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Liberty News

School of Religion experiences tremendous growth over past year

November 18, 2014 : By Drew Menard/Liberty University News Service

Students come and go from Liberty University's Elmer Towns Religion Hall.

A religion class at Liberty University, taught by Dr. Ed Hindson.
Dr. Ed Hindson was named dean of Liberty University's School of Religion last fall.

A year after assuming the role of dean of Liberty University’s School of Religion (SOR), Dr. Ed Hindson is already seeing the fulfillment of his vision. From day one, Hindson’s goal was to see the school rise in influence through practical curriculum and dynamic faculty, all while remaining rooted in Liberty’s rich theological history.

“There is a strong sense of confidence in Dr. Hindson’s leadership,” said Dr. Mark Allen, chair of the Department of Biblical and Theological Studies. “With his years of experience in Liberty University leadership and teaching, he makes the kind of insightful, bold, and quick decisions that have rapidly moved us forward, as is demonstrated in the many recent changes in the SOR. He seeks on-the-ground input from faculty and staff. His leadership has catalyzed positive change and created movement forward, with a spirit of hopefulness and expectation. There is a sense that the best days are ahead of us.”

President Jerry Falwell said he selected Hindson to lead the School of Religion a year ago after much thought and prayer. When he asked Hindson to consider the position, they discussed goals for the school.

“I am delighted that he has surpassed all of my expectations for the School of Religion,” Falwell said. “I believe that Dr. Hindson now has the School of Religion on a trajectory toward becoming the leading such school in the nation.”

The School of Religion has seen growth in enrollment in the past year, with a 39 percent increase in declared majors/minors for Global Studies programs, a 35 percent increase in Theology and Apologetics programs, and a 24 percent increase in Pastoral Leadership programs.

“We are very intentional in recruiting and encouraging our students to consider either a major or minor in one of our areas,” Hindson said, noting that 20 percent of students studying online with Liberty are majoring in some area of religion, enrolled in either a School of Religion undergraduate program or a graduate program through Liberty University Baptist Theological Seminary. “It is exciting to know that we can have a cross-denominational, global impact through the online programs and, at the same time, be preparing our on-campus students for an effective career in full-time Christian work.”

In order to ensure that the curriculum remains relevant, the SOR added a Center for Apologetics & Cultural Engagement this semester and is launching several new programs in the Department of Christian Leadership and Church Ministries in the spring. The programs include a B.S. in Christian Leadership and Church Ministries with cognates in adventure leadership and outdoor ministries, biblical studies, global studies, technical studies, theology and apologetics, women’s leadership, and worship, as well as a B.S. in Youth Ministries with cognates in adventure leadership and outdoor ministries, biblical studies, Christian leadership, cinematic arts, coaching, pastoral leadership, sport outreach, technical studies, theology and apologetics, women’s leadership, and worship.

The school is also intentional about offering students opportunities for practical experience. In addition to several practicums and internships offered locally, students have the option to take part in the new Ministry Fellowship Program. The program is similar to Liberty’s Washington Fellowship semester, allowing seniors to spend an entire year working with one of several church partners around the world. Students receive internship credit as they gain experience in a church setting, and transportation and housing costs are covered. While serving, the student also takes some classes online to maintain full-time enrollment status.

The new Center for Apologetics, under the direction of Dr. Joshua Chatraw, was established this fall to meet an important need. Students are faced with aggressive attacks on their faith, according to Hindson, and need to be equipped with “real answers.” He challenges both new and veteran faculty to continue to realize the apologetic challenges students are facing and to address them.

A religion class at Liberty University.
Liberty's faculty, including Dr. Gabriel Etzel, School of Religion associate dean, remain committed to the university's theological foundation in their teaching.

Hindson said that intentionally hiring young, dynamic faculty supportive of the university’s doctrine is pivotal to maintaining Liberty’s conservative theological foundation in the future.

“The great thing about our faculty is that we have some very seasoned veteran teachers who have proven to be effective over the years and are greatly respected by our students,” Hindson said. “In addition, we have added three new faculty this summer — Drs. Chatraw, Rusty Small, and Chris Gnanakan — plus Dr. Allen a year ago. They have helped to energize our existing faculty and improve our influence across the student body.”

(Read more about these new religion faculty members.)

Ultimately, the School of Religion’s greatest impact will be determined based on how well students are taught in the classroom. As a distinguished professor, Hindson personally teaches more than 1,000 students each semester.

“The personal contact is what I love about teaching in the classroom,” Hindson said. “I enjoy the opportunity to get to know the students, to influence them, to hear their concerns and answer their questions, and really give them a passion for the things of God and for the Bible.”

As the school continues to grow, Hindson said the university is considering plans to construct a new building that will serve the needs of students for years to come.

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