I often receive emails from men and women interested in earning a master’s or PhD in Christian apologetics or a closely related field. They want to know about my experience and how best to go about deciding which degree program is right for them. It’s wise of them to reach out for advice, because there are a growing number of options out there and several things to carefully consider before committing one’s time and financial resources to a program.
For Those Considering a Master’s Degree:
Are you brand new to the discipline of apologetics or have you been studying independently and consistently for at least a year? In the first case, some preparation prior to jumping into a graduate degree would be highly beneficial. I recommend checking out the certificate programs available through various seminaries, universities, and even independent Christian ministries. Some schools allow you to earn credits in their certificate program that can be applied towards the master’s degree. By doing some preliminary learning, you also develop a much better feel for the kind of apologetics (or related discipline) degree program that would be the best fit for your specific interests. For example, I was able to confidently choose the Master of Arts in Science and Religion at Biola University over a general apologetics program because I knew without a doubt that I wanted to heavily incorporate my science background into my academic and ministry work. Sure, I could have done a more generic apologetics degree and taken a science elective or two, but that would not have prepared me nearly as well for the kind of teaching, writing, and speaking I do.
If you are someone who has already spent a significant amount of time studying apologetics, perhaps you already know which sub-discipline you gravitate towards. Do you love exploring how the truths of the Gospel can be effectively communicated through the creative arts such as literature, theater, film, and music? Then a program that offers an emphasis in cultural apologetics may be a great fit for you. Do you want to build your ability to make good arguments for Christianity using the tools of logic and objective evidence? Then a program with an emphasis in philosophical apologetics might be the right way to go.
Another important element of your decision should be knowing whether or not you will eventually pursue a doctoral degree. A master’s thesis is a prerequisite for some PhD programs, but not all master’s programs automatically include a thesis. This is something to find out early on in the school-selection process.
Moreover, if you do not plan to pursue a doctoral degree, you need to have a plan in place for being mentored in your chosen specialty. This could be a matter of choosing your electives strategically and writing a thesis with a specific faculty member. I always advise against planning to be a “jack-of-all-trades” type of apologist unless your primary goal is to teach classes at your home church or work in a private school setting teaching general apologetics. If you desire to make a scholarly contribution to the field or build a full time public writing and/or speaking ministry, specialization is necessary. That actually wasn’t the case just 8-10 years ago, but I really think it is true today.
For Those Considering a PhD:
If you have already earned a master’s degree in apologetics or a related discipline and are thinking of pursuing a PhD, there are different questions to answer. First of all, why are you considering doctoral work? Do you just want a higher credential to boost your street cred? That’s a poor reason to embark upon this arduous journey. PhD work is far more demanding, academically and emotionally, than master’s level work. Your main motivation for doing doctoral work must be for the knowledge and skills required to become a scholar, perhaps a scholar who is qualified to work full time in academia.
Earning a PhD doesn’t necessarily mean that you have to commit yourself to a tiny niche; some programs are rather interdisciplinary. For example, I chose a humanities program at a Great Books institution where I get to study the science, mathematics, philosophy, literature, and history of the Western Tradition. I am able to develop my specialty (science and Christianity) all along the way through customized tutorials, research papers, and my dissertation. (This is ideal for me, because I am passionate about understanding the many different facets of the science and faith conversation over the past two millennia.)
It very well could be that your PhD work should not be in a program that is labeled “apologetics.” Maybe a PhD in literature or philosophy (or, like me, humanities with a particular concentration) would better suit your goals. The beautiful thing is, many disciplines overlap with–and greatly benefit–the project of Christian apologetics.
A Few Other Important Things
Once you have ironed out all of the above, do your homework about the schools in your narrowed-down list. What are the professors’ credentials? Is the school fully accredited or only partially accredited? Doing a master’s at an institution that is only partially accredited could damage your chances of being admitted to a PhD program in the future. If the program is partly or fully delivered by distance education, how much interaction will you get with professors and fellow students on a weekly basis? Will you need to travel to campus, and if so, how often? It’s also a good idea to look into how well alumni have fared professionally and/or academically. Having conversations with some of them could prove very insightful.