Theological study: what’s it like?

John Angus1John Angus Macleod, Vice-Principal at ETS, answers a few commonly-asked questions prospective students have about studying theology at the seminary.


How much theological knowledge should I have before starting the course?

The courses do assume that you have some understanding of the Bible, and a relationship with God through Jesus Christ. However, it does not assume that you are a great theologian at all. When you leave, however, you will certainly be able to say that you will have a lot more theological knowledge than you had when you came. That’s our speciality!

What are the classes like? (difficult, challenging, fun, informal?)

I guess a mixture of all of these. Learning God’s truth is exciting and thrilling, but it is also awesome and holy. There is much laughter in the classes as we learn together, and there are also times when we want to bow before God there and then in worship. The learning process will undoubtedly stretch your mind, and the pressure of work is definitely intense at times, but the results are really helpful in the long run.

What form at do the classes generally take? Are there tutorials/presentations?

It depends on the class. Some subjects will expect this – perhaps once a semester, but it does not really form a big part of the overall course. However, there is plenty of time allocated to discussion at the end of a particular lecture topic. All classes are 50 minutes long.

How many people are in each year group?

It depends on the year group, but in most years there can be anything from 10-25 people. We are  only a small institution, but that’s what helps us shape one another.

How difficult are the lectures to understand?

The Bible was given to ordinary people and they can understand it, though sometimes, it takes a while for it to make sense. The lectures in ETS are like that. They are intended to bring us to understand God and his ways better than ever by explaining the Bible. A good lecturer will try to make profound things simple. And that’s what we try to do.

How much reading is involved?

Well, you can’t study theology without reading. We can even teach you to read the Bible in Greek and Hebrew so that you can understand it better! But you will also have to read books that have been written by others so that you can benefit from their research. So, while you will definitely be given guided reading, it will not be overwhelming. You will find that reading is often very good for helping to understand the subject better.

What if I have a learning disability? Will I get support?

Yes, we have a disability officer who will meet with you as often as you need. She will let the teaching staff know so that you can be given extra time, extra equipment, etc.

How much support/assistance can we get with homework and essay-writing?

You are given a course on study skills and material on essay-writing at the beginning of your studies. This is then supplemented by the lecturer explaining how to approach assignments that are specific to their courses. Because we are a relatively small seminary, the lecturers are very happy to give you some personal academic guidance. In addition, a Writing Lab is provided for those who may require assistance in regaining their writing skills as they move towards a new vocation.

What do I do if the course is too difficult for me?

The best things in God’s purposes are often associated with difficulty. And it is not uncommon for students to find aspects of the course difficult. However, due to the accessibility of the teaching staff, students usually find that they can be helped through stressful times. In addition, the student body – most of whom are preparing from some form of Christian service – are very good at looking out for one another.

Do students have advisors?

Yes, all students are given a Director of Studies who will meet with them on a regular basis.

What facilities are there for studying at ETS?

ETS has excellent facilities for a theological seminary of its size. This includes ample computing provision, Smartboards in each classroom, wireless connection to the internet throughout the campus, a digitally catalogued library, online research resources, distance learning technology and Moodle (an Online Virtual Learning Environment).

Is the course material biased to a specific theological viewpoint?

The doctrinal standard of Edinburgh Theological Seminary is the Westminster Confession of Faith. This sets the Seminary firmly in the main-line Christian tradition, particularly with regard to such doctrines as the Trinity and the Incarnation. More specifically, the theological position of Edinburgh Theological Seminary is: Protestant, Presbyterian, Calvinist, Conservative and Evangelical.

However, the Seminary consciously provides a clear welcome to students who may hold different views on and come from other traditions. Indeed, although the various courses are taught from the standpoint of deep personal commitment to Confessional theology, students are expected to think on the basis of Scripture and interact creatively with other theological traditions, familiarising themselves with current trends in theology and biblical studies.

Is all the learning classroom-based?

Yes, most of the learning is classroom-based, though you may on occasion join the class by distance learning technology. However, there are online courses – such as the Diploma in Christian Youthwork – which incorporates workshops and placements. Within Practical Theology there are also church-placements. In addition, students can also be allocated summer placements if they are preparing for a specific field of Christian service.