“It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” J.R.R. Tolkien
On July 2, 2018 I successfully defended my doctoral dissertation and officially completed my formal theological training. Since then, reality is slowly setting in that I’ve completed a journey I intended to travel many years ago and can now “rest” for some time.
I wanted to jot down two reflections on my PhD journey that I hope will encourage you: 1) to pursue doctoral studies, or 2) not to quit.
First, a PhD forces you to think, read, write, and argue at a much higher level than an M.Div or M.A. I was challenged in my seminars, and especially my dissertation, to write for clarity while not sacrificing the core of my argument. This demand frustrated me, but once I adapted to what was requested I began to notice how helpful their suggestions were. Academics are notorious for writing laborious, loquacious, and superfluous arguments that are confusing at worst, and unhelpful at best. The strive for clarity forced me to be more precise in my words and to keep it simple. As an added bonus this type of writing unintentionally transferred into my preaching and teaching, and I am a better expositor of the word because of it.
Second, if you don’t have the “what am I doing with my life” moment at least once in the program, something might be wrong. After one seminar, I was tempted to drop the program and enter law school. Another time I was just tired and wanted to stop, and these examples don’t even cover the rewrites and dead-ends of research that came with my dissertation. For some, you may need to stop and focus more on ministry and family. Life happens, and there’s nothing wrong with it. But if you can, finish the degree. My reason for earning a PhD was simple: I wanted to be the best equipped Bible teacher/preacher I could be, and I knew a PhD would help me in that area. Keep the end goal in mind. Remember: its not the smartest who finish, but those who persevere.