FAQs: Why Go to Fuller Seminary for Your Ph.D.?

Sorry we missed the FAQs last week, I was swamped, but we’re back and I’ve got some great guests coming up in the next month.  This segment is officially called “FAQs of a Theologian” and it is where I or my theologian guests answer a question that often gets posed to…well, theologians.  With that said, I’d love for you to drop a question in the bucket, and we’ll tackle it as soon as possible.

I’ve been asked on a number of occasions “Why Fuller,” and since Fuller is a Theological Seminary, what better way to answer that question then right here.  I’ve addressed five questions, I hope they’re helpful.

1. Why Fuller over any other Phd program?

There are a number of reasons that factor into a person deciding one PhD program over another, who you want to study with, your topic, how much money you can get and how much it costs, where the school is located, what your spouse will do and involvement with community are all really important factors.

For us we had to figure out what were our top priorities and what were our secondary ones.

Who I studied with was of most utmost importance. I wanted my adviser to be someone I know, someone who I know has integrity, and someone whose reputation precedes them.  This narrowed my search down to just a couple places.  Many people study with teachers they’ve never met, and if that’s okay with you go for it, but I felt like I was looking for a specific kind of advisor.  I decided to study with Ryan Bolger.  I knew him pretty well, had worked with him enough in the past two years, and felt good about the reputation he had/has as a scholar and Christian.

Another reason for us, is that Fuller is on the cutting edge of Evangelical scholarship.  I don’t know of any other (Evangelical) school in the country that thinks and struggles with the things we do at Fuller and I really appreciate that about the school.  Issues of culture, mass media, modernity and postmodernity and science are all issues that continue to effect our theology and how the the life of the church.  This meant that not only were they excited about some of my ideas, but they are making space for new ideas to arise all the time.

2. Any suggestions for the application process? Any advice on improving my chances of getting ‘in’?

I’d initiate some contact with who it is you think you might like to study with and give them a general idea of your interests, see how they respond. This can be a way for him or her to get a feel for you and you for them.

Next, nail down a really good essay and get some great references.  And if you have good grades that should be enough to give yourself a great chance.

I know I used citations in my essay, quoted Ryan’s dissertation, some of Nancey Murphy’s work and some other stuff. I had various people help me edit it, and made sure it was really concise and clear.  This is the one thing that will give them a perspective on you from your own perspective, the rest will come from your references and your application, but the essay is where you get to show them your passion and handle on the subject matter.

3. What’s your advice for the writing sample and entrance exam?

For the entrance exam I read 2 or 3 books from 5 different areas of thought (they give you the list).  I think I was supposed to have read more, but this is where it helped a little with me having already studied at Fuller for my masters and I also have my BA in Bible and Theology (yeah Malone).

I read those books pretty quickly – enough to get some main ideas, and be able to argue some main points here and there.  Basically you want to show that you know who is in the field, what they are saying, and that you are capable of dialoguing with then.

4. As a quaker/anabaptist, do you feel that fuller is a good place to study and research your stream of faith?

Oddly enough, Fuller may be one of the best places for Quakers and Anabaptists to be for PhD studies, in the states anyways.  I am not joking, Fuller is serious about supporting the peace church.  There are a lot of Anabaptists going to school here, it’s crazy.  And some of our best Anabaptist/Radical Reformation thinkers are here at Fuller, Ryan being among them.

I can’t imagine finding a better Evangelical institution for this line of work.  I did consider applying to the University of Chicago, and I will be spending time studying in Birmingham England at their university there, so I understand there are plenty of schools friendly to us folks but if you’re looking to engage this stream of faith in this setting Fuller is perfect for that.  Plus we have a great Mennonite church in Pasadena!

5. What is it like to study under Ryan Bolger?

Haha, this is a great question.  Ryan is a great advisor.  We get along really well, we share many of the same interests (we both love Peet’s – a coffee shop close by and Bob Dylan), and many of the same passions.  So for me, like I shared above, I think he’s the right person for the job.  His scholarly interests are exactly what I am into as well, not just with the emerging church stuff (which is great) but also with his stuff on practices and powers, his ideas about the church engaging culture to transform it, and his ideas about mission in the west have radically formed the way I think.  He loves Anabaptists, knows way more about John Howard Yoder and Stanley Hauerwas than just about anybody I know and, so far as I can tell, enjoys having a Quaker for a student.

Ryan is relatively new to academia, at least in terms of his professorship, and so he’s got a long and bright future ahead of him.  That also means I get to learn from him as he tries to figure this all out.  He’s really invited me into the learning process with him, which has been invaluable.

*Disclaimer, I’ve only been a PhD student for about 3 months.

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