A Letter to Prospective RS Majors and Minors
The pressure is on; it is time to choose a major. Everyone seems to have an opinion, and most of the pressure probably comes from those who desire the American Dream. They recommend a degree in science, math, or political science, so you can attend medical or law school, get a job with a high salary, and live prosperously. In light of the other advice, why should you choose an RS major?
Whether or not you are considering a call to ministry, the religious studies major will serve you well over the course of your life, for Christianity is a faith that is lived. Christians do not simply know the doctrines of the church, they inhabit the story of the Christian faith. It is their very life and being, and it requires that they are formed in that story.
The Christian story is not limited to one individual congregation, one denomination, or even all of the churches in existence right now. It stretches back to Jewish history through the New Testament, to every era of the church. The RS professors will teach you the larger story of the Christian faith by introducing you to the Old and New Testaments and Early, Medieval, Modern, and Postmodern Theologies and Histories. They will also bring you into discussions of missions and other world religions. In addition, they can expand your view of faithful Christian living through their own deep Christian faith which has been shaped by a wide range of denominations. The Westmont RS professors come from Presbyterian, Pentecostal, Baptist, Covenant, and other churches, and they provide very different perspectives on Christianity.
In addition, churches need people who know the story to teach classes, lead small groups, and mentor young Christians. While some are called to pastor and preach, everyone else is still called to inhabit the story and share that story with those around them; however, it is impossible to teach others the story of the faith if we do not know it ourselves. This is an opportunity to become people who are trained to think about the story and who are shaped by and understand it, and our churches desperately need that type of Christians if the church is going to continue.
If you are discerning a call to ministry, then let me add a couple of additional reasons why you may want to be a RS major. First, you have an opportunity to study with a group of excellent scholars who are passionate about both their work and their students, and they will invest in your education and your spiritual growth. While seminary is probably in your future, a Westmont RS major will provide you with experience that is helpful as seminary shapes you into ministers of the gospel. Second, as a pastor, missionary, professor, or other Christian minister, it will be your calling to teach the story to others as you inhabit it yourself. To be able to guide others into the narrative of the Christian faith, that story needs to be your very being, something so much a part of you that you cannot live outside of it. That process never ends, but you will be better able to pass the narrative on to others if you have spent an additional four years being formed in it. Last, those who are called into ministry do not have the “luxury” of specializing in a particular area like those in other fields. When congregants or students approach, Christian workers need to know every area of the Christian faith. In a sense, you must be an expert in every field of religious studies, and that deep formation takes time.
From Adam and Eve through Moses and the prophets, to Jesus and the apostles, the Christian narrative is told through the acts of God and his people. That story does not stop with the New Testament but continues through the church fathers like Ignatius, Athanasius, Irenaeus, and Augustine, the medieval church saints including Saint Francis and Anselm of Canterbury, and all the way to the current day saints, whether they are popular saints like Mother Teresa, theologians like Karl Barth, or scholars like the Westmont RS department. All of these people make up the story of the Christian faith. They are our teachers, our brothers and sisters in the faith, and our fellow pilgrims on the journey. The RS major at Westmont is one way to meet these people, and to allow them to form you in the story of which all Christians are a part.
Enjoying the journey with you,
Westmont Religious Studies Major ‘05