Many readers of this blog, friends of mine in person and on facebook, and followers from twitter are aware of the educational journey I have been on for the past 3+ years in pursuit of a PhD in Wesley Studies at Nazarene Theological College (NTC), whose degrees are conferred by the University of Manchester in the United Kingdom. Several of my classes in seminary at Asbury, from which I graduated in 2006, centered upon the theology of the atonement, and this drove me to investigate the doctrine of the atonement in the theology of John Wesley.  In January 2009, after a couple of years getting acquainted to fatherhood in the arrival of Sam into our family, discerning the specific topic I wanted to pursue in my doctoral research, and applying and being accepted into NTC’s PhD program, I began fully investigating this issue, focusing in particular on how Wesley’s atonement theology stood in line or at odds with the diverse theological tradition of the Church of England, in which he was raised, ordained, and remained faithful as clergyman until his death.

View of one of the buildings on NTC’s campus. It’s truly a beautiful place and community in which to study! (Photo credit: http://www.nazarene.ac.uk)

Well, it is with a great deal of sadness but also a great sense of peace that I announce that my pursuit of this degree has come to an end. Although the crayons started making a few subtle marks on the wall a little over a year ago, it really didn’t become fully evident that the end was near until a couple of months ago.

As my family and I moved back to the Memphis Conference of the United Methodist Church for me to re-enter my calling for pastoral ministry, my hope was that I would continue in the program, getting research done when possible at home and continuing my visits to Manchester for 4 weeks per year until I could conclude, which was to be by May of 2014. But as financial resources/assistance began to run dry, as I could tell that time was running short, and even as my attention to the research and desire to make the time kept deteriorating, which was easily noticed by Carrie, she point-blank asked me as we were going to bed one night in early July: “So, are you going to finish your PhD?”

The weight of the question hit me like a load of bricks and after a very long pause where I felt like I was holding my breath, Carrie asked if I was still awake and still thinking about the question. I chuckled a little, said “Yes, I’m still awake” and then began weeping. Here I was in a home (parsonage) that was still quite new, in a community I hardly knew at all, away from most of my dear friends who have been alongside of me during this entire educational journey. Of course, I knew I didn’t have to answer the question right then and there in the middle of the night, but I already had the suspicion that the time had come for me to shut the door on this dream/wish I had been pursuing. Since my district superintendent was on leave for the month of July and I didn’t want to make a decision that might have some bearing on my ordination process, I decided to devote my prayers for the remainder of the month for God’s clear direction, my calling and investigating the desires of my heart. Carrie and I asked a few close friends to join us in these prayers, which they did.

During that time, my suspicions were confirmed and I began making the necessary appointments and having conversations with the folks who needed to be made more aware or would be directly affected by such a decision. These conversations took place over the course of the month of August. What was great about all of these meetings and discussions was that everyone wanted to make sure that I wasn’t being forced out of this against my wishes by external forces like financial limitations, travel/time-off restrictions, or limited accessibility to the research resources that would be needed to support the argument(s) I was seeking to make. But what was also communicated to me was that they had my support regardless of the decision I made as I was seeking the will of God in doing what was best for me and my family. To everyone reading this who offered that support either explicitly or implicitly, I deeply feel your prayerful encouragement and advocacy as I have gone through this sort of grieving process on the closure of this endeavor I was pursuing.

Two main questions have risen to the surface in the wake of my decision to withdraw from the PhD program and pursuit: 1. What should/can I do with the research and writing I have done to date in the program? 2. What, if anything, is next on the educational front?

With regard to the former, one of my causes for hesitating on this decision was the fear that the work I’ve done in researching and writing on the atonement in the past few years would go to waste if I didn’t go on and complete the dissertation/thesis. I don’t want that to be the case, but want to contribute to the field of Wesleyan theology or to find a way to adapt the writing to make it accessible more for a lay and/or pastoral audience. To that end, I’m going to spend some time in organizing the work into something cohesive to submit it to a scholarly journal for hopeful publication or develop a primer or short book on the atonement from a Wesleyan theological perspective.

The answer to the second question depends on what directions are given to me by the Board of Ordained Ministry as I apply for provisional membership in pursuit of ordination as elder. To be ordained as an elder in The United Methodist Church, the Book of Discipline requires the ordinand complete a Master of Divinity (MDiv) or its equivalent. My masters degree at Asbury Seminary was a Master of Arts in Theological Studies and was a few hours shy of a full MDiv. So it all will depend on how I respond to the questions as I am interviewed by the Board of Ordained Ministry and their evaluation of my transcripts as to what additional coursework would be deemed necessary so that my education would qualify as the “equivalent” of MDiv. So both you and I will have to stay tuned on this front.

Thanks for reading! And if you have suggestions or questions, please comment or ask me!

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