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.

56 Comments

  1. tominaz said,

    September 8, 2014 at 12:16 pm

    Something to be said for being an “ordinary” pastor.

  2. Tim Harris said,

    September 8, 2014 at 12:33 pm

    Sproul’s statement seems misleading since a casual reading would bring one to the false conclusion that he had earned a doctorate in the Netherlands.

  3. Stuart (OPC) said,

    September 8, 2014 at 12:44 pm

    Good points. John Murray and E. Clowney did not have earned doctorates but made great academic and spiritual contributions. I think several things have changed since their day. First, there are so many more seminaries competing for students. Having PhDs–especially from big time places–is a selling point for many. Moreover, if you want to get a good gig or get published, you have a better chance of getting the resume to the top of the pile with a Ph.D. All of this tends to come from (and reinforces) a world where academia is independent from the church. If the conservative reformed churches spoke more with one voice to the seminaries maybe things would work better. One other thing: I think there is some credential inflation. Today a Murray or Clowney probably could have gotten an academic PhD without sacrificing as much time from their productive teaching ministries. With such credential inflation, bluechip PhDs now matter more. A Harvard PhD ends up teaching OT at WTS-P and almost ruins the seminary. I think church leaders helped rescue that situation. Caveat Emptor.

  4. Robin said,

    September 8, 2014 at 1:00 pm

    G.I. Williamson, in his commentary on the WCF, described what he called “The tyranny of the experts (http://theaquilareport.com/do-we-really-want-a-new-reformation/).” I know of one such “expert” that claims multiple doctoral degrees that would have taken a lifetime to earn, from schools that either don’t exist, or which don’t offer the degrees he claims to have earned there, or which have no record of him as having been a student. So great is his need for academic rock-star status, that he started his own seminary which “earned” accreditation by an agency of it’s own creation. He is an extreme example of course, but as Dr. Williamson points out, leaving theology to the experts has historically proved ultimately tragic.

  5. roberty bob said,

    September 8, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    rising degrees?
    it’s getting hot in here!

  6. Angela Wittman said,

    September 8, 2014 at 1:11 pm

    Reblogged this on Christian Heritage News.

  7. Sjoerd de Boer said,

    September 8, 2014 at 2:44 pm

    Comment 2. Tim Harris

    R.C. Sproul’s quote might look misleading at first sight in an American context, but he completed the Dutch academic standard in theology which gave him the (earned and protected) title drs.
    Agreed, as the title doctorandus literally assumes that he has not earned the title of dr. in the Netherlands (which is so loosely used here in the States) by a scription that has to be a contribution to the theological science, but that does not make him less academic.

    Copied from Wikipedia:

    Doctorandus (Latin: he who should become a doctor), abbreviated drs., is a Dutch academic title according to the pre-Bachelor–Master system. The title is acquired by passing the “doctoraalexamen”, traditionally a matriculation exam for admission to study at doctoral level. In most cases this concludes university study, but occasionally students will continue to do research under the supervision of a professor, which eventually allows them to obtain the title of doctor.

  8. Tim Harris said,

    September 8, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    Right, Sjoerd — it looks to be roughly equivalent to the unofficial title in the US, “ABD” (all but dissertation). Yet I saw many people refer to him, without contradiction, as “Dr. Sproul” before he picked up the degree at Whitefield.

  9. September 8, 2014 at 7:17 pm

    Lane,

    1. The way you were attacked during that trial was scandalous. It reminded me of the Machen trial.

    2. We would do well to distinguish between genuine and phony degrees generally.

    3. R. C. is exactly right. A reputable PhD means that one has demonstrated the mastery of a certain set of skills in a highly specialized area of study. A PhD doesn’t omniscience or universal competence.

    4. A good scholar continues to read and learn his entire life—a PhD is only the beginning of a life of study and teaching—and a good pastor should be a good scholar, as you have been. You were eminently qualified to comment on Leithart’s published writing at the trial.

  10. ackbeet said,

    September 8, 2014 at 8:22 pm

    Ah, yes: wisdom is not measured in degrees.

  11. September 8, 2014 at 8:54 pm

    R. Scott Clark: if you are reminded of the Machen trial, you must be a *lot* older than you look! LOL

  12. theoldadam said,

    September 9, 2014 at 1:36 am

    If one laid all the degreed people on earth, end to end…they would not reach a conclusion.

  13. mattnewkirk said,

    September 9, 2014 at 7:22 am

    Having observed this issue over the years, I wanted to know if you could help me understand something.

    According to the trial transcript (p. 122), when asked about the nature of your testimony, Stellman said,

    “Well, he has read every single theological piece of literature or writing that Leithart has written. He’s read every single book, every single journal article, every single theological book I should say, every journal article. He probably has read as much of Dr. Leithart’s work as anyone else except perhaps Dr. Leithart himself. And so why his competence is called into question here is an answer I would like to hear.”

    After more conversation, Stellman agreed that you were being called as an expert witness (p. 123). So as far as I understand it, the prosecution’s rationale for calling you as an expert was your expansive knowledge of Leithart’s writings.

    Yet on this blog, on Dec 6 of last year, you said,

    “I had read exactly 2 books written by Leithart before Stellman asked me to be a witness in the case. I did almost all my reading of Leithart after being asked to be a witness in the case.”

    My question is this: How could Stellman call you as an expert witness on the grounds of your expansive knowledge of Leithart’s writings when, at the time of that calling, you had only read 2 of his books?

  14. greenbaggins said,

    September 9, 2014 at 9:22 am

    Jason Stellman asked me to be a witness for the case about 6 months before the actual trial. It was in December, if I recall correctly. At that time, I had an extensive knowledge of the FV, but had only read two books by Leithart. Over the course of the next 4 months, I read everything Leithart wrote. I had my testimony ready in May, if I remember correctly. So, by the time of the trial, I had read all of Leithart’s theological works. Hope this clarifies things.

  15. mattnewkirk said,

    September 9, 2014 at 9:39 am

    I suppose my confusion is this: Stellman didn’t say that you were called because of your knowledge of FV matters in general but because of your unequaled familiarity with Leithart’s writings in particular. Specifically, he said:

    “He probably has read as much of Dr. Leithart’s work as anyone else except perhaps Dr. Leithart himself.”

    So my question is this: If it was your unique familiarity with Leithart’s writings in particular that caused the prosecution to call you, which is what Stellman said, then doesn’t it seem irregular that they called you before you acquired said familiarity?

    If they were looking for someone with expertise in FV matters in general, as opposed to Leithart in particular, don’t you think it would have been wiser for them to seek out someone who had demonstrated such expertise through the standard measurable channels such as education, peer-reviewed publications, etc.? I’m not talking degreeism here, but a measurable demonstration of expertise.

  16. Stephen said,

    September 9, 2014 at 10:40 am

    Lane,
    Interesting points. What do you and RS Clark (given his points) think about your pastoral colleagues who have DMins and expect to be called Doctor, introduce themselves as such, and so on?

    Or, even more on point, how about people like Rick Phillips, who has an honorary doctorate (from an unaccredited institution), who insist on being called Doctor and represent themselves with that designation all over their church websites?

  17. greenbaggins said,

    September 9, 2014 at 11:28 am

    Matt, I think you are assuming that Jason was talking about my pre-call Leithart knowledge, when in fact he was talking about my post-call Leithart knowledge. Not everything that Jason said applied before he called me. When Jason said I had read everything Leithart wrote, he was talking about that moment, not the moment when he called me. I don’t frankly understand why this is so difficult for you.

  18. greenbaggins said,

    September 9, 2014 at 11:34 am

    Stephen, as to your first question, since the degree is called a “doctor of ministry,” the person who has it should be called “doctor.” One can dispute whether such a degree ought to be called that, but the fact is that it is called a doctor.

    As to Rick Phillips, he has written many, many books, any number of which would be doctorate-worthy. Greenville may not be accredited, but it is a rigorous school, more rigorous, in fact, than many schools that are accredited (Gordon-Conwell comes to mind). My understanding is that Greenville could easily get accredited, but has chosen not to do so, for whatever reason. Rick deserves that honorary doctorate many times over, in my opinion.

  19. greenbaggins said,

    September 9, 2014 at 11:37 am

    Matt, one other thing ought to be mentioned. Jason asked many, many people to be a witness in the Leithart case. Almost all of them refused. Only Mike Horton and I agreed. By the way, Horton happily relied on my scholarship during the preparation for the trial. I provided him with the passages that were the most important that dealt with the areas Horton was responsible for. Horton had no trouble trusting me on that.

  20. mattnewkirk said,

    September 9, 2014 at 11:41 am

    I understand that he was speaking about your post-call knowledge, that’s what is so puzzling. Based on that timeline, it doesn’t seem that you were really called because you were an expert in Leithart, but rather because you were willing to testify against Leithart. It was only after you received a call to testify as an expert witness that you pursued the knowledge that would (according to some) qualify you as an expert witness. Doesn’t that seem a bit backwards to you?

    It would be like an attorney calling Joe Smith, who at that point had only read two books on handwriting and had no advanced training in handwriting analysis, to testify in court as an expert in handwriting analysis. After being called to serve as an expert in this way, Joe goes and reads up all he can about handwriting analysis on his own, and then shows up to court to try and render an expert opinion. Doesn’t really seem like the way it’s supposed to go.

    Why wouldn’t the attorney call the FBI’s leading practitioner of handwriting analysis who has been training all the bureau’s practitioners for the last 20 years? Wouldn’t that be a more persuasive witness than someone who has no formal way of demonstrating their claimed expertise?

  21. mattnewkirk said,

    September 9, 2014 at 11:45 am

    And don’t get me wrong, I’m not claiming that you do or do not have reliable and in-depth knowledge of FV in general or Leithart in particular. But it doesn’t seem that that is really the issue. The issue is by what means was the court supposed to determine confidently that you had such knowledge?

    Were they to take the word of any guy with an MDiv who had read all of Leithart’s work?

  22. greenbaggins said,

    September 9, 2014 at 11:55 am

    Matt, as far as I know, there was no expert on the FV who had read all of Leithart’s works at the time when Jason was looking for an expert, not even Guy Waters. I think your expectations in this regard are more than a little unrealistic.

    They had a way of determining my expertise. I submitted a 40 page testimony. They never interacted with it, even though they could have. The question was not whether they would “take my word for it.” The question was whether they should have dismissed out of hand my testimony without even reading it, simply because I don’t have “Ph.D.” after my name. This is, in fact, what happened. Then they further accused me of starting the entire controversy all by my lonesome, when in fact, I came rather late to the debates when it came to Leithart.

  23. greenbaggins said,

    September 9, 2014 at 12:03 pm

    One further point needs to be made here. I asked Leithart himself (long before the trial and before I was asked to be a witness) in an email which books I should read in order to get a good handle on his positions vis-a-vis the Federal Vision. Leithart told me that I only really had to read two books and I would have his position fairly well in hand. Those books I then read. By Leithart’s own word, then, one can have a good idea (maybe not an expert idea) of his positions on the FV by reading _Priesthood of the Plebs_ and _The Baptized Body_. Then, when I was asked to be a witness, I decided that it was necessary to put Leithart’s statements in the context of his complete work, and tie things in to his hermeneutic, for instance. The reason I did this was to make sure I was understanding Leithart correctly. No one in that Presbytery challenged me on my understanding of Leithart. Instead, they only attacked my credentials.

  24. mattnewkirk said,

    September 9, 2014 at 12:23 pm

    To suggest that they should have recognized your expertise by your testimony is a bit convoluted, isn’t it? It is the already-established expertise of an expert witness that gives particular credibility to their testimony, not their testimony that establishes their expertise.

    And as Presbyterians, let’s face it, we all engage in degreeism to a certain extent by requiring ministers to have seminary degrees. Why is it that we should require ministers to have those degrees and not expect “experts” in ecclesiastical courts to have shown themselves especially qualified to render expert opinions? Advanced degrees are one way of demonstrating that one is fit to do this.

  25. September 9, 2014 at 12:29 pm

    Tim Kauffman at “out of His mouth” never attended Seminary, and i consider him a great modern Reformed Theologian.

  26. greenbaggins said,

    September 9, 2014 at 1:03 pm

    Matt, you are demonstrating the exact point of the post. There is no category of expert witness in our BCO at all. That is an imported secular category. A pastor should be an expert in protecting the flock, which was the entire reason I was there. You are arguing in precisely the same way that the Jews did in John 7. ANY ordained minister should be competent to testify on a doctrinal matter, simply because he has the testimony of a Presbytery that he is competent in doctrinal matters. Matt, that is the ONLY qualification that Presbyterianism recognizes.

    By the way, that Presbytery would never have recognized my expertise no matter how many letters I had after my name. It was circling the wagons the entire time. That was demonstrated conclusively by the fact that one of the members of the commission asked for a directed verdict without having any chance at all for the commission to examine the evidence. Ask yourself this question: if a witness is not competent to testify after a good theological education at WTS Philly, and having debated every one of the major FV players, and then having read all of Leithart’s works, then who in the world should be judging the case on part of the commission? As far as I know, there were no Ph.D.’s there. By your argument, shouldn’t the level of those judging the matter be at least equal to those testifying?

    I also have vouchers from many top-flight scholars who would without hesitation call me an expert in matters FV: Ligon Duncan (who submitted his portion of the PCA’s denominational paper to me for my thoughts on it), Richard Phillips (who recommended me for being assistant prosecutor in the Louisiana Presbytery case), Guy Waters, Ron Gleason, Gary Johnson, Cal Beisner, and Michael Horton (who said I was a much better expert on these things than he was!). Some of these names are in the record of the case.

    I am quickly getting tired of this discussion, as it feels very similar to the personal attacks of the cross-examination I had at the trial. You are simply wrong, Matt. There is no way you can prove your viewpoint from any documents of Presbyterianism.

  27. Stuart (OPC) said,

    September 9, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    This thread has taken a somewhat interesting turn into the whole issue of what might constitute “expert testimony” in an ecclesiastical proceeding. I am not as familiar with PCA practice but I would begin by questioning the premise or implication that in a Presbyterian doctrinal trial that a marked difference exists between one expert witness and other ordained court members—especially the teaching elders of the court. The concept of “expert witness” is largely imported from civil-secular court process where clear distinctions between judges, juries, parties to process (e.g. prosecutors), and witnesses exist. In Presbyterian process, the judicatory often directly or indirectly wears more than one of these hats. In a doctrinal cases there is often less debate or contest about the simple facts of a case (e.g. did Mr. L write the book or not). The contest is occupied with the meaning of what L wrote and whether it varies from the Bible and Confession. That sort of thing is precisely the sort of stuff about which all Presbyters (PhD or not) should have some expertise. They are in that sense more like judges (triers of Law; legal experts) than ordinary jurors (triers of fact). This said, I can see value to having someone designated as a special (or “expert” if you will) witness. This allows an informed unified presentation of a case including facts and views. If a court rejects such a special witness at the outset, then I could see the danger of less focused deliberation by the “experts” by ordained office (few who likely will be PhDs) who must vote.

  28. mattnewkirk said,

    September 9, 2014 at 1:22 pm

    Well, I’m no expert :) in judicial matters, but if there is no such thing as an expert witness, why then did you not object to the question regarding the nature of your testimony being expert or material? Instead, this is what I read:

    DEFENSE: I can rephrase the question. Mr. Keister do you believe the prosecutor considers you to be an expert witness in theology?

    WITNESS: Yes.

    So apparently you thought that the prosecution thought there was a category called “expert witness”?

    And if it is simply TE status that establishes one as an expert, why are you listing people who vouch for you that all (to varying degrees) have advanced degrees and published material? Why not tell me that 30 average pastors in your Presbytery all vouch for your expertise? Does that not hold the same amount of weight in this discussion? It seems you take advantage of the degreeism a bit when it supports you, but not when it is used against you.

    Not trying to offend or attack – just trying to make sense of the public record that keeps getting brought back up around here.

  29. Tim Harris said,

    September 9, 2014 at 5:25 pm

    The D. Min. is a bogus “doctorate.” It is basically a long senior term paper and a few modular cram-courses. I will not call any such man “Doctor” whether he wants to be or not.

    This is not in any way to disparage the many good men who have earned a D. Min. It was a milestone that was helpful for them, similar to adult continuing education but with a concrete goal. I’m pretty sure none of the good ones insinuate they should be called “Doctor.”

  30. Reed Here said,

    September 9, 2014 at 7:28 pm

    Matt, hmm.. maybe badgering the witness?

    Simple question: do you agree with Lane’s basic point, that any ordained pastor, by the fact of his ordination, is sufficiently qualified to testify?

  31. mattnewkirk said,

    September 9, 2014 at 7:35 pm

    Testify in what capacity?

  32. Trent Whalin said,

    September 9, 2014 at 8:24 pm

    You’re not qualified to speak on other people’s degrees ;P

  33. Reed Here said,

    September 9, 2014 at 9:24 pm

    Lane’s observation is that the term “expert witness” is not an idea found in BCO. Any PCA pastor, ordained under submission to the Westminster Standards, is qualified to testify to matters pertaining to them.

    Yes, no, otherwise?

  34. mattnewkirk said,

    September 9, 2014 at 10:22 pm

    Reed, I know that Lane is saying that now. But that’s not what he and Jason were saying during the trial. Whether the term is found in the BCO or not, they explicitly attempted to put him forward as an “expert witness” during the trial. If there is no such thing in our judicial procedure, then why did they do that?

    Since they did do that, they submitted themselves to the scrutiny that comes along with claiming to be an expert and were found wanting. Perhaps if they had not put Lane forward under the label “expert witness” they wouldn’t have had to deal with the defense inquiring into the grounds for such a label.

    As to your question: is any ordained PCA pastor qualified to testify to matters pertaining to the standards? I suppose my first answer would be that ANYONE is qualified to give testimony. Anyone can get up and say something. The question really is, In what manner is a given person’s testimony to be received?

    Personally, I think it’s a bit naive to assume that all TE’s in our denomination are equally capable of the type of critical and analytical thinking and discourse that such a judicial situation requires. The ordination process is largely memorization, not critical thinking, which is what is required to provide meaningful testimony in situations such as this.

    That’s not to say that there aren’t plenty of TE’s with only MDiv’s who are remarkably sharp and capable. But let’s face it, there are also many TE’s in our denomination that, if you or I were being brought up on doctrinal charges, we would not want for our defense counsel due to our lack of confidence in their abilities.

  35. rfwhite said,

    September 9, 2014 at 10:23 pm

    Lane: let me see if I’m understanding your argument about degreeism.

    It seems to me you are saying this: in the PCA, the credentialing of teaching elders as both teachers and judges in the church is the product of peer review. This appears in the fact that a court of peer-reviewed men grants or refuses admission of a man to office. The same court that admits a man to office may also constitute a court to judge a man’s fitness to retain his office after he is admitted. In trying cases before that court, the testimony of any witness, whether identified as expert or not, is controvertible, is impeachable. In sum, if no merely ordinarily ordained men should testify in a case, then neither should they judge a case nor should they admit a man to office. Such a scenario leaves the teaching office of the church at the mercy of “the robes.” Am I reading you right?

  36. SLIMJIM said,

    September 9, 2014 at 11:39 pm

    Amen!

  37. Tim Harris said,

    September 10, 2014 at 8:19 am

    @34 “there are also many TE’s in our denomination that, if you or I were being brought up on doctrinal charges, we would not want for our defense counsel due to our lack of confidence in their abilities.” Granted; and there are many PhD’s and ThD’s you would also not want — indeed, probably a higher percentage of them.

  38. greenbaggins said,

    September 10, 2014 at 8:32 am

    Dr. White, that is what I am saying.

    Matt, let me see if I can explain this. The definition of “expert witness” was not clear at the time of trial, and my view of the situation is that there were two completely different definitions at work, one by the prosecution and one by the defense. The definition of “expert witness” that Jason was going on in the situation at hand was simply someone who knew a lot about the FV, and who knew Leithart’s writings. Jason knew that I would do a creditable job of not only reading Leithart’s works, but then coming up with a testimony that had analysis of his theology vis-a-vis the Westminster Standards.

    The defense, on the other hand, was operating with a “degreeist” view of expert witness. For them, it didn’t matter at all whether their witnesses, for instance, had read a lick of Leithart (Letham outright admitted that he had read very little if any of Leithart’s works, and Barker hadn’t read much of Leithart either; I don’t know how much of Leithart’s writings Collins had read). What mattered for the defense was what letters they had after their names.

    So, according to Jason’s operating definition of “expert witness,” I was an expert witness. According to the defense’s definition, I was not. I would argue that Jason’s definition is a perfectly adequate definition of “expert witness” in a church trial. Logically speaking, an expert in Leithart’s theology would need to know about Leithart’s doctrine, be able to place individual statements in the context of the larger work, understand what Leithart’s antecedents are theologically, and be able to compare those statements with the Westminster Standards. I was able to do all of those things.

    There are many pastors in the PCA who should never have been ordained, because they have no desire whatsoever to protect the sheep from the ravages of wolves. Instead, their concern is to create a brotherhood of pastors that are “nice” to each other. This creates a situation where wagons are circled. So, you are correct that not all pastors would be competent to be a witness in such a trial. This speaks more to the inadequacy of our process of examining candidates than it does to the proper standards of ordination.

  39. mattnewkirk said,

    September 10, 2014 at 9:01 am

    Gotcha. Thank you for taking the time to explain, I appreciate it. And if you’re going to address Fowler as Dr. White, I’d appreciate it if you’d extend the same recognition and address me as Dr. Newkirk.

    Kidding… :)

  40. Chris Mangum said,

    September 10, 2014 at 9:21 am

    Are there any TE’s in the PCA, OPC, RPCNA, etc that do not have a degree?

  41. Reed Here said,

    September 10, 2014 at 12:07 pm

    Tim: here’s an idea that I think will address concern’s quite a bit:

    Why don’t we call PhD’s “fidds” (PhD vocalized), as in “let me introduce to you Fidd White, Fidd Newkirk.”

    We can then, just to be equitable, refer to Doctor of Ministry men as ” dimms”, (DMin vocalized), as in “let me introduce you to Dimm _____.”

    Surely this will be in keeping with both the humility and the humbling that one who pursues a degree for Christ’s sake should rejoice in. :)

    (Thanks to Fidd’s White and Newkirk for not taking offense in my using them as an example. ;-) )

  42. Reed Here said,

    September 10, 2014 at 12:08 pm

    Chris, if there are, they were ordained under the exceptions clause in BCO. I expect that any such men actually had a tougher time with the licensure-ordination process than guys like me had with the seminary-licensure-ordination process. I.e., there is every reason to believe they know their stuff.

  43. mattnewkirk said,

    September 10, 2014 at 12:25 pm

    I’m Fidd up with this discussion… Actually, I’ve told my students that they can feel free to address me by my first name, which was easy when I taught in Australia, since everyone there is addressed by their first name. So I was either Matt or “mate”!

    In all seriousness, though, once one achieves the title “doctor,” you quickly realize that it does nothing for your soul to be addressed as such.

  44. Stephen said,

    September 10, 2014 at 2:38 pm

    Lane (18),

    Concerning Rick Phillips, I know this will be a shocker, but I do not keep up with his books. I am under the impression, however, that they are books of his sermon series or topical studies for audiences of non-scholars. You think that such books are the stuff of scholarship that is “doctorate-worthy”? Can you give a few specific examples of his “many, many books, any number of which would be doctorate-worthy”?

    My larger issue: if Rick Phillips wants to be called Doctor and thinks he deserves it, then let him enroll in a university PhD program, take a few years of graduate seminars under scholars and with other academically oriented graduate students, pass multiple modern language exams and (depending on the area he chooses) multiple sight-reading ancient language exams, pass multiple comprehensive exams, propose and defend a scholarly thesis topic, and then write (and defend) a scholarly thesis that has to pass muster with actual scholars who are not under or related to his ecclesial authority in some way. If he does not have the time, resume to get into such programs, cash (if he can’t land a funded spot), or willingness to do this, then I fail to see how his obsession with referring to himself as Dr (for an honorary doctorate) is anything other than a manifestation of, in your terminology, “Degreeism.”

  45. rfwhite said,

    September 10, 2014 at 3:39 pm

    I would urge more charity here. Don’t assume that a man “wants to be called” anything. In more cases than not, it comes down to what those who conferred the honorary degree want to call a man and to what courtesy to the conferring instituion may require.

  46. greenbaggins said,

    September 10, 2014 at 3:54 pm

    Stephen, you seem to have not only an American view of a Ph.D., but also a non-churchly view. As to the first, the European model does not involve classes at all, just the thesis. That would eliminate at least half of the things you are talking about. As to Phillips’s writings, yes, they are churchly, mostly sermonic in form. However, they do not have to be written for the audience of academia to be doctoral level work. Phillips’s commentaries are underlaid by just as much work as many commentaries that are considered “academic.”

  47. rfwhite said,

    September 11, 2014 at 9:11 am

    41, 43 — Is it Fidd or Fudd, Elmer?

  48. mattnewkirk said,

    September 11, 2014 at 9:22 am

    Ahh, the Fudd preacher, I like it… “You gotta wepent of dat wascally webellion!”

  49. John Drake said,

    September 11, 2014 at 9:45 am

    I thought it was “food” as in “PhD for thought”

  50. Rick Phillips said,

    September 17, 2014 at 8:26 pm

    I just noticed this interesting discussion and, since my name has come up, thought I would comment in it. As for Stephen’s claim that I “insist” on being called Doctor and “want to be called this,” I can assure you that this is not the case. If I am speaking at his church, I will be perfectly content if he calls me Pastor Phillips (as I still am often called) or even just Rick. I do use the title that was granted to me, mainly because when one is honored it seems both ungrateful and disrespectful to those who conferred the honor if it is not used.

    As for the validity of honorary doctorates, I have long been of the view that they are quite valid insofar as what they are. Calvin referred to Doctors of the Church as those whose ministry is directed not only to the laity but also substantially for the edification and help of pastors. It seems to me to be quite legitimate for institutions to confer this honor upon men whose ministry over many years has warranted the title. As one whose labors are largely directed to fellow ministers (easily the majority of my readers are pastors, especially of the commentaries), I was blessed to receive the honor. I was also honored to know that I bear the D.D. in company with Charles Hodge, B. B. Warfield, J. Gresham Machen, and John Murray. I know that I will be judged in the end by the faithfulness of my labors and by the value of my work for the edification of God’s people. That GPTS thought my contributions worthy of the honor was an encouragement to me, and I am grateful to bear the title they have conferred.

    I do not see how the D. D. diminishes the value of a Ph.D. or a similar academic doctorate. Having myself completed a very rigorous academic program at the Wharton School of Business, I value a quality Ph.D. very much. It is obviously a different thing from a D. D. and I think that the distinction is well recognized by those who are concerned. I also do not see how accreditation should be taken as the seal of legitimacy of seminaries. As a trustee of Westminster Theological Seminary I value the accreditation process but do not think it would invalidate the institution were we not accredited. Lastly, I thought the comment directed toward me was helpful in this comment thread because it was very much in the spirit of the way Lane was treated by Pacific Northwest Presbytery. I think it unfortunate that people must seek to denigrate honors that have been sincerely given and received.

  51. Alan D. Strange said,

    September 19, 2014 at 2:22 pm

    Good as always to hear from RIck Phillips. I hope you and yours are well, brother.

    As for this whole discussion, the protocol with respect to honorary doctorates is that, when bestowed, the honoree is entitled to all the rights and privileges accruing thereunto (to use the kind of language typically used with respect to such when conferred).

    Historically, a D.D. was considered an honor of great distinction, bestowed upon men who had labored long in the ministry with significant blessing for the wider church. A D.D. has every right to be called a “Dr.” RIck Phillips is not the kind of fellow who goes around insisting on being honored. He is a servant who loves to serve and it is our privilege to call him “Dr. Phillips,” not something he’s demanded of us.

    It would be nice if we could once and for all dispense with this notion that someone who has an honorary doctorate has no “real right to be called a doctor,” as I’ve heard said. They do, and petulance with regard to calling them such may say more about the perturbed than them.

    (Though a different subject, anyone with a doctorate, whether a D.Min., Ed.D., or anything similar is properly styled “Dr.” That someone may find such degrees deficient does not negate their properly being called such.)

  52. Tim Harris said,

    September 19, 2014 at 5:00 pm

    If you’re willing to include mail-order doctorates in the same category, then I’ll at least grant your consistency.

  53. Alan D. Strange said,

    September 19, 2014 at 5:52 pm

    I mean, of course, Tim, legitmately earned doctorates, not something for which someone simply paid money and received through the mail or online.

    I am not particularly, e.g., a fan of Ed.D.’s in many cases, but some of them have been substantive. Some D.Mins. are not substantive and some are. It seems churlish to refuse to call someone “Dr.” in the appropriate contexts (I, like, Dr. Newkirk am happy to be addressed more familiarly, certainly by my peers and superiors, as well as online, as seems the appropriate etiquette), particularly because I simply find the work for some doctorates doesn’t pass muster with me (though it is a duly accredited and recognized degree, not a mail-order Ph.D.).

  54. Tim Harris said,

    October 11, 2014 at 9:21 am

    It’s a lot like the podiatrist/MD debate that was thoroughly analyzed in one of the Seinfeld episodes. “Well…” says Elaine, “you’re not a REAL doctor” and on it went.

    The fact that the degree-granting institutions don’t simply grant the PhD/ThD for the work representing the D. Min. is sufficient proof of my position. If it were, they would. Why would anyone say, “no, don’t give me the PhD — I want the D.Min.” ? No one would.

  55. A Concerned Academic said,

    October 11, 2014 at 1:33 pm

    Here’s my thing. I don’t object to people with earned doctorates referring to themselves as “doctor”; what I object to is said individuals giving the impression–unwittingly or otherwise–that their doctorate is an earned doctorate that qualifies them for a specific discipline. The trouble is that since nearly all doctorates are “in” something and qualify someone to do that something, simply referring to one’s self as “Dr. Joe Smith” or “Joe Smith, PhD” when one has an honorary doctorate is naturally a bit misleading. Nobody regards them as professional equivalents. That’s why I’d prefer it if those with honorary doctorates use language like “Joe Smith, PhD (h. c.)” (for honoris causa, because of honors) or “Joe Smith, HonD” in writing and in speech use “doctor” sparingly, reserving it only if there’s a real point to doing so. This situation is partly why those with JDs (doctorate in jurisprudence) don’t call themselves “doctors”: their course of study is simply not the same type (and which is partly why those of us getting earned doctorates get a little flustered when they get to wear the same doctoral regalia at graduation ceremonies. The work simply isn’t comparable.

  56. roberty bob said,

    October 11, 2014 at 9:16 pm

    Yes, and Jesus was a Doctor too. A Physician.


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