Expect to be humbled. Students are accepted into the PhD program not because of what we have done but because of our potential. We probably know less than we think we know. Your weak spots will be revealed, so admit up front.
So get ready to learn. You will be forced to read like you have never read before. Read How to Read a Book (Adler and VanDoren, 1972), The Craft of Research (Booth, Colomb, and Williams, 2008), and Ancient Texts for New Testament Studies (Evans, 2005). Go to a professional meeting in your first year (ETS/SBL). There you can get a perspective of the issues relevant to your interests. You cannot begin until you know where things stand.
Expect challenges in communication with supervisors and faculty. Though PhD students are important to the seminary, the faculty is busy and we must wait our turn. Expect the process to be as challenging as the academic work.
So work at communication. Every time you meet with faculty, follow-up with detailed e-mail and cc the doctoral studies secretary. Say what you have done, what you hope to do and the deadlines involved. Don't let anything catch anyone by surprise.
Expect your faith to be challenged. You will be pressured, you may feel put-down. You may have personal challenges along the way ($, family, ministry). You may have to take time off. God may call you to step away from the PhD. There is a whole spectrum of challenge awaiting PhD students.
Rest in the faithfulness of God. Whatever point you find yourself on this spectrum know that God is faithful. Never lose sight of the fact that your Christianity is not based upon your papers, comps or dissertation, but Jesus' death and resurrection. In some ways PhD studies are icing on the cake of Christianity. Enjoy Jesus and the fellowship of the Spirit.
Expect physical challenges. Lack of sleep, lots of sitting, too much caffeine can have long and short term affects on your body. Eye strain and neck pain will slip into your book bag and follow you home from the library.
So take care of your body. Read standing up. Get an exercise program. Be moderate with sweets and caffeine. Get an exercise program. Put ice on your neck at night. There is nothing godly about getting a PhD and 30 pounds in the process.
Expect tech challenges. In a day of instant back up and storage there is no excuse for losing research, but computers will crash and downloads will fail.
Today begin to equip yourself for tech success. Purchase a reliable laptop, word processor, and research software. I suggest a Mac, Word for Mac, and EndNote.
When Paul addresses the Corinthians he consistently urges them to think of what God has done in Christ, affirming their spirituality, but also challenges them to look at what is yet to come. In this way he both builds up and humbles. Paul’s treatment of spiritual gifts and love in 1 Corinthians 12-14 exemplifies his logic.
With most commentators, the Corinthians seem enamored with expressive, up-front kinds of spiritual gifts. These abilities are understood, in the church, to be gifts which help the body of believers to know God; they reveal Him in the sense of helping people to understand the message of Christ and life in Christ by the Spirit. Spiritual gifts help the body to see God. In the culture, however, these abilities were thought achievements and means to the end of self-promotion (cf. 1 Corinthians 2); these abilities help the talented to express themselves and gain favor.
Paul corrects Corinthian thinking by arguing that even the best expression of spiritual gifts only dimly reveal God (1 Cor. 13:12). In light of the fact that even the best and most foundational gifts (prophecy and those related to speaking the gospel, cf. 1 Cor. 12:31; 14:1) will be useless when Christ returns and all of His fullness is revealed, the Corinthians should be concerned to demonstrate that which endures forever, i.e., love. The best sermon by the best preacher, the most uplifting music by the most talented musician, the smoothest organization by the most structured administrator may each and together make a significant impact for the kingdom and display the reality of Jesus’ death and resurrection, but these only dimly represent the God who will one day reveal Himself as the God of love (cf. 1 Cor. 15:23-28). The only hope these gifted individuals have of displaying that greater reality is to employ their gifts in love.
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In “Hebrews and the Mission of the Earliest Church” (pp. 327-45 in New Testament Theology in Light of the Church’s Mission: Essays in Honor of I. Howard Marshall. Cascade: Eugene, 2011), Jon C. Laansma argues that world mission is the “‘elephant in the room’ of Hebrews’s discourse” (330). He proposes that part of the wane in the audience of the Epistle is their lack of concern for world mission (330). I summarize Laansma’s storying of Hebrews to run something like this: (a) the community engaged in bold public and verbal witness, (b) because of this witness the community has suffered in a variety of ways, with the result that (c) some have responded to this suffering by disengaging from bold, verbal, public witness. “Without the author’s commenting in any direct way on that mission it is the raison d’être of the discourse” (332, italics original).
Laansma believes that the story of Hebrews is set within the broadest scope: cosmology, the macro spatial domain of both heaven and earth (336). Humanity’s plight is bound up with the renewal of the cosmos and the extensive frame of God’s mission. The community is called to faithfulness in this context: “Faithfulness, in other words, is not merely an abstract virtue, but is itself meaningful only within an assumed story that revolves around God’s reclamation and cleansing of his creation, his works. Faithfulness, therefore, is not about securing one’s own (actually, for Hebrews, the community’s) salvation by hanging on till the end, but about doing that precisely through adopting the same missiological aims that are at the heart of the gospel” (337-38, italics original). Παρρησία (boldness) thus functions horizontally and vertically (339).
In Laansma’s view, the spatial ἐξέρχομαι (to go out), referring to the community going out to identify with Jesus’ suffering outside the camp (Heb. 13:13), and προσέρχομαι (to go to, draw near) surfacing throughout the Epistle as the Author urges the community to approach God (Heb. 4:16; 7:25; 10:22; 11:6; 12:18, 22) are a single act of worship (341, italics original). “To put it bluntly, the sacred space of the divine throne—that which we are to ‘approach’ for mercy and grace—is not a ‘safe enclave’ in the midst of a violent and evil world but precisely the place of slaughter and sacrifice, of suffering redemptively with Christ. Even in the summons to ‘approach the divine throne’ with concern is not merely with personal comfort (on the verticle) but at the same time with a life of faithful obedience (on the horizontal)” (341).
“In short, the cultic imagery of Hebrews’ argument finally serves a comsmically universal vision of salvation that has swept up the people of God and, in its exhortations, carries them forward as active participants in that great drama” (341).
Laansma's observations cohere Hebrews' community exhortations with the 'Great Commission' exhortations so prominent throughout the New Testament (but on the surface absent in Hebrews). If he is right then the audience in view engages in community maintence as a means to an end outside of itself. Concern for one another stimulates and re-enforces the public witness of each one.
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