Two Reasons Honorary Religious Doctorates Are (Often) Bad
I find it sad and discreditable that certain crowds of Christians, we fundamental Baptists prominent among them, hand out honorary doctorates so freely. (Charismatics do it, too.) I would rather go to a Bible college with a faculty full of “Reverends” than one full of “D.D.’s.”*
Why? Two reasons:
- Many (most?) laypeople won’t know the difference between an honorary doctorate and a real one, so an honorary degree offers the cultural cachet of a doctorate (often) without the requisite work. The original purpose of honorary doctorates was, I take it, to honor people who accomplished a serious amount of work—the kind that merited a “doctorate.” They took 25 years to do that work instead of 3, and they matriculated to the School of Hard Knocks instead of enrolling in a regionally accredited program, but they did the work. They were like the diligent reader Charles Spurgeon, exceptions that proved the rule—namely the rule that it takes education to be an exegetically and theologically responsible minister of God’s Word. In much (not all) of my experience with honorary doctorates for preachers, that work is absent. To be perhaps a bit too frank, the preaching of these men demonstrates a clear ignorance of the basic tools of biblical studies. Now I must be delicate in advancing this element of my critique, given my own Ph.D. Am I merely trying to protect the cachet (such as it is) of my own degree by protecting the title from the forces of inflation? Maybe. (I’m not sure I deserve the title—it’s a life goal.) But I think I can honestly say that a non-selfish reason is bigger for me. Namely…
- Honorary theological “Dr.’s” (often) haven’t done the requisite work, so laypeople don’t get the benefit of that work. The true antidote to pride of intellect is not ignorance. The solution to pride, as to all sin, is properly ordered love. If I subsume my academic work under the goals of love for God and love for my neighbor—if my goal for all my reading and writing is to serve the church—then knowledge is not puffing me up. Is it necessarily a mark of pride that a Christian would set aside years of his life for intense theological and academic pursuits? Not if his goal is others-oriented. Ironically, then, it’s the anti-intellectual crowd which displays the greatest selfish lust for academic prominence. They’re willing to take the title “doctor” without meriting it. An others-oriented preacher would recognize that he can’t give his congregation what D.A. Carson, J. Gresham Machen, and Kevin Bauder can and would refuse to be placed in the same category with such true “doctors.” But I’ve seen multiple local church Bible conferences in which every single speaker is a “Dr.,” and yet none of them has earned the title in a school—and none of them knows a stitch of Greek or Hebrew. Sadly, with the exception of a few correspondence school Ph.D.’s (which also included no Greek or Hebrew—I checked), there are whole Bible college faculties which are full of honorary doctorates. It is dishonest to accept a title you don’t deserve; it’s false advertising to the congregations or students you’re called to serve.
Now I won’t name names, but I know an honorary religious Dr. who most certainly has done the work. He has demonstrated over the course of many years that he is a diligent reader of theological books and a careful student of the Bible. He has used his learning to serve the church over and over. He has “only” a year of grad work, but his preaching and ministry clearly go deeper than mine by far, and deeper than his academic accomplishments might have predicted.
But some men ought to repent for allowing “Dr.” to be appended to the names on their office doors.