There are several good, if less than encouraging, discussions of why or why not to do a PhD in Biblical Studies out in the blogosphere (e.g., see here and here). In light of such daunting realities someone, like me, who is beginning the process of a PhD in biblical studies must necessarily defend their decision to do so. I can’t really advise anyone on what they should do, all I can do is tell my story. So here it goes…
My story begins in college as an Undecided Major, tossing around majoring in English, Biblical Studies, Music and Business. At the advice of my father and my practical nature I decided on Business, but I reserved the right to do a biblical studies minor. The first class that really piqued my interest in biblical studies was a class on Israelite Religion. The professor was Craig C. Broyles, and it really planted the seed of excitement for studying the biblical texts. Years later, as a Senior, I was talked into being a mentor (read teaching assistant) for a freshman class on integrating Christian thinking into a holistic education. I hated the class when I took it, but I loved leading my once a week discussion groups. It was there that the first seeds of a desire to teach were planted.
From there I went to Seminary. I realized that much of what I believed was spoon fed to me, so I wanted to further my education regarding what I believed. It was there, writing my first real research papers that I began to realize that I loved the academic study of theology and biblical studies. At this point I had affirmed to myself 1) a desire to teach, and 2) a love of academic biblical studies. If this were all I had to go on, I would probably be looking for a job right now. But, add to these realizations the affirmations of the leadership of my church and several professors that this is a good fit for me, and that I would be able to contribute to knowledge and to the church, I began to seriously plan on partaking in doctoral studies.
I realize that my prospects for a job are not great. It is a tough market out there for PhD’s and with the economic environment it looks like it might get worse for a time. But I also realize that this is what I desire to do, it is what I have been confirmed by family and friends as what I would be good at. So I believe that this is, in some sense, my calling. I am not one of those who went to Seminary to become a pastor but then changed his mind to try teaching instead, thinking that if teaching doesn’t pan out I can always fall back on pastoring. For me, the teaching was always the point. Now, if I go this route and never land a tenure position in a University or college does that mean I was wrong about this being my calling? No. Right now, all I know is that my route is taking me to Durham to earn a PhD in biblical studies. I would love to teach at a university with that degree, but I am open to what comes my way. Ultimately I am being trained for whatever role life has for me. No matter what I do, I will be a servant of Christ and of the Church, so I don’t think my training will be wasted in any way. My wife and I are both ready to take on whatever comes, and we both realize that the future may not look anything like what we decide, but we’re going for it.