By Jonathan Soder, Features Editor
It started as an idea that the Bible and theology professors repeatedly came back to when they were all cooped up together in a conference room for faculty meetings. A Biblical and theological studies common core is what they were after, but it was only an idea until Dr. Alan Bandy, the Rowena R. Strickland associate professor of new testament, Dr. Matthew Emerson, the associate professor of religion and the Dickinson chair of religion and Dr. Kevin Hall, the Ida Elizabeth and J. W. Hollums chair of Bible, were commissioned to bring this Hobbs college dream to life.
Emerson and Bandy got to work sometime around Spring 2016, beginning with synthesizing an official model to build around. The goal was to develop a collection of Biblical and theological classes that all students under the ‘theology’ banner of Hobbs College of Theology and Ministry were required to fulfill, which would serve a similar purpose to the common core classes all OBU students take.
“We want to live up to our name, ‘Biblical and Theological Studies,’ and the common core is trying to make sure everybody gets a really strong foundation in Biblical studies and theological studies,” Hall said.
Next came researching the Bible and theology programs of other Christian, liberal arts institutions similar to OBU. Hall, who Emerson and Bandy sought out for help in this process, spread his search across the nation. He investigated regional schools such as Ouachita Baptist in Arkadelphia, Ark., as well as national schools such as Baylor University in Waco, Texas and Wheaton College in Wheaton, Ill.
They all discovered that no program in the country was doing quite what they were envisioning.
After completing research and reviewing the initial model, Emerson and Bandy composed the official proposal. The new curriculum was voted on and approved by the entirety of OBU faculty in December 2017 and announced to Hobbs students in May of 2018. The changes were officially implemented for Fall 2018. Accordingly, students who were already in Hobbs have the option to remain on their former track or move over to the new model.
The second purpose of the curriculum overhaul was to streamline the process for students. Underneath the banner of Biblical and theological studies are emphases, which is just another word for specializations. These include Bible and theology, Biblical languages, Biblical studies, history and theology, philosophy and theology, Biblical apologetics and practical theology. With a shared core in Bible and theology, only those classes specific to each emphasis is up in the air for any Bible and theology major.
One unique aspect of the Biblical and Theological Studies Core is the language requirement. Every BTS student will take a year of either Hebrew or Greek regardless if their emphasis is Biblical languages or not. This, in particular, is an aspect which Emerson, Bandy and Hall noticed no other program required that they are excited to introduce.
“I feel like it’s academically really strong,” Hall said, “and OBU, as a university, has that in its mission statement. ‘Pursue academic excellence.’ Even more so now are we able to challenge all our students to pursue academic excellence.”
Besides this, Emerson particularly looks forward to the plethora of historical, theological and orthodox classes that will now have a part in the core curriculum.
“One of the [deficiencies] in the previous curriculum was [that] there wasn’t any church history and there was only one semester of theology,” Emerson said. “Now we’ve taken that and said, ‘Well we’re going to do two semesters of history and theology together.’”
Hobbs faculty hope that this new curriculum will both simplify the students’ experience and bolster interest in the program. For the professors, the benefit of these changes lies in the knowledge that they are advancing Hobbs college academically.
“No matter what their final destination is, if they go out with a ‘Hobbs college’ stamp on them, we know they’re going to have a solid core of Biblical studies, a solid core of theological studies, and we’re going to be gratified by that,” Hall said. “That’s very fulfilling for us because we feel like, with this new curriculum, we can really fulfill our mission better.”