Every year when US News and World Report releases their college and graduate school rankings, one group gets completely overlooked: seminarians. The publication never ranks divinity schools and seminaries, and perhaps more curious, no other reputable publication has ventured a try. (The closest I can find is this First Things article from 2009.) Evaluating the quality of religious education seems a difficult task.
I note this because I do not propose to offer a top five ranking of seminaries in America. Instead, I want to tell you about five seminaries (in no particular order) that I would recommend if asked–as I often am–about which schools a prospective student should consider and why. (I also have a list of which seminaries to avoid and why, but that’s a separate post. Grin.) Take a look at my list and explanations and then leave comments on which schools you would add or subtract:
1. Duke Divinity School – If I were to rank seminaries, Duke would appear first. In addition to what I believe is the best faculty in America–Ellen Davis, Stanley Hauerwas, Richard Hays, Grant Wacker, Lauren Winner, and Norman Wirzba, to name a few–they also have the best seminary campus and massive resources that provide nearly unparalleled enrichment opportunities to students. Perhaps more importantly, however, they provide the most theological freedom to both mainline protestants and evangelicals. If you’re an evangelical who values academic credibility, you can be quite comfortable here.
2. Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary – If you’re Southern Baptist and looking to catch a tuition break by attending a one of the flagship schools, there isn’t a better choice for your money in my opinion than Southeastern. President Daniel Akin has been able to build this school into a true contender, by constructing the L. Russ Bush Center for Faith and Culture and nurturing a culture that embraces contemporary church trends in a way most seminaries don’t (or won’t). Among the magnolias on this beautiful campus in historic Wake Forest is a budding faculty that includes David Black, John Hammett, Nathan Finn, and Andreas Kostenberger. But most importantly, it is the best Southern Baptist seminary in terms of freedom of thought. Unlike some institutions, for example, you will not feel like a lesser mind because you happen to be reformed or not. I may be biased as an alumnus, but I always suggest Southern Baptists at least give this school a look.
3. Trinity Evangelical Divinity School – Trinity is undeniably evangelical–they included the label in their name, just to be clear–but it has a (sadly) rare mix of theological orthodoxy and academic credibility. Students have the opportunity to study under great minds such as D.A. Carson, Craig Ott, Douglas Sweeney, and Kevin Vanhoozer. Unlike many evangelical schools, TEDS incorporates non-Western perspectives and even has some female professors, both big advantages in offering students a well-rounded religious education. The only downside is that students who wish to teach at reputable secular institutions after graduation will have to drag around the “evangelical” moniker on their C.V., which could hurt them in the interview process. Despite this moderate hurdle, TEDS is still worth consideration.
4. Emory University’s Candler School of Theology – As a graduate, I almost have to mention Candler somewhere, but I really believe it is worth a look. It may not be a first choice for evangelicals who haven’t yet found their theological bearings, but it is a excellent choice for those who already have undergraduate degrees in religion or are looking to do a ThM. Their contextual, rather than confessional, pedagogy will likely be refreshing to many evangelical students. The faculty is varied and respected–Luke Timothy Johnson, Carol Newsom, Ian McFarland, Thomas Long, Fred Craddock, and Brooks Holifield–and the facilities are incredible. They boast America’s second largest theological library, which holds the largest collection of original Reformation works in the world. Additionally, students are exposed to visiting professors such as Desmond Tutu, Jimmy Carter, The Dalai Lama, and Salman Rushdie. While it is undoubtedly more liberal than some Americans seminaries and divinity schools, I found myself becoming both a better thinker and more evangelical while studying here.
5. Baylor University’s George W. Truett Seminary – In recent years, Baylor has become a leader in many fields. The money seems to be flowing as freely as Texas oil, and quality faculty are flocking there. Truett Seminary boasts great minds such as David Garland and Roger Olsen, but more importantly, are the opportunities for cross-disciplinary exposure studying under thinkers like Rodney Stark (sociology of religion), Philip Jenkins (sociology of religion), Barry Hankins (American religious history), Francis Beckwith (Church-State studies), and Alan Jacobs (humanities). The massive downside is students will have to relocate to Waco.
*Honorable Mentions: Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, Yale Divinity School, and Beeson Divinity School. *
The photo above of Duke Chapel is quoted from here.