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My PhD Induction Ceremony Remarks (Aug 2017)

In August and January each year we welcome into our PhD program students from all over the world who will study in a variety of concentrations. All of these students spend four days with me before the term starts in two introductory courses, Foundations for Theological Study and the Graduate Research Seminar.

I also use this introductory week with our new students to holdBroadus Chapel an Induction Ceremony. This is a beautiful evening service in our historic Broadus Chapel. After the professors process in we sing a hymn, hear a welcome, and then I give brief remarks. This is followed by a charge read by a senior PhD student and a spoken response from the inductees. Then, while a brief bio is read for each of the new students they come forward, sign our official book containing the charge, and then are pinned by me. After this they cross over and sit with our current PhD students. The service ends with a recessional of the professors and the students (followed by a nice reception). It has become a very meaningful part of our PhD community and culture here at Southern.

For my remarks there are some things I repeat each time but I also usually say a few new things as well. Some have expressed interest in what I say and so here are my remarks from August 8, 2017.

PhD InductiInduction Ceremony Bulletinon Ceremony

The Calling to the Doctorate of Philosophy

The Christian philosopher Dru Johnson has written several insightful books about epistemology, the study of how we know things. He says this about what it means to know from a biblical perspective:

“Knowing well entails listening to trusted authorities and doing what they prescribe in order to see what they are showing you.” (Scripture’s Knowing, p.16)

There is much insight to be unpacked in this singular and salutary sentence:

It is possible to know lots of things but know them wrongly as opposed to knowing them well

  • Knowing entails listening to another – reminiscent of the Apostle James’ reminder that we should be quick to listen, not quick to be teachers; we may also recall the popular adage many a parent has spoken to a verbose child – “God gave us two ears and one mouth; use them proportionally.”
  • Knowing is a process of listening to trusted authorities – there are people who are above us in knowledge, experience, wisdom, position, and authority and only the fool spurns this. Rather, listening to trusted authorities is the way of wisdom and flourishing.
  • Knowing entails doing – one can read manuals and watch How To YouTube videos all day long but to truly know and understand something, whether it be boomerang throwing, carburetor repair, having children, or writing a book, requires the experience of doing it before one can be said to truly know.
  • Knowing is really about seeing, about seeing the world in a certain way.

“Knowing well entails listening to trusted authorities and doing what they prescribe in order to see what they are showing you.”

This sentence is not only a piece of insightful verbiage about the philosophical category of epistemology but also a very appropriate vision for us as we gather on this evening to consider the calling to a Doctorate in Philosophy, particularly a PhD in a confessional Christian environment.

This definition of knowing is appropriate for us because it accords so squarely, beautifully, and truly with what we are called to do here as Christian scholars. Our pursuit of knowledge, deep knowledge, complex theological and biblical and philosophical knowledge, all within the rich and all-encompassing truth of Christianity is a Knowing that is about submission in order that we may see and understand.

Pursuing a Christian Doctorate in Philosophy is an act of glad and grateful submission to the Greatest Philosopher, Jesus Christ.

The Bible reveals Jesus as the Teacher, the Sage, the Philosopher-King who invites us to takyokee his yoke upon ourselves, to trust him to guide us, shape us, form our thinking and habits and desires in accord with the coming kingdom of heaven, to slip our necks, our whole bodies, souls, hearts, and minds under the oxen yoke of his control. And as we do this – and only as we do this – will we come to see God, ourselves, and others rightly and truly.

“Knowing well entails listening to trusted authorities and doing what they prescribe in order to see what they are showing you.”

Now what does this have to do with you and tonight’s induction ceremony?

Tonight we are standing at this milestone inviting you, new PhD students, into this final stage of your formal education, this terminal degree, the highest recognized degree one can earn in any field, the Doctor of Philosophy degree.

Have you considered why it is called a doctorate of philosophy when most of us are not studying “philosophy” in the modern sense of that? And after all, doesn’t the Bible warn us against being captive to philosophy?

The reason this very old and venerable degree (one we’ve been offering at Southern for 125 years) is called a doctorate in philosophy is because “philosophy” is the older term that means originally, “love of wisdom” and then more generally, a devotion to the life of learning.

A truebyzantine-jesus philosopher, unlike a mere scientist or technician or medical doctor, or other forms of skilled and valuable labor, a philosopher is one who labors to understand things at the meta-level, how the world works, what humanity is and how it functions, and how it all fits together. Philosophers – especially those who earn the lofty title of Doctor of Philosophy – are those who are called to use their intellectual gifts and labors to lead society.

Last year the New York Times ran an insightful little piece about philosophy and its role in the university. It noted that this older understanding of philosophy (and theology) was sadly lost when philosophers sold out this high calling for something much less – trying to be like every other field of study in the university, very narrow and specific. The result was the loss of its influence and relevance.

But we are gladly using the term Doctor of Philosophy in its older sense of one who loves and seeks the wisdom to understand how the world fits together and works.

And friends, when this is combined with and studied within the context of Holy Scripture and a confessional Trinitarian orthodox understanding of the world we have the highest intellectual calling that God has given to humanity.

So today you are entering and we are welcoming you into a vision, a calling, a privilege, a joy, a mutual labor, a community of co-learners, a fellowship of philosophers, a throng of theologians, a cohort of Christian thinkers – not because we are inherently better people than non-PhD folks, or more loved by God, or necessarily paid more – but because we are people who have received a special calling from God. So release the kraken of your heart, soul, mind and strength and embrace this beautiful gift of the yoke of Jesus PhD calling!

And with a calling comes a responsibility.

And so as we begin a new school year and welcome you into our PhD community here at Southern, Induction Class of Fall 2017, we want to stir you up with this vision of our shared calling AND we want to challenge you to take this beautiful mantle upon yourselves with joy and sobriety.

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  1. RIGHT LEARNING | Moore Engaging September 23, 2017 5:38 am