My $.02 on the Credentials Debate

To date, I have avoided this debate because I find myself in something of a dilemma by my entry. However, earlier this week I was thrust in the middle of Jim's and Matt's discussion, so, against my better judgment, here goes: First, the dilemma: I agree with Matt in spirit, but I agree with Jim intellectually (or, perhaps, in the flesh). I frequently have a similar response to Jim's when discussing legal matters with non-lawyers. For example, non-lawyers rarely appreciate why incriminating evidence should ever be excluded from a criminal trial. They often fail to appreciate that the only way to protect the rights of the innocent is to protect the rights of the guilty. Lawyers just assume non-lawyers don't "get it."

As do, I'm sure, doctors in matters of medicine, plumbers in matters of plumbing, and Bible scholars in matters of Biblical studies. We are a culture of experts, and expertise is a commodity. So, we guard our expertise carefully, and justifiably so.

The issues I see vis-a-vis Biblical studies, however, are:

1. To some extent, all Christians are charged with being Bible experts. Not that we are, but we should be?

2. Jesus didn't set up recruiting tables at the top Yeshivas. He picked fishermen, among others. As far as I can tell, Paul is the closest thing to an Old Testament scholar among the bunch, and he came much later.

3. It's the duty of the church to equip the saints. If there are shortcomings among the saints, it is the church's fault. I realize there are plenty of half-cocked saints who think they can get saved one day and start a church the next, but doesn't that just exemplify the problem?

4. If one is called to teach at a seminary, then I would think a Ph.D would and should be required. If one is called as an evangelist, for example, I don't necessarily see the point. In my opinion, the greatest evangelist of the 20th Century was Billy Graham, and Derek Prince the greatest theologian. Neither had a post-grad in anything Biblical, and it would be hard to argue with their results.

5. Without the guidance of the Holy Spirit, no number of post-nominal letters will make a bit of difference in ministry. And even with the guidance of the Holy Spirit, no one without a string of letters after their name will ever have academic credibility. So what? It is all just another way of dividing the Body of Christ. The Church needs Ph.D.'s, and the Church needs plumbers. The local DIY handyman pastor is not a threat to Joe the plumber, nor is the local Bible thumping cowboy preacher a threat to Joe the Ph.D.

In short, credentials are essential, but only for that for which they are essential. The lack of credentials is irrelevant, except in circumstances where credentials are required.

I have spent my entire life tied to the education system (whether as a student, grad student, adjunct faculty member, or married to and mothered by teachers). In that time I have met brilliant scholars (even religious scholars) who I wouldn't dare ask for spiritual advice. I have also met remarkable spiritual leaders (sans letters) who I wouldn't dare ask for legal advice.

Honestly, it all seems like much ado about nothing. I applaud Jim for defending his turf, and I applaud Matt for defending his. Keep up the good work gentlemen. Now, can we all hang out and have a drink?

You can read the back-and-forth here:

Others have written on the subject and didn't insinuate me into the discussion, so I have not included them. Anyone who has posted on the subject, please leave a link in the comment section.


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