6: Surviving after You Graduate

  • Writing the perfect resume
  • Advice on applying for a teaching position
  • What to do when you don’t get a teaching position

New Th.M. Scholarships at Western Seminary

I am very happy to announce a new and very generous scholarship opportunity at Western Seminary.

We now have 5 scholarships available for Th.M. students, each of which will cover all tuition during the first two years of the program. Since most of our Th.M. students finish within two years, this means that for most students, these will be full ride scholarships, though they do not cover books, travel, or living expenses.

The Marvin O. Johnson Educational Ministry Scholarship aims to assist students preparing for teaching careers. So, if your vocational aspirations involve, for example, teaching at a Christian high school, college, or seminary, this scholarship is for you. You may also qualify if you have bi-vocational aspirations (e.g. pastoring with significant adjunct teaching). Basically, if you think that your future involves having some significant role in Christian education, you may qualify and should at least inquire about the scholarship.

To qualify for these scholarships, you only need to meet the following criteria

  1. You must be a new Th.M. student.
  2. You must meet the entrance requirements for the Th.M. program.
  3. You must intend to pursue an educational career in some capacity. (The award is flexible enough to meet a variety of vocational goals. So, if you have any questions, please inquire.)

If you’re not familiar with our program, you may be wondering if you have to move to Portland to be a Th.M. student. The answer is “no.” Although many of our Th.M. students live in the Northwest, we have students from Montana, California and recently as far away as New York. We offer several classes every year as 1-week intensives. So, as long as you’re willing to make occasional trips to Portland, often in the summer when Portland is at its finest, this program is for you.


If you would like more information about the scholarships and how to apply, or if you would just like to hear more about our Th.M. program, please contact me at mcortez [at] westernseminary [dot] edu.


So, if you are considering, have ever considered, or might be tempted into considering a Th.M. as you prepare for the future, this is a great opportunity that you should consider. And, if you know anyone who might be interested in an opportunity like this, please feel free to pass the word along.

For more information about the Th.M. program, check out the following pages:

Is it time to run ads?

No, I’m not “selling out” to “the man.” (Actually, I suppose that since I have a good job and live in the suburbs with my family of four, I’ve probably already sold out to the man. But, that’s a question for another post.) But, I do have a good reason for thinking that it might be worth running ads on the blog. More on that in a second.

You’ve all seen what it looks like – the sidebar with several small ads. (I wouldn’t go with the three-column visual monstrosity you see on some sites.) And, the ads would all be related (hopefully) to Christian life and ministry. So, I’m not thinking about using some generic ad service that would push ads that have nothing to do with what the blog is all about.

Now, I realize that these ads don’t bring in very much money. So, you might be wondering, “If we’re not talking about very much money, and if the ads take up space on the blog, why bother?” Good question. (Of course it is or you wouldn’t be wondering about it.)

Th.M. scholarships.

It wouldn’t take much advertising revenue every month to subsidize a small scholarship for the Th.M. program. We have a few Th.M. scholarships and I’ll be posting an announcement soon about a very generous scholarship for Th.M. students headed toward teaching. What I would love to have is even a small Th.M. scholarship dedicated toward students focusing in pastoral theology and preparing for local church ministry. (A big scholarship would be better, but I’m willing to take baby steps.)

So, here are my questions for today. Would it bother you if we included ads on the blog? Or, if any of you have some experience with this, Is running ads on a blog worth it? I don’t really know the logistics of blogvertising (I don’t know if that’s a word, but I like it). So, I’ll take any input I can get.

[This is part of a series reflecting on the future of the blog. Earlier questions were Is It Time for a New Name? and Is It Time for a New Look?]

Time to spend some quality time with Jonathan Edwards – any suggestions?

Every year I get to lead a Th.M. seminar focusing on key figures in historical theology. This year, it’s Jonathan Edwards. (So far I’ve done seminars on Augustine, Luther, and the Greek Fathers. I love my job.)

So, as I get ready for the seminar this summer, it’s time for me to brush off old favorites and explore new resources. I’m just about to dig into Jonathan Edwards and the Ministry of the Word by Douglas A. Sweeney and The Devoted Life: An Invitation to the Puritan Classics by Kelly Kapic and Randall Gleason, which I’m thinking about using as a resource for orienting students to the broader Puritan context of Edwards’ theology. In the next few days, I’ll also be reading through Marsden’s Jonathan Edwards: A Life again, since that will be the key biography for the course.

I have several other books on my reading list and I’m looking forward to digging more deeply into Edwards than I have in the past. But, I’m also open to suggestions. So, I have two questions. What are your favorite books about Edwards? And, what are your favorite works written by Edwards?

For extra credit, if there are any journal articles or book chapters that you think do a particularly fine job of addressing some aspect of Edwards’ life and/or theology, please feel free to pass those along as well.

Tips for the ThM (roundup)

Here are all of the “Tips for the Th.M.” that I’ve posted so far. If anyone has suggestions for further posts, please let me know.

Upcoming seminars in pastoral theology (John Coe, Will Willimon, and D. A. Carson)

If you’re in our Th.M. program, you know (I hope) that we have five areas of specialization: systematic theology, historical theology, pastoral theology, New Testament, and Old Testament (though quite a few of you are actually blending a couple of these into more customized specializations).  And correspondingly, we offer a Th.M. seminar in each of those areas  every year. The pastoral theology seminar, however, is unique in that we offer that class in partnership with Western Seminary‘s D.Min. program. Typically, we focus on identifying classes that have a good balance of academic research (making it a good Th.M. class) and practical application (making it a good D.min. class) so that it serves both programs well.

Though we have not worked out all of the details yet, here are the upcoming pastoral theology seminars that we will be offering. I’ll pass along more information as soon as I have it.

  • 2010/2011 – Jon Coe on “Spiritual Theology and Pastoral Transformation” (June 13-16, 2011)
  • 2011/2012 – Will Willimon on Christian Leadership (Jan 16-19, 2012)
  • 2012/2013 – D. A. Carson will be teaching a class that combines homiletics and exegesis as the class works through some NT book (Oct 13-17, 2012)

If you’re interested in any of those courses and would like to add them to your Th.M. plan, let me know.

Do I need a Master of Theology (Th.M.)?

One of the more common questions I run into as a Th.M. program director is, “Do I need a Th.M.?” That’s an understandable question. Before you spend that much time and money on a degree, you should be convinced that you really need one. And, I probably answered that question a dozen times this past summer. So, I thought I’d do my best to answer it here. Here’s my answer….No.

I realize that’s probably a surprising answer from someone who runs a Th.M. program, but the simple fact is that whether you are headed toward a doctoral program, local church ministry, or something else, I’m not aware of any Christian vocation that absolutely requires a Th.M. In virtually every sphere of life, the Th.M. is optional. So, do you need a Th.M.? Probably not. It used to be the case that many Ph.D. program required that M.Div. students get a Th.M. as an academic upgrade to their largely ministerial degree before beginning their doctoral work. That is generally not the case anymore.

But, if you don’t actually need a Th.M., why would you bother getting one? Ah, now that’s a different question. Whether you should proceed with a Th.M. is not so much a question of whether you need a Th.M., but whether you need a Th.M. The job that you’re headed toward may not require a Th.M., but there are a variety of situations in which a Th.M. can be of tremendous value anyway. Here are several reasons that you may want to pursue a Th.M. even though it’s not absolutely required.

  • Filling gaps in your training. Let’s face it, unless you are a truly unique individual, you probably did not have time to pursue everything that you needed to in your Master’s degree. There’s a good chance that you prepared really well in some areas and less well in others. Even if you intend to specialize in one area of biblical/theological studies, a Th.M. provides you the opportunity to develop some of your secondary interests and fill some gaps in your preparation. Some of our Th.M. students come in with only the basics in Greek, Hebrew, systematic theology, or church history. These students use the Th.M. to fill these holes in their training.
  • Broadening your training. Other students were able to lay a good foundation in all the biblical disciplines during their undergrad and graduate programs, but still feel the need for greater breadth in their preparation. I entered my Th.M. at least partially because I wasn’t ready yet for the kind of specialization that would be required in a doctoral program. Specifically, although I intended to focus my Ph.D. in systematic and historical theology, my Th.M. allowed me to spend considerable time on Hebrew and OT studies. These were areas that I did not develop adequately in my Master’s training, and I wanted a broad foundation that included significant time in all of these disciplines. Others are interested in using the Th.M. to prepare for local church ministry, seeing the Th.M. as an opportunity to broaden their biblical/theological training further than they were able in their Master’s programs.
  • Determining your specialization. One of the more common reasons for pursuing a Th.M. is that you want to continue on to a doctoral program, but you don’t yet know the specific specialization that you want to pursue. You may be interested in both systematic theology and church history, both NT and OT, or both the Gospels and the Pauline literature. Without a little more focus, it can become difficult (if not impossible) to select to right doctoral program for you. The Th.M. gives you a little more time to pursue various interests so that you can  make the right decision about what you want to focus on in your doctoral program. As a matter of fact, it was during my Th.M. that I was finally able to settle on systematic theology as the focus of my doctoral program rather than historical theology or NT studies. So, the Th.M. proved very helpful for me in this area.
  • Developing your specialization. Other students know what they want to specialize in during their Ph.D. program, but aren’t yet qualified to pursue that specialization at the doctoral level. If you fell in love with Greek during your Master’s program, but didn’t have enough electives to develop sufficiently in this discipline, the Th.M. allows you the time to lay a solid foundation for succeeding in your doctoral program.
  • Developing more teaching areas. Many schools are looking for people who can teach in more than one discipline. If you only have a specialization in Old Testament Law and its ancient near-eastern parallels, you may find it somewhat more challenging to find a teaching position than the person who is qualified to teach introductory classes in a couple of different disciplines. A Th.M. lets you develop some of those secondary teaching areas that can be very attractive to administrators.
  • Deepening your biblical/theological foundations for effective ministry. This is actually somewhat akin to “broadening your training,” but I wanted to make it more explicit that the Th.M. can be a great degree for ministry preparation. It’s not just a pre-Ph.D. degree. As Mark Stevens helpfully pointed out, the Th.M. can help add depth to your preaching/teaching ministry and give you a chance to develop (further) your understanding of pastoral theology. Around half of our Th.M. students use the degree to prepare for a doctoral program. The rest are in the program to deepen their preparation for effective ministry.
  • Setting you up for future success. All of these really add up to the same thing. Although the Th.M. is not absolutely required for anything, there are a variety of situations in which a Th.M. can be very helpful in setting you up for future success in your doctoral program or ministry setting.

So, as I often tell students, the Th.M. is the one degree program that no one actually needs. (That’s why they don’t let me work on marketing material.) But, the Th.M. can be very valuable for a lot of people in quite a few different circumstances. Whether you fit in any of those categories is something that you need to work out.

A video of Western Seminary’s ThM students

I took this video during my Th.M. seminar last spring, and it clearly shows our Th.M. students excitedly gathering to learn more amazing theological truths from their esteemed program director. I’ve tried to tell them that they really don’t need to squeak like that all the time, but we were discussing the Greek Fathers, so I can understand why they’d have a hard time constraining themselves.

Tips for the ThM – Part 14 (good quotes)

It’s been a while since I’ve written on Tips for the ThM (you can see a roundup of the first 11 here). Today I’d like to comment on something that most students do frequently and, on occasion, badly – quoting.

Here’s a principle that you should always keep in mind when quoting: the quote should have a clear purpose. Your reader should not be left with the impression that you used a quote simply because you had an interesting quote and you needed something to do with it.

So, what are some of the purposes that a quote can serve?

  1. You want to demonstrate that your arguments/ideas have support in the academic community. There are times, particularly when you are offering a new, unusual, or unfamiliar argument, when you will want to establish that you are not completely on your own. So,  you’ll appeal to another authority to prove that you have support. Quotations like this do not advance your argument in any way (more on this in a moment), but they can provide some needed credibility to keep your reader on board with what you’re doing.
  2. You need to establish an idea that you want to use in your argument, but one that you will not be establishing yourself. For example, suppose that I’m writing a paper on Augustine’s epistemology and I believe it to be reasonably well established that his epistemology is essentially neoplatonic. Since I think this is well established, I don’t want to waste my time arguing for it. Instead, I’ll quote a recognized authority to establish that this is the case, and then move on to what my argument is about. Of course, in doing so I set myself up to the possibility that someone will disagree on whether this is actually a well-established point, but such is life.
  3. You are providing material for critique. If you are going to go into an extended discussion of why someone is wrong, you will usually want to offer enough of a quote to establish that he or she actually holds the position that you are critiquing.
  4. Similarly, you need to establish that a person actually did say what you claim. If I’m going to claim that Calvin taught an unlimited atonement, I had better be able to demonstrate some ground for that claim. Having said that, though, you need to be careful with this one. Students often overuse quotes in this category, particularly in historical papers. A summary of a person’s ideas and/or a simple reference will usually suffice. Typically, you only need to offer more if your claim is surprising and more than a simple reference seems warranted. Otherwise, unless you have some other purpose for the quote, leave it out.
  5. You found someone saying exactly what you want to say, but they said it much better than you can. Use this one very sparingly. Don’t use quotes as a way of letting someone else do your work for you. You’re the author and you need to make the argument in your own voice or the argument will not be compelling to your reader. Granted, you will occasionally find that truly outstanding quote that provides just the right rhetorical flourish for what you want to accomplish. Fine. Use it. Just don’t do it very often.

With those purposes in mind, here are some of the mistakes that I often run into:

  1. Quotes that have no clear purpose. Again, know what you’re doing with your quote and how it advances/supports your argument. And, I’d put in this same category quotes that are really unnecessary because a simple reference would have sufficed.
  2. Quotes that are too long. There are times when an exceptionally long quote is necessary (e.g. you are going to interact with the whole quote in an extended critique). But I find that it is usually more effective to provide a good summary that bog the reader down with an extended quote. So, before you use a long quote, make sure that the entire quote has a good purpose to serve.
  3. Quotes that serve to shortcut good argumentation. This is among the more common and frustrating problems (in all kinds of writing). Quotation is not a replacement for argumentation. As I mentioned above, you can use a quote to demonstrate that you have supporters, and a good quote can establish and idea that you’ll use in your argument, but a quote cannot prove that you are right. You have to establish that through the course of your argument.
  4. And, finally, quotes that seem to be there just for the sake of quoting. I think we do this for three reasons. First, we’ve done a lot of research and we hate to see it go to waste. So, we’re going to find a place to stick all those quotes if it kills us. Second, we think we need a lot of quotes to prove that we’ve done our research. Third, we quote to show off (i.e. see how much I’ve read). And, none of them are necessary. In academic writing, you do need to establish that you’ve done adequate research, but that’s why God made footnotes. And, you don’t need to stick every last bit of research into your paper. Do enough to show that you’ve done your homework, and trust that the quality of your research will come across in the quality of your argument. And we all need to stop showing off. We should just recognize that we have not now nor will we ever have read as much as we think we should or as much as we think other people have.