By Annette Brill Bergstresser
ELKHART, Indiana (Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary) — In response to a growing demand for online master’s degrees, Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary (AMBS) in Elkhart, Indiana, is launching a new fully online Master of Arts: Theology and Global Anabaptism (MATGA). Both the AMBS Board of Directors and the Association of Theological Schools Commission approved the new degree in April.
The 46-credit-hour interdisciplinary academic degree program — which can be completed over four years on a part-time basis — builds on the seminary’s historic Anabaptist identity and longstanding peace studies program to prepare scholars, teachers, pastors and leaders to integrate Anabaptist understandings of Scripture and theology with service in their current and future communities.
“The Anabaptist story and what it has to offer today’s complex and fractured world is receiving new interest as an alternative to Christian nationalism,” said Beverly Lapp, Ed.D., AMBS vice president and academic dean. “AMBS is uniquely equipped to respond to this interest with the expertise of our faculty and the depth of our curriculum.”
In addition to studying the biblical, theological and historical foundations of the Anabaptist tradition, students in the new program will analyze how Anabaptism developed in Western and non-Western contexts and will deepen their faith through spiritual and intercultural formation. They’ll gain skills for engaging in ecumenical and interreligious dialogue, communicating the relevance of Anabaptist Christianity today, and leading congregations and other peacebuilding organizations and communities.
Drew Strait, Ph.D., assistant professor of New Testament and Christian origins, observes that while the majority of Anabaptists now lives in the global South, “a central theological hub for incubating a global network of Anabaptist practitioners and theologians remains lacking.”
He sees AMBS’s new online M.A. as a response to this need, making a way to bring together students from across the globe “who want to dig deeper into Scripture to become more effective agents of God’s in-breaking kingdom of peace.”
“We believe this global classroom is essential to carry on the mission of God’s global church — to bear witness to the gospel of peace, with all of its power to disrupt the patterns of fear that feed violence and xenophobia in the world around us,” he added.
Jamie Pitts, Ph.D., associate professor of Anabaptist studies, reflected further on the need for a global approach to Anabaptist theological education.
“Anabaptism has grown from a collection of largely European Christian movements into a global tradition with adherents in every inhabited continent,” he said. Commenting on the possibilities offered by the new degree, he added, “Our first fully online M.A. draws on the strengths of our curriculum to provide a lens attuned to the tradition’s global dimensions; without this lens, we cannot understand our past, present and future.”
AMBS faculty members’ expertise and experience with online course delivery — honed especially since the distance-friendly Master of Divinity Connect program was launched in 2013 — are among the strengths that Lapp sees the seminary as having to offer students in the fully online program. She noted that the AMBS Library has one of the largest collections of Anabaptist theological scholarship in the world and makes electronic/digital resources and textbook support available to those studying at a distance. The seminary’s long-standing partnership with the Mennonite Historical Library and its Institute for the Study of Global Anabaptism, founded in 2011, will also be key resources for online M.A. students.
The Master of Arts: Theology and Global Anabaptism will balance core requirements with elective options so that students can design a program that meets their goals for future study or ministry. While students can earn the degree at a distance, they also can opt to complete the program in less time by spending a semester or more on campus studying full time.
Other fully online options for accessing theological education at a distance through AMBS include the Graduate Certificate in Theological Studies, a 27-credit-hour certificate that can be tailored to meet students’ learning goals; Journey, a two-and-a-half-year nondegree missional leadership program; and Anabaptist Short Courses, six-week noncredit courses on Anabaptist theology and practice.
To learn more, see ambs.edu/matga.