Why a DMin and not a PhD?

Here are 8 reasons I am happily pursuing a Doctor of Ministry degree in Biblical Theology than a Doctor of Philosophy degree in biblical or theological studies:

  1. I’d have to move. Now, I could do a PhD from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Systematic Theology focusing on ecclesiology in a modular format where I wouldn’t have to move. I’d love to do a PhD on that under John Hammett. So this is not a strong reason and if it weren’t for the ones below I might have gone in this direction.
  2. I’m already a pastor. John Piper said, “If a Ph.D.program is set up—and there are some — to really let you work on the Bible for three or four years, and the understanding of the Bible in its larger implications for life and reality, then, on your way to your pastorate, that could be gold.”
  3. It costs too much. It’s at least 4 times the price.
  4. It demands more attention than I can give as a solo pastor working for church reform in a church that was dying.
  5. I don’t desire to break new ground in biblical-theological research for pastors and scholars. I desire to discover and re-discover familiar ground saying it in a fresh way to my generation and congregation from my perspective.
  6. I want to be a doctor primarily in the church rather than for the church. “Doctor” in Latin means teacher. We need teachers (scholars) for the church, writing scholarly works to grow deeper in knowledge and supply all kinds of resources pastors and teachers in the church to use. I use the resources they produce. But we also need doctors in the church: preaching, teaching, and discipling church members to obey everything Christ commanded for the accomplishment of the great commission to the glory of God. The church is on the front line institutionally. The church members are on the front line organically, interacting with non-Christians everyday in the marketplace, the workforce, at school, and online. They need doctors, teachers of the highest caliber, equipping and strengthening them to the task of gospelizing the world week in and week out.
  7. I aim to equip the members of my church and other pastors in grasping the basics of biblical theology for their everyday disciple-making ministry and using biblical theology to gospelize the world. One dream I have is to see Los Angeles County filled with more healthy evangelical churches than less healthy evangelical churches. I can best influence pastors and churches to this end through pastoral ministry more than professorial ministry.
  8. I don’t want to leave the pastoral ministry now or ever. Doing a PhD opens doors to full time ministry in the academy (though the faculty posts to applicants is overly saturated in biblical and theological studies). But I want to be in the church full time. The local church is on the front lines of the battlefield, my giftedness and experience is in this area, and this is the one institution that Christ has set up that will last into eternity. I realize doctors for the church serve the church in an indirect and important way. I want to serve the church in a direct and important way.

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PJ Tibayan

4 Comments

  1. Very well stated, PJ. I have gone through this thought process numerous times. I think we desperately need to re-discover the glory of Christianity, the gospel, the fact that God Himself came to earth! What a thought! I too will go for the D.Min. instead since it is more aligned with my passions to be an informed practitioner. All the best!

  2. PJ, this is very articulate, and it was encouraging to me—I love your heart of devotion to the church. I have felt similarly: I’m not called to the life of research or of the scholar but the life of the pastor-teacher (with maybe an extra academic edge?). However, and I’ll go right to the hard question: is it right, given how Jesus warned people against titles such as “Rabbi” and “Father” (Matt 23:7ff.), for a DMin to claim the title “Doctor Smith” when he hasn’t done the academic work all laypeople intuitively associate with that title? Even if a pastor with a DMin is careful to distinguish his professional degree from an academic one, I think the distinction will be lost on the hoi polloi: the resonant academic associations of “Dr.” will still be present whenever the title is ascribed to him. But the title “Doctor” will be comparatively devalued. I recently listened to a keynote (local area) conference message by a guy with a DMin, and it was definitely superior to the messages of the pastors with BAs who subsequently spoke. But it didn’t have the extra level of accuracy and depth I’ve come to associate (after years of seminary myself) with a PhD. I could tell a difference.

    So why not do the DMin work and eschew the title? Or find some other means of professional development?

    I wrote a post on this a few years back (http://bit.ly/2xjkqui), and the topic has come up again in discussion with some friends. An internet search brought me here, and I’m happy it did—I would gladly hear your perspective.

    • Question: is it right, given how Jesus warned people against titles such as “Rabbi” and “Father” (Matt 23:7ff.), for a DMin to claim the title “Doctor Smith” when he hasn’t done the academic work all laypeople intuitively associate with that title?

      Is it right? That’s tough. Can I speak personally? I personally eschew the title of “pastor” with my name though I am happy to be a pastor of Bethany Baptist Church. I believe that the power is in the content and character and competency of the servant and his service, not the title. I actually plead with visitors to call me “P. J.” when they call me “Pastor P. J.” The same would go for doctor if I finish my DMin.

      I know too many guys with PhDs who are not more but less effective in ministry context because of not knowing how to contextualize and apply their training in the ministry context. The same could be said about MDivs and DMins in different ways. I think what matters is what training you’re going for, why you’re going for it, and how you use it.

      On another related note, have you heard Kevin Vanhoozer on Pastor-Theologians? The “Doctor” in the church was different than what we think about with academics in our modern context. I commend this lecture to you (with video, audio, and a transcript): https://divinity.tiu.edu/media-resources/video/teds-lecture-series-kevin-vanhoozer/

      Enjoy!

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