Author’s Note: Though this pastoral letter was recently written for one individual who is graduating with a Doctor of Ministry degree from Erskine Theological Seminary, this deeply personal message has universal application. Here, then, is a modern pastoral epistle on the significant opportunities and spiritual challenges for all graduates from the heart of a Christian shepherd.
My Dear Friend,
To Timothy, my beloved child: Grace, mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord (2 Timothy 1:2 ESV). The purpose of my little epistle is to congratulate you and to encourage you in Christ on the occasion of receiving your doctoral degree.
Your life reveals one whose ambitions and impulses are under the control of the Holy Spirit. Such a life is a beacon of light, albeit the reflected brilliance of a Greater Being who is the “light of the world.” So, I begin by thanking you, not for what you have done, or will do, but because of who you are in Jesus, our Lord.
Congratulations again on your remarkable achievement. And just how extraordinary is this happy event? We must consider that while earned doctorates (professional or academic) are more frequent in the clergy, and higher education sectors, only 4.5% of Americans receive a doctoral degree (U.S. Census Bureau report, 2019). Women make up considerably less than 4%. The achievement places those select few doctoral recipients in a rarified height, indeed. Now, think of the obstacles that you overcame by God’s help to come to this place.
You are the pride of your Seminary. However, I think you are much more. I believe that your achievement justifies calling you the “an American success story” – and this I say without the slightest hint of hyperbole.
Earning a doctorate is a presenting event that has, of necessity, many unseen virtues beneath and beyond the degree: diligence, perseverance, and everyday old hard work. For these gifts and graces, we give thanks. Of course, as in everything, there is the entropy of sin in a fallen world. For some who are careless in their dependence upon Christ, proleptic and unseemly powers that are at work in the world will seize upon the weakened spiritual immunity, infecting the virtues that led to the degree. These foul earthly forces which can eat away at virtues, leaving only morsels of memory. But if they are allowed to remain, the infestation will produce a nest of potential virtue killers. From this dynamic of decay will grow mutations: self-centeredness, austerity, aloofness, ingratitude, and that most hideous and vile bacteria, pride. At length, the disease creates a brittle, doctrinaire disciple that no longer resembles the Lord of love who called them, and who is, almost universally, avoided for their contemptuous opinion of all but themselves.
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SOURCE: Christian Post, Michael A. Milton