MENA Islam Module Residency
March 17, 2023
March 2023 Newsletter: A Scholarly Solution for an Unmet Need: The Master of Theology Program
March 17, 2023

A Scholarly Solution for an Unmet Need:

The Master of Theology Program

Often in our walks of faith, God gives us the opportunity to look back and see how His hands were hard at work shaping and maturing us over the years. This is no different for ABTS. With the first cohort of the Master of Theology well under way, we have the opportunity to look back and see how the Lord guided us in launching this program.
Our aim at ABTS is to serve the Kingdom by preparing Arab Church leaders and ministers for effective and contextual ministry to their communities. For many years, this took the form of vocational-ministerial training through our Integrated Theology and Certificate in Ministry programs. Through our years of ministry, the Lord made us aware of a need emerging in the Arab Church: a need for contextually trained Arab theologians and scholars who can carry out academic research, publish high-quality theological works in the Arabic language, and contribute to the formation of a theology for the Arab world that engages with the complexity of ministry in the region. With the scarcity of high-quality Arabic-language theological resources available to the Arab Church, the need for theologians who can publish works in Arabic becomes more urgent. “Unless we, as the Arab Church, are able to produce our own theological publications, we will never be able to engage in effective discussions on theology and ministry,” shared ABTS President Elie Haddad. As the Lord grew the ministry of ABTS over the past years, He also stretched us to be part of His work through the Arab Church to meet this need.

In 2018, we began conversations both internally and with other seminaries on the emerging need for more research-based theology programs that are contextual to the Arab Church. One of the ideas that came out of these conversations was a Master of Theology program that could prepare Arab scholars and serve as a steppingstone into doctoral studies. Talking about the program, Academic Dean Walid Zailaa shared:
It used to be that Arab theologians wanting to pursue higher theological education, especially those pursuing a master’s degree, needed to find programs in the West that, while highly effective, did not prepare students to engage with theology in an Arab context or even in the Arabic language. The Master of Theology is our attempt at covering this gap.
Furthermore, with the intricate challenges and contexts that the Arab Church finds itself in, developing a contextual theology that can help the Church engage its community becomes a vital need. “By helping train and develop thinkers and writers who can engage the Arab Church in new discussions, challenge it with the word of God, and help it strengthen its theological foundation, we can directly invest in the future of the Arab Church” Shared Kees van der Knijff, Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and program lead for the Master of Theology.

Today, with the Master of Theology, Arab scholars have the opportunity to pursue a high-level scholarly research degree. This is why the program is based on three main pillars: Research Methodology, Biblical Studies, and Theological Studies. These are followed by two periods of directed studies where the student can apply what they learned and carry out their own work on Biblical exegesis and doctrinal analysis. This matrix prepares the student to write an effective academic thesis on a theological focus pertaining to their own ministry context.
The first academic year began in early October with a short virtual induction followed by the first Research Methodology course of the three that they will take throughout their journey through the Master of Theology. Taught by Walid Zailaa, the course helps students gain the skills necessary to carry out academic research and covers topics like the effective use of citations, how to build an argument around a central claim, and how to structure a research paper. “Through the course, students had the opportunity to delve deep into effective research strategies and test them out through some preliminary topics,” shared Walid. “It was a very encouraging course, especially because the students were so engaged with the material. This helped us push further with the material and cover a lot of ground.” Ashraf, one of our current Master of Theology students, benefitted a lot from the course. “The Research Methodology course opened my eyes to new ways of engaging critically with texts. I learned to engage with scripture in a high academic way that has been helping me with my studies and with my ministry.”
In the four months since they completed the Research Methodology course, students have been hard at work on the Historical Theology module. “Through this module, we wanted to approach historical theology as the history of the interpretation of the Bible” shared Caleb Hutcherson who co-taught the module alongside Kees. “We focused on how interpretation and hermeneutics have developed over the years, starting with the early church, moving through the Middle Ages, the reformation, the modern period, and arriving at the postmodern era, and we sought to focus specifically on how Arab Christians interpreted the Bible during each of these eras.” Talking about his experience in teaching the module, Kees commented that:
As a teacher, it is wonderful that we get this opportunity to spend so much time with the students and delve deeply into the history of the interpretation of the Bible. The length of the module helped us have deeper conversations and engage with topics on a new level.
Hanane, who is also studying through the program, shared that she learned a lot from the modules.
I will never be able to describe how much I learned from this module. It helped me look at how we practice our faith in a critical way. A lot of the things we do today we inherited from older generations without thinking about them. The module helped me understand where our practices and beliefs come from and how we can better understand them so we can better serve the Kingdom. Alongside the Research Methodology course, what I’ve learned so far has equipped me to better engage with theological writings and understand the historical context it comes from. As a leader in my church here in Morocco, it was crucial for me to pursue higher-level theological education so that I could serve the believers here who are currently studying theology and so that I could later continue my education and pursue a PhD.
Over the coming years of their education, our students will have the opportunity to grow and mature into effective theologians and scholars who can help fill the need for Arabic-language theological resources for the Arab Church. As they engage in new studies and develop contextual and relevant approaches to theology for ministry in the region, we pray that the Lord forms them into a new generation of scholar-leaders who can directly influence their churches and serve the growth of the Kingdom in the Arab world.