Last month we talked about what a DMin is, and we ended that article with the question of whether or not someone who has earned a DMin should be referred to as ‘Doctor’.
So let’s talk about that.
At a glance the obvious answer would be “well of course they should be called doctor, it’s right there in the degree: Doctor of Ministry.” For many, though, this is not an adequate response, mainly because it is seen as giving the DMin too much credit, as putting in on par with a PhD.
Others say that neither of those should really be called doctor, that we should reserve the term for those in the medical profession (think Tim Allen’s character in The Santa Clause not wanting Neil to be referred to as a doctor since he’s just a psychiatrist).
To begin to answer this question let’s first look at the history of the term doctor.
At its base definition, the term doctor historically refers to an eminent theologian declared a sound expounder of doctrine or simply a learned or authoritative teacher. Etymologically, the word derives from the Latin verb docere ‘to teach’ (especially in reference to doctrine). It was first used by Cicero in his discussions of rhetoric and picked up by the early church to refer to the apostles, church fathers, and other authorities on the Bible (such as Augustine, Ambrose, and Jerome as doctor ecclesiae, ‘doctor of the church’).
John Calvin expanded this designation into a more official office of the church (along with pastors, elders, and deacons), where their duty was to “the interpretation of Scripture only, in order that pure and sound doctrine may be maintained among believers.”
If we are basing our conclusions on etymology, it is likely safe to say that the one who has achieved a DMin fits into this definition.
On the flip side, it could theoretically be asserted that – following Calvin’s model – that the DMin is disqualified because it is a degree pursued by pastors, by people who preside over discipline, the administration of the sacraments, admonitions, and exhortations, not people who’s sole job is to properly interpret the Scriptures.
If we choose to go with the loose definition, a DMin suffices as someone who is [ideally] a sound expositor of doctrine or a learned teacher in the church. The pastor by any definition is also a teacher, and if they have studied far enough to earn a DMin then they certainly qualify as a learned teacher of the church. If we choose to go with Calvin’s strict formulation of the offices of the church, then it might not.
Etymology seems to provide a case either way, so let’s look at academic rigor instead. One reason often given for not honoring DMins with the title of doctor is that the DMin is really just a fluff degree, ‘PhD Lite’, or a watered-down doctorate (as we saw last time, the fact of the matter is that it’s just a different type of degree).
The question is then raised, how do a PhD and a DMin stack up against one another academically?
In answering this question let’s look at a case study. Let’s look at Westminster Theological Seminary and compare the requirements for a DMin versus those of a PhD (assuming you did your entire academic tenure there beginning after undergraduate).
Below is a breakdown of what a student at WTS would go through start to finish, based off an MAR leading up to the PhD and an MDiv to the DMin (note, this is a breakdown I put together based upon the information provided on the WTS website).
So how do they stack up?
The PhD is a longer program than a DMin, and also has a much more substantial final project in its dissertation as opposed to the applied research project of the DMin. On the flip side, in the end a DMin will have taken quite a few more semester hours overall, and it would likely take an individual longer to get an MDiv and a DMin.
That is all merely to say, the PhD is no doubt more intense than a DMin, but the amount of coursework required to achieve a DMin is no pushover.
Note: We might also point out here that it is not accurate to compare the DMin to something like a Juris Doctor (which is a master’s level degree). A more apt comparison would be between someone in the medical field getting an M.D. versus a PhD in medicine.
Basing this case study at Westminster also gives the PhD an even higher boost. The average master’s-level degree is closer to 36 semester hours; thus, if a student earned a standard master degree and chose to go to a school that didn’t require the learning of Greek and Hebrew, the PhD would top out at 72 semester hours and 2 languages, compared to the DMin requiring well over 100 semester hours of coursework regardless.
This means that it is perfectly possible -and indeed, likely – to have a PhD who has completed about half as many semester hours as a DMin.
There is certainly something to be said for the dissertation, but there is also certainly something to be said for potentially having gone through twice as many semester hours; granted, this is largely due to the mammoth size of the standard MDiv, but I’d contend one should take the MDiv into account.
Given all of this, is it appropriate to refer to a DMin as doctor?
In my opinion, yes, based both on the historic usage of the term and on the amount of coursework put into earning the degree. By the time someone has finished a DMin they should certainly qualify as a sound expositor of doctrine and a learned teacher in the church, and they will have potentially done much more bare coursework than the average PhD.
That said, what should be avoided – and the thing that many objectors have a problem with – is the desire to be called doctor; that is, a minister who insists that those around them refer to them as a ‘doctor’ or who introduce themselves as such. There is a temptation towards pride that must be guarded against (though the same can be said of the PhD).
It as accurate to refer to a DMin as ‘doctor’, though whether it is prudent is perhaps a matter of circumstance, and we can probably agree that anybody who mandates that they be referred to in that manner is a prig.