Personal Thoughts on a PhD

BC asked me in the comments section if I’m thinking about doing a PhD. The answer is yes. But I’m a weird sort of PhD-seeker. I don’t want to be an academic first and foremost. I would love to be able to teach, but not on a full-time basis. My calling, I think, is to be a pastor, and I want to be a pastor of the type I’ve described thus far this week: an intellectual pastor, one who seeks to engage the thought and practices of the culture.

I can see great benefit to doing a PhD, and I’m currently thinking through where to aim in my prospect. For a wannabe pastor, a seminary education seems good, but a secular program may also be of use and benefit. Right now, my wife and I are doing a good deal of praying on this matter. Hopefully, in time, we’ll find a good path to travel.

So if anyone out there has wisdom on the matter, feel free to share it. What have your PhD experiences, sacred or secular, been like? What would you counself a young man to aim for–a seminary program or a secular program? I’ll be interested to read any answers that may come. Whether you write or not, I encourage you to join me in praying that God would call out a bunch of young men to rigorously train themselves not for the sake of man’s applause, but the furtherance of the gospel in our age.

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5 Comments

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5 responses to “Personal Thoughts on a PhD

  1. Kyle

    Here’s a question (with a preamble) that I think relates to the topic of your recent blogs. This week I happened to have been listening to lots of Russell Moore lectures from the Henry Institute web site. I have been convicted by Moore’s indictment of Baptists who seek theological sophisication partly because they are embarrassed at the lack thereof among many Southern Baptists. I’ve spent a lot of time being in embarassed by my Landmark Baptist relatives and my fellow mushy Evangelicals in general.

    My question is this: As aspiring “intellectual pastors” how do we cultivate an appreciation for and an identification with the average guy in the pew without pandering to the oft misguided wants and desires of average church folk?

  2. Dad

    Owen, having not done a lot of pursuing of high degrees, I will not try to answer the which type question, but along the line of Kyle’s comment and question, I would offer this: get a degree in living, maybe with a particular interest. I suspect too many pastor have not been where many of their sheep are. Here again, I think this is where Paul’s guidelines of the overseering being someone who has a family and has a good reputation is often overlooked. He is not just talking about being a little older, he is talking about being a man who has, and some times still does, lived and made a living in the world. I have kind’a gone around this backwards in my own life, but find that there is a very rich field out there in very day life, if we are not just mindlessly living through it longing for some sheep to lead some day. What I am getting at is not so much that we need to experience some of the pains of life, God may grant that to any number of pastors as well. What I am trying to say is that not a lot of pastors have a world view that shows a Biblical/intellectual understanding of living in the world, but not being of the world. Of living in the levels of submission (not just suffering) that Peter speaks of in 1 Peter.

    Maybe some advanced degree may address some of these issues, but I think a pastor does well to come across with a little dirt upon his hands, sweat upon his brow, and an honest statement of “I’ve been thinking about that!” (Meaning, where you are in your life, and you are wondering why God has planted you where you are, and you want to be a light, . . . is there a better answer than just to hand out tracts, can we teach the sheep to do what they are doing, be who they are, for the glory of God, whether it be in a high and lofty position or in being a ‘no body’?

    Well, end of long thoughts, didn’t mean to rattle on so.

    Al (not Owen’s dad or that other “Al” either, but hopefully a servant of the Lord who knows the Master he serves and bit of how to please Him where he is right now.)

  3. blake white

    Hey man, keep me updated on the places you are considering.

  4. Adam

    O –

    It was good to see you for coffee today. We should actually get together at a time when we don’t intend to study. Talking with you is always profitable.

    I think Kyle has a good point – how can you connect with the lay person? Having a PhD doesn’t hinder any connections, unless if you’re in rural Tennessee, which I don’t see happening. More theological education is better because for a few years you are invovled in analytical thinking about the current issues in theology. The SBC’s problem isn’t pastors with doctors but pastors who read church growth material. Any MDiv graduation from Southern will have an intellectual advantage, I think, to deal with the theological issues at hand in the local church. The PhD would allow you to be invovled in the public forum, whether it be blogging, writing to the newspaper, or debating college professors.

    On whether or not to go to a secular school, I think it depends on what you want to study. Certainly if you want to do systematics or biblical theology, you won’t find an evangelical and reformed advisor at state universities. History could be an option at a secular school. Think of Greg Wills, Michael and Mark. There are baptist issues that need to be explored academically and a secular school could provide that option of study. You could study the languages at a secular school, but your theological presuppositions will be challenged everywhere you go. If you’re not wanting to teach, secular schools will have a difficult time accepting you whether you want to do languages or history. We both know guys having a difficult time getting into secular PhD departments simply because the MDiv is frowned upon as a degree.

    On what to study, I do have a few thoughts. The languages help if your wanting to do biblical theology. Studying the uses of infinitives is not beneficial for the pastor. There are plenty of areas in systematic that need to be explored, especially with gender issues, ecclesiology, and anything we can do to destroy dispensationalism always helps :-)
    Baptist history would be extremely helpful if you’re wanting to stay in the SBC. Think about breaking ground on baptism issues in 17th c. England, or elders in baptist life, etc. Somebody needs to fix our understanding of congregationalism real soon.

    Anyway, those are my humble thoughts. I’d give you my paper topic for baptist history, but I don’t want you to take it ;-)

  5. Adam

    O –

    Your dad, as well, has a good point about having a working man’s job. I forgot to mention that. Working as a manager at S’bux would be what I’d do. There is a practical wisdom we get from living in the shoes of the normal working man.

    Take care, AE.

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