At about 4pm on Friday, January 26, 2018, I uploaded a PDF of my finalized dissertation to ProQuest, the online repository of academic writing, thus completing my doctor of intercultural studies program.
There was much rejoicing.
Want to know what happens in a dissertation defense?!? I’m your guy. Here’s a summary of what I experienced last Thursday in my defense.
First, here’s what happened. We met in a glass-walled conference room in the Fuller Library. Two of my cohort-mates were there in person with another three there on video. Three members of my family were there, my parents and Amy. And then two professors were present, and together they constituted my dissertation committee.
At the outset, I was given 10ish minutes to give those gathered a sense of what my journey thorough the program has been like. I chose to testify about how God has met Amy and I in terms of time, finances, passion, and product. Next, my most recent peer reviewers got to give feedback or ask questions, before members of my committee did the same. Then, when all was said and done, we cleared the room so that the committee could decide what they wanted to do with my work. After maybe 10 minutes out of the room, we came back in and they issued the verdict.
Now, five reflections on the time:
First, I found it to be an odd combination of defending my work and gladly receiving input. I mean, the whole experience is framed as a defense; in other words, my task was to justify my findings and conclusions. At points, this required me to answer pointed questions and clarify misconceptions. On the other hand, my reviewers had some helpful input for me, and I was glad to receive it. I don’t know if navigating the tension is normal for dissertation defenses, but I spent my 90 minutes sitting in the middle of this interesting dichotomy of defending and receiving.
Second, I came away with some subtle but helpful ways to strengthen my work. Because of this, I’m not technically done yet, so hold of on your “Dr. Rob” commentary for now. From here, the plan is to do my revisions in the next couple of weeks, run them by my committee, and then send it for copy editing, which is a mandatory step before publication. Once it’s published, have at it with the doctoring (or don’t!).
Third, I certainly felt the presence of my community. I was the one defending on Thursday, but I had scores of friends and family rooting me on from afar. And I felt it palpably. So, a big THANK YOU to everyone who prayed, texted, tweeted, facebooked, and called me.
Fourth, I left the defense incredibly encouraged. Simply put, people were super generous with their comments, both inside and outside the room. Perhaps my favorites were the women in my world that affirmed that the research I had done was congruent with their experience of me. One of my deepest aspirations in life is to have my words and actions be integrated, so these comments were a gift to me.
Fifth, as we walked out of the library and out onto the Fuller mall, I actually felt a twinge of sadness. I’ve been a Fuller student for the last seven years in a focused way, and for the last 17 years (!!!) in a more “meandering” way. To be honest, I’m going to miss the coursework, the cohort experiences, and I’ll miss the ways that Fuller has trained and equipped me for my ministry with InterVarsity.
What was the best part of the experience? That’s easy.
Hearing my mentor professor say, “congratulations, you are passed with distinction.”
Thanks be to God.
My journey through the DMiss program has been a long, winding, and wonderful road. To be honest, I can’t quite believe I’m at (or very near) the end. More than once lately, I’ve been feeling nostalgic; when it’s over, I think I’m going to actually be sad, in addition to like 75 other emotions.
What’s ahead? The defense. Sounds sort of ominous, right? When I think of defending something, it doesn’t take long before the imagery gets life or death. And while I trust that my upcoming dissertation defense won’t be some sort of missiological Alamo, it is in fact a big deal, one worth preparing for. Here’s what I’m doing to get ready.
First, I’m reading. I’ve spent the last two days reading peer dissertations, but today and tomorrow I’m going to read my own. I want to be as familiar as possible with my project before a bunch of scholars ask me incisive questions about it! To celebrate the occasion, I even printed it out, the first time I’ve done so since I started writing.
Second, I’m critiquing. What’s that cliche? “The best defense is a good offense?” I’m going to try that out, and so as I’m reading, I’m critiquing. I’m going to create a list of the toughest questions I can muster, and then try to answer them. Then, for fun, I’ll see how many of my questions actually get asked during the defense.
Third, I’m gathering. In one sense, I’ll be the one standing up at the podium defending this dissertation. But in another sense, I see myself as a part of a community of folks who are interested in my research, who have participated in my research, and who give a rip about the topic of flourishing male/female ministry partnerships. So I’m plotting email updates and Facebook posts all week. Also, it’s going to be great to have advocates in the room with me; thanks in advance to Amy, my folks, and to my cohort for your support.
Finally, I’m praying. Sure, this has been an academic program, but for me the DMiss has also been a deeply spiritual endeavor for me. The other day I was reflecting on how God has met me over the last four years, and I made quite a list. I’ll be sharing a portion of that list as a part of my defense intro.
If you’re the praying type, I’d love to have you onboard. I defend this coming Thursday morning, from 10:45-12:15, at Fuller.
One of my staff made me into a meme. This should give you a window into how they view me:
I like blogging, but there’s nothing like seeing something you created in print. In print!
Thanks to the good folks at Christians for Biblical Equality, I’m back in print in this quarter’s issue of Mutuality Magazine, where I reflected on five ways to be a father who promotes gender equality.
You can find the piece here on the Mutuality website, but, then again…
…if you join CBE, you can get it in print as well!
We have curious kids.
I mean, they are off-the-charts inquisitive. I have no idea if it’s normal or not for kids to be this curious, but I can testify that it’s wildly normal in our house. Woe to the parent to tries to communicate in hushed tones, only to be treated to a chorus of “what was that?”s.
The other day, I was running some errands with our 10 year old daughter Gracie as my copilot. And, at a stoplight, she stopped me short with this little zinger:
“Dad, why are you so passionate about men and women being equal?”
As I affirmed the heck out of her question, I considered my answer. And, truth be told, I could think of like 7 ways to respond to her question. There are lots of things that fuel my fire, many of which I’ve talked about on this blog over the years.
But instead of going through my laundry list, I told her this story:
When I was a young(er) campus minister, I was pastoring a large community of students at our alma mater, Cal Poly SLO. And one of the characteristics of our fellowship was that we were decidedly egalitarian. That is, our conviction was that men and women were both gifted and called to serve in the Kingdom in any and all capacities.
One year, my wife Amy was leading a small group with a male student, and it was a mentoring arrangement. The idea was to develop this student by having him apprentice with a staff worker, and Amy got the call to lead.
And she did a great job. Want proof? At the end of the year, as they debriefed their time together, this student said to Amy, “I’ve grown more this year under your leadership than any other year in my life as a Christian. Thank you.”
Pretty cool, yes?
Of course, you’re waiting for the “but,” and here it comes. The next fall, so maybe two months later, this student joined a group at a local church that advocated a strong complementarian theology. In other words, this student began to hear that the Bible restricts the leadership roles available to women to more supportive functions.
Over some time, this student came to embrace and own this more conservative theological perspective. And when that happened, he naturally began to feel dissonant being a leader in a community that affirmed women preaching, discipling men, leading teams, etc, etc.
And that dissonance eventually resulted in a meeting with me, the campus director. Over the course of an hour, we talked about his new-found approach to the Scriptures, and we talked about the impossibility of him holding that theology with integrity, while serving within a community whose practice communicated the opposite conviction.
Finally, I popped the question I’d been holding since the meeting began. Here’s what I asked him:
“So I know what you told Amy at the end of last year, that you had grown more under her leadership than ever before in your life as a Christian. In light of how you are holding the Scriptures now, how are you thinking about that statement?
Here’s what he said:
“That was God using Amy in spite of her disobedience.”
……..and so I punched him in the face.
(but I really wanted to)
What fuels my fire? Lots of things. I honestly believe that fidelity to Scripture calls us to gender equality. Personally, I have benefitted from the leadership of women time and again. And I genuinely believe that the mission of God will advance more effectively if we can figure out a way for women and men to function as equal and reconciled partners in mission. And I could go on.
But here’s another reason:
My wife is a gifted minister of the Gospel, and how dare anyone call her disobedient for obeying God’s call in her life?!?
So what fuels me? The drive to do everything I can to create a church where all women, including today’s curious little girls and their mothers, are invited to use their all of their gifts to advance the Kingdom of God.
For the last several years, as I’ve waded into the world of gender equality through this blog and in other contexts, I’ve been inspired by the ministry of a group called Christians for Biblical Equality. The good folks at CBE published my gender reconciliation article last year, and I had the joy of attending the 2015 CBE Conference in Los Angeles.
And so it’s with a great deal of affection and gratitude that I can share that I’ll be participating in the 2017 CBE Conference in Orlando…as a presenter!
I’m honored to contribute to the conference theme, “Mutual By Design: Building God’s Church Together” by leading a workshop entitled “The Blessed Alliance at Work: Women and Men Partnering Together to Advance the Mission of God.”
Sounds good, yes? I’ll be sharing the model I have been developing over the last three years in my doctoral program, and we’ll think together about how to develop flourishing partnerships in greater measure in our contexts. I’m eager to take my research out for a spin with this great group of folks.
So, here’s the question…who’s coming to Orlando with me?!?