James White’s “Doctorate”: Dialogue w Seminary’s Rick Walston

James White’s “Doctorate”: Dialogue w Seminary’s Rick Walston May 11, 2020

James White’s words will be in green; words of the president Rick Walston, of the school where White obtained his degree (Columbia Evangelical Seminary) will be in blue.


It’s pretty ridiculous for a man to go around for years calling himself “Dr.” when he hasn’t remotely fulfilled the requirements necessary to attain to that honorable title, and received his “doctorate” from a non-accredited storefront diploma mill after sending in 39 box tops from Cheerios boxes . . . But Mr. White and his minions of defenders wanted to keep the discussion going. They’re firin’ blanks all around. E for effort, if for nothing else.

And this is the guy who is the #1 anti-Catholic online: the most known; the most influential; the most looked-up to; the one everyone mentions. And don’t even start telling me this is ad hominem. It’s not. It’s a question of accuracy in labeling and honesty. It’s a perfectly legitimate thing to criticize, since he calls himself “Dr.” without having done what is necessary to gain that title.

He does have a perfectly acceptable Masters degree from Fuller Theological Seminary. That is admirable and quite enough, without having to lie about being a “Dr.” But not enough for Mr. White . . .

Sometimes the utter foolishness of some folks who pretend to know what they’re talking about is exhausting. Makes me wonder if he even knows what a diploma mill is.

If Columbia Evangelical Seminary is a diploma mill, then it is the only diploma mill that (1) is listed in the Top 10 Graduate Programs in Christian Apologetics by TheBestSchools.org, (2) holds Affiliate Status with the recognized accreditor, the Association for Biblical Higher Education (ABHE), (3) has had its degrees accepted in transfer from various accredited schools, including Bakke Graduate University; Erskine Theological Seminary; Liberty University; Luther Rice University; Southern Evangelical Seminary; Trinity Evangelical Divinity School; North-West University of South Africa, and more, (4) has degree approval from the Oregon State Office of Degree Authorization for its Doctor of Theological Studies degree, (5) is endorsed by Dr. John Bear: author and Distance Learning and Expert, and Diploma Mill Consultant to the FBI, 1979-1992, (6) has qualified for religious exempt status from the Washington Higher Education Coordinating Board for more than two decades, and (7) has a faculty with the vast majority holding doctoral degrees from accredited schools.

If someone wants to debate Dr. White on the issues, that would be fine, but most can’t do that so they resort to this sort of diatribe.

That’s all fine and good, Rick, and I’m not denying that your seminary has any value at all (I’m sure it does a lot of good), but it doesn’t change the fact that Columbia is unaccredited. You expend reams and reams of energy rationalizing why this is not the case:

Nor does this change the fact that what “Dr.” White did in order to gain a “doctorate” is not in any way, shape, or form, adequate. He admits himself that he did a study on the Trinity for the sake of laypeople, not scholars. In and of itself, that is fine and commendable (as I stated in a previous paper n this topic): more power to him; I’ve done the same, myself; but it ain’t “doctoral research”. Does White now claim to be the world’s biggest expert on the Holy Trinity?

As for debating White, I did so in writing scores of times from 1995 to 2007. He ran every time after the first round, or descended into personal attack, so that I quickly lost interest in sustaining a mudfight.

As for resorting to “this sort of diatribe,” White and his followers consistently defend his actions here. Those of us who are critics have dealt with the particulars involved, at great length. Like I said, I have six papers about it on my site. It’s a legitimate issue. I have no problem with anything he learned; all I object to is his calling himself “Dr.”

“Diploma mill” was tongue-in-cheek, as indicated by my sarcasm about the box tops. If you think that is harsh, you ought to see the hundreds of pages of rank insults that White has sent my way through the years. They make my critiques look like high praise and adoration.

Mr. White states:

I was able to design a program around my writing projects, making classes out of entire books. . . . 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.

I’d love to hear from some folks on my friends’ list who have real doctorates? What do you think of this?

White “reasons”:

1) I’ve written a bunch of books.

2) They show that I’ve learned a bunch of theological stuff. Go read ’em. You’ll see! I do lots of debates, too! I’m a big shot!

3) They’re self-evidently on a level of mastery expected of a guy with a doctorate.

4) Therefore, I can call myself a “Dr.” by means of my self-designed curriculum and study on the Trinity for the common folks rather than the scholars. I got my diploma from an unaccredited institution, but no matter (read #1-3 again to see why it doesn’t matter; repeat them over and over until you’re convinced).

White continues, in self-justification:

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 . . . 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.

Wow! Okay, so if the criteria for a doctorate is writing “nationally published books . . . written at a popular level so as to communicate with their audience,” lessee, I have eight of those (will be nine this fall), plus also ten books published by Logos Bible Software: the leading electronic Christian publishing resource, for a total of 19 “nationally published books.” Therefore, by White’s reasoning, I am three times as qualified as he is, to receive a “doctorate.”

Even if we don’t count my Logos books, I have nine to his six (as of that writing), with several of the leading Catholic publishers (Sophia, OSV, Catholic Answers). I do popular apologetics. Lots of folks say I have helped them understand the Christian faith. Therefore, I am “Dr. Armstrong”? I don’t think so . . . Popular apologetics is great (I couldn’t agree with Mr. White more; apart from his anti-Catholicism); but it’s not the equivalent of earning a doctorate degree.

More from “Dr.” [???] White:

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.

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, . . . and can anyone seriously think that a work like Mary—-Another Redeemer? will not be held up to serious scrutiny as well? . . . 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.

Lots of hostile reviews from many folks, proving that White earned a doctorate. Huh??!! I guess he feels he can just mold the definition of “doctorate” any way he likes: so that everything he does somehow qualifies him.

Dave, thank you for your thoughtful response. First, I do not rationalize why CES is not accredited. I have attempted to explain the accreditation issue. We think that accreditation is a good thing. However, we have chosen not to pursue it due to the flexibility that we offer in our programs and in an effort to keep our tuition costs as low as possible to benefit those who cannot afford the traditional route. Next, you might be unaware of this, but all accredited schools were at one time unaccredited. No school starts out as an accredited school. So, the mere lack of accreditation does not make a school a diploma mill or substandard. Although, I readily agree with you that there are substandard, unaccredited schools out there. Finally, I understand that you (1) thoroughly disagree with James on various theological issues, and (2) you do not like him. However, attacking CES is a lame and misguided attempt to discredit him. Why not just stick with the issues of your theological differences. At least, then your arguments would carry academic weight and not be subject to the fallacies of ad hominem, straw man, and red herrings.

Whether I disagree with him on theology or like him is perfectly irrelevant. I would argue exactly the same way with a Catholic that I liked personally. It’s a question of accurate labeling. Read my other comments. You’re not interacting with any of the arguments we are making. I myself would more than qualify for a “doctorate” by White’s own criteria.

Dave, I’m not following this comment: “Rick Walston claimed otherwise, regarding Liberty.” What did I claim otherwise?

You wrote: “has had its degrees accepted in transfer from various accredited schools, including . . . Liberty University”

Jason Morris wrote above: “Liberty University doesn’t accept their degrees, they are considered a degree mill. If you have one of their UG degrees and try to gain acceptance into Liberty Universities seminary you will be rejected and be required to get an accredited BS degree.”

Then any person who ever graduated with a doctoral degree from a school that was not presently accredited (1,000s from Bob Jones U for example) are not doctors. This is a position with which all the U.S. Department of Education (and all of the educational arms of all 50 U.S. States disagree). Nonetheless, anyone can reject another person’s degree if he so chooses.

How is what he did different from what I’ve done? All I have to do is find some school anywhere to put a seal on my writing efforts and I am a Doctor? I can design my own curriculum, write my own books as I please (on the popular level, just like him), get them reviewed and panned by lots of folks (he said this, not I), and I get the doctorate? White writes about his “dissertation”:

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.

Dave, you wrote above: “‘Diploma mill’ was tongue-in-cheek, as indicated by my sarcasm about the box tops.” Thank you.

You’re welcome, Rick. As the “box tops” comment was clearly humorous, and not literal, it’s not a big stretch to interpret the other in the same fashion. But still, many use “diploma mill” as a synonym for “unaccredited.”

Dave, you stated: “But still, many use ‘diploma mill’ as a synonym for ‘unaccredited.'” — I’m unaware of people using “diploma mill” as a synonym for “unaccredited.” I co-authored a book with the distance learning guru Dr. John Bear, Distance Learning Expert and Diploma Mill Consultant to the FBI on matters regarding diploma mills, and he—and the FBI, and the U.S. Department of Education, do not use “diploma mill” as a synonym for “unaccredited.” To do so is simply pejorative and overstated.

That’s fine. I’m more interested here in the ideas than in words. So you think White can write his book on the Trinity, on a popular level (I just wrote a book on the topic, myself, called Theology of God) and call that a doctoral dissertation, and therefore, himself a “Doctor”? A yes or no answer will suffice, though I’d love to hear more explanation of it.

“more interested here in the ideas than in words”? How does one express ideas without words? Next, to answer your question would be to accept your framing of the issue, which is a vast minimalization of what transpired.


US Dept. of Education, “Diploma Mills and Accreditation – Diploma Mills”:

What is a diploma mill?

The Higher Education Opportunity Act defines a diploma mill as follows:

DIPLOMA MILL- The term `diploma mill’ means an entity that–

(A)(i) offers, for a fee, degrees, diplomas, or certificates, that may be used to represent to the general public that the individual possessing such a degree, diploma, or certificate has completed a program of postsecondary education or training; and (ii) requires such individual to complete little or no education or coursework to obtain such degree, diploma, or certificate; and

(B) lacks accreditation by an accrediting agency or association that is recognized as an accrediting agency or association of institutions of higher education (as such term is defined in section 102) by–

(i) the Secretary pursuant to subpart 2 of part H of title IV; or (ii) a Federal agency, State government, or other organization or association that recognizes accrediting agencies or associations.

The dictionary defines a diploma mill as:

An institution of higher education operating without supervision of a state or professional agency and granting diplomas which are either fraudulent or because of the lack of proper standards worthless. – Webster’s Third New International Dictionary

Diploma mills are schools that are more interested in taking your money than providing you with a quality education. You need to know how to protect yourself as a consumer.

Important: The Better Business Bureau suggests you watch for the following features and regard them as red flags when considering whether or not to enroll in a school:

Degrees that can be earned in less time than at an accredited postsecondary institution, an example would be earning a Bachelor’s degree in a few months.

See also: “Diploma Mills: 9 Strategies for Tackling One of Higher Education’s Most Wicked Problems” (Hanna Park, World Education News + Reviews, 12-12-17)

You can sidestep legitimate questions if you wish, Rick. The fact remains that by White’s own lengthy description and justification of his doctorate, I myself would also have one on the same basis.

Yes, there are also accreditation mills that one must be aware of. They do a vast business and many schools become “accredited” by these bogus organizations. My friends, John Bear and Allen Ezell have written on this very topic.

Dave, I like you . . . we’ve had a fairly pleasant discussion. I can only assure you that I’m not sidestepping your questions. I just know enough about logic not to get sucked into false dichotomies and framed questions.

I appreciate your friendliness, too. I think reasonable people can disagree on these matters. I don’t have to totally run down your school in order to argue about what “doctorate” means. I wrote in my second paper on this topic:

(let it be plainly known what the nature of my argument is), I am not even opposed to some schools doing what they do without being accredited, if they perform a valuable teaching service. All I am opposing is the false advertising of claiming that they grant doctorate degrees and that these degrees are the same in essence as those from the accredited institutions.

I’m basically self-taught in theology, myself. Obviously I have no objection to that. But I don’t run around calling myself a “Dr.” I call myself simply a “lay apologist” or “popular apologist” (i.e., popular-level, not “popular” as in “fame”).

Can you at least define “doctorate” for me, Rick? Is that a “framed question” or a “false dichotomy” too, to want to see what your definition is?

Re: your post with the photos: I always have to laugh when I see the Mormon fella’s photos “of CES.” Talking about framing the issues. A Mormon guy who lied about what his intentions were stopped by our office for about 20 minutes and took some unflattering photos and then proceeded to post them on the internet and “commentate” on those photos. One can do the same with nearly any location. It’s not the photos but the commentary of the photos that framed his biased position, and many others then bought into his commentary without so much as contacting CES for a response. One photo was of an office door with a hand scribbled note that said something to the effect that there was no money inside the office. Now, the guy asked me what the note was about and I told him that the night before, our office had been broken into, and our regular, nice door with the name of the school and so on had been smashed, and we had a carpenter just toss up another door while we did our repairs. Our office was in a larger office complex, and several other businesses were also burglarized and their doors broken down as well. The local police who responded to the burglaries told all of the businesses in that complex that they thought they knew who the culprit was and that he nearly always hit the same locations within 48 hours. They told all of us to put notes on the door stating that there was no money inside to dissuade him from breaking down our doors again. So, in haste, I hand-wrote the note and taped it to the door, and the next morning when the Mormon guy showed up, he took a photo of the note on the door. He asked me about the note and I explained it all to him. Now, even though there were other businesses in the same complex (down the same hallway!) with the same note on their doors, he did not take any photos of their doors with their notes. And, although he was informed of why the note was there and what had happened, he just took a photo of our door (which was only one of four of our office doors by the way), and posted it on the Internet with his unflattering commentary. And, then, people who don’t like James White reposted and reposted those photos and the biased commentary. Besides all of this, we’ve not even occupied that office space for more than a decade. This only goes to show the flimsy “evidence” that people attempt to use to discredit James White, rather than dealing with the issues of the differences in their theology.

Thanks for the account of the Mormon guy. Bias is almost universal. I’m not surprised by that at all. I was just having fun with the photos. White has commissioned two professional caricatures of me, with lies in the humor in them.

So, no definition of “doctorate”? That’s a loaded question? :-)

Actually, I was just about to look up what I wrote on the topic in my book on Distance Learning and maybe be able to simply cut and paste it in.

Alright; thanks.

With such a question in such a setting while we’ve been talking about these issues, it’s tempting to try to cross every t and dot every i, but let me just give you this description (not definition) that comes from my book on distance learning:

The Doctorate

The term Doctor has been a title of respect for a learned
person since biblical times. Luke tells us, “After three days they
found him in the temple, sitting in the midst of the doctors, both

hearing them, and asking them questions” (Luke 2:46—KJV).
Nowadays the academic title of Doctor (as distinguished from
the professional and honorary titles, to be discussed in Chapter 11)
has come to be awarded for the completion of an advanced course
of study, culminating in a piece of original research in one’s field.
This is known as the doctoral dissertation. (Sometimes, especially
in Europe, the original research is referred to as a doctoral thesis.)
Many distance learning Doctoral programs waive the
necessity for on-campus study based on the assumption that the
mature candidate already knows a great deal about his or her field.
Some DL doctoral programs permit the use of work already done
(e.g., books, professional seminars, professional journal articles,
etc.) as full or partial satisfaction of credits and/or class

The most frequently awarded research (sometimes called
academic) Doctorate is the Doctor of Philosophy (Ph.D.), known
as the D.Phil. in many other countries. The Doctor of Philosophy
need have nothing to do with the study of philosophy. It is
awarded for studies in hundreds of fields, ranging from art to

Hundreds of Doctorate titles have been identified. In ministry
and theology, after the Ph.D., some of the most common
Doctoral degrees include the Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.), Doctor
of Religious Education (D.R.E.), Doctor of Sacred Theology
(S.T.D.), and the Doctor of Theology (Th.D.). (For information
about professional degrees, like the Doctor of Medicine (M.D.),
Doctor of Chiropractic (D.C.), Doctor of Optometry (O.D.), Juris
Doctor (J.D.) and honorary Doctoral titles, see Chapter 11.)

“culminating in a piece of original research in one’s field.”

White’s treatise on the Trinity is not that. Or are we to regard six of his books, collectively, as constituting his “doctorate”? I’ve seen lots of his work. His definitions are so shoddy that many are literally self-defeating. For example (one of many), his absolute dichotomizing of “sacraments” and “grace” would take Luther, Augustine, even Calvin out of the Christian faith. He doesn’t properly understand Catholicism (almost needless to say).

If his tomes against Catholicism are part of his “doctoral research,” and his ruminations on the Trinity (real specific topic there!) “original research,” good heavens, it has to be one of the weakest dissertations ever written, wholly apart from the accreditation issue.

If we grant that accreditation is not necessary for a doctorate (which I don’t), it’s still legitimate — setting that aside for the moment — to wonder what specific requirements there are, and to wonder aloud how White’s writing of popular apologetics books (as I do myself) constitutes same. Again, I’m repeating his own rationales, that I cited above, straight from him.

I’m also on record, many many times, in stating that I believe White does a lot of good and helpful work, too (something he never says about me to the slightest degree). For example, his work against Islam, against higher critics like Ehrman, against KJV Only and the heresies and cults.

Lots of good stuff. I have no problem acknowledging that, even though he thinks I am a complete idiot / ignoramus / imbecile.

Well, as Abe (or someone) said: You can’t please all of the people all of the time.

Dave, it’s been rather enjoyable communicating with you today. No, that’s not sarcasm; I’m serious. Blessings, Ric.

I enjoyed it, too, Rick. God bless you.

Just call me “Dr. Armstrong”! Except for Greek and a few other technical things he’s learned, I can match him almost topic-for-topic and book-for-book.

I’d grant White an ID: Doctor of Insults. He is indeed one of the world’s greatest experts on that, and has royally earned *that* degree. Credit where it is due . . .

I am also happy to grant White the title of “Bishop” since he classified himself as one in a letter to me (in his Baptist ecclesiology, elder = bishop). So his proper title is: Bishop “Dr.” [?] James White, ID.

I have no problem with Bishop White learning and sharing what he has learned with others. I do have a problem with calling what he did a “doctorate.” I had a pleasant discussion with Rick Walston, but he didn’t explain to me why what White did is different from what I have done myself, or how and why it can be called “doctoral research” leading to a “doctorate.” I am almost completely self-taught in theology and apologetics. I’m not out to achieve fame or prestige. I make very little money and am regularly attacked and lied about, online, with thousands of people reading. Nor is this merely “personal” against James White. He is infinitely — exponentially — more vitriolic against me than I have ever been regarding him.

One must understand the nature of my argument. I’m the last thing from some sort of elitist. I’m sitting here as a professional apologist (11 years and running) with no theological degree (I have a BA in sociology, cum laude). That ain’t my problem with White and this whole issue. I’m all for long distance learning and learning on one’s own, and popular books sharing that for the sake of the kingdom — not necessarily connected to any institution.

I ain’t out there calling myself “Dr.” though, am I? It has an established meaning, and I have seen nothing as of yet to change my mind as to that fact, or related to White’s calling himself a “Dr.” based on what he did (based on his own report).


Related Reading

James White’s Bogus “Doctorate” Degree (vs. Mark Bainter) [9-16-04]

James White’s Bogus “Doctorate” Degree , Part II (vs. Jamin Hubner) [6-29-10]

James White Bogus “Doctorate” Issue Redux: Has No One Ever Interacted With His Self-Defense? / White Takes His Lumps from Baptist Peter Lumpkins [2-20-11]

Doktor James White on Fudging His Teaching Assignments (by Baptist Peter Lumpkins; see also my Facebook link and further comments and documentation in that combox) [3-23-11]


(originally posted on Facebook on 4-5-13)

Photo credit: Linnaea Mallette [PublicDomainPictures.Net]


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