Tuesday, March 1, 2011

a long story with a happy ending

In the fall of 2006, more than four years ago, I started an MA in Biblical Studies at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary in Charlotte, NC.  During that first semester I spoke with several professors about PhD programs, asking for their recommendations.  Ray Lubeck, one of my mentors from Multnomah Bible College, suggested that I keep an eye on Wheaton.  While their PhD program was quite new, with a unique focus on Biblical Theology, it looked like it was going to be a strong one.

Twenty-one months ago I first sat down face-to-face with a professor from Wheaton to talk about their PhD program.  Dr. Greg Beale said that if I wanted to be a competetive applicant I would need to come in swinging; having only one MA was like fighting with one hand tied behind my back.  Since he was leaving Wheaton to take a position at Westminster, he recommended that I correspond with Dr. Daniel Block, professor of OT.  Ironically, our discipleship pastor had just driven up to Wheaton to meet with Dr. Block, and he spoke very highly of him. 

Within a month Multnomah (our alma mater) announced that they had hired their first woman Bible teacher, Dr. Becky Josberger, who had written her dissertation under the supervision of none other than Daniel Block.  I contacted Becky right away to ask her about her expereince working under Dr. Block. She responded enthusiastically, saying that studying with him had been one of the chief highlights of her life.  I quickly checked out a book from the library, The Theological Interpretation of the Old Testament Book-by-Book, so that I could read what he had to say about Deuteronomy. It was outstanding.

Around this time I was offered a job as a TA for Greek or Hebrew at Gordon-Conwell.  Danny told me that if I felt like I could handle that much work, then I should take an extra class instead so that I could graduate sooner.  We had no idea then how important that would be...

Eighteen months ago I wrote to Dr. Block for the first time, introducing myself, asking several questions, and exploring whether our research interests were a good match.  He wrote back right away with great information about Wheaton's program and a responded favorably to my research idea. We met for the first time three months later at the annual meeting of the Evangelical Theological Society in New Orleans, Louisiana (Nov 2009). The hour we spent talking literally flew by.  I had one big question for Dr. Block that day: Should I take my time to finish my current degree and add extra experience to my resume? Or should I press ahead full-speed so that I can apply next year (to begin in 2011)? He did not hesitate.  "Hurry and finish," he told me. "I am nearing retirement and I may only accept one more batch of students." Three months earlier that would have been nearly impossible, but becuase of Danny's wisdom in encouraging me to take two classes at once, I would just be able to finish in time.

Dr. Block and I corresponded throughout 2010, discussing possible research ideas.  I kept him abreast of what I was doing to strengthen my application (reading certain books, learning German, visiting the campus, etc).  I began to focus my research assignments towards a possible dissertation topic.  In September of last year I was taken aback when I learned that Dr. Block would only be accepting ONE student this year.  We began to research other schools in earnest, seeking a good backup option in case I wasn't accepted.  Each time I found one I liked, Danny would ask, "What if they say 'no,' too? Will you wish you had applied elsewhere?" After 4-6 weeks of complete preoccupation with this we had decided on four other schools: Fuller Theological Seminary, Asbury Theological Seminary, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, and Princeton Theological Seminary.  Completing my applications to all five schools took another month. Twenty-five transcripts, seventeen essays, twenty-two recommendations from seven professors and mentors, and countless emails later, my applications were complete. 

I had an opportunity to meet doctoral supervisors from all five schools in Atlanta in November, at the annual meetings of the Evangelical Theological Society and the Society of Biblical Literature.  I came away feeling like it would be a privilege to work with any one of them, but my heart was still at Wheaton. We were encouraged to learn that Dr. Block was going to be able to accept two students after all, but sobered to hear that he was in conversation with 30 other applicants for those positions.  Aside from a strong focus on Biblical Theology and integration between disciplines (OT, NT, Sytematic and Historical Theology), an all-star list of faculty, and a stellar reputation, Wheaton offers a full scholarship to each student in their PhD program, plus a generous stipend in exchange for working as a TA. This makes for a competetive application process.

I was notified one month ago that I had made the first "cut" and was being invited to interview on campus. In the interim period I received offers from two other schools (Fuller and Trinity). I've spent a number of hours talking with professors and former students from Fuller, trying to get a sense for the ethos of the school and whether we could afford to make the move to Southern California.  I tried to make good use of my time in the Chicago area by visiting Trinity's campus and checking things out around Wheaton: a house for sale, an elementary school, a preschool, a church, as well as the local public library.  I took lots of pictures for the family, wanting to give them a sense for what life in Wheaton would be like.  I felt relaxed at the interview, and enjoyed the opportunity to share more about how God has led us in this direction.  There were a couple of questions, though, for which I was totally unprepared.  I hoped that my eagerness to be formed as a Christian scholar would outweigh my ignorance of the current state of Old Testament theology.  Apparently it did.

It's amazing how God works.  I didn't want to put the house on the market until after I had received an offer of acceptance, and after our pear trees were in bloom and the grass was green.  Danny felt like it was important to put it on the market by March 1st, but wanted to have all the home improvements completed by then.  Well, guess what?  My parents arrived a week ago to help us get the house ready to sell. We now have a new deck, new kitchen floor and sink, and lots of other improvements to make the house "turn-key ready." Yesterday the trees bloomed, the grass turned green, the renovations were complete, and I got the happy phone call from Dr. Block at Wheaton.  The sign is in the yard and we're all in awe of God's timing.  My parents left this morning, but were here just long enough to hear the good news and celebrate with us.  And, while Fuller, Trinity, and Asbury are all great schools, with great professors and unique communities, it's clear to us all that Wheaton is the place for which God has been preparing us. We have lost count of the number of times we have been told by mentors and friends, "Wheaton would be the perfect place for you!" And so with joy we embark on this next phase of our journey.  To God be the glory!


  1. Wow and Wow again!!

  2. Congratulations Carmen on a job well done. It's a challenging, but exciting adventure you are embarking on! Best wishes as you prepare for the big move!

  3. To this wonderful story of persistence, prayer, and God's power, I can only say, "Amen!" See you in the fall.

  4. i enjoyed reading this post. i felt like i was on the journey with you :) congratulations again. praise god for how he has led you guys faithfully on this path! -denise

  5. Carmen,

    Congrats on being accepted to Wheaton!

    Thank you for spending time with us at GCTS a few weeks ago for the PhD. meeting.

    The insights you provided regarding PhD. candidate selection changed my entire approach to obtaining a PhD.

    Thank you again for the help!

    Keith Hart

  6. Thanks to all of you for your encouragement!
    It is, indeed, a wonderful feeling to have this part of the journey behind us and to know that we really do get to go to Wheaton! A dream come true...