Throwing in the Gown … PhD (barring a miracle)


I have desired to earn a PhD in Christian Theology for many years, probably ever since I was in undergrad back in 1998. A PhD is obviously and usually considered what is called a terminal degree, since it represents the pinnacle of academic learning and resource. After undergrad I went on to pursue an MA in Biblical Studies at Multnomah Biblical Seminary (the same institute where I earned my BA in Theology and Biblical Studies), I actually was going to do an MA in Philosophy of Religion at Talbot School of Theology (we had moved back to my homeland–at that point to do so–but because of finances that door closed–I think the MA in Philosophy of Religion would have served me much better professionally than did the degree in Biblical Studies from Multnomah). Anyway, we went back to Portland, and I did indeed earn that MA in Bib Studies (with a thesis written and defended on I Corinthians 1:17-25). After this, we needed a break from academics (not just me, but my family), and so we kind of stumbled around the West Coast (of America) looking for teaching jobs for me (like High School Bible), or pastoral positions. I was actually hired to be a youth pastor back in 2003-4, but this fell through for some unfortunate reasons; and then I was actually hired in 2004 to teach high school Bible at a school in Vista, California (but the pay was an insult and not sustainable for me and my family). So we came back, once again to the Pacific Northwest. I worked for a few professors for awhile back at Multnomah (was considered adjunct faculty at that point), and then moved on to various jobs, which is the position I am in now.

Anyway, through all of this my desire to earn a PhD has never waned. So after dealing with some health issues (which many of you know about), I applied to a school in South Africa called South African Theological Seminary to their PhD program in Theology which can be done totally by distance. Myk Habets graciously contracted with them to be my primary adviser, and so I was very excited about this (this is all back in 2010)! But the years have gone by since then, and the funding I need to do this program is nowhere available. We aren’t going to take out anymore student loans (we already have massive, and I mean massive amounts of those from undergrad between my wife and myself, and then my seminary degree), and so we have come to a dead end, really. Not only that, but getting a degree from a South African school is not going to set me up well for acquiring a teaching position at a Bible College or Seminary in the States. So these two forces and realities together seems to mitigate my motivation to pursue this degree, at least from South African Theological Seminary. If I am going to spend that kind of time, and money, then I need to get a degree that will at least make me competitive for getting in the door at some American school. Furthermore, having this dangling desire for getting this PhD done, has been a nagging distraction for me. Either I am going to do it, or I am not. And barring any kind of miracle, it does appear that I am not; which is a very very sad realization that has only recently been setting in on me (among some other disappointments—but I’m alive 😉 !). In a way though, I do feel more free by not having this kind of carrot out in front of me. I feel more free to focus on others, and to think about other ministry opportunities (even though to be honest those aren’t really forthcoming either).

Anyway, just venting, and letting you all know where I am at in this process. This is still a dream of mine, but I’m afraid it will only and always remain such. But I do realize that there is nothing too difficult for the LORD!



  1. Hey Bobby, dreams are alot like life. It takes death to gain life. Resurrection life is better than life and resurrected dreams are also better after death to those dreams.


  2. Bobby – I’m doing a ThD at Columbia Evangelical Seminary (Rick Walston, President). This is an entirely distance-based program. It is non-accredited, and doesn’t claim to be, but it is a very rigorous program and very reasonable from a cost perspective. I don’t expect to be able to teach at a seminary with a ThD from a non-accredited school, but the joy and satisfaction this work gives me is great, and the spiritual/mental exercise leads me into greater wholeness and usefulness for Christ’s ministry. May God give you His dreams for your life, and make rich provision for the fulfillment thereof.


  3. Sorry – my previous comment came off like an advertisement. Didn’t intend to go there. Ignore everything I said but for the well-wishing. Steve Scansen had the best wisdom of all.

    You clearly have a strong intellect and a gift of articulation. May you be a sharp sword in His hands, brother.


  4. Bobby, sad to hear that from you. Earning a PhD is indeed quite a challenge. Anyway, maybe there are other opportunities to use your gifts, including your intellectual talents. This blog for instance is such a place. Thanks for sharing! I hope this decision of yours will be a blessing, although it may be a blessing in disguise.


  5. @Steve,

    Good words, thanks!

    @Scott, no it didn’t come off as an advertisement. I live just down the road (about 30 minutes) from Columbia. I would just prefer to study with Myk Habets, truth be told! But if I am going to put that kind of effort and money into something, I want need it to also open employment doors for me. Otherwise I can just do all the research, writing and reading that I do anyway. It will be that people just won’t pedal stool me like they would if I had the doc ;-).

    @AT, I realize getting the PhD itself is challenging (which I’m up for!), it isn’t that; it is that I can’t even afford (financially or logistically) to do a program. Like we aren’t going to move to New Jersey or elsewhere … I have a family, and they have needs too etc. It’s okay, I’m okay with being Bobby Grow with a Masters degree from Multnomah Biblical Seminary as my terminal degree :-). I am not absolutely closing the door to this, it is not really a voluntary decision, but one that seems to have been foisted on me per life’s circumstances.


  6. Hi Bobby,
    I know you are up for the intellectual challenge. You have proved to be. But indeed, there are other challenges as well, such as the financial and the logistic. That’s what I aimed at.
    All the best! Arjen (From ‘Qualitative Theology’)


  7. Amen to the last sentence in your post, Bobby. And know that I am learning a lot from the things you write – thank you! Prayers for you and your family.


  8. Thanks, Jerome!


  9. Bobby, it sounds like you’re making a wise decision. There is absolutely *no* academic job guarantee, even if one gets the degree from a top institution. I think if one is going to do the PhD in theology they need to go into it with an openness to using it for church ministry or overseas missions work. No one should spend $100k+ (not to mention loss of wages they could be earning) with the thought that they will have earned a full-time academic post. I know of more than a few people who have set themselves up for spiritual bitterness and financial hardship because of the PhD process.

    With that said, you might try to find a good institution where you can get funding. Then you could undertake the PhD without saddling your family with any debt. You guys can cobble together a living during the 3-4 years you’re working on your degree, and then see what doors open up. I know of people who have gone to Wheaton, Baylor, and other places that have gone tuition free and sometimes have even received a small stipend to help with living expenses. My friends have been able to find out upon acceptance what sort of financial help they would receive. It’s worth compiling for yourself a list of places that offer such funding for PhD students.


  10. Matt,

    Thanks. Yes, I know of some who have taken on a financial burden to get their PhD that is too painful to bear thinking about, personally.

    It is not just about funding for me, there are also other logistical hurdles. My kids are at a very formative age (socially etc.), and then there are other concerns, as far as living across the country etc. Anyway, I just don’t think a PhD is in my future, at least not at the moment. I do know many others who have or are attending either places like Wheaton or PTS where they are fully funded (we probably know the same people, at least some of them). I have compiled this kind of list, so to speak , in the past; but there have always been other issues in the way, that go beyond just finances (although that is a huge part of it).