Should You Pursue a Ph.D.?

[Editor’s Note: This post originally appeared on December 4, 2013.]

I knew from the time I was a senior in college that I wanted to earn a Ph.D. in either church history or theology. I felt like this was the right course for me whether I ended up as a professor, a vocational pastor, or both. I have never regretted that decision. However, I do not believe that my decision should be everyone’s decision. There is often significant cost and always significant time involved in earning a Ph.D. It can also be a taxing season on a family–especially a young family. Anyone considering applying into research doctoral programs should pray long and hard before they pull the trigger on that decision, especially if they do not feel strongly led by the Lord to work in higher education.

If you are considering research doctoral studies, I want to point you to some resources to help you think through this important decision. These resources represent the pros, cons and “perhapses” of whether or not it is a good idea to pursue a Ph.D.

  • I have previously written a post titled “On the Merits of a Ph.D. in Church History or Historical Theology.” I focus on my own discipline, but I think most of the principles apply more broadly. I am a strong advocate of pastors earning research doctorates if they are willing and able.
  • John Stackhouse of Regent College has an excellent, thoughtful essay titled “Thinking about a Ph.D.?” This is an especially helpful article for those who desire to teach in a college, university or seminary context.
  • Blake White, a pastor in Texas, has written a helpful piece titled “Why I Did Not Do a PhD.” White planned to earn a Ph.D., then changed his mind. Perhaps his reasons will resonate with some of you.
  • Gerald Hiestand of the Center for Pastor Theologians has written two excellent essays (here and here) on the need for pastor theologians who are able to write theology from and for the church. Those who are called to this vocation often, though not always, pursue advanced doctoral studies.

(Note: This post is cross-published at Christian Thought & Tradition)

Print Friendly, PDF & Email


  1. Kenny Hilliard   •  

    I agree with the necessity of prayer and preparation for the PHD program. I was not prepared and had to do some significant reading in my field to catch up. However, though the degree is crazy difficult and time consuming. My wife and I have both felt that even were I to quit today it was worth the time and money. This degree forces you to think very hard about many things and I feel that it has matured me in ways that I could not have otherwise been outside of the Seminary. It is not an adventure for the weak or lazy, but it is certainly a worth while investment and a fantastic journey. Thank you for the article. I hope that some who are tentative on the subject might find it useful. Oh, and I don’t see any articles suggesting a PHD in Biblical Studies. Bias? I’ll leave that up to public opinion.

  2. GeoffSmith   •  

    I thought and prayed for a long time about this very issue. I may still pursue such a degree in the future but on different terms. As my wife and I thought it through and I realized that the courses offered at my seminary just wouldn’t satisfy any doctoral program, I decided to just get a BS in Mechanical Engineering. Anyhow, good post. It spurred me to post about this on my own blog.

  3. Pingback: Should you do doctoral work in theology? | My Blog

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *