University of Utah students and others attended the Utah Institute for Biblical Studies on a simple quest for knowledge. Classes didn't lead to a degree of any type, but over 14 years, more than 2,000 students from about 25 different denominations took the Protestant-based classes to learn about the Bible, Christian theology, church history and practical ministry.
Things will change this year, though. The institute is changing its name to Salt Lake Seminary and will soon offer master of divinity or master of Christian studies degrees or a diploma in Christian studies. And the school is beginning the process of becoming accredited. They've informed an accrediting institution of their goal and are preparing for the process, though they can't formally apply until they've offered the degrees for two years and have a curriculum that can be assessed."Our ministry is really to train Christian leaders," said Ken Mulholland, president of the seminary. "We consider lay people people who should be taking leadership roles. So we're expanding."
The seminary, located at 232 S. University St., is adjacent to the University of Utah campus but not part of it.
The master of divinity degree is a three-year program that is the standard of education many ministers would have attained. The two-year master of Christian Studies is for people "who are wanting to integrate their Christian faith with some aspect of their professional life."
Programs in that area are tailored to the individual. Someone might study faith and the environment or spirituality and healing, for example. The first year of that degree is a set course of study shared by everyone. In the second year, the tailored programs come into play.
"It's important for Christians to be able to think deeply about their faith in ways that touch issues of modern life."
General courses include biblical interpretation, Old and New Testament survey, applied theology and more. The master's degree includes segments on communication, leadership, relationships and worship. Other offerings range from "Cross-Cultural Living in Utah: Christians in Zion" to "Worship That Ignites the Heart" and "How to Speak the Truth in Love."
Over the next seven years, the seminary hopes to graduate 700 students, Mulholland said.
Not all of the institute's students have been Protestant. A few Catholics and members of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints have attended, as well as those of "every conceivable religion," he said. But most have been Protestants, as are the three full-time faculty members, who also carry administrative loads. The seminary also has four adjunct faculty who teach one or two classes a term. And the students benefit from visiting lecturers, most often people with national and international reputations in their area of expertise.
The most important thing, said Mulholland, is that the seminary is unique in Utah. It's the only seminary between San Francisco and Denver and, for too long, "promising leaders" have had to go out of state to receive what Mulholland describes as a "Christ-centered theological education."
The board of directors believes that students will be attracted to the school from across the nation.