Are All "Doctors" Really Doctors?

Preachers and the Honorary Doctorate

Timothy S. Morton

One doesn't need to be a Christian very long before he realizes the Christian world is flooded with ministers or other believers calling themselves doctor." If one picks up a book in a Christian bookstore it is more than likely written by a "doctor"—the obvious "Dr." prominently associated with their name. Many speakers on Christian radio sign off as "Dr. So and so", and many Christians often refer to their favorite "Doctor" preacher when they want to quote an "authoritative voice." What is the source of this doctor fixation? Are all "doctors" really doctors? This article will reveal some facts about doctorates, "preacher doctors" and pretense in Fundamentalism your author has discovered since he became a Christian over 18 years ago.

What do you mean, "Doctor"?

The term "doctor" in America has come to usually be associated with a medical doctor. Most realize medical doctors are required to undergo years of training before the advanced degree of MD or DO is conferred upon them. Only after fulfilling the extensive academic requirements of a doctorate in a university could the person rightly call themselves (or allow others to call them) "doctor." The same is true of other earned doctorate degrees (Ph.D, etc.). The person became a doctor because he completed the extensive training and study required to obtain the degree. As a general rule, to obtain a doctorate one must complete high school (diploma), college (Bachelors degree), two years of post-graduate work at a university (Masters degree), and a minimum of two more years [usually more] of post-graduate for a doctorate. Though some may earn the degree in a shorter time, 20 years of total education is a typical minimum for an earned doctorate.

An earned doctorate, for the relatively few who choose to put forth the considerable time, effort and expense to obtain one, carries with it a high degree of prestige and accomplishment. It is the highest academic degree offered. Regardless of the persons beliefs, opinions, sensibility or lack of it, he deserves the title "doctor" for a simple but weighty reason—he (or she) earned it! Even though many Ph'D's, etc.  may be evolutionists, humanists, hedonists, etc., or  even insane,  since they earned their degree, their doctorate cannot be taken away.

Click here to see what Encyclopedia Britannic says on the subject.

Honorary Degrees

Around 250 years ago some universities began granting a "degree" called an "honorary doctorate" to persons it wanted to honor or recognize (usually a dignitary, benefactor, or notable alumni). However, neither the university or the honoree were gullible enough to believe the honor actually conferred a full doctorate. The purpose of the honor was simply to recognize a person for whatever reason, not to grant an instant education. Many times the honor was bestowed on someone who already had an earned doctorate.

Probably the most obvious proof that honorary degrees are not true doctorates is they are now granted by colleges rather than exclusively by universities. Unlike a university a college by definition cannot award an earned doctorate (or even a masters degree) because it doesn't have the curriculum or accreditation to do so. How could an institution grant an honorary degree when they can't even confer an earned one! Sure they can give someone a piece of paper to honor them, but only the most conceited, deceived or ignorant would actually believe this made them a true "doctor." There is little confusion about this in the secular world. Honorary doctorates are routinely given to political figures, civic leaders, and others, but to our knowledge none of the secular honorees refer to themselves as "doctor" or allow others to seriously do so. Even Bill Clinton with all of his moral weaknesses and deficiencies doesn't refer to himself as "doctor" even after having an honorary doctorate granted to him by Oxford University in England! He knows if he did he would not be taken seriously and ridiculed behind his back (more than he already is!). Vain and flamboyant country singer, Dolly Parton, was also given an honorary doctorate by a Southern Baptist college, but does she refer to herself as "doctor"? Hardly. But give one of these pieces of paper to many Fundamentalist preachers and what do they do with it? To them it is as serious as a heart attack. They treat it as if it actually confers a college education and they are full fledged doctors!

"Preacher," "Doctor," or What?

It came as a shock to us early in our Christian life to discover that many of the most highly regarded "doctors" in Fundamentalism held only honorary doctorates. A few were granted by major Christian universities, but many were from small Bible colleges or obscure Bible institutes (which are usually an extension of a local church). A far cry from a university. Once we became aware of the distinction between honorary and earned doctorates we began to notice that most of the "doctors" at high profile camp meetings, revivals, preacher's schools, and soul winning conferences were doctors in name only. Some never attended college (not to mention graduate school), and a few did not even finish high school! Furthermore, the presidents of several leading Fundamentalist colleges have only honorary degrees (usually given by one of their cronies at another similar school.), but that doesn't restrain them from linking "Dr." with their name at every turn and encourage its use in their books, sermons and throughout their ministry! To paraphrase another, "When a person goes to one of these "Bible Conferences" he is confronted by so many professing themselves to be doctors one would think God was sick!" This person also apparently senses the doctor or (appearance of) education fixation that permeates today's Fundamentalism. It seems everybody wants a "degree" and when they simply get a piece of paper from one of their buddies saying they have one they treat it as if it is an actual doctorate. No wonder a young Christian is lead to believe the same from their vain, self-serving rhetoric. As the Scriptures proclaim, all are subject to pride and vainglory's diabolical stranglehold an how preachers tout their phony doctorates as genuine is a clear manifestation to its validity. "Let nothing be done through strife or vainglory; but in lowliness of mind let each esteem other better than themselves." Phil 2:3.

What's The Cause?

What could possess a normally rational man who is born again, called to preach Jesus Christ, and otherwise scripturally sound to parade around with a phony doctorate, pretending to be "educated"? What power could cause him to boast of an attainment he has not attained and allow others to boast for him? The same universal vices that caused Lucifer to fall, pride and envy. The Bible bluntly says this "pride of life" is not of God, "...and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world" (1 Jn. 2:16), and envy is clearly ungodly. But this doesn't affect them. They apparently justify their indulgence in their mind with self serving reasoning.

One of their reasonings is the institution which granted them the "doctorate" must have felt them "qualified" or it would not have given it, but this argument is forced. First, the only way to qualify for an earned doctorate is to finish the requirements! Second, the "doctorate" is honorary by its very name. It is called a "doctorate" because it is given by an educational institution which confers true doctorates, their highest earned degree. If honorary doctorates make a person a true doctor, then an auctioneer who is given a certificate calling him "colonel" must also be a true colonel; a commissioned officer in the US military!

Another argument is, even though the person doesn't have the required academic education for a doctorate they earned one through "life experience," but this is still invalid and self indulgent. The person may have a wealth of "life experience" that equips him for certain aspects of Christ's ministry much better than most Ph.D's, but that still ignores the fact he hasn't completed the required education for a true doctorate. Would you want to have surgery performed on you or a loved one by a true medical doctor who graduated from a university or by someone who has "life experience" only and no degree?

Probably the most desperate argument is "A doctors degree will further my ministry and open doors" implying it will help Christ's ministry. But Christ's ministry when He was on earth was not tainted by pretense, half-truths, and deception. Christ made no false claims to "education" or position but said humbling things like, "For whosoever exalteth himself shall be abased; and he that humbleth himself shall be exalted" (Luke 14:11), and "Whosoever therefore shall humble himself as this little child, the same is greatest in the kingdom of heaven" (Matt 18:4). Sayings that tear at the very root of the modern unearned doctorate craze. When pressured some will admit their degree is honorary (but that doesn't stop them from using it), others, however, seem to actually believe they hold the advanced degree and resent anyone who questions it.

What we are addressing here is academic attainment and not necessarily spirituality, ability or consecration. Some preachers with Ph.D's are so dry and lifeless in their manner and deficient in common sense and sound doctrine that they are little help to anyone. On the other hand a preacher with an eighth grade education can have more insight into the Scriptures, a better understanding of God's will, and a superior manner of preaching and presentation than some men with two earned doctorates. Some of the best preaching I have ever heard came from men with less than a high school education. Education is no substitute for a humble heart, diligent study, or godly zeal.

Education—One Of The "gods"?

It has been said "The three greatest "gods" of America are money, sex, and education in that order." We believe this observation to be accurate. Notice the third god is not knowledge buteducation. Though many treat the terms as synonymous, there is a distinction. "Knowledge" refers more to what is known or can be known, "Education," though, refers more to going through a course of study with the intention of learning something. However, it is possible (and even common) one could go through many courses of study and yet have very little useful knowledge (the proverbial "egghead") or one could have little or no academic "education" and have considerable, useful knowledge. The Lord, with full knowledge but no "education," is an example of the latter. Upon hearing Christ's words the Jews (likely the Scribes and Pharisees) said, "How knoweth this man letters, having never learned?" (John 7:15). They saw He had knowledge, but no accepted (accredited, etc.) education. Even in those days education in itself was a "god." They considered their own Messiah (and his disciples, Acts 4:13) unlearned.

That many Fundamentalists treat honorary degrees as true doctorates is a result of a similar view on education as the Pharisees. They are saying, in effect, one cannot have true knowledge without an approved, recognized education. But some Fundamentalists take this farther. They reason, if one cannot get a real education, the appearance of one is the next best thing. Enter the vain, self-serving abuse of the honorary doctorate.

Are All Earned Degrees Earned?

Another deceptive, tactic used by some "schools" and preachers is the schools grant degrees that are usually considered earned with minimal or almost no academic requirements. One missionary we know who holds an earned doctorate said he has encountered several preachers who have received "doctorates" from one of these "diploma mills." One told him, "the ONLY requirement was one book with a minimum of 100 pages and $600." Another told him much the same. This is supposed to qualify the candidate for a "Doctor of Theology" (Th.D) degree? Nonsense, pure nonsense. There is a lot more to a true doctorate than a short book and some money. Just ask someone who has really earned one!

The missionary also said, "As for myself having two earned Doctorates, I feel very badly when being introduced at meeting as "Dr". I feel sick because when they say, "Dr", they are innocently putting me into a class of vain, proud, and egotistical preachers that I wish not to be associated with. I just tell the Pastors to introduce me as "Brother". I really do feel so bad because everyone is a doctor these days. I do not want to be catagorized with that bunch of prideful, self-righteous, pin-headed preachers." Clearly, the lust for "doctorates" so common today has tainted the whole concept of "higher education" even for those who have truly earned them!

One would not normally think that supposedly honest, "godly," and "blameless" (Imagine one of these egotistical Pharisees saying one is not qualified for the ministry if he has had more than one wife! The Holy Spirit said "blameless" before he said "husband of one wife," 1 Tim. 3:2!) Bible Believing, Fundamental preachers would resort to such deceitful measures as desiring honorary or phony "earned" doctorates, but sadly, it is true. They deceive their churches, brethren, and most of all, themselves! Not to mention they demean the entire concept of doctorates for those who truly earned them. Want to cut through the facade and see the true colors of one of these fellows? Just begin to question his qualifications for his coveted, beloved "doctorate." What you see may not be very pretty, but you will then realize why this subject is a "Taboo Topic."


[These are only the degrees we presently know of, we are sure there are several more. Also some of the designations of phony degrees in America may be legitimate in Europe and other parts of the world]

Earned Degrees Unearned Degrees
Doctor of Philosophy, [Ph.D.]
Doctor of Theology, [Th.D.]
Doctor of Religious Education, [D.R.E.]
Doctor of Ministry, [D.Min.]
Doctor of Education, [Ed.D,]
Doctor of Divinity, [D.D.]
Doctor of Letters, [D.Ltts.]
Doctor of Literature, [D.Litt.]
Doctor of Humanities, [D.Hum.]
Doctor of Civil Law, [D.C.L.]

[Again, we are not commenting on the spiritually, ability, consecration, or ministry of those with honorary doctorates. Some of them have very effective ministries and have been used of God.  God will often use people in spite of their faults and sins, but that is still no justification for self-serving deception.]