It is no secret that Eastern has undergone a great deal of change recently. One of these changes is the dissolving of the College of Theology and Ministry (CTM), which included theology, biblical studies, youth ministries, missiology and theological and cultural anthropology, and Palmer Seminary. These programs have been redistributed into the College of Arts and Sciences, and now Palmer Seminary stands as its own entity. According to Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch, Chair of the Theology Department and Professor of Biblical Studies, these changes are a result of a vast amount of respectful and prayerful discussion among faculty and administration since last spring.
Beside the structural changes, the theology and biblical studies departments are also undergoing a good deal of curricular changes. The curriculum offered is now split into two tracks: the canonical focus for biblical studies and systematic focus for theology, and contextual focus courses.
In the past, the requirements for these programs were less flexible, due to their being specifically structured to accommodate students who intended to attend seminary or graduate school upon graduating. While the theology and biblical studies programs inherently appeal to those pursuing a career in the ministry, the new curriculum is intended to also appeal to students who may not be pursuing a career in theology or biblical studies, but still wish to incorporate their faith into their respective careers. These new curricular changes may also make these programs more appealing as a second major or as a minor. Students can currently minor in Christian thought, but the structure of this minor is also changing to become less demanding and more customizable; undergraduate students are able to take five courses from the theology or biblical studies curriculum depending on their individual interests.
The new courses are also structured to eventually overlap with General Core requirements so that students can satisfy their Gen-Ed requirements while taking theology or biblical studies courses. This should also help attract students who wish to double-major or have multiple minors. Dr. Burnette-Bletsch comments that in appealing to a more diverse variety of students, the theology and biblical studies departments can better represent the diversity of Eastern’s population as a whole.
Undergraduate students are also still able to take Palmer Seminary courses to fit their degree programs, despite the dissolution of the CTM. Similarly, Palmer students are still able to take Eastern University undergraduate courses to suit their vocational interests. Diane Chen, Professor of New Testament from Palmer, does not view the dissolution of the CTM as indicative of a future lack of interaction between Palmer and the theology and biblical studies programs. She states, “Theoretically, it seemed to make sense to put under the CTM [the various departments]. But what was designed on paper needed adjustment….We realized that this structure…was not the most effective way to meet the diverse formational, vocational and pedagogical needs of our respective student bodies.”
There was also some concern that Palmer Seminary would have greater trouble maintaining its individual identity when merged with the other departments under the CTM. Interim Dean of Palmer, David Bronkema, as well as many Palmer and Eastern faculty and administrators enjoyed the interactions and “healthy sense of collegiality among faculty” that was fostered by the community of the CTM; however there was considerable concern that Palmer would lose prominent visibility to churches, denominations and other external institutions.
The faculty and administration of the theology and biblical studies departments, as well as the faculty and administration of Palmer Seminary, have worked tirelessly and harmoniously to find a balance that satisfies each party. These newly-instituted changes seem to reflect the interests of both Palmer and Eastern’s programs, and we excitedly look forward to seeing what blessings await them in the future.
Sources: David Bronkema, Rhonda Burnette-Bletsch, Diane Chen