Each successful doctoral completion in biblical studies results in a niche scholar; that is, a scholar who knows massive amounts about a small corner of the biblical marketplace. For instance, I completed my dissertation on John Frame and Vern Poythress’s Trinitarian theological method. Few could speak with me deeply about that topic, and even fewer desire to!
There are benefits as well as problems with the modern educational model. On the problematic side, I think we suffer from the lack of biblical generalists in our day. New Testament scholars are not required to understand the intricacies of the Old Testament and vice versa. Systematic theologians and church historians, for their part, are only required to know their own field. This lack of generalist knowledge prevents connections from other field of biblical studies, connections that might otherwise advance our knowledge.
Of course there are reasons for this. First, the deeper scholarship gets in each area, the harder it is to have an adequate grasp of multiple fields. The non-specialist runs the risk of missing elements specialists would not have missed. Second, few people are gifted or dedicated enough to be conversant in more than one field.
I am not proposing in this article a solution to the problem; rather, I am proposing that we not make the problem worse. Here are two ways I think we can make the problem worse.
First, we can make the problem worse by adopting the European model of PhD studies. The European model is dissertation only, and while their process proves the ability of the candidate to do extensive and intensive research, it fails to provide a well-rounded knowledge of a broad field. For instance, if I took a New Testament PhD from a European institution, I would from the beginning focus my studies on a particular slice of the broad field. The next two or three years would be spent researching only that narrow slice of the field. Having finished my dissertation, I would not be an expert in NT; rather, I would be an expert in, e.g., Paul’s view of Weakness in the Corinthian Epistles.
The American PhD, however, requires two years of general coursework in the field of study. Many of these classes will not be specific to the dissertation the student will later write. Instead, they are designed to prepare the student with a broad view of the field they desire to be a specialist within. After the coursework there is a year spent in preparation for the comprehensive exams, which are exactly what they sound like. In my case, I was tested not only in apologetics (my particular focus), but also in systematic theology and church history. If I failed those exams, I could not continue to the next phase of study—the dissertation. Finally, this dissertation gauged precisely what the European model gauged—my ability to do scholarship at a high level.
On the whole, I think there is a place for the European model. Those who have extensive experience within a field (whether through educational channels or otherwise) might benefit from moving directly to the dissertation, proving that along with their broad knowledge, they can also engage in innovative research. Nevertheless, I think if we desire to see more biblical generalists, the American system is superior.
A second way we can contribute to the lack of biblical generalists is by avoiding the Master of Divinity degree. Some, in their zeal for attaining the Ph.D., pass over the M.Div., taking a one/two year M.A. instead. Clearly the 32 credit M.A. is more attractive to some than the 96 credit M.Div., but one must ask what is being missed in those 64 credits! Unfortunately, some view the M.Div. as a “professional degree” that lacks the educational foundation of the M.A. Of course, no one who has ever attended DBTS would make such a statement! The M.Div. certainly prepares one for professional ministry, yet I am convinced it also provides the foundation for further education. Even students desiring only to teach and not to pastor should take the M.Div. This is because the scholar’s primary role is as an aid to the church.
I am not sure we will see biblical generalists like John Calvin again. Nevertheless, I believe many would benefit from having a broader education. I would be interested in hearing from our readers: do you think we have a lack of biblical generalists today? If so, any partial solutions come to mind?
 Incidentally, few care to buy from these marketplaces, and this is why published dissertations are usually expensive.