FREE Online Christian Education
The other day, I read an interesting article on Logos Bible Software's blog. Ryan Lytton wrote an article (found here) about getting the equivalent of a Master's Degree in Biblical Studies for FREE. Yes, for FREE. I would encourage you to check out the article and the "Degree Program" that he put together. The rest of this post is a comment on his article.
Lytton is absolutely right when he points out that a degree program can be expensive. I am currently enrolled at Nazarene Theological Seminary, and my tuition cost is over $500 per credit hour. Considering that I will require more than 60 credits for my M. Div, the cost is going to be incredibly high. However, in my case, this may be worth it. I have a scholarship that will cover part of the cost, and have a plan to reduce the amount that I have to borrow in order to complete this degree program. However, this may not be the case for everyone, meaning that graduate-level education in Bible, Theology, and related disciplines may not be as easily accessible to some. That's where Lytton's program comes in handy. All of these courses are free and are accessible to anyone with an internet connection.
There are other positives, as well. As noted in the original article, the vast majority of these professors are well-respected in their fields. Whether you are going through a course by Craig Keener, Craig Blomberg, Bill Barrick, Douglas Moo, or Bill Mounce, you are getting a top-notch education. At any seminary, you would not be able to access all of these scholars in a single degree program as you can here. The fact that the professors come from various Church traditions is only going to make things better, as it ensures that you are getting a well-rounded Christian education.
Another benefit is that you get to work at your own pace through these courses. Let's face it, we all learn at different speeds. My undergrad focus was on Bible and Theology. I have somewhat of a head start on those who have a degree in an unrelated field who are taking Bible or Theology courses alongside me. However, someone who has a degree in Counseling, or Pastoral Care, or Intercultural Studies (as one of my pastor-friends has), will have a significant advantage over me in other areas. Someone who is following Lytton's "Degree Program" will be able to slow down and study in areas that are difficult, and speed up through areas that are easier to grasp. This puts those who follow Lytton's "Degree Program" at a significant advantage over those in a traditional degree program, where everyone is expected to move at roughly the same pace.
Finally, this "Degree Program" may be beneficial if you do not have a degree relating to the Bible, but still plan to enter Seminary. In short, this "Degree Program" may be a great step toward preparing you for a traditional degree program from a Seminary. Furthermore, with such a wide range of backgrounds for the instructors, you will be in a better position to decide which Seminary may be right for you. Overall, Lytton's "Degree Program" is beneficial.
There are, however, some downsides to following Lytton's "Degree Program." First, if you are seeking ordination in a particular denomination (as I am), then this program will not help you much. It may give you a significant amount of head knowledge, but it will likely not be accepted to complete any course of study required by many denominations for ordination. However, if you are just looking to improve so you can help out in other areas of ministry, such as a Sunday School teacher or Director of Christian Education, then this program will likely be beneficial.
Second, there is no "hands-on" portion to this degree. Granted that the majority of most degrees are dedicated to head knowledge, when it comes to ministry, "hands-on" time is a must. Before I could graduate from Nazarene Bible College (where my undergrad degree is from), I was required to have 100 clock hours of practical ministry experience, under the direction of both an instructor from the College and a local pastor. These hours had to be in specific areas of ministry. While the head knowledge that I gained was valuable, it was equally valuable (if not more so) to put this knowledge into practice. This is a valuable experience that someone pursuing Lytton's "Degree Program" would miss out on entirely.
Third, it may be difficult to keep yourself motivated. If you learn in the same way that I do, you learn best as part of a class, complete with project deadlines and requirements. Knowing that something is due and that it will affect my grade if I do not complete said project by the deadline provides great motivation for me to keep going when I would rather be watching something from the Bible Project on YouTube. In other words, sometimes it is easier to keep running the race when we run in groups. If this is true for me, surely it is true for someone else who may be reading this.
Ultimately, whether or not Lytton's "Degree Program" will work for you is going to depend on what you want to get out of it. If you are looking for personal enrichment, it is a great tool. If you are looking to become a better Church leader, such as a better Sunday School teacher, it is a great tool. If you want the education but simply cannot afford Seminary, it is a great tool. However, if you are looking for something, such as completing a course of study for ordination or completing a degree that will allow you to be admitted as a doctoral student later on, then a traditional program may be worth the cost.
Recommended Resource: The Portable Seminary: A Master's Level Overview in One Volume