Friday, June 20, 2014

Earning a British PHD

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:

Wednesday, June 11, 2014


The Kingdom of God is an “open secret." It appears on nearly every page of the NT, yet missed by so many. Since the kingdom is the essence of the gospel and the goal of human history, if we miss the kingdom then we embrace something other than Christianity. Our gospel becomes "another gospel" that damns rather than saves.

The church is facing a massive problem and we are approaching a tipping point that will catapult the church over the edge and on a downward course that cannot be reversed. Jesus asks a critical question, "When the son of man returns will he find faith on earth?" What is the answer?

Every generation must answer the question. We are not responsible for the successes or failures of past generations or those that come after us.

But we can do something now. We can carry the pure gospel of the kingdom into our world. Join the kingdom revolution!

A good place to start is reading up on the kingdom of God.

Please consider reading HEAVEN ON EARTH: EXPERIENCING THE KINGDOM OF GOD IN THE HERE AND NOW, which speaks of Christ's present reign at God's right hand and its implications for the church.

Monday, June 09, 2014



Church membership has plunged for the seventh straight year in the Southern Baptist Convention. When a similar thing happened in the United Methodist Church in the 60s and 70s, we were quick to point out that liberalism was the culprit. Now it’s happening to us and there’s not a liberal in our camp!

The Methodists tried many ways to shore up their membership, but without success. Now we are the ones bleeding numerically with no apparent remedy in sight. If the SBC were a person with a seven-year illness, the doctor would diagnose a “chronic condition,” which means there is an ongoing problem.

Reactions have been swift in coming, but few solutions. To stay the present course is not an option. We all know the definition of insanity!

If you ever played organized baseball, you likely experienced a slump. You can’t get a hit for trying and your numbers decline sharply. Before long you lose your confidence, only making things worse. To reverse the trend, you need a breakthrough! After trying every solution imaginable without success—changing bats, moving up in the batter’s box, altering your stanceyou come to realize in order to break out of the slump you must get back to the basics.

The SBC is in a slump.


In the days when the SBC was on the rise—before it took its steep downhill turn——a plan was conceived to keep the Convention on an upward trajectoryHere is the back story.

In late 1999, facing a new millennium and an ever-changing postmodern culturea historic meeting was convened that brought together state executive directors and SBC executives for the purpose of developing a long-term cooperative strategy to maintain steady growth and to reach the nationfor Christ. A task force on “Cooperation” was elected —composed of four SBC entity presidents, Bill Crews (GGBTS), Jerry Rankin (IMB), Bob Reccord (NAMB), and Morris Chapman (Executive Committee); and four state executive directors, Wyndell Jones (IA), Carlisle Driggers (SC), Anthony Jordan (OK), and Bob White (GA)and commissioned to investigate and recommend ways to achieve sustained growth

After numerous meetings that centered on spiritual and scriptural reflection, a consensus emerged that the Convention needed to get back to the basics found in Jesus’ message of the kingdom of God.

The task force examined a successful kingdom-oriented model developed and launched in the early 1990s by Carlisle Driggers, Executive Director of the South Carolina Convention that turned the nation’s oldest Baptist convention around and brought unprecedented growth to local churches. It was called Empowering Kingdom Growth (EKG).

Driggers had no doubt that the good news of the kingdom was the central theme of all first-century preaching. Consequently, he felt it should be the Convention’s focus as well. When asked in an interview, “If you could give one word of encouragement to every Baptist minister what would it be?” he responded, “Wrap your heart and mind around the Kingdom of God on this earth.”

The kingdom of God had so captured Driggers’s imagination he could not get away from it. For him the kingdom of God was the most basic ingredient of Christianity. As a result he was able to convince his colleagues that the Convention should embrace a kingdom focus.

EKG Becomes the Foundation of the Future

The task force was so impressed with the SC kingdom initiative that it decided to recommend to the messengers at the upcoming annual convention that they adopt the kingdom model of ministry and adapt it for use throughout the entire Convention.

In an article describing the task forces recommendation, Bob Terry wrote in The Alabama Baptist:

The vision is magnificent, the message clear and simple. All who cooperate with the Southern Baptist Convention (SBC) can and should work together with God to empower growth of His Kingdom.
Empowering Kingdom Growth is not only the goal, it is the motto or slogan recommended in the report. The abbreviation — EKG — points to the seriousness of the effort. In medicine, an EKG examines the status of the heart. The new report contends that Empowering Kingdom Growth — EKG — should be the heart of every expression of convention life from cooperating churches to joint efforts expressed through SBC entities.

Empowering Kingdom Growth will be a phrase heard and read often in Southern Baptist life in the months and years ahead.

During the 2002 SBC meeting in St. Louis, Missouri, at the recommendation of the task force, the messengers voted overwhelmingly to approve the new spiritual initiative, which called upon Southern Baptist churches and members everywhere to concentrate singularly on the kingdom of God. The vote was not simply to adopt another program, but to support an entirely new direction for the Convention. Henceforth, all SBC programs, boards and agencies were to commit their full energies and resources on kingdom-oriented ministry alone. Every SBC entity would be expected to realign its mission with the new EKG emphasis.  

At the time of the vote, SBC president James Merritt called the decision as significant for the Southern Baptist Convention as the decision made in 1925 to launch the Cooperative Program. One cannot overstate the importance of this statement. Merritt saw the vote as a defining moment in the annals of the Convention. A newly formed “Empowering Kingdom Growth Task Force,” co-chaired by Merritt and Driggers, wrote that the Empowering Kingdom Growth initiative “could prove to be an unprecedented turning point in American history. 

Never before had such a large body of evangelicals decided to put aside secondary issues to concentrate solely on the kingdom of God.


Enthusiasm and anticipation filled the air at the start. In personal correspondence with this writer on August 18, 2003, Driggers wrote:

I can tell you for a fact that our EKG Task Force for the Southern Baptist Convention met earlier this week, and we are hearing from many persons around the country and even overseas who are also being deeply impressed to study the teachings of Christ on the Kingdom of God on this earth.  There is no doubt in my mind but that God is at work bringing many believers to a fresh and new encounter with the teachings of Scripture on the theology of the Kingdom of God, especially as it implies to the here and now and not only to Heaven or the Second Coming of Jesus.

Three months later he wrote to say he looked forward to working with Ken Hemphill, the newly-chosen National Strategist Director for EKG.

But somewhere along the way, EKG lost its momentumThe initiative, upon which the Convention based its future, could not get up enough steam and devolved from being essential to the Convention’s future to just another “program.”

Additionally, for EKG to work it was assumed that everyone within the SBC sphere would put aside their theological peculiarities and embrace kingdom agenda. But unfortunately the divide was too great.


Driggers and the EKG Task Force were correct in believing that the future of the Convention must be linked to the Kingdom of God. If Merritt’s assessment was accurate that the decision to adopt the EKG initiative was as significant as adopting the Cooperative Program in 1925, we should NOT abandon the kingdom agenda.

The kingdom of God is the central theme of all evangelistic proclamation in the New Testament. John the Baptist preached “Repent, for the kingdom of God is at hand!” (Matt. 3:2). And Jesus did likewise: “The time is fulfilled, and the kingdom of God is at hand” (Mark 1:14-15). According to John and Jesus, the kingdom was not some distant hope, but within the grasp of their contemporaries. Jesus defined his mission in these words: “I must preach the kingdom of God to other cities also, because for this purpose I have been sent” (Luke 4:43). Everywhere he went he proclaimed the “glad tidings of the kingdom of God” (Luke 8:1). When he sent forth the Twelve, he instructed them “to preach the kingdom” (Luke 9:1-2). He then sent out seventy others to go and “heal the sick there, and say to them, ‘The kingdom of God has come near you’” (Luke 10:1, 9).

After his death and resurrection, Jesus spent forty days with the apostles “speaking of the things pertaining to the kingdom of God” (Acts 1:3). If the glorified Jesus devoted the entirety of his time explaining the kingdom, shouldn’t we? He then commissioned the disciples to take the gospel to the ends of the world (Acts 1:8). It is not surprising to find them preaching the same message: “the things concerning the kingdom of God and the name of Jesus” (Acts 8:12).

The apostle Paul, likewise, taught “concerning the things of the kingdom of God” (Acts 19:8). He reminded the elders at Ephesus of his three years “preaching the kingdom of God” (Acts 20:25, 31). During house arrest in Rome, “many came to him at his lodging, to whom he explained and solemnly testified of the kingdom of God” (Acts 28:23). The book of Acts closes significantly with these words, “Then Paul dwelt two whole years in his own rented house and received all who came to him, preaching the kingdom of God and teaching the things which concern the Lord Jesus Christ with all confidence, no one forbidding him” (Acts 28:30-31).

The Kingdom of God is the “open secret” of the NT and missed by many. In my opinion the kingdom is the essential core of Christianity. If you miss the kingdom, you end up with a truncated gospel.

The kingdom is so important that Jesus links the success of the church’s evangelistic mission to it: “And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in all the world as a witness to all nations, and then the end will come” (Matt. 24:14). Yet, most pastors and parishioners alike would be hard pressed to define the “gospel of the kingdom.”

We need to get back to the basics—back to the kingdom of God! How do we expect to evangelize the world in these last days if we cannot identify and explain the gospel of the kingdom?

EKG was a valiant start and should not be abandoned. But we must recapture our vision of God’s kingdom plan for the world.

A kingdom solution is needed if we ever expect to reverse the present downward direction of the Convention.

*This article appeared in the June 9, 2014 edition of SBCToday

Alan Streett holds the W. A. Criswell Endowed Chair of Expository Preaching at Criswell College (Dallas, TX). He is author of “Heaven on Earth: Experiencing the Kingdom of God in the Here and Now” and “The Effective Invitation.”