Steve Jobs, Simplicity and Seminary Education
These days Apple is the premier tech company, if such things are measured by corporate ledgers. But what many might not know is that Apple was once a faltering company on the precipice of bankruptcy. Steve Jobs was one of the original founders of the company but was pushed out. He was eventually brought back in and positioned himself to take the reigns at Apple. One of the problems he immediately identified was that the company had no sense of mission—they were all over the map. For example, Apple had nine different versions of their Macintosh computer. Jobs uncovered the lack of product focus by asking his engineers what the differences were among the variants. The engineers were unable to tell him the reason why they had so many models and what differentiated them.
Jobs made everything come to a screeching halt:
“‘Stop!’ He shouted at one big product strategy session. ‘This is crazy.’ He grabbed a magic marker, padded to a whiteboard, and drew a horizontal and vertical line to make a four-squared chart. ‘Here’s what we need,’ he continued. Atop the two columns he wrote ‘Consumer’ and ‘Pro’; he labeled the two rows ‘Desktop’ and ‘Portable.’ Their job, he said, was to make four great products, one for each quadrant. ‘The room was in dumb silence . . .’” (33).
Even though board members were calling for more products and to diversify their product line, Jobs was calling for massive simplification. In the end, Jobs’ strategy worked—shortly thereafter Apple turned its first profit in years, $309 million.
In a number of ways, this is the mentality WSC has behind our philosophy of a seminary education—we keep things very simple. We have two degrees: a Master of Divinity and Master of Arts (this degree has three different concentrations, Biblical Studies, Theological Studies, and Historical Theology). There have been times in the past when we have offered other degrees, but the president and seminary leadership recognized the need for simplicity. Our primary task is to train ministers of the Word of God. Our secondary task is to train people to serve the church in various capacities through our Master of Arts programs. Other institutions have a number of other degrees and specialties, and these programs can sound appealing when compared to WSC’s apparent slim offerings.
What many people do not realize, however, is that all accredited seminaries work with a specified number of degree hours: approximately 100 semester hours for an MDiv and 60 hours for an MA. Our philosophy of education here at WSC goes back to J. Gresham Machen’s original plan for Westminster Theological Seminary—to train specialists in the Bible. We believe that the degree-plan hours should be dedicated to knowing and studying the Bible (exegetically, theologically, and through a communal reading of the Bible in concert with church history and historical theology). Whatever specialties other seminaries might offer, they usually have to rob Peter to pay Paul—they have to take hours away from other portions of the curriculum to make room for the other courses.
There is certainly room for specialization, but it should never come at the expense of the fundamentals, never at the expense of knowing the Bible well. Hence, for the person who wants to be a missionary, study the Bible and know it well. Then, upon graduation, pursue an internship as a missionary associate in the specific region where you feel called. There is nothing like total immersion in a culture to learn its ethos, language, and mores. Cultural immersion can never be obtained in a classroom.
At WSC, we do not want to promise to give more than we can. Hence, we keep things simple—we strive to educate and train experts in the Bible, nothing more, nothing less.