A Question About Credentials

I’m wondering if unaccredited degrees are worth the time and money spent to get them.  I don’t doubt that the knowledge obtained in the course of study toward earning these degrees is most helpful, but it seems to me that such credentials could tarnish a reputation more than polish it.

I have in mind specifically James R. White and Robert Morey.  Now let it be said from the onset that I respect both of these men and I respect what they do (although I am at odds with them theologically in many areas), but I must confess to never having been blown away by any of the books of theirs that I have read (e.g. Morey’s The Trinity: Evidence & Issues and White’s The Forgotten Trinity).  Having said that I’m just wondering if having ‘doctorates’ from unaccredited institutions has hurt them more than helped them in terms of credibility.

Both men have Master’s degrees from accredited schools. White has an M.A. from Fuller Theological Seminary and Morey has a M.Div. and a D.Min. from Westminster Theological Seminary.  These are both fine schools that are very reputable.  I think if these men had stopped with these degrees then they would have been better off (in terms of their academic reputations). 

But White has Th.M., Th.D., and M.Div. from the unaccredited Columbia Evangelical Seminary and Morey has Ph.D. from the unaccredited Louisiana Baptist University.  I don’t believe that accreditation or unaccreditation has anything to do with the caliber of work that one produces, but these lackluster credentials have certainly been ammunition for those who have engaged these men in debate.  Morey catches flack from Muslim apologists while White catches it from Mormon apologists.  Again, had they stopped at the Master’s degree then this problem could have been alleviated.

I’ve also heard Walter Martin’s reliability called into question because of his allegedly suspect credentials (I don’t know enough about it to really say anything), so it would seem that having these unaccredited degrees causes more harm than good.  At least from where I’m sitting…

What do you guys think?

B”H

P.S. — Remember, I’m not saying that these aren’t sharp guys and I’m not saying that they don’t engage in serious scholarship (although I question how serious it is at times) — my question is concerned primarily with what unaccredited degrees do to a person’s reputation.

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31 thoughts on “A Question About Credentials

  1. Great, I’ll be the first one to respond, but hopefully not the last.

    You state “I’m just wondering if having ‘doctorates’ from unaccredited institutions has hurt them more than helped them in terms of credibility.”

    You’d have to define credibility, but giving the nature of James White’s ministry, he has debated just in the past few years…Crossan and Borg, John Shelby Spong, Shabir Ally, etc. That is credible.

    James White’s book are used all over the place and he is certainly well respected in the reformed community. I believe Morey is another issue, and I don’t have time to go into that.

    Again, I need a definition of credibility,…but more important, who cares. If I cared about credibility (I’m assuming a certain definition) I would not be at Greenville Presbyterian Theological Seminary. GPTS is one of the most respected seminaries among reformed folk. Their commitment is to the Church not the world. They, like I, believe that the Church is the pillar and foundation of truth and it is the Church that God ordained to train men for the ministry.

    I didn’t mean to come in here to defend James, but I believe that he (as I) would have a different view of “credible” then what you seem to be advocating in your post.

    Perhaps you can clarify what you mean.

  2. Jeff,

    I’m using it in its regular connotation of ‘offering reasonable grounds for being believed’ (Webster’s).

    I’ve read Dave Armstrong ridiculing James White calling himself Dr. White because of the unaccredited degree and I’ve also read the correspondance between James and Gary Novak over the issue. Louis Midgely has had things to say about Morey as well some Muslims apologists whose names I can’t remember at present.

    I’m just wondering if the unaccredited degree gives people prima facie reason not believe them (at least in their minds). Someone may never read the content of their material simply for the fact that they’ve learned of their credentials beforehand. This is the kind of thing I’m wondering about.

    For those who do read their material I’d think that in Morey’s case it would be his shotty scholarship (IMO) moreso than in White’s case that would call his credibility into question. But then that makes me wonder if his degree was accredited if it would improve the caliber of his work.

    In the end I just don’t know :-|

    Oh, and defend away. There’s nothing wrong with sticking up for James White if you feel the need to. :-)

  3. Nick is quite right.

    With the great proliferation of low cost, accredited distance options, there’s no excuse for an unaccredited degree (unless one’s denomination is o.k. with such; there are some such cases). It just raises too many questions. I would think that people involved in apologetics and polemics would be especially sure to avoid this problem, but such is not the case. They are constantly leaving themselves open to attack, and with teh internets being so widely available, it doesn’t take much effort to dig up dirt on these schools and the people who run them and claim degrees from them.

  4. I earned my ThD at an accredited school which has since lost its accreditation (I have learned, to my great dismay).

    But as I’ve always said- it’s not where you learn but the quality of your instruction that matters. I know absolute morons who graduated from Yale (and one of them is presently President of the US) and I know brilliant, absolutely brilliant scholars who has graduated from virtually unknown schools.

    It’s the desire of the student to learn and the quality of what he or she is taught that counts.

  5. “has”… good grief. Ok you can change that to “have” or even “I know a scholar who has…” Take your pick,

  6. Jim,

    You gotta admit though that upon first glance the accredited degree is likely to be taken more seriously than the unaccredited degree. At least that how it seems to me.

    I got a G.E.D. so I can’t really say too much about anything :)

  7. Nick,

    There is no doubt about it that some schools will not recognize you if you do not have a degree from an accredited institution. Solution, if you plan to teach at an academic institution, get your degree from an accredited school.

    But, again, coming from my perspective, and I believe James would be on the same page…is my desire is to see the people of God grow and in particular, my local assembly (this is the way God set things up). There are no requirments in ecclesiatical settings that your degree must come from an accredited institution. Even those who require at least an M.Div. before ordination (Presbyterian bodies) do not require a degree from an accredited institution.

    You seem to indicate in your original post that because ones credentials “have been ammunition for those who have engaged these men in debate” that we should avoid unaccredited schools. I trust you do let the cults control you like this! :)

    Here is what the president of my seminary has said on seminary education.

    In brief, here is a paragraph on the accountability of Greenville:

    “We are a trans-denominational Reformed seminary operating under a Board of Trustees. Additionally, we are committed to ecclesiastical accountability, and therefore enter into support and oversight agreements with church sessions and presbyteries that are in agreement with our mission. In light of this commitment, we seek our accreditation from ecclesiastical bodies.”

  8. Unaccredited degrees are useless.

    hmmm…how about, “never doing research is useless”

    Or, “never reading is useless”?

    I would say that accredited is definitely preferred, and as it was said above, with all the opportunity available, there isn’t much excuse.

    but I also don’t think that having a PHD is necessarily, well, necessary.

    F. F. Bruce never had a PHD, but that never seemed to stop him in the academic world…if you’ve ever heard of him.

  9. Jeff,

    You said:

    You seem to indicate in your original post that because ones credentials “have been ammunition for those who have engaged these men in debate” that we should avoid unaccredited schools. I trust you do let the cults control you like this! :-)

    I trust that you mean to say ‘do NOT’ ;) but my point was more that it seems to hurt one’s credibility more than help it. It really has nothing to do with the cults per se. Now I can certainly understand your going to GPTS because they specialize in training pastors and it’s a necessary step towards your ordination, but other than a case like that, what are the benefits of the unaccredited degree over the negatives?

    Mike,

    I’m sure M.W.W. would agree with you there. And he actually pointed out to me that F.F. Bruce didn’t have a Ph.D. a few weeks ago.

    I hope he checks back to defend his comment though — I’d certainly be interested in hearing his thought process on it.

    My thinking is this… an unaccredited degree is not going to get you any work and it’s not going to gain you a lot of respect. I think in Jeff’s case where it’s necessary for the ordination process is one thing but other than something like that, why get one? I guess in my mind it boils down to two things:

    1) Why choose an unaccredited institution over an accredited one?

    2) Why choose a degree that won’t be taken seriously by all of your peers?

    Jeff’s case withstanding, what are the benefits?

  10. Nick, I have no idea.

    I hear what you’re writing and see what you’re sayin’.

    if you’re going to intentionally live in the academic world, it just doesn’t make any sense.

  11. 1) Why choose an unaccredited institution over an accredited one?

    One reason is, is the way one views the life of the Church, who is in charge, etc. Obviously some in the reformed community want a good education over having a Ph.D. where the education might be average. Also depends on what you are going for. I’f I’m going to major on a certain issue, I’m probably going to go where the best teaching is on that particular subject…accredited or not.

    2) Why choose a degree that won’t be taken seriously by all of your peers?

    Again, I’m not sure why something like “taken seriously by all of your peers” drive a man in a one direction over another. Also, I’m not sure why you would think that if one received a Ph.D. from Westminster (East or West) that it would be taken seriously by all peers. You’d have defend that assertion, and I’m sure you don’t want to waist time doing so. :)

    Love ya man! :)

    Ps. Yeah, I too would like to read the reasoning behind the comment about regarding unacredited degrees being worthless. That was such a broad brush and therefore an ignorant (not well though out and also doesn’t match up with the facts) comment.

  12. Oh, btw, one benefit of going to an unaccredited institution is the cost. A lot could be said about one going into debt in regards to schooling…putting a burden on your family for such a long time, etc. Obviously there are exceptions, and other things could be said.

    But, Greenville currently is $125 a credit hour. Compare that to your average seminary. Also, at Greenville there are some of the best reformed scholars. We have one of the founding members of the PCA still teaching courses. We have one of the best Presbyterian Church Historians (who teaches many other courses as well…he is probably my favorite prof.) we have one of the best Church historians at Greenville, we have one of the best presidents (must could be said about him), we have a man who teaching missions who is presuppositional in his apologetics (yeah), who has spent much time on the mission field, etc. etc. From my understanding all the profs at Greenville (with the exception of one) has been a pastor, and I know they are all very involved in their local church as well as their denomination (mostly PCA and OPC). Oh, I forgot to mention, we have one of the best writers on the pastoral epistles (George Knight, III) as a prof. he sits on our board.

    If you’d like to hear some of them go here and here.

    But, again, the point is, the cost is a major factor in the benefits of an unaccredited institution.

  13. if you’re going to intentionally live in the academic world, it just doesn’t make any sense.

    And perhaps this is where the rubber meets the road. You comment is more profound then you probably intended it to be.

    One lives in the academic world, another lives in the world of the Church. It just so happens that this man who lives within the Church is able to make an impact upon the world, but he could care less about meeting the worlds standards. His standards are certainly high (come visit GPTS sometime) since he believes that all we do, is to be done for the glory or God.

  14. Jeff,

    Thanks for taking the time to explain all of this from your perspective, I really appreciate it!

    I’m certainly no authority (I don’t have any education past high school), but isn’t the accreditation process one that is supposed to ensure the quality of the school’s curriculum? If this is truly the case then how many just ‘average’ programs are out there at the Ph.D. level? Wouldn’t you think that they’d at least be on par with the unaccredited programs?

    As far as being taken seriously by peers driving a person in one direction over the next I guess it boils down to what they plan to do with the degree. If one wants to make contributions to the scholarly community then being taken seriously by your peers seems a must.

    But no, I don’t think an accredited degree equates to being taken seriously by all. I think of Dr. Michael L. Brown who earned his Ph.D. from NYU which is a phenomenal school and he is a phenomenal scholar, yet there are those in the Orthodox Jewish community who do not respect his credentials because they didn’t come through a Yeshiva and he wasn’t ordained by a Rabbi.

  15. Looking around, Jeff’s Greenville seems to be one of the few legitimate unaccredited schools. Some schools like his are recognized by their denominations and are respectable.

    Such unaccredited schools are the exception rather than the norm. There are two major problems:

    1) For every legit unaccredited school, there are hundreds (only slight exaggeration) illegitimate ones. Some of them are quite flashy, and not everyone can tell the real ones from the frauds.

    2) An unaccredited degree may be fine while you (generic) are with your ultra-conservative church that does not want to submit to secular oversight. However, are you so 100% sure that you will remain ultra-conservative all of your life? (Don’t answer too quickly.) The unaccredited degree will lock you in to groups that accept it. An accredited degree gives more room for change and growth.

    Don’t just think theologically. Say you do an unaccredited bachelor’s because your church accepts it. Later in life, you become very interested in the academic side of missions and decide you want to study cultural anthropology at the graduate and postgraduate level. No legitimate unaccredited has a suitable program; the accredited schools that do have a program you’d like won’t accept your bachelor’s. Again, you are stuck.

    There are other problems, of course, but consideration of these two should show why the vast vast majority of people should have nothing to do with unaccredited schools.

  16. My hero Papa Barth never completed a doctoral degree, and he is widely acknowledged as one of the top theologians in the history of the church. If he had decided he really needed the last few letters and got a bogus degree from a bogus school, we’d think much less of him.

    Likewise, a certain blogger with good insights is very upfront about his lack of higher studies. If he were flashing around certificates from some degree mills that are widely loathed and known, he’d be taken far less seriously.

    -You can’t go wrong with accredited degrees.
    -A lack of degrees can be made up for by publication.
    -An unaccredited degree simply raises too many questions.

  17. If he had decided he really needed the last few letters and got a bogus degree from a bogus school, we’d think much less of him.

    This is my thought process exactly. With the two test examples (White & Morey) I gave, they both have accredited Master’s degrees but unaccredited doctorates.

    And the two examples you gave above are certainly food for thought. I think they are very good points.

  18. Likewise, a certain blogger with good insights is very upfront about his lack of higher studies. If he were flashing around certificates from some degree mills that are widely loathed and known, he’d be taken far less seriously.

    BTW, who did you have in mind here?

  19. Who do you think? You! (That’s meant as a compliment if it’s not entirely clear.)

    For someone who’s not attended Bible college or seminary, you have an excellent grasp of many areas, and you don’t shy away from the difficult questions. Many of the books that you are reading or are interested in reading are good master’s level or higher. Your writing speaks for itself; you don’t try to bolster your credibility with flashy credentials. That is worthy of respect.

    On the other hand, there are people on teh internets and in real life who go around with unaccredited “degrees” and constantly wave them in people’s faces. (In case that’s not clear: no one here.) They insist on being called “Dr.” when they got the “Dr.” basically by writing book reports. Those people are not so deserving of respect and even less deserving of attention. Unaccredited degree mills tend to attract people with pride and prestige issues (though unfortunately, sometimes very genuine people simply looking for education that they can afford get sucked in as well).

    Hope that’s clear.

  20. hmmm….well does not having an accredited degree invalidate true knowledge? I mean, does one’s knowlegde only become valid when it is backed up with a piece of paper? I would hardly think such is the case.

    Can having an accredited degree influence peoples ability to listen? Sure. But if they refuse to hear an argument on the basis of the person speaking and not the argument itself, isn’t that bordering Ad Hominem?

    I liked the comment that someone posted up earlier, “we serve the Church and not the world…”

    I think accredidation can make a difference, but only because of the presuppositions of people. I mean, there are Liberal seminaries that just because they are accredited doesn’t mean I’m going to give validity to what a Liberal says or be impressed with their works. I have my own theological dispositions that cause me to give “credibility” to men of the Reformed theological persuasion.

    That’s my quick take.

    Moses

  21. Moses,

    Thanks for weighing in — again, my point has nothing to do with the intelligence of people who have unaccredited degrees, or their ability to conduct scholarly research or anything like that. I’ll concede that both White and Morey are sharp guys (although in my mind one is sharper than the other).

    But look at it like this — they both spent years studying in accredited institutions, earning accredited degrees, only to go an get unaccredited doctorates. From the outside looking in it seems as if they just wanted to be able to call themselves ‘Dr.’ — this is my concern in asking this question. The unaccredited Ph.D./Th.D. seems like an easy way out of the rigors of accredited programs.

    Now in Jeff’s case, his attending an unaccredted school has everything to do with their concern for training pastors and his denomination’s requirements for ordination — he’s not concerned (I believe) with the title that comes along with it.

    In the end I think Sean’s 3 summary points are extrmely poignant:

    -You can’t go wrong with accredited degrees.
    -A lack of degrees can be made up for by publication.
    -An unaccredited degree simply raises too many questions.

  22. 2) An unaccredited degree may be fine while you (generic) are with your ultra-conservative church that does not want to submit to secular oversight. However, are you so 100% sure that you will remain ultra-conservative all of your life? (Don’t answer too quickly.) The unaccredited degree will lock you in to groups that accept it. An accredited degree gives more room for change and growth.

    I have not idea what you mean my “ultra-conservative”, but God help me if I abandon my basic beliefs in historic Christianity. You’d have to define what you mean be “ultra-conservative.” I don’t mind “change an growth,” but if it is change from the basics of what Greenville teaches, may someone, smack me up side the head.

    I don’t know much about Barth, I know there are some good things in his writings, but at this point, I have to trust other brothers in their view of him, in that he was off. Obviously you wouldn’t think the same. I certainly do not have time to get into a discussion of Barth though.

    It is another issue to venture into other fields of study…and at that point, your point is well taken.

    But, Lord willing, my love for the Church will not change and therefore where I am heading will not change. Since the Lord led us to Greenville, He is big enough to take care of other things if my direction would change.

  23. I’d classify 5-pt. Calvinism and no-women-in-the-seminary-let-alone-the-pulpit as “ultra-conservative.” (Although that term should really belong to the Eastern Orthodox, who never even went through a Reformation:) ). A change away from ultra-conservative might be to, say, 4-pt. Calvinism. It might be to a different millennial position (depending on how you feel about that at present). You (generic) could get zapped and have a charismatic experience and then change in all sorts of ways. (It has happened before.) (I’m being playful here.) There are a number of ways that one can vary in theology and still be in continuity with the core of historic Christianity. (God help us if the Calvinists ever succeed with identifying that exclusively as them.)

    As I noted earlier, you could change your focus and want to pursue higher studies in a tangential field that is only offered at accredited schools that only recognize accredited degrees. For some areas the whole liberal/conservative thing is not as important as it is for others. If you develop a passion for, say, intertestamental apocalyptic literature and want to do a thesis on it, you’ll find your options narrow very rapidly.

    Really, Calvinists own conservative evangelical theology and are among the top scholars in all fields. Most don’t seem to have a problem with accreditation; they are quite vigilant against substandard scholarship. I really don’t see the need for an unaccredited Calvinist seminary. They’ve got plenty accredited ones already.

    And you should try reading Barth some time. (He’s a Calvinist, BTW.) I’m a fan, and I find I can’t do a good job of summarizing his thought in any way that does it justice. Many of his critics miss his greatness, which can’t be obtained secondhand.

  24. Dianne/Jeff :-P

    You don’t have to abandon basic beliefs to not be ‘ultra-conservative’ — I’m an example of this. I think what makes one ultra-conservative quite frankly are the peripheral, secondary doctrines of Christianity. I was at one time a typical ‘fundamentalist’ holding to a strict inerrancy of Scripture, 6 day creation, global flood, ‘literal’ interpretation of Scripture (past the historical-grammatical method), etc.

    I’ve since dropped all of these beliefs yet I still affirm the essentials, i.e. the Trinity, Dual Natures of Christ, Salvation by Grace through Faith alone in Christ’s sacrificial death and subsequent resurrection, Inspiration & Authority of Scripture, etc.

    I believe that these are the core beliefs of historic Christianity and those others (and many more just like them) are derivative issues that can debated and disagreed upon while still maintaining fellowship and communion within the body.

  25. I’d classify 5-pt. Calvinism and no-women-in-the-seminary-let-alone-the-pulpit as “ultra-conservative.” (Although that term should really belong to the Eastern Orthodox, who never even went through a Reformation:) ). A change away from ultra-conservative might be to, say, 4-pt. Calvinism. It might be to a different millennial position (depending on how you feel about that at present). You (generic) could get zapped and have a charismatic experience and then change in all sorts of ways. (It has happened before.) (I’m being playful here.)

    I know you being playful, with at least some of what you said. But really, we have Baptists at the seminary, there are faculty who do not agree on Eschatology and other things. There is no warrant in scripture for women in the pulpit, nor being elders, so as long as I hold to the authority of scripture, this issue will not go out the window. We do have women in our seminary, in fact, there is a women in my Intro. to Reformed Theology class, and a (different) women in my rhetoric class.

    4 Pt. Calvinism makes no sense to me (I’m not going to carry on a debate on this topic).

    Greenville is known for expreriantial theology…this certainly would mean something different than a Charismatic experience, but the fact remain (and I know it from experience) the men who teach at GPTS live the word of God (must more detail could be said about this point, but I really don’t have the time).

    Btw: this book maybe of interest to you Engaging with Barth: Contemporary Evangelical Critiques, edited by David Gibson & Daniel Strange (Nottingham: Apollos, January 2008) ISBN: 978-1-84474-245-5)

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