So, where should you go for a Ph.D. in New Testament?  As someone who works with several master’s students aspiring towards future doctoral studies in theological disciplines, I get this question posed to me quite often. It’s a difficult question to ask because the honest answer is, “It depends.”  It all depends on what you would like to do, where you would like to do it, what you’re willing to do to get there, and if you have the opportunity and resources to do so.  This engenders more questions.  What areas within New Testament interest you the most?  What types of schools would you like to teach in if you were to get a Ph.D.?  Would it be best for you to do a program with course work here in the U.S., or to do a research degree at a school in the U.K. or elsewhere?  Which schools align best with your interests?  Which schools will help you get a job later?  Can you get funding?  And the list goes on.  Further exacerbating the problem, it seems that everyone has a different opinion, and there aren’t really a lot of great resources out there that will help students navigate through the malaise of opinions and information about programs (click here to get a taste of how badly this conversation can go).  You want to choose a good school, but which one?  How does one decide?

If one should begin her quest for knowledge by going to the arbiter of all truth, Google, and should key in the phrase “Ph.D. New Testament programs,” the first site that will pop up is Nijay Gupta’s own WordPress blog, Crux Sola.  Now this is really a very good blog.  Nijay has his Ph.D. from the University of Durham, and is now teaching full time at Seattle Pacific University.  He’s a guy who’s been there, done that, and has gotten the t-shirt to prove it.  Nijay’s discussion of the doctoral program selection and application process is so comprehensive and helpful that I would say that it absolutely should be the first stop along the way for someone headed towards a Ph.D./NT.  His ranking of schools is immensely helpful, as is his profiling of the pros and cons of different academic systems (he profiles the U.S., Canadian, and U.K. systems).  Additionally, Nijay encourages students to start thinking early about how to become competitive applicants in order to get into the best programs.  All in all, it’s a great resource full of practical advice that can get students started down the right path.

One might also want to read the article about American and British Ph.D. programs on SBL’s website.  Information (though slightly dated) about U.K. programs and specialties can be found on the Dunelm Road blog.

Going back to Nijay’s blog, there are just a few areas where I would disagree with his advice–and this has to do primarily with his ranking of schools.

1) Nijay has ranked university-based NT programs as “first tier,” and seminary-based programs as “second tier.”  This reflects a widely acknowledged preference within the academy for university degrees, thus making programs housed within university schools of religion more prestigious than those housed within stand-alone seminaries.  However, this rule is not always a hard and fast, and it does not account for divinity schools that are housed within larger research universities.  To use an example from the Canadian system, the Ph.D. New Testament program at McMaster Divinity College, McMaster University is arguably stronger than the one based out of McMaster University’s school of religious studies.  It has a superior reputation with regard to publication, and graduates of the Ph.D. program at McMaster Div are getting hired into full-time faculty positions at an impressive rate, even in this market.  The same could be said about Toronto School of Theology and how it compares with the religious studies department at the University of Toronto. Also, the doctoral program at Princeton Theological Seminary proves that this rule is not always applicable (PTS is completely independent from Princeton University, though they do share some resources).

2) I’m not sure that I would rank Baylor as a second tier program anymore.  It’s really come into its own as a major player within NT studies, and boasts a strong faculty.  Plus, while Baylor leans more evangelical, it is not like some other schools that tend to be more sectarian in orientation. Rather, Baylor has a fairly eclectic academic community.  Additionally, the program is extremely well-funded, putting it on par with those at first tier schools.  Baylor should be considered a top tier program now.

3) Asbury Theological Seminary should be listed among the second tier programs (Nijay doesn’t mention it anywhere). With an increasing endowment, and with great scholars like Ben Witherington, Craig Keener, Ruth Anne Reese, and Fred Long, Asbury’s program is for real.

4) Nijay notes that funding is usually difficult to come by at evangelical schools. However, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School’s Ph.D. program has recently announced that a very sizeable donation was given towards doctoral scholarships, with some recipients getting up to $35,000 per year (!). Also, Asbury and Wheaton each are now offering sizable scholarships to students entering into their programs as well.  Keep an eye out for more news about these programs and their funding since these “second tier” programs are starting to become more financially competitive with those normally considered “first tier.”

5) Nobody’s coming out and saying anything, so I will.  While the University of Chicago is a GREAT school and rightly deserves pride of place as an elite research university, the New Testament program there is not as compelling as what one might find at first-tier Methodist or Catholic schools in the U.S. (though it is better on the Divinity side at Chicago).  U Chicago is a great place to study if you are interested in Jewish studies, Old Testament, or Ancient Near Eastern studies and languages.  However, the New Testament side of biblical studies is not nearly as emphasized there anymore (that is, unless you are primarily interested in the Hellenistic Jewish backgrounds of the NT).  There doesn’t seem to be much engagement with the actual history and theology of the NT writings themselves, or how they came to shape the earliest Christian communities (at least, these things don’t seem to be emphasized in the publications by their faculty, the notable exception, of course, being Margaret Mitchell, an outstanding scholar in her own right).  People who are looking for a prestigious school with a solid NT program should first look at schools like Duke, Emory, Yale, Notre Dame, or other comparable schools in the U.S., U.K., Canada, and Europe.

6) I wish Nijay had spent more time highlighting Canadian NT programs.  Students should look at programs in Canada.  Seriously.  McMaster Divinity College and Toronto School of Theology are great places to do a Ph.D.  Also, the programs are a wonderful hybrid of the U.S. and U.K. systems, so there is some course work, but it’s mentor-driven and tailored towards your research interests.  Also, there is funding! These schools receive money from the Canadian government, and have generous endowments, so this helps to keep tuition costs extremely low for students (the exchange rate for US students is also an added benefit, as is access students get to quality affordable healthcare in Canada). Also, these schools are housed within very large, prestigious secular research universities (Both Toronto and McMaster U are ranked among the top 100 universities in the world).  The U.S. and U.K. systems are not the only game in town.

OK!  Well, I’ve typed enough on this thing.  Time to shut down and go to bed.