Controversy Over Academic Titles of Ministry Heads

A couple of years ago we were informed that questions had been asked about a qualification of Ph.D. which was being claimed by a prominent leader of a major Pentecostal denomination based in Australia. A few weeks ago we also discovered the leader of an international resources ministry based in Wellington claims to hold a Ph.D degree. At the same time, a number of honorary degrees awarded to major ministry heads in the US and elsewhere have been under question because there have been instances where the ministry head has used the title “Dr” despite the qualification not being an earned credit grade.

The situation of degrees being conferred on the NZ and Australian ministry heads referred to above is particularly interesting because they both appear to originate from unaccredited Christian colleges in the state of Florida, US. Under a certain title (246.084) of the Statutes of Florida, there are some rules for allowing these institutions to issue their qualifications. These do not appear to offer certainty of academic standing for these qualifications. According to this Title, the credit hours needed for a Bachelors Degree could be similar to a reputable university degree in a lot of countries. To obtain the doctorate level qualification, however, it would seem that one needs to only study for another year or 18 months after completing the Bachelors level, and this would appear to fall significantly short of a similar qualification at major universities.

There is also a clearly stated requirement in this statute that the qualifications must be issued by institutions that must make clear they are religious qualifications and that the degree titles must include a religious qualifier (presumably this means Reverend or some such must precede the word Doctor or something of that nature). In both instances we refer to, no such qualification was being placed by the holder of the qualification; they had simply stated either their name followed by the letters Ph.D or they had said “was awarded a Ph.D”. The clear inference being these qualifications should be equivalenced in some way to those available in both countries from reputable universities, without it being disclosed they were in fact issued by an unaccredited college overseas. The actual standard of academic study and assessment at these colleges (which some might call “degree mills”) is definitely open to question.

Furthermore even if one has obtained such a qualification it does not entitle one to hold out themselves as a reputable theologian. We have studied theology but do not hold ourselves out to be theologians. We note that in the case of the Australian ministry mentioned, they teach their own theology in their academic college and whilst most of it is probably OK we can’t vouch for it because we haven’t had the opportunity of examining it in detail. But they have been publicly accused of teaching prosperity theology, which is definitely questionable. In the NZ case, the ministry head in question does not appear to be a theologian in that we are not aware that they are actually attached to any reputable theological institute. It must be asked why they felt it necessary to go to an overseas college unless the qualifications from that college were significantly easier to obtain than one from a reputable academic institution in New Zealand. That is how people become respectable in theological circles. Most of that reputation is created in theological colleges via academic disciplines over many years of work and study, and a qualification from an unaccredited institution overseas would not carry that kind of weight or would not get one in the door in a reputable theological college anywhere in Australasia, or for that matter any first world country.

It must remain clear (and is stressed in relation to our blog) that taking academic qualifications in theology does not at any point give one the final say or authority on theology and we have been concerned that in both cases mentioned there has been concern that appears to be represented as being the case. It is always best to state that there are a variety of theological views on any given subject and acknowledge them. Here in this blog we will be forthright with our own views on certain theologies whilst we attempt to acknowledge that other views do exist.