Sick of My Dissertation Topic?

People have asked me whether I ever got sick of my dissertation topic, as someone might ask a person who had vowed to eat only lasagna for breakfast for several months.

Actually, the opposite happened. As I neared the end of my dissertation, I became increasingly fascinated with the topic, especially as it intersected with the topic of personal sanctification—how believers become more and more like Jesus.

Far from being a dull diet of breakfast lasagna (don’t get me wrong: I love lasagna), it was like a multi-course banquet with a finger-licking dessert.

For those who are curious, my dissertation operates at the intersection of two huge areas:

  • the doctrine of the image of God (the fact that we humans were created in God’s image), and
  • the apologetic approach of Blaise Pascal (a make-you-feel-stupid brilliant mathematician and inventor who lived from 1623-1662)

Pascal’s big idea is that human beings are a convoluted mixture of greatness and wretchedness, and that nearly everything that we do shows how deeply unhappy we are. From this observation, he argues that only the Bible can explain why we think, act, and feel in such bizarre ways, and that only the person and work of Jesus Christ can solve this problem. Since Pascal’s method of arguing follows a pattern of reasoning called “abduction,” it’s been called an “abductive argument.” And since it deals with humans, it’s been called an “anthropological argument.”

Pascal never explicitly refers to the fact that we were created in the image of God. So I got curious. Does the Bible’s teaching that we are created in the image of God support what Pascal is saying?

After a lot of reading and thinking and writing, I decided to make this my main idea: the doctrine of the image of God does give more detail and support to Pascal’s way of convincing people to believe the Christian faith. Not a very earth-shattering idea itself, but it opened the doors to some pretty mind-blowing ideas.

Of course, not everyone will find my topic interesting. But perhaps these words from my preface will help explain why I enjoyed it so much:

As I approached the time to decide on my dissertation topic, I began to pray that it would tie together several themes that had sparked my interest throughout my coursework. I had been intrigued and captivated by Blaise Pascal’s apologetic approach. But the doctrine of the imago Dei had also beckoned me, not only because few seem to understand what it means, but also because it forms an important thread in the majestic tapestry of biblical theology. Further, I had become increasingly aware—in reading Augustine, Pascal, and Jonathan Edwards and other Puritan authors—how every sphere of life finds its raison d’etre in Christ, “through” whom and “for” whom “all things were created,” who is “before all things,” and by whom “all things hold together” (Colossians 1:16-17). I was delighted, therefore, when the SBTS faculty approved my prospectus for a dissertation that endeavors to deal with the intersection of Pascal’s apologetic and the doctrine of the imago Dei. I have been even more thrilled to discover that both these subjects center on Jesus Christ. Those who follow the star of the imago Dei from Genesis 1, will find themselves gazing into “the light of the gospel of the glory of Christ, who is the image of God” (2 Corinthians 4:4). And students of the Pensées encounter an apologist who insisted that knowing God can come only through Christ: “Apart from Jesus Christ,” Pascal declares, “we cannot know the meaning of our life or our death, of God or of ourselves.”

I give thanks to the Lord for leading me to a topic that captured my interest, and to friends who counseled me to find a topic that would be an intellectual and emotional on-ramp instead of a cul-de-sac.

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