By Gary D. Myers
NEW ORLEANS — New Orleans Baptist Theological Seminary’s trustees approved an initiative to launch four new fully-online degrees, new degrees in biblical archaeology and chaplaincy and created seven new extension sites during their fall meeting Oct. 8.
The board approved a plan by the NOBTS administration to petition the seminary’s accrediting agency for approval of the four additional degrees. In addition to the three online degrees already offered, NOBTS will seek approval for a fully-online master of divinity, master of arts in Christian education, master of arts in apologetics and master of missiology.
In 2012, the trustees approved three fully-online degrees — the master of theological studies, master of arts (theology) and master of arts (biblical studies). The master of theological studies degree was already approved by the seminary’s accrediting agency, Association of Theological School in the United States and Canada (ATS). The seminary petitioned ATS for approval for the two other degrees. The petition was granted and NOBTS began offering the three degrees in a fully-online format this spring.
NOBTS Provost Steve Lemke said the seminary “has long been a national leader in distance education, so offering these new degrees online is continuing a pattern of innovation and excellence for which we have achieved national recognition.”
Each of the degrees will be offered both in fully-online and traditional “in-person” classroom formats. Most of the courses in these degree programs will be available online, at extension centers and on the main campus. Lemke said the initiative is designed to provide as many options as possible for students.
“The evidence shows that many students find it difficult to complete an entire degree online,” Lemke said. “The great thing that NOBTS offers the distance learning student is a cafeteria of options that students can tailor to their own needs — they can choose from taking courses in our extension centers all over the Southeast, hybrid courses that meet just a few times a semester, weeklong workshop courses and travel courses.
“All these degrees are offered entirely online, but at NOBTS students can choose to mix in some in-person classes to interact with faculty members and fellow students if they prefer,” Lemke said.
The new degree programs in archaeology and chaplaincy approved by trustees, meanwhile, will combine traditional, in-person instruction and opportunities to gain real-world, hands-on experience.
The new 46-hour master of arts degree in biblical archaeology approved by trustees flows out of the seminary’s ongoing archaeological excavation of the Gezer water system in Israel. The degree is designed to prepare students for research in biblical archaeology and biblical studies. Students will have the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in archaeology field work at Gezer and subsequent dig sites in Israel. With strong emphasis on biblical languages, biblical backgrounds, history and archaeology, the degree provides the foundation needed for students to pursue a doctor of philosophy degree in a related field. The archaeological dig is supported by the Michael and Sara Moskau Institute of Archaeology and the NOBTS Center for Archaeological Research, which also cosponsor the seminary’s Bible Lands Museum.
The master of arts (biblical archaeology) degree is the second program at NOBTS to utilize a mutual partnership with a state university. In this case, the partnering school is Mississippi State University (MSU) and the MSU Cobb Institute of Archaeology. MSU will provide instruction for NOBTS students in specialized areas such as ceramic analysis and anthropology. MSU students will receive instruction in biblical languages and Semitic inscriptions from NOBTS faculty members.
“The program we have developed with Mississippi State in archaeology, allowing us to utilize the technical skills the university has — and add, for them, the skills we have in biblical languages and biblical backgrounds — is an exciting partnership,” NOBTS President Chuck Kelley said. “We are all about partnership and creating synergy; this is another great example of that.”
In October 2012, trustees approved the first partnership with a state university — a dual degree partnership with the University of Southern Mississippi which allows NOBTS students to be dually enrolled in a seminary degree plus, through USM, a master of social work (MSW) degree.
Trustees also approved an 84-86 hour chaplaincy specialization for the master of divinity program. The new specialization is designed to prepare students for military, hospital, industrial or police chaplaincy. The new specialization offers 15 hours of specialized training related to chaplaincy and a three-hour practicum component.
“The chaplaincy specialization is coming at a unique time in our society,” said Page Brooks, assistant professor of theology, ministry-based faculty and chaplain with the Louisiana National Guard 256th infantry brigade. “Chaplains are pastors in the secular place, whether it be in the military, hospital or nursing home.
“Chaplains must learn to navigate the theological, psychological, political, and pastoral all at the same time. It appears as though the balance of maintaining a ministry presence in the secular places will only get more tenuous as time goes on,” Brooks continued. “This specialization will train a new generation of chaplains to be the most effective they can be wherever God places them.”
Lemke said chaplains often are called to minister in the midst of crisis. The specialization will address this and other factors unique to chaplain ministry.
“As a former chaplain in four hospitals and a member of the medical ethics committee of two other hospitals, I have seen how hospital chaplains make a difference in the lives of the patients and their families,” Lemke said. “Chaplains have opportunities to minister to people in crisis even more than local church pastors have. This M.Div. specialization provides focused training for those who feel called into this crucial ministry.”
The board approved three extension centers in Alabama and four certificate teaching sites in Georgia and Louisiana. Heritage Bible College in Huntsville, Ala., was approved as a graduate extension center. Forest Lake Baptist Church in Tuscaloosa, Ala., and First Baptist Church in Rainsville, Ala., were approved as undergraduate and graduate centers. Approved to offer undergraduate certificate courses were Central Baptist Church in Douglasville, Ga.; the Monroe Extension Center at North Monroe Baptist Church in Monroe, La.; Treasure Coast Baptist Association in Fort Pierce, Fla.; and Hebron Baptist Church in Dacula, Ga. And trustees approved First Baptist Church in Rainsville, Ga., as a graduate certificate center.
In other curriculum-related actions, trustees approved a new graduate certificate in family ministry and a new internship specialization option for Christian education students. The new internship specialization is designed to allow extension center students in the master of divinity and master of arts in Christian education programs course credit and hands-on experience in a local church setting.
The board also voted to change the seminary’s policy regarding credit card transaction fees on student tuition payments. Several years back, when the seminary began allowing credit card payments for tuition, NOBTS did not pass along the credit card transaction fees to the students. With an increased number of students opting to pay for tuition with credit cards, the total transaction fee amount has risen sharply. Trustees voted to discontinue paying the transaction fees. Credit cards may still be used for tuition payments, but students will be required the pay the transaction fees associated with credit card use.