FORT WORTH, Texas (SWBTS) – Trustees at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary approved an innovative doctoral degree in missions during their fall meeting, Oct. 19. The new Ph.D. in World Christian Studies within the seminary’s Roy Fish School of Evangelism and Missions will not only train missiologists but will also provide opportunities for missionaries to complete doctoral studies while remaining on the field.
“In the 21st century, the majority of Christians—and therefore Christian churches—will reside within what missiologists call the ‘global South,’ Vice President for Strategic Initiatives and Acting Provost Jason Duesing told trustees. “There’s a tilting, or a shift, of world Christianity to the southern areas of the world.
“Out of recognition of that, we’re venturing into that field to the degree that the focus is primarily on global Christian studies.”
Duesing noted that few schools have degrees in World Christian Studies, and of those that do, none are evangelical or Baptist. He said the new Ph.D. will allow Southwestern to bring a new perspective to this field of study.
“What’s unique about this degree is that it’s our first modified residence Ph.D.,” Duesing said. “These students will remain on the field while they continue their work. They will come once annually to the Fort Worth campus, but the remainder of their work will be done through mentor seminars via online technology and online resources made available to them.”
Fish School Dean Keith Eitel, who designed the new degree, explained the benefits of the modified residency delivery method in an interview.
“Centers of Christian influence over the past century pivoted on axis from points North in Europe and America Southward. Nairobi, Lagos, Cape Town, Santiago, Bogota, Rio de Janeiro, Mexico City, Jakarta, Bangkok, Kunming, New Delhi, Almaty, and the like are places where the future of the faith is and will be set forth for the better part of this century, if not beyond,” Eitel said.
Eitel said the new Ph.D. will encourage students “to stay engaged in the missionary experience, to maximize insights and benefits of being on-site in the midst of this historic paradigm shift. Students document and analyze multifaceted realities sociologically, culturally, phenomenologically and historically all with an eye on the future.”
“An integrated approach creates topical flexibility and multiple angles of analysis while integrating global Christian perspectives. At the end of the day, students step into and help expand the ebb and flow of World Christian Studies.”
Likely candidates for the new Ph.D. include missionaries with an interest in doctoral studies but do not want to leave their field of service. Additionally, Duesing told trustees that the seminary has “the opportunity to train faculty who currently exist in global seminaries around the world.
“Many of those seminaries are unaccredited and are attempting to be accredited, but what they need are faculty with accredited Ph.D. degrees. By their enrolling in this degree, they are able to enhance their own school while at the same time the degree also extends Southwestern’s influence by training generations of faculty who will train generations of pastors in churches all around the world.”
Anthony George, chairman of the trustees’ academic administration committee, applauded the delivery method and said, “This degree will make possible for certain national pastors in various countries around the world to pursue terminal degrees and not have to leave their church and their country to come study at Southwestern.
“It enhances Southwestern’s ability to extend our conservative theology and evangelical perspective on Scripture all over the world right here from Fort Worth.”
While some might assume that the new delivery method will water down the degree, administrators assured trustees that the Ph.D. in World Christian Studies will prove as rigorous as traditional methods.
“My concern with non-resident PhD programs has always been the almost inevitable tendency to ‘dumb down’ the degree in order to make it accessible,” Southwestern president Paige Patterson said. “The uniqueness of this far-reaching design is that it makes the degree accessible without lowering a single solitary standard. I love it and anticipate incredible interest and results.”
Southwestern’s next step is to seek approval from accrediting bodies for this new delivery method.
Additional Business
In addition to approving the new degree, trustees accepted the seminary’s annual audit and approved awards to be granted in the spring. Trustees approved recipients of the B.H. Carroll and L.R. Scarborough awards. Both recipients have generously impacted future ministers of the Gospel through providing student scholarships.
President Paige Patterson reported to trustees the many events happening on campus, including the upcoming Anabaptist Conference in January featuring guest speakers University of California Professor of History Emeritus Abraham Friesen and Saddleback Church Senior Pastor Rick Warren.
Patterson also talked about the nearing completion of the seminary’s new chapel, with the dedication slated for Dec. 1. In addition to a dedication of the building during a special chapel that morning, the seminary will host a free Christmas concert in the evening featuring Christmas carols, Rutter’s Magnificat and Handel’s Messiah.
Patterson noted the many reasons for the need of a new chapel but assured trustees that “As beautiful as that building is, it is a total waste of money if lives are not changed."