Features Summer 2016

Taking Bison Hill to the Ends of the Earth

Bison Hill.

The name that commonly refers to the picturesque campus of Oklahoma Baptist University.

Its classic brick buildings, crowned with the iconic Raley Chapel and her brilliant stained glass.

Its green spaces and trees, its famed fountain on the Oval and late nights with friends in the GC.

Bison Hill is a special place, welcoming students to this hallowed ground where character, knowledge and faith are forged.

Yet, generations of master’s degree students will experience their OBU education from a campus of a different sort…one that looks more like a kitchen table, a coffee shop, a library, or maybe even a back porch on a Saturday morning, with a cup of coffee in hand.

With the launch of two new Master of Arts degrees joining its existing graduate degree offerings, the campus which proudly stands on Bison Hill is expanding its footprint to the four corners of the earth.

OBU recently launched two new Master of Arts degrees, the MA in Christian Studies and the MA in Intercultural Studies. Classes are delivered fully online, with 36 hours of coursework that may be completed in one to two years. Each class is taught in an eight week modular format, including online lectures, independent reading and writing, and online interaction with professors and fellow students.

The degrees include a common set of classes designed around understanding the essentials of the Christian faith, Christian worldview and Christian life. This common core of 18 hours includes a course in both Old Testament and New Testament studies, biblical hermeneutics, Christian theology, spiritual formation and Christian worldview. The Christian Studies option has two tracks, Leadership or Apologetics, while the Intercultural Studies option offers specializations in Orality or Intercultural Studies.

The Leadership track prepares learners in contemporary, biblical leadership in the face of various challenges involving staff, congregation or volunteers, and learners are equipped with preaching, discipleship and training tools at an advanced level. This track equips students to lead the church or to support those who do.

The Apologetics track prepares students to face the challenges that arise in defending the Christian faith, empowering them to read Scripture and understand culture; to provide biblical, theological, philosophical and cultural analysis; and to develop reasonable defenses of the hope found in Christianity. This track is beneficial for all Christians, not just church staff members.

The MA in Intercultural Studies with Orality prepares learners to reach primarily oral cultures with the gospel of Jesus Christ. This track prepares students to analyze worldviews using anthropological tools, develop oral communication strategy and assess effective storytelling. Learners will be at the cutting edge of orality studies, learning from professors who have served around the world.

The MA in Intercultural Studies prepares students to reach the world, whether in global contexts or in one’s own back yard. Students will gain advanced skills including ethnographic research, intercultural communication and church planting. These skills are founded and developed in Scripture and theology, providing a robust context for social scientific methods and contemporary missiology.

The OBU Difference

“The MA programs are exciting because they carry the undergraduate training of Hobbs College forward at an advanced level,” said Dr. Heath Thomas, dean of the Herschel H. Hobbs College of Theology and associate vice president for church relations. “The vision for online education with these MA degrees is missional. We are thrilled that many of our learners are already serving in a professional capacity and that OBU can come alongside them and add value to their work and ministry.”

“What makes our program unique in the online world
is the personalized education students receive from OBU professors.”

The degrees are offered through a combined effort between OBU’s College of Graduate and Professional Studies (CGPS) along with the Hobbs College.

Dr. Rhonda Richards, dean of the CGPS, sees a major difference in the MA degrees at OBU when compared to other universities.

“What makes our program unique in the online world
is the personalized education students receive from OBU professors. Our professors reach out to students individually to review assignments, discuss topics and answer questions. In addition, our professors record lectures for their courses which provides a rich, personal experience for the students.”

Richards also emphasized that these degrees are useful for everyone, not only those serving in ministry.

“It’s important to note that these degrees are not just for pastors. The apologetics track is literally for everyone,” she said.

The quality of the recorded lectures themselves also sets the OBU degrees apart from other institutions. While many universities’ online degree programs use webcams to record lectures, OBU’s MA degrees feature high quality video and audio, pre-recorded by the University’s academic technology and online instruction team. This provides unmatched visual clarity and clear, crisp audio.

The professors themselves likewise distinguish the OBU degrees. They are not only world-class scholars who teach what they have learned, but they are also people who have experience in ministry and leadership around the world. This practical experience helps students learn both theory and practice. These courses are not taught by graduate assistants, as is the case in many other institutions, and the lecture material is created and recorded specifically for the online degree plans, not recycled from an on campus course.

Dr. Tawa Anderson, assistant professor of philosophy and director of the OBU honors program, helped develop the content for the Apologetics track and also teaches two classes within the degree plan.

“Our degrees are designed to be ‘professional’ degrees, meaning they are designed to equip individuals to function in any field conducive to utilizing the principles or skills gained.”

“The contemporary Christian church is in desperate need of strong apologetic ministry,” he said. “Christians have questions and doubts about their faith, and need some help and guidance in sorting those through. Non-Christians have objections to Christianity which demand a persuasive reasonable response. OBU’s Apologetics degree equips students to interact with questions, doubts and objections from across the spectrum, and to walk alongside others who are facing such questions.”

He stressed that the Apologetics track will benefit all Christians, whether or not they are serving in the ministry. “Our students will be prepared to be thoughtful, engaged apologists in their local church, their workplace, their family, and their community at large.”

Dr. Tony Higgins is director of the School of Christian Studies and is involved in oversight for all four of the new degrees. He stressed the value of these degrees originating from within the OBU liberal arts environment, encouraging students to think across disciplines.

“Our degrees are designed to be ‘professional’ degrees, meaning they are designed to equip individuals to function in any field conducive to utilizing the principles or skills gained. The broad principles learned in the Leadership track will be usable in any leadership context. The Apologetics track will enable anyone to ‘defend the faith,’ regardless of their vocation. Both Intercultural Studies programs equip students for national or international missions, yet, the skills learned also apply outside of ‘formal’ ministry settings.”

The Sun Never Sets on Bison Hill

For many students seeking these MA degrees, Bison Hill is a place they may never visit. They may never set foot on the Oval, hear the chapel bells chime, don a beanie in the hot August sun or gaze in awe at the splashes of orange and pink from the setting sun behind the chapel spire.

Yet, they will be Bison just the same. And while they may attend their class from the kitchen table, or a coffee shop, or even from the back porch, through the online delivery of OBU’s life-changing education, Bison Hill, along with all that it represents, will come to them.

The Student Perspective

John Cullison currently serves as pastor of First Baptist Church of Geronimo, Oklahoma. A 1985 OBU graduate with a management degree, he spent 25 years in the business world, as well as 13 years serving in the Oklahoma Army National Guard. When he was called to the pastorate, he had a realization.

“When I became pastor at FBC, Geronimo, I quickly realized I needed additional formal training. I heard of the development of the MA program at OBU and when I got the opportunity to begin, I did not hesitate. This degree offered a set of practical tools for ministry along with the theological and doctrinal depth I was looking for.”

Cullison is currently enrolled in the MA in Christian Studies in Leadership degree program.

“So far the experience has exceeded my expectations,” he said. “The online delivery has been smooth and the support has been exceptional. The lectures are one of the strongest aspects of the courses. Seeing and hearing the professors really facilitates the connection to the class and to the course content. This program is doctrinally sound, professionally and passionately delivered, and contains a practical dimension that reveals the value of each course even as it is in progress. Each course has provided material, knowledge and ideas that I have implemented in the ministries of our church.”