A PhD in what? That is the question. It isn’t as easy a thing to decide. It took me a long long time to figure out the only way forward was a PhD, after all. It took me seven years, from 2007 when after five years I finished a two year ThM program all the way to 2014.
But the PhD is a committment you can’t really back out of with any success. That is exactly what I have not been willing to do, and I think rightly so, commit. Let us not be impatient with those who grow up slowly. What is the great rush, after all? People are living longer now than it used to be. But that there is really no other option for a chap like me also seems clear. I don’t think I’m going to make it big as a writer (alas!) any time soon, though probably eventually I’ll achieve some success. I have found that the better I get at writing, the longer it takes to produce something worthwhile.
So what else are my interests?
I’d love to study Old Norse and Icelandic and Anglo-Saxon and such. Wouldn’t it be cool to get into the U of Iceland’s program? It certainly would. Or into anything that took me to those great vast regions of the imagination, the North Atlantic? Lewis seemed to believe that geography had an influence on a person’s imagination. He once made a remark about how Spencer wrote his great poetry while in Ireland, and when he was not there only did minor poetry. Would it be at last what one needs, along with everything else? I wonder. Why has God put such a great longing in me for the North Atlantic after all?
I’d love to study English, of course. If you always have to be in something, it ought to be something in which you can always be. Especially the study of the Inklings, which seems to be gathering steam in places. Perhaps I’m wrong, but it seems to me from my non-privileged and not entirely informed point of view that the study of Tolkien and Lewis and Williams and Barfield is gaining momentum. I don’t have what it takes to study Barfield, but I would like Williams especially. And as for Tolkien, see the paragraph above. You know, I’ve been working on Richard Rolle for years and have been at last able to read him. I could do Middle English stuff, the mystics of that time. They’re a lot of all the literature there is in some stretches, aren’t they? I do know I love them, and many for some reason do not.
I would also love to study Church History, as long as I didn’t have to focus on the Reformation. Early church or early middle ages would suit me, I reckon. Here’s perhaps where the most sensible way lies for me. I’d hafta learn Latin, but perhaps it’s time anyway.
I don’t like the idea of learning other modern languages. I’m an anglophone chap, mostly, though I can deliver in Spanish. Other languages are other modes of thought, and I’m not the kind of person (I doubt many people are) who can improve in one language without some cost to the other. No doubt in theory learning Latin will expand my English, but not in practice. Just because it worked for Milton does not mean it would have worked for Shakespeare. Didn’t work for Augustine. He didn’t know Greek or the teeny little Punic folks around him used for small talk. I dislike studying other languages because I think it makes me worse at English, and English is really all I want to do. I wish I did it better and I do not want to do it worse. I work hard at English, you know, just to be able to deliver what I can. Punctuation and stuff does not come easy to me. What I put out could be a lot worse. You know I ain’t ever really had formal education in English? Some people have the idea of wonderfully juggling many languages. That’s not my idea at all. If I learned Latin, I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t learn very much and it would quickly become what my Hebrew is: something you consult about a word every once in a while. I ain’t no hand.
Now it may seem contradictory to want to learn Icelandic but not German. But Icelandic is a language made wonderful to me ever since childhood. It is the language of marvelous things, a marvelous place, of ice and fire and dried codfish. I would sacrifice all to know it. And Anglo-Saxon is not a foreign language at all–let it never be said. They do not betray my otherwise quite natural misgivings about learning new languages, you see, for reasons of the heart.
Returning to church history, I think it is sensible and it is useful. I want to teach, is what I want to do, and I want to help in the church. I didn’t realize I enjoyed it so much until I was offered the opportunity to go to the Dominican and preach. It is a bogus thing on the whole: an English summer camp. I was dead against it and made my reasons plain, but then I was offered the chance to go as the preacher: to preach in a church! I could not resist and was surprised how eager I was for it. I love the idea, have been puzzling over what I’m going to preach for a month already and I still have a month to go. I really enjoy helping people get our religion straight, encouraging them, challenging them, expanding their understanding. One thing I really like to do more than anything is to take what they might not think interesting at all and show them how it is. I’m not much of a ponderous chap the way pastoral persons often are, but I do like preaching and teaching in the church. Of course, I don’t need a PhD to do that. I can teach now (and teaching in Sunday school has been a great joy for me, and for the students I think, though they’re nice people and if I’m a bad teacher I shall never find out from them). I can exegete and exposit and even put it in reasonably good homiletical shape too, if need be. But I do think I stand a better chance of finding something where I can spend more of my time preparing lessons and helping students and reading and thinking if I do go back to school.
I could also do Theology. Just think about how many books there are not written on hamartiology. Hamartiology alone could bear more investigation, and theology can be historical and philosophical. The point of teaching is not the teacher having something to teach, it is what the students need (and I do recognize that sometimes they need you to know another languidge, but perhaps not so often are we are led to believe by fanatical monoglots of the North American continent). I enjoy explaining what these things matter, and all the other points that apply from the latter portion of the church history bit above.
Nice thing about the theological possibilities, I’m more likely to get accepted into a program than others I may talk about.