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7 Responses to Recent advice on PhD studies (in theology and biblical studies)

  1. I understand where Piper’s coming from on this issue, and I think it’s a noble point, but I also think he’s flat-out wrong. His hypothetical, biblically immersed PhD program is exactly what an MDiv program should be. The real shame is that most MDiv programs don’t have enough Biblical Studies in them. If they had enough, pastors wouldn’t need to contemplate whether or not a PhD would help them.

    Here’s another issue. Piper is thoroughly reformed. As one of my reformed friends (from the Dutch-reformed tradition) tells me, American reformed types display a certainty that everyone else is wrong about every single issue. I share this perspective even though I’m a somewhat reformed Baptist myself (I can be self-critiquing!). For Piper to act like PhD programs don’t have anything to offer in the area of “Bible” comes across as hubris. What he means is, “They don’t teach what I believe, so they’re worthless.” All the PhD programs I know put an emphasis on knowing the history of one’s field. So, as an OT guy, it’s expected that I know how OT studies has been shaped over the centuries. Same for NT folks.

    It’s like this. The discipline of Biblical Studies is pretty old. It’s comprised of lots of conversations, and anyone who steps into this conversation today is a Johnny-come-lately. It’s insane to think we should even speak up if 1.) we don’t any of the previous content of or previous dialogs in the conversation, or 2.) we don’t even understand how the conversation has shaped our own perspectives. There’s more to Biblical Studies than just studying the Bible. We all have theories, methods, presuppositions, etc. that we bring to the table. Anyone with a PhD has the responsibility to know where his or her field has been and where it’s at today.

    So, I humbly disagree with His Very Reverend Piper on this one. Everything he says about the ideal PhD program should be applied to MDiv programs. PhD programs should include so much more.

  2. Agreed. Piper seems to indicate a presuppositional pragmatic bias in terms of study versus the piece of paper and what the paper provides for you in terms of ‘payoff’. Sometimes, the ‘junk’ helps one to identify what ‘work’ is out in the Christian world. As a pastor (who is contemplating and praying about PhD work), I have gleaned great insight in reviewing (i.e. skimming) different positions that I may disagree. Understanding and previewing other opinions different than my own allows me to be somewhat prepared when some of my members have questions.

    Recently, I approached (by email) a Godly Spiritual mentor and academic professor on this very issue. His response: “As far as teaching goes . . . I’ve gotten where I rarely encourage those who want to teach to do so as a professor. I encourage them to do so in the pastorate instead as the greatest need the church has today is for scholarly pastors who do expository preaching and teach. Few students seem to want to go into the pastorate anymore for some reason. But ultimately you’ll want to do what God wants and follow where he leads.” Therefore, his recommendation to pursue God’s direction and leadership in being called to work towards PhD work.

    As a pastor, continues education and training is important. As one serving in full time ministry for close to 7 years, I am constantly learning new concepts in regards to church leadership as well as Biblical conversations. If God so calls, PhD would continue the importance of continuous education as well as developing one into a scholarly pastor and teacher in shepherding one’s flock.

    • Good thoughts, Mike & Stephen. My two cents: MDiv programs are long enough, so I wouldn’t suggest lengthening them. But I think most of these programs could stand to shift program ‘weight’ to the biblical studies classes. Internships or related programs can provide the education that classes like “pastoral theology” or “church administration” provide (I’m stepping on some toes for sure). Ideally, our churches should provide much of the practical training that takes place in our seminaries. Even in the best cases, I still see a need for the languages and in-depth biblical studies courses to be offered by seminaries where professors can spend the necessary amount of time it takes for preparation and teaching of such classes. (I suppose, though, there are pastors equipped to do this very thing, but I doubt that most pastors have the time–and understandably so.) In this scenario, the PhD would rarely be necessary for pastors to be better pastors. With a good foundation in biblical studies, a person ought to be equipped to study for himself. Teach a man to fish, right?

      Having said that, I’m an associate pastor in a PhD program, and I’m finding my studies fruitful for academic research AND ministry. But then again, I’m not studying in M√ľnich, Germany like Piper did!

  3. Good thoughts, guys. You both gave me things to think about. Good discussion. I tend to agree that MDiv programs are plenty long already, but I have to admit, my friend from the Dutch-Reformed tradition did about 150 hrs for his MDiv, and it shows. He generally outclasses me (though humbly and not intentionally) in theology, church history, biblical studies, etc. But your right, even if we keep it at 90 hrs (give or take), it seems “Bible” is sort of light (?). Good points.

  4. Hello guys,

    Having a Phd (or MA or BA or AA or any degree) is not a requirement to receive the gift of pastor. In fact, the Bible teaches that God is the giver of theses gifts (see Eph 4 v 11). ‘Pastor’ is not a position or office to be coveted by man, instead, it is one of the equipping gift that God Himself gives to those He choose.

    Moreover, why is the focus of obtaining some form of formal education qualification always attributed to those who desire to become a ‘Pastor’? Why are the other equipping positions (which they are not position, but again gifts from God) not focused on like pastor?

    I think men has distorted God’s plan for His Church, which is a living organism, and has replaced it with their concept of an organization. Thus, they have some how developed a hierarchical structure for the church, which has a ‘Pastor’ at the top (like a CEO of a company) and everyone else (which includes: Prophets, Apostles, Evangelist and Teachers) are subjected to him (or her in some of the organizations) instead of everyone being subjected to Christ, who is the Head of the Church.

    God’s plan is that we all are members of the body of Christ, who is the Head, and that He will gift us with what we are supposed to do for His honour and glory – not us deciding upon what we would like to do, or someone else telling us that we should go do this or that because they feel something.

    Apostles, Prophets, Evangelist, Pastors, and Teachers are gifts, not positions, therefore, you cannot study to become one of these because when God gave someone a gift, that person is already what God made them. Then that person would function as the organ he/she was made to be in the body of Christ (church universal, which gathers as groups in various places).

    Furthermore, there are several other gifts besides the equipping gifts (such as healing, helps, etc.), should one need a formal education or some degree to become a Healer or a Helper? Again, these gifts are given by God, and the bearer of the gift would be used by God to touch those who are in the body of Christ by functioning in his/her gift.

    Please be reminded that no organ (or body part) is more important than the next, hence no need for a man made hierarchical structure where a single man (Senior Pastor, Pastor or whatever title he carries) is at the top, and everyone better listen to him, whether or not he is in alignment with God’s Holy Word. In fact, when God outlined leadership amongst our earthly gatherings, He specified that it should be pluralistic, not singular. Therefore, He said that there should be Elders (plural), which are not the same as Pastors, because again ‘pastor’ is one of the equipping gift, not a position, whereas, when the Bible referred to Elder, it referenced an office.

    Moreover, the Bible clearly stated the qualifications of an Elder, (1 Tim 3, and Tit 1), which did not include having a degree from a University or Seminary.

    Finally, the Bible did admonish us to study the Word to show ourselves approved, workmen of God, rightly dividing the Word of God. Additionally, the Word of God told us that His Spirit is going to lead us into all truth. Therefore, if studying at a formal institution aids us with understanding the Word of God better so that we would be able to grow closer to Him and also help us with teaching God’s truth to others, then we (not ‘Pastors’ only, but every born again child of God) should pursue this; however, if pursuing studies at a formal institution is just about becoming a qualified ‘Pastor’ (man made version), then end the pursuit. Then after ending the pursuit, pursue God with all your heart to find out what He has gifted you with, and then function in your gift throughout the body of Christ for God’s glorification.

    PS: Hope I made sense to Joshua Mann, John Piper, Stephen, Mike, and all who may read my comment. Please respond. Thank you and may you find God in His fullest as you discuss, study, and pray. God bless!!

    • Dear “visitor,”
      There are a few different views you’ll find in this post and in the comments, but it seems you’ve lumped them together. I don’t think anyone was arguing that a pastor *must* receive a degree to be a pastor. For the most part, I think the position against which you are arguing is not taken by anyone cited in the post or participating in the comments.

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