LBTS, Post Dr. Jerry Falwell

At the time of this post, I attend Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary (Distance Learning Program) through Liberty University and I love it!  I am getting a good education and feel that it is great preparation for ministry.  However, given the regular inquiries I receive about LBTS and some recent observations, I've decided to publicly answer the frequently asked questions and offer my thoughts.

But first, here's a little background about me as it relates to LBTS.  (If you need to know more, click here.)  I earned an Associates of Science and an Associates of Applied Science at the College of Southern Idaho, then I transferred to the University of Utah where I earned a Bachelors of Science.  Until attending LBTS, I had never done any distance education on-line or through correspondence.  I'm married to a beautiful woman and we've adopted two boys -- one of which was born and came into our lives while I've been in seminary.  I also am employed full-time in secular employment.

I first started looking into seminaries when I was considering a return to the Army as a chaplain.  God had other plans; but it was the Army's requirements, Liberty's Master's of Divinity chaplaincy track, the ability to complete the program through distance education, and the price that eventually caused me to apply at LBTS.  I've since switched to the professional M.Div, which is a fully-accredited, 95-credit Master's Degree.  I've been at LBTS since Spring 2009 and I am scheduled to graduate in Spring 2012. I have never been on campus, although I'd like to visit and even take some intensives in Lynchburg.  It is my hope to apply for a PhD (Apologetics and Theology) upon the completion of the MDiv.

Like my article, "Choosing a Seminary," I will simply take on one item at a time.  There is some overlap between these two articles, but where the first article was a broad non-specific overview of seminary, this article is specific to LBTS.  If you have questions about items I have not addressed in either of these articles, please don't hesitate to contact me.

Dr. Jerry Falwell.  When people hear I go to Liberty, I often get asked about two people.  The first is Glenn Beck and the other is Jerry Falwell.  I won't get into Beck in this article (you can read more on that topic by clicking here).  Jerry Falwell however, makes for an interesting conversation.  Prior to starting at Liberty, all I knew of Falwell came by way of news sound bites about something controversial he said.  And I remember some of the things people said about him when he died.  I was a little apprehensive; but then I remembered that I graduated from a public university founded by the Mormon Prophet, Brigham Young (University of Utah, February 28, 1850).

I've come to learn that the seminary is not the School of Jerry Falwell--it is Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary.  It is dedicated to teaching the Bible and serving as a reflection of Jesus Christ.  Of course there are some professors that loved Falwell and miss him.  That's to be expected.  It seems that everybody who preaches at convocation feels it necessary to share a story or example of the man who founded the school.  However, outside of a handful of professors and illustrations in convocation, Falwell doesn't come up (unless it is Jerry Falwell Jr.).

In a recorded lecture before Falwell passed away, Dr. Ergun Caner said,
"There will come the time, please here me, there will come a time when Jerry Falwell goes on to glory.  There will come the time when the next generation will either make or brake this university.  They will inherit a great blessing; and you either sit on it and ride it until it dies or you do something with it. [...] It's the typical, central, fundamental necessary point in history.  You have to claim your generation.  It matters not how great and mighty Jerry Falwell is.  It matters not how great and mighty Elmer Towns is. [...] But Elmer Towns will stand before God for what Elmer Towns did with his opportunity.  If all we do is name a building or even build a statue to the guy, if we don't claim our generation, like David was to do--he served his generation and then went to be with the Lord--Liberty's great legacy as it stands right now, the reputation as it stands right now, will become nothing but an empty shell."  
There is some truth to this statement.  Even now I see the school going beyond where Dr. Falwell left it.  Why?  Because the school is not one man, especially not now--it's a skilled and caring staff and faculty dedicated to the gospel and their mission as an institution of higher learning.  In addition, from what little I know about Jerry Falwell, I have think that he would desire his legacy to be a reflection of Jesus Christ, not himself.  

Diversity in the class.  When I log into the discussion boards, I find a variety of students from a variety of Christian denominations, from a variety of locations around the world, from a variety of backgrounds.  I get to see our material through a variety of lenses and perspectives.  There are both men and women, Calvinists and Ariminians, charismatics and secessionists, pre and post tribulationists, Republicans and Democrats and those that just don't subscribe to any political party.  Many of the students are pastors, church planters, chaplains, or others ministers of some sort, so I also get to learn through the benefit of their past and present experiences.  Even some of the professors live in areas other than Lynchburg.  And I've connected with these students (and some of the professors) outside the class through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, E-mail, Skype, and even phone calls.  I regularly read their blogs.  Three of my local friends attend Liberty--one in the seminary, one in an undergraduate program, and one in a non-ministry related Master's program--and I've had lunch with a local alumni.

Accreditation.  LBTS is SACS accredited.  Before offering on-line programs, it is my understanding that Liberty was ATS accredited.  You might ask why this matters. Accreditation boards exists to ensure that the quality of the education meets a minimum standard.  Schools that meet these standards are considered "accredited."  Various state, regional, and federal departments of education approve and recognize accrediting bodies (or don't). Generally, if a student wishes to transfer credits to another school or pursue a degree beyond the masters he or she earned in seminary, it is important that he or she earned a degree from an accredited seminary.  In addition, many ministry positions such as a military chaplain, missionary, or teacher often require a degree from an accredited school.  There are regional accrediting bodies and national accreditation institutions, as well as discipline-specific accreditation bodies.

The Association of Theological Schools (ATS) has been the primary accrediting body for seminaries for many years; however, they are slow to understand the value of a distance learning program and therefore will not accredit programs that allow a majority of on-line learning.  The Southern Association of Colleges and Schools (SACS) on the other hand, examines much more than seminaries and is open to examining distance learning programs.  They've been around since 1895 and as of July 2010, SACS accredits 804 colleges and universities in 11 states--479 are public.  They provide accreditation to a number of other seminaries including Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary, Southwestern Seminary, New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary, Southern Baptist Theological Seminary, Asbury Theological Seminary, Harvard School for Theological Studies, Austin Presbyterian Theological Seminary, South Eastern Baptist Theological Seminary, Baptist Missionary Association Theological Seminary, Reformed Theological Seminary, St. Vincent de Paul Regional Seminary, Mid-America Baptist Theological Seminary, Memphis Theological Seminary, Louisville Presbyterian Theological Seminary, and Nortre Dame Seminary, to name a few.  Some other notable SACS colleges and universities include, Wake Forest University, Vanderbilt University, University of Texas, University of South Carolina, Tulane University, Texas A&M, TCU, James Madison University,  George Mason University, Florida State University, Duke, Clemson, The Citadel, Notre Dame, and Auburn University.       

On-line vs. the classroom.  This can be a sensitive subject in our rapidly changing world.  Having earned my undergraduate degrees entirely in the classroom, I can say there are pros and cons.  At Liberty, I've been told that that on-line students have the same requirements and the same readings, and we watch recorded lectures from actual classes; however, the on-line students also have weekly discussion board requirements.  The discussion boards require a minimum word count and cited sources.  We also have to respond to fellow students with substantive comments, and again, with word counts and citations.  A professor of mine has told me he feels the on-line courses are actually more difficult because of these discussion boards.  If I was behind and had not done the reading when I was taking undergraduate courses on campus, I could usually slip into the unknown and get through the week unnoticed.  This is not possible in the on-line courses. 

Connection with other students.  One of the cons of on-line education is the lower level of connectivity with other students.  But your education is what you make it.  As I've previously stated, I make a strong effort to connect with other students and professors via social networking sites, E-mail, phone calls, and even the discussion board's student community area.  What I do not have is the opportunity to grab a coffee with a fellow student and chat.

Help from my church and pastors.  To get the most out of seminary, students need to be engaged in their local church.  Having lots of opportunities and pastors that support the student are a must if the student is going to be well prepared upon graduation.  I'm blessed to have this support and it's growing stronger and stronger by the week.

My class load.  Nine credits per semester is considered full-time in the graduate programs.  I'm taking 12 credits per semester; however, I only take two compressed course at a time.  Liberty has a traditional 16-week semester.  This is called A block.  They also offer the same courses in 8-weeks through three different blocks.  B block is the first 8 weeks of the semester, D block is the last 8 weeks, and C block is the middle 8 weeks.  The student will do just as much work, only in half the time.  I've opted to take 2 classes each B block and 2 each D block.  I do the same amount of work as I would have had I taken all 4 classes in the A block, but this schedule means I don't have to switch mental gears between 4 classes.  Also, I have taken classes over the past two summers, but I will be taking next summer off. 

Would I recommend LBTS to others?  You bet! I've found the experience rewarding. LBTS's DLP has allowed me an opportunity I would not have otherwise had.  I work full-time to support my family.  The DLP allows me to schedule my schooling around my other responsibilities.  I am engaged in my community and the DLP means I can remain right where I'm at to serve and minister here rather than packing up and moving.  I think anybody considering seminary should consider LBTS, either on campus or on-line.

These tend to be some of the more frequently asked questions.  If you'd like to ask a question or chat with me, please feel free to contact me.

     Related Articles: Choosing a Seminary

*Photo of Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary & Graduate School is being used without permission; however, upon request from Liberty, I will immediately remove it from this website.
**Photo of Dr. Jerry Falwell is the property of Liberty University and use through the permission of a restricted commons license.