Yesterday Peter Enns wrote a depressing, but helpfully honest post titled, “Some Unasked for Advice on Whether an Evangelical Should Get a PhD in Biblical Studies” wherein he argues “no” a PhD is not a good idea unless you have a “genuine, authentic, deep inner drive” to do one. In his post he points out that evangelicals who obtain a doctoral degree in biblical studies are likely to have low paying jobs, they will fight and scratch for the few positions available (often being adjuncts at best), and they will need to be aware of the many doctrinal controversies that can result in a pink slip.
Enns says that receiving a PhD from a seminary is a bad idea. I have done two graduate degrees at an evangelical seminary and I am aware of the problems this might cause for me. (I aim to do my doctoral work at a university.) For others this is not as problematic because if someone affirms the confessional stance of their seminary’s denominational affiliate it may be that the network created by common belief results in a job. I don’t have this option.
None of these points made by Enns were surprising. I know the job market is terrible, and the pay worse, and that the concept of “tenure” is almost extinct. I know that the doctrinal politics of evangelicalism have created a world of academia that appears quite hostile. I know that associations with evangelicalism is likely to prevent many colleges and universities from hiring someone they fear to be a “fundamentalist.” I want to discuss something else.
Enns’ advised readers to “think globally” saying:
The job market in “conventional” schools is miserable, but there are Christian institutions around the world who would give their right arm to have good, humble, and educated people teach them biblical studies. Of course, this is a very big shift in expectations for many earning PhDs in the west, but there is a need there.
This leads me to a question that I ask somewhat tongue-in-cheek: Is Spanish more useful than German? My emphasis is not on Spanish. You could substitute it with Mandarin, Korean, Hindi, or other languages spoken by a large population base. In the field of biblical studies most students are required to know two additional modern languages for research other than English. For obvious reasons those two are often German and French, sometimes Italian. But is this a mistake? How many people must interact with Bultmann? Well, OK, German seems somewhat essential at this juncture, but as someone who has been trying to study French I haven’t found it all that useful for my research thus far. But what is a seminary or university had an opening in South America–Brazil, Argentina, Mexico, Puerto Rico? Educators are given quite the teaching load and I know many who haven’t touched their German (let alone French) since they graduated. Is Spanish more useful than German or French? Hindi?
Would doctoral programs be more useful to doctoral students if they asked for one research language looking backward (like German) and one looking forward to employment (like Spanish)?
Let me know your thoughts on this. What do you think of giving biblical studies doctoral students the option of choosing a second language more geared toward teaching opportunities than research?
If one is only interested in the ‘debate de jour’ ABOUT the bible – pick your language. Germany has a long history of contribution to biblical studies – sure. Spanish would certainly give one access to libraries of Jesuit research, so would many of the Romance languages. Ultimately Latin is the terminus of that line of interest though.
If one is interest IN the bible though, biblical languages are the way to go. Read the book the way it was written. For biblical history – learn to read cuneform. There is an entire Assyrian library available that documents a world of history before Rome and Greece – much of it about biblical peoples.
There are several aspects to this.
If you go to teach in another country under the auspices of a missions agency, they’ll generally get you the language training through an immersion school if you don’t already have it (though if you already have the language, you can get on-the-ground sooner without spending 6-12 months in language school).
Spanish could be useful, but Latin America has a decent number of their own church leaders who are earning advanced degrees from US seminaries and returning to teach in their home countries (also, Latin America is somewhat saturated missionary-wise, with the exception of reaching non-Spanish speaking tribes), and in many places the Evangelical church is established enough to handle the work of evangelism and church planting on its own. I think there is still a need in many places for those able to teach at a seminary level (most pastors only have a Bible institute diploma, not a 4-year degree), whether as resident professors or those who travel from place to place teaching modular courses (like the A/G’s Facultad de Teología, http://www.facultadad.org/, which offers two-week modules around Latin America toward Master’s degrees in either Practical Theology or Intercultural Studies).
I know from conversations with missonaries in southern Africa that they would have immediate placement for Portuguese-speaking Bible college instructors in places where the church is growing rapidly and there is a lack of trained pastors. I would think there would be similar openings in Asia.
I agree that the biblical languages have first priority and I assume most doctoral programs emphasize this as well. But they ask for modern languages for research so that can’t be avoided. Thus far I have done Greek, Hebrew, and Aramaic. I am sure I will add another ancient language or two.
When I propose the usefulness of Spanish I am speaking toward the modern language requirement of most programs.
Thank you for the excellent insight. I would not have guessed Portuguese, but that makes sense. I wonder if the shift of global Christianity toward Latin America, Africa, and Asia will result in teaching positions being filled by people who come from these places or if (at least for a little while) many will come from North America and Europe to fill those positions?
Brian – your choice of ‘modern languages’ suggests a favoritism. I think it comes down to intent. Spanish, being one of the worlds most used languages certainly has an argument for it – but so does German (given the repository of biblical research the German language has captured still).
I was trying not to pick a favorite child – lest I insult all my children.
A favoritism? Not sure I understand.
That wasn’t clear. I was suggest you are impartial (and have reason to be (if your wife speaks Spanish)).
My wife can understand Spanish, and read a bit of it, but she can’t speak it very well. My main motivation was the growth of Christianity in Latin America.
Wasn’t it Barth who said the pastor/teacher should have the Bible in one hand and the newspaper in the other? (Or something like that: http://libweb.ptsem.edu/collections/barth/faq/quotes.aspx?menu=296&subText=468)
We know what languages help elucidate the Bible in its original context. I’m with you on the idea of a modern language substitution. In what language will the proverbial newspapers of the world be written in the 21st century? All depends on the country, of course, but certainly shifting U.S. demographics suggest the usefulness of knowing Spanish now, just merely going by numbers.
But changing this on an institutional level seems difficult. But I do like the idea of giving students a choice.
I think that one should learn as many languages as one can. I plan on trying to add Korean (it helps that my wife is a first generation immigrant), but know I’ll need to learn German and French too at some point. More languages can only be a good thing.
At the same time I realize the pressure it creates for most students and job seekers. I think, though, that universities don’t have a choice. They have to make the requirements what they should be if they were to send you off to teach at a top research school. There you should have to know French and German (and honestly at least one of Spanish/Korean/Chinese/Portuguese would be good too for us Westerners).
It turns out the modern language I know (Spanish) is not one of the languages the PhD in Biblical studies programs require. One of the reasons I’m leaning more to the DMiss or PhD in Intercultural Studies once I finish my MA. Though I would love to have the doctorate in Bible and Theology, at 43 it’s going to be enough to learn Greek and Hebrew.
I agree that institutional change may be a bit too much, but I think if a student could provide a good case for the substitution it should be considered.
More languages is a good thing indeed.
Intriguing idea–Sanish language study. It seems visionary, as opposed to (with qualification) a pragmatic-traditional approach (German). Do you have an interest in Latino-theology/theologians?
I have interest in what is said by Latin@ theologians/scholars, but I admit being more interested in certain topics than certain groups of scholars, i.e. my interest is in biblical studies and not global Christianity. If a Spanish language scholar says something of interest I would want to read it, but it would be the topic addressed that draws it to my attention. I understand the reason for German since so much has been done in that language in the field of biblical studies, but I do think French might be no more useful than Spanish and I think languages like Spanish or Hindi may expands one’s employment horizon.
I have to agree with Enns on the professional prospects for PHd’s in anything to do with the bible. I have run across scores of adjunct instructors teaching essentially for free at a seminary extension where they don’t even have the benefits of being on campus. The folks are often pastors and teach seminary courses to keep from going brain dead in the pulpit.
I think German for biblical studies is old school thinking. For decades I have read translations of german works and concluded a long time ago that I get by just fine without consulting the germans. It isn’t the language, it is the framework. I am simply not interested in reading works from that framework.
Agreed, the market is flooded and adjunct teaching is often the best most people can get. While I think German has value in many areas I do think French should be reconsidered. I can’t think of very many influential French scholars in mainstream biblical scholarship–at least any that don’t write in English.
The question is like comparing apples and oranges, between a reading knowledge of German and a speaking knowledge of Spanish. Unfortunately, it’s hard to obtain a good speaking knowledge of any foreign language, especially in America, without immersion. So I don’t think that mere classwork in Spanish or any other language is going to cut it, unless the goal is a mere reading knowledge
With Stephen, I think the “modern language” requirement for PhD’s is really more about research, whereas your (Brian’s) provocative question is more focused on teaching. I could, however, see an argument for PhD programs ditching French (much less needed than German for most B.S. dissertations) and requiring German plus a “vocational language” or something. That would seem more useful, but of course the v.l. would have to be spoken rather than merely read, which would require a lot more doing….
As a random addendum, your comment reminds me of my visit to Fuller, where many of the Bible courses are also offered in Spanish, and where entire intercultural studies’ degrees (master’s and doctoral) are offered in Spanish or Korean.
I would say it would have to be some sort of immersion so that students could speak/teach in a different context. I can see how this might be a tad beyond what a biblical studies degree can offer.
FTS is forward thinking in this way. I think that it is a brilliant idea to begin offering classes (if an institution has the resources) in languages in Spanish and Korean. Christianity is growing in places where these languages are spoken.
In part my suggestion of German is tongue-in-cheek (I knew it would grab more attention than if I said “French”), so I am not ready to see German minimized yet (maybe three generations from now!). But French seems less and less important.
Spanish will definitely be more useful than German where you’re moving.
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