Friday, August 26, 2011

What does a PhD have to do with real life?

A wise mentor challenged me before our move to Wheaton.  He told me not to get trapped in the ivory tower of academia wrestling with questions that only matter to other scholars.  He urged me to keep my feet firmly planted on the ground, seeing to answer the qeustions that people on the street are asking.  Good advice.

As we traveled this summer and spent time with family and friends, I was struck by how many times the conversation turned to the Bible and theology.  Now that I've identified myself as a Bible scholar people take the opportunity to ask questions that have been bugging them.  These questions do not necessarily relate to my dissertation topic (though sometimes they do!).  People want to know ...
  • How can I square Genesis 1-2 with science?
  • Why does God tell the Jews to slaughter the Canaanites?
  • How can I accept the Bible when it teaches against homosexuality?
  • Does it matter whether Adam and Eve really existed?
  • Does God still heal today?
  • How can I discern God's will for me?
I'm convinced that the Bible is enormously relevant to the real-life questions people are asking today.  The death of a child, a diagnosis of cancer, strained relationships, unemployment ... these don't just happen to other people.  They happen to Christians.  And when they do we are pushed back to the Bible to find answers.  It's a privilege to be able to devote so much of my time to understanding God and His Word, and to watch God at work in the intersections of our lives.


  1. Amen! I haven't found very much in Biblical theology yet that isn't in some way practical and relevant. I have to admit I get tired of people's frequent assumptions that there is no connection. While that warning may be occasionally helpful, I hear it way too often. I would like to respond by asking whether we should also not get caught up in issues of correct English grammar, accurate accounting practices, or theoretical Science. But all personal ranting aside, I do think that part of our job as Biblical scholars is to make the connections between academia and daily life that may seem obvious to us visible to other people.

  2. Well put, Carmen. At the most basic level, all research is very important to all of our lives, and research concerning God is even moreso. However, I would like to hear from you at some point about how you're explaining to people what it is that you are doing (beyond the title "getting a PhD in Bible"...this has been a difficult transition for me. I can explain to most of my friends that I am working towards a PhD in Theology, and then the eyes glaze over...

  3. Nice blog Carmen. I'd be interested to read your responses on the topics you mentioned. Hope you passed the German exam.
    It was great to meet you at the park the other day and bump into you again at the school.
    See you at the picnic.
    Angela Coombs

  4. Brian,
    I've been pleasantly surprised at how well people have responded to my journey. My topic is pretty easy to express on a lay-level, and people see the relevance to their own lives. It seems that people can relate to a career that has certain educational prerequisites (even if they have a hard time understanding how I could enjoy the process). I would think that a focus on historical theology or systematics might be harder for the average Christian to appreciate. Nevertheless, the work needs to be done! Sooner or later your passion for the subject will get through. :)

    Ange, I'm obviously waaaaay behind on answering comments. Sorry about that! I'm afraid that this program doesn't leave much time for giving thorough answers to questions like these in my blog (at least not all at once!) but my hope is to continue to address relevant issues like this in a solid way.