Degreeism

When I was a witness for the prosecution in the Leithart case, one of the main ways that the defense sought to discredit my testimony was to attack my academic credibility. I didn’t have an advanced theological degree (apparently an M.Div. doesn’t count as an advanced theological degree, only Th.M.’s and Ph.D.’s would count). I just discovered that I am in good company. The best, in fact:

John 7:14-18 Now about the middle of the feast Jesus went up into the temple and taught. 15 And the Jews marveled, saying, “How does this Man know letters, having never studied?” 16 Jesus answered them and said, “My doctrine is not Mine, but His who sent Me. 17 “If anyone wants to do His will, he shall know concerning the doctrine, whether it is from God or whether I speak on My own authority. 18 “He who speaks from himself seeks his own glory; but He who seeks the glory of the One who sent Him is true, and no unrighteousness is in Him. (NKJV)

The people were grudgingly admitting that Jesus did know the law well. And this is what puzzled them, since He had not gone through standard rabbinical training. He didn’t have the proper academic credentials. Therefore, how could His testimony be true?

Listen to what Dr. (!) Sproul says about the passage: “After college, I went on to seminary, which brought a whole new level of difficulty. But probably the biggest academic adjustment in my life occurred when I enrolled in doctoral studies in the Netherlands. I had no idea how rigorous the academic discipline at that level would be. But as I completed my academic work, I realized that there were many of us who had been educated well beyond our intelligence. That is a problem with upper levels of education-once we get through them, we have a tendency to think we actually know far more than we do, and we have a tendency to tilt the nose a bit and look down at those who have not gone through such rigorous training. We put a lot of focus on people’s degrees and wonder whether their credentials are really credible” (St. Andrews Expositional Commentary on John, p. 134).

Indeed, this is true. On the one hand, such academic training has value (witness the benefit that most of the Reformed world has obtained through the scholarship of Dr. Sproul!). On the other hand, truth is not determined by such an academic degree. I know of many people who hold Ph.D.’s in theology who wouldn’t know what true scholarship was if it hit them on the nose. I know of many other people who have no Ph.D. at all, and yet produce amazing work. What matters is not the degree, but the work, and the actual quality of the work produced. Many of the most famous theologians in all history had no advanced degree. John Calvin had no advanced degree in theology. Neither did C.H. Spurgeon. Nor did any apostle except Paul. Folks, we forget our origin if we engage in degreeism. We make man big and God small. Scholarship has its value, and so does a Ph.D. have a value (I hope to obtain one myself at some point). However, God exercising His wisdom through the Holy Spirit is the best teacher of all. We would do well not to forget this. We will do well not to make an idol out of education or letters after people’s names.

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