QTOD: on PhD’s in the Pulpit

From Mike Birds blog:

country churchIn the latest issue of ExpT there is a very good article by Gerald Hiestand on A Taxonomy of the Pastor-Theologian: Why PhD Students Should Consider the Pastorate as the Context for Their Theological Scholarship. The blurb reads:

The bifurcation of theological scholarship from pastoral ministry has led to a twofold problem in contemporary church/academy relations: the theological anemia of the church, and the ecclesial anemia of theology. This essay explores these twin problems and suggests that the way forward in bridging the gap between academy and church is to reunite the pastoral vocation with the vocation of the theologian. Toward this end, the essay offers a taxonomy of three contemporary models of the pastor-theologian, examining the strengths and limitations of each. Ultimately, the paper calls for a resurrection of an all but extinct, yet historically rooted model of the pastorate—the pastor as ecclesial theologian, and challenges the emerging generations of theologians to consider the pastorate as a viable context for their future theological scholarship.

Now you know why I have been wanting to subscribe to the Expository TImes for a while now.  🙂

Bird goes on to say:

When theology moved out from the church to the academy, the result was that “the theological water level within the pastoral community … fell considerably.” But not only that, the church became theologically anemic and theology itself became ecclesially anemic.  Hiestand argues that we need more capable theologian-types in our churches. “More theologians in our pulpits will deepen the theological integrity of our churches, while at the same time add an ecclesial voice to evangelical theology.”  He maintains that the theological integrity of the gospel in the Christian community will never rise above the level of her pastors and ecclesial theologians are best situated to produce ecclesially sensible, field-tested, theological work that deepens the faith and depth of the church.

I think this is exactly right, and I think it is also sorely needed in Pentecostal churches – all too many Pentecostal churches are in dire need of “contextual pastoral theologians” (as the program at Northern Seminary describes it).  Our movement is still young and developing.  By way and support of the Holy Spirit we need the help of trained theologians to guide Pentecostalism along the way, to prevent “theological anemia” in Pentecostal theology and praxis.

Now, here is what I want to say – this obviously is not for everyone.  This is not saying all pastors need to do this, but there is need for more.  Not all would be able to anyways, nor should they feel obligated to it or be made to feel lessor for a lack of it.  Instead, we need to do better to recognize the giftings of all and the contributions all can bring to the church, the body of Christ.   In many a Pentecostal church, even a basic MA is WAY TOO MUCH education.  But as I see it, it shouldn’t matter.  There can be equality without having to have everyone at the same educational level.  This is where things get weird.   What might be normal in other circles is an oddity in Pentecostal circles.  But I think times are a changin’.  Younger folks see the value of theological education and are going for it.  I think we’ll start to see things mature and develop theologically in Pentecostalism as more young people are getting good theological education in preparation for ministry.

So this is not mean to say all need to do this, or many more should, but I do think there is need for it!


on promoting theological education

theological famineIF you need an example of how NOT to do it – read this.   I find this approach not one that I could recommend.  I think maybe it has noble intentions as there is great need in the world for better resources for pastors and teachers in less developed areas of the world and especially in the global south where the church is growing faster then it can keep up with.   At the same time I think it somewhat misrepresents what theological education and “training for the ministry” is supposed to be about.  And perhaps unwittingly devalues the staunch realities and problems AND pain of true famines from which real people suffer.  It basically turns its back on the poor, the suffering, the oppressed.

As I see it, it is based on false juxtapositon of physical hunger and spiritual hunger.  They are not mirrors of each other.  They are worlds apart.  Many in the Western world are a far cry from true physical hunger and yet ALL human beings, rich or poor, free or slave, white or non-white are spiritually depraved and in desperate need of a SAVIOR.  It trivializes real hunger, real poverty, real suffering.

I think it reveals some ignorance (either they just don’t understand don’t know or are just not paying attention to it) of larger missiological contextual issues that are face in cross-cultural work.  It is a imposition of Western values on to other cultures which is a big big no-no in cross-cultural missions.  It reveals ignorance of the changing role of Westerners in world missions and or evangelization.  While there are plenty of places where westerns can be and are quite effective in evangelizing the lost where the national might be less effective (for a whole host of issues and reasons) the increasing responsibility of the Western Missionary is that of PARTNERSHIP, a coming along side nationals to reach the lost and to teach, tran, equip men and women for teaching/preaching roles in their own contexts.  The end goal of mission is not transference of one set of cultural values to another, it is TRANSFORMATION of the target culture to the glory of God.  I think it is not a good way to go about it and in my personal opinion, it would be best not to support this movement either financially, emotionally or any other sort.

It is true, there is a DERTH of theological and or ministerial resources for pastors, teachers, and leaders in the now dominant Christian world.  They are really truly asking for and desiring materials for them to tach and train folks in the Word to be sure the Bible is being well understood and followed  and adhered to in their own contexts.  But see even that raises issues as to the idea that they are looking to us for resources because (and I happen to have just enough world experience to know) they see us as successful and good and blessed by God so they want to learn from us and to emulate us.

Instead I think it would be good to help the best we can but not from the point of view of “theological famine” necessarily but in partnership in obedience to the great co-mission.  Partnering with them to teach and train their own people and maybe even from their own cultural perspectives – seems to me like a kind of theological colonialism to think we should go there and train them from our view so we know they are getting it right.

This is why I am a HUGE advocate for promoting Inductive Bible Study and that in a community context much like what we see in Mike and Tim’s book: People of the Book: Inviting Communities into Biblical Interpretation (Wipf and Stock).  That way we are working best to not IMPOSE our theology on them, but instead EQUIPPING them to study the Bible and draw their own conclusions in a way that is faithful to the Bibilcal text.  That way, we could learn something too!  🙂

Well I think that is enough of that!


If I could do it again

I’d have dumped my biblical languages credits into an MA and made chaplaincy the focus of MDiv and then did a full year hospital residency (CPE) – why?

Because I think the training one gets for the chaplaincy is very pertinent to pastoral ministry.  Now, I am not saying pastors are to be chaplains (they must not) but I think the pastoral care and skill sets one learns in chaplaincy will make one a better pastor who is able to provide good pastoral care and spiritual direction to a congregation and to various individuals as well.

For example in the chaplaincy focus at AGTS – one can take a class learning about PTSD and how to work with those dealing with it (it’s not limited to military personnel); you take a class on interpersonal techniques in helping relationships so you learn what to do and what not to do in helping others; you can get a class on addictive behaviors in family systems and gain insight on pastoring those caught up in addictions; you can get a class on counseling diverse populations so you learn to deal with all sorts of different folks and learn to get out of one’s own ethnocentric mono-culturalism, :-); you can take a class on psychopathology so you don’t get confused and think every person who comes in the door “acting weird” might have a demon, or maybe they do…. or don’t.

These are, of course in addition to the normal MDiv requirement and most of these are electives so not all would be required, but you’d be surprised at their general usefulness.   In the three years we’ve been at the Canyon we’ve already encountered all of these issues and have more than once been left wondering what to do or how to handle it.

So, proably, if I could do it again, that is what I would do! 🙂

statisitical support for theological education?

sounds like there is.

Marc Cortez highlights this in his recent blog post discussing drop out rates for seminary graduates.  He writes:

You often hear people lament the high dropout rate of those entering vocational ministry, particularly in their first few years. In a post earlier this week, John Ortberg repeated the statistic that ”90 percent of people who enter vocational ministry will end up in another field.” I’ve heard similar comments to the effect that 50% of more of seminary grads will drop out of ministry within the first five years.

Those are pretty startling claims. If people are burning out of ministry that quickly, then we are doing something desperately wrong.

The problem is that it’s not true.

read the rest.

This is certainly very encouraging news because, like many who don’t always check their facts and just promote myths and half truths, I actually believed this statement – that many seminary graduates drop out of ministry within the first five years.  I believed it because I have seen it (but not a lot of it).  We are going into our fourth year here at the Canyon so I hope we make it.

But I think the main thing being emphasized is that the strongest value of getting a good theological education is ministerial vitality.

Whether one is in church ministry, missions, chaplaincy, or some other venue of Christian ministry, a solid theological education will always prove valuable and give one the tools necessary to make it for the long haul.

Now, if course, this is not true of every person since every situation is different and there are folks who’ve been “in the ministry” for a hundred years with a basic Bible college degree or the basic level correspondence courses for ministerial licensing and such (or nothing at all) and they are strong, healthy and doing just fine, though I would not say this is the norm.  But as it turns out, it is also not the norm to see seminary grads dropping out of the ministry left and right.

So, while getting that master of divinity isn’t everything – it certainly carries a lot of weight and contributes significantly to long term ministerial vitality strength and endurance.

This is also why, having been out of seminary 5 years now, I am considering possibilities of doing ThM work.

I have heard too that for many pastors, pursing a DMin has really contributed to their ministerial vitality and brought some renewal to their ministry and personal spiritual lives.

In a nutshell, a good theological education teaches you how not to burn out and how to protect yourself and others.

See also Brian LePort’s comments!

AGTS announces new Ph.D. program in Bible and Theology?

This just out on the AGTS website (listed Sept 30th):


AGTS is proud to announce a new Ph.D. in Bible and Theology (Ph.D./BT) to begin in summer 2011.

The Ph.D./BT will equip and empower Pentecostal scholars to lead the global church through creative teaching, writing and other missional endeavors. This highly selective program will challenge participants to integrate the highest levels of intellectual achievement with biblically focused, contextual praxis. Concentrations include

  • Biblical Theology
  • Old Testament Studies
  • New Testament Studies
  • Systematic Theology
  • Historical Theology
  • Global Pentecostal Theology

Key program developer Dr. Charlie Self said, “Our Ph.D. faculty and students are irrevocably committed to the authority and inspiration of the Bible, the centrality of the local church as God’s primary agency for mission and a Spirit-empowered life marked by supernatural expectations and experiences.”

“This Ph.D. will propel many into academic leadership in organizations around the world,” said President Byron D. Klaus, “qualifying women and men to lead institutions that empower effective ministry.”

The newly approved Ph.D. is the fourth doctoral degree offered by AGTS. The Doctor of Ministry was inaugurated in 1997, the Doctor of Missiology in 2007 and the Ph.D. in Intercultural Studies (Ph.D./ICS) in 2009. The Ph.D./ICS and the Ph.D./BT at AGTS are the first independently offered Ph.D.s by an Assemblies of God educational institution in the world.

For more information about the Ph.D./BT, contact Dr. Charlie Self at 1-800-467-AGTS or send an email to cself@agts.edu.

AGTS is accredited regionally by the Higher Learning Commission and by the Association of Theological Schools in the United States and Canada.


Interesting, very very interesting, and the way it is worded seems pretty appealing as I like the potential combo of a PhD in BT!  That’s just who I am – and that’s not to say it can’t be done elsewhere – but so far it looks promising.

on preparation for ministry (updated)

This is a risky post for me – if read by the wrong person or people I could get in a lot of trouble – mostly because of the circles in which I travel – but do know this reflects my own opinion.

If you are sensing a call to the ministry or to missions – whatever you do – do not go to Bible School.

If God says to you directly “I want you to Go to Bible School.”  Well, then you need to go.  But as a general rule, in most cases, Bible School can be hazardous to your ministry effectiveness.  Why?  Because there is often more to ministry than just Bible related issues.

Instead, if you want to be a pastor, I might suggest getting some general business degree – while churches are not businesses, they are often run like them in many respects – I mean someone needs to keep the books, manage the finances, know how to work in the best interest of the church from a business perspective and given that the vast significant majority of churches in America 50 to 100 folks – unless they happen to have someone in the congregation with a servants heart to help out with this kind of stuff – many of this kind of thing falls to the pastor.

If you want to be a missionary – get a practical degree such as teaching, business, linguistics, or even something far out like a chemistry, environmental science degree, even a medical degree or one in urban planning and community deelopment .  This way you’ll actually be able to be of some benefit to wherever you go other than just starting a Bible School or doing evangelism.  These are needed of course but so are medical skills, science skills, teaching and so on.


UPDATE: As an example, a missionary family I recently met, who live in an undisclosed location, the father is a specialist in agricultural development and are utlizing that skill where they are as relief workers.  In their first term, they served the people by hepling them build a chicken farm and to fish farms.  In effect, in meeting their physical needs it opened up the door for them to meet the people’s spiritual needs. 

This is modern missions


Pick either a Christian University and get a liberal arts degree that is practical and has a variety of transferrable skills – or go to a State College or University and get plugged into a Christian group on campus for spiritual support while studying in a secular anti-religious environment – this is pretty good prep for being out there in the world.

What about getting a theological education?  Save that for seminary 0r if you choose a Christian University – have ministry or Bible be your minor – but even then, I would suggest saving it for seminary.  Additionally,  stay away from things like missions majors, youth ministry degrees, and Bible majors.  Those will be of less help in ministry prep in the long run than if you get a good liberal arts degree and save the ministry prep for seminary.

That’s my $.02.

AGTS takes on Dr. Charlie Self as associate professor of Church history!

From the AGTS Website:

charlieSelfPicSpringfield, Mo.—May 7, 2009—The Assemblies of God Theological Seminary (AGTS) is proud to announce Dr. Charles Self as associate professor of church history.

“He is an energetic teacher and seasoned pastoral leader with sturdy academic credentials,” said Dr. Byron D. Klaus,  AGTS president. Dr. Self holds a Ph.D. (dissertation: “The Tragedy of Belgian Protestantism: Subversion and Survival”) and an M.A. in history (Latin American religion and social change) from University of California, Santa Cruz.  He earned his first M.A. in philosophical and systematic theology from Graduate Theological Union, Berkeley, Calif.  “He has faced vigorous challenges toward his faith and values in these top quality institutions, yet has grown strong as an apologist and dialogue partner,” said President Klaus.  “I am very grateful that this rigorous selection process has yielded the quality person that Dr. Self is.”

Dr. Self has served AGTS as adjunct professor since 2006 and as director of the West Coast branch since 2007.  He has also taught at Western Seminary, Los Gatos, Calif.; George Fox University, near Portland, Ore.; Bethany University, Santa Cruz, Calif.; and Continental Theological Seminary, Brussels, Belgium.

He is the author of The Divine Dance (Authorhouse) and The Power of Faithful Focus (with Les Hewitt, HCI/Faith Communications).  He has had articles published in Pneuma and Kairos journals and has three additional books in pre-publication.

Self is an ordained minister serving the Northern California-Nevada District Council of the Assemblies of God.  He and his wife, Kathleen, a visual artist (www.colorbrush.com) will make the transition from San Jose, Calif., for the fall semester.  They have three grown children.

“Kathy and I are excited to join the AGTS community that is committed to empowering leaders for global impact,” said Self. “We want to unite our academic, artistic and ministry experiences and gifts with our colleagues to bring glory to God and growth to the Kingdom and our movement.”


Dr Charlie also blogs at http://insightsforimpact.blogspot.com/ where he writes on cultural, political and theological issues. 


While many AGTS alum are still working through the loss of Gary McGee, who went to be with the Lord December 10, 2008, and was the Distinguished Professor of Church History and Pentecostal Studies at AGTS for many many years, there is the pressing need to continue his legacy and see someone come on board to teach and mentor future pastors and teachers in church history and pentecostal studies.   I can think of no one better than Charlie Self.  Let me tell you, I took an ethics calss from him and this guy is a machine!  The breadth and depth of his knowledge is huge!  I am pretty certain he could talk just about anyone into a corner yet do so with tact, gentleness and respect. 

On doing Graduate level work (or, on Seminary)

I read David Alan Black’s blog fairly frequently, at least when he is not off the farm, and was sad to read this post: 

Just finished grading another 20 papers. Took me most of the day. Today the grades ranged from an F (0) to an A+ (100). Most were B’s and C’s. The paper that received a zero contained not one legible sentence and dozens and dozens of misspellings. I had to scratch my head, in that I require students to check a box that says “Carefully proofread for spelling and grammar” before turning in their papers. This box had been checked by the student.

Given that this is in reference to students in graduate school – or Seminary – the place where one is to prepare for ministry and service to God, it is a shame and a disgrace really to see a F paper and C papers. It’s sad.  In my opinion, there is no excuse for anything less than B+ (maybe middle B).  Again, if one gets this grade, in my opinion, one needs to be concerned as, again, in my opinion, receiving anything less than an 80-85% on a paper or test of some sort signals that a person may not fully understand the subject matter (or did not study properly, or something else is going on in the student’s life that needs attention, e.g., stress, lack of sleep, pressure, etc).  (sometimes in some cases, though not all, it can be a situation of not fully understanding what a professor wanted or that the professor was not clear in his or her expectations or he or she is not the best prof – I sincerely doubt this is the case with Dr. Black, I am certain his teaching is of high quality, but I think bad teachers are the exception, not the rule).  

I realize too, that tests are tests, and the scores given simply measure one’s ability to take a test and nothing more, but, again, in my opinion, this is graduate school, the Master’s level.  The quality of  work put forth in a paper should reflect that fact.  While I grant that seminary is no easy task and one should be heartily commended upon its completion, still one should never turn in incomplete work or unedited papers. Nor should one lie and say he or she did something (like edit a paper) when he or she did not.  This dishonors God, the professor, and one’s self (who is also forking over no small sum of money).  

If we are in preparation for ministry and service to God at this level then he deserves our full obedience, submission, and worship through the effort to do the best we can (extremely rare is the case where an F is the best one can do).  Obviously grades don’t mean much in the long run and extremely rare is the church board that will ask about grades, but still in ones own heart and mind, efforts should be geared to turn in a paper that meets or exceeds the expectations put forth by the professor.   Did you all know God loves a well written paper?  That a well, written paper is just as much an act of worship to God as anything else? 

Poorly done work is just not acceptable at the Graduate level.  I hope the student who received the F paper gets a wake up call, repents before God and thinks about why he or she is in seminary. Is it for the glory of God or the glory of self? 

ps. yeas I received a few B’s and felt bad when I did (or was in relief if it was a hard class) but also asked God to help me do better and made sure the next paper was better (usually resulting in the A range).  A+ papers had to be approved by the dean and only then if considered publishable.  

EJ Interview with George O. Wood pt1

George O. Wood, General Superintendent of the Assemblies of God in America on the value of ministerial education:

The experience I had at Fuller made me believe that ministers need to get as deep an education as possible. When I was a younger minister, Robert Frost, one of my spiritual mentors, prayed for me and the other students. He said, “Lord, help them lay foundations that are strong enough to bear the weight You will later place on them.”

A formal theological education helps ministers build strong foundations for life and helps them avoid burnout. The reason people get burned out in the ministry is they do not have sufficient intellectual and spiritual resources to draw on to sustain them.

I walked into a pastor’s office when I was a younger minister. I looked at his library. It contained only books that were titled, Simple Sermon Outlines,and they had cobwebs on them. Some were unused. I thought to myself, This congregation is not getting fed, because he is not being fed. He will not last. This pastorate will not last.

Many ministers cannot afford to continue a formal education. Often their time and resources go toward supporting their families. But with the Internet, libraries, and the many resources available for learning, ministers have opportunity to continue their personal study and educational advancement.

Continual learning is critical. As a pastor, I spent about 20 hours a week in study and message preparation. I do not know how a pastor can feed people if he is not spending substantive time in study. The seminary experience gave me the tools, resources, and life disciplines to continue learning throughout my ministry.

This is really good stuff. Too bad so many in the AG (and other Pentecostal or Charismatic groups) tend downplay education. Many believe all that is needed is “the anointing” and the Holy Spirit – but it hard for the Spirit to do much with someone who doesn’t know anything…