Monday, July 20, 2015

Earning a PhD Degree from a UK University without Leaving the United States

Earning a PhD Degree from a UK University without Leaving the United States

R. Alan Streett (PhD, University of Wales)
©Richard Alan Streett

Senior Research Professor of Biblical Exegesis
Criswell College
Dallas, Texas

Are you interested in working on a PhD in theology or biblical studies from a UK university without moving to Great Britain? The openings are limited and you need to know the options and the application process. Earning a postgraduate degree (as it is called in the UK) is rigorous and usually takes approximately 4‒6 years part-time. These are not “seminary” PhDs, but “university” degrees that prepare you for a career as an academic.

I.    Schools That Welcome American Students

Here are eight universities in the UK that work with American students. One may be a match for you.

1. Nazarene Theological College validated by University of Manchester
2. Cliff College validated by University of Manchester
3. Spurgeon’s College validated by the University of Manchester
4.  St Johns Nottingham validated by University of Chester
5. Wales Evangelical School of Theology validated by the University of Chester
6.  Highland Theological College validated by University of Aberdeen
7. London School of Theology validated by University of Middlesex
8. Trinity College validated by the University of Bristol
    II.    The Validation System
You work with the first school mentioned, but receive your degree from the latter school. This is known as the validation system in the UK. So your initial step is to get on the first school's website. Second, go to the "postgraduate" link. Read about the PhD application process, etc. Third, contact via email the professor in your desired field.  Fourth, tell him/her of your research interests. It is best to be specific. Unlike American dissertations that are often topic-driven, most UK dissertations are "thesis-driven." That means you state a proposition or thesis and then seek to prove it. For example, my thesis was: “The Lord’s Supper during the first century CE was an anti-imperial practice.” Fifth, ask the professor if s/he would be interested in supervising such a project. Sixth, make formal application to the validating school and the degree awarding university. Seventh, realize that if accepted, you will likely be classified as an “MPhil/PhD” student. You will be reclassified as PhD student after one year if your academic progress is deemed worthy. The school year in the UK usually begins in October.
III.    Bypassing the Validation Process
Recently, a few UK schools have begun working directly with American postgraduate students, thus bypassing the validation process. They include the Universities of Durham, Wales, Edinburgh, Exeter, Gloucestershire, and Birmingham. The University of Aberdeen offers both options. You can work through Highland Theological College or work directly with Aberdeen itself.
 There two advantages of working directly with a university. First, by eliminating the middleman, you can cut the cost of your education. Second, you are more likely to work under the supervision of a world class scholar.
IV.     Choosing the Right School
Are you interested in earning your degree from a top tier theology department or are you more concerned with having a good relationship with your supervisor? The answer to this question may guide your choice of a school.
1.   Each department in a UK university is ranked according to its academic excellence. Rank is based on the quality of research (books, peer reviewed articles, etc.) being produced by each faculty, which is evaluated by scholarly panels using objective standards. The latest ranking—the 2008 Research Assessment Exercise (RAE)—can be found on the internet. In 2014, the Research Excellence Framework (REF) will replace RAE. 
2.   Since you will be working with the same supervisor for a half dozen years, it is important to find one with whom you can work. This means finding a supervisor who 1) likes Americans, 2) is available to answer your questions, 3) has patience working with someone unfamiliar with the British system, 4) is as concerned with your success as much as s/he is with their own publication schedule, 5) is an encourager, 6) recommends resources, 7) reads your chapters and offers a critical evaluation, and 8) guides you through each step of the PhD process.
V.     Research is the Name of the Game
These are not online education degrees, but research degrees. You receive the same degree as those who reside on campus. You work with the same supervisors, write the same quality thesis (dissertation), and orally defend your thesis (a process known as a viva voca). But instead of being on campus, you meet regularly with your supervisor through Skype, email, etc. Some schools require you to visit campus once a year or once every two years, but others do not. Many meetings between students and supervisors take place at the annual Society of Biblical Literature conference, which convenes in a different American city each year.
Be forewarned, a UK research degree is not for the faint of heart. As one Oxford scholar said, “American PhD programs are a mile wide and an inch deep. UK programs are an inch wide and a mile deep.” This means American PhD graduates are more generalists and UK PhD graduates are more specialists. American PhD programs are more structured and require a student to take classes in a variety of subjects (usually 48 credits hours), plus write a dissertation. UK PhD programs require a student to spend the equivalent amount of time conducting narrowly focused research toward the thesis. There are no classroom requirements, even for full-time students who live on campus. 
VI.  The Financial Costs
Typically, UK programs do not offer financial assistance to Americans. So expect to pay the full tuition, which can run as high as 6,000 British pounds per year. Additional costs might include travelling expenses to SBL cities and/or to Great Britain: airfare, lodging, meals, and land transportation, etc.
VII.     The Thesis
You should only submit your thesis after your supervisor believes your research is PhD worthy. The degree-granting university will then select two scholars to critically read your thesis and examine you on its content. One will be an internal reader from the university. The other will be an external reader from another UK university. One will likely be an expert in your area of research and both will be scholars in your particular discipline (NT, theology, church history, etc.). A date will be set and you will meet for the viva voca, which will involve a 2-3 hour period of intense questioning to determine if you can defend your thesis and elaborate on your research. At the end of the viva voca, you will step outside the room while the examiners discuss the thesis and your responses. You will be called back into the room and given the verdict. Your thesis will be assigned one of the following grades: 1) Pass “as is” without need for revisions or further clarifications; 2) Pass with minor revisions which must be completed and submitted within three months; 3) Pass with significant revisions, which must be completed and submitted within one year; 4) Major rewrite, which must be completed and submitted within two years along with taking another viva voca; 5) Not acceptable or the possible award of MPhil instead of PhD. Your goal is to receive one of the first three evaluations.
VIII.        Is a UK PhD Program for You?
Over the past few years, I have recommended four American students for UK PhD programs who were accepted and matriculated into the programs. However, only one earned a degree. The others dropped out. All were smart enough to complete the program, but they lacked either self-confidence and/or self-discipline, or else, faced time constraints. So, count the cost before you apply. 
If you are a self-starter, inquisitive, thick skinned, academically able to do original research, have a history of meeting deadlines, work well with a supervisor, and do not get discouraged easily, you may be the ideal candidate.
An American or UK PhD program—which is best for you? That depends on your goals, aptitude, interest, personality, work schedule, finances, etc. The Lord will guide you in your selection of the right doctoral program. 

If you have any further questions, feel free to write me at:

Monday, June 08, 2015

Istoria Ministries Blog: Heaven on Earth: A Must Have Book

Istoria Ministries Blog: Heaven on Earth: A Must Have Book: I do not know nor have I ever met author Alan Streett, PhD (University of Wales, UK),  Senior Research Professor of Biblical Exegesis and...

Monday, December 08, 2014


You owe it to yourself to buy and read "Bonhoeffer's Black Jesus" (Baylor University Press) by Reggie L. Williams. This short book is not an quick or easy read. It is chocked full of thought-provoking insights that Bonhoeffer gleaned from his year at Union Theological Seminary (NY), and especially his association with Abyssinia Baptist Church in Harlem. Bonhoeffer left America a different person than when he arrived. He was now a Christian! Without his Abyssinia experience, Bonhoeffer would not have stood with the oppressed Jews of Germany during WWII.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

Immigration Makes Salvation Possible

Jesus was an immigrant. He and his family left their homeland and crossed the border into Egypt in order to escape Herod's hit squad. 

Had Jesus not escaped, He would have been one of the innocents who was murdered.

This means that immigration played an essential role in salvation history.

In fact, others in his ancestral line were immigrants who advanced salvation history. Think of Naomi and her family who moved to Moab, where her son married Ruth. Then the widowed Ruth, in turn, migrated to Bethlehem where she met Boaz and gave birth to Obed, the grandfather of King David, who fathered the royal line leading up to Jesus.

Without immigration there would have been no messiah and no salvation.

Thursday, July 10, 2014


People everywhere are debating about the influx of illegal minors crossing the Texas border. Should they be allowed to stay or should they be sent back to their respective countries?

How should the church address the issue?

First, the churches in America represent the Kingdom of God and not the United States.

Second, the churches must follow the Scriptures, regardless of what the courts, Congress or the President decides. This means churches should open their doors to the strangers and foreigners among us. We should find homes for the migrant children; feed and clothe those who cannot fend for themselves.

The Scriptures are clear that Israel was to care for foreigners and aliens in their midst because they were once in the same boat in Egypt.

Here are a few of the many scriptural references:

“You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” Exodus 22:21 ESV

“When a stranger sojourns with you in your land, you shall not do him wrong. You shall treat the stranger who sojourns with you as the native among you, and you shall love him as yourself, for you were strangers in the land of Egypt: I am the Lord your God. Leviticus 19:33-34 ESV

“If your brother becomes poor and cannot maintain himself with you, you shall support him as though he were a stranger and a sojourner, and he shall live with you. Leviticus 25:35 ESV

“He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing.” Deuteronomy 10:18 ESV

“You shall allot it as an inheritance for yourselves and for the sojourners who reside among you and have had children among you. They shall be to you as native-born children of Israel. With you they shall be allotted an inheritance among the tribes of Israel.” Ezekiel 47:22 ESV

“Thus says the Lord of hosts, Render true judgments, show kindness and mercy to one another, do not oppress the widow, the fatherless, the sojourner, or the poor, and let none of you devise evil against another in your heart.” Zechariah 7:9-10 ESV

“Then I will draw near to you for judgment. I will be a swift witness...against those who oppress the hired worker in his wages, the widow and the fatherless, against those who thrust aside the sojourner, and do not fear me, says the Lord of hosts.” Malachi 3:5 ESV

Should the church do any different?

Jesus said, “For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me.” Matthew 25:35 ESV

The writer of Hebrews exhorts, “Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares.” Hebrews 13:2 ESV

The church needs to be proactive. Consider bringing this critical issue to your church board. Suggest that it adopt one of these little strangers in our midst. There are people in our congregations who are willing to open the doors of their homes and hearts. This is an opportunity to do something that is part of God’s kingdom agenda (Luke 4:18‒21).

When the lost in your community see the love of God in action in real time, they will get a glimpse of the Kingdom. 

Tuesday, July 08, 2014

The Gospel of the Kingdom Solves the Problem of Syncretism on the Mission Field

I just had a good email conversation with Mike Boyett, a pastor in Mississippi and former missionary about my book “Heaven on Earth” and its practical implications for missions and church discipleship. He said that while he was on the mission field he became “very concerned with what was being proclaimed and believed as the Gospel. I began to realize that what was being lived out—the dependency, the syncretism, the sacred/secular divide—was the inevitable consequence of what was taught (or not taught) by the missionaries. As I focused my reading to deal with many topics related to issues we were facing there, I developed a deep concern about how we were "packaging" the gospel message and the tragic neglect (or ignorance) of the Kingdom message that permeates all the Scriptures. I simply couldn't square our message with the sermons the Apostles preached in Acts nor the literary agenda of the Gospel writers.”

His mention of syncretism caught my attention. “Of course,” I thought, “a gospel that deals totally with the future has no relevance for the present situation. The natives will simply incorporate Jesus into their pantheism of gods.”

I wrote him back, and Mike elaborated on the issue, which I believe is so important that I thought you would like to read it too. His ideas are well thought out and clearly stated. His comments are packed with meat, so be prepared to put on your thinking caps. Here they are:

“The reality is that if the trajectory of history, contrary to much salvation preaching today, is from heaven to earth (the Word became flesh, the New Jerusalem comes to earth) rather than away from earth to heaven; and if the eschatological vision is the healing of the nations (Rev. 22:2) rather than simply innumerable souls being saved and gathered in heaven, then this has huge implications for the mission of the church. It cannot be reduced simply to sermons and sacraments. People have to eat and work and marry and bring up children and govern their communities, etc. But the implications of the soul centered, heaven oriented message that has been taught to the nations in a hurry (often in a race to "reach" an arbitrary percentage of the population so Jesus will have to hurry up and rapture us) leaves the people wondering if God has much to do with the rest of life till we die. The transformation of culture is talked about but has no real place in the systems of theology that are pre-packaged in the West for mass-distribution abroad by short-term missionaries who are ignorant of the cultures they are in the midst of (I'm actually not as cynical as this sounds).

“Your reference to the end-time Jubilee (page 191) has implications for the priorities and concerns of the people of God today. If we do not have a message that is good news to captives of all sorts and hands that serve them in their need, then, for the perplexing issues people face in this life, they will simply resort to the ways their people have always handled them. Syncretism becomes almost inevitable. Christianity secures for them insurance for life after death, but the ways of their people practiced unthinkingly for generations provides the way to make sense of this life and sort out its problems.

“The eschatological vision given to us in Revelation not only celebrates racial diversity (Rev. 7:9-10), but cultural diversity as well. I simply love the picture of the New Jerusalem where the "nations walk and the kings of the earth will bring their glory into it.... They will bring into it the glory and honor of the nations (Rev. 21:34-26). This seems to imply that the unique cultures and cultural artifacts of the nations are in some measure transformed and brought as tribute to the Great King. In other words, when the Kingdom of God is embraced as good news, the peoples of the nations, at least in some measure, intentionally and uniquely attempt to craft their life, even in this present age, so as to have an offering to bring to their King. This strikes me as something like the fruit, the overflow of the blessing of Abraham. Syncretism, on the other hand, seems to be about survival in a world full of competing gods and rival kingdoms. Therefore, a compelling, holistic vision of the Kingdom of God contextualized, proclaimed and celebrated as good news, and put into practice is the only hope for the healing of the nations.

“This is simply common sense application of what you wrote.”

These comments were Mike’s reflections on reading HEAVEN ON EARTH: Experiencing the Kingdom of God in the Here and Now.” I hope you will get a copy of the book and give it to your favorite pastor or missionary.

Friday, July 04, 2014


Three groups of settlers came to America: 1) a contingent of 1,500 soldiers from Spain, representing the Spanish government and the Roman Catholic Church landed in 1565 on the northeast coast of Florida and founded the city of Saint Augustine. Their goal was exploration and the prorogation of the Catholic faith; 2) Representatives from the London Company and the Church of England settled in Jamestown, Va in 1607. They were the first to import African slaves to the continent; 3) the Pilgrims arrived in the 1620 and settled the Plymouth colony. They came to escape persecution from the Church of England for their non-conformist beliefs and to secure religious freedom. 

These three groups claimed land for themselves, displacing Native American tribes-often by means of force-that previously lived there.

Each group was a part of a different Christian tradition, but one that was not friendly to the other. Over the next 150 years the religious landscape changed in the colonies with the formation of new movements, sects and denominations such as Unitarians, Baptists, Methodists, Quakers, etc. The land in Florida remained predominately Catholic. But in 1763 England gained control of Florida in exchange for Havana, Cuba, which it had captured from Spain in the Seven Years War (1756-1763).

As people moved and migrated, the American colonies became a hodgepodge of religious expressions. The whole while the slave population exploded.

When the colonists declared independence from England, successfully fought the Revolution and eventually ratified the United States Constitution, they guaranteed "the blessings of Liberty to ourselves and our Posterity." Unfortunately this freedom did not extended to slaves, who were not viewed as persons but property. In fact, "the blessings of Liberty" gave citizens of American the right to own slaves.

On this Fourth of July those of us who are Anglo must never forget that the ancestors of our African American friends, relatives and neighbors had to struggle for nearly 200 more years before the promises of the Declaration of Independence and the Constitution were applied to them.

Which of these groups do you consider your forefathers? Colonists? Slaves? Native Americans? How you answer this question will likely influence how you celebrate Independence Day?