Dr. Tim Gaines serves as the program director of the Master of Arts in theology and biblical studies at Trevecca. Today, he shares a few thoughts about the benefits of graduate level theological education—and how it can challenge and transform your daily life, whether you’re in the ministry or not.
The transformative journey of graduate theological study was one of the most beautiful gifts I’ve ever received. Yes, I gained a lot of knowledge along the way. I developed skills that allowed me to interpret Scripture, teach, lead organizations, preach, and offer counsel. But there were a number of hidden treasures I gained that I didn’t expect to find. The pearl of great price was in the abilities I developed to work in any job or setting with a new vision of God’s activity in the world and new imagination for my calling. Here are the hidden treasures I found along the transformative path of graduate theological study:
- The ability to hope
The way we respond to the world’s challenges has a lot to do with what we think is really going on. If we think we have to work really hard to shape the world as we want it to be, that will direct the way we respond to the daily situations of life. But what if what’s really going on is the renewal of the world by a God who won’t give up on it? That’s a theological vision of hope. Hope isn’t just wishful thinking about the future. It’s the confident knowledge that comes from seeing how God is redeeming the world through Jesus and joining that movement now. When I encountered that kind of vision in my master’s degree program, it changed the way I approached everything from ministry to my part-time job to the way I interacted with others each day.
- The ability to wonder
I came to my grad studies with a vision of God that was too small. I came away with the ability to truly wonder at the beauty of the divine. Ironically, I went into graduate theological study with the intent of “figuring out God” and came to realize that a master’s degree was helping me see that any God who can be mastered was probably an idol of my own making. So, I was happily surprised when what I learned was to be in awe, and how that shaped me as a person. My daily posture became one of gratitude and my approach to all aspects of life was shaped by being someone who could be “lost in wonder, love, and praise.”
- The Ability to Speak Prophetically
The biblical prophets weren’t fortunetellers. They were people who were given a vision of God’s work in the world and called their own people to align themselves to it. My grad studies helped to clarify a vision of God’s work in the world so that my speaking wasn’t simply about promoting my own opinion or a vision of the world as I think it should be. Because theological study is about encountering God as much as it is about acquiring knowledge about God, my journey helped me to gain a humble boldness to say, “Look at what God is doing! Let’s not miss out on joining that project. Let’s turn away from our own projects and align ourselves to God’s project.”
- The Ability to Pray
I didn’t expect it going in, but my grad studies taught me to love prayer. Not only did I learn to pray in new ways, but I also came to situate prayer in the middle of the theological task. For me, theological study became an act of prayer, and I learned that when the line between theology and prayer began to blur, the better off I was for it. Prayer, too, shaped the very motivations at the core of my life. It was in the midst of my graduate study that I began to long to pray, and the more I prayed, the more I began to long for my vision of the world to match God’s.
- The Ability to Work Redemptively
“Take your Bible and take your newspaper and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.” Theologian Karl Barth’s sage advice to a group of theology students a century ago continues to ring true. While our social media news feeds explode with any number of responses to pressing issues, those posts are a daily reminder that we need people who can stand in the midst of the world’s challenges and help us see how God is working to make that world new. That work isn’t only for pastors. It’s for social workers, teachers, nurses, business professionals and more, all who live in the world as redemptive agents of God’s renewal. Graduate theological study gives us the ability to stand in the middle of the headlines and proclaim good news, no matter where we report to work.
Want to know more?
The Master of Arts in theology and biblical studies takes students on a path to meaningfully understand and live out what it means to be a follower of Christ in the 21st century. Our students will explore the foundational, timeless and transformative truths of Scripture in a contemporary context and apply emerging methods of theological and biblical study to some of the most critical issues of our time.