In the latest edition of First Things, R. R. Reno has given his thoughts on the best places to study theology. By and large, it’s a well-informed survey of theological education across North America. He does limit himself to North America, and, importantly, he limits himself to looking at the graduate doctoral programs. If you’re looking for an M.Div. program, you will likely have other considerations, especially ecclesiastical priorities, to keep in mind.
The first several paragraphs of the article are especially important, namely his emphasis on professors who teach and foster student development and his emphasis on the ecclesial context of theology:
Unlike the study of philosophy or mathematics, and more like the study of history and literature, the study of theology is given sharp outlines by the coherence and integrity of a historical community. The reality of the Church—her doctrines, her endless problems, and her alluring beauty—sets the agenda for theology. The best programs have a connection—not necessarily official, not always happy, but still fundamental—to living churches.
So, Reno is looking for institutions with a faculty that exhibits these characteristics, along with, of course, academic excellence. Duke and Notre Dame are his top two picks. Both have a fairly extensive list of impressive faculty members. Notre Dame, he notes, has not been as impressive when it comes to systematics, but “new hires in systematic theology have strengthened the Notre Dame program. John Betz, a fine young scholar of modern theology, joins the faculty this year, along with Francesca Murphy, one of the most creative and forceful theological writers of her generation.” All of us who went to Aberdeen can testify to Professor Murphy’s excellence, both as a teacher and scholar.
Along with Princeton University’s Department of Religion, Reno lists Princeton Theological Seminary next, noting, “A Protestant doctoral student will find a rich atmosphere in which classical debates continue. By my reckoning, Princeton Theological Seminary is the best place in the United States to study Protestant dogmatics.” After Princeton, the list goes: Wycliffe College (Toronto), Catholic University of America, Marquette, Boston College, Yale, Southern Methodist University, Wheaton (thanks to Kevin Vanhoozer), Ave Maria, and the University of Dayton (thanks to Matthew Levering).
As Reno recognizes, the list is subjective, accorded by his priorities and interests. So, the more liberal project of integrating social-cultural-psychological-historical variables, as it continues at the University of Chicago and Harvard Divinity School, is slighted by Reno. Likewise, the contemporary development of confessional Reformed theology, as it continues at Westminster California (masters-level) and at Calvin Seminary, is slighted.