D.A. Carson on doing Doctoral study

Here is a somewhat dated article by Don Carson on deciding what doctoral work to pursue that I came across on Rod Decker’s blog.   He covers all the doctoral programs offered at TEDS but that can apply to any other situation.   He could have explained the DMin program a bit better but here is a quote that impacted me:

The most strenuous degree program is the Doctor of Philosophy (or Doctor of Theology, in some institutions).  I am deeply convinced we need more people with Ph.D.’s training for our pulpits.  I’ve sometimes urged students to go to Cambridge University in England for a Ph.D in New Testament because I know Cambridge has several churches with first-class expositors-great models for students who become infected with a vision.

This type of training ( the Ph.D.) exposes you to literature and forces you to think your way through it.  A work may attempt theological synthesis and evaluation or be a detailed work on a very narrow text.  Ideally, it will train you to think. And God knows we need people who think in pastoral ministry – though many of these graduates become teachers.

I have felt this way too – that more churches need pastors with PhD’s and not folks who just get their “significant ministry experience” in and then head off to a seminary or college/univeristy somewhere to teach.   Perhaps they can teach on the side or teach right there in their own congregations!  Wouldn’t that be something?   But then again in the current “me” generation that might be too much, you know, having to deal with all the “sheeple” on a daily and weekly basis instead of hiding out in a library somehwere with our noses in a book!  I know God calls many to be professors and to worship God through their research and writing and teaching, but where are the many PhD’s God has called to lead congregations? (especially in the fellowship I am apart of)

edit: see Doug’s post about someone who thinks Bible College is unscriptural

HT: Rod Decker

se here too for more thoughts on pastors and doctoral work.  e


22 responses to “D.A. Carson on doing Doctoral study

  1. I wonder if he was speaking to an evangelical and/or baptist culture that may not have put much weight on learning at that level (forgive me if this sounds condescending or offensive – those are the quarters from whence I have heard this kind of talk). The British Methodist Church has some requirements for training, but passing all the classes isn’t necessary (using the words you mentioned about ‘experience’ being the overriding factor). Regardless, it isn’t the level of what my M.Div. was on.

    I wonder if a strong Masters programme would suffice. I’m not opposed to PhDs, it’s just a lot seem to stay on in the academy.

    Of course, my problem right now is getting any interest in studying the bible in my churches!

  2. “Of course, my problem right now is getting any interest in studying the bible in my churches!”

    That is the exact problem. The reason post-grad and even grad study is not considered as important as it used to be for a pastor, is because the lack of weight given to Bible teaching in churches. Churches care more about whether their pastor can grow the church, build and manage programs, be an effective communicator and be the church executive than they do about his ability handle and teach the Bible at the deepest level. When discussing the requirements for elders in the Pastorals Carson has often said something like “being able to teach requires that you first have something to say and then know how to say it.” (paraphrased)

  3. Sorry, I did not mean to imply that “grow the church, build and manage programs, be an effective communicator and be the church executive” are worthless, but that they are secondary to the ability to teach the Bible.

  4. That’s true Daniel – that is what the DMin is for, typically – to grow and lead churches – often folk tell me it seems the DMin would be a better fit for what I am doing when considering doctoral work – why? If it is a leadership degree can’t I just read up on the latest leadership books? I agree with you on the importance of bible teaching churches, more of it needs to be done.

    By the wy I like the looks of the PhD program at Trinity – at least on paper. My problem is I feel the need to stay where I am at the moment and can’t really leave to enter full-time PhD work so I wish there were more distance PhD programs like what is offered at Regent.

  5. Brian,
    I totally agree. The way the academy and church relationship is now a days its hard, so I dont think everyone should do a Phd. I would like to see churches or even denoms recognize HS or college guys who are gifted and have the desire and other qualifications and then support them all the way through seminary and Phd work. Its almost like going into crazy debt and pulling your hair out and worrying about your future while doing your education is a right of passage before you get into a job. Why dont churches support the young men in their churches who want to be pastors some day?

    There is an additional problem, which may be a product of the whole attitude, but I know a number of MDiv grads from many different schools who dont have the skills to faithfully teach the Bible every week.

  6. churches and denominations don’t do that because too many have been burned by that person who got part of the way through and dropped out and are not even in the ministry at all (there are not a few of these situations). I do think though the Methodists and maybe some others will help students foot the bill through to PhD work in exchange for a number of years in one of their churches.

    It’s true many an MDiv is not able to teach the Bible week in and week out – either that is not their interest or their gifting and besides the MDiv is more of an across the board degree anyways – hard to get a lot of Bible in that degree unless you really push it.

    What are your plans Daniel?

  7. I guess that one of the “first-class expositors” Carson, writing in 1993, was recommending in Cambridge was Roy Clements, then pastor of Eden Baptist Church but who “resigned from his pastoral ministry in 1999, having revealed that he is gay”. Perhaps that is a warning that pastors need more than PhDs and expository skills, they need Christian character. Do they learn that at seminary, or at a university like Cambridge?

    Now Cambridge is still an excellent place to do a PhD. Evangelicals should consider doing this based at Tyndale House, whose warden Peter Williams and research fellow Peter Head both blog at Evangelical Textual Criticism. (Then I maybe I am biased – I am an alumnus, and live only an hour away.) But I would not list its “first-class expositors” as a main reason for studying there.

  8. Brian,
    I realize that it would not be a perfect system and some would be bad apples, but there must be a better way than the way it is in most churches not the status quo that usually requires someone to go into at tens of thousands of dollars in debt.

    While I will not have a huge mountain of debt, though some, because of some generous scholarships and mostly the GI Bill, I have friends who are extremely committed to ministry and are excellent expositors who will be over $100,000 in debt after college and seminary. They will be paying that off for the rest of their lives and will have a huge impact on their family. It seems like their church or denom could allocate funds to help men and their families that want to prepare to lead and teach.

    As for my plan, I dont know yet other than to say teaching in some arena. It will depend some on finances, some on what options are presented and some on where the possiblilty of kids is in the next 2-3 years. I would love to post-grad work, but I do want a family and my wife and I are committed to her being a full-time mom when that happens. If I’m doing post-grad stuff there would be no income. But I would also love to teach in a church as a discipleship and/or education pastor or in teaching/preaching role. So I guess Im saying we’ll see.

    While I certainly agree that Christian character is absolutely a prereq to be a pastor, it is not more important than expository skills. The lack of either disqualifies someone. It seems that we have lowered our standards on both sides. Carson also talks about this when discussing the qualifications in the Pastorals, saying that outside of the ability to teach all the other requirements (minus being a new christian) are required of all Christians. Therefore an elder really has two roles, be a model and example of Christian character to the church and teach them the Bible. Both equally important.

  9. As for the Dmin, I’d say its value is dependent on how you go about it. The vast majority of my father’s Dmin work was directly connected to the church he was pastoring. And the experience of writing dissertation itself (assuming the program requires one) is something you wouldn’t be able to get from merely reading the latest books on leadership.

  10. Mike, you’re right I shouldn’t make comments like that unless I know what I am talking about. The DMin is a valid degree and serves a lot of pastors well. It is one option I am going to have to consider myself. I like the 21st Century Pastor one at GCTS. Also, I think coupled with a ThM it can make a great degree for a combo of teaching and leadership.

  11. I don’t really see how a phd would be relevant to pastoring a church especially when it’s primarily a research degree intended to prepare you for academic work or to become a professor. It seems like overkill for a pastor. Imagine making the same argument for other professions that aren’t directly related to academia.

    Bryan L

  12. Hey Brian –

    I want to do a more extensive post on this at my site though I’m not sure if I’ll have chance for several days. This is a gerat question and I think I have some things to add that may help clarify how the two (pastoring/PhD) may work together. I’ve spent the last year walking this tightrope so maybe I can shed some light…


  13. I’ve got to agree with Brian here. IMHO it’s the continued learning that makes a difference – not the next degree earned. A serious problem comes about when a pastor (or teacher) quits reading, studying, discussing. Now that might very well lead to a higher degree, but I don’t think it has to.

  14. Bitsy, that is exactly it, continued education and life long learning. It tends to be more about personal growth and development than anything and that is of great benefit to any congregation – and is setting the example to have a posture of openness to learning and new ideas. Obviously a PhD is not for everyone but I think more can and should be pursuing it. Thanks for commenting.

  15. Pingback: Pastors and Ph.D.’s « Purging my soul…one blog at a time.

  16. Pingback: The Floppy Hat » Blog Archive » Recent Posts in the Biblioblogosphere

  17. So, I agree with Carson – and all people who say that we need more PhD types in ministry. I graduated from seminary with my MDiv and took a call to pastor a church and I love it. But I feel it is important, both to my training in ministry and in ministering to my congregation, that I continue my education. But that is when the difficulties begin: cost, location, etc. I preach twice a week, lead Bible studies and have a family. To be honest, I believe that I could handle the rigors of academic work while doing these things. But I cannot justify uprooting my family (leaving my pastorate) or spending too much money (part time, per year study I could handle about $2500). But I do not know where I would find a good, respectable, theological education for that price. I am interested in church history if anyone knows of any adequate programs.


  18. Perhaps everyone may not agree, but South African universities such as UNISA have well respected, rigorous, yet very cost effective doctoral programs based on the production of a thesis. There are a number of well respected scholars who hold the DTh (or ThD here in NA) that teach in Bible Colleges and seminaries all over North America. The current president of the Society for Pentecostal Studies holds a DTh from UNISA, as does a professor of theology at Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (Dr. Jim Railey), and a prof at Tyndale University College and Seminary in Toronto, Ontario (Dr. Bradley Noel). Cory Seibel (Fresno Pacific University) earned his MTh from the Univ. of Wales, UK, and his PhD from the University of Pretoria, South Africa.

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