Tuesday, March 15, 2011

More Random Thoughts on PhD Work in Divinity

I constantly wrestle with myself concerning earning a PhD or not. There are days I just feel it in my bones: I have to do deeper research! I just love to do the research! Then there are days where I read scholarly articles and I am simply turned off: I really want to spend my days researching minutia? I'd rather die!

Tonight, as I was doing further research into earning a PhD (how many times have I gone through the same articles?), I stumbled across a discussion board where a guy mentioned someone should seriously start considering doing PhD work when earning his M.Div. No doubt.

But PhD work is quite a bit different here in the U.S. than it is overseas. Overseas you are required to write a dissertation; that's it. Here in the U.S. you obviously have to do further coursework. Of course, many people opt to do their PhD work overseas for that exact reason.

Which leads me to this question: after earning an M.Div, is someone really prepared to tackle a PhD without further coursework? Another question: how cutting edge can research be by someone who only has an M.Div?

No doubt I went to school with some brilliant guys who are now doing M.Div work and who will no doubt go on for PhD work. That is great. But then I read books by guys like G.K. Beale and their knowledge is vast--literally overwhelmingly so. Often times, these guys will cite their PhD students who contributed significantly to an area of research. If you gave me the next five years of my life, I could not break ground in the areas that some of their PhD students do.

Which leads me to a few interesting possibilities on my part: 1) I am not really motivated enough to make any real lasting contribution to the field of theology. 2) I am not smart enough to make any lasting contribution to the field of theology and 3) my M.A program is so inept that I am immensely undereducated compared to these guys.

Truth be told, I think it is a combination of the three factors listed above. I am not really motivated to make any real contribution. I mean, I get excited by ideas and philosophy and theology and how they merge together. I like reading...alot. But when it comes time to write and comes time to really hammer out and be nuanced in discussions concerning theology on that level...nah. I'll pass and watch "That 70's Show." Pathetic? Yeah. But some days I just feel like I have better stuff to do.

Second, I don't really think I am smart enough to contribute to the field of theology that way. I mean, I'm not stupid. I read and show an active interest in theology. I can put together (mostly) coherent thoughts. I have had professors urge me to pursue further research. But over the years, I have met truly brilliant people. I went to college with four in particular. Perfect to near perfect G.P.A's. One in particular is thriving at a major seminary and reads more than I could ever dream of reading. I look at him and then I look at me and I think, "Now THAT guy can do a PhD!"

Third, my M.A. program is from Liberty online. It is good. I love doing it. I am learning and really enjoying working on my own schedule. It fits perfectly for me as I am a full-time youth pastor. It has obvious deficiencies though. I have, over the course of several months, collected syllabi from other seminaries (RTS, Covenant, Fuller) and their reading and course work is MUCH more extensive than my own. What is nice is that at least two of the above seminaries offer free courses (not for credit) so I can make up deficiencies (which doesn't help a lick getting into a PhD program). On a practical level, I praise God that seminaries are offering their material for free so that the kingdom of God can be advanced. However, all of this is to say that Liberty is not the best choice if you are planning on doing advanced coursework (something I already knew before going into Liberty).

I have wrestled with these options so many times it has annoyed everyone around me. One day I am pro-PhD while the next day I am so apathetic and almost hostile to the idea. I think the real issues can be boiled down to the following:

1) I want the degree but don't want to do the papers necessary to earn the degree.

2) I don't want to waste my life in school.

3) I think I would hate my life for the time I was enrolled in PhD work.

4) The investment/benefit ratio of earning a PhD drops every year. Long story short: unless you have the right degree from the right school having studied under the right professor, you probably won't be teaching. The field is absolutely flooded with PhD students. Which leads me to the question: why the heck do it? If I knew there existed a shortage of professors, then yeah I might do it. But my buddy Jacob informed me that guys studying at Wheaton were coming out and were unable to get jobs. If those dudes can't get jobs, I, Daniel Pandolph, with my Liberty M.A.R (and whatever other degrees I would need to get into a moderately decent PhD program) have no shot. That isn't pessimism. That is realism.

5) I question the value of trying to break new ground in my field of expertise. This thought, actually, came to me via Norman Geisler's awesome article "Beware of Philosophy". Near the end of the article he states that theology students need to fight the temptation of being original (though PhDs basically force the student to be--something that Geisler finds ironic).

6) The amount of work necessary to break any sort of ground is exhausting to think about. Not only so but the fact is that whatever ground I would break would likely be overturned by someone smarter. This is starting to sound like Ecclesiastes but I think that there is something to be said here. Realistically, the sharpest guys with the best resources are the ones who break the most ground in theology. However, I love A.W. Tozer who was not original but was absolutely brilliant. No education. Smart as a whip. Influenced my life more than any scholar ever has or ever will.

7) The thought of engaging in further language study makes me sick to my stomach. I paid my dues in Greek--five semesters. I tackled one semester of Hebrew before I thought to myself "Eh. I'll wait till seminary to get my Hebrew." Well...my seminary doesn't offer Hebrew online. But truth be told, I question the overall value of learning it anyway. No doubt I am a sharper exegete for learning Greek. But the level it predominately impacts is my preaching. I cannot hold a candle to Bible translators and linguists. The fact is, the amount of work needed to be TRULY proficient in Greek and Hebrew is beyond what most PhD guys achieve. The reason for this is that they cite (like I do in my papers) Wallace, Bauer and others. My point? We are all drawing from the same sources. Why? Well, I can't speak for them but as for me, I still struggle with looking at Greek and saying "Oh. That is an attributive genitive." Also, for my final semester in Greek I parsed and translated all of Revelation. Do you know how it read? Basically like the ESV. I say all of this to simply state, the language requirements are sickening to think about.

8) The above point reminds me of another language related issue: learning two research languages. German and French? French and Latin? Latin and German? Syriac and German? Coptic and Sandscrit? Pick your poison! What about Aramaic (an essential now that Second-Temple literature is exploding)? Um. No. How about ordering pizza and watching a movie with Hayley instead? Sounds perfect.

9) Cost and time. Simply put, I don't have the money to do it. When would I work on my paper? I will have a wife to support! And I love my job as a youth minister--although it takes up a huge amount of time. I have a buddy who is a youth pastor and is working on his PhD from Southern. Kudos to him. I don't know how he does it. I don't have the time.

10) Relationships or paper? For any PhD guys out there who read this and think I am being a jerk to you guys, I am sorry. I mean nothing offensive by this statement--but I feel daily the burning need to minister to people who are in deep pain. I feel daily the need to stay in ministry although it is often painful and laborious. I feel daily the need to guard the sheep against false teaching that comes down the tubes. I reject the stupid antithesis that pastors cannot be as sharp as professors. I, for one, want to be a smart, educated pastor who knows theology, philosophy, and the Bible backwards, forwards and upside-down.

However, I am unconvinced that I could earn a PhD and still minister effectively to a church. I feel like I would be betraying my call if I were to work on a paper rather than love whatever church I am in to the fullest extent of my abilities. I realize some might criticize me and say that academics is a form of love and we each have different callings. I won't argue with that. I just know for me personally it feels a bit like I would be wasting my time.

11) Of course there is that side of me that asks, "Are you giving up on your dream, you little pansy?" I don't like being called a pansy so I frequently lash back at this side of me saying, "NO!" Then I realize how unstable I feel and realize PhD work is probably not a good option for those suffering from mild insanity. ;-)

So I say all of this to lead me to this simple point: I still have no clue what to do. Like I said, there are days PhD work seems so awesome. Other days, it makes me wanna die. Today, I have swung between those to poles about three times.

In the end, I believe God is sovereign and has set me exactly where I need to be. I don't doubt that the choices I have made, despite some peoples' disapproval, has brought me to the place God intended. For that I rejoice. And I know that regardless of where I end up, it will be far better than I ever dreamed.

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