If there’s one thing I regret academically, it is that I did not pursue a doctorate a couple decades ago or before. I pooh poohed the idea of the need for that years back. Now I see the value in terms of opening doors and also in terms of thinking through one subject, issue or area well. I did not see a lot in those days. And no one saw that possibility in me, either. I really didn’t hang out with people in academic circles, but preferred the simple folk. In many ways I’m one of them myself, so I felt at home there and still do. But I enjoy interacting with academics.
While I respect and appreciate the degree of doctorate, I do find it a bit discouraging that so much weight is put on it. I don’t understand the ins and outs of it, what it takes to do a dissertation, though I have what I think is a good notion of it from the academic studies I have undertaken (I happen to have a Bachelor of Theology and a Masters of Divinity). Perceptions matter. I find myself to be an academic at heart. But as a late bloomer who did not see many possibilities, well very few, I see myself in many ways as one who fell through the cracks.
The degree of doctorate does not make someone. It ends up being part of the package. Sometimes I have thought that it was all about the degree so that simply by that degree the person had respect and was listened to, even esteemed. Even if they really didn’t deserve that attention. Now I respect the degree to the point that I would simply be focusing on rooting for the recipient to do well with it given the work they undertook and the hoops they jumped through to accomplish it. I would still love to do it myself, but my age and our finances make that out of the question.
I don’t see myself as an intellectual, but more like an intellectual enthusiast. I love the effort of loving God with all of one’s mind along with all of the rest of one’s being and doing. The attempt to do that. I have often wanted to know what one field I could pursue academically to get a doctorate without ruining the rest of my life in the process. Ha.
I used to think I have something just as important to contribute. I think in terms of the Spirit’s working and as a member of Christ’s body the church, I do, and so does everyone else. That is gold and even the most humble servant can teach the most learned academic something if that academic has ears to hear. I still believe that is so, but I value in ways I did not before the doctorate and I’m happy for those who are younger who have the opportunity to pursue it.
Jesus had no doctorate and in his case we can see why that was necessarily the case. He spoke with unique authority not only as a prophet with the very words of God, but as the Word of God himself. If he would have had letters from some institution in his day, people would have chalked up his authority as deriving from that. But his authority was from the Father and in his own person as well as by the Spirit. Unique then and now, even if in him we partake in something of that.
Along came Paul with all the letters so to speak, having been taught by a renowned authority of that time, Gamaliel. The brilliance, surely sheer genius of Paul is seen in his letters we have in the New Testament (as N. T. Wright has pointed out), all of that a gift from God, but developed well by him in his reading and study which was ongoing to the end of his days. In the church some traditions have upheld the value of the work of the intellect, while others have downplayed or even downgraded it.
While a doctorate does not necessarily impart wisdom along with all of the knowledge or make one a better person in and of itself, we should appreciate the value of rigorous intellectual activity.
In the end it is what we do with what we have from God which matters. We want to hear the words from the Master, “Well done good and faithful servant. You have been faithful in a few things. I will make you ruler over many things. Enter into your Master’s happiness.”