College and university bulletin boards across the land are sporting the University of Chicago Divinity School’s eye-catching poster announcing its new degree program for ministerial training: a 4½ year “Doctor of Ministry” course (see Jan. 7 issue, p. 48).
Static over this move is heavy in the American Association of Theological Schools. The question of revamping the standard B.D. program came before the AATS when the School of Theology (Methodist) at Claremont, California, announced that it would offer a “Doctor of Religion” degree and Chicago made known its plans to grant the D.Mn. Coupled with these specific institutional plans came a request from the Methodist Association of Theological Schools for an immediate study of the B.D. question.
At the last biennial meeting of the AATS, in June, 1964, discussion of these petitions was hot and heavy, and recently a pamphlet of some sixty pages has been prepared by Jesse Ziegler, associate director of AATS, to acquaint theological faculty members with the issues. The confidential nature of the pamphlet precludes specific discussion of its contents here, but no tales will be told out of (divinity) school if we point out the obvious: Many AATS seminaries are deeply disturbed over a unilateral move that could give a few schools distinct advantages in the theological student market, which (apart from evangelical-conservative vitality as displayed at Inter-Varsity’s Urbana Missionary Conventions) appears to be steadily diminishing. The suspicion seems to exist that in the growing competition for students, Chicago and Claremont may have created programs grounded more in self-seeking Eros than in the Agape that “seeks not her own.” Ziegler thinks that most AATS schools would rather fight than switch.
The pros and cons of dropping the B.D. in favor of professional magisterial-doctoral programs are fairly clean-cut. Advocates of the new move argue: (1) the unfairness of granting only a second bachelor’s degree after three (or four) years of graduate work, when in medicine the student obtains a doctorate for a comparable period of study, and when in arts the master’s can be obtained in only one year beyond the B.A.; (2) the precedent of elevating nomenclature in other fields (the master’s degree is now given in library science as the first professional degree, whereas a few years ago a B.L.S. was granted for approximately the same course; the University of Chicago and a few other institutions now give successful law school graduates the J.D. instead of the traditional LL.B.); (3) the need to upgrade ministerial education through improved seminary programs; and (4) the prestige of the doctorate.
On the negative side, those who want to retain the B.D. offer compelling counterarguments:
1. Centuries-old tradition and good sense have established three ascending levels of attainment in academic fields, as represented by the bachelor’s, master’s, and doctor’s degrees. If a higher degree is granted for beginning work in the field, that degree is cheapened and confusion is inevitable. Medicine offers no proper comparison, for the M.D. is really a courtesy doctorate—a concession to the fact that “doctor” has been long established as a term of direct address for a physician (in England the M.B. is still the first professional degree, yet British general practitioners are called “doctor” anyway; in the United States, the academic hood for the M.D. is bachelor length, and the next professional degree is a master’s—Master of the Medical Sciences!). As for the fact that a B.A. can become an M.A. in one year, it must be remembered that the M.A. represents a specialty begun on the B.A. level. Theological students are taking up a new field in seminary and therefore should not receive a degree implying advanced attainment.
2. True, in some other professional fields higher degrees have been recently introduced on the first professional level. But the effect on the continuing education of the professional has been harmful. When the professional librarian received the B.L.S. as his first degree, he often went on to take the M.L.S. later in his career; now that all library school graduates in the United States receive the master’s degree, relatively few do post-graduate study. How many recipients of the D.Mn. or Rel.D. will take further graduate study? How many M.D.’s obtain the M.Med.Sci.?
3. If our real concern is to upgrade theological education, why does this require a change in degree nomenclature? The Harvard Law School has refused to follow the trend to a J.D., but students still trample one another to be admitted to the Harvard LL.B. program. Why? Obviously because of its quality.
4. Doctoral prestige is a big consideration among the clergy, as the “degree mill” scandal of a few years ago made very clear. But do we solve this problem by conceding to what is very plainly the old unregenerate Adam? If a person so very badly wants a doctor’s degree without language requirements or thesis research, there is always optometry and chiropractic!
When we ponder the educational upgrading and prestige considerations involved in the new theological degree programs, we get to the real heart of the matter. Chicago’s poster states: “It is not enough to tinker or maneuver with traditional forms of preparation for the ministry”; instead of the “body of information” presupposed by the B.D., the new D.Mn. will evidence “a thorough re-working” and lead to “radical inquiry.” Here is betrayed contemporary theology’s awareness that something is seriously wrong with the present state of theological education. Enrollments in mainline seminaries are going down, in spite of the fascination that the new theology, the new morality, and the like are supposed to have for college students. And the prestige and status of the Protestant clergy are low.
Chicago’s program will be concerned with “our culture and the role of theology in that culture” during the first two years and standard theological fare if and when the prospective ministers go on to the D.Mn. The obvious value judgment here ironically reinforces the very tendency that has come near to killing theological education in the twentieth century; the substitution of non-revelational bases for thorough grounding in Holy Scripture. (I remember a divinity school M.A. of a few years back who didn’t know what a concordance was—and who, when I explained it, said, “Only a fundamentalist would use that.”) The “culture” of 1966 will no more appeal to students or answer their life questions than did the sociological liberalism of the twenties, the dialectic theologies of the thirties and forties, the Bultmannianisms of the fifties, or the recent death-of-God theology. Only the saving Christ of Scripture can make true theologians. As the Reformers well put it; “Quod non est biblicum, non est theologicum.”
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