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Redeeming the D.Min.

Description: By Dr Leong Tien Fock

It is accepted that the Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) is a professional and not an academic doctorate. We can safely generalise that a D.Min. programme is significantly less demanding academically than a theological PhD programme. In this sense they are of different categories: professional vs academic.

It is like contrasting the professional J.D. (Doctor of Jurisprudence) and M.D. (Doctor of Medicine) with their academic counterparts: the PhD in legal studies and medical studies respectively. The question then is whether the D.Min., being a professional qualification, should come with the Dr title.

Note that someone with a J.D. is not called Dr So-and-So. Someone with an M.D. is called Dr So-and-So because he is a (medical) doctor! It can be argued that a D.Min. could be called Dr So-and-So because, unlike the J.D. and M.D., the D.Min. programme includes a dissertation.

This can be compared with the Ed.D. (Doctor of Education) degree (the alternative doctorate to the PhD in education), which requires a dissertation and carries the Dr title. But then, unlike the Ed.D., the D.Min. is structured as a continuing education programme (one need not leave one’s ministry to do the D.Min.).

Does this matter? I will just lay down the facts without arguing whether the D.Min. can rightfully carry the Dr title. (Note that professional doctorates are basically an American affair and are hardly found in British universities.)

Before I share my personal opinion concerning the D.Min. degree, it is necessary that we take a brief look at how this degree came about. I will quote from David F. Wells’ book No Place for Truth: Or Whatever Happened to Evangelical Theology? (see below) According to Wells, it was the concern for professional status that led to the creation of the D.Min. degree.

‘Born Again’ Degree

So the D.Min. was birthed by market forces and for the wrong reasons! But can God still use it? Even taking Wells’ critique to heart, I will not write off the D.Min. in a blanket manner.

But granting that many (most?) D.Min. students have little real interest in intellectual or academic learning but is basically after a relatively easy-to-get ‘Dr’ title for status sake, there are Christian workers who genuinely want to upgrade themselves to better serve God but lack the discipline or capacity for independent study.

And what if the most appropriate programme available to them happens to be a D.Min.? And what about seminaries that offer the D.Min. not for financial gains but because they genuinely want to help more Christian workers upgrade beyond the Masters degree?

Even Wells acknowledge that the quality of the D.Min. varies. Some schools have higher standards than others. And since the courses are offered as modules (the instructors need to meet the students in class for as short as only one week) some schools even invite highly respected scholars as guest professors to conduct the modules for which they do not have qualified resident teachers.

There are D.Min. students who are dropped early in the programme because they do not make the grade. There are students who are not allowed to proceed to the dissertation because their average grade is not high enough. Also, the dissertation, when properly supervised, will be much more than a "summer updating or refresher course".

So despite its illegitimate birth I suggest we evaluate the D.Min. programme and the student taking it on a case-by-case basis.

The D.Min. was indeed born in sin but, if it repents of its sin it can be born-again. But Wells’ critique should warn Christian workers concerning their motives for wanting a D.Min. as well as their choice of school to attend.

Besides the reasons given by Wells, another reason the D.Min. is so popular is that most ‘lay Christians’ do not realise that there is a difference between the PhD and the D.Min. To them, all Drs are the same.

So there are even those who could have done a PhD but opted for a D.Min. instead simply because all they wanted is to be called a Dr So-and-So. Why then slog through a PhD? We live in a society preoccupied with man-made honorific titles. The temptation to get it quick and easy is high. Jesus rebukes this preoccupation in Matt. 23: 6–7.

In conclusion, my personal opinion is that though Wells’ critique is on the whole valid, it is possible for some (a few?) seminaries and students to avoid the pitfalls that trap many (most?) seminaries and students. Not every Christian worker who can do intellectual work beyond his Masters degree has the capacity or opportunity to do the PhD.

A programme like a ‘born-again’ D.Min. makes sense and can be of service to God, especially in South-east Asia where there is hardly any opportunity to do a theological PhD locally. As a matter of fact even the quality of the PhD (in seminaries and secular universities) varies.

And Christians pursuing the PhD may also fall into the same temptations that stumble those after the D.Min. The only difference is they have the resources and opportunities to go after the PhD instead of settling for the D.Min.

Dr Leong obtained his M.A. in Old Testament  Studies from Wheaton College,U.S., and his PhD in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures from University of California,US. He is currently supervising the D.Min. dissertation of a Singapore Bible College student.

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