Why I Did Not Do a PhD

For those who care about such personal details, I thought I'd post a brief life update about what the Lord has been doing and where we are headed. In the summer of 2012, we moved to Fort Worth to do a PhD in BT and ST at SWBTS. I was not entirely sure about the plan, but felt like the Lord had closed some other doors and was opening this one. We were very fortunate to be
supported by many, so I thought I would give it a year and go from there.

I did, and I was done. In short, I was not enjoying myself and life is too short to spend 4-6 years (the average time at SWBTS is 7.1 years) doing something you do not enjoy and do not ultimately need. I could point to numerous details that I did not like about the program, but I think the root of my discontentment was because it is time for me to get to work, so the Lord frustrated my time here. There were three primary reasons for not continuing the PhD program:

First, I simply was not enjoying most of the content. I love to read, study, and write, but have found that I love to read and write about what I want to read and write about. Too often, I found myself adding to, rearranging, and glancing over my "Books to Read When School is Over in 2017" list. There are way too many good books out there that need to be read, and paying to have to read bad books makes no sense. Furthermore, and I know many disagree with me here, in my experience the vast majority of what I was reading was irrelevant to local church ministry, which is where my heart has been all along. The divorce of the academy from the local church is worth another blog post in itself. I went to the national ETS meeting in 2012, and largely enjoyed it because I'm a nerd, but came away asking how relevant to real life much of it was. Again, this is not to disparage nuanced theological thinking - I just know that sort of life is not the one for me personally. And if I'm honest, based on empirical evidence, I'm afraid that that much time spent on that much nuance can impair one's social skills.

Second, at least for me, the amount of work necessitated that time with my family be sacrificed. Profs often preach about how important family life is, but then assign 50-55 hours worth of reading in a week (and that was for one seminar out of three). You do the math. I had a better situation than most, but still would have to return to the study after dinner when I'd rather be wrestling with my boys or hanging out with my wife, not analyzing Friedrich Schleiermacher or Brevard Childs. One day a conversation with a recent (jobless) PhD grad really brought this home; he told me of "numerous" friends who had been divorced during the program. Now, I know that is something Alicia and I would never even entertain talking about, but it was still scary. I can see why it happens though. Momma gets tired of doing all the parenting by herself and spending evenings alone. I know my family would have survived a PhD. Many do all the time, but they would not have flourished, and that was a deal-breaker for me. I want to be fully present and what is best for them.

Third, my desire to preach the Word and pastor God's people became too intense to remain in a library carrel 5 hours a day reading Walther Eichrodt or Gerhard von Rad. Life truly is a mist. Every year it speeds up. During the first month of the PhD program, I got chills when I stumbled into a library elevator with my phone in one hand, coffee in the other, and a big bag on my shoulder. I must have looked disheveled because a very old man randomly asked me, "Are you going to slow down before you turn 80?, then walked out of the elevator." He seemed full of regret. It scared me.

I went to seminary initially in 2006 to be trained for pastoral ministry. It is now seven years later. I turned 30 and had a third child. I already have more education than most pastors in the world. It is time to get a house, plant roots, buy a dog, and get to work in the local church.There is a lot of Bible to be proclaimed, lost people to point to Jesus, dying and discouraged saints who need the hope of the resurrection, and fun to be had along the way. Spending another 5-7 years in the library just did not seem necessary or worth it for me. Again, I realize many do pastoral ministry while earning a PhD, but I am not gifted enough not to neglect something important in my life with such a load.

Much more could be said, but that is the short of it. I have many friends who have done a PhD, or are doing one, and doing it well. This is a personal post about the Lord's lot for me. Descriptive - not prescriptive - though I do take the opportunity to ask the hard questions to friends considering a PhD. With the academic job market being so sulky, the one thing I ask is do not plan on going into pastoral ministry as a "back-up plan" if you cannot land an academic post. The church does not need such. Teach at a Christian high school or something. Also, to the prospective seminarian: do work. But when you do, know that if you are a good student, you will be encouraged to keep going and consider the academic life. We need our best and brightest in pulpits. 

So my current plans are to salvage my year by graduating with a ThM this December, and get to the real work: pastoring in the context of the local church. Can't wait.