I have this recurring dream every two months or so that I’m back in school. In this dream I’m not missing any items of clothing (so it’s not that dream), but it’s the dream where roughly two-thirds of the way through a semester I realize I haven’t been to class even once, read a single page, completed any assignments, and there’s no possibility of catching up. I’ve heard of others who have this same dream, so I’m not alone. Today, I’m happy to say that one part—and hopefully it remains only one part—of that dream is coming true as I dive headfirst back into the academic world.
Last Thursday was my first official day as a PhD student and the anxiety level—that nervous energy—seems to be fluctuating somewhere between 9 and 10. Recently, I read about the imposter syndrome—the idea that “I’m a fraud and before long everyone will know it” experienced by many Ph.D. students—and I’ve resonated with that sentiment from the moment I applied for admission into the program. The questions echo in my mind: Am I up to the challenge? Am I smart enough? disciplined enough? What if I fail? Is it even worth it?
So, in effort to combat those questions (which are grounded in fear and doubt), I think it better to answer the more foundational question: Why am I pursuing a PhD? In this post, I offer three main reasons with hope that it might spur each of us in our walk with the Lord.
For the sake of knowledge
Simply put, I’m pursuing a PhD because I have a desire to learn more and I now have the opportunity to do so. I have always enjoyed the classroom—if that makes me a nerd then I don’t want to be cool. I remember in my university years when I was still green when it came to studying theology, a professor said something along the lines of “the more you learn of the Bible, the more you see how much you don’t know.” That remains true; I long to learn more and I have the opportunity to do so in a formal academic setting. I count it a responsibility as a minister of the gospel to be a life-long learner and I want to make the most of any opportunity the Lord brings my way.
For the sake of the church
My research major is apologetics and I did not come to that decision lightly. As the surrounding culture grows increasingly hostile toward Christianity, it becomes all the more necessary that we answer such hostility with a robust gospel message—a message simple in form but with vast cultural implications. Local churches in the US must be ready to give a “defense to anyone who asks . . . for a reason for the hope that is in [us]” (1 Pet 3:15).
For the sake of the nations
As part of my MDiv from Southwestern Seminary, my family and I served with the IMB as missionaries for two years in Madagascar. Despite the fact that we returned to the States afterward, my passion for God’s glory among the nations hasn’t lost any steam. With apologetics as my emphasis, I will study world religions extensively and, Lord willing, use that knowledge by training missionaries headed toward career service on the field, church members preparing for short-term mission trips, and be better equipped for service myself.
But is a PhD really necessary for any of the reasons I give above?
Of course not.
No formal education is ultimately necessary for anyone to learn more, to serve the local church, or to reach the nations for Christ. William Carey, the Father of modern missions, is proof positive. He had no formal education beyond the age of 12, yet he was far more intelligent than I ever hope to be.
For the sake of obedience
There is an underlying motivation that compels me and strengthens my resolve: By the power of the Holy Spirit, I want to be faithful to do what God has called me to do and to maximize each and every gift he has entrusted to me. My reasons for pursuing a PhD are simply that: mine. Perhaps the Lord has called you to the same; perhaps not. But one thing I know for certain: we have all been called to faithfulness in every pursuit we undertake. Let us do that and the church will be strengthened and the nations reached.