Journey to doctoral studies in theology | Ben Nelson
Ben was a high school teacher for many years and is an elder at South Yarra
Presbyterian Church. He is working towards his PhD and is an adjunct lecturer in New Testament
Greek at the PTC. Commencing from January 2018, Ben will be our newest faculty member, coming on board full-time!
Tell us your journey into doctoral studies in theology.
As a former Latin teacher, I had felt inspired by the surge over the past generation in translation work unlocking rich treasures from the Reformation and post-Reformation periods that had never been available in English before. This, coupled with a growing interest in the history of scriptural exegesis, especially as it relates to New Testament studies, implanted a desire in me to pursue studies in these fields more deeply. I feel that those of us in the Reformed tradition need to be in constant dialogue with the past as well as the present; after all, the Reformers themselves did so! Consequently, to pursue an interest in biblical exegesis in the context of historical theology and church history is deeply satisfying for me.
What did you do for your MDiv project, and is it related to your current PhD research?
Last year for my MDiv project I translated and analysed sections of the Hebrews commentary by Johannes Oecolampadius, an early Swiss Reformer (an exact contemporary of Martin Luther) who was renowned for his biblical commentaries but has in recent centuries fallen into unwarranted obscurity. I concentrated in particular on his commentary on chapters 8 and 9, which of course is of great interest for the development of covenant theology as well as the atonement.
This research whetted my appetite to study Oecolampadius further, and so when it came to selecting a topic for my PhD I continued to consider his biblical commentaries more broadly, and at length settled on attempting a translation and analysis of his commentary on John's gospel. I have now completed the first draft of my translation of the entire commentary, and have a found it a warm hearted and stimulating work, particularly with regard to Christology and the doctrine of the Holy Spirit. I am currently refining my exact field of research, but it is likely that his discussion of the Holy Spirit will be the central theme of my analysis.
Tell us about the opportunities you have had to present your research at seminars, conferences, etc. How has this been helpful?
It is always helpful to share and test your ideas with other researchers. I have so far presented an overview of my translation and the central themes of Oecolampadius' work at a postgradute seminar at college, and I am also due to speak soon at a conference on 'missional confessionalism', where I have been invited to introduce the life and work of Oecolampadius to a wider audience. In this year of 'Refo500' there has been much discussion of the Reformation, and while this has understandably been quite 'Luther-centric' there is also an opportunity here to relate primary research on figures such as Oecolampadius to the interests and questions of the wider church.
Seminars and conferences are not only helpful for the feedback you receive from others more learned than yourself, but also for shaping your work with insights gleaned from the hearing of other research, often in fields quite dissimilar from my own. Here at PTC we have had postgraduate seminars on widely divergent topics - from the sociology of Chinese churches in Australia to the covenant theology of John Wesley - but they all contribute to my own formation as a scholar, provoking me to consider new methods or questions for my own work.
How can we pray for you and your family as you continue your doctorate?
I am deeply thankful for the loving support I receive from my wife Jen, as we seek to raise together our four children. With research comes teaching demands as well as ongoing ministry in my own church, and I would be thankful for your prayers that I would be able to balance these and still be a loving and faithful husband and father. Also, please pray that I be constantly kept from pride and error in my own studies, and that they might be of spiritual benefit not only for myself but for the wider church.
Ben's interview is featured in our Spring 2017 newsletter. Read the full publication below!