Heretofore, I have stayed out of this controversy about anti-Catholic Baptist apologist James White’s doctorate, or lack thereof. But it has been pointed out by several folks that if a person hasn’t really earned his “doctorate” degree with the usual amount of work required in most legitimate institutions of higher learning, that this in effect cheapens the achievements of those with real doctorate degrees, and grants the person with the bogus degree a level of respectability that he doesn’t deserve, which he then improperly uses in order to bolster his own academic “credentials.” I think this is a valid point, so I have decided to weigh in on this issue and present some hard evidence.
Fortunately for my time’s sake, the research has already been done, by some Mormons. Apart from the natural animus against White because he refutes Mormon teachings (and I would concur wholeheartedly with him in that effort, because Mormonism is no Christian religion), this issue stands distinct from theological disputes, and it is irrelevant who found out this information, if what they present is valid of its own accord. We mustn’t commit the “genetic fallacy.”
The first page to start with in the determination of whether White earned a real doctorate or not, is the “SHIELDS” (Scholarly & Historical Information Exchange for Latter-Day Saints) page: “James White’s Th.D.” One Gary Novak was the first to tackle the question head on. He kicks off his research query in his page, “Does James White Have a Genuine Doctorate?” First off, he links to White’s own defenses of himself. Here they are:
Now that the links are provided, readers can look these over if they are curious enough about this topic to pursue it in depth. In a nutshell, his reasons for choosing an non-accredited institution are the following:
1. Many of these accredited theological institutions are theologically liberal.
2. Accreditation works similarly for religious and secular schools (which ought not to be so).
3. He found his own private studies to be more fruitful.
4. He didn’t want to close his ministry and uproot his family, and wanted to stay close to his aging parents.
5. Expenses of a conventional higher education were prohibitive.
6. He was already a published author with some influence [White’s words will be in blue hereafter]:
I knew a number of Ph.D.’s who had never written a book that was read by more than a dozen people in their life—yet they were “scholars” and I wasn’t? Something wasn’t making sense. I began ordering doctoral dissertations for use in some of my writing projects and debates, and I discovered that most of these works, which had been accepted in fully accredited schools, were far shorter, and far less involved, than many of the books I was engaged in writing and publishing on a national level . . . Most dissertations sit in a dusty closet or on a shelf somewhere, never read by anyone outside the review committee, never making a difference in anyone’s life. I began to realize that this attitude did not come from within the Christian community, but from outside of it. That is, especially in this area, Christian education should part ways with secular education in recognizing that the work done in seminary should benefit the church at large, and the church in the local setting. Instead, we have adopted the standards of the world, rather than looking to the standards of the Scriptures.
7. He could design his own curriculum:
Most importantly for me, I was able to design a program around my writing projects, making classes out of entire books. Of course, when I look back, I realize that I did far more work for my own program than I would have had to do in any secular setting, but that’s OK. Everything I did ended up helping others, which made it seem, to me anyway, like a truly Christian experience of education.
. . . I gladly encourage anyone who questions the value and worth of the work I’ve done with Columbia to do something rather simple: read the following works [he lists eight of his own books] and ask yourself whether they demonstrate sufficient mastery of the subject matter—a mastery equivalent to that which is expected of a scholar on the doctoral level.
8. He could do a dissertation on the Trinity, for the benefit of the person in the pew, rather than an elite cadre of scholars. But White is quick to defend his choice:
That is not to say that my dissertation is unscholarly. Instead, I’d suggest that it takes more scholarship to take a complex subject like the Trinity, eschew technical jargon, and instead explain the doctrine in a fashion helpful to the non-specialist. The work contains a great deal of scholarship in its endnotes, but it makes that scholarship relevant to the individual believer. I believe that Christian scholarship, if it is to be honoring to God, must be directed toward His glory, and the edification of His Church. That’s what I tried to do with my dissertation.
9. Columbia Evangelical Seminary was “too young” to be accredited (White put the latter word in quotes).
10. “A person’s scholarship is not determined by the name of the school he or she attended, but by the quality of that person’s writing, speaking, and teaching. Anyone who thinks that just because you went to Yale you must be a real scholar hasn’t put much thought into the subject. I ask only one thing: look at what I have written, all that I have written, and ask yourself one question: does the nature of the writing, the depth of the research, and the understanding of the subject, indicate a doctoral level of education? As I said above, anyone who wishes to question my degree need only stack up his or her published works against mine and demonstrate that I just haven’t done the work.”
Now, as a professional apologist who has no formal theological training whatsoever from a seminary or college, but tons of informal training and reading and writing and evangelization and apologetic experience on my own (so much that people often think I have a master’s or even doctorate degree in theology), I resonate with a lot of this reasoning, if taken in isolation from White’s overall point. I despise academic elitism and snobbishness and liberalism of every sort. I understand very well the distinction between academic credentials and ministerial work for the furthering of the Kingdom of God.
But where I must part company is in White’s simultaneous trashing of the conventional educational requirements, while still using the title of the degree (with all its attendant associations) and thus gaining all the prestige and wider hearing that comes from such credentials. I would say: “you can’t have it both ways. If you want to trash accreditation and the way education is done today, then do so, but then don’t turn around and use titles like ‘Th.D.’ as if you have done the work those with real Th.D’s have done. Make your anti-elitist, anti-secularist point, but then don’t hypocritically claim the title with such pride.” He seems to think all consideration of this question is merely a personal attack:
I recognized, when I enrolled with Columbia, that given the nature of my work in apologetics, I’d undoubtedly hear attacks upon my school and my scholarship because Columbia is too young to be “accredited.” Such ad-hominem argumentation is the norm for many of those with whom I have dealings. It wouldn’t matter where I go, or what school I attend, that kind of attack will follow. I have experience teaching in accredited schools, and a Master’s degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. That hasn’t stopped such folks from using ad-hominem argumentation against me. And any person that would be impressed by such argumentation isn’t going to be giving me a fair hearing anyway, and I can’t worry about that.
. . . various folks opposed to our work, and specifically antagonistic toward me personally, are using the wonderful resource of the Internet to make charges against me, . . .
In his reply to Gary Novak, one of White’s main gripes was that Novak had failed to contact him personally before writing his critique of his educational credentials:
I had never heard of the man, and to my knowledge, he had never even had the temerity to contact me and ask for my side of the story. As far as I can tell, he has no idea what work I did, nor how long it took, to complete those studies. While his page gives the appearance of having done his homework, all he really did was briefly visit the offices of Columbia Evangelical Seminary. If he really wanted to know the truth (and be truthful in his presentation), he missed a golden opportunity, for he failed to do the most important thing: talk to me.
. . . When I encountered Mr. Novak’s web page, I immediately scanned my outgoing mail for the past six months to see if he took the time to contact me. It seemed incumbent upon a person making the kinds of allegations Mr. Novak is making to be honest enough, and to show sufficient integrity, to do the necessary homework. My e-mail address is readily available, and since Mr. Novak links to our website, it’s obvious he knew how to contact me. But, no record existed of my writing a response to anyone with his e-mail address.
. . . Both he and Novak decided that it was totally disingenuous of me to assume that someone would bother to contact me before writing a hit piece about my doctoral work on the web.
I find this extremely interesting in light of the present controversy that White is embroiled in, concerning a Dr. Mark Seifrid. It seems that White now takes exactly the opposite view: he attacked Seifrid as a soteriological heretic (mainly over the issue of imputed justification, I believe, but I have only glanced at the critiques). Seifrid, of course, took issue with this, and objected that White had not contacted him personally before setting out to prove he was a serious heretic, outside Protestant or Baptist “orthodoxy” (whatever that is). Thus, Seifrid was in almost exactly the same position that White had been vis-a-vis Novak. But (amazingly) he doesn’t comprehend why Seifrid would have a desire to be contacted first before a “hit piece” was done on him in public. Seifrid wrote:
We Christians must be aware of the danger of depersonalization of our discourse which the Internet presents. Had they been true, the charges which James White brought against me in his blogs on his website would have resulted in my dismissal from Southern Seminary. A calling to teach here is contingent without qualification on fidelity to our confessional statement (“the Abstract of Principles”). Yet, as far as I can tell, before posting these charges Dr. White made no attempt to contact me to see if he had understood me correctly, or to ensure that he had understood the issues correctly, or to urge me to retract any statement I had made. Nor, as far as I know, did he contact Southern Seminary to express his concerns. Love surely requires that we seek to correct one another gently.
White shot back, in his “open letter” on his blog:
Have you contacted every person with whom you have disagreed in print? When you cite someone and say, “in opposition to…” do you stop and call them on the phone? Does anyone handle published materials in this fashion? Surely not. To my knowledge, sir, we have never met. I do not know you on a personal level. But you have placed in the public realm through the publication of a book your statements regarding what you call “Protestant orthodoxy.” Do you seriously expect every person who would see themselves in that camp to call you on the phone and have a “chat” prior to saying anything about what you have said in a published and publicly distributed book?
White clearly doesn’t get it. And this is nothing new. Those of us who have dealt with his apologetics and unsavory methods for years know that he is most reluctant to engage people on a personal, “non-debate” level. He has habitually refused to even eat lunch with Catholic apologists who asked him. On some occasions he wouldn’t even shake hands after a debate. He doesn’t want to call someone up, even when invited to do so (Jimmy Akin again noted this in a recent controversy with White). He won’t reciprocate apologies or follow up on good faith efforts at reconciliation.
In my case, he was far more interested in pulling me into an oral debate than personally reconciling, when we have had troubles in our “relationship” going all the way back to 1995. This is the “depersonalization” that Dr. Seifrid refers to. He is exactly right. The only difference between myself and Seifrid in White’s eyes, is that the latter is at least a Christian, whereas I am not. But I don’t see in Scripture a license to be rude and uncharitable, even to non-Christians, so that doesn’t let White off the hook.
White goes on and on and on in his self-defense against Novak in the third article linked above, yet I find it beyond bizarre and hilarious that whenever I make any defense of myself on my blog against White’s outright lies about me, or his silly caricature that he posted on his site, or his five-part critique of one radio appearance of mine, he mocks all that as mere empty “verbosity”, devoid of all “substance” whatsoever. I’m never supposed to defend myself against false charges, but White can do so ad nauseam when he feels he is being attacked. All of this smacks of an elitism and spiritual pride that is at odds with White’s self-perception as a selfless “man of the people” — devoting himself to the unlettered, biblically undereducated masses, teaching the Trinity, etc. He seems to assume a different set of ethics for himself, because, well, he is right, and the other guy is always wrong (and often deceptive as well, so he thinks).
But anyway, back to White’s Th.D. degree and whether it is legitimate. Gary Novak continues his searching criticisms:
Now “Dr.” White would like you to believe that CES is merely “too young to be ‘accredited.'” But the simple truth of the matter is that CES probably could not be accredited by a regular, recognized accrediting institution. (To its credit, CES is very open and up-front about its lack of accreditation.) One reason among many is that CES allows students to write their own syllabi. All of the class work is done off-campus . . . and the curriculum seems to be designed without the benefit of regular curriculum committees and reviews. Hence there are no fixed course competencies such as one would find in a traditional school.
. . . Does James White have a genuine doctorate? Here is what we know. The degree is granted by an unaccredited correspondence school. There are no set course syllabi; students write their own syllabi. CES has no library, student services or bookstore. The school has no curriculum committees and no course review procedures. There appears to have been no committee and no thesis or dissertation defense; the only signature in James White’s Masters Thesis is that of CES president, Rick Walston. White’s “contract” was also with Rick Walston. Does James White have a genuine doctorate? What do you think?
Novak then describes the routine procedures for the conventional attainment of a doctorate, and posts links for no less than 31 letters back and forth between he and White, from October 1998 on. Of course, it almost goes without saying, that White’s rhetoric became increasingly shrill and insulting as time went on. Hence (some typical examples):
[C]ould you let me know when you contacted me to ask me about my credentials? I mean, it would be unthinkable for someone to post something like you have on your page without asking me about your allegations. Such would be the yellowest of yellow journalism, and would tremendously damage your credibility. So, could you send me the e-mail where you inquired concerning the issues you raise on your web page? (October 16, 1998 1:27 PM)
[Y]our actions speak to the issue of motivation, and honesty. Your lack of research will, of course, figure in a response to your personal ad-hominem attack upon me. (October 16, 1998 6:11 PM)
For someone who didn’t think it necessary to contact me before calling my doctoral work “bogus,” you now seem downright fixated . . . you didn’t even bother to drop me a note indicating the presence of your hit-piece on me, so you have precious little reason to be impatient now. (October 20, 1998 10:52 AM)
. . . you have no interest in investing any of your time in honestly examining the issue . . . (December 11, 1998 6:08 AM)
Please have the kindness and maturity to either use the title of my earned degree, or refuse to do so. I find the use of quotations childish, disrespectful, and given that you know nothing of my work, egregiously silly. (December 17, 1998 8:51 PM)
I doubt your sincerity, Mr. Novak. I believe I have reason for so doubting it. (December 18, 1998 6:36 AM)
Since I have asked you to be courteous, and you cannot, and since you have no interest in the truth, nor in fairness, and are unwilling to engage in any meaningful give-and-take, I see no reason to continue our correspondence. (December 18, 1998 8:41 AM)
Novak’s lengthy web-reply showed many of White’s fundamental misunderstandings as to his critic’s opinion:
Now I am not interested in a whole host of issues with which “Dr.” White seems to believe are critical to any discussion of his Th.D. I am not interested in his books, articles, tapes and virtually all of the materials that he sells on his website and on the website of his church. The content and competence of those materials is not the issue. I am simply shelving that question for the time being. Neither am I calling into question “Dr.” White’s scholarship. As he correctly notes, scholarship and degrees are two separate things. Again, I am shelving that question for the time being. The one question with which I am interested is the validity of “Dr.” White’s Th.D. Did “Dr.” White do the things that normal doctoral students do to achieve his degree?
“Dr.” White loves strident language. Littered throughout his apologia one finds words like “strident,” “nasty,” “false religions,” “hysterical ranting,” “raving,” “sarcastic,” “disrespectful,” “attack” and “hit piece” to characterize my investigation of his doctorate. Clearly “Dr.” White has a point to make and is willing to pull all of the rhetorical stops to make it.
He noted the unanswered questions that White refused to deal with:
1. Did “Dr.” White take a class from anyone other than Rick Walston?
2. Who was on “Dr.” White’s dissertation committee?
3. Did “Dr.” White take a comprehensive exam?
4. If there was a comprehensive examination, what books were on the reading list?
5. Did “Dr.” White do a dissertation defense? If so, who sat on that committee?
6. Who, besides Rick Walston, signed “Dr.” White’s dissertation?
7. How were exams administered and proctored?
8. Did “Dr.” White have interaction with any other CES students involved in his program?
9. Was there any system of lectures? If so, how did they work?
Finally, Novak visited the fabled school where White received his “doctorate” and produced photographs of the campus (huh? no campus? . . . ) on a web page. The school consists of one office in a building, with two rooms. I have posted his pictures of the building and the actual school (i.e., the room) above.
I am a CES student, and anyone who would call CES a “diploma mill” has not the slightest idea of the incredibly heavy workload involved in getting a degree from CES . . . Seriously, who are people going to listen to in this matter man like Dr White, a respected elder and author, or someone who just seems obsessed with tearing him down by attacking his credentials? I would encourage anyone reading this stuff to visit Columbia’s website, email Dr Walston, and clear up these misrepresentations.
You’re entitled to your opinion. One hopes that you will actually make an argument and engage the topic. As for being obsessed with tearing down his credentials, I would note briefly that (as I stated before) I have never made this an issue until last night. I’ve heard about this for six years, but never cared about it, and used “Dr.” to refer to James White. But recently I became convinced that it is dishonest to act as if a doctorate was achieved, without the proper rigor and process. It is a slap in the face of others who have done so.
I’m also an author, of course, and not without some influence in the apologetic world. That is neither here nor there. White going on and on about his credentials and accomplishments wears thin after a while (and believe me, he does it constantly when encountering critics).
White said it himself, over and over: “don’t judge me by my degree, judge the work I have done.” Well, I have plenty of that, but I don’t see White engaging it. He refuses to do so. Ranting and raving on 4-5 webcasts about a talk which had ten points and about 3 minutes time alloted for each is not a proper critique. He needs to deal with my written papers on sola Scriptura which are many magnitudes more in-depth than that radio presentation.
So as usual, he applies a double standard.
Mark Bainter (aka “Shamgar”) defended Mr. White at length. His words will be in green. I replied with equal vigor:
Offensive Dave. Truly offensive. I thought I’d said enough on the prior post, but this . . .
Why is it offensive? And do you think any of the tons of garbage White has written about me “offensive” too? Just curious. We can either have a conversation, or just be ships passing in the night, like White and I are. White won’t do it; maybe you will actually talk and discuss things.
White thinks accreditation doesn’t matter, and the usual rigors of obtaining a doctorate irrelevant. Is that not a debatable topic? Using his reasoning, I could easily start calling myself“Doctor” (as someone here argued) because I have written about as much as he has, I think (he mocks how much I write all the time, and mocks my 12 books because they’re not all published like his are), and have done plenty of research and evangelism and teaching (i.e., “ministry”) for 23 years. But that would be dishonest because using such titles means something, and what it means is understood.
As I argued, I am not so opposed to White’s reasoning for what he did (many of his reasons make sense to me), as I am opposed to taking that stand and still trying to obtain the honor and respect that “Dr.” grants one. He wants it both ways.
Thanks for your long response. You do indeed show that you will have a conversation, and for that I commend you. Now on to particulars.
But first, let me ask you: why is it that James White cannot respond to such things himself, and always has to have some sort of representative or “papal legate” to give his side to things? If someone did a critique like this about me (on any belief or action of mine), you better believe I would be there as soon as I found out about it, and offer a counter-response. That’s just how it works in the intellectual sphere. Challenges are good: they keep us on our toes.
Wow Dave. This is a real low point for you.
I will read on to discover why you think that.
ME (previous): “I think this is a valid point, so I have decided to weigh in on this issue and present some hard evidence.”
Hrm…no…no, I don’t think that’s going to flush.
I see, so now I am lying or insincere or equivocating? Already you “argue” very much like White: upon strong disagreement: immediately attack the person’s word and their honor and claim that some kind of lying is taking place. This is a classic White tactic. He did it with me the first time we ever interacted, and we saw him do the same thing to Gary Novak. I’m sure he has also used it with Dr. Seifrid by now, as well. He’s used this tactic with virtually all the major Catholic apologists (Madrid, Akin, Keating, Ray, etc.) One can’t simply disagree with James without somehow being a lying scoundrel. I find this a fascinating approach to discourse with those who disagree. So you’re not off to a very good start.
This is a very old argument, and this point has been around for ages in regards to education of any sort.
What does that have to do with my particular opinion? Nothing, of course . . .
Instead, what I think we have here is a severely hurt ego.
I think what we have here is a severely wrong misunderstanding. Ego has nothing whatsoever to do with it. I couldn’t care less what White thinks of me because I have no intellectual respect for him. You can’t be hurt by people whom you don’t respect in the first place. I think he is a sophist and an intellectual coward, and have stated so for nine years now.
Obviously, this is just one mans opinion, but from where I sit, this is how I see it.
This is not a Christian method of analysis, I must say. Faced with a disagreement, you immediately move to (1) question my honesty, and (2) psychoanalyze my inner state of mind and heart and conclude that I have a bruised ego. You can’t ascertain the truth of either one, and it is wrong, anyway, by NT ethical standards. White himself objects when others do this to him, and I agree with him.
When I call him a sophist and a coward, that is by direct observation for nine years, based on repeated actions. I’ve demonstrated both many times over, as far as I am concerned. You may say I am judging him, too. Perhaps. But his behavior leaves me with no choice but to conclude these things. I wish it were otherwise. I hate to see sharp men waste their abilities by such unworthy actions.
In the present case, on the other hand, you have no basis to conclude these things based on the facts of the matter. You simply don’t have enough information. But the charges are implausible, anyway, as others in this thread have maintained.
I think you were very proud of your appearance on Catholic Answers [Live]. It’s really easy for all of us (we’re all human) to get into a place where we’re surrounded mostly by people who agree with us and thus think our points are valid.
I thought about it what I think about all my radio appearances so far: “I did okay.” It’s not that big of a deal to me because I don’t see myself as a speaker. In fact, I was gonna say when someone was criticizing me for being such a “poor speaker.” I don’t even consider these things “speaking” at all. I regard them as conversations, just like if you and I were sitting on a bus or a plane together and we started gabbing. I’m just giving my thoughts . . . Someone may like that or not, but it is not a “lecture” or a “talk” in the commonly understood sense of those terms. I’m a conversationalist. No more, no less.
Then Dr White had the temerity to bring challenges to your weak argumentation. Now, though it was not your desire, you were subjected to cross-examination and what you said didn’t hold water. Now your pride has been hurt, and you’re lashing out in response.
LOL You couldn’t be more wrong than you are. I explained my position on all this. Basically, I said: “this is a brief, introductory ten-point presentation of a complex issue. I had very little time, and not nearly enough. I’ve dealt with all these issues in much more depth elsewhere. If White wants to ‘cross-examine’ me, that is where he should go.”
I thought his replies were the usual fare from him: obfuscation, sophistry, non sequiturs, juvenile mockery habitually mixed in, and clever but fallacious argumentation. That being the case, I refused to spend much time counter-replying, with the exception of one point that I used as an example: the Jerusalem Council. I answered that at extreme length, and of course White ignored it. What else is new? Why don’t YOU try to reply to it, if you are so certain I am wrong, and since White won’t do so? It’s fine to talk about someone having a “weak” argument, quite another to demonstrate it. So I challenge you. You want to talk about “egos” and “hurt feelings.” I want to argue the ISSUES.
Well, I’m here to tell you Dave that this is despicable.
Thanks for your opinion. At least you have the guts to come here and express it, and I admire that, though you are dead-wrong in this instance.
Worse, you used the shoddy research and reasoning of Mormon apologists. You have sought to assist them in discrediting Dr White, only giving them further credibility in the eyes of others.
I stated clearly that the issue of educational credentials has nothing to do with Christian theology. You keep engaging in ad hominem: you attack my honesty and do psychoanalysis, and now you discount the entire case simply because it was made by a Mormon. If it is “shoddy,” then by all means, show us why, rather than dispute it simply because the source of it comes from folks of a different, non-Christian religion.
Particularly Mormons that might otherwise have been reached by Dr White’s work there.
I’ve done plenty of cult work myself. Don’t go there, is my advice. It won’t help your case and you will look rather silly.
Further supporting this argument is the end of your post where you admit that you are not calling into question the content or competence of his materials, or his scholarship. So, this is entirely an attempt to discredit him and his credentials.
It is an attempt to raise questions about whether his is a legitimate Th.D., yes, of course. Whether that discredits “him” is for individuals to determine. I think it is an improper use of the title “Dr.”
Yeah…I could be wrong, I’m certainly not able to see inside your head, but from this angle it sounds like your nursing a bruised ego.
Yep, you’re wrong. Since you admit this as a possibility, I take it that you will accept my report, then, and we can hopefully get back to substance.
ME (previous): “But where I must part company is in White’s simultaneous trashing of the conventional educational requirements, while still using the title of the degree (with all its attendant associations) and thus gaining all the prestige and wider hearing that comes from such credentials.”
This would be a valid point if Dr White were complaining that the standards were set too high. Or that there was no value whatsoever in higher education as an idea. These are not what he is saying though. Dr White’s assertion is that the standards are too LOW, and the work he did in his studies surpassed that of most Doctoral Candidates. He worked harder for his degree than others.
I could say the same for myself. In fact, much of my work over the last 23 years was for no pay at all. So if White wants to play this “I worked so hard and did all this ministry” card, I can match him all down the line. I could claim a “doctorate” on that score just as he does (and many have thought that I indeed have one). But you don’t see me doing it, do you? Quite the contrary: I take pains to say loudly that I am no scholar and have no formal theological education. But I do claim some significant knowledge and expertise of my topics from my own individual studies and apologetic experience. That is simply not what a degree is about.
I think most of these things White refers to in terms of his ministry efforts are helpful and valuable. I respect much of his non-anti-Catholic work, and have said so many times, on the record: whether it is anti-cult, or opposing KJV-only nuts, or liberal scholars, or pro-life or pro-family. That’s all great stuff. I agree with his Mormon critic that he seems like a great husband and father and no doubt he loves Jesus and cares for his flock as an elder. None of that is at issue at all. It is strictly a matter of how and when one should claim a “doctorate” degree, and what is entailed by that. How can you claim your own honorary degree? That is, in effect, what James is doing. He says, basically, “I don’t care if it is accredited or gained by the usual methods or not. I worked harder than most others who have a ‘real’ degree, so I am claiming it as my right.” This is absurd . . .
He did more work, and he actually made his work useful to more than a handful of people, while still having to pass the same scrutiny.
It wasn’t the same scrutiny; that is the issue. I agree with him that dissertations ought to be more practically useful. I think that is a great point. But whether his is actually a dissertation is the dispute. It may be a fine work indeed (since it is about the Trinity, I’m sure it is), but it is not a dissertation, any more than me calling one of my twelve books a “dissertation” would be valid.
His other major reason for “trashing” academia today is the complete lack of accountability to the local church. This is not expressed in a desire to do away with all higher learning. There is no need for him to eschew a degree from an institution that rejects theological liberalism, and is accountable just to make that point.
I think he makes a lot of good points in his critique of liberal and academic excesses and errors, but that does not make his degree legitimate.
Then you again try to harp on the Seifrid issue obviously still not bothering to really find out what’s going on. It’s all there, you don’t even have to talk to Dr White to read it.
Of course, that was one limited point of analogy: White complained about his critic not contacting him, but then he was amazed when someone he criticized expressed the exact same thing. This point is valid regardless of the subject matter under dispute, because it is an ethical and procedural matter, not a theological one.
Considering how much you write you’d think you’d have time to do a little research before commenting.
Why do I have to do research for a simple comparison of x with y? I don’t. The larger subject matter is completely irrelevant to that.
Instead, you again fail to compare apples to apples. Novak was attacking Dr White’s credentials. He was making assertions regarding the work Dr White did for his doctorate, and since he didn’t contact Dr White, he obviously had no source whatsoever to support his assertions.
One needn’t necessarily contact the individual if the program he went through is consulted.
In the case of Dr White and Dr Seifrid, Dr White is discussing a published work of Dr Seifrid’s. He is discussing the content of that work, not how long it took him to write it, not whether or not he’s qualified to write it.
That doesn’t change the hypocrisy of White: he complained about not being contacted, but then he didn’t contact his target, in such a serious matter which would place Dr. Seifrid outside “Protestant orthodoxy” and possibly get him fired. If anything, the Seifrid case is far MORE serious than discussing White’s bogus degree. White was in no danger of being fired or considered a heretic.
ME: “he attacked Seifrid as a soteriological heretic.”
Source please. If you want to make a statement like this, you better have some documentation on exactly where Dr White accused him of being a heretic. I’ve read all of his blog entries on this, and didn’t see that show up anywhere. I saw questions. You claim to despise academic snobbery, but it sounds like you’re saying that if one has the temerity to question a scholar on a published work, that it’s the same as attacking him and decrying him as a heretic.
Sure (though this is a side issue and a waste of my time; I’ll do it anyway):
[White’s words will be in blue]
As time allows, I wish to continue reviewing these comments and considering this form or presentation which questions, and ultimately rejects, the Reformed teaching on the imputation of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. (7/9/04: Dr. Seifrid on Imputation)
[if one rejects the “Reformed” teaching on so-and-so, one is a heretic in Reformed eyes vis-a-vis so-and-so — in this case imputation]
One could wish these words were not being written ‘within the camp,’ but such is the situation we face today . . . We must reject Seifrid’s mischaracterization of both the biblical evidence and the theology of the Reformation. (7/10/04 “More in Response to Southern Seminary Professor’s Denial of Imputed Righteousness”)
[Seifrid denies what White thinks is plainly biblical and the theology of the Reformation with regard to imputation. “Heretic” doesn’t mean “damned” or “non-Christian,” it means, strictly-speaking, “picking and choosing.” So if Seifrid denies a key doctrine of the “Reformation,” he is a heretic insofar as he does so, with regard to that one doctrine]
I confess, reading this coming from “inside” the camp makes one feel very much like Mel Gibson’s character in We Were Soldiers when he sent out the “broken arrow” notification: the lines had collapsed and it was no longer possible to tell friend from foe. (7/11/04)
[“Friend and foe,” huh”? Already, the discussion becomes a dramatic battle for good and evil and we know that White is always the White Knight slaying the evil heretics within the camp. Note the quotes around the word inside . . . White later used this metaphor on 7-18-04 with reference to Clark Pinnock, who is an extremely liberal process theologian. Draw your own conclusions . . .]
You have conservative denials of elements of what we thought we all agreed on, and you have non-conservative denials as well. (7-31-04)
But one thing is for sure: I’m simply amazed that a few blog entries interacting with a theologian’s denial of what used to be assumed to be a central, important aspect of theological teaching and belief (the imputation of the righteousness of Christ to the believer as the sole ground of his or her standing before God, not as some separate thing outside of Christ, but as a vitally important truth regarding why we have true and full peace with God through Christ) could produce such an amazing amount of ‘chatter.’ . . .
And it is just here that we see one of the main problems that arises when the world’s view of scholarship invades the church: the great truths of the gospel itself become mere ‘theological paradigms’ to be discussed in the classically academic fashion, but never to be passionately defended, never to be discussed in such a way that it might just be said that someone is wrong in what they are saying. What is worse, it seems that in that all-too-common context, one can hold almost any position, and then ‘nuance’ it enough to make it ‘fit’ into any confessional mold, even if it is self-evidently not what the original writers of confessional statements intended. Such a framework is death to meaningful apologetics, and, we would further add, to the clear proclamation of the truth in the church. (8-25-04)
I expressed the same thoughts in that context, disagreeing strongly with the assertion on Seifrid’s part that to speak of imputation in the way Reformed theologians have presented it for centuries is to go beyond the biblical warrant . . .
The doctrine under discussion is vital, central, and precious. Serious pastoral practice cannot pass over the debate in silence, for it speaks to the very ground of our peace with God. It impacts the proclamation of the gospel, the message of salvation to be preached by the church . . . My concern is indeed deeply personal, for the issue goes to that which is central to my faith and life, the doctrine of justification itself. I confess I do not seek to be dispassionate about the gospel, . . . (8-30-04)
How can I say I believe sola scriptura and then turn around and say the heart of the gospel is a Protestant addition that is unbiblical and in fact misleading? And so I will respond, . . . (9-13-04)
I believe passionately in the very elements of ‘traditional Protestant orthodoxy’ you seem to wish to say are sub-biblical or simply non-biblical . . .
But might we agree on at least one thing? Would you agree that the distinctives you maintain over against “Protestant orthodoxy” would preclude you from being an elder in a Reformed Baptist Church that uses the London Baptist Confession of Faith of 1689? Does not that confession embody the very same “Protestant orthodoxy” that you seek to differentiate your own views from in Christ, our Righteousness? (9-14-04; An Open Letter to Mark Seifrid, Part I)
The nature of justification, imputation, and the nature of the righteousness imputed to us is part and parcel of the message of the cross. Hence, since I find your views confusing and in fact in error, and since I find them causing confusion for others, I will not ‘back down’ when told to do so when that command does not include the very necessary answers to the very issues at the heart of the controversy. (9-15-04; Response to Seifrid, Part II)
Is that sufficient, or do you have to actually have the word “heretic”? I was not trying to imply that the actual word was there, but the concept (which certainly is, all over the place).
Then I read your selections of Dr White’s supposed nastiness. Wow. Debilitating. Horrible. I’m all white-faced and trembling before the shocking diatribes. My goodness, how can that poor Mr Novak even stand to get up in the morning after abuse like that! I’m about to pass out just reading it!
If you can read all that I and others have documented of White’s slanders and personal insults and conclude he never does this, I must say that I am extremely impressed by your ability to deny reality. What more can one say? Some things are self-evident and require no argument.
Now, all of these issues have been fully addressed in the past. I will provide some thoughts of my own on accreditation however. Have you seen the statistics on what people in seminaries today believe about Christianity? The percentages of people who don’t believe in hell, don’t believe in the Trinity, don’t believe in the deity of Christ?
Sure; that’s not my issue.
We’re not even talking about distinctives between you and me here Dave. These people walk in normal healthy Christians and come out with twisted liberal theology, with degrees from accredited schools. Fat lot of good that little seal did them.
I agree. I would never suggest that anyone attend a liberal college. This has nothing to do with our topic.
CES is concerned with practical education. No, a doctorate from them doesn’t mean the same thing as from some other institutions. But it does mean something.
Great, but just don’t call it a doctorate.
There are quite a few of us that have problems with the entire academic model. Those in other instutions don’t like this, for obvious reasons. They paid a fortune for their worthless education, and now they’re bitter towards those who paid a reasonable price, and got a good education and now have an effective ministry that actually touches the lives of real people.
I have no vested interest in academia, since I am not in it, and I make no bones about criticizing academics when they deserve it. Few are less impressed by mere academic credentials (absent rational argument and demonstration) than I am. And I speak as one who has been active in ministry for over 23 years. I have no beef with that. I think it is great.
This whole argument of being at the school, having resources there, etc is baloney. Resources are available everywhere, you don’t need a schools library to do research. you don’t need a classroom to learn.
That’s right. But there is such a thing as a college, and it means a certain thing.
My wife and I homeschool 4 children.
So do we.
We definitely aren’t accredited. Yet I’d put our kids education up against most, if not all, private school kid’s education any day, let alone public schools.
So would we. This has nothing to do with a doctorate. Would you teach them enough to gain a doctorate degree and use the title “Dr.” also? I highly doubt it.
For a long time, people like us were similarly put down, and marginalized. Yet in time, colleges began to notice that homeschooled kids were better candidates. To the point where major institutions like Yale not only accept them, but seek them out.
No argument there, but off-topic.
I think given time, and some more proliferation of schools of its type, schools like CES will see the same kind of benefits. There is no reason to put yourself in debt to your eyeballs just to try and get an education in theology.
And there is no reason to act as if you earned a doctorate when you didn’t. One can become educated all they like in theology. I did it, with a minimum of expense. But I don’t call myself a “doctor” because I wrote a book. See the difference?
As for the rest, I’ll let someone better acquainted with Dr White and with his history and time at the school address the specifics if they so desire. I don’t know, and I don’t care. I have read what he has written, and held it up to the light of scripture. I have seen the work that he has done, and its results. I have watched his interactions with others, and on occaision with me, and that is sufficent. His work stands on its own.
Be that as it may, it has nothing to do with the question at hand.
One more thing…you decry his comments to Dr Seifrid, which I’ve already noted contained no personal attacks.
Apparently, you’ve never seen a personal attack that you regarded as one.
You’ve also supported the argument it seems that he should’ve contacted Dr Seifrid.
I think that in a case that serious, Dr. Seifrid is right, and Mr. White should have done so. I don’t think it is necessary to personally contact everyone who has something out in public. The public nature of it is sufficient to be critiqued. But my own opinion on the matter was irrelevant to my analogy. White had a double standard, because he complained about not being contacted, then blew off Dr. Seifrid’s exact same concerns. The only difference is what side of the dispute White happens to be on at the moment.
I’m curious. Did you contact Dan Rather?
I don’t believe it is necessary in this instance, per the above.
Was your statement that he’s gone “cuckoo” made in love and with respect?
No, it was made with humor and sarcasm, according to the accepted “rules” of political satirization.
Or do your standards only apply to Dr White?
Political satire is a far cry from accusing one of serious heresy.
Or is it only if you question theologians, but newscasters are fair game? What’re the rules here Dave?
Again, one is a well-known journalist who is almost certainly upholding documents which are forgeries. It is entirely proper to satirize the stonewalling going on there. You want to talk about mockery and satire? What do you think of White’s caricature of me where he had me doing voodoo and wishing him bodily harm and gleefully laughing about it, and his public accusations that I am some sort of twisted weirdo who hates him (all based on lies)? Or about Patrick Madrid being stoned to death in a “non-violent” caricature? Good grief!
I don’t see that there is anything here which overthrows my opinion at all. But thanks for sharing your opinion.
In Mr. White’s third piece, “Of Gary Novak and the Columbia River”, we see how he (inevitably) reduces the discussion to a merely personal level and engages in further obfuscation of the issues and non sequitur. He begins with a reiteration of the genetic fallacy (an idea is false simply because of its origin):
Over the years I have come to the conclusion that the more fair you are in your criticisms of a false religion, the more strident will be the response. That does not sound logical, does it? Normally, you would think that if I were to engage in hysterical ranting and raving in criticizing such a group, that would increase the likelihood of a strident, nasty response. But that simply has not been my experience.
I can certainly relate to nasty cultists, but this has nothing to do with the subject at hand, which is not Mormonism, but whether White’s Th.D. is legitimate (so why does White commence his reply with such a non sequitur?). Even if we grant that Mr. Novak was a nasty scoundrel, it still doesn’t affect the question at hand. It is simply an extraneous factor to ponder and consider.
Then he repeated his insistence that he should have been contacted first (a charitable courtesy that he refused to grant to Dr. Mark Seifrid in his current controversy with the latter over imputed justification):
I had never heard of the man, and to my knowledge, he had never even had the temerity to contact me and ask for my side of the story . . . If he really wanted to know the truth (and be truthful in his presentation), he missed a golden opportunity, for he failed to do the most important thing: talk to me.
White posted a letter from Novak, where he asked:
“Why would I need to question you about your credentials via email?”
And White replied:
I think the terms ‘fairness,’ ‘honesty,’ and ‘integrity’ have something to do with it, Mr. Novak.
“And why would it be ‘unthinkable’ to respond to your webpage without contacting you?”
Generally, most folks take the time to make sure of their facts before attacking someone’s work, that’s all. Again, possibly I follow a code of behavior that is old and passe? I mean, my e-mail address was well known to you. It would have been fairly easy, if, of course, you wanted the ‘whole story.’
. . . Both he and Novak decided that it was totally disingenuous of me to assume that someone would bother to contact me before writing a hit piece about my doctoral work on the web.
Now, to refresh readers’ memory, here is what White recently wrote to Dr. Mark Seifrid in an open letter, after attacking his work and making out that he is a soteriological heretic:
Now, sir, many have pointed out, upon reading your statements, that they simply do not make a lot of sense on a practical level. Have you contacted every person with whom you have disagreed in print? When you cite someone and say, ‘in opposition to…’ do you stop and call them on the phone? Does anyone handle published materials in this fashion? Surely not. . . . Do you seriously expect every person who would see themselves in that camp to call you on the phone and have a ‘chat’ prior to saying anything about what you have said in a published and publicly distributed book? (Open Letter, Part I, 9-14-04)
So the “need to contact” version of James White obviously occurs when he is on the receiving end of serious criticism, but “no need to contact” White #2 shows up when he is critiquing someone else in at least as serious of a matter (outright heresy, as he sees it — enough to warrant about ten lengthy treatments on his blog, and an official reply from a seminary).
White goes on and on in his Open Letters to Seifrid about how he wasn’t engaging in “personal attack” but simply honestly disagreeing. Yet he blithely assumes that this is the entire motivation of Gary Novak when he questions his credentials:
Speculate as you wish: your actions speak to the issue of motivation, and honesty. Your lack of research will, of course, figure in a response to your personal ad-hominem attack upon me. While some could care less, the honest person, who really does want to know both sides, will take your lack of concern to ‘get it right’ to heart.
Novak opined (already clearly familiar with White’s usual reply to any criticism):
“Please let us now hear about how everything is a personal cheap shot directed at you.”
And White replies:
Well, if you wish to identify your writings in that way, I won’t stop you.
LOL! White goes on to defend his degree based on hours of work and numbers of published books:
So far, then, my own program, combining an ‘accredited’ M.A. and a non-accredited Th.M., has amounted to more than four times the number of credit hours Mr. Novak has indicated. But there’s more. My doctoral program included the writing of six nationally published books. Most doctoral programs require papers and a dissertation. Four of those six books would, taken individually, be substantially longer than many standard dissertations. And while they are written at a popular level so as to communicate with their audience (major publishers do not publish books written so that only a few people could possibly read them), anyone who takes the time to examine the endnotes and the sources used (something that, again, Mr. Novak ‘skipped’ in his research) can see that they required extensive study and research. They do, in fact, demonstrate an ability to do first-level research in my chosen field: apologetics.
I’ve already noted that if the main qualification White cites as having earned his doctorate is number of apologetic words written, then I could easily have earned a doctorate also, maybe two. If hours of work put in, in apologetics and ministry are key, I can match him there, too. Length of books? Ditto. He talks about how they are written on a popular level (so are mine), but “required extensive study and research” (same here). The only difference is that White has more published works. I’m behind him in that regard, but he got a ten-year start on me. I had to wait a bit and go through the usual frustrations of most authors.
White seems to have been spared that, and I am happy for him, believe me, despite all our conflicts. But then I can claim to have had a rather significant effect on the public by means of my website, which has received many thousands of hits in the last seven-and-a-half years. If these are the reasons why his degree is legitimate (apart from accreditation and proper review) then I ought to start calling myself “Dr. Armstrong” today. But remember, this is white’s reasoning, not mine. I am only demonstrating how, by his reasoning, I can claim a doctorate by almost all the same criteria that he claims in his own case.
White appeals to his Masters degree from Fuller Seminary. But that is not in dispute. Another non sequitur . . . He agrees with the goodness of “examination of the thesis by a group of professors” and indeed state (italics his):
There is everything to be said for the necessity of such examination. It is indeed one of the main advantages of campus-based education to have a ready cache of such folks available.
So far so good. But then his reasoning immediately breaks down again:
You see, one of the reasons I am so thankful to the Lord for how he has worked to join my educational experience with my ministry work is that the results of that work are open for the whole world to see. That is, since the majority of my doctoral work has been published by one of the largest and best Christian publishers in the United States, I can simply point to a pile of work and say, ‘Well, there it is! If you wish to demonstrate a problem, get busy.’ That is, I don’t have four or five folks reviewing my work. I have thousands. Mr. Novak is right: his thesis has probably been read by half a dozen people, grand total, in the world. My Th.M. thesis has been read by multiplied thousands, and I can tell you this: a number of them were anything but friendly to me.
Wow! Where to begin? So now a doctorate degree and use of the prestigious title “Dr.” is justified by:
1) The link of one’s study to ministry.
2) Numbers of laypeople (not professors or academic peers) who see this work.
3) Being published by a reputable publisher.
4) Thousands of lay “reviewers” vs. academic reviewers.
5) Readers who are hostile and take a different view.
Well, if this is true, then again, I pass on all five counts, with flying colors. I would be able to start calling myself “Dr.” too. I consider all of my work (many hundreds of papers and 12 books and dozens of published articles, among other things) “ministry.” Lots of folks have read my stuff; I’ve been published twice now by one of the most reputable Catholic publishers: Sophia Institute Press, and twice by the largest and perhaps most influential one: Our Sunday Visitor, and have had articles in all the leading Catholic apologetic periodicals (This Rock, Envoy, The Catholic Answer).
I have plenty of severe critics (many whipped up by White’s own lies and disinformation about me). One can see a few in these very threads (one called me “scum” — that’s a new low). There are many others like me, too, of course, in both the Protestant and Catholic worlds, who don’t start claiming that they have doctorate degrees because they have done a lot of work in apologetics and have “thousands of reviewers.” It’s ludicrous. G.K. Chesterton had no earned degree at all, not even a Bachelor’s degree. But based on this criteria he should have had five degrees (he was granted at least one honorary degree, but that is something different from what White claims).
Mr. White goes on to compare legitimate peer review to “lay review”:
While Mr. Novak’s professors would feel a need to be rigorous in their review (if they really had time to be), it is highly doubtful that his work was exposed to the refutations of those who hate him with unrelenting hatred.
I see. So if hatred (another constant theme in White’s dealing with his critics — so much so that a suspicion of literal paranoia might perhaps be justified) is a particularly important qualification to receive a doctoral degree, then President Bush must have fifty of them. Rush Limbaugh (who also never finished college, as I recall) would have 750. I would (arguably) have quite a few myself (see the negative comments on my sidebar about myself). All of this is completely irrelevant. White’s reasoning and self-justification have become increasingly ludicrous.
Anyone who has read the web pages written about me by KJV Only advocates knows what I mean when I say that my work has been reviewed by those tremendously hostile to me and my position.
Then great will be White’s reward in heaven for the persecution endured. It has nothing to do with whether he has a genuine degree. And it is astonishingly embarrassing to even have to point this out to him.
The same is true of many of the books written as part of my doctoral work: The Roman Catholic Controversy has been cited in numerous works since its publication, . . .
So now being cited is another criterion for a doctorate degree . . . this gets stranger by the minute. If I had read this nonsense three years ago, surely I would have changed my position on White’s “doctorate” then. But better late than never.
. . . and can anyone seriously think that a work like Mary—-Another Redeemer? will not be held up to serious scrutiny as well?
Sure, it will (but what that has to do with obtaining a doctorate is lost on me).
. . . given the fact that I was involved in front-line apologetic work all through the time I was working with CES, we all recognized that my work was going to be reviewed over and over again by those with a very, very big ax to grind.
More irrelevancies. By this “reasoning,” those with the most reviews of a book on amazon.com (especially hostile ones!) would have earned advanced degrees.
And, of course, since the published versions of my work are sent to a wide variety of scholars and writers for their review and endorsement, one might well point out that there is more review throughout the process I underwent than there would be in a normal university situation.
Oh, right. Let me get this straight: if a scholar reviews a book, then that is the equivalent of the grueling process of academic review of a dissertation at an accredited university. A-ha! Why didn’t anyone think of that before? One must at least credit White for sheer chutzpah and an original (almost singularly unique) mind indeed.
The only meaningful criticism that could possibly be raised against my dissertation is this: it is not ‘focused’ enough. That is, conventional wisdom is that your dissertation topic must be very narrow, very focused, and the resultant work must be extremely in-depth, showing an ability to do original research. Such is the standard dissertation. And while there is more than sufficient scholarship in my dissertation as far as original languages, or in-depth discussion is concerned, I gladly and openly confess that it is not your every-day dissertation. The ‘Trinity’ is FAR too wide a topic to qualify in most doctoral programs. Of that we can all be sure.
So now White gets to define what a dissertation is! His view is radical and controversial, but of course, he glories in that, because it is all for the sake of the Kingdom. He is influencing people by his work, so it is a dissertation, and indeed, more so than the obscure, irrelevant rot that most doctoral candidates produce: stuff that sits in an obscure corner of an ivory tower library, gathering dust and affecting few or none.
Again, I am delighted that White has defended the Holy Trinity and helped thousands to better understand it. That’s wonderful. I commend him. There ought to be a hundred books of such crucial importance. But none of this demonstrates that this work is a doctoral dissertation. One can’t simply change the rules as to what a dissertation is. It is not an arbitrary matter, subject to one person’s revision and overhaul.
What better dissertation could I write for a Th.D. in apologetics than a unique, helpful, solid work providing a focused, biblical defense of the single doctrine most often attacked by cultists and unbelievers?
Just call it a “paper” or a “book” rather than Th.D. dissertation and I dare say no one would have any problem with it at all. The work itself or its utility are not at issue: only the dishonest reference to it as a dissertation.
Mr. Novak is rather inconsistent to refer to my work as ‘bogus’ when I more than adequately met his standards for what one must do for an advanced degree, . . .
You have?!?! I must have missed it. But I’ll keep reading in hopes of finding a justification that can stand up to scrutiny.
I do have one thing to point out. When did I become the issue?
I must have missed that, too. I thought we were talking about the nature of your claimed degree, Mr. White, not you. Maybe that is a subtle difference that you find exceedingly difficult to grasp, but not all of us are logically challenged in such a way.
Why don’t I find Mr. Novak providing a meaningful response to my latest book, Is the Mormon My Brother?
I have no idea. Good question. But what does it have to do with the topic?
Yet, LDS apologists choose only to attack me personally rather than deal with the documentation in the book. Why? The answer is simple. Ad-hominem is the stock-in-trade of defenders of Mormonism.
Maybe so, but again, this has nothing to do with an analysis of White’s eccentric reasoning about degrees. That can be done without attacking him personally. Even if Novak stooped to personal attack (or if I have, inadvertently — all of us being human and subject to sin), there are still many substantive issues here to be dealt with that do not get erased by these patented bait-and-switch tactics of Mr. White.
It is little more than the throwing of dirt and dust to obscure the issues. I invite the reader to consider well how in politics the person who has lost the debate immediately turns to this kind of desperate argument.
And I invite the reader to wonder why it is that Mr. White almost invariably does so as well, and why it is that he (and/or his followers) can’t be made to see that?
Students do write their own syllabi—in conjunction with, and with the approval of, the student’s mentor. The two are to work together to craft a program that will meet the student’s needs, but it is the student who is responsible for putting the final form together, not the mentor.
How convenient . . . perhaps they grade themselves too? This sounds more and more like the typical liberal sort of education that I am sure White would despise.
Mr. White says that his “dissertation” was also signed by Phil Fernandes, in addition to Rick Walston. Good, so now there are two people. Most universities require more people than that. But then, White cares little about such facts, because it is ministry and that doesn’t matter . . . it’s almost as if White wants to be educated, yet retain the traditional animus and anti-intellectual, anti-institutional bent of fundamentalism. That works well in the anti-Catholic milieu in which he moves. It’s a very strange, contradictory mixture of divided allegiance.
I shall leave it simply at this: how many professors in theology have the list of publications that I can present, and in as many different fields?
That would apply to me as well. Shall I start calling a bunch of my work a “dissertation”?
The educational system moves slowly, and is only now beginning to recognize the need to move away from the centralized/single campus mode to the satellite/campus and distance-education mode. Till distance education becomes more prevalent, those of us who take advantage of it will have to do two things: 1) prove our scholarship directly by what we write and teach (rather than by institutional association), and 2) recognize that being ‘politically incorrect’ will preclude us from ‘crossing over’ and gaining the acceptance of those who could, in fact, get the government to help them pay for their education. At the same time, we will have to trust that the serious minded person will recognize that everyone should be evaluated on the same standards: that is, that scholarship should not be accorded some special privilege just because of an institutional association.
Again, White wishes to redefine the way things are normally done. He is quite welcome to believe whatever he likes, but to then insist on making this the new norm for what a “doctoral degree” means, and what it consists of, is wishful thinking (to put it mildly).
It is not hard to figure out the reason why Gary Novak, a Mormon associated with FARMS, would wish to put up on the Web such a one-sided article aimed solely at me on a personal level . . . Well, the reason is obvious: their standard means of responding to criticism is to attack the critic, not the issue at hand.
Granted, it may be partly personal, because it is questioning his honesty in one respect (mainly terminology and self-titles). But it is not “solely” a personal issue because a popular-level work on the Trinity is not exactly the sort of work that is normally considered a “dissertation.” It is this changing of the conventional definitions of terms which is at issue. One can’t simply change the definition and act like nothing has happened. Life just doesn’t work that way.
It is perfectly legitimate, even I think, important, to point out that White does not have a real Th.D. And that’s all that’s at issue in your post. It is easy for people to read White’s self-defenses and get all confused about the real issue, since he engages in a little obfuscation in those pieces. For example, he writes,
All I ask of the Lord is that The Forgotten Trinity have the same impact that I know to be true of other books such as Letters to a Mormon Elder or The Roman Catholic Controversy: the salvation of the lost. I consider it an honor to be allowed to write a work that can help someone know God better and grow in His grace.
Although I find his grasp of Catholicism profoundly lacking, I nevertheless applaud this approach to one’s work. It is the approach I seek to have, though I am not always successful in dying to self. But how is this sentiment in any way relevant to his decision to pursue a doctoral degree? It isn’t. We know that he already had a writing regimen in place before his enrollment in CES, and we know, in fact, that he built his “degree” program around his writing regimen. He writes, for example:
Most importantly for me, I was able to design a program around my writing projects, making classes out of entire books.
He also says,
Soon after graduating from Fuller I was asked to start teaching on the undergraduate level. This gave me the opportunity to “stay fresh” in the classroom. Further, I began writing in 1989, which likewise took a large portion of my time. I began writing for Bethany House in 1993, and with the release of The King James Only Controversy I began to see that the Lord was opening doors of ministry through writing and speaking that I had never envisioned. This further caused me to realize that my future in ministry did not lie in full time teaching in a seminary or university, but in the communication of solid Christian truth to the Church as a whole, primarily through my local church, secondarily by the ministry of writing to a much wider audience.
Therefore, we can conclude that his being “allowed” to write his books had absolutely nothing to do with his pursuit of the “degree.” His desire to glorify God with his scholarship, admirable as it is, simply does not translate into any impetus for pursuing a degree. White comes close to acknowledging this fact when he writes,
Since I saw that I was not headed for the classroom full time, but instead my classroom teaching would always remain secondary to my ministry in apologetics and in writing, the lack of formal governmental accreditation was not overly relevant.
I say he comes close to acknowledging it: there’s a bit of subtle misdirection going on in this passage (intentional or otherwise). He tries to make the issue one of accredited vs. non-accredited. But that’s not the issue at all. The issue is: what is the degree for at all? He doesn’t need the degree to pursue the work he believes God has called him to: this is obvious, since he was already doing that work prior to even entering into the degree program, and indeed his degree program consisted largely in simply continuing to do that work. So what’s it for at all?
Once again, the issue isn’t accreditation. I don’t give two bits whether a university is accredited. The problems with White’s degrees isn’t that CES isn’t accredited. It is that the program isn’t even close to equivalent to a real doctoral program. Again, White, in effect, openly admits this, writing:
Mr. Novak seems to have forgotten to ask what kind of review my work has been exposed to. And it is just here that the silliness of Mr. Novak’s personal attacks becomes so obvious. You see, one of the reasons I am so thankful to the Lord for how he has worked to join my educational experience with my ministry work is that the results of that work are open for the whole world to see. That is, since the majority of my doctoral work has been published by one of the largest and best Christian publishers in the United States, I can simply point to a pile of work and say, “Well, there it is! If you wish to demonstrate a problem, get busy.” That is, I don’t have four or five folks reviewing my work. I have thousands.
That’s great, Mr. White, but so does any columnist for Cosmo. The question isn’t how many readers you have, but, rather who is reviewing the work, for what purpose, and under what circumstances. The readers of popular works like White’s simply aren’t scrutinizing the work in the same way, for the same reasons, and with the same kinds of abilities that dissertation readers will scrutinize it. (Trust me on this one!) The dissertation is, in effect, a scholarly rite of passage. In it, you demonstrate that you can perform as a member of a profession. (The purpose is generally not to write a book that will be a “help” to anyone, though if you can do that in addition, that’s great.)
White’s works, whatever their merits, are not like that. They just aren’t. The fact that he thinks a popular book is in any way the equal to a dissertation simply shows that he has no grip on what academia is all about. And that’s proof enough for me that his degree program was bogus, irrespective of how much work he did as part of the program. Because, again, the amount of work is completely beside the point. The issue is how the work is focused. An unaccredited school may very well be just as good at, or better than, many accredited schools in producing scholars. But CES isn’t even in the business of producing scholars. (Not if White’s experience is representative of the way their programs work, anyway.)
I am a firm advocate of correspondence schooling. I’ve taken some correspondence courses myself, and I think they can be great. A good correspondence course can definitely help you with “expanding your knowledge of the Word and improving your ability to teach and minister in the Church.” (link)
I hope and trust that White’s experience at CES did just this for him, and I hope it will continue to do so for many other students. I just hope they’ll stop pretending to be doing more than this. I hope they’ll stop pretending to be producing scholars. After all, isn’t “expanding your knowledge of the Word and improving your ability to teach and minister in the Church” enough? What’s the need for the “degree”? White never mentions a need for a degree, for instance, when he writes,
There is a fundamental dichotomy between the ultimate goals of God-centered education and man-centered education, and the more faithful we are to taking every thought captive to the obedience of Christ in our lives, the more “out of phase” we will be with the world around us,
or when he writes,
before I have the first concern for what someone thinks of my schooling, degrees, or academic standing, I am concerned about what God thinks of my fidelity to what He has called me to do. He has called me to serve in the fellowship of the Phoenix Reformed Baptist Church, first as a member, now as an elder in that local church. He has called me to direct Alpha and Omega Ministries, and to engage in Christian apologetics. And he has called me to love my wife Kelli, father my children and raise them in a godly home, and to be a proper and respectful son in my parent’s later years. If obeying God’s will means I need to express my scholarship in a way that some dislike, I have to weigh their opposition against God’s clear leading and will. And for a Christian man, there isn’t any question as to what the result of that evaluation will be.
He’s right, too; you don’t need a degree for any of that. So, um, why’s he gotta claim to have one? That’s all I’m asking.