Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Greatest Minds Did Not All Possess the Highest Academic Degrees

In a recent journal article by Dr. Paul J. Grime from Concordia Theological Seminary, Ft. Wayne, the professor notes that the great musical master Johann Sebastian Bach "never had the benefit of a university education" (CTQ, January/April 2012, 4-5).  This sent me searching elsewhere for more information on Bach's formal education.  At the Bach Cantatas Website I further learned that his "formal education ended at what we would consider High-School level."  Now I note all this not in any way to disparage the great composer.  My point here concerns a personal issue with the value and necessity of advanced degrees with regard to the mastery of skills and knowledge in a given field.  Last year I posted an article entitled "Theologians Without Doctorates."  In it I noted some great minds that never achieved the terminal degree for which so many strive, and yet their achievements outweigh those with far higher credentials.  Again, I do not wish to disparage any who have worked to achieve such academic accomplishments.  They are to be lauded.  However, it is easy, as well, to become so enamored by these credentials that we can conclude that nothing worth studying or reading comes from any without these degrees.  Admittedly I have taken issue with many televangelists in our time who amass great flocks and write numerous best-sellers and yet have no real formal theological education (like Joel Osteen) or a meager one at best.  While the degree itself is never a guarantee of mastery, one can also tell if a person has attempted mastery without it.  Bach demonstrates an amazing brilliance, one that was fed at the feet of other masters.  So the degree is not the critical issue here, but rather the drive to learn, to achieve, to master. 

2 comments:

Mark Henderson said...

Donald,
The doctorate has really become a research degree in the 20th -21st C., rather than a license to teach theology, which it used to be. Some people are not disciplined enough in their habits to complete a doctorate today, yet they are brilliant in other, more creative and important ways. Barth is a good example (although I disagree with much of his theology, I can appreciate his "genius"). As a matter of fact, many of the finest theologians who came out of the English university tradition in the last century remained "bachelors" or "masters" (eg FF Bruce, whom you mention, and many like him). In some ways, I think the modern popularity of doctorates has come as a result of the marketing ploys of American universities and seminaries.

Donald V. Engebretson said...

Although I greatly respect those who have earned a research doctorate, I have wondered why we put so much stress on it with regard to teaching, especially on the undergraduate level, as well as on the graduate level for professional church workers (e.g. M.Div.). The "Doctor of Arts" (D.A.)degree was developed in this country as a teaching doctorate, if I remember correctly, but it never seemed to 'take off' in popularity. Those with the Ph.D, while rather well educated, are not trained to teach, and based on my daughter's experience at a secular university, their ability as teachers is often quite mixed. Personally, I think that our institutions of higher learning might benefit from a better mix in terms of those trained in research and those trained in content and practice. Although the D.Min is billed as a "professional degree" much like the M.Div, it seems that we could find an additional tract for this degree so that it was 'upgraded' for the purpose of teaching. At any rate, even without a doctorate there have been many teachers without any doctorate who have been brilliant teachers and scholars, and in the end we undoubtedly put too much stress on that degree.

Thanks for writing, Mark. It's good to hear from you again :)