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)