Why am I going back to school for a Doctorate in Biblical Theology?
Lord-willing, this July, I’ll begin my Doctor of Ministry (DMin) in Biblical Theology program at The Southern Baptist Theological Seminary in order to significantly improve my pastoral ministry effectiveness and efficiency at my local church, especially in expository preaching.
In doing this degree I aim to deepen my grasp of biblical theology, sharpen the use of the biblical languages, and discipline myself to improve my thinking and writing abilities. Here are 6 motivations that are driving me.
1. To resharpen and refocus myself after being away from formal study for 10 years.
After studying the biblical languages for 3 years in college and 2 more years in seminary, I’m not as sharp as I used to be. With the advent of blogs, internet resources, and the busyness of life, family, and ministry, I’m not as focused as I could be. I want to say “no” to the many good things that I should not be doing to focus on the best things that I must do to honor my priority. And I don’t see that as clearly as I have in the past. Being around a cohort of pastors in the program and focusing on biblical theology will help me focus on 2 of my 3 life goals and sift out what may be good but unnecessary.
2. To revive and increase my use of the biblical languages.
Martin Luther said, "Only if we have clearly understood the language will we clearly understand the content. . . If we put our minds to the [Hebrew and Greek] sources, we will begin to understand Christ rightly.” John Piper wrote, "Where the languages are not prized and pursued, care in Biblical observation and Biblical thinking and concern for truth decreases. It has to, because the tools to think otherwise are not present." The Scriptures are God-breathed (2 Timothy 3.16), not the authors. And so what was originally written in Hebrew, Aramaic, and Greek are the very words breathed out and spoken by God in writing! His Words are spirit and life (John 6.63). Man must live on every word that comes from the mouth of God (Matthew 4). I am ashamed that my Hebrew has become dysfunctional. This program will not merely make me pass a Hebrew exam to prove proficiency, it will encourage and push me to read Hebrew and Greek to see the biblical-theological connections that God intended for us to see. I want to arc the every New Testament letter in my studies. John Piper writes,
What I would say is that knowing the languages can make any devoted preacher a better preacher—more fresh, more faithful, more confident, more penetrating.
(Quoting Martin Luther) It is a sin and shame not to know our own book or to understand the speech and words of our God; it is a still greater sin and loss that we do not study languages, especially in these days when God is offering and giving us men and books and every facility and inducement to this study, and desires his Bible to be an open book. O how happy the dear fathers would have been if they had our opportunity to study the languages and come thus prepared to the Holy Scriptures! What great toil and effort it cost them to gather up a few crumbs, while we with half the labor— yes, almost without any labor at all—can acquire the whole loaf! O how their effort puts our indolence to shame.
3. To deepen my grasp of the Bible and biblical theology.
Everything flows from God’s Word. Biblical theology is understanding the Bible’s teaching on its own terms and is foundational for systematic and practical theology. 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.” I know this isn’t a PhD program, but in this program I’ll work on the bible for 3 years to understand it as a whole. In ministry, I’ll be forced to trace out the larger implications for life and reality. Here’s the seminary’s description of the DMin in Biblical Theology:
Biblical theology is vital for understanding the Scriptures of the Old and New Testament. The DMin concentration in biblical theology at Southern will equip pastors and ministry leaders to understand the Bible in accordance with the intentions of its Spirit-inspired human authors. Jesus taught the authors of the New Testament how to understand the Old Testament, and Jesus himself learned to understand the Old Testament from the way the Old Testament Prophets interpreted Moses. Our aim is to understand and embrace the interpretive perspective that is reflected in the writings of the Old and New Testaments, the interpretive perspective Jesus taught his followers. This is what it means to pursue Christian interpretation of the Bible.
Our aim is to build on the foundation laid in the student’s Master of Divinity program by strengthening the student’s skill in the biblical languages and in putting the whole Bible together for the purpose of expository preaching that declares the whole counsel of God. To this end we will pursue a course of instruction that includes review of Greek and Hebrew, along with overviews of Old and New Testament Theology and the way the biblical authors interpret earlier Scripture. The written project that will serve as the capstone of this degree will be a biblical theological sermon series, manuscripts of sermons that set the biblical text being preached in the context of the Bible’s big story and themes.
4. To improve my preaching.
I want to preach through every passage of the bible for the church. I don’t want to preach through the Old Testament and miss large and obvious biblical-theological connections to Jesus the Messiah and the New Testament that I would have seen if I devoted 3 years to immersing myself in this discipline. Nothing against the degrees in preaching, but in my view the best way to improve preaching is to improve bible reading, meditation, theological thinking, and personal application. I think the best way I can grow as a preacher is by doing a program like this while being in the weekly preaching grind as a pastor with the regular Sunday reviews that we have in our church.
5. To think and write for the church.
Jonathan Pennington writes, "We need scholars and highly trained church leaders in every generation." I want to improve my research and writing skills. Not for the sake of academic research (scholarship) but for the sake of edifying writing for the church and for non-Christians on a more popular level (church leadership). I have 1 or 2 biblical theology book ideas that might serve English speaking Christians. Being forced to write papers for each seminar and then writing a 125 page thesis can help. I'm thinking of doing my thesis on the priestly and kingly function of God’s people in Revelation 1.6 and 5.10 tracing its Old Testament roots. This has implications for ecclesiology and for the way pastors preach to shape a local group of eschatological priest-kings.
6. To encourage and equip pastors and future pastors for biblical pastoral ministry.
Primarily locally, but also internationally when the season and opportunity arises. We have pastoral interns at our church who aspire to be pastors. We have men in our church who will be staff or non-staff pastor-elders in our church. One of my big, hairy, audacious goals in life would be to see more healthy evangelical churches in Los Angeles County than unhealthy evangelical churches. I am connected to a local Baptist association where I make it my aim to encourage and equip them for biblical pastoral ministry. I help lead a regional chapter of The Gospel Coalition where it is our aim to encourage, equip, and inspire pastors to gospel-centered ministry in Los Angeles. I will, Lord-willing, be teaching, at an urban expository center to a cohort of pastors, two subjects: biblical theology and ecclesiology. I want to do missions trips with Training Leaders International and partner with The Master’s Academy International to assist seminaries and training centers around the world that lack the theological resources we are so richly privileged to have access to. The second best group of people for me to invest my time in outside of my local church family are fellow pastors locally and globally who shepherd and serve local churches. I love experiencing Jesus Christ through learning biblical theology. And when Jesus is explained and embodied to me and enjoyed by me, I “know” God more intimately. And I love drawing near to God! This is what Jonathan Edwards called “divinity.” John Piper writes about Jonathan Edwards on this “science.” "Edwards exhorts us to a single-minded occupation with God in season and out of season. Edwards calls this effort to know God "divinity" rather than theology. Have you ever wondered why the pastoral ministry degree is called a "Master of 'Divinity'"? It is a science far above all other sciences. Listen to what he says we should occupy ourselves with:
God himself, the eternal Three in one, is the chief object of this science; and next Jesus Christ, as God-man and Mediator, and the glorious work of redemption, the most glorious work that ever was wrought: then the great things of the heavenly world, the glorious and eternal inheritance purchased by Christ, and promised in the gospel; the work of the Holy Spirit of God on the hearts of men; our duty to God, and the way in which we ourselves may become . . . like God himself in our measure. All these are objects of this science. (Works, II, 159)"
Bottom line: I will improve my efficiency and effectiveness in pastoral ministry (divinity!), especially in expository preaching.
As a pastor I’m called to prayerfully preach, oversee, and equip the church while being an example of mature Christianity. The focus on biblical languages for biblical theology will help me study, preach, and disciple others better as God’s Word saturates my heart and mind. If the Lord preserves my life for another 30 years of ministry, I want the last 27 to be significantly and exponentially improved by the next 3 years devoted to this training.