I recently met with my Old Testament professor Dr. Roger Nam. Over the faculty retreat, he and Dr. Paul Anderson had talked about my future in academics (yes, George Fox has professors who care like that). Of course, when an OT scholar and an NT scholar get together and make a decision, one cannot question that.
One possibility that Dr. Roger Nam recommended is a PhD in history, particularly Christian origins. According to UCLA’s department of history website,
A History degree is probably the most flexible and far-ranging. It is excellent preparation for a wide variety of fields — law, teaching, business, public service, journalism, and even medicine. Increasingly, the professions and professional schools are looking for applicants who have broad interests and backgrounds, and analytical and verbal skills rather than narrow field specialization.
Therefore, history in particular, with its breadth of outlook and coverage, its stress on learning how to read critically and write effectively, will stand you in good stead regardless of what you do.
I can see the value in a history degree. For one, it would certainly help to balance my biblical studies weight that I have accumulated at seminary. Another thing is that in taking two semesters of church history at the MA level, I see the need for understanding the church that has gone before us—if not for standing in solidarity with it, then simply appreciating it and recognizing the work of the Holy Spirit in the world through the church regardless of the good or the bad. My own work on my thesis, although heavily in the realm of biblical studies, has made me realize that I need to understand the milieu of Jesus days—before, during, and after.
I understand that my own view of the benefits of a history degree is limited. I am wondering what other insights you might be able to give me regarding this field. How would having a PhD in history benefit academia? How would it benefit the church? Are there any cons? Are there any other considerations—both positive and negative—that I might have missed? (Other than, of course, a history degree helping me become the next N.T. Wright! :-))
Pat McCullough is in the UCLA program. He blogs at http://patmccullough.com/. I am sure he wouldn’t mind giving his reasons for that approach.
For me, and I have two doctorates, I have learned over time that it is always the spiritual call of God, this always first! And this is certainly between the man, or person and God! The call of God is everything!
Thanks for iterating that. Yes, the call of God is my presupposition for this post. I’m not sure exactly what is to come yet, so I think it’s helpful to throw out my thoughts to the community of believers. I’m pretty open to the call of God being clarified or confirmed through the voices of others—His people especially. Thanks again for that reminder.
Indeed in the high’s and low’s, always God’s call. From the providence of God away I would change nothing in my life. BTW, I love history myself.. and the historical method is always important too. History people are usually perpetual students. But a Ph.D. in history, do you have an area of thought there?
Consider also a Mark Noll, PhD in History of Christianity.
Mark Noll, now there is a history Ph.D.!
Edward (Ted) Davis has a PhD in the History & Philosophy of Science from Indiana University. He is a Distinguished Professor of the History of Science at Messiah College, Grantham, PA and is the current Past President of the American Scientific Affiliation.
Brian: I’ll make sure to get in touch with Pat.
Fr. Robert: I’m considering Christian origins as one possibility, but definitely Christian history.
T.C. & Paul: Thanks for those names. I will look into them and their work, and maybe even shoot a few emails over!
My Th.D. was in St. Paul’s Roman’s. Especially chapter 7. I took the classic Reformed position, but with work also on Paul’s.. the”New Man” in Christ.
One must have/see Greco-Roman history when working on Pauline Texts, etc. But, one must not “over-work” the historical either. But Saul/Paul was as I have maintained (as others) a conservative Roman Hellenistic Jew.
Sorry to di-gress. I love the “history” of Paul!
Glad to hear you considering a PhD.
A history PhD is important for the church. People need to understand why they believe what they believe.
The downside of doing PhD level history research is that you will have to work very hard to find original, hard material data which may cost you to travel to get what you need, i.e., old newspapers, ancient documents, etc.
I found that studying history as part of my ThM concentration helped me to better understand the weird commentary of Clement of Alexandria. Norms were different back then, but he had to proclaim the gospel and explain it to the Egyptian elite. History does matter.
Hi JohnDave, Paul and I are in agreement that you are an outstanding student with great academic potential. I see something like a Christian Origins PhD from UCLA allowing you to do philology (whether biblical texts or other sacred literature) in the context of the larger social worlds. Other schools will offer great opportunities as well, but there is something really special about having the Terminator sign your diploma.
Fr. Robert: No problem about the digression. Your ThD work sounds interesting, especially for a Pauline guy like Brian. Have you put it out in book form?
Rod: I appreciate the thoughts. My church history professor did have to do some traveling for some valuable documents and then he had to copy them all by hand, so I think you’re quite right about the down side. Then again, if it’s for a contribution to either academia, the church, or both, it’s not so much of a down side, right?
Roger: When I first read the comment I was thinking there was a professor or dean at UCLA with the nickname “Terminator.” Now I realize you’re talking of THE Terminator! I think the blend of philology and history is a serious combination, especially the way I’ve seen it at work in your classes. I am grateful for your and Paul’s guidance and confidence in me. I’m eagerly anticipating what’s ahead (that means Spirituality and the Mind in the immediate future :-))!
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