My Online Seminary Experience with Liberty

Recently Michael Patton wrote on his Parchment and Pen blog "WHY TRADITIONAL ONSITE SEMINARY IS STILL (BY FAR) THE BEST OPTION." The post got me thinking and questioning my own choice of getting my MDiv online. While for the most part I agree with all the points Michael makes I wanted to write about my experience. Michael's post brought up a lot of great points that got me thinking...and asking, what I am personally missing out on a a DLP? How is my situation good? bad? Is my experience positive? Legitimate? Etc...

I am in pursuit of my MDiv with the Liberty Distance Learning Program. I am very fortunate to be in the situation that I am in. I choose the online option for financial reasons. Not only is the online option cheaper than going, but also I have more flexibility and convenience with work. This is not to say I could not have gone to Liberty and gotten a job in Lynchburg, Va...but with the online option I can work anywhere I am, which right now happens to be Lancaster/Columbus, Ohio. Lancaster is where I am really involved in my church. I am on the elder/advisor team. I am always helping any way I can. I am leading outreaches to the community, preaching from time to time and teaching a small group class.

As far as in mentoring and discipleship, it is my own personal experience that has made this work. I am personally mentored by my pastor at my church. I agree that this is an important thing that Liberty Distance Learning does not provide. Also I do have a really amazing group of friends that are my age whom I often get a lot of encouragement, fellowship, and challenge from. I realize that not all online students have this.

Liberty has done some things in their online Seminary program that also makes the program excellent. While it does not fill-in all the gaps and problems (like the ones Michael mentioned and I wrote about above) below I am going to share on how the program does meet some of the other problems Michael writes about.

One is that program does require giving sermons in front of live audiences. While I realize that being ripped apart by both peers and your professor who truly want you to grow is a little different, in my situation, I was fortunate to have both my pastor, another pastor, the professor and few peers who did rip apart my sermons and presentation/delivery of the sermons which did help me grow. And I also had a ton of encouragement from church members and other friends my age who gave me positive feedback.

While there are other aspects of the on-site experience that cannot be mimicked online my experience so far is pretty positive but I owe much credit to my church and my friends.

Tim Kimberly wrote a response or another side of the issue in Insider’s Critique of Seminary Online">AN INSIDER’S CRITIQUE OF SEMINARY ONLINE. Here also I wanted to write about my experience at Liberty. Tim makes some excellent points as well. Having Seminar online is a good option in some situations but it must be done carefully and in such a way as not to hurt the reputation of the Seminary.

I think that some of the things Liberty is doing are very helpful in protecting their reputation. First the process of application and getting into the program did require a little bit of work. While some of it could have been faked I think that what Liberty required was very reasonable and helped protect their reputation. The requirements besides just an application and fee included a pastoral recommendation, a personal testimony, and character assessment/testimony from three friends. Not everyone is accepted into the program.

Another question Tim presents is how do online Seminaries determine the character of students away from their coursework. What is the character of the person, not just the student – what is their real life like? This is important because ever graduate of the Seminary (including online students) are stamped with that University’s “seal of approval.” This person is cut out and endorsed by our University to do ministry: be chaplains, pastors, etc. The University as Tim points out needs to be considered for legal reasons, reputation reasons and general for the good of Christianity and the good of the next generation of church leadership!!!

These are all good and solid points. My experience with Liberty has been interesting in this regard. I am curious after reading these two articles, how is Liberty’s reputation? What will employers, churches, ministries think of Liberty and me because I went to Liberty (online!)?

There are some things that Liberty is doing that I can personally say that do look at a student’s character. In the discipleship and evangelism classes the coursework required that we as students shared about our real life experiences. Evangelism reports required us to share our faith and then simply journal/report what happened. Ministry Application Project and Discipleship Plan Report required us to take action, report on how we took action, interact with the principles of the coursework in our real life ministry and set goals for the future. A lot of emphasis is on real life interaction.

I understand that all of this could be fabricated, broad and not very personal. But students who are very honest with themselves (like myself) are not short on the details of the real life emphasis. I have been very transparent and honest with my professors. They know me and can see me for who I am. While I am not sure if it is the same way with all the students, I know that for me, many of the professors are repeat professors, so they know if I am being honest and growing from course to course.

It is an interesting discussion. It has really got me thinking. I am sure I am missing out and some challenging and some encouraging and helpful learning. Although at the same time I am learning a lot and doing other things that cannot be done at an onsite experience. Daily I am interacting in the real world with real people at my real life job. Developing friendship and acquaintance with real people and ministering to them. I am learning about people and how to minister to them in a real life setting. Not only that but I am able to get ahead financially. Working a real job is saving money instead of spending money onsite.

My last point is really a question. What is Liberty’s reputation? Is it bad that Liberty is not one of the ATS schools? Liberty is the largest evangelical University and third in nation of all online universities. Liberty was founded by Jerry Farwell who was generally a pretty conservative person theologically, although he is also known for letting just about anyone go to Liberty University (undergrad institute not Seminary) despite theological diversity/differences. What do you think of Liberty’s reputation?