Wednesday, October 14, 2015

14 October 2015 A.D. Stupid PhDs vs. Wise PhDs

14 October 2015 A.D. Stupid PhDs vs. Wise PhDs

Ortlund, Dane. “Stupid PhDs vs. Wise PhDs.” Strawberry-Rhubarb Theology. 18 May 2010. Accessed 14 May 2015. 

Stupid PhDs vs. Wise PhDs 

Very helpful (typically re-orienting) stuff from Piper on the value of PhDs to pastors (transcript). 

A few thoughts.

1. First and last thing to be said: amen.

2. Good night, what a gift to the Church Piper is.

3. The motives that move young, ambitious seminarians to do PhDs are always mixed. They just are. The depths of self-seeking impulses run deep, and lie below even our perception of our own hearts. I believe God is calling me into some kind of pastoral/preaching/teaching ministry, and I can say two things with confidence as I wrap up a PhD in biblical theology at Wheaton: one, I had pure motives doing this degree that were genuinely wanting to exalt Christ, and two, I had selfish motives that were just as certainly wanting to exalt myself. Ugh. It is easy, so easy, to imbibe worldly standards of what matters and paint those standards with Christian language without exposing the ugly, Corinthian-like essence of that self-promoting value system. My point: Piper is right to raise questions about the value of PhDs to pastoral ministry. This is my main response to this video.

I don't think this needs to be all we say, though. A few other thoughts come to mind that might be helpful as others consider whether to do a PhD en route to the pastorate.

4. I suspect Piper's own PhD has had positive benefits that are hard to articulate always. Are there some in wider academia, for instance, who gave his critique of Wright on justification a more patient hearing knowing the author had a doctorate?

5. Dr. Piper addresses the 'what we learn' benefit of PhDs but ignores the 'how we learn' benefit. I can already see how my PhD has forced me to develop (for instance) better critical thinking skills. I was making arguments in my dissertation knowing Doug Moo would be reading it the next month and pointing out all the holes. It wasn't only what I learned but how I learned--how to write, how to argue, how to think.

6. Another question to be mindful of is how a PhD might strengthen others, not only us. I'm hoping my dissertation gets published, for two reasons. One, I'm a self-loving sinner with unmortified infatuation with my own name. Two (more cheerily), my work exposes weaknesses in the theology of James Dunn and I would love to see fewer pastors and teachers buy Dunn's commentaries in light of my dissertation. I would be happy to help Dunn's stuff go out of print a bit sooner. Not because he's 180 degrees wrong on everything. Of course not. But because he's an influential writer who fuzzies what the gospel is, confusing essence and implication, vertical and horizontal, individual and corporate, the moral and the social. But that's another post.

7. Around the middle of his response, Dr. Piper remarks that if there are PhD programs that really do help people learn and grapple with the Bible more broadly (rather than spending years amassing knowledge of what a plethora of pagan scholars think about a single verse or something), then that might make a PhD pastorally helpful. For those considering PhDs and pastoral ministry yet sobered by Piper's good words, my own experience here at Wheaton has done just that. I spent three years studying the word 'zeal' in just three different verses, but that required studying, for example, the whole OT background to zeal. I did a doctoral seminar with Greg Beale on the NT's use of the Old that was critical in helping me put the whole Bible together. I sat in on a class on Calvin's theology. I wrote under a supervisor who helped me in countless ways understand Paul and his theology, well beyond the three verses I soaked in for three years. I know the Bible better. That's why I wanted to do a PhD, and that desire was met. On top of that Wheaton is shorter than other places that also want you to learn the whole Bible well.

8. See #1!

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