I visited Princeton in late February of this year and loved nearly everything about it. The people were very friendly, but realistic. If you are looking for a spiritual high including mass devotionals, this is not the place for you in my opinion. Princeton is an academic institution, who trains men and women for the Church (but doesn't necessarily hold your hand through your spiritual journey). The idea that Princeton is "liberal" is very laughable to me and to their staff. It is one of the most conservative schools according to many presbyterians, and very conservative compared to most other ivy league schools. The atmosphere is beautiful and inspiring. The academics seem rigorous, but what else would you expect. One of the things I found most desirable about Princeton is their view on ministry. Staying in Academia (i.e. going on to doctorate and never stepping foot in a church) is a ministry if done in the proper context and with the proper attitude (that it is still for the Church). The mission is to train up men and women THROUGH and FOR the Church. There is a difference there, and I like it. Bottom line: Princetonians love Jesus too, and it's hard to beat the education, save maybe Duke.
The greatest misconception about PTS is that it is an Ivy League institution that produces all brilliant scholars. First of all, it is not an Ivy League institution at all. It is not technically affiliated with Princeton University (although we can take classes there which is a huge plus). Second, only 15% of M.Div graduates go on to doctorate level work, 40% become pastors, and around 10% become missionaries (Dr. C. Bartow). The real emphasis is on church ministry. The view of those going on to doctoral work is that they will be involved in a teaching ministry. "The purpose of Academia is to serve the Church. Without the Church there is no need for Academia." <-- That's a popular saying around here. PTS is a great spring board to go into a variety of fields. PTS will prepare you for any type of ministry, domestic or abroad, traditional or nontraditional, Church-based or Para-church based. There are many students who go on to other occupations and incorporate their seminary education. Students have gone on to history programs, counseling programs and even law programs. PTS opens up a lot of opportunity. PTS has a extremely diverse student body. It's not uncommon to be in class or precept with liberationists, feminists, womenists (black feminists), extreme liberals, and extreme conservatives. This is a great environment to learn how to interact with vastly different people. On the downside, it's easy to be offensive. If you're a blunt person, you'll find yourself in hot water. The first year at PTS is difficult, especially coming from IWU. There are classes that will seek to humble you (Church History and Theology); they are really difficult. And there are classes that will make you work through your faith (OT and NT). The good news is you'll be stronger for having gone through these classes. As for the students. There are three main groups of people. The first are those who are here to become pastors. They aren't as academically driven but are very involved in community and ministry. Then there are those who are here strictly for academics and the prestige of Princeton. These students can be extremely intimidating because they are brilliant and all they do is study. Then there are those who aren't quite sure what they're doing in life. They're here to figure out their next move, or to see if church ministry is for them. And if it's not for them, they can explore other paths of "ministry." Quick note about PTS being a "Calvinists" school. It is very much a PCUSA school, however, they are open-minded and generally respect others' viewpoints. They're agenda is not to make every student a liberal Calvinists, but they do teach from a Calvinists perspective (really a Barthian perspective). There is a strong group of United Methodists here, so there are some Arminians, we're just few in number. PTS is certainly not for everyone, but for those who want to explore different venues of ministry and learn about others' views, this a great place to be. Another great plus is the scholarship they give, it's been better in the past, but housing is cheap and they give a lot of full or partial scholarships. And even for those who don't receive scholarships, tuition is under $9,000.
My experience at PTS is “way back then” so maybe I’m too old to have anything to say to recent grads…but, then again, given Princeton’s tendency toward tradition it may be more similar than one might guess. I was the second Wesleyan to attend Princeton—following Earle Wilson and just before Jim Garlow who may have not had as good an experience as I did--they'll have to speak for themselves. As for me, I went from an unaccredited Bible School to PTS which was a stretch. However, it was a great experience for me in emphasizing the core doctrines of the church and helping me to think. On my first exam I got a “C” (Church History) and I was befuddled. I made an appointment and asked what was “wrong” with my answers which were obviously perfect. "They are perfect" said the prof—to which he added, “All you did was remember and that will get you a “C”—if you want more you’ve got to learn to think. I started thinking after that and have not been able to stop very long ever since. If you are a good memorizer go to X Y and Z seminaries, but if you want to be rewarded for thinking PTS is a great seminary. (PS as a sidelight I went to PTS as a five point Calvinist and came out a full court Wesleyan—that’s where I met and devoured Wesley’s works.)
Why I went to PTS:1) Ecclesial AND Academic. I was looking for a place that would prepare me for an academic career (both in skills and connections) without becoming seperated from the church. In my search, I found that PTS walked this tight-rope very well. 2) To Get Away.I grew up Wesleyan and studied at a Wesleyan college in a Wesleyan religion department. I needed to get away. Some need to stay within their tradition to grow their ecclesial identity. Some need to get away before they grow weary of the same-old-thing. For me, getting away helped me become more Wesleyan. 3) Theology Department.PTS's theology department is great and huge. The profs are world-class thinkers. I was already reading them in college and knew I wanted to get more of them. They take theology very seriously as PTS. Since theology was my destined "field" since college, I picked a school that would have strong systematics department.
How Princeton Seminary changed me.1) I read slower.Before I went to seminary, I learned how to speed read. I used this skill to my advantage in college and intended to use it to get through seminary. We are assigned so many pages that this is a must. However, at PTS I learned how to read slowly. I still speed read from time to time out of necessity, but I learned at PTS how to really digest and study a book. As one of my teachers says, "a book not worth reading slowly is a book not worth reading." This was a critical skill for which I have PTS to thank.2) I initiate spirituality.At PTS there are endless opportunities for spiritual growth, but there is no longer the social pressure or institutional requirement to be engaged therein. So, I learned how to take the initiative in my spiritual life. This was a risk as I could have easily fallen through the cracks. But the risk was worth it, because to become a spiritual leader I must learn to initiate spirituality for myself and for others and not rely on my context to feed me.3) I think systemically.I no longer think about issues as distinct topics, but as embedded in larger conceptual and social contexts. This plays itself out theologically by drawing connections between one doctrine and another, and furthermore tying all doctrines together in a way that coheres as much as possible. This plays itself out socially by looking for the larger family/social systems at work in particular cases that emerge in ministry, society and life. Systemic thinking is a critical skill for theological and ministerial work, and I learned it at PTS.4) I am more Wesleyan.This does not happen to everyone when they "go away" to a school outside their tradition, but I certainly became more secure in my Wesleyan identity at Princeton than ever before. Just as anyone who has studied a foreign language knows, you learn the grammar of your native tongue (often for the first time) in the process of translation. In order to figure out the grammar of the Reformed tradition, I had to double-back and figure out my own Wesleyan grammar. In the process, I re-discovered and re-embraced my Wesleyanism.5) I am more laid back.In college, I got the feeling like few students cared about academics (this was one part reality and one part pride). In response, I sought to differentiate myself from the mass of students by avoiding a lot of fun activities, wearing slacks to class, hanging out with profs, etc. But at PTS, I immediately sensed that the bulk of the community actually cared about learning. Hence, there was no threat to join in the fun of frisbee, jam sessions, dressing-my-age, trips to the shore, etc. I could do all these things without worrying that I was aligning myself with an anti-academic spirit. This was a major personality shift that emerged while at PTS.
I am now at PTS. I got here a little over a week ago, and I feel so at home here. I already have a good group of friends, and I feel like I fit well in the community. Classes started last week, but I haven't gotten the feel for them quite yet. The reading is extensive but not impossible (at least not so far). I enjoy the academic challenges here; there is no cutting corners when it comes to logic or details, and I appreciate this step in my education. It's nice to have Princeton University so near, as well. I walk there to do my reading sometimes, and I feel smarter just being there. I haven't encountered an aggressive liberal agenda, which I feared somewhat. I have met one or two students who follow Crossan and the Jesus Seminar, but we're able to communicate about our different views in a way that makes no one upset. I find myself able to see God through a variety of lenses. Being in a liturgical setting allows me to better contemplate the holiness of God, and I enjoy the theologically-rounded worship. It is good for me to get outside of the evangelical tradition for awhile. So far, this experience has revitalized my Christian walk. Like the others said above, I feel like this experience will make me more Wesleyan in the end. Of course, I have only been here a little over a week. We'll see what happens in the course of three years.
Princeton & Duke Some IWU students apply to both Princeton and Duke. If you do, this post is for you. Full disclosure: I am a loyal Princeton man, yet I still see some advantages for Duke. From Here is my own take of the advantages of both schools:So what about Princeton Seminary? Here is my starter list:-Princeton is very unlike IWU and offers a totally different atmosphere in which to study.-The culture of the Northeast is far from the Bible belt or south and is so secular that it prepares one to communicate with unreached secularists.-Princeton’s ivy league stature casts a long shadow.-The reformed approach to scholarship offers something different than a Wesleyan/Methodist approach if you are a grounded Wesleyan already.-Princeton has a vibrant community life since the vast majority of students do not live off campus or in apartments but in campus housing. -Princeton is highly diverse, even to the point of contentious which creates a lively learning environment if you can handle diversity.-PTS’s open curriculum is especially good for self-directed students. -PTS has as old school style of study highly committed to the careful reading of classic texts.-PTS is a church-owned seminary thus is exceptionally ecclesially oriented. So why would a student go to Doke? Here are what I see as the advantages of Duke:-Duke’s campus is younger and fresher than Princeton’s.-Duke’s Divinity school is right smack in the middle of the university so there are plenty of young collegians walking about.-Duke is located in the a more friendly “Bible Belt” culture closer to Midwest culture than New Jersey-in-the-shadow-of-NYC-Duke people practice southern hospitality and will likely make you feel more welcomed.-Duke is Methodist and thus has closer ties with the Wesleyan heritage of IWU.-Duke has recently been a tad bit easier to get into than PTS.-In short, Duke will likely "feel" more like IWU in some ways. (I'll post this in the other school's section too)
K.D.You're right, but keep in mind- Old Campuses rock -PTS is across the street from Princeton U. (We get to use their library and take classes there)-Getting out of the Bible belt for 3 years will do you good- You'll get southern hospitality but you'll get a lot of SBC folks too, take the good with the bad!- Q: Is Duke really easier to get into? I thought it was the other way around.
I’m just starting my second semester at PTS and I love this place! Here are a few reasons I’m glad I came/reasons why I chose PTS in the first place:1. Spiritual focus. There are so many opportunities for spiritual growth. Apart from classes that have ecclesial focus, there are daily chapel services, numerous small groups, evening worship services, and occasional lectures/seminars/reading groups on topics pertaining to spiritual formation. However, no one checks up on my spiritual development; PTS requires nothing of me apart from Field Education. I’ve had take more initiative myself than before and, while risky, it’s been a rewarding step I’m glad I’ve taken.2. On-campus community. I love the community here! I already have a good group of close friends (common purposes and interests seem to serve as a catalyst), and have had many encouraging and inspiring discussions. The student body is incredibly diverse—on my floor alone (23 total), we have students from India (two regions), Myanmar, Korea, and Germany. Hearing different perspectives on grace, church, society, etc. has already impacted the way I do theology. I’m so grateful for good friends only a door away—they really help keep me focused on preparation for ministry. 3. Classes. Students can take more here than at most seminaries. Each full-time student can take between 24 and 36 credits for the same price each year. Potentially, one could take 108 credits with regular tuition. Also, credits can be split up over the summer, fall, and spring terms. For instance, I could take 6 in the summer, 12 in the fall, and 18 in the spring for the same price. There's so much flexibility. And the course offerings are amazing!!! To me, those in biblical literature and theology are especially remarkable (I think my mouth watered the first time I read through the course catalogue ;-) Much is required in the classroom, but much is also given in return. I recently wrote a ten-page paper and the professor gave a full page of feedback in addition to notes in the paper’s margins. Such careful attention at the graduate level is SO helpful. The reading lists are long (this semester, I have 24 required books, a couple reading packets, and 11 recommended books), but the professors’ selections are wonderful and worthwhile.
(I wrote this a week after graduating from Princeton with my Masters of Divinity.)In response to the question, "How has seminary changed you?"1. I BELIEVE LESS, MORE. Before I entered seminary, I was given ample warnings, "Be careful. Don't let anyone take away your faith." I entered my first class a little nervous, convinced I was going to be dodging fiery arrows for the next three years. Soon into my time at PTS, I dropped my suspicion. I realized that people were not trying to make me stop believing what I believe. Instead, they wanted me to understand and articulate what it is I believe. I have yet to encounter a professor who enjoys destroying faith. Since my time at PTS, there have been beliefs that I have let go of or been more lax with, however, that which I have retained is much deeper than it was when I came. I believe less, more.2. ONLY BY A WORD OR TWO. This is my favorite "quick response" to the above question. In some ways, practically speaking, seminary has only changed me by a word or two--this is particularly true with my preaching. The hours spent in systematic theology classes, listening to lectures, reading theologians, and writing papers all boils down to changing me by...a word or two. Not big, theologically words, but little words. Little words like "in" or "through." Will these little word changes make a difference to the congregation I am preaching to? Maybe. Probably not. Do they change the preacher? Definitely.3. USELESS VOCABULARY. Since my time in seminary, I have encountered the limits of using words like "liberal" and "conservative." I had always assumed The Wesleyan Church was a conservative denomination until I encountered Presbyterians who found my church very liberal because we fail to say The Apostles Creed every week. I think these labels have so many meanings tagged on that they cease to be helpful.4. GOD IS NOT MALE. I knew this before I entered seminary, but I'm not sure I truly got it (not that I "get it" now). I recently read Plan B by Anne Lamott and was a little annoyed by her continual reference to God as being "he or she." God is not he or she. I guess you could say God is he and she...and then some. (In general, God is seldom X or Y. ) With that said, I don't have a problem referring to God as "he," (we know God through the revelation of Jesus who came as a male). I do, however, go out of my way to make scripture gender inclusive for congregants.5. WOMEN IN MINISTRY...IT'S PRETTY NORMAL. Being at PTS has shown me that being a woman in ministry is pretty normal. On a campus where half the student population is female, I have been overwhelmingly encouraged in ministry. It's not a big deal here. It was at PTS where I heard my first woman pastor preach on a Sunday morning. It was also at PTS where I recieved the Lord's Supper from a woman. I was suprised how meaningful these experiences were for me.
Three reasons why youth pastors should consider Princeton:1. Kenda Creasy Dean2. The Princeton Youth Forum3. Timothy Scholars--PTS was just given funding by the department of Evangelism of the United Methodist Church. This program will allow for Princeton to accept 2 doctoral students a year who desire to focus on youth ministry. Both the opportunity for learning and the funding within this program is incredible. Check out more information at the below address:http://www.ptsem.edu/Academics/programs/PhD/timothy-scholars.phpIn my opinion, PTS is THE place to be for youth ministry...but of course, I'm biased.
For those comparing teh south with the north...I have bounced around the country all my life, but spent a big chunk in the south: NC. Southern hospitality wins the day on a visit day...it gives a better first impression. Northern hospitality almost never compares well...at first. But after a few months or few years (for the less discerning) eventually in the south you will realize there is a bottom to the smile. I don't mean to be negative I just want to point out that what northerners take as "warm and welcoming" are usually socially preconditioned responses. Those responses don't carry much more weight than "how you doin?" carries in Jersey. The north is just as caring, humble, and welcoming. They just mean what they say, don't say it until they mean it, and say what they think whether or not you like it. A lot of IWU students chose Duke over PTS based on a comparison visit that was first impression based. It had little to do with passion, spirituality, academic rigor etc...Duke's a great school. I thought about going there for PhD (eventually decided not to apply). Just don't let the veneer deceive you in other regions. Deep relationships always take work, time and effort. You should watch John and Amanda Drury have ten conversation while you stand outside with them, or walk somewhere. It is welcoming here...it's just a different culture. Now sweet tea? That's completely missing! :)
Where I’m coming from: I am starting my second semester at PTS. I graduated from IWU in 2004 and was a full-time pastor for three years before coming to seminary.Scanning the above: I connected with a lot of what is posted here, but I particularly connected with Jon Dodrill’s post and JohnLDrury’s first two points about ecclesial/academic and getting away. Unfortunately Thomas’s point #3 about classes is outdated because of the new academic curriculum. I’ll say more about that below.Additional things worth pointing out:- Library resources in this community are beyond anything you could imagine. The seminary library has the second largest religious collection in the world next to the Vatican. That alone would be pretty amazing. Then consider that as a seminary student you can gain full access to Princeton University’s extensive library resources. From my experience it has been like having my own personal library. I don’t think a lot of seminary students bother to take advantage of it, and I don’t think a lot of the university students take advantage of their own religion section. So even when something is checked out at the seminary I can often get it right away by going to the university library (3 blocks away). As if all of that isn’t enough, Princeton Public Library is one of the nicer public libraries I’ve encountered. So basically if a library anywhere has it, odds are in your favor that the Princeton community has it. I have become accustomed to using www.worldcat.org often to track down what I’m looking for between the three libraries.- Feedback from professors (and teaching assistants) has blown me away. It is quite common for doctoral students to do most or all of the grading at the seminary level. Compare that with our Orientation to Old Testament class which had over 100 students. I was surprised to find out that our two professors for the course were actually the ones reading and grading our papers. Then when I actually got my papers back I was shocked to see that the professor had typed between a half page and a page of feedback! I have been similarly impressed across all of my classes thus far. My experience to date has been that the professors and teaching assistants are interested in honing your writing and helping you engage with the material in a meaningful way. This may sound like something that should be a given, but unfortunately that is not the case from what I’ve heard from other seminaries.- PTS has chapel five times a week as well as other incredible spiritual and personal development opportunities. Similar to real life, there is no requirement to attend or participate in the opportunities that are provided. But for the willing and eager individual, one can be counseled by trained counselors for $5/session (going rate in town $150/session!). There are spiritual direction groups put together through the seminary as well as small groups started by fellow students.- The new academic curriculum seems to be a real win. Begun in fall of 2008, the seminary has reverted back to less academic requirements for graduation. I guess this is the way it used to be across the nation a few decades ago before there was a movement to jump up to 90+ credit hour degrees. Now the school requires 78 credits to graduate. This leads to fewer classes per term, which also means a higher quality of engagement in the material. Students that have been around here a couple years are saying that it is actually possible to engage the assigned reading material thoughtfully and not just skim everything. In addition to more space being built into the degree program, there is also more creative scheduling possibilities with a fall and spring short term in addition to the fall and spring long terms. International classes for instance are much more of a possibility now.- Housing situations are pretty great whether you’re single, married, or have a family. There is a community of apartment buildings a couple miles from the academic campus (where my wife and I live) that is perfect for young families. There’s a great playground, lots of other young families, a wonderful pool, and we live on the 18th fairway of a golf course. For those who are single PTS has several dorms on campus and unlike a lot of seminaries there really is a sense of residential community with most students taking meals in the cafeteria together. In other words you won’t just be one of hundreds of commuter students, you will actually do life with many of these people. And the housing is quite affordable.- The financial aid is amazing. During my orientation visit they told us that 80% of accepted students receive 90% tuition coverage or better. Yeah, go ahead, read that sentence over again. It’s pretty astounding.- Finally, the area has so much to offer. Between the beauty and history of Princeton itself and then the close proximity of NYC, Philly, and a surprisingly nice Jersey shoreline, we have loved this area.
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This blog is dedicated to helping seniors decide on seminary by listing the experiences of individuals with various seminaries. Thinking about seminary? visiting one? attending one (now or ever)? Tell us about it.