MFA at a Christian college!?!

Just before earning my BFA (1999 or 2000), I began looking for an evangelical Christian college to continue my studio art studies at. While a public university would have sufficed, my keen interest in the interplay between visual art and my Christian faith drove me to look for a private school. I was sorely disappointed in the lack of opportunities; in fact, there were none. I did find an MA in studio art offered by the infamous Bob Jones. A Catholic university in Dallas offered an MFA, and while I would be more open to this now, I was not so much back then.

I continued to email a variety of evangelical colleges, asking the art department chairs if they knew of such a program. I also occassionally suggested the irony of Christian schools requiring an MFA of their art professors when they did not offer such a degree themselves. Responses to this suggestion and my request ranged from sympathy to poorly veiled annoyance. A glimmer of hope revealed itself when I discovered Biola used to offer an MFA. They, however, cut the program after it drew too many resources away from their BFA program.

While assisting with our church’s small gallery space this afternoon, Todd Goehner informed me that Biola just rebirthed their MFA program — and that Azusa Pacific also established a Master of Fine Arts program in the last year. Azusa describes its MFA program by saying:

    The MFA student’s primary experience at APU centers on studio activity and the integration of faith and art. Supporting this is a schedule of courses that includes critical issues in art and four semesters of in-depth study of the relationship of students’ Christian faith and their lives as contemporary artists. Each student gains regular exposure to aesthetic or stylistic positions through faculty members and visiting artists and speakers. The program focuses not only on the refinement of visual skills, but also on the articulation of one’s work and the cultivation of one’s spirit and mind. Students bring creative force and imagination to their own development – qualities that can be stimulated and encouraged.

No information seems to be available on Biola’s website at this time, although Todd did say Biola will offer the degree long-distance.

I still think about getting my MFA from time to time. In some ways I long for such time to dedicate to my work. In other ways I think I can pretty much learn the same things on my own, without shelling out the big bucks for a graduate degree at a private college. The one thing I really want an MFA for is teaching at the college level.

For now, I hope the people I know are encouraged by this blog and our conversations to seriously consider the relationship between art and faith. I’m thrilled that these two very reputable Christian schools now offer this degree. Whether or not I will be afforded the opportunity for an MFA is yet to be seen.

If you are an artist of the Christian faith and use Flickr, consider joining a group I started to share with and encourage other artists of faith via this link.

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About pcNielsen
Paul Nielsen founded The Aesthetic Elevator late in 2005. He owns a piece of paper, located somewhere in his house (not on the wall), stating that he earned a B.F.A. from the University of Nebraska around about 2001. While there, he studied studied architecture, graphic design and ceramics, graduating with a degree in studio art. Paul presently serves as communications manager for a small non-profit doing their print design and marketing. He spends as much time sculpting in his studio as possible — which is not nearly enough. Visit his website at

33 Responses to MFA at a Christian college!?!

  1. Pingback: Correction: MFA at Biola « The Aesthetic Elevator

  2. ann says:

    Check into Dallas Baptist… for MFA… you don’t have to be baptist… I know because I’ve been looking into it in online form..Just a thought

  3. TAE says:

    Thanks for the heads up Ann . . . although on a first glance of DBU’s website I don’t see an MFA in studio art. What I do see is an MLA; am I looking in the wrong place?

  4. ann says:

    Sorry, you are correct, its an MLA, but get this:

    Option 2: Single-discipline Track
    Concentration (18 hours)
    Electives (9 hours)
    Concentrations available to the M.L.A. student are Art, Christian Ministry, English, English as a Second Language (ESL), Fine Arts,

    So I’m thinking of getting the MLA in Fine Arts… strange, huh? I’ll be finishing up my BGS in Creative Writing, Theater, and Studio Arts this May, and want the “open” feel of picking my own classes that going this route provides… I’ve been searching for years for the “perfect fit” that a state school cannot provide to a person of faith… I did find an online university that offers a BA, Masters and PhD in “Christian Art” but no one can say anything good or bad about them. Just that they are not “accredited” well, if you get your accreditation from God, then why do you need it from a school… but then, I’m not going to go off seeking a job as a professor or anything, just continuing my work with children and teens. I lead a group(17 now) and try to get them in all aspects of visual and performing arts wo they can find the area God has gifted them in. I don’t need accreditaion for that… Oh, the University is Christian Leadership University ( that offers the degrees in Christian Art…. I don’t know that the title is fair…is the art a “little Christ” or are the artists??

  5. TAE says:

    Hmm, I haven’t heard of an MLA, but choosing my own classes is appealing.

    And, as I think I noted in one of my entries dealing with the MFA, the only practical reason I would go back for the terminal degree is to teach at the college level.

    Here is a blog about last summer’s MFA discourse at APU.

  6. MRS says:

    I just happened to stumble on your page, and I wanted to let you know that Mississippi College offers an MFA. It is a baptist college, but as someone who is nondemoninational, I don’t find this to be an issue. Sadly, though I’m finding that their program is really lacking, both in terms of the faculty and facilities. Though their program may not fit my needs, it is definately working for others, so I thought I’d bring it to your attention.

  7. Pingback: Interview: Cosette Conelius-Bates « The Aesthetic Elevator

  8. kent Anderson butler says:

    Biola does not offer a MFA program they never have. APU does offer a MFA. I am a professor at apu in the MFA program. Please feel free to contct me.

    Kent Anderson butler

  9. TAE says:

    Thanks for commenting on my blog. I’m aware of Biola’s NOT offering an MFA, and corrected this mistake in a subsequent post (see here:

  10. Pingback: Correction: MFA at Biola « The Aesthetic Elevator

  11. JAD says:

    There are Masters in Education with art emphases at Christian Universities. Seattle Pacific University, for example, has such a program. I too am researching MFA programs, but am open to private or public programs. Any update as to current MFA programs? (I see that the last entry dates to 2007)…

  12. TAE says:

    I’m aware of some of these masters, but haven’t pursued these under the assumption that they won’t allow for teaching at the university level. Further, I’m really interested in education in an academic sense (I know this may sound contradictory when I say I want to teach at a university). What I want is an advanced degree in studio art.

    Similarly there are MDiv degrees with an arts emphasis at places like Regents in Vancouver which I’ve known about but haven’t pursued, for the same reason.

    I don’t know about any other MFA programs at this point being offered by Christian schools, but am more seriously considering public institutions as well. Here’s a post from December about the University of Arkansas ceramics program: .

  13. John Lui says:

    Interesting pursuit. I was also recently aware of the APU MFA program only shortly after arriving at Fuller Theological Seminary. Here I am pursuing a Masters of Arts in Theology in the Arts Format. I decided to go here after like you, finding no MFA’s in a christian university. Here there is great dialogue between theology and art. In my concentration we are all practicing arts and designers, I had an BFA from Pratt Institute, however we are only applying the two in theological papers and a final thesis. So I am a little sad about the lack of studio practice so I am interesting in your pursuit of a world-class MFA program that merges with Faith. On a whole, Christian education desperately needs to fill this gap!

  14. John Lui, I’m wondering what the MA in Theology and Art at Fuller looks like from the inside: is there a focus on art production, or does it stay in the realm of theory, and leave you alone as artists to implement that in your own practice? I’m interested to know more from someone who has met the faculty, etc.

    • Being a graduate seminary, the focus is indeed in scholarly academic writing. Fuller does a great job on broadening your theological, aesthetic and cultural exegesis skills, which I am grateful for. But if you are looking for a place that will engage and push your technical production skills, this is not the place to be. But so while the finals for most classes include writing a research paper, some classes especially the “Theology and Culture” or “Theology and Art” classes allow for a final project in lieu of a long paper. It would be a creative project and a short 2-page reflection paper instead. If I had to choose between having a grad program being more theory or practical, I’d choose theory. I’m perfectly fine with applying the skills I have with the theory I’m learning in class, I just only wish there was more “critiques” like back in art school than just turning it in at the end.

  15. MKeith says:

    Anyone want to tell me why all the Christian colleges in the Nation require an MFA, or at least an MA in Art to work there but almost NO Christian college or university is willing to actually have an MFA program!?

    What’s the matter, not enough art in the history of the church? No good reasons to have a quality program? No need to lift up and actually glorify God? Just like in the “Christian” music industry- “let’s let the non-Christians handle our business for us in that area because, obviously, they do it better”. The piper calls the tune.

    How very American Christian: talk-action=0

    • pNielsen says:

      When I asked that question of two or three Christian art department chairs in 2000 (just before graduating) they either ignored the question or gave condescending answers, acting like it was a stupid question.

      Obviously, if people asked it then and are asking it now, it’s not a stupid question.

    • Kitt says:

      You are so totally right! Especially since most of the arts in America rely on government grants from a government that is becoming more and more non-Christian. If the Christian Church in America wants a reemergence of Christian art, it needs to become independent from the secular world in art. Christian schools need to have MFA programs!!!!

  16. Marc Shaw says:

    I share your frustrations. I graduated with the first cohort in Fuller’s MA in Th. and Arts. Not quite as advertised. I am equipped to analyze culture and, to some extent art (but mostly as an “artifact of culture?”), but am by no means a more advanced writer. To my chagrin, SPU now has a highly regarded MFA, but in creative writing alone, I believe, which would have been right up my alley about $35000 ago, and in some sense what I was looking for through Fuller, but never quite became a reality. Your best bet may be APU or a public university supplemented with a dedicated Christian artist community or even selected readings, through, say, an APU prof.

  17. Pingback: On the MA in arts at Fuller « The Aesthetic Elevator

  18. T Shaffer says:

    I attended a small christian liberal arts college for my BA… and then began my MFA (which i don’t have to pay for) at a large state university . . . as most many of my classmates from undergrad were unable to get into an MFA program i suspect they also wish there was a program for “only christians” My contention with a “Christian” MFA program mirrors my own frustration with my undergraduate degree, that is that it lacked a large percentage of education on the art world now, rather it was only concerned with art that neatly fit into a christian world view and ignored the rest… i feel as though it would be difficult for a christian MFA not to yield faculty un-equipt to actually teach its students anything except neo-abstract expressionist faith based works, or neo-icons and the like. Instead of making sound, conceptually based and educated works that either fit in, or effectively challenge the art world, rather than acting as though it doesn’t exist.

    • pcNielsen says:

      That is, admittedly, a real danger, but if I can play the devil’s advocate for a minute: Is that really worse than the stereotypical non-Christian art program, the Art School Confidential experience?

      The only knowledge I have personally of an undergraduate art degree at a Christian liberal arts U is at John Brown University, and not because I attended there but because I know a good number of the profs as friends in the dept. They teach outside the limited realm you describe above. The catch is that they don’t offer a BFA program yet (they’re working hard to get one though).

  19. T Shaffer says:

    First, I am speaking from my actual undergraduate experience, not a stereotype of what christians school art programs are like, The Art School Confidential model has some truth to it but is mostly myth, exaggeration and parody.

    You mention another problem with many/most faith based schools w/ an art program, No BFA, this is typically a result of under funding/not enough resources, Faculty and facilities. My school had a lot of work to do to even maintain their BA accred.

    Having no BFA effectively makes getting into a top tier MFA program even nearer to impossible than otherwise. many schools state in app. materials not to bother applying w/out one. So you are left to apply to mid level programs.

    My real contention though is that so much of the history of art (as well as contemporary work / theory) is in conflict with the christian worldview (if not directly attacking) that it seems unlikely that a strongly faith based school, with undoubtedly conservative* past and board of trustees/administration –
    *(understand i mean conservative literally, they seek to conserve the status of the school, not to change, not conservative as in the left/right dichotomy in this case that is irrelevant)
    -would really give the appropriate freedom to its faculty / art dept. to tackle those issues honestly and progress with the artworld to stay relevant. If they did are they willing to hire the sort of faculty who have despite disagreements invested the time in being conscious and educated on all realms of art.

    so why not a christian BA followed by a christian MFA

    -because though all schools are different.. some likely better than others with this. The BA probably isn’t giving you as rounded of an education on art as you might expect from other types of good schools w/ a BFA. (though christian schools can be great academic institutions for the liberal arts and general education)

    If nothing else they are unable to offer as many courses, which hurts, and usually have 2 or less AH faculty my guess is that at most schools neither of them deal with anything close to contemporary art (because the schools need broad applicable faculty that don’t specialize and cover lots of ground)

    So if you jump from that into 2 or 3 years of specialized study at a MFA (where in some ways you aren’t there to learn, but to do research toward your thesis. Learning happens but not the same.

    You will likely find that in many cases you have a deficiency somewhere (history, technical, theory, general experience in the presence of art/critique etc..)

    a liberal arts BA is maybe 40-50 art credits (many of which were probably guided/independant studies to save the school money

    an art school or public school kid will have a BFA and close to 70-90 credits of art usually including 15+ AH and have been forced to sit through many visiting contemporary artist lectures…..

    So you show up for your MFA and are either (in my case) forced to catch up quickly because you are a year behind and finding out about artists/ movements that were not made aware to you in AH or Critique

    At a Christian MFA, i would assume (i think safely) most of your students will come in with a christian undergrad BA some w/ a BFA. and so will be on a more level playing field (yields less diversity) and not feel as though they have as much if any catching up to do.

    I’m projecting my own assumptions i realize that.. but the lack of diversity of thought / among students seems troubling to me…

    in my program we have 13ish MFA Candidates from varying states and types of schools, i don’t know them all very personally yet (just got many new ones, but i know atleast 4 or 5 are christians. It doesn’t have to be that all art kids in public schools are godhaters) My work is very much centered around my beliefs and the church and I have not been outcast because I am playing by the rules… defend your work by intellectual means as it is a UNIVERSITY…

    I find it frustrating when students that want to make work that has no academic framework or precedent and wish to obtain an MFA or BFA for that matter which is not a sign of artistry but an academic degree. This applies both to christian school kids who’s defense of thier work is only that jesus loves them and that is enough, and art school kids who’s defense is that this is trendy/looks cool, or i want to make work about sex because my mom isn’t here or i’m on drugs etc.

    either way there are short falls but the bottom line is that it is an academic endevor and if your final goal is to make “devotional art” then make it but you needn’t get an MFA…

    After all of this writing i didn’t set out to do… What I aim to say is that though i can understand why it is frustrating to you that christian schools don’t offer an MFA but require one to teach… it doesn’t make any sense… they don’t offer most of the degrees that they require to teach. My personal opinion is that if you are called to teach then consider 2 or 3 years in a “secular” MFA a long term missions trip. Then get a job teaching…

    You will then find the real problem is that Though you need an MFA to teach… thousands of people already have MFA’s and can’t get jobs.

    The market is over-saturated, so what we really need is less MFA Programs not more!

    • pcNielsen says:

      Many good points you make that I don’t feel the need to respond to, suffice it to say that the only reason I’ve ever considered an MFA is to teach. While it does have some value outside of that context, it’s certainly not worth the cost (unless, as in your case, the cost is severely mitigated).

      My own reasoning for wanting an MFA from a Christian U was not so much to avoid a public school (I have heard of other people’s experiences being very much like the Art School Confidential model, but min was not). My BFA work was done at a public university. I was not averse to the experience. What I wanted was an environment, however, that pushed me to further combine my faith and work in a sound intellectual manner. Not a fluffy devotional one.

  20. Tshaffer says:

    I hope that as CIVA and other organizations start to play a larger roll in christian art departments, the stereotypical fluff will disappear and be replaced with the sort of thing you speak of.

    My alma mater (which i hate to divulge because i’ve been so critical) Asbury College is holding a conference on the arts and faith this fall and I am proud that in terms of that issue they are doing fine things.

    you should google the conference they may have some things online and @ you can view my work Eleven megachurches which is hanging in conjunction with the confrence at AC right now…

    i enjoy your blog, and take care

  21. David says:

    Regent University offers two MFA programs.

    An MFA in Acting .

    An MFA in Cinema-Television with majors in Directing, Producing, or Script and Screenwriting .

  22. M says:

    Great thread. Azusa Pacific just created a BFA in cinematic arts. So, there’s some progress.

    As a Christian college professor with an MFA from a secular institution, I have dealt with the issue closely. My perception is that most of what we refer to as “Christian” colleges here are actually evangelical in culture. Protestants and evangelicals do not have a history of participation in the visual arts — they are very comfortable with writing and any music before 1900. But that’s about it for the arts. Only very recently has it even become acceptable to study, much less create visual art. So, the cultural problem is the key issue. The fallout is that there are few existing faculty or administrators with any clue about what art is, much less who to hire, what to teach, etc.

    Having said that, APU just created the first BFA in cinematic arts at an evangelical institution. Perhaps, once that gets going, MFAs will follow. BFAs or MFAs will always be very closely related to contemporary arts — music, theater, film, etc. And due to the anti-intellectual climate among evangelicals in relationship to popular arts, it is very difficult to create a program that appeals to a student who takes popular culture and the arts seriously. I firmly believe, if you build it, they will come. It’s a question of which institution wants to enroll a lot of students paying private tuition first. This is the biggest unmet need in Christian higher education. And it shows just how out of touch current Christian administrators and faculty are with the world into which they send students.

    • Kristen says:

      I ran into this post while searching for a Christian MFA program, so I thought I’d leave this comment in case you are still interested in finding a Christian MFA program.
      I am a junior at Azusa Pacific University and I am currently working on earning my BFA in Visual Art (which they just got recently) with an emphasis in Sculpture. APU also recently got an MFA in Visual Arts that is accredited by NASAD and WASC.
      Here’s a link to the website for the BFA.
      And here’s a link for the MFA
      The Art Department is my favorite thing about APU, and the faculty is top notch. The professors have a strong commitment to their faith and the growth of their students, artistically and spiritually. I highly recommend the program to any Christian who is serious about living out their faith as an artist.

  23. You are very funny. Thanks for the post. I only want my degree to tech as well, and it’s interesting how christian colleges require a MFA but don’t offer it themselves. I thought of just getting my MFA and then just getting a grad certificate from Moody here in Chicago, what’s your take?

  24. lisa martin says:

    I am trying to get my MFA at a christian university in Ceramics- it is difficult!

  25. n says:

    Hi Paul,

    I clicked on your link to flickr but it is not available in my area. Is there another way I can get to it?

    N. Wu

  26. I’ve just committed to pursue an MFA at Azusa Pacific. Is there anyone out there that can give pointers to the program, good, bad, or ugly?

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