You have often emphasized the importance of being in the trenches with the people. But if that is the case, then doesn’t it make theology and philosophy, especially some of the more complex topics, just excess baggage? I am currently a philosophy student seriously considering applying for my Ph.D and I have been struggling with the question of relevance of philosophy in serving and loving others. I am wondering if I am simply wasting my time with my pursuit of Ph.D
I totally understand your struggle here and I was in the exact same boat about five years ago. It often seems that ministry and multiple degrees are at odds. But if God has given you the green light on further education, there’s no reason you can’t do both here: you can still serve people in the trenches while pursuing your education.
After all, everyone is in the trenches somehow. The homeless guy and the young entrepreneur and the single mom and the cancer patient and fellow tenured professors all need Jesus. If anything, you might be widening your net.
It’s really a false dichotomy to pit both sides against each other. You can try for Both/And instead of Either/Or. Christian ministry needs just as many educated professionals as they do willing untrained volunteers. While no one needs a decade of degrees to do God’s work, you can actually have a huge sphere of influence that many could not. In the world’s eyes, sometimes that “doctor-title” can open doors.
I’ve also seen guys go after extra education with the wrong heart: wanting to boost credentials, chase self-promotion, and accrue useless knowledge. It’s a powerful thing to say “I have a PhD” and attach Doctor to your name. But no one should ever feel like they have to get a PhD for the sake of hanging with the “academic elite.” Some dudes just educate themselves into ignorance. It doesn’t make them any better — only worse.
There was a young lady, a friend of my pastor, who was deciding on either seminary or a secular PhD in Psychology, and ultimately she chose the PhD. Her big question was: Can I still help people with my PhD as much as I could in a church?
She discovered later that she was able to help people in places that no one else would have access to. She’s continued serving church too. As far as I know, she is still working with people in the trenches while teaching classes, and she is able to reach a broad group of people. But the big thing was: she made a willful choice to serve anywhere she was. She made it happen.
My friend, I know you have a lot to think about. But with any gift that God has given you, whether education or tons of money or incredible talent, it’s all in how you’re going to use it. Some of that degree will certainly be useful, but it will take your willful decision to use it for Kingdom work. Loving people is a conscious intention that will grow or die, regardless of where you are. I’ve seen some Christians totally corrupted by big opportunities, and I’ve seen Christians take it all the way to God’s glory. Take this one to God and see how He can best work through you. And wherever you end up, love those people.
Also watch: John Piper — Should pastors get PhDs?