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James Tucker

Interesting post, John. I am graduate of a degree that was interdisciplinary, as you have described above. Currently, I am enrolled, but will have to bow out due to lack of finances, in a similar graduate degree. Thus, I am eagerly searching for work, but unable to find anything that is apropos to my gifts and/or training. I concur with your analysis and premise that training in biblical studies is profitable for the student, insofar as it seeks to grant a deeper understanding, and thus appreciation for, "humanity." What I am discovering in my job search, however, is that employers do not agree with the premise. Not to make a hasty generalization, but it seems that a degree in the hard sciences trumps those with biblical studies training and experience. Does a degree holder in science profit more than a biblical studies degree holder — well in the sense of virtue and respect of humanity, no; but in the sense of earning an income to put food on the table, then, yes.

JohnFH

Hi James,

I would beat the bushes a bit in the more people-oriented service sectors, like health care, education, some branches of government, and non-profits. But it's true: many employers have no clue about what human resources they might need most, and for what reason.

Angela Erisman

(to add to John's reply to James"...and perhaps that's why we're in the load of trouble we're in as a society.

anthony loke

same problem in malaysia. a theological degree is almost 'useless' in the secular world. ex-pastors can only find jobs as human resource/personnel manager (because they related with people in church) or sell insurance (because they 'sell' the gospel)!

unlike in UK, a BA in theology alumni can get a job in a printing press as a book editor or a job at bbc as a producer or a teacher teaching religious studies in a government school.

JohnFH

I remember getting to know a Ph.D. student at Loyola in Chicago whose degree put philosophy, theology, and medical ethics together. She already had a high paying job wrapped up because in the best hospitals of the area, they were looking for someone who could mediate in delicate end of life issues, with doctors, patients, and families.

This was a request from the doctors. They understand themselves, and rightly so, to lack the necessary training. Furthermore, they are not disinterested parties.

Note however that a pure Bible degree is limiting. Better to combine it with something like international relations and social anthropology; philosophical ethics and classics; library science; training in human resources. Just examples.

G. Kyle Essary

Tony,
But it seems that the problem we have now is a shortage of pastors, and not an abundance of theological degrees without churches to use them! I was talking to a missions pastor in KL recently who was dismayed that his son was going into the ministry instead of first spending his life as a doctor or some such before retiring into the ministry.

anthony

GKE, there'll always be a shortage of pastors. if there is no shortage, either there are too many seminarians or seminary graduates compared with the number of pastor-jobs out in the churches or that our churches are not growing fast enough to create new outreach, new preaching points and new congregations.

in the malaysian setting, thankfully it is still a scenario where there is not enough pastors to go round. many christians are seriously not considering ordained ministry as a viable full-time option compared with a secular job. the mentality is still if i can study, i go for the secular option and get a good degree and become successful in life. if i cannot, then i opt for seminary training and become a pastor. hence, there is a lingering sense that full-time pastoral ministry is only a second-best and only for those who can;t 'make it'.

here in malaysia, we do not have many ex-seminarians and ex-pastors looking for jobs and unable to find them because of their theological degrees. in fact, there are many christian job openings e.g. christian social work, christian education director, youth minister, missionary, bible translator, christian counselor, etc

James Tucker

I must confess that I am little skeptical over the claim that there is shortage of pastors. I have tailored my education for the purposes of PhD work; a bad decision now that it seems my finances have dried up. I have completed roughly a MA in ANE and Semitics. Thus, Appealing on paper I am not when it comes to our Capitalist Culture. What is more, I am less appealing to churches. Once I realized that I could no longer rely on student loans for tuition bills, I decided whether I should seek a pastorate. Unfortunately, skills in the biblical languages/exegesis/and hermeneutics is not a priority for (most) churches. The church has redefined the pulpit to a counselor handing out free advice, not a proclamation and exposition from the Sacred Scriptures.

I agree with you, John, that an integrated degree, with say Medical Ethics or Social Justice, etc., would arouse employers interests for positions like the one you cited. Moreover, our society needs integrative thinkers who can weld together the fissiparous theories and philosophies into a coherent integrative whole. At one time this was the case. I remember reading a sermon not to long ago from the Enlightenment era wherein the pastor was attempting to understand the ramifications of Naturalism, both the effects it would have on the church and the culture. I have yet to hear such a sermon coming from our Pulpits today. Granted, these are generalizations, and are thus disputable with particular examples. I would gladly be show to be wrong, but I fear such a description is congruent with the trends.

trierr

John, your post is intriguing, but it seems a bit optimistic. In our economy and corporate employment model, we are at a point where specialization is valued and required, not generalization. Unfortunately, the church has largely adopted this model as well.

There is an interesting trend in seminaries nowadays where a large number of people who enroll do not seek to pastor a church, but still feel a need to grow in their knowledge of the truth. I fall into that realm. I will soon graduate with an MAT degree that emphasized original languages, theology and church history. But when I graduate, I will not list my masters on my resume since it is completely irrelevant to my profession in technology (and since I work in higher-ed, it could be a turn-off in some circles). My coworkers and my boss don't see much value in a degree in theology except possibly for my linguistic abilities (some German and Spanish as well as ancient Greek and Hebrew). Beyond that, the model of specialization doesn't explicitly value the kind of things I've learned in seminary.

I'm reminded of my undergraduate philosophy professor 25 years ago. His son had called him up from college one day during the semester and announced that he was switching his major to philosophy. My professor's first thought was: What are you going to do with that? That kind of generalized learning is no longer valued in the vast majority of hiring situations.

Rev. Bryant J. Williams III

Dear John,

It appears that several things are occurring. First, if one can do any thing else, but the ministry, then do it. Second, most churches want a pastor who has 10 yrs experience (or is it 20 yrs?), knowledge of the Bible (original languages optional), good administration skills and excellent people skills. Third, if a congregation is looking for a pastor, then the congregation is looking for a pastor just like the old pastor that just left (unrealistic for 2 & 3 above). Fourth, the pastor is to be involved in every committee, every evangelistic outreach effort, cleaning of the church, etc. Fifth, the congregation is real concerned when the pastor begins to "step on their toes" or "preacher your medding." Sixth, the pastor is to accept what is given as a salary even when it does not meet the needs of the pastor and his family. There are more that I can say from the other side, but you get the picture.

Bryant J. Williams III

Hansen

As a person with a keen interest in the Bible, I considered pastoral work, possibly leading to academia; however, I discovered that a certain personality is required for denominational work, a personality type which eluded me.

Roughly put, degrees in social sciences are for the most part, worthless in the job market.
Anthropology, psychology, theology, history, sociology are useless degrees without professional certifications and graduate work.

Sure, with a BA in psychology, you can work a night shift in a group home for $12-15 an hour.
Try taking care of a family on that.

One exception is sociology. An MSW and clinical license=LCSW=decent salary. For pastoral, people oriented types, LCSW is a great qualification which can lead to employment in hospitals, prisons, local government, and independent practice. Note however, that this is a master's degree with a clinical component. A BA in sociology is a loser.

Think about it. What possible use is a degree in Biblical languages? Short of a Ph.D, few social science degrees lead to fulfilling careers.
You may get a job with a master's, but can you keep it in the long haul?

Another option is nursing; however, the general disdain in which male nurses are held, makes it a dicey move. An RN position can lead to decent paying jobs; however, the best jobs in many environments(hospitals, corrections)often require graduate work.

The Christian college I attended advised theology majors hoping for church employment to take double majors, in case no church positions opened up.

A double major in theology/sociology, business, accounting, management, or healthcare area can provide multiple options.

Options are worth a lot.

JohnFH

Thanks, everyone, for some great angles on the question.

So much depends on context. I think trierr's comment is significant. Protestations to the contrary notwithstanding, many hiring units in the public and private sectors think very parochially.

Why it might be a great thing for an employee to have a degree in biblical literature, classics, or philosophy for example, either at the undergraduate or graduate levels, eludes them.

It gets better, if only occasionally, among hiring units of some varieties. For example, in a Roman Catholic context, staff at the parish and diocesan level often go and get a graduate degree in biblical studies, theology, or something similar. The Catholic context values education per se, and this works out as a plus for those who pursue advanced degrees in biblical studies, most often a Masters. Or so it seems based on the experience of friends.

In response to a couple of things Bryant notes, I have my doubts about the practice of many denominations of letting their component congregations choose their own pastors. I understand the reasons for congregationalism but I think it needs to be tempered and contextualized by rule-based, elected hierarchical frameworks.

It isn't surprising if you ask me that the hierarchical UMC (a denomination I know a bit better than others) takes in a steady drip of refugees from Baptist and other denominations with a congregationalist polity. The problem in the UMC is the opposite: once you're in, you have tenure. Even if you are doing a lousy job you are likely to just get moved around a lot. That is a poor solution as well.

Double majors are a good idea; even better, the idea of continuing education, adding sectors of competence even if one's job doesn't require it.

Here my advice is the opposite of the shopworn (but excellent) advice given to women: if your job description doesn't require you to show cleavage, don't show it.

If your job description doesn't require you to know anything about the history of ideas, the history of one's own profession, its particular deontology; if your job description doesn't require you to know yourself, cultivate humanity, explore metaphysical frameworks, or get an inkling of the transcendental reasons people offer for their choices, by all means learn about these things anyway. And then go and shake your booty on the job (with nuance and tact of course). Biblical studies, if taught well and exemplified, is a huge eye-opener.

The parents of one family I know required their 5 children to get a technical or trade degree at the undergrad level first. That way they always had work. All 5 of them, not surprisingly in my opinion, went on to get grad degrees in various highly paid professions.

But I wish more lawyers, doctors, nurses, etc. had a degree in biblical studies, classics, or philosophy. I have an ideal of a liberal arts education that combines the three.

G. Kyle Essary

James,
There may or may not be a shortage of pastors elsewhere, but Anthony and I are talking about the Malaysian setting where we live. In Malaysia, there is a shortage of pastors (although it doesn't seem like there is a shortage of capable leaders).

Lue-Yee Tsang

»But I wish more lawyers, doctors, nurses, etc. had a degree in biblical studies, classics, or philosophy. I have an ideal of a liberal arts education that combines the three.«

That would be marvellous indeed. These days, though, undergrads really have to work very intentionally to construct such a programme of study. It’s far too easy to need a class to fulfil a breadth requirement and just plug in the one that fits most conveniently into the weekly schedule, especially when the requirements are as loose as they are at UC Berkeley – not to mention Brown. Princeton students, at least, have some good opportunities in the form of freshman seminars that may indeed touch on the Bible, classics and philosophy as a gateway to more advanced coursework.

As a bicultural Chinese person, though, I keep wondering what Asians ought to do along the same lines. Classics is still indispensable for connexion to the ancient Church, but Asian churches on the whole are also woefully unprepared to engage with the intersection of Scripture and Asian culture. Perhaps, though, classics would give Chinese-literate Christians the cultural resources to reimagine East Asian cultures.

JohnFH

Lue-Yee,

You have some very fine observations. My oldest, Giovanni, who is a second year at Emory, is taking more than his fair share of classics and philosophy though he is staying away from the languages (except for Italian, though that doesn't count in the same way, since he is bicultural American and Italian). What is missing though is the integration, the thinking through of the history of ideas and of the nexus between faith and learning, across all three: biblical and other classical jewish and christian literature; classics, and philosophy.

For the rest, even if the outline is not yet clear, I believe you are exactly right that the task before the coming generations, of English-literate as well as Chinese-literate Christians, will be to reimagine their respective cultures in accordance with Matthew 13:52.

Hansen

Tsang Lue Yue,

I've been 7 years in China now, in an outlying but populated area. I'm trying to consider how to make some observations without engaging in what some may interpret as racist diatribe.

I'm not a historian of China; however, I surmise that nothing equivalent to the Renaissance/Reformation has occurred here. That's a great loss for China. Christian humanism, as exemplified in the lives of individuals such as Melanchthon, would do great things for China.

Manual labor, craftsmanship, a job well done, are perspectives absent from the mind of most of my neighbors. That obvious lack is evident in too many things--the quality of merchandise, work, schoolwork, and so forth. Toss the love of money into the mix and you have a mess with which to deal.

The dignity of [manual]labor is just not understood. Rather, manual labor is despised by many. Parents would rather have their children play cards all day than engage in honest work which is "beneath" them.

This is especially true for those who have attended university. Students imbibe an attitude which convinces them that they are suited for a special place in the world. They consider it better to do nothing than accept a station below that to which they are entitled.

The concept of a multi-faceted Renaissance man is unknown. Paul as a tentmaker would seem utterly fantastic to most young people here.

Mao was on to something when he drove the scholars/intellectuals into the countryside. Of course, they are back with a vengeance.

More bureaucratic than scholarly, every little man with a little desk in a little office does what he can to make those over he wields power flinch at the thought of him.

Christian cultures are interested in empowering people in the workplace, at school, whereever. That's what Christian humanism was about, the elevation of man. On the contrary, the whole effort here is to keep others down, in place, in line. The success of others is regarded with a jealous eye rather than satisfaction.

Preaching the Cross of Christ is the only thing that can change China; unfortunately, even the "missionaries" here are more intent on preaching denominationalism than the gospel.

Justin Allison

I think that some biblical studies degrees are more "interdisciplinary" than others. For example, if the university in the USA does biblical studies in a focused sense (within a christian perspective) it will not be as cross-cultural, as a degree from a European School of Religions sort of degree.

I would venture that any BA degree would have basically the same merits if done properly. The outcome of the degree would be a person who is generally educated, and has SOME knowledge about one field. This educated person would be highly trainable because they can think through problems, and figure out solutions that are more than just pragmatic.

Hansen

Big question is what are you preparing yourself to be, a Pharisee/Sadducee type or a Jesus/Paul type?

Jesus probably spent more time healing than he did teaching and preaching. Any kind of a message there?

Paul, sometimes, refused finanial support and made his living working at his trade. Anything enlightening in that example?

Of course, Jesus, the son of a carpenter, had little, if any formal education. His disciples were also known to be "ignorant."

OTOH, many of the Christian Reformers who have made a difference in the world were highly educated. One might say that the Reformation, aside from Luther's privy, started in a university.

In theology, I was consistently out scored by a classmate who went into medicine. He earned perfect scores on big tests in Biblical topics. He wanted to go into medical missionary work but found no openings; consequently he spent several years in the military and now practices psychiatry.

At least one of his friends, also a theology undergraduate, went into psychiatry

In retropsect, a significant number of the best students in theology did not enter the pastorate. Instead, they went into medicine, law, perhaps academia.

What kind of an individual works for a denomination which may require the individual to sign a statement of belief which contains creedal type declarations which the individual doesn't actually believe or may come to disbelieve after years of ministry?

The real test, qualification, evidence for pastoral work is the ability to win souls. A person who does that need not rely on a denomination for a paycheck, a paycheck tied to a certain belief system.

An acquaintance of mine, a successful evangelist, saw his marriage fall apart. Merely a bump in the road. He continues to bring numerous souls into his denomination. He is one of the top rainmakers in the organization. He is not paid by his denomination, but rather by freewill offerings of those who feel his message has enriched their life.

Now that's something worth noting.

Cindy Hartke

As one who is graduating December 4 with a BA in Christian Studies, you have all given me something to think on. However, I did not begin school to make lots of money nor will I, with a degree - that I feel I was to obtain, make lots of money. Money was not the objective - a better grasp on the Bible and things that go with that knowledge was the objective.

I am sure, without a doubt, that the Lord will lead me where He wants me to go...if I listen and obey. The degree (knowledge gained for) helps me teach those in my care - youth - with a better understanding and with a better grasp on some of the things they are facing.

Cindy Hartke

Hansen

Read an article today in a professional journal for clergy. The anonymous writer had a moral fall during his pastoral career and found himself out of a job. His testimony confirmed that degrees in theological studies are worth little in the real job market.

He found himself doing blue collar [unskilled] work. Of course, there are some extremely enjoyable "blue collar" jobs with good salaries; however, it is unlikely that most ministerial types would be qualified for the good jobs.

Few pastors plan a moral fall. I doubt many RC priests planned to become pedophiles. Not a bad idea to consider that some day, you may not have a denomination to lean on, for whatever reason.

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    great theoblog by Sam Nunnally
  • Qumranica
    weblog for a course on the Dead Sea Scrolls at the University of St. Andrews, Scotland, taught by James R. Davila (archive)
  • Ralph the Sacred River
    by Edward Cook, a superb Aramaist
  • Random Bloggings
    by Calvin Park, M. Div. student at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, South Hamilton MA
  • Resident aliens
    reflections of one not at home in this world
  • Revelation is Real
    Strong-minded comment from Tony Siew, lecturer at Trinity Theological College, Singapore
  • Ricoblog
    by Rick Brannan, it's the baby pictures I like the most
  • Rightly Dividing the Word of Truth
    Nick Norelli's fabulous blog on Bible and theology
  • SansBlogue
    by Tim Bulkeley, lecturer in Old Testament, Carey Baptist College (New Zealand). His Hypertext Commentary on Amos is an interesting experiment
  • Ancient Near Eastern Languages
    texts and files to help people learn some ancient languages in self study, by Mike Heiser
  • Midrash, etc.
    A fine Hebrew-to-English blog on Midrash, by Carl Kinbar, Director of the New School for Jewish Studies and a facultm member at MJTI School of Jewish Studies.
  • Phil Lembo what I'm thinking
    a recovering lawyer, now in IT, with a passion for a faith worth living
  • Roses and Razorwire
    a top-notch Levantine archaeology blog, by Owen Chesnut, a doctoral student at Andrews University (MI)
  • Scripture & Theology
    a communal weblog dedicated to the intersection of biblical interpretation and the articulation of church doctrine, by Daniel Driver, Phil Sumpter, and others
  • Scripture Zealot
    by Jeff Contrast
  • Serving the Word
    incisive comment on the Hebrew Bible and related ancient matters, with special attention to problems of philology and linguistic anthropology, by Seth L. Sanders, Assistant Professor in the Religion Department of Trinity College, Hartford, CT
  • Singing in the Reign
    NT blog by Michael Barber (JP University) and Brad Pitre (Our Lady Holy Cross)
  • Stay Curious
    excellent comment on Hebrew Bible and Hebrew language topics, by Karyn Traphagen, graduate, Westminster Theological Seminary, Philadelphia PA (archive)
  • Sufficiency
    A personal take on the faith delivered to the saints, by Bob MacDonald, whose parallel blog on the Psalms in Hebrew is a colorful and innovative experiment
  • The Sundry Times
    Gary Zimmerli's place, with comment on Bible translations and church renewal
  • Sunestauromai: living the crucified life
    by a scholar-pastor based in the Grand Canyon National Park
  • ta biblia
    blog dedicated to the New Testament and the history of Christian origins, by Giovanni Bazzana
  • Targuman
    by Christian Brady, targum specialist extraordinaire, and dean of Schreyer Honors College, Penn State University
  • Targuman
    on biblical and rabbinic literature, Christian theology, gadgetry, photography, and the odd comic, by Christian Brady, associate professor of ancient Hebrew and Jewish literature and dean of the Schreyer Honors College at Penn State
  • The Biblia Hebraica Blog
    a blog about Hebrew Bible/Old Testament, the history of the Ancient Near East and the classical world, Syro-Palestinian archaeology, early Judaism, early Christianity, New Testament interpretation, English Bible translations, biblical theology, religion and culture, philosophy, science fiction, and anything else relevant to the study of the Bible, by Douglas Magnum, PhD candidate, University of the Free State, South Africa
  • The Forbidden Gospels Blog
    by April DeConick, Professor of Biblical Studies, Rice University
  • The Naked Bible
    by Mike Heiser, academic editor at Logos Bible Software
  • The Reformed Reader
    by Andrew Compton, Ph.D. student in the Department of Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (focus on Hebrew and Semitic Languages) at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA)
  • The Sacred Page
    a blog written by three Catholic Ph.D.s who are professors of Scripture and Theology: Michael Barber, Brant Pitre and John Bergsma
  • The Talmud Blog
    a group blog on Talmud News, Reviews, Culture, Currents, and Criticism
  • Theological German
    a site for reading and discussing theological German, by Mark Alter
  • theoutwardquest
    seeking spirituality as an outward, not an inward quest, by David Corder
  • This Lamp
    Incisive comment on Bible translations in the archives, by Rick Mansfield
  • Thoughts on Antiquity
    By Chris Weimer and friends, posts of interest on ancient Greek and Roman topics (archive). Chris is a graduate student at the City University of New York in Classics
  • Threads from Henry's Web
    Wide-ranging comment by Henry Neufeld, educator, publisher, and author
  • Tête-à-Tête-Tête
    smart commentary by "smijer," a Unitarian-Universalist
  • Undeception
    A great blog by Mike Douglas, a graduate student in biblical studies
  • What I Learned From Aristotle
    the Judaica posts are informative (archive)
  • Bouncing into Graceland
    a delightful blog on biblical and theological themes, by Esteban Vázquez (archive)
  • Weblog
    by Justin Anthony Knapp, a fearless Wikipedian (archive)
  • Writing in the Dust
    A collection of quotes by Wesley Hill, a doctoral student in New Testament studies at Durham University (UK), and a Christian who seeks the charism of chastity
  • גֵּר־וְתוֹשָׁב
    by David Miller, Associate Professor of New Testament and Early Judaism, Briercrest College & Seminary, Caronport, Saskatchewan, Canada
  • ואל-תמכר
    Buy truth and do not sell: wisdom, instruction, and understanding - a blog by Mitchell Powell, student of life at the intersection of Christ, Christianity, and Christendom
  • משלי אדם
    exploring wisdom literature, religion, and other academic pursuits, by Adam Couturier, M.A. in Old Testament/Hebrew Bible (graduate of Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary)

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  • Ancient Hebrew Poetry is a weblog of John F. Hobbins. Opinions expressed herein do not reflect those of his professional affiliations. Unless otherwise indicated, the contents of Ancient Hebrew Poetry, including all text, images, and other media, are original and licensed under a Creative Commons License.

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    Copyright © 2005 by John F Hobbins.