I just finished Is There a Doctor in the House by Ben Witherington. Its a book that encourages students to consider going all the way with Biblical Studies. The book provides advice on how to aim your life in the right direction, including topics like finances, family, character, what reading you should do before you even get there, whether you should study in Europe or in America, etc. The book provides an excellent summary of its topic, which is nevertheless one that won’t have a very wide audience. Even so, there are a few things worth being mindful of for anyone involved in Biblical education, whether teachers, donors, or students.
First, the sacrifices that a Biblical scholar must make to earn a Ph. D. are incredible. Do you know that doing a Ph. D. in America take on average 11 years? This is only if you rush! The hard part about this is that although you would study for the same amount of time as a medical doctor, Witherington says that the pay is often worse than being a pastor. The costs include a financial sacrifice, since it costs approximately 100,000 dollars for your Ph. D. if you go to Europe, and more if you stay in America, since it takes longer here. On top of that, Witherington thinks that he spent another 100,000 dollars on books over the course of his studies and career.
Secondly, as Witherington testifies, the cost to your marriage and family is incredibly high. You can’t go into this without the whole family’s support, since it is stressful for everyone involved, but especially for your spouse. Witherington says his wife had to give up more than he did. Personally, my wife says I have to become a RMT (Registered Massage Therapist) before I can even consider beginning doctoral studies.
Finally, of those who earn a doctorate degree and who end up teaching, only 10 percent teach in the same field as their doctoral specialization. So on top of the incredible rigor and discipline required to earn your Ph.D. you also need to study as broadly as possible in order to become a General Practitioner, not just a specialist. The goal is to be prepared to teach anything that might get thrown at you when you finally start teaching. In some ways this makes me feel like the whole system is somewhat broken, but that’s a thought for another day.
In spite of all these obstacles Witherington’s book is encouraging. He reminds us that Christ didn’t call us to just do easy things for him, but to sacrifice everything and follow him. This is a hard call and many who try fail, but Witherington says he wouldn’t trade it for the world. Every Bible Scholar I know who has reached the same level confirms this.
At the end of the day, I don’t know whether I feel more encouraged to do a Ph. D. or not; in some ways, it seems like the obstacles are incredibly high; but the book did encourage me to pursue Christ more strongly. We all need to count the cost of Christ’s call on our lives, while remembering that not many of us are supposed to be teachers. Maybe its a good thing it is so hard to become one! What do you think?