Tuesday, May 22, 2012

dmin: the journey

This morning I received word that I have fulfilled all the requirements for my DMin... YIPPEE!

It has been quite a story. It starts way back in 1985 when I was required, as a brand new 'probationary' minister with the NZ Baptists, to write an essay in my first year as a pastor. I was looking for an excuse to read Kenneth Bailey's Poet & Peasant and Through Peasant Eyes (my cross-cultural upbringing resonated with his thesis) and with my love of hermeneutics at the time, I wrote something on The Progression in Parabolic Understanding. I sighted the original this morning. Plenty of white-out on display without a word processor in sight. My examiner was Ken McCormack, now an elderly retired Baptist minister in Christchurch, and his warm commendation of my work is something for which I have always been grateful. [NB: Bailey subsequently became enormously popular, but people forget that this seminal work was written as early as 1976. It was 10-15 years before he became widely read, with his insights filling many a sermon on the parables].

In 1990 I commenced part-time on the staff at the Bible College of New Zealand (BCNZ - now, Laidlaw College) working in the Extension Studies Department - thereby leaving time to commence an MTh programme with the Australian College of Theology (ACT). My first topic? The History of Interpretation of the Parables...but then on one fateful day things changed forever. My supervisor, Chris Marshall, could not attend a conference in Sydney in 1991 and I was invited to present a paper in his absence. I have people like Edward Sands and John Hitchen to blame for this! Drawing on my work on the parables and my interest in hermeneutics, I gave a talk on the New Hermeneutic. On return to Auckland I was urged to send my paper to ACT as part of a submission to have my MTh upgraded to a ThD (doctoral) project. It was all on...

In 1992 I commenced on the faculty of the residential college (BCNZ) with two courses to develop: Preaching (which eventually became two courses) and one I developed from scratch called The Gospel in a Post-Christian Society. These subjects took me deep within the world of homiletics/preaching and postmodernism. I began to see a parable-shaped gap in the communication to postmoderns. And so, when some study leave came my way in 1994, I titled my doctoral thesis as Towards an Integrative Model for Communicating the Narrative Parables in a Postmodern World. A couple of years later I developed and taught a Master's course on The Parable in the Postmodern...

Late in my time at BCNZ (1997) and then early in my subsequent time as principal at Carey Baptist College (2000) I was given additional study leaves - incredibly generous gestures from my employers at the time. I made huge progress and emerged with substantial chapters on the parables and on postmodernism - in the vicinity of 70-80,000 words each. But I couldn't quite pull the trigger on the final, and integrative, chapter 3. There were various reasons. One was the lack of confidence in my ability to complete the task as an academic. Another was the sheer complexity and endless verbage surrounding both parabolic interpretation and postmodernism. But then there were the massive demands on me as a youngish principal in a rapidly changing and growing college. Things lay fallow for some years. Maybe the naysayers had been right: 'why on earth are you going to Carey before the doctorate is completed?' God called me - that is why.

Then in 2004 ACT gave me the heavy word. I couldn't keep having extensions granted to me and so eventually my enrolment in the ThD lapsed. I looked briefly at transferring to another programme. I stared at the very real possibility of failure and a lot of wasted work. But at about this time my own sense of vocation was changing. I came to the realisation that I was never going to be a researching academic. While the college context was still my natural habitat, my involvement was more likely to be as a leader, than as a lecturer. A decisive conversation with Martin Sutherland helped change my focus...

And so against the advice of some family members and close colleagues (!), I decided to enrol in the DMin (a practitioner doctorate) in 2005. Three papers and then a thesis of 60,000 words (rather than 100,000). While probably more work in the long run, this felt more achievable as a principal and practitioner. Each year I knocked off a paper - on spirituality, on leadership, and on the book of Acts. Loved them. Stimulating and relevant. [NB: Jeff Pugh's courses on leadership are among the undiscovered jewels in theological education in Australasia].

Just as my time at Carey was drawing to a close in 2008, the ugly spectre of a thesis returned to haunt me. My thinking had continued to evolve and I had some creative ideas I wanted to explore, which were still related to the parable in the postmodern. But I needed a supervisor who would be creative with me, as well as both commend me and correct me. I found that person in Steve Taylor (formerly of Christchurch; now in Adelaide). As I wrote in my opening Acknowledgements, 'every single conversation with him has been instructive'. Out the other end emerged, in 2011, The Role of Intrigue in the Communication with Sceptics.

This is not really the place to repeat all my Acknowledgements - but, needless to say, there have been a whole heap of people who have helped get me to the finish line. To them each one I will be forever grateful, as I am to God who has enabled me to persevere. Now I can get on with the rest of my life :)

nice chatting



Scott Mackay said...

Congratulations Paul.

Any plans to have it published?

Almanac said...

What an achievement. I am sure the process has deepened your faith and contributed to the person you are.

Robyn M-S said...

Congrats Paul! :-)

Paul said...

Thanks-you, friends.

Scott: while there is encouragement to publish, I confess some reluctance. I do not want this work to be isolated from my other convictions about preaching and communication.

My dream would be for a book that explores the nature of preaching and communication for audiences at different stages along the Engel Scale (or, faith journey). I quite like the idea of adding a sixth group of speaking words to Peter Adam's five: words of information, declaration, exhortation, persuasion, conversation ... and then of intrigue.

all the best with your study and preparation


Andrew said...

Superb news Paul! Hugely well deserved. The entry for perseverance in the dictionary should have an image of you toiling over this work and staying with it to its completion (and doing the work of 3 phds). Well done on a brilliant achievement, I hope you sense God's pleasure.

shannon.richmond said...

Congratulations Paul! I echo Scott's thoughts. I was privileged to come across you in your preaching course at Carey and know that your paper (book?) would be an invaluable insight and resource to the wider body.
Maybe a chapter on Cricket and Leadership could be added...just a thought ; )

Bronwyn W said...

Congratulations, Paul, a huge achievement!

Laurie Guy said...

I am thrilled Paul. Nailed this one - totally!. Wonderful outcome.


Sing song said...

Could I please have a copy for the library?
Siong Ng

spirit2go team said...

Well done Paul. It is a fine piece of work, that in the midst of all that life served you last year, was finished with elegance and creativity.

(And a few late nights/early mornings on both sides of the Tasman!)

You do need to publish it - 2 books - the thesis itself plus a general book on preaching


tim bulkeley said...

Congratulations, Paul :)

I'll add my little bit to the voices urging you to find some venue to publish the ideas. It's a shame when good work does not reach a wider audience. How about a light editing to make it less "thesis" and the publish to a website? That way people can discuss or ask about your work.

Paul said...

Thanks again, friends - all comments duly noted, including those from steve and tim!