It is completed! Or should I say, “If my committee decides so, then, it is completed!” On Sunday, I finalized writing my dissertation and after an email exchange with my advisor forwarded it to him. He will be reviewing on over the next week, and then he’ll let me know what if anything further I should do. If it goes well with him, he’ll forward it on to my committee, and they’ll review it. He informed me that this process could take anywhere from three to five months. It just depends on how quickly it can be read, critiqued, corrected by me, and either accepted or rejected. I must admit that the anticipation of their review will be a cross (of sorts) to bear until I know if I can schedule a defense date.
In 2004, I began my academic journey at a preaching school in Nashville, TN and graduated from there in 2007. I then believed that if I wanted to become a vocational preacher that I should finish my bachelor’s degree—which I did in 2009. I took a little over one year off of formal schooling simply because I had been absent as a husband and father to some degree for those five years. We had discussed what my pursuit of education would mean for our family, and my wife and I had agreed that we could do it for that period. While working on these degrees, I also preached most every Sunday, taught a class or two at church, and worked a fifty to sixty-hour job. On top of that, I wrote papers, read, and did all the other things that the academic life required. Usually, by Friday nights, I’d be so tired that I’d go to bed somewhere around 7 or 8 o’clock. I’d wake early on Saturday—somewhere between 3 and 4—and I’d read or write. My darling wife and young daughter supported me so that I could pursue education—me being the first on both sides of my family to pursue a college education—with the hopes that I could be a better provider for my family and change my family tree in the process.
After taking over one year off, I was ministering in my first professional work and at that time had visited every member of the church either in their home or outside of the church. Then, a study came out regarding preacher’s pay, tenure, and standing in ministry which according to education level saw that the preachers who earned the better salaries—let’s not kid ourselves, we preachers are as concerned about money as anyone—and lasted longer had master’s degrees. Then, I determined that if I wanted to maximize my influence and earn better pay that I needed a master’s. I was met with some trouble because my bachelor’s degree was not accredited. Shoot, I didn’t even know then what that meant. The universities associated with Churches of Christ would recognize little if any of my previous work. After putting in five years, I didn’t want to start over. I searched for a university that would help me acquire a solid education as well as would accept my previous work, and I found that at Liberty University.
Liberty is primarily a Baptist school, and my master’s diploma reads “Liberty Baptist Theological Seminary and Graduate School.” They had master’s degrees that required on-campus work. I couldn’t envision traveling for a few weeks of work because I was the sole bread-winner and money wasn’t growing on trees, so I called and asked what degrees I could pursue without ever having to step foot on their campus. After naming the options for me, I found that I wanted to pursue a master’s in theological studies. I didn’t have to write a thesis and defend it with the particular program I chose. Some may think that my masters degree isn’t legitimate because of this, but I took a few extra classes not to have to do that. However, my church history and one of my New Testament professors urged me to consider pursuing Ph.D. studies after I had written papers for their classes. I hadn’t thought about it until that point, but their confidence in my research abilities led me to think about it.
Sometime after that, a mail-out arrived at the church where I served from Faulkner University. They were granting at that time a D.Litt. in their Great Books Honors College—it has since been changed to a Ph.D. I called the director of the program, who happens also to be my doctoral advisor, and asked him about it. I was nearing the end of my master’s work, so I thought it best to look ahead. He, like me, had a bachelor’s and master’s in biblically related studies, but a Ph.D. in humanities. I told him that I had thought about pursuing a doctorate in New Testament or church history, and he said that a doctorate in humanities would serve me better because it wouldn’t lock me into an intellectual corner. I will gladly say that this has been true. I believe a study of the humanities has helped me to be a better preacher. I’d also say that it has helped me to be a better theologian because I read the same classics that Origen, Augustine, Basil, and Jerome knew. Those pillars of theology and I have read many of the same works that enabled them to be notable characters in church history.
With my dissertation written and under consideration, I look back with gratitude to God and those He’s put in my life throughout my academic journey. I know that I’ll be Dr. Steven Hunter sooner rather than later. I will have been the first from both sides of my family to obtain a collegial education and the first doctor in the family. I’ve been told that only 2% of the population has a Ph.D. or something like that, so I’ll join a small fraternity of those who thought it worthwhile. This is not something that will define me as a person, however. Rather, the fact that I’m made in God’s image and am one of His children through Christ, that I’m Stephanie’s husband, and Bri and Cole’s father—that’s who I am and will always be proud to be.