Yesterday, I found out that I passed my doctoral comprehensive exams and it got me reminiscing...
My PhD adverture began in the Spring of 2004 when Dr. Thom Rainer visited Ninth and O to preach a series on Sunday evenings (Rainer had been more of the more influential professors in my life up to that point). After one of the services, Rainer, Dr. Cook, Jaylynn, Lydia, and I went to Applebee's for a late dinner. During the dinner, I nonchalantly asked Rainer, "What would I need to do to get into the PhD?" He casually replied, "You're In!" I did a double-take and repeated the question because surely he had not heard me correctly. His response was shockingly the same and he committed to be my supervisor if I could get through the enterance process (getting a professor to commit to be your supervisor is a vitally important step in getting into the PhD program, maybe the most crucial step). Of course I had a little work to do (primarily complete the GRE, prepare for entrance exams, and go through the interview process) before I could even be considered.
Between the time I completed the entrance requirements and as I waited to hear if I made it into the program, Rainer announced that he was leaving Southern to become the new president of LifeWay. Although I was happy to hear Rainer got the appointment, I figured my chances of getting into the program were slim since I didn't have a professor committed to take me on as their student. Well, things worked out and Dr. Chuck Lawless agreed to be my supervisor.
People often ask me what you do in the PhD program so I thought I would explain. There are three primary elements to the program: course work, comprehensive exams, and the always feared dissertation (although there are several others smaller hoops to jump through).
Regarding course work, you are required to take eight seminars (much like a traditional class but the bulk of the work usually revolves around one major paper) and five colloquiums (which are discussion-based classes). I have taken seminars on Hinduism, Mormonism, a historical examination of Soteriology (doctrine of salvation), the Emerging Church Movement, the theology of Doug Pagitt, Spiritual Warfare, Pastoral Leadership, and a historical examination of American Evangelism. I have taken colloquiums on the history of Church Growth Movement, Apologetics and Evangelism, Postmodern Theology, Church Planting, and Ministering to Younger Generations.
For comprehensive exams, you take exams related to your three primary fields of study. My two majors are Evangelism and Church Growth. My minor is World Religions. Comprehensive exams take 12 hours to take over a three day period. I was given six questions to respond to and typed roughly 57 pages.
The final step is the disseration, which is basically a 230 page book, give or take a few pages. From what I hear, this step is the most difficult of the three steps because it requires a great deal of personal discipline and its an insane amount of research and writing. A disseration is required to "add to one's field of study" and has to be a topic that has never been written on before. Over the next several weeks, I will be meeting with my supervisor to nail down a topic. I do know that it will be related to the Emerging Church Movement and it will likely focus on one to three speicific individuals within the movement. If you have no idea what the Emerging Church Movement is, you can read this artitle which provides a elementary understanding of the movement. I hope to graduate in December 2010... you can make that an issue of prayer :)
Its been a priviledge to be able to work on my doctorate, for I know that few people get the opportunity to do so. The most difficult aspect of doing a doctoral is not the papers, testng, or disseration, but the hours I spend away from my family. Lydia, my beautiful wife, is the one who is truly sacrificing, for many of nights she has put the kids down to sleep by herself. I love her for her sacrifice and she is deserving of a long vacation... I hope to get that for her one day, after graduation of course!