by Derek Brown on January 28, 2011
About five months ago I began my doctoral coursework at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary. Approximately three months prior, I graduated with an M.Div. from the same institution. Lord willing, I will complete the program in three to four years. The question some have asked—the question I asked myself repeatedly as I approached important deadlines: application, field essays, faculty interviews—is “why?” Why a Ph.D.?
This is an important question—post-graduate studies should not to be entered into lightly. The increased intensity of the academic requirements, the unrelenting demand on one’s family, time and financial resources, and the postponement (in many cases) of entrance into one’s life-work necessitate that a person thoroughly “count the cost” of such a project long before he begins. Perhaps you are in the “contemplation stage” of the process: You have given some thought to the idea of Ph.D. studies, but you are unsure whether to forge ahead to the next step. Whatever the case, I hope these few thoughts might help you as you ponder the next step in your education.
1. To Deepen My Understanding of Scripture and of Evangelical Theology. Granted, such an endeavor will be life-long and could be accomplished without pursuing post-graduate studies, but I think there is value in being formally challenged to devote oneself to this kind of study with serious rigor. Why do people get personal trainers? Because they know that being challenged by another person pushes them well beyond what they could accomplish on their own. Why pursue a Ph.D.? Because I look forward to being challenged—by professors and fellow students—to grow broadly in my theological knowledge, to present opposing views accurately and honestly, to write with clarity and depth, and to think more thoroughly. Again, these things can be accomplished in some measure without doctoral seminars and colloquia, but I know myself well enough to realize how much I need such things to push me beyond my self-imposed limits.