Should Pastors Get PhDs?

Having been through PhD studies, would you recommend other pastors pursue this course of education?

You mean, already-pastoring pastors or planning-to-be pastors? I'll answer both.

If you're already a pastor, I wouldn't get a PhD. It's a lot of work, and the payoff is really small. Really small.

When I say really small, I don't mean studying the Bible is small payoff. But the way most PhD programs are set up it is small payoff. Because you have to read so much junk in order to get your PhD. You have to become an expert in what other people are saying, most of which is wrong.

Most of the stuff that is written in the world isn't true. And a PhD has to be an expert. And so you have to read gobs and gobs of stuff that is unhelpful.

Now I think somebody should do that. I'm glad there's a Don Carson who seems to read everything under the sun, and therefore has the capacity to respond helpfully.

I'm totally committed that there needs to be a layer of academic scholarship that is aware of what's out there and is teaching and writing. So, yes and amen.

That's not what the pastorate is, though. The pastorate is not mainly the place where you have to know every wrong thing that's being said about some slice of biblical theology. The pastorate is a shepherding of people from the Word.

So now back to saying something positive: if a PhD program is set up—and there are some!—to really let you work on the Bible for three or four years and on understanding its larger implications for life and reality, then, on your way towards the pastorate, that could be gold.

But mine wasn't set up that way. And when I was done with those three years I had a piece of paper, the German language, and an appreciation for academic theology; but I had not grown much at all, except what I got on my own.

So it is possible to do stupid PhDs for the piece of paper. I would much rather you do a wise PhD—that is, go to a place where they really let you study the Bible mainly. Yes, you've gotta read other stuff. But you want to come out of there with three years' worth with a big, large, strong, robust, deep grasp of God and his ways in the world, not just a little tiny slice of what a thousand wrong people are saying about some teeny verse in the Bible. That's just a sad use of three years.

And if you're a pastor, set yourself to study the Bible and take courses. But don't worry about a degree for goodness' sake.

I've not even opened the tube in which my diploma exists since 1974! I haven't opened it! It's in the drawer. Nobody asks about it. It doesn't mean anything anymore. (Maybe that's an overstatement.)