Maybe I should wait to write this until I’ve actually completed my PhD. But, since I’m nearing the half-way point, and not new to theological studies, but mostly since I’ll be one hundred years old in fifty years and my health is already waning, I thought I’d better put this on paper while it was fresh in my head.
The last thing the world needs is another spiritually dead academic to lead another generation away from the wonders of God.
- Having a connection to a local church is vital – and not just filling up a pew. Involved, serving, teaching. This is as important as any course or seminar available to you. Christian community is the incubator for discipleship and theological studies should be discipleship on steroids. Submit to spiritual disciplines and become a disciple of Christ.
- Seek out professors and people who are praying people. Yoking to a dead man will soon kill you. One of the things we loved about sending our boys to the House of Prayer in Kansas City for their bachelor degrees was the dean of the school said they require their instructors to be in the prayer room every day— they want the students to see the back of the head of the professor in the prayer room two hours for every hour they see the front of the professor’s head in the classroom. If you can’t find a spiritually vibrant supervisor, make sure your area of study puts you at the feet of the vibrant. Be suspicious of theology that comes from people both living and dead, who weren’t often on their knees and tender before God.
- Ask God to speak to you and to lead you, to guide your search, highlight what you need to see/find/understand. Ask for discernment – eyes to see, ears to hear what the Spirit is saying to you– , ask his help understanding and articulating such that you can tear down speculations that set themselves up against the knowledge of God. Ask God to make you a voice, not an echo – to give you a new word and a now word. I used to pray before pastoral counselling sessions and preaching and because I now have a long history with God giving me the right things to see/say, I now pray before reading and writing. And, I ask God to activate the testimony and revelation that has been resting and dormant in the Cloud of Witnesses. The greatest source of underutilises encouragement in the Body of Christ comes from the Cloud of Witnesses. You do understand, don’t you, that theological studies puts you in the midst of testimony and encouragement of the Cloud of Witnesses?
- At some point long past I wrote on the blank page in the back of my Bible; “if you don’t shout it when you are preparing it, they won’t shout when you are preaching it… preparation must be worship.” I feel the same about theological studies. In my office at the university I have on the bulletin board this clipping from J.I. Packer… “Any theology that does not lead to song is, at a fundamental level, a flawed theology.” My supervisor is a Christian Ethicist who is writing books on things like: Singing the Ethos of God.
I have a friend who recently got a PhD and when I asked what the focus was he rattled off something that he obviously wasn’t passionate about and then said; My dissertation was read by two people and maybe they really didn’t even read it all that close and it will never be read again.
It made me sad. Basically, he made no contribution to the Kingdom with the stewardship of time he was given to dive deep into the things of God. He used the time to get a degree so he could get a job in a university. And to think parents like myself have paid top dollar to send our sons and daughters to the universities to sit at the feet of these dry wells.
My wife had one concern with me taking this hiatus from ministry and pursuing the PhD… that I’d spend a few years working on something that will make no Kingdom difference. I can report that God has me on the trail of defining and laying the foundation for an obedience movement which is something the Body of Christ has yet to see. We’ve seen movements of all sorts–– holiness movements; monastic movements; ecumenical and social gospel movements; Zionist and restoration movements; faith, charismatic, health/wealth and signs and wonders movements; missions movements; and the Church globally is enjoying a prayer movement presently taking shape in a variety of ways including a New Monasticism movement.
However, in two thousand years, has the Church ever seen an obedience movement where a generation of Christians takes the Sermon on the Mount seriously? No. If God has me on the trail of this theme, maybe it is because those days are soon to come. When I study these things, there is some shabba (special sauce :-), anointing) on them and to handle these sacred things with prayer has become vital to me.