Pastors With Fake Degrees

When a pastor with a D.Min. passes his degree off as an earned Ph.D he engages in chicanery

Most clueless lay people think “Dr. So and So” is a bona-fide academic, even though he only has, a good and useful, D.Min.

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Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

He lost me at "Where does this obsession with being wise in the world’s eyes come from?"

It's not about trying to impress the world. It's about putting in the time & effort to master your vocation. The degree is a way of letting it be known that you've done that... And what ways you are prepared to be of service.

Like to see these anti-degree guys volunteer to have surgery by a non-MD.
(Can a non MD perform a successful surgery? Under the right conditions, sure. Can an MD botch a surgery? Absolutely. But this proves nothing about the value of the MD credential.)

Jonathan Charles's picture

How would one pass on a D.Min. as a Ph.D., other than earning the former but telling people you earned the latter?

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

The reasoning is apparently that just using the term "doctor" is inherently deceptive. But this is ridiculous. Everybody knows there are different kinds of "doctors" (as my MD example above also shows). Those who don't know there are at least three different kinds of "doctors" in theology (make that four...and counting) probably also don't particularly care.

Unless you've got a DMin or one of the honoraries and you put "PhD" or "ThD" after your name instead, there is no "chicanery" going on.

Jonathan Charles's picture

Portions of a Wikipedia article on the D.D. honorary degree.  Must have been an important case against a Universal Life church that brought the abuse of honorary degrees to the attention of authorities:

In the United States, the degree is generally conferred honoris causa by a church-related college, seminary, or university to recognize the recipient's ministry-orientated accomplishments….Under federal law, a 1974 judgement accepted expert opinion that an "Honorary Doctor of Divinity is a strictly religious title with no academic standing. Such titles may be issued by bona fide churches and religious denominations, such as plaintiff (Universal Life Church), so long as their issuance is limited to a course of instruction in the principles of the church or religious denomination"…. In a 1976 interview with Morley Safer of 60 Minutes, Universal Life Church founder Rev. Kirby J. Hensley professed that the Church's honorary Doctor of Divinity degree was "...just a little piece of paper. And it ain't worth anything, you know, under God's mighty green Earth—you know what I mean?—as far as value.”  In 2006, Universal Life Church minister Kevin Andrews advised potential degree recipients not to misrepresent the title as an educational achievement to employers, recommending instead that it would be appropriate to list such credentials "under the heading of Titles, Awards, or Other Achievements" on curricula vitae

I think that last sentence is important, many lay people hear "Dr." and they assume it represents academic achievement.

Bert Perry's picture

Is the higher honor "Doctor", or "pastor".  Think about that one a minute--the former merely denotes a degree of education, while the latter is a shepherd of the souls of men.  

Besides, if a DMin is awarded for real reasons, it does denote a degree of scholarship, just practically earned instead of scholastically.  And if it's not actually earned (yes I've met a few of those), it tends to be pretty obvious whenever he starts talking.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Jim's picture

I can say the guys here who earn D Min really work hard. 

 They a aren't doing surgery or anything :) 

I'm not sympathetic to the honorary degrees ... but the D Min is not one of those 

JNoël's picture

I'm wondering the same thing. A D.Min. has just as much right to be called "Doctor Jones" as a Ph.D. or a ThD. Doctor is what the "D" stands for. It is just a word. That is a very strange part of his article.

I know we don't call lawyers doctors, but they certainly could be - they have a Juris Doctor degree, a Doctor of Law. There are loads of terminal professional degrees.

 

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Ron Bean's picture

Ever since I was under the leadership of a pastor who demanded to be called "Doctor" by everyone after receiving his honorary degree, I've had an aversion to the practice.

"Some things are of that nature as to make one's fancy chuckle, while his heart doth ache." John Bunyan

Larry Nelson's picture

 

.....I accompanied my pastor (at my previous church) once to the annual Pastor’s Circus School at you-know-where.  This was circa 1983.  During a break in the shenanigans proceedings, groups of attendees stood talking.  One poor guy in our group made the egregious error of referring to our host as "Pastor Hyles."  Instantly, someone within earshot stormed over and yelled  "That's DOCTOR Hyles!"  (Need I point out that his was merely an honorary title?)

At my present church I know several men with the D.Min degree, none of whom uses the honorific "Doctor."  My current pastor (M.Div & Ph.D from SBTS) is called "Pastor (first name)" by most people in the church, or simply "(first name)".  On our website, the abbreviation "Dr." appears before his name, and it appears in print in some other uses, but it's uncommon to hear it otherwise.  

TylerR's picture

Editor

I know a retired Pastor who refused to acknowledge his own name. He only responded if somebody addressed him as, "Pastor *****." He was retired, but it didn't matter. He became angry if somebody called him by name. The man was simply infatuated with the title. You can always find a way to ruin a perfectly good thing (cf. Ecc 7:29).

Tyler is a pastor in Olympia, WA and an Investigations Manager with a Washington State agency. He's the author of the book What's It Mean to Be a Baptist?

Bert Perry's picture

For the uninitiated, the "Church of Universal Life" is not in fact a baptized life insurance company, but rather a mail order ordination company.  Send in $40 or so, and you get your sheepskin AND a t shirt.  I am not making this up.  My brother's wedding was done by a guy who'd become a "pastor" through that company.  So even by the standards of Larry's former affiliates, it's pretty thin qualifications.

But that said, I'm appalled that Larry didn't have more respect for an honorary degree from an unaccredited institution whose most famous graduate did time in jail for tax fraud.  Next thing you know, he's going to be pointing out that door again.  :^)

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Joel Tetreau's picture

So there is no question that men who have one degree and pass it off as another are being dishonest. As one who has a D.Min from Central Seminary I'll quickly point out that many D.Min programs are not just an "easy pass" around a Ph.D. I would offer one more analysis. Most D.Min degrees from real Seminaries who demand real post-grad standards.....(including a real terminal project) for the D.Min...... have terminal projects that usually have to work (or are proven not to work) in the real world of ministry.

Many Ph.D.'s have a terminal project that can be theoretical and have nothing to do with the real world of .... anything .... including (sometimes especially) ministry. BTW....just as aside - be leery of people that are always showing off their education. Just because they have data does not know that they are qualified or proficient at leading (or serving) anyone......Just a quick observation - Straight Ahead! jt

Dr. Joel Tetreau, B.A., M.A., M.Div., Th.M (ip), D.Min......:)

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

DLCreed's picture

As a doctoral mentor who has a terminal academic doctorate, I'd say this gentlemen needs a bit more education in the assignment and value of degrees.

There are two kinds of doctorates -- Professional and Academic.  Within those two areas, there IS a pecking order of degrees and some are not considered "terminal" (as in "as far as you reasonably need to go").

A D.Min is a very legitimate degree and can take 2-4 years of post Master's Degree work to complete.  However, it is NOT considered an academic degree, but a professional degree.  It also generally not considered to be sufficient for teaching at a graduate level by most accredited institutions.  It is also not considered a "terminal" degree.

Other professional degrees would include J.D., M.D., DDS, etc...  These are VERY serious and respectable degrees which involve professional practices in medicine or law, but generally do not prepare the holder to teach at a University Level in a graduate/post-graduate program.

Academic Terminal Degrees are best associated with Ph.D.'s.  Ed.D.'s are also considered academic terminal, but lesser degrees than a Ph.D. with the difference being that Ph.D's more frequently require an entire dissertation whereas Ed.D.'s may only require a practicum or thesis.  In addition, Ph.D.'s generally have more stringent requirements for language mastery.  (Usually two years of graduate level foreign languages).  As is rather obvious, the Ed.D. is primarily a degree for education-related professions.

The real joke is the honorary degree and no one has abused these more than pastors in general and specifically, Independent Baptist ones.  Whether a doctorate of divinity or a doctorate of letters, they are meant to be an expression of appreciation for some accomplishment, but they were never intended to be used formally, the recipient should not be called "doctor" and it should not be listed as an academic degree in a formal signature.  Such degrees made many "pastors" the butt of snickers and snide jokes and remarks behind their backs as they pranced about insisting on being called "doctor".

More recently, among my colleagues, most of us rarely use "Doctor" as part of our names except in academic circles when it is frequently required by our employers or when we are addressing a topic and need the weight of our training and study to add gravity to our presentations or papers.  I almost never use mine outside of the classroom anymore and only then because it is required.

But as someone who is paid to assist D.Min students complete their degrees as a doctoral mentor, these ARE legitimate degrees and people work hard to earn them.  Like an Ed. Specialist degree, they do not carry terminal weight, but they DO acknowledge a level of study and professional accomplishment that should be appreciated.

TOvermiller's picture

Noticed this discussion queue earlier today, and it correlated with something from my personal Bible reading yesterday, so I posted it here. Doing the hard work of rigorous academic study is very important. But advertising credentials is not, in fact quite the opposite is true. We need well-educated teachers and pastors, with a genuine walk with God who care little to none about their titles. A wise teacher is definitely stupid.

Thomas Overmiller
Pastor | www.studygodsword.com
Blog & Podcast | www.shepherdthoughts.com

JNoël's picture

You say a D.Min. isn't a terminal professional degree? What would you then consider to be a terminal professional degree for a minister?

Ashamed of Jesus! of that Friend On whom for heaven my hopes depend! It must not be! be this my shame, That I no more revere His name. -Joseph Grigg (1720-1768)

Bert Perry's picture

JNoël wrote:

You say a D.Min. isn't a terminal professional degree? What would you then consider to be a terminal professional degree for a minister?

PG.  Promoted to Glory.  

Sorry, couldn't resist the pun.  What else is the terminal degree for a pastor....OK, with the possible exceptions of "DTS" (dying to self) and "MS" (mortification of sin)?

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

Aaron Blumer's picture

EditorAdmin

There's definitely a range of communication between keeping your training secret on one extreme & obsessing over it on the other. There is no Christian virtue in pretending to be more ignorant and/or lazy than you really are, though. Nor is there any genuine tension between spiritual qualifications & academic ones.
Anti-intellectualism is not more godly than intellectualism.

Rob Fall's picture

As usual, I take a more or less historical perspective on the question.

I believe the basis of the problem is in the Modernist takeover of the mainline seminaries before WW2 and the Neo-Evangelical accommodation to them in the later years.  Such that it took until the mid 1990s for the academic landscape to stabilize.  By then, matters had stabilized enough for men who describe themselves as Fundamentalist to attend a school like Trinity Evangelical Divinity without being tagged as compromisers. When men started to attend schools like TED, places like MBU, Central, BJU, et al. were able to assemble the faculty needed to confer their own earned doctorates.

So, we had a period covering say 50 or so years when earned doctorates were few and far between.  In the period, what had been an award for life time achievement (the Doctor of Divinity) became a go to degree awarded on some time pretty flimsy reasons.  Many schools saw the DD as an easy benefit for their supporters.  Many men saw the degree as giving them an air of respectability and "arrivaledness".

Personally, I liked the DD as it gives me a title of respect towards a man who is not my pastor.  Also, it is useful for men who are not in their own pulpit.  That is not to say some have not taken it to be the equivalent of "Your Eminence" to lord it over the Lord's flock.

 

Today, the DMin is a viable earned terminal vocational degree.

 

Hoping to shed more light than heat..

J Ng's picture

One KJB-Only pastor was working on his dissertation from a seminary with a TEDS-like name when I asked him the standard question--what exactly makes your contribution to academia unique? His dissertation at that time was described as basically another synopsis of the gospels.

Oh, quoth he, it is twofold. The first unique contribution was that the text would be completely taken out of the KJB--hand typed word for word, mind you. The second, quoth he at my breathless query, was that all the footnotes were his own, his very own proper interpretation.

Well, he did land his PhD based on that dissertation, and the Bible College hands out "earned" ThDs through his educated guidance and a couple other ThDs that were awarded by him and a couple of honorary DDs. Not gonna be a great candidate for ATS or regional accreditation, I'd say.

 

Steve Davis's picture

Some good observations on the difference between DMin and PhD. There may be some but I don't know of any DMin holders who try to pass their DMin off as a PhD any more than my primary care doctor does with her MD or DO. There's no reason why someone can't legitimately be called "Doctor" with a DMin although many that I know don't care about being called "Doctor" regardless of what they have. As for honorary doctorates they might be of some value when they recognize significant accomplishments but too often are given out as rewards for loyalty. No one should have to demand to be called doctor. When done it should be out of respect.

A DMin from some schools might be every bit as rigorous as a PhD from other schools. There are also differences in the prerequisites depending on the institution. I know some men who received their PhD built on a 32 hour MA, while some DMin's require an 96 hour MDiv. There is a difference in the DMin major project and a PhD dissertation but they both require a lot of work. Also in some cases the courses for a DMin and PhD are the same if residential courses. For example when I did a semester on campus at Trinity for a DMin in Missiology (which required different prerequisites than a regular DMin) I took the same courses as PhD students. Since the PhD was a resident degree and I couldn't give two to three years on campus I opted for the DMin. In the end you get what you can but don't think of yourself too highly.  The truth is I would rather have a PhD but I don't know that it would have mattered much in life and ministry.

As an aside, the one time I remember people calling me doctor was when I spoke at a Northland Heart Conference in 2006. I have to admit Dr. Davis had a nice ring to it. But in real life day-to-day and in church it's Steve or maybe Pastor Steve or Pastor Davis. I really don't care. In my work as a bi-vocational church planter working as a certified addiction therapist/clinical supervisor and with French diplomas I've been able to add some other initials. On my day job I use most of them (except BA & DALF) on my email signature because it's done that way in my line of work and adds credibility when dealing with outside agencies. So following the example of DR. Joel Tetreau....

Dr. Stephen M. Davis, BA, MA, MDiv, DMin, DALF, CAADC, CCJP  but just call me Steve Smile

Don Johnson's picture

Steve Davis wrote:

Dr. Stephen M. Davis, BA, MA, MDiv, DMin, DALF, CAADC, CCJP  but just call me Steve Smile

you'll always be "Stick" Davis to me!!!!

heh, heh

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Joel Tetreau's picture

Straight Ahead Dr. Steve!

jt

 

Dr. Joel Tetreau serves as Senior Pastor, Southeast Valley Bible Church (sevbc.org); Regional Coordinator for IBL West (iblministry.com), Board Member & friend for several different ministries;

Steve Davis's picture

Don Johnson wrote:

 

Steve Davis wrote:

 

Dr. Stephen M. Davis, BA, MA, MDiv, DMin, DALF, CAADC, CCJP  but just call me Steve Smile

 

 

you'll always be "Stick" Davis to me!!!!

heh, heh

 

"Stick" because I was so thin or because I stuck guys with demerits back in the days when there were monitors and not hall leaders? I was a great legalist!

Don Johnson's picture

Steve Davis wrote:

 

Don Johnson wrote:

 

 

Steve Davis wrote:

 

Dr. Stephen M. Davis, BA, MA, MDiv, DMin, DALF, CAADC, CCJP  but just call me Steve Smile

 

 

you'll always be "Stick" Davis to me!!!!

heh, heh

 

 

 

"Stick" because I was so thin or because I stuck guys with demerits back in the days when there were monitors and not hall leaders? I was a great legalist!

Well, you may have been thin, but that's not why you were called that! I don't think they even call them hall leaders anymore. Can't keep up with all this change. Sure sign of aging.

Maranatha!
Don Johnson
Jer 33.3

Jim's picture

On Pastors with "just" a bachelor's degree

I know this is S H O C K I N G but some Pastors just have a bachelor's degree!

Early in my life this was my pastor.

Did he make some mistakes? Yup!

  • Took me to a Hyles' pastors conference
  • Recommended Peter Ruckman's book on the KJV to me

But he straightened out:

Jonathan Charles's picture

Does the PCA require a M.Div. for its pastors?  I've never met one who didn't have at least a M.Div.

Bert Perry's picture

Seems to me that apart from maybe Paul, all of the Apostles lacked proper credentials.  :^)  So while I am a huge fan of good education, especially theological, it does seem that there is another method that just might work.  

Aspiring to be a stick in the mud.

J. Baillet's picture

Bert Perry wrote:

Seems to me that apart from maybe Paul, all of the Apostles lacked proper credentials.  :^)  So while I am a huge fan of good education, especially theological, it does seem that there is another method that just might work.  

Three years or so with the Master Teacher.  Not a bad credential to have.

JSB

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