Wednesday, January 2, 2008

A Subtle Shift in Theological Education

I sometimes regret choosing law school over a doctoral program after graduating from seminary. I was interested in Biblical Theology and Homiletics but my profs at Abilene Christian University (see the pic to the left) convinced me that this was a waste of time. They pushed me to look at church history or pastoral care programs but I just wasn't interested. My profs told me that unless my wife and I were willing to set aside additional time to become fluent in several languages beyond Greek, Hebrew, French and German that I would never get into a top tier doctoral program. They also convinced me that it was a waste of time to study at any school that isn't widely considered a premier institution. In regards to theological studies in the U.S. that would be Harvard, Yale, Princeton, Emory, Duke and Notre Dame and in the U.K. that would be Oxford, Cambridge, St. Andrews, Edinburgh, Aberdeen and Durham. My profs looked down their noses at "second tier" programs such as Fuller Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Westminister Theological Seminary, etc. They were wrong on many fronts!
First of all, until very recently, only U.S. schools frustratingly demanded GRE scores and language competency exams (neither of which have proven to be accurate indicators of either intelligence or work ethic). One was accepted into a top tier U.K. doctoral program based on recommendations, GPA and a proposed dissertation topic. Competency in various languages are important to be sure but doctoral students at Cambridge are not grilled on how well they can read Bultmann in the original German. Duke may demand a 700 score on the verbal portion of the GRE but I can only think of 1-2 truly influential scholars who hold Ph.D's from Duke yet I can't even begin to name the number of innovative scholars from Durham or Cambridge that never had to bother with the GRE.
Second, a number of top flight Evangelical scholars have emerged over the last few years with doctorates from so-called "second tier institutions" like Fuller, Trinity, Westminster, etc. Karen Jobes at Wheaton has written the best English language commentary on 1 Peter and earned her doctorate from Westminster. Andreas Kostenberger at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary has written one of the three best English language commentaries on the Gospel of John and earned his Ph.D. under Don Carson at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School. Finally, Thomas Schreiner at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary has proven to be one of the most prolific American New Testament scholars and earned his doctorate at Fuller.
If the scholar is the reason for choosing a Ph.D. program rather than the name on the diploma then I would rather study New Testament at Southern Baptist Theological Seminary with gents like John Polhill, Mark Seidfried and Tom Schreiner then under bores like the tired 19th century liberals at Harvard Divinity School.