The Paroikos Bible Blog exists as a resource to those interested in Biblical studies and Koine Greek. It is hoped that this blog will simultaneously provide food-for-thought to the reader while pointing him or her in the direction of valuable resources, both in print and on the internet, that will further help his or her studies in the Word.

Feb 5, 2015

For those thinking they might be interested in a doctorate . . .

The internet abounds in advice for prospective doctoral students in Biblical studies, and some books are bouncing around out there as well (see, for example, the fine work by Nijay Gupta, Prepare, Succeed, Advance). Nevertheless, a couple of conversations I've had with students lately have convinced me to add my own two cents to the mix (keep in mind, dear reader, every experience is different, and my perspective is necessarily colored by my educational background!).

Background--I am very fortunate and blessed. I'm not the brightest bulb in the chandelier, and Theological German totally humbled me, but nevertheless I graduated with a Ph.D. in New Testament at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary under scholar David Alan Black, had my dissertation published by Wipf&Stock, and today am teaching some bright young kids [can I call them that? Sounds weird, I'm only 34] at a Bible college.

Before we get started, please understand that a Ph.D. (at least in the States) is, minimum, a 3-year degree, but more likely a 4-5 year degree. I took 5 years for mine: 2-3 for the classwork, over half a year for comps and prospectus, and roughly 2 and a half for actually researching and writing my dissertation--I was slowed down a bit by deciding to re-write my prospectus, but that actually worked out for the better.

First of all, pray and seek the Lord's will--I happen to hold to the audacious idea that the Lord actually cares what we do with our life, and that he will lead and direct us. At the very least, we should avoid boasting "Tomorrow I will go to such-and-such a school, write a killer dissertation that rocks the scholarly world, and gain many accolades!" Such an attitude is simply asking for trouble (James 4:13-17). For myself, I began seriously praying about the Lord's will in a teaching career somewhere around my junior year in college. From there on out, the Lord providentially directed me down the right path, for which I am grateful.

Secondly, give heed to your grades. For most of us, our grades probably get better as we go along (studying the subjects we wish to study!). It should go without saying, however, that if you are only getting consistent B's in an MA or M.Div., you need to seriously buckle down and work harder. A "B" is frowned on in doctoral studies (though not unforgivable). At Southeastern, a "C"would result in a meeting, and a second "C" resulted in an automatic dismissal, as I recall. So if you're struggling with getting top-notch grades in either college or grad school (especially the latter), I have just one question for you: "If the footman tire you, what of the horseman?"

Thirdly, schools matter (but not as much as you might think): I went to a small independent Baptist college, then a very small (but accredited) independent Baptist seminary, and by the Lord's grace was able to study under some of the top New Testament scholars at one of the largest Protestant seminaries in America for a Ph.D. Now, I teach at a small independent Baptist Bible college that is not accredited; nevertheless, I work with some bright young souls who love Jesus and for whom a doctorate might open up special avenues of ministry. On the one hand, accreditation matters (I was asked point-blank about my school's accreditation when applying at Southeastern), yet nevertheless it is not the ultimate decision-maker. A good friend of mine is research assistant to a top NT scholar, yet only had TRACS accreditation [which is usually not too highly regarded], though he did have a Th.M. (which helped). One of my old profs did not have an accredited degree, but was accepted to Trinity's doctoral program on the second attempt after putting together a killer application which included, if I remember correctly, a state senator for a reference! (he defended successfully and has taught for 20+ years).

Having said that, to get into a top-tier school such as Duke or Princeton, you will need more than a degree from "Bubba Himes' Backyard Seminary and Garage Sale," no matter how good your referents! In some cases, you might have to be willing to take an extra MA from your target institution just to qualify. A lot of it will depend on denominational affiliation and contacts. Once again, if the Lord desires you to get a Ph.D., he will direct.

If you feel that your M.A. or M.Div. will not be adequate to get you into a good doctoral program (i.e., something other than "Bubba Himes' "Pay-me-by-credit-card-online-and-write-on-a-bunch-of-stuff then-print-out-your-degree" seminary), then consider pursuing a thesis-based Th.M. from a different school to increase the chances of being accepted. This will introduce you to higher-level research while significantly beefing up your application. A Th.M., from what I understand, will probably take 2 years though is doable in less (a year for classwork and a year for writing).

Fourthly, be well read. You should not be considering pursuing a Ph.D. in New Testament if you don't know anything about the Verbal Aspect Theory debate. If the Gospels are your passion, make sure you know who B. H. Streeter and J. Griesbach are. Don't expect to study theology at the highest level if you've never cracked open Karl Barth. As a side-note, you should be pouring in a lot of energy into the original languages (at least for Biblical studies majors)--my entrance exam for Southeastern involved sight-translating a passage in Greek and parsing every verb, with no helps at all.

Fifthly, study the schools, and be familiar with the major movers and shakers within each school. Before stepping foot on Southeastern, I had read material by Black, Robinson, and Andreas Kostenberger (and after I got there I was influenced by the other scholars). Do not even think about applying to Duke unless you know who Richard Hayes is (and have read some of his material). If you wish to study New Testament or Greek at Dallas, be thoroughly familiar with the work of both Daniel Wallace and Darrell Bock (among others). Know the strengths of each school--for many, Westminster Theological Seminary is the school of choice for apologetics. Trinity and Wheaton are probably well-balanced in all areas. I felt Southeastern had fantastic opportunities in New Testament (Greek, Biblical Theology, and Textual Criticism), which is why I applied there. If you wish to study Dispensational Theology, then Dallas is probably your best choice. You should also be considering European schools and their strengths (though with a somewhat different model of study--others, including my Doktorvater--blog about this, and they know more than I do)

However, with that in mind, please know that it's the scholar, not the school. At the doctoral level, you must decide who you wish to study under and why! For me, my targets were always either Dr. David Alan Black or Dr. Maurice Robinson. I was privileged to work under both of them: I had Dr. Black as my Doktorvater, and I worked as grader and occasional substitute teacher for Dr. Robinson. Nevertheless, ultimately I was applying to study under a person, first and foremost (though the sad irony is that I never actually got to take a class under Dr. Black, other than official mentorship; nevertheless, what I got was better than a class).

One more small point--have a solid financial plan! I didn't, and it hurt me in the long run (though--news flash!--the Lord always provides and keeps me from starving!)

For those with more questions, feel free to e-mail me, and I'll try to assist from my limited perspective. Hopefully, in the future I'll post on actually surviving the doctoral program itself.

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