Category: Education

My Path to the Ph.D.

I have come to the end of my Ph.D. studies.  I recently put the finishing touches on my dissertation, completed my last research language class, successfully completed my oral defense, and received my hood two months ago.  Through the entire process, the Lord has shown his kindness to me and to my family in precious, concrete ways.  We are overflowing with thankfulness to Christ for his provision.

During my doctoral studies, many have asked me why I chose to pursue a Ph.D.  I have answered that question in some detail here.  In this article I want to consider more specifically what factors influenced my decision to work toward a terminal research degree.  By recounting my experience, I hope to offer some insight to others who are considering post-graduate studies. Continue reading “My Path to the Ph.D.”

Seminary, Obedience, and Spiritual Maturity

I recently came across a portion of a John Piper sermon that I thought would be helpful for seminary students (like myself) to ponder. The excerpt is taken from a sermon entitled, “By This Time You Ought to be Teachers” based on Hebrews 5:11-14. According to this text, spiritual maturity does not take place by the sheer gathering of theological information. In fact, a proper understanding of spiritual truth will be hindered by a lack of diligent application of the truth we already know. We will not be able to comprehend the deep, rich, and more solid meat of God’s Word unless we make good use of the milk of God’s Word. Piper writes,

Now this is amazing.  Don’t miss it.  It could save you years of wasted living.  What verse 14 is saying is that if you want to become mature and understand the more solid teachings of the Word, then the rich, nutritional precious milk of God’s gospel promises must transform your moral senses—your spiritual mind—so that you can discern between good and evil.  Or let me put it another way.  Getting ready to feast on all God’s Word is not first an intellectual challenge; it is first a moral challenge…

The startling truth is that, if you stumble over Melchizedek, it may be because you watch questionable TV programs.  If you stumble over the doctrine of election, it may be because you still use some shady business practices.  If you stumble over the God-centered word of Christ in the cross, it may be because you love money and spend too much and give too little.  The pathway to spiritual maturity and solid biblical food is not first becoming an intelligent person, but becoming an obedient person.  What you do with alcohol and sex and money and leisure and food and computer have more to do with you capacity for solid food than where you got to school and what books you read…

This is remarkable—and frightening.  If we are not diligent in cultivating godly character and obedient hearts, we can forget about making any real progress in our spiritual lives, regardless of how much Owen, Grudem, Erickson, Edwards, Calvin, Carson, Scougal, Bridges, Ryle, Wells, Packer (and Piper!) we read.  In the words of Christ, “Blessed are those who hear the word and obey it” (Luke 11:28).  It could not be more clear.  Maybe what some of us need to do is put down the puritan paperback for a moment and call the cable company to cancel our subscription, or call a friend to seek forgiveness, or confess to our employer that we lied to him last week.  More study, if not coupled with obedience, will only lead to spiritual lethargy and regression, not progress.  May God be merciful to us as we seek to study and obey his Word.

Why I am Pursuing a Ph.D.

About five months ago I began my doctoral coursework at the Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Approximately three months prior, I graduated with an M.Div. from the same institution.  Lord willing, I will complete the program in three to four years.  The question some have asked—the question I asked myself repeatedly as I  approached important deadlines: application, field essays, faculty interviews—is “why?”  Why a Ph.D.? Continue reading “Why I am Pursuing a Ph.D.”

Rejoicing in God's Grace and Godly Men at Southern Seminary

The following is an email in which I replied to a friend about some of the professors at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary.  I post it here as a way to honor the professors with whom I have interacted and to express my thanks to Christ for allowing me these (nearly) three years at this fine institution.

Hi Derek,

Could you tell me who the favorite SBTS professors are, and why?  I am curious about the types of relationships and impact the SBTS professors have had on you and other students.

Great question.  I have had several professors I have enjoyed during my time at Southern and each for different reasons.

I loved Dr. Tom Nettles for Church History 1 and 2.  His warmth and love for Christ and the church coupled with his knowledge of the subject matter made every class a joy and a tremendous learning experience.  Before he started teaching, he always read a chapter from the New Testament, and his prayers at the beginning of class were sometimes the highlight of my day.  He was also fair in his presentation of church history (in my limited opinion), while still maintaining a reformed viewpoint throughout.  This sentiment is shared by other students I know as well.

I was greatly impacted by Dr. Russel Moore in Systematic 1 and 2 and Introduction to Christian Ethics.  He likes to paint in broad strokes, reading across the whole Bible within the framework of creation – cross – new creation.  He is excellent pedagogically: he is clear and he takes time at the end of every section to answer any and all questions.  Sometimes these Q & A times would last for an hour and would be some of his best material.   He is also very good at “fitting” the Bible together and bringing theology into practical ministry and life.  I think I got saved in every class : )  He is also hilarious.  And although Dr. Moore is busier than anyone I have ever known, he takes time to meet with and counsel students.  A good friend of mine here has received great help from Dr. Moore in these personal meeting times.  Dr. Moore is also currently the teaching pastor at High View Baptist – Fegenbush Campus.

I only had one class with Dr. Gregory WillsBaptist History – but thought he was excellent!  His profound knowledge of Baptist history and American history made me wonder if he had actually read most of the library of congress!  Anyway, I am lamenting the fact that I did not take more classes with him during my time at SBTS; at least I am taking Fundamentalism and Evangelicalism with him this Spring.  In my judgment, he is a godly man who loves his students and loves the truth.  This came out in every class.

I had Dr. Bruce Ware for Theology of Worship and Models of Divine Providence.  Both were excellent.  I had Models of Divine Providence this past semester and learned a lot.  He treated this class much like a doctoral seminar and he challenged us with reading several primary sources from Process and Open Theism, as well as Arminianism.  Dr. Ware is very intelligent, he is an excellent teacher, he has a firm grasp on philosophy and how philosophical categories inform (and distort) theological categories, and he has a passion for God and for truth.  When I asked if I could talk with him about PhD stuff, he took me out to a very nice, long lunch and treated me with great kindness and warmth.  I sat next to a student in Models who moved to Louisville to attend Southern for the primary purpose of taking classes from Dr. Ware.

I had Dr. Tom Schreiner for only one class – Greek Exegesis of Romans. I wanted to take New Testament theology with him in the spring but it doesn’t fit into my schedule!!!!  Anyway, I thoroughly enjoyed Romans.  Dr. Schreiner took us through key texts in Romans, carefully exegeting them with us after we had done our preliminary exegesis.  We would do a detailed grammatical diagram and then complete the assignment by tracing the argument (putting the text into propositions and then showing the relationship between those propositions – inference, grounds, situation-response, etc.).  This was a very helpful class and I have found his form of tracing to be the most helpful.  (I can understand it better than Piper’s arcing, although it is, for all intents and purposes, the same thing, only written differently).  It was a joy to sit under Dr. Schreiner.  He is an excellent teacher, he explains things exceptionally well, he always has solid, text-grounded reasons for why he believes what he believes, and he is pretty funny, too!  We is a popular professor among the students.

I also had Dr. Bill Cook for New Testament I and II.  He is my pastor and I have great admiration of his knowledge of Scripture and of his godliness.  I have gotten to know him over the past two years and have come to love and respect him tremendously.  I am thankful he is my pastor.  I also had Dr. Peter Gentry for Hebrew, Dr. Jonathan Pennington for a Greek elective, and Dr. Robert Plummer for Greek syntax.  All of these men exhibited great competence in their field, genuine love for the students, and a keen wit – especially Dr. Pennington.  Dr. Gentry is well-loved despite the fact he is by far the most demanding professor on campus.  I received my first C since the 7th grade in Elementary Hebrew from Dr. Gentry.  He is the kind of man who, when he says he has looked at all 751 uses of a particular Hebrew word in the Old Testament, you believe without qualification.  I also had Dr. Donald Whitney for Spiritual Disciplines and Dr. Stuart Scott for Biblical counseling.  Both of these classes were excellent.

I also enjoyed my classes Dr. Wellum.  I have never sat under a man who has brought such clarity to my mind as Dr. Wellum.  When class is over, you know exactly what he is talking about and you finally begin to see how the Bible fits together with Christ at the center and fulfillment of all of Scripture.

Dr. Wellum was very careful to teach us to understand Systematic categories by first working in biblical theological categories, seeking to understand the progressive nature of God’s revelation and making the appropriate continuity/discontinuity distinctions between the two testaments.  This comes out especially in his treatment of the covenants and how they relate to believer’s baptism (in Believer’s Baptism by Tom Schreiner and Shawn Wright).  He sees the whole of Scripture working toward God’s promise of a New Man (and a new humanity) fulfilled first in Christ and then in his people, the church.  He is careful to show how the Old Testament, beginning with Adam (after his fall), looks for the new Man, true Israel, the Great High Priest, the final Prophet and perfect Sacrifice, and how all these longings are fulfilled in Christ.  Therefore, Dr. Wellum sees typology as an essential component to hermeneutics, although he does desire to only see types where they are warranted by the text (where some see types all over the place: e.g. Rahab’s scarlet thread is a “type” in that it stands for Christ’s blood that protects those who find refuge in his “house,” etc.).  Wellum instead sees things like the Exodus, the Sacrificial system, the temple, the tabernacle, etc. as clear types of Christ since they have warrant in other texts.

I have taken three classes from Dr. Wellum and in each, he always begins with a discussion of theological method.  This has been extremely helpful and valuable.  He wants us to read the Bible as a self-revelation that involves a historical progression and to be careful to trace this historical unfolding of redemptive history throughout all of Scripture; all the while seeing Scripture as organically related.  He wants us to read texts according to their textual horizon (what the text actually says), their epochal horizon (where the text is in the flow of redemptive history), and their canonical horizon (where these texts are in relation to the promises of God and their fulfillment in the coming of Christ).  The promise-fulfillment motif is key in reading the Bible – one of crucial ways of demonstrating promise-fulfillment is through typology (persons, events, institutions, etc.).

This is the work that must be done before moving to systematic theology.  When we do come to the systematic categories, we must also make sure we are taking into account all the biblical data, not just particular words and themes, but all the related words and themes, understood in the context of the whole of Scripture.  This is why his Doctrine of the work of Christ class involved 135 pages of dense single-spaced, type-written notes, beginning in Genesis and following the subjects of prophet, priest, king, atonement, reconciliation, propitiation, conquest, redemption, substitution and a host of others themes related to the work of Christ through the entire Bible.  When he was finished, I saw clearly where Joel Green and Mark Baker have gone wrong in their undermining of penal substitutionary atonement (Recovering the Scandal of the Cross) and how they came to the conclusions they came to.  I finally started to see why some positions can confidently be considered “biblical” while others cannot.  For me, this is HUGE.  Wellum’s thoroughness, his sharp understanding of Biblical theology and theological method, his ability to answer questions with lucidity and depth, his fairness with opposing arguments, and his irreplaceable note-packets made my time in Wellum’s classes a tremendous learning experience.

Dr. Wellum is also a member at my church and leads a Bible Fellowship Group and regularly preaches in the evening service.  He is well-loved and highly respected.  He is kind, unassuming, humble and always ready to talk. (Interestingly, he also has an incredible grasp of contemporary culture; including issues in politics, religion, media, etc.)

Anyway, sorry for the theology textbook length of this email.  I guess Dr. Wellum, if nothing else, taught me to be thorough.  I hope this is helpful, or at least sparks some questions I can try to answer in more detail for you.  I am so thankful for my time at Southern.  All my professors have demonstrated they not only love Scripture and theology and Greek and Hebrew – they love Christ and their students, and they are all, without exception, men who love and serve the church.  They are all regularly available to get together with students and can be found in the cafeteria, in their offices, or off-campus, spending time with students.  We are blessed to have the faculty we have.  To whom much is given…

Let me know if I can answer any other questions for you, Gunner.  I am happy to talk with you about these things!

Love you,

Picture: Todd Young

How to Waste Your Theological Education

1. Cultivate pride by writing only to impress your professors instead of writing to better understand and more clearly communicate truth.

2. Perfect the fine art of corner-cutting by not really researching for a paper but instead writing your uneducated and unsubstantiated opinions and filling them in with strategically placed footnotes.

3. Mistake the amount of education you receive with the actual knowledge you obtain. Keep telling yourself, “I’ll really start learning this stuff when I do my Th.M or my Ph.D.”

4. Nurture an attitude of superiority, competition, and condescension toward fellow seminary students. Secretly speak ill of them with friends and with your spouse.

5. Regularly question the wisdom and competency of your professors. Find ways to disrespect your professors by questioning them publicly in class and by trying to make them look foolish.

Continue reading “How to Waste Your Theological Education”

Be Quiet and Listen: A Verse for Seminary Students

Proverbs 18:2 is a verse seminary students (like me) would do well to memorize: “A fool takes no pleasure in understanding, but only in expressing his own opinion.” How easy it is for me to convince myself of my theological expertise, waxing eloquent with friends, explaining things to professors (as if they needed my instruction!) and taking every opportune moment to give my opinion in this or that issue. But I think much of this is pride and, as this verse indicates, foolishness. Scripture would tell us that maturity is seen in one who is slow to speak, quick to listen, and in one who always ponders their answer before they give it. Fools, on the other hand, can’t stop blabbing. And unfortunately, this is a vicious circle. The more I spout my opinion, the less I learn. The less I learn, the more empty and groundless my opinions become.

Yet, quiet thoughtfulness is not something that should only characterize my time in seminary. Throughout my life I anticipate my growth in understanding and knowledge to be in direct proportion with my ability to be quiet and listen. There will always be people more wise than us, and the moment we forget this vital truth, we put ourselves out of the reach of genuine instruction and in a spiritually precarious position.

This is not to discourage good discussion in the classroom or the sincere asking of questions; nor does it mean that we are obligated to thoughtlessly swallow every last word our professors speak—this would also be unwise. But the overall tenor of the classroom should be, for the students, one of diligent and thoughtful learning. There is a reason why they are the teacher and we are not.