At Jesus Creed, Scot has first asked, then responded to a question posted by Dan Wallace at Parchment and Pen. The bottom line of the discussion is this: Is there a bias in the academy, particularly graduate studies, against students from evangelical schools? I have a couple thoughts.
First, my experience. I went to a secular, Ivy League university for undergraduate studies, majoring in Classics and adept in history, archaeology, Greek, and Latin. From there I went directly to an evangelical seminary. And, after that, in the fall of 1993, I applied to the PhD programs at Yale, Duke, Emory, and the University of Chicago. I was accepted at none.
When I interviewed at Vanderbilt, I was actually laughed at by Professor Sallie McFague when I mentioned that I’d like my dissertation to be about Jurgen Moltmann. At Duke, Geoffrey Wainwright was candid in my interview, and I remember his comments like it happened yesterday. “As an evangelical white male, you’re not going to get in to this program,” he said, “And even if you did, there’d be no job for you once you got out.”
It mattered not at these places that I had gone to Dartmouth, nor that I had recommendations in hand from Miroslav Volf and Nancey Murphy. My choice of seminary certainly damaged my application.
In some ways, Fuller didn’t help me much. For instance, when I went to the registrar to find my class rank in my MDiv graduating class, I inquired about my class rank, which I assumed would be among the top few of my class and would strengthen my PhD applications. I was told that class ranks were neither kept nor released, because ranking students wasn’t particularly “Christian.”However, when I did enter a PhD program, at Princeton Theological Seminary, a decade later, I found that the landscape had changed. While still not on par with Yale or Duke, the MDiv program at Fuller was regarded as respectful, and I wasn’t the only doctoral candidate with a Fuller degree. And one of my best friends had received his MDiv from Mars Hill Graduate School, before that school gained accreditation. True, he had to do a ThM for a year first, but his strength in Hebrew quickly impressed the OT faculty, and they let him in.
But there’s another side of the coin. Dan may be too committed to Dallas Seminary to see it, and I think that Scot may soft sell it a bit, and that’s the deserved perception of places like Fuller and Dallas Seminaries in the academic world. Fuller has, indeed, bolstered its academic reputation over the last several decades, but it was founded by a fundamentalist radio preacher, and it will take time for it to overcome that heritage. Dallas, known as a dispensationalist school, as Dan notes, has a similar image problem. In my own travels, I have experienced both thoughtful, perspicacious students from DTS, and I have been shouted at by DTS students who were more ideological than they were theological.
Princeton Seminary has come a long way from its fundamentalist period in the early 20th century, then the pendulum swung far in the other direction, before coming to rest somewhere in the middle-left of mainline Christianity where it resides today. The Fullers and Dallases of the world have to be patient. But they also have to realize that holding to biblical inerrancy and dispensationalism will never gain the respect of the faculties at Yale, Duke, and U Chicago.
I get asked a lot about where I think that people should go for seminary or doctoral work. My basic advice is this: Don’t be naive. If you’re going to a school that made its name on dispensationalism, you will be discriminated against by the top academic institutions. But, I can tell you from personal experience, that it goes the other way, too: Get your PhD from a mainline or secular school, and prepare to be written off by some evangelicals as being liberal (even if you’re not).