Extremely Helpful Thoughts on Whether or Not You Should Do a PhD as a Christian

Extremely Helpful Thoughts on Whether or Not You Should Do a PhD as a Christian July 9, 2008

Following a link from Justin Taylor, I found this blog post by Regent’s John Stackhouse extremely helpful in evaluating the often confounding question of whether one should do a PhD. The article targets evangelical students who are (primarily) considering a PhD as preparation for academic ministry, but it is so broad and trenchant that it will be of great help to young Christians considering the PhD as a means of preparation for ecclesial ministry.

I will be blogging on this in the future, when my thoughts are more developed on the subject, but right now, let me quote a section of the piece that will be of particular interest to consumed readers (all should read this, including pastors, so that even if one is not personally considering this matter, one can give good counsel on it):

• “Do I feel I have gifts in scholarship and teaching? Do I feel inwardly moved by the Holy Spirit to pursue the Ph.D. as part of a calling to study and teach? How do I know this is the Holy Spirit?

• How has this calling been confirmed by others and by experience? What does my Christian community think? Would this decision have the enthusiastic endorsement of those closest to me, who know me best?

• How might I serve the Church and the Kingdom of God better with a Ph.D. than without one?

• The Ph.D. is the requirement for most postsecondary teaching positions, but have I considered whether God has gifted and called to teach and research in some other sphere? Have I fully explored my motives, and am I satisfied that I am not interested in a Ph.D. simply to prove something to somebody or to myself, to flee some other situation, or for other unsound reasons? None of our motives is ever entirely pure or unmixed with other motives, but how deep is my self-knowledge about my desire to do a Ph.D.?”

This is tremendously good fruit for thought. Again, read the whole piece, particularly if you are mulling this question over in your mind. I’m encouraged to see a theologian like Stackhouse (and historical theologian Sean Lucas) tackling in a meaningful, practical way hard questions like this which confront students in a highly professionalized (meant in a neutral way) era.

I’ll close with this (which I have said before): we need more scholarly pastors. This is the model of ministry that I’m really focused on in my life, and I hope to see many more catch the same vision and invest their time and energy in excellent, thorough, mentally stimulating preparation for ministry such that God’s pastors would lead their churches not simply with evangelistic zeal, personal warmth, and administrative wisdom, but exceptional intellectual ability sufficient to function in the truest sense as theologian-pastors leading people into the glories of biblical teaching.

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