I was cleaning out some old folders, and I came across a document dated 19 July 2012. This was immediately after I had spent two months prepping for and teaching a compressed-format graduate course at my alma mater, Cairn University.
Right before the course, my dissertation proposal had been approved. But I had only a month or so before that approval (March, I think) decided to switch gears for my doctorate from Lamentations to Chronicles.
I remember the exhilarated-but-daunted feeling as I refocused on my research after that course. I had just tasted the fruit of the ministry I dreamed of having at the end of a PhD. But after writing a 51,000-word master’s thesis the year before, now a 80,000-100,000-word doctoral dissertation stood in front of me. I had scaled a foothill of the Matterhorn and rested at a small chalet, but now the rest of the climb lay ahead.
This document was a way of re-centering my focus on the Lord–and justifying to myself the thousands of hours I would spend on that dissertation. Thankfully, its completion was only sixteen months away–and now, two-and-a-half years later, God has made my dreams come true.
First of all, I hope to learn. Every one of my academic endeavors thus far has pushed to the limit my mental capacity, my tenacity and perseverance. I have been edified and strengthened personally by education.
That said, one of the primary reasons for such an undertaking is professional. As much as I enjoy reading and writing, nothing is more important to me than teaching the Scriptures. A PhD will give me the necessary job credential to do so. This is worth remembering when I feel as though I am not saying anything of value, or when I am discouraged.
Third, I hope to make a contribution, however small, to understanding of the Old Testament. I do hope that my dissertation will sand off some of the rough edges of our understanding of Scripture.
How do I situate my research methods and goals in relation to the church and evangelicalism?
Because God revealed himself πολυμερως και πολυτροπως (Heb 1:1), the times and methods of Scripture’s composition, editing and transmission are significant for understanding that revelation. Equally important are the historical events that Scripture describes. My project is broadly defined as: understanding the original historical contexts of the Scriptural writings, with the goal of aiding interpretation and contextual application in the church.
More specifically, I have found the Old Testament to be a diverse set of strands originating from and leading to a single story: God’s plan of redemption in Jesus Christ. Though the strands come together in Christ, they take the story of God’s people in many different directions. The First Testament is characterized by unrealized expectations, inconclusiveness, frustration, tension, and clouded vision. In the Second Testament, those expectations are realized, the purposes are concluded, the frustration is mitigated, the tension is eased, and the vision becomes clear. Thus, tension and diversity in the Old Testament does not bother me—rather, it points us to Christ.
The research projects of my young academic career have contributed to this view of the Old Testament, which simultaneously points toward resolution in the New. In “Your Mama Was a Hittite,” I judged Ezra’s expulsion of the Judahites’ foreign wives in the context of Scripture’s larger teaching on intermarriage, and concluded that Ezra’s reforms reflect a well-meaning but futile attempt to bring about the full restoration. In my work on Lamentations, I explored the tension between God’s punishment for sin and man’s protest against God’s permission of evil—a tension ultimately climaxing in the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. In my work on the economic systems in the Torah, I demonstrated the inherent weaknesses of the Mosaic Law codes, which were intended to be temporary and to underscore the need for a better covenant in Jesus.
My current project is an ideological evaluation of Chronicles. I recognize that other scholars seek through ideological criticism of Chronicles to deconstruct its message—that is not my goal. My goal is to understand it and compare its contribution to the contributions of other books of Scripture, with the underlying assumption that the Chronicler’s message is ultimately divine in its origin and constitutes authoritative revelation. I do not believe that I need to compromise my commitment to the single Message of Scripture in order to critique, assess and exposit the agenda of a single book of Scripture.