Saturday, September 11, 2021

"I Could Never Study at Oxford!"

I'm often asked by students, "Where should I pursue my doctorate in New Testament?" Well, my school wouldn't be a bad place for sure! But ruling that option out for the sake of argument, where should you go? And the answer is, you'll never know for sure, if you limit God in any way, shape, or form. My advice is to put all of the options on the table, and then watch him whittle them down. But don't automatically rule out, say, getting your Ph.D. at a European university. I've seen several of my former masters-level students go on to get a European terminal degree. One of them is currently teaching New Testament and Greek full time at a major Christian university not very far from where I live. 

When I say this to students, I will sometimes get this response: "But if I do go to a university for my doctorate, I'm afraid I might lose my faith." Can that happen? Absolutely! There's a New Testament scholar about my age with whom I share a lot in common. We both got our undergraduate degrees at very conservative Bible colleges. Then we both went on to universities for our doctorates. There he lost his faith, whereas mine was strengthened and deepened. So yes, it can happen and has happened. So that question is fully justified. But in my view, merely asking the question is 90 percent of the battle. It shows me you're aware of that possibility and would do anything in your power to ward it off. Also, prayer is a powerful tool for determining if what you want is within the boundaries of God's will. Jesus' half brother James offers us real hope when it comes to discerning God's will for our lives (James 1:5):

If you need wisdom -- if you want to know what God wants you to do -- ask him, and he will gladly tell you. He will not resent your asking.

Therefore, if you don't know exactly what to pray for, be sure to first ask for wisdom. You can expect the things you ask for if those things line up with God's overarching plan for your life. 

Some of you will be tempted to take the easy way out. If it's convenient, it must be God's will for me, right? So I will settle for that. My advice? Don't rule out an option merely because it appears hard or difficult. You say, "I could never study at Oxford!" 


How do you know? Dare any of us limit God and put him in a box? Haven't evangelicals graduated with their doctorates from Oxford, not to mention Cambridge and Saint Andrews and Durham and Aberdeen and Tubingen and a dozen other European universities? I like how Phillip Brooks puts it: "I do not pray for a lighter load but for a stronger back." God's greatest creative act was to form human beings. He knows you. He loves you. And he has a wonderful plan for your life. I fear my students might miss this plan merely for the sake of expediency. 

Jesus once said that even the smallest bird doesn't fall from the sky without God noticing. He went on to say that we humans are more valuable than birds. God cares about you. He is willing to help you work through every question you face. All you need to do is stand close beside him, trusting in his wisdom and love.