FAQ - Exploring the Bible: The Dickinson Series

What is The Dickinson Series?

Who recognizes this certificate?

What are the course components?

Who is the target audience?

Who is responsible for the creation of  the course materials?

How will these courses be administered and by whom?

Will it be available online?

What is the theological point of view presented in the materials?

What is the timeline for development?

Will the material be published and widely available?

What is The Dickinson Series?

The Dickinson Series: Exploring the Bible is a series of four, six-week courses and a concluding conference that leads to a certificate in biblical literacy at the end of one year.  Other sets of courses may be added later.

Who recognizes this certificate?

The Massachusetts Bible Society is applying for certification from the International Association for Continuing Education and Training (IACET).  As an Approved Provider with IACET, we will be recognized by a broad range of professional and educational organizations and will be able to offer Continuing Education Units (CEUs) for this program and for other educational opportunities we offer.

We are also in conversation with Andover Newton Theological School to develop a means of student referral to our program when they determine that a potential student needs a better biblical foundation to begin classes.  It is our intention to work with other seminaries in the same way.

What are the course components?

(The names of these courses may change as they are more fully developed, but this is a fair representation of the content) 

I. What Is the Bible?  A broad overview of the Bible, including chapters on how to select a Bible suitable for your needs, how the Bible is organized, how the collection of books that comprise the Bible were chosen, different ways that people approach the text, and what archaeology has to tell us about the text and its stories.

II. Introducing the Old Testament.  A look at the best-known stories, most influential passages, and unforgettable characters that comprise the Old Testament.  What are the primary themes and narratives?  What are the characteristics of ancient Hebrew literature and the mindset of people in the ancient Near East?

III. Introducing the New Testament.  Similar in scope to the Introduction to the Old Testament, with some attention to other works—including gospels, letters, and other writings—that were not included in the New Testament but that were important in the early church.

IV. The Bible in Context.  A look at the culture and historical events surrounding the various times of the biblical narrative.  Looking into biblical professions, economies, and politics as well as the ways that events, invasions, science, and culture in other parts of the world have had an impact on the biblical texts.

The Dickinson Series Conference.  Each Spring, the Massachusetts Bible Society hosts the Dickinson Series Conference at a location in Massachusetts.  This multi-day event includes lectures by scholars and teachers and workshops by religious leaders who bring expertise in specific biblical topics to complement the basics learned in the four courses.  At the conclusion of the conference, certificates are awarded to those who have completed the series and enrollment opens for the next year.  The conference also contains time for social interaction and entertainment.

Completion Time Frame.  The courses are designed so that a certificate can be obtained within one year.  This would entail finding a group that would do two courses in the fall, two in the spring, and then attend the conference. 

We recognize, however, that such a compressed time frame may not be possible for all students.  With that in mind, your initial enrollment fee is good for five years.  If you still have not completed the program in that time, you may for a small additional fee, extend your enrollment for up to two years.  Enrollment fees are forfeited if the certificate is not obtained within seven years and must be paid in full again if a student wants to continue.

Although enrollment fees would need to be paid again to continue past seven years, any courses fully completed may be carried beyond the seven years as long as the materials used for your course are still the current materials.  If the materials you used have been revised since you took it, you will need to do the course with the new materials before credit can be issued. 

Who is the target audience?

We have two groups of people in mind for this series. 

The intentional or “Extra Mile” students. The first group represents those who have determined that they really want to do some work to build a strong foundation for Bible study.  They might be Christians considering seminary, people of faith who don’t know their own scriptures very well, people of other faiths who want a clearer understanding of the Christian text, or even people of no faith who recognize the cultural and geo-political influence of the Bible and want to understand it better.  The common denominator among this first group is that they want to do the whole program, including the “Extra Mile” assignments required to earn the certificate or continuing education units (CEUs).

The casual or informal learners. The second group is made up of those who might know something about the Bible but have gaps in their knowledge or those who just want to test the waters of biblical studies.  These students might want to simply take one of the four courses, attend the conference, or put together some combination of those components without doing all that is necessary to complete the certificate program.  While it’s expected that this second group will still actively participate in whatever course(s) they select, there is less work expected of them outside the group setting.

We hope each study group will consist of both casual and more intentional learners, and our design includes opportunities in class sessions for those engaging the material more deeply to share what they’ve learned with the others.

Who is responsible for the creation of the course materials? 

The Benefactor

The Dickinson Series is named in honor of its chief benefactor, Dr. Charles C. Dickinson III, a biblical scholar and long-time Trustee of the Massachusetts Bible Society.  Dr. Charles Dickinson was born in Charleston, West Virginia, on 13 May 1936; was educated there and at Phillips Academy, Andover, MA; and was graduated cum laude in religion and philosophy from Dartmouth College, Hanover, NH.  After serving 3 ½ years with the U.S. Marine Corps in the USA and Far East, he studied theology and philosophy in Chicago, Pittsburgh, West and East Germany, at Yale University and Union Theological Seminary (NY); received his B.D. (Bachelor of Divinity) and Ph.D. degrees in Pittsburgh in 1965 and 1973 respectively; and did post-doctoral study at Oxford University and Harvard Divinity School.  Dr. Dickinson has taught in Richmond VA; Kinshasa, Zaïre, Congo; Charleston, W.Va.; Rome, Italy; the Peoples’ Republic of China; Andover-Newton Theological School; and Beacon Hill Seminars. He lives with his wife JoAnne and their son John in Boston.  You can watch a video interview with Dr. Dickinson about his involvement in this Series at www.massbible.org/dickinson-series-video.

The Writer

This Series was conceived and designed by Rev. Anne Robertson, Executive Director of the Massachusetts Bible Society, who also developed and wrote the four student texts and leader’s guides.  She is the author of three books:  Blowing the Lid Off the God-Box: Opening Up to a Limitless Faith (Morehouse, 2005); God’s Top 10: Blowing the Lid Off the Commandments (Morehouse, 2006); and God With Skin On: Finding God’s Love in Human Relationships (Morehouse, 2009). Rev. Robertson is an Elder in the New England Conference of the United Methodist Church, is a winner of the Wilbur C. Ziegler Award for Excellence in Preaching and is a sought-after speaker and workshop leader.  She can be found on the web at www.annerobertson.org.

The Massachusetts Bible Society

Founded on July 6, 1809, the Massachusetts Bible Society is an ecumenical, Christian organization that has historically been a place where those across the theological spectrum of belief could unite for a common purpose.  At the beginning of its history, that purpose was simply getting a copy of the Bible into the hands of anyone who wanted one, especially those without the means or opportunity to obtain one themselves.

In more recent times, that work has been supplemented by the development of a variety of educational programs highlighting the importance of the Bible for faith, culture, history, and politics as well as the many different voices of biblical interpretation.  This Series is a significant addition to those efforts and attempts to continue the historic tradition of being a place where those across the theological spectrum can unite for a common purpose—in this case, biblical literacy. 


The Dickinson Series is made possible because you have elected to be a part of it.  While we believe the course materials are useful in and of themselves, it is the community of students and facilitators that bring those materials to life as you engage with one another in your classes and in the online forums.  Just by participating you are helping to raise the level of biblical literacy in our world.

You can ensure that this ministry continues by sending in the facilitator and student evaluations for each course, by purchasing the materials, and by telling others about The Dickinson Series.  There are also opportunities for you to provide scholarship assistance for future students, to attend training to become a facilitator, or simply to offer moral or financial support to the mission of the Massachusetts Bible Society.  Our biggest sponsor is you.

How will these courses be administered and by whom?

Obtaining Credit for Certification or CEUs

Those wishing to enroll in the certificate program or obtain CEUs for their work must fill out an application and do the work in an approved small group setting.  Those who simply work their way through the materials on their own are not eligible for credit or certification. 

Each course in the series will involve 9 hours of class time and about 15 hours of preparation outside of class. The concluding conference will be designed by the Massachusetts Bible Society and hosted at a single location.  Upon successful completion of each course, you may earn 2.5 CEUs.  To find out more or to obtain an application, go to www.massbible.org/dickinson-series-application.

The Cost

Costs will vary depending on whether you are a casual student or taking the course either for CEUs or certification. Please check our website at www.massbible.org/dickinson-series for more information, current rates, and information on discounts and scholarships.

Keeping in Touch

Go to www.massbible.org/dickinson-series to learn more or contact The Massachusetts Bible Society at 199 Herrick Rd., Newton Center, MA  02459 or admin@massbible.org.  You may also call us at 617-969-9404.

Will it be available online?

The initial courses have an online component.  In addition to exercises that entail doing some research on the internet, there are forums on the massbible.org website where those participating in courses in any location can come together, share stories, ask questions, and discuss perspectives.

What is the theological point of view presented in the materials?

In the creation of this series there are several obvious biases. 


The Bible is a book that can and should be read by individuals both inside and outside the church.


Understanding of the Bible is enhanced and deepened in conversation with others.


The tools of scholarship are not incompatible with a faithful reading of Scripture.


Diversity of opinion is both a welcome and a necessary part of any education.

Beyond those points we have tried to give an unbiased theological perspective, describing differences of opinion and scholarship in neutral terms.

Although named for and written by Christians, the Dickinson Series is designed to be an educational tool, not an evangelistic tool.  The Massachusetts Bible Society affirms that the making of Christian disciples is the job of the local church.  These materials are designed either to fit into the overall disciple-making effort of a local church or into a secular environment where people of other faiths or of no faith can gain a deeper understanding of the nature and content of the Bible.

What is the time-line for development?

The text for the first six-week course has been written and the leader’s materials are being developed.  We will pilot that course and the teacher-training process in the spring of 2012.  Our goal is to have our kick-off conference in June of 2013 with the full four courses being taught during the 2013/2014 academic year.

Will the material be published and widely available?

It looks like we have much to gain in publishing these materials ourselves through the new publishing arm of Amazon.com.  We will test this theory in the publication of the first course.  Our intent (as well as our current business model) is for the materials to be made widely available for purchase whether those buyers are enrolling in the certificate program or not.




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