1. Improve My Teaching
2. Enhance My Writing
I started blogging somewhat regularly in 2009 when I was in a difficult church planting situation and saw various troublesome issues, but had few people to talk to. Over the years, I have seen the readership and breadth of content on my blog expand, and have started a Thai blog as well. I have additionally self-published a few short books on Amazon and have had some articles formally published in Christian magazines and websites (list of publications). I’ve received much positive feedback from missionaries, Thai Christians, and mission partners on the homeside, saying that my writing has been helpful to them. The study involved in dissertation research will expand the scope of knowledge which I can draw from in writing, and thus hopefully be a benefit to the missionary community, Thai Christians, and those interested in global missions.
3. Contribute to Our Understanding of Thai Church History
The goal of a Ph.D dissertation is to present to the world something that has never been done before, to contribute something new to the scope of human knowledge. After all, if someone has already researched and written something on a particular topic, why spend two to three years reinventing the wheel?
As I have taught Thai church history over the past four years or so, I’ve never found a good answer to how theological modernism impacted missions in Thailand during the first part of the twentieth century. In the 1920s and 1930s, the Fundamentalist-Modernist Controversy was ripping apart the church in the U.S. and elsewhere, splitting entire denominations into liberal and evangelical camps. Numerous people have written on the impact of theological liberalism upon missionaries in China during this period, but I have yet to see anything about how it affected the missionaries in Thailand. The American Presbyterian church was neck-deep in conflict over theological modernism and the vast majority of missionaries in Thailand until after World War 2 were American Presbyterians. There had to be some effect. But what was it? How did this conflict on the homeside affect the missionaries in Thailand? How did theological change of a modernist variety affect the missionaries’ ministry priorities? relationships with each other? relationship with Thai believers? missionary attrition? What is the long-term impact upon an evangelical mission when unorthodox theological ideas are given room to flourish? These are some of the the questions I want to find out by digging into old books, letters, journals, reports, and articles from the late 19th century up through the start of World War 2. I hope that what I discover will help both Thai Christians and missionaries to Thailand to better understand some of the influences that have shaped the modern mission and church landscape in Thailand. Beyond Thailand, I hope that my research will contribute to what we know about the global impact of modernist and fundamentalist movements in the first half of the twentieth century.
The official title of my proposed dissertation topic is “Modernism in the American Presbyterian Mission in Siam, 1893-1941."
4. Maximal Opportunities for Ministry
Although it is obviously more important what you know than what letters you have in front of your name, it is also true that having a Ph.D from a recognized university lends a certain amount of credibility and legitimacy to teaching, writing, and public speaking. Having a doctorate can open doors, create opportunities, and gain an audience in certain situations. And since I want to make an impact in the areas of teaching, writing, and preaching/public speaking, it certainly can’t hurt to have have a Ph.D as part of my profile.
I know that for more egalitarian Western societies, some people could care less whether someone has a degree or any formal credentials. However, I expect to spend most of my time in Asia where it most certainly does matter.
5. More Options in Training Leaders
I currently have a Master of Divinity (M.Div) and a Master of Theology (Th.M), which qualifies me to teach both bachelor and masters level students. I could keep doing what I am currently doing in Thailand without a Ph.D. But if I have a Ph.D, I would additionally be able to teach Th.M or doctoral level courses, and supervise Ph.D students. The seminary where I currently teach tops out at the Masters level, but is part of a consortium of seminaries in Asia which offers Th.M and doctoral programs. If the opportunity arises to teach, mentor, or supervise church leaders from Thailand or other Southeast Asian countries through this consortium or in some other forum, having a Ph.D would give me that option. One of my goals in teaching seminary students in Thailand is to look for keen, godly students who have the potential to be future seminary and bible college teachers, and to encourage and mentor them in that direction. In the long term, the Thai church needs Thai seminary instructors more than it needs missionary seminary instructors, so I want help that happen. Having a Ph.D would enable me to be involved in this aspect of developing leaders for the church in Thailand and elsewhere.
6. The Seminary Where I Teach Wants Me to Get a Ph.D
The seminary in Bangkok where I’ve been teaching would love to have me teach there of the long-term, which I would love to do. To that end, the director has strongly encouraged me to get a Ph.D. As an academic institution and a ministerial training school, the seminary has a vested interest in improving the credentials and quality of their faculty. As such, they’d like me to get further training so that I can improve my on-going contribution to the school and its students.