That’s probably not true, but it’s going to be pretty stinkin’ long – at least for TWOG.
I thought a lot of you would find the following (15 page) journal entry interesting, and that for two main reasons: First, I know that many of you are interested to know where my thoughts are on whether I should continue to pursue my doctoral studies or set them down. Second, I’m sure that many of you would be interested to know what my process of discernment looks like when I need to make a major decision, and this will serve as a good example.
This entry, of course, does not explain the entire process. In fact, it really only accounts for one day. But I make enough references to other aspects of my process of discernment that you should get a pretty clear picture of what the entire process looks like. I have taken similar approaches to at least 4-5 other major decisions in the last 8 years, but this is the first time I have written extensively about it.
I’d also like to encourage pastors or seminarians to read this entry carefully as it expresses some of my best thinking (however paltry) on the teaching ministry of the pastorate.
So, make some popcorn, settle in, and have a good read. Looking forward to your feedback.
Journal Entry from May 16th, 2008
Reading: Psalm 1; Proverbs 1-3; 1-2 Timothy; Titus
I have come to the point where a decision clearly needs to be made as to whether I continue on in doctoral work or set that aside and devote myself to other things. I have set aside this entire day to seek God in prayer, through his Word, through fasting, and in discernment to decide the matter. I don’t know that I’ll have an answer by the end of the day—God is not bound to speak—but I do hope to. I’ve thought about it much, have prayed and sought wise counsel over the last six months. It’s time to bring it to God and ask him to speak clearly and lead me one way or the other. I am thankful to have come to a place (more or less) of neutrality on the issue, so that I am well positioned to follow wherever God desires to take this. I’m beginning my morning with breakfast and Psalm 1 and Proverbs 1-3.
In reading Psalm 1, I recognize that the first thing I need to do in seeking the Lord’s voice is to repent and seek forgiveness for persistent sin. God blessed those who delight in his instruction, not those who stand in the way of sinners. And, as Proverbs 1 says, “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of knowledge.” I do not expect the Lord to speak clearly to me if I persist in rebellion against him. Clearly, in Proverbs, the contrast between wisdom and folly parallels the contrast between righteousness and wickedness:
Prov. 1:23: “If you turn at my reproof, behold, I will pour out my Spirit on you; I will
make my word known to you.
Prov. 1:29-31: “Because they hated knowledge and did not choose the fear of the
Lord, would have none of my counsel and despised all my reproof, therefore they shall eat the fruit of their way, and have their fill of their own desires.”
Prov. 2:3-7: “…If you call out for insight and raise your voice for understanding; if you seek it like silver and search for it as for hidden treasures, then you will understand the fear of the Lord and find the knowledge of God. For the Lord gives wisdom; from his mouth come knowledge and understanding; he stores up sound wisdom for the upright; he is shield to those who walk in integrity.”
Prov. 3:5-7: “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and do not lean on your own understanding. In all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight. Be not wise in your own eyes; fear the Lord, and turn away from evil.”
[spent an hour in confessional and repentant prayer]
I just enjoyed a long time of prayer in repentance from sin, for forgiveness and cleansing through Christ, and for healing, restoration, and heart change from the Spirit. Lying prostrate, face in the grass and hands open, I am refreshed and renewed, and ready to seek God’s will in earnest. I’m going to take time now to read the Pastorals to remind myself of the character and nature of my calling.
[spent about an hour reading the Pastorals slowly and meditatively]
Relevant counsel from the Pastorals for this decision:
- There is a danger in education: namely, wandering away into discussion that just do not matter and do not benefit the church, but rather bring a haughty and arrogant spirit (1 Tim. 1:6-7).
- An apostolic ministry is marked by preaching, message-bearing (ambassadorship), and teaching with faithfulness and truth (1 Tim. 2:7; 2 Tim. 1:11, 2:24; Titus 2:1).
- The office of overseer is a noble task, requiring sober-mindedness and ability to teach. Presumably, the more sober-mindedness and capability to teach the better (1 Tim. 3:1-2).
- Overseers must manage their household well. If they are not capable of managing their household well, they are not fit to be overseers (1 Tim. 3:3-4).
- Servants of Christ are to train themselves for godliness, and in this context [1 Tim. 4] godliness is especially bound up with right thinking and right doctrine (1 Tim. 4:7).
- The salvation of my people is, in some ways, tied to me keeping a close watch both on my life and on the truth of my doctrine/teaching (1 Tim. 4:16).
- Preaching and teaching in the church is a particularly high calling, and must be taken very, very seriously (1 Tim. 5:17).
- Teaching is incredibly important, but learned people have a particular propensity to get embroiled in controversy because of unhealthy cravings for it (1 Tim. 6:2-5; 2 Tim. 2:23; Tit. 3:9)
- Paul urges his protégé: “Do your best to present yourself to God as one approved; a worker who has no need to be ashamed, rightly handling the word of truth” (2 Tim. 2:15).
- It is very possible to learn, learn, learn and never arrive at a knowledge of the truth (2 Tim. 3:7).
- Preachers need to be as well-equipped as possible to deal with controversy and potentially divisive teaching (2 Tim. 4:3-5).
- In the Pastorals a right heart and proper character always undergird the knowledge required of an overseer.
I need to spend some time in prayer over these things I’ve seen. I’ll spend the next hour in prayer over each of these observations, and then fast and pray over lunch, asking God to help me to begin to put my best case against continued doctoral work together on paper, after which I’ll pray for God’s help in putting together my best case for continued doctoral work.
[spent a little more than an hour in prayer]
My best case against further doctoral work:
The foremost concern I have in considering continuing with my doctoral work is the time it will require and what things I might more wisely do with that time. Realistically, doctoral work from now until the end of my dissertation defense will likely require (granted familial and ministry commitments) 10-15 hours per week minimum for a duration of 4-6 years. In addition, periodic sabbaticals will be necessary before key events (i.e. comprehensive exams, dissertation proposal, dissertation defense), ranging from 2-6 weeks, and I am not certain that these sabbaticals would be granted by my elders nor whether it is justified to take that much time away from the work of the ministry. The weekly time taken for study would be time otherwise spent with family, working on home projects, pursuing other useful reading, and enjoying some rest and time for hobbies. In addition, more time could be given to building and investing in my ministry through New Hope Church.
Also, committing to a certain lifestyle and schedule for 4-6 years presumes that such a schedule will still be possible during all of the next 4-6 years. It is possible—even likely—that within the next 4-6 years I may be in a different ministry position or setting entirely unknown to me at the present, and that Leslie and I will (Lord willing) have at least one more child. In addition, continued Ph.D. work is expensive. Tuition rates will likely continue to climb in this economy, while financial aid will likely continue to decrease in availability. This will cause my family to face more difficult financial decisions regarding finances that we otherwise might.
In addition, there may be averse effects on my spiritual and devotional life. Rigorous study need not, but sometimes does, lead to pride and arrogance, to burnout, to an excessive craving for controversy, and to an excessive focus on minutiae, rather than on the big picture; to viewing the Bible less as the Word of God, living and active, and more as a textbook to be analyzed and criticized. Study can also lead to an overly critical and haughty attitude toward those who are not as studied, and can even lead to an over-reliance on the power of human cognition over against prayerful, humble, faithful submission to God and his Word. I do not presume to be immune to any of these potentially deadly effects.
Finally, committing to this course of study would likely forestall much involvement in the broader national and global evangelical movement for the next 4-6 years and will limit the vast majority of my ministry involvement to my local church.
Lord, is there any significant argument I have forgotten or omitted?
Before going to prayer and asking for God’s help in putting together the best argument for continuing doctoral work, I’m going to work some on a tentative weekly schedule to help determine whether the required weekly time is even possible to build in (see scratch paper).
[spent about an hour working on a schedule for fall, summer, and spring that would allow for 45-50 hours of ministry work, 12-15 hours of study time, and at least one full day, a half day, and two other evenings a week to be entirely devoted to family]
Making a schedule for the summer, fall and spring went fairly well. It is possible, I think, to devote adequate time to family, ministry, and studies. Clearly, however, it would require an extraordinary amount of discipline in time management. The allotted time frames would have to be almost inviolable. It would require that I decline or defer unnecessary counseling appointments and other commitments. I would need to say ‘no’ to plenty of otherwise good and enjoyable meetings and leisure times. It would put greater strictures on my sermon prep time, so that if my sermons are not finished during the allotted time, they would have to be preached unfinished in reliance on the Spirit to use unpolished work. That said, it does seem possible. The hours work.
[spent about 15 minutes in prayer for help in formulating the best case for doctoral work]
My best case for further doctoral work:
First and foremostly, continued doctoral studies would allow me an almost unparalleled opportunity for rigorous study with top-flight scholars, many of whom are among the most godly men I know. This would be an opportunity for extended honing of my skills in rightly handling the Word of truth. In some sense, the opportunity rather creates an obligation. That is, in view of the thousands of men and women—church leaders—around the world who would give almost anything to be able to pursue doctoral studies at Trinity with someone like D.A. Carson, it may be a deeply ungrateful and callous thing to decline such an opportunity.
To be sure, there are times that I have almost convinced myself that further academic study would be of very minimal value to my pastoral ministry. I’m not sure what has led my to think this, however, given that my years at Trinity where the single most formative of my life for pastoral ministry—particularly my time with Dr. Carson—that that I learned so well how to understand, handle, explain, and apply Scripture, which has profoundly impacted the way I do everything else in ministry. I have no reason to doubt that further study would do the same—particularly in light of the benefits I have already reaped from doctoral study for my pastoral ministry.
A Ph.D. would bestow an influence and stature of some degree and would open up more opportunities for broader ministry at home and abroad (e.g. short-term teaching posts in under funded foreign seminaries and pastors’ colleges). Stature and influences can certainly be sought for ungodly and self-centered reasons. But, if like Bonhoeffer, they can be used for the sake of the gospel, they can be incredibly useful.
Furthermore, I sense a good deal of fear and trepidation in myself about the possibility of changing directions in a course that I am reasonably confident God set me on in the first place. I sought the Lord in this matter before I originally entered the Ph.D. program and felt confident that he was blessing this course of action. It is not impossible that he meant for me to begin the program, learn some valuable things, spend the money, and the quit. And it is not impossible that I discerned his will incorrectly from the outset. But both of these appear to me to be unlikely. It seems much more likely to me that subsequent doubts have arisen from the fruits of poor time management, a desire for ease, and a fear of frustration and failure in the program.
The counsel I have received from godly friends and advisors has been split. Interestingly, the almost unanimous sentiment among those of my own generation has been to suggest that I quit the program, while the almost unanimous sentiment among those of older generations has been to urge me to complete the program. It may be that younger generations tend to be more ignorant and dismissive than older people and lack foresight. Or, it may be that older people tend to value “letters-behind-names” too highly, while younger people rightly tend to value authenticity and wisdom more than degrees, letters, and empty credentials. It’s probably impossible to discern these things for certain. I am certainly susceptible to youthful ignorance. And I am certainly susceptible to an idolatry of letters and credentials. But I also believe it to be possible to be wise and authentic and to hold weighty credentials at the same time. However, in light of fairly balanced scales in this matter, and in light of consistent biblical instruction, I am inclined to weigh more heavily the counsel of older men (who include my senior pastor) rather than young men (cf. 1 Kings 12).
Doctoral work completed and credentialed will likely afford me increased opportunities for leadership and involvement in the broader evangelical movement (after 4-6 years), both nationally and globally. For better or worse, more leadership, teaching, training, writing, and speaking opportunities are opened to godly men with academic doctorates. This is not necessarily a good or bad thing in and of itself—it is simply reality.
What is more is that I have always been frustrated by the growing gulf between the church and the academy, where a close relationship existed until even the 20th century. Too often, these spheres do not converse and the result is a lack of piety, practicality, and focus on the mission of the church within the academy, and a dire lack of intellectual rigor within the church. But one can scarcely lament the gulf without attempting to bridge it. Completing the doctorate but continuing in pastoral ministry would uniquely position me to stand in the gulf and converse with both sides.
Lord, is there any significant argument I have forgotten or omitted?
It is 6:30pm. My mind is exhausted. I can’t think of much more that I need to think or pray about, so I am now committing this all to the Lord.
Lord, please grant wisdom and clear guidance. Please show me what is best and I will trust you with the details. I desire to please you and submit to you in all things. Be honored and glorified in these decisions. I ask it in Jesus’ name. Amen.