As some of you may be aware from a recent Facebook post, I was just accepted into a Ph.D. program at Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary in Wake Forest, North Carolina. Starting in January 2018, I’ll be pursuing a Ph.D. in Applied Theology (North American Missiology). I am starting the program early next year and couldn’t be more excited.
For those of you who know me well, I know what you are thinking. Haven’t you had enough school? I understand. I have a Bachelor’s of Arts degree from Morehouse College, a Juris Doctorate from Howard University School of Law, and a Master of Divinity from Fuller Theological Seminary. Combined, that’s ten years of postgraduate work already.
What gives? Why am I looking to earn a fourth degree in these post-graduate streets? There are at least three reasons I decided to pursue a Ph.D.
1. I am a lifetime learner.
For as long as I can remember, I have always been a learner. As a child, I sat up at night and read the Encyclopedia Brittanica as a light bedtime read. I used to rush through my nighttime routine as a middle schooler to watch every episode of Jeopardy. While most kids in my neighborhood chased the ice cream truck, I used to chase to library’s bookmobile (yes, back in the day there were trucks filled with library books that used to drive through neighborhoods).
I just enjoy learning. So it’s no secret that my top strength on the Strengthsfinders Test is Learning. Here’s a short description of that strength:
You love to learn. The subject matter that interests you most will be determined by your other themes and experiences, but whatever the subject, you will always be drawn to the process of learning.
Yep. Guilty as charged.
2. I grieve the lack of black scholarship in the field.
Quick. Name five commentaries in your library from a Black scholar. I’ll wait. For the past year, I have spent my time on the campus of Wheaton College in beautiful Wheaton, Illinois. I love it here. But it also brought back old memories. My seminary education included very few classes with professors of color. I read very few books and commentaries from people of color. There were very few men and women in the academy with whom I had any shared cultural experiences.
As I walk around Wheaton’s campus, I experience the same angst. Where are all the black scholars? Of course, there are some in the academy doing great work. I know many of them. But, in my opinion, there aren’t enough. Much of that has to do with the historical lack of access to terminal level degrees in the minority experience.
But I am resolved to change that narrative. Especially with some theologically unsound churches and ministries in the Black experience wrecking havoc on Black souls. My people need some practical academics who speak to their experience.
3. I LOVE teaching.
My all caps there might be an understatement. I really love teaching. When I teach, it makes me feel alive. Especially when it comes to the fields of theology, missiology, and the local church.
Besides, teaching is one of my top spiritual gifts. I relish every opportunity I get to teach and receive very positive feedback when I do teaching in a classroom setting.
Don’t get me wrong, I LOVE preaching too. I love the distinction Tim Challies makes when it comes to leading others through God’s Word. He says, “[Teaching] is helping people to know what a passage says while preaching is appealing to people to live what a passage says.” Both excite me. The pursuit of this degree will help me teach in an academic setting and work toward pastoring a local congregation.
I solicit your prayers for my family as we enter this exciting, yet busy season in our lives. May God be glorified through this process. May I always retain Paul’s perspective when it comes to future accomplishments: Treating all accomplishments as rubbish in comparison to knowing Jesus and making him known (see Philippians 3:8).
Soli Deo Gloria,
John C. Richards, Jr.