- Church Relevance has puts out its list of the top 100 Church Blogs (actually 140). It looks like they use a matrix involving Alexa rankings, unique visitors, Google page rank, Good reader subscriptions, and Yahoo inlinks. Brian’s annoyed that he wasn’t included in the list (few biblioblogs or theoblogs were), but I’m pretty sure it’s because blogs that espouse Arianism aren’t allowed. And, while we’re on the subject, the September Biblioblog Rankings are out.
- Diglot asks which schools are best for doing a PhD in Biblical Studies. He’s gotten some good feedback in the comments, along with links to a couple of other good posts on the subject.
- Jim West is giving away a copy of Maurice Casey’s Jesus of Nazareth. Winning a copy will take some work since, but if you’re interested, go check it out.
- October’s Biblioblogger Carnival is out. Stephen’s post on justified belief gets noticed, as does Brian’s review of Diogenes Allen’s Philosophy for Understanding Theology.
- Dave Black lists 13 Things Your Greek Teacher Won’t Tell You. This isn’t a traditional blog, so you’ll have to scroll down or search to find the list. But it’s worth checking out.
- The 2010 Ig Noble prizes were awarded last night. Apparently these prizes are given every year for serious research that just sounds really funny. This year’s winners included research into whale snot, treating asthma with roller-coasters, relieving pain through swearing, and bat sex, among other things.
- And, Google street view now includes Antarctica. That seems odd to me. Shouldn’t you have streets if you’re going to have a street view?
Fortunately, I had a great supervisor in my doctoral program and really enjoyed every aspect of the experience. Talking with some other doctoral students, though, this comic isn’t too far off the mark. If you’re interested in doctoral programs, make sure you know what kind of track record your prospective supervisor has when it comes to actually supervising students.
One of the more common questions I run into as a Th.M. program director is, “Do I need a Th.M.?” That’s an understandable question. Before you spend that much time and money on a degree, you should be convinced that you really need one. And, I probably answered that question a dozen times this past summer. So, I thought I’d do my best to answer it here. Here’s my answer….No.
I realize that’s probably a surprising answer from someone who runs a Th.M. program, but the simple fact is that whether you are headed toward a doctoral program, local church ministry, or something else, I’m not aware of any Christian vocation that absolutely requires a Th.M. In virtually every sphere of life, the Th.M. is optional. So, do you need a Th.M.? Probably not. It used to be the case that many Ph.D. program required that M.Div. students get a Th.M. as an academic upgrade to their largely ministerial degree before beginning their doctoral work. That is generally not the case anymore.
But, if you don’t actually need a Th.M., why would you bother getting one? Ah, now that’s a different question. Whether you should proceed with a Th.M. is not so much a question of whether you need a Th.M., but whether you need a Th.M. The job that you’re headed toward may not require a Th.M., but there are a variety of situations in which a Th.M. can be of tremendous value anyway. Here are several reasons that you may want to pursue a Th.M. even though it’s not absolutely required.
- Filling gaps in your training. Let’s face it, unless you are a truly unique individual, you probably did not have time to pursue everything that you needed to in your Master’s degree. There’s a good chance that you prepared really well in some areas and less well in others. Even if you intend to specialize in one area of biblical/theological studies, a Th.M. provides you the opportunity to develop some of your secondary interests and fill some gaps in your preparation. Some of our Th.M. students come in with only the basics in Greek, Hebrew, systematic theology, or church history. These students use the Th.M. to fill these holes in their training.
- Broadening your training. Other students were able to lay a good foundation in all the biblical disciplines during their undergrad and graduate programs, but still feel the need for greater breadth in their preparation. I entered my Th.M. at least partially because I wasn’t ready yet for the kind of specialization that would be required in a doctoral program. Specifically, although I intended to focus my Ph.D. in systematic and historical theology, my Th.M. allowed me to spend considerable time on Hebrew and OT studies. These were areas that I did not develop adequately in my Master’s training, and I wanted a broad foundation that included significant time in all of these disciplines. Others are interested in using the Th.M. to prepare for local church ministry, seeing the Th.M. as an opportunity to broaden their biblical/theological training further than they were able in their Master’s programs.
- Determining your specialization. One of the more common reasons for pursuing a Th.M. is that you want to continue on to a doctoral program, but you don’t yet know the specific specialization that you want to pursue. You may be interested in both systematic theology and church history, both NT and OT, or both the Gospels and the Pauline literature. Without a little more focus, it can become difficult (if not impossible) to select to right doctoral program for you. The Th.M. gives you a little more time to pursue various interests so that you can make the right decision about what you want to focus on in your doctoral program. As a matter of fact, it was during my Th.M. that I was finally able to settle on systematic theology as the focus of my doctoral program rather than historical theology or NT studies. So, the Th.M. proved very helpful for me in this area.
- Developing your specialization. Other students know what they want to specialize in during their Ph.D. program, but aren’t yet qualified to pursue that specialization at the doctoral level. If you fell in love with Greek during your Master’s program, but didn’t have enough electives to develop sufficiently in this discipline, the Th.M. allows you the time to lay a solid foundation for succeeding in your doctoral program.
- Developing more teaching areas. Many schools are looking for people who can teach in more than one discipline. If you only have a specialization in Old Testament Law and its ancient near-eastern parallels, you may find it somewhat more challenging to find a teaching position than the person who is qualified to teach introductory classes in a couple of different disciplines. A Th.M. lets you develop some of those secondary teaching areas that can be very attractive to administrators.
- Deepening your biblical/theological foundations for effective ministry. This is actually somewhat akin to “broadening your training,” but I wanted to make it more explicit that the Th.M. can be a great degree for ministry preparation. It’s not just a pre-Ph.D. degree. As Mark Stevens helpfully pointed out, the Th.M. can help add depth to your preaching/teaching ministry and give you a chance to develop (further) your understanding of pastoral theology. Around half of our Th.M. students use the degree to prepare for a doctoral program. The rest are in the program to deepen their preparation for effective ministry.
- Setting you up for future success. All of these really add up to the same thing. Although the Th.M. is not absolutely required for anything, there are a variety of situations in which a Th.M. can be very helpful in setting you up for future success in your doctoral program or ministry setting.
So, as I often tell students, the Th.M. is the one degree program that no one actually needs. (That’s why they don’t let me work on marketing material.) But, the Th.M. can be very valuable for a lot of people in quite a few different circumstances. Whether you fit in any of those categories is something that you need to work out.
Earlier today I posted a link to a video of John Piper discussing whether pastors should get PhDs. That video has begun to make its way around the blogosphere and has prompted a really thoughtful response (both appreciative and critical) from Dane Ortlund. Nick Norelli has also weighed in with a brief comment in favor of Piper’s overall take on the subject. I’d encourage you to watch the video, and then I’d like to hear what you think. I’d also be interested to know if you think that his arguments extend to Th.M. programs as well.
There have been a few posts and discussions lately about advice on preparing for Ph.D. studies. We’ve already noted Allen Yeh’s advice on pursuing doctoral programs, and my comments. And, of course, just today Ben Johnson gave us his thoughts on what it’s like to transition from a Th.M. to a Ph.D. in the UK. And, he noted a couple of other helpful posts by Ben Blackwell and Nijay Gupta.
Near Emmaus has posted a couple of other good sources of advice on this subject that I thought might interest you:
For those of you interested in pursuing a doctoral degree eventually, Allen Yeh has offered some Advice for Applying for Grad School. I’d encourage you to take a look at it, but I would like to offer an alternate perspective on a couple of things.
First, I’d preface everything that Allen says by arguing that who you know is even more important than where you went to school. (I’ll be blogging on this again soon.) The name of your school is helpful if you’re having to cold sell yourself to a school. But, if you’ve networked effectively, your best job opportunities will come through the grapevine, where the name of your school is not as much of an issue. That doesn’t mean you can ignore this consideration, but it does mean you should pay attention to your networking opportunities now.
Second, much of what Allen says applies more to those who want to keep the possibility of teaching at a state school on the table. Let me be honest with you. If you are doing MA/MDiv/ThM work at a private Christian school, you are probably not going to be hired at a state school no matter where you do your doctoral work. There are a few exceptions to this, but that’s generally true. And, be honest with yourself, if you are the kind of person who is attracted to studying at a private Christian school, do you really want to teach at a state school? Do you want to operate in a context where your evangelical convictions will routinely be marginalized, your objectivity challenged, and your research plans questioned? If you are an evangelical, why not simply embrace that fact and teach at a school where you will be free to present and pursue your evangelical research? That doesn’t mean I think we should abandon the state schools. There are many evangelicals who are gifted and called to just that kind of environment. The question is, are you one of them? If not, don’t arrange your doctoral plans around the idea of keeping something on the table that maybe shouldn’t have been there in the first place.
Third, Allen talks quite a bit about the academic superiority of the American Ph.D. over the British Ph.D. And basically he’s right. But, what he doesn’t take into account is the kind of work that a person may have done before their doctoral program. If you already have multiple degrees in your field, I would not hesitate for a second to encourage you toward a British program. You’ve probably had enough time already to get prepared in your field and you’re ready to work independently for a while. And, as Allen mentions, a British Ph.D. is not going to set you back at all with American seminaries. But, if you have not yet done enough coursework in your other programs, by all means go the American route.
Finally, his point about which subfield to specialize in is well worth considering. The statistics on applicants-per-position in New Testament and Systematic Theology are not good; Old Testament is not far behind. If those are your passions and you want to pursue those fields despite the odds, go for it. But, if you are open to pursuing a subfield of practical theology, that might set you up better for the future.