LUO MAR Program: A Personal Critique
In September of 2017 I began a course of study leading to an MAR from Liberty University School of Divinity online. I officially completed the program May 11, 2019. Today, July 6, 2019, I received my diploma: Masters of Arts in Religion, Biblical Studies, Graduate with High Distinction. In the following paragraphs I provide an informal critique of the program.
I began the MAR course of study with several advantages. First, I had experience in nontraditional education beginning with my Bachelor of Arts (History/Sociology) from Regents College, University of the State of New York (now called Excelsior College). I acquired that "four-year degree" with one year of traditional classroom credit plus three years worth of credit earned through examination. I had also previously completed an external MA in theology through a denominational (non-accredited) school. This was a research-based degree that included a 70,000 word thesis. All of this took place about 30 years ago. In the years since then I have ministered as a pastor/teacher, preaching hundreds of sermons, writing hundreds of articles, leading small group studies and so on. In short, I began the program with plenty of pertinent academic and intellectual preparation. I imagine all of this contributed to my favorable experience with Liberty University Online (LUO).
The primary pause in I felt pursuing a degree through LUO concerned the theological differences I have with the school. To begin with I am not a Baptist but a covenantal peadobaptist. I am also a "positive amillennial" in eschatology. Finally, I'm convinced N. T. Wright is the most insightful theologian active today (this although I disagree with Wright at a number of points). As it turned out, these were non-issues.
Nuts And Bolts: Tuition, Schedules and Academics
LUO is the largest online accredited Christian university program in the world. The school began their external program in 1985 and over the years have come up with a system enabling the student to genuinely pursue a degree at their own pace.
Classes are offered in eight week overlapping terms each semester. I was not sure what to expect so I started slowly, taking only two classes in the Fall 2017 semester. After completing the first semester I decided to to take five classes for 15 credits each semester from that point on. I did so in the Spring, Summer and Fall 2018 semesters. I ended my run with three classes in the Spring 2019 semester. By way of example, my schedule for Spring 2018 looked like this:
B Term: January 22, 2018 - March 16, 2018
DSMN 500 (Discipleship Ministries) and OBST 520 (Old Testament Orientation II)
C Term: February 19 2018 - April 13, 2018
EVAN 525 (Contemporary Evangelism)
D Term: March 26, 2018 - May 18, 2018
DSMN 520 (Spiritual Formation) and NBST 515 (New Testament Orientation I)
There is an A term that spans the entire semester but I don't recall any MAR classes being offered in that term.
The reasons I took five classes a semester are twofold. First, LUO offers a block rate of $2750 for 9 through 18 credits. This adds up to a significant savings over the (already reasonable) regular tuition rate of $395 per credit. My second reason for taking 15 credits each semester was the simple fact that I wanted to finish the degree as quickly as possible.
Each class combines plenty of required reading with weekly written assignments and online video or audio lectures. Each class also has at least one major paper due by week seven or eight of the term. Typically the instructor (moderator really) of a class is not the same person featured in the video or audio lectures. The instructor evaluates (with feedback) the weekly written assignments, comments on weekly discussion board exchanges between students (part of the required curriculum) and grades the final paper. In every case the instructor provides suggestions for improvement and answers to student questions. In my experience, all of this was done online through discussion board comments or email exchanges. Telephone numbers are provided if the student wishes to speak to the instructor directly.
Nuts And Bolts: Theological Give-And-Take
As mentioned earlier, my concerns over theological differences with LUO were unfounded. This is not to say there was agreement on all the issues; instead, theological differences were handled in a scholarly fashion. Thus, I did not have to toe a Baptistic, futuristic, "neo-dispensational" line, I just had to support my theological views with sound research and reflection. For example, during the second week of Old Testament Orientation II (Spring 2018) the written assignment was an essay concerning Ezekiel's temple vision (chapters 40 to 48). As I recall, I was the only student to interpret the vision symbolically (or, more accurately, Christocentrically). Nevertheless, I received a reasonable grade on the paper and an acknowledgment from the instructor that the essay was thorough, a fair treatment of the evidence with a tenable interpretive conclusion.
The point is, a reputable graduate program in biblical studies does not demand compliance with a particular theological orientation. Instead the insistence is on sound (Bible based) academic procedure. In my experience, this is the character of the LUO graduate program.
Overall, I have a favorable view of the LUO graduate studies program. I found the classes to be challenging and rewarding. Throughout the program I was pushed to carefully consider my theological views and to discover doctrine as a natural expression of the Scriptures. I highly recommend the LUO graduate programs as reasonably priced, academically sound and Christ centered.
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