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Why are We in Durham, England?

When we tell people about moving to Durham, we are often asked a similar set of questions, so we thought we'd go ahead and answer a few of them here -- not because we don't like talking to you, but so that we could think through the various issues and you can reflect on our answers. We're always interested in feedback, so feel free to write to us!

Why a PhD in Theology?

There are two parts to the answer to this question. The first is, "Why should anyone get a PhD in Theology?" and the second is, "Why should Rob do so?". Let's take each in turn. We met a gentleman recently who, upon hearing our plans, cautioned us to avoid becoming "overeducated." There is certainly something to be concerned about here. Like riches, having too much of some things can lead to arrogance and an illusion of self-sufficiency. Like having so much money that you can have your own way in the world, having an abundance of mental resources can lead to having one's own way in the world of ideas. But since we live in a world ruled by God, we must avoid the error of self-assertion, whether in money, power, or thought.

However, the sin of educational pride does not mean that knowledge should be avoided. In fact, knowledge and education are important and valuable to the church -- though only if offered humbly back to God. My friend Dana Harris loves to teach New Testament Greek. She once pointed out that it isn't necessary for every Christian to know Greek, but on the other hand it is very important for some Christians of every generation to know Greek. The reason is that our Bible has been given to us in that language, and no matter how good the translations are, they are all somewhat askew from the original text. Our Scriptures always have something new to reveal to us, not so much in radical new truths, but because different facets and colors of the truth are needed in different times and situations. It is only by the refreshing look at the original that we can unwind some of the twists that we have inserted into our faith, and be fed anew by God who has chosen to reveal himself in words.

As with Greek, so it is with Hebrew and the many other subfields that make up "Theology". Whether systematic theology, church history, or biblical studies, it is important for some members of the body to do research, to teach, and to serve the larger church through these efforts -- to help all of us by reiterating the Gospel and its implications.

But why is Rob doing this? This comes down to our understanding of "calling" or "vocation" and how we work that out in our lives. There is no one fixed pattern for living in service to God and neighbor as a Christian, nor a magic formula for hearing God's voice, but a variety of callings that must be discerned by each one of us. As Bruce Waltke discusses in his book Finding the Will of God: A Pagan Notion? (review), discernment requires spiritual maturity, Scripture, a heart for God, counsel from others, providential circumstances, our own good judgment, and divine intervention. Through a long process of doing research in science and technology at IBM and studying theology at both Peninsula Bible Church (Palo Alto and Cupertino) and Regent College, encouragement from friends and fellow Christians, thought and prayer, Rob decided this would be a good step towards developing the gifts God has given him. Since this is a family decision, it is of course important that Crystal backs this move as well as we work out our salvation together.

Why Not Stay in the U.S.?

Well, y'know Rob isn't getting any younger.... It turns out that the U.S. and Britain have pretty different approaches to doctoral training in theology. In the U.S. there is a program of coursework and examinations that leads up to doing doctoral research. In Britain, if one can demonstrate sufficient competency then the program begins with tutored research. The net result is that the U.S. plan normally takes 5-9 years while the British plan takes three.

Of course, that's not all there is to it. Another factor is that Rob has often wanted to do things a little differently -- witness the fact that he went to Washington University in St. Louis for his undergraduate training largely because no one at Tabb High School had ever heard of it! Also, since Regent is in British Columbia, it has a cultural climate that is somewhat inbetween the U.S. and the U.K. Rob and Crystal both enjoyed learning in that environment, and were impressed by the caliber of those who had been trained in Britain. Of course, having recommendation letters from those folks didn't hurt either!

And let's not forget that we're both looking forward to our European adventure. Even living just across the border in Vancouver was a rich experience for both of us, and we expect we'll grow alot from living in this world, too. You too can share in the adventure by coming to stay with us in our nice home.

But the most important reason for studying in England is because of the opportunity to train under a most outstanding thesis advisor -- read on!

Why Study in Durham?

When Rob talked with some of his professors and fellow students about PhD possibilities in Old Testament and Biblical Theology, one name kept coming up: Dr. Walter Moberly of the University of Durham. Rob had read some of his work before and been impressed with the combination of scholarly care and freshness of his studies. While many in the academic field of biblical studies seem to savor either "counter-reading" texts to make them say alien things, or to tear a text into conjectured layers of historical rewriting (branding the resulting mess an "understanding" of the text), Walter cares about reading the text anew for the good of the church, and for the glory of God in Christ.

Shortly after his return to California from Regent, Rob began corresponding with Walter about the possibility of studying under him. After labeling him "An interesting case!" and reading some of Rob's papers, Walter agreed to take him on. Crystal, always the practical one, suggested we take a visit to Durham during her 2003 Spring Break. We had been told of Walter's genuine faith and gentlemanly manner, but it was certainly a pleasure to experience it ourselves as we stayed with him and his family and discussed the future. After the trip, it became clear that we wanted Durham to become our next home -- and the rest is history.