Just in time for my return to the office and classroom after a wonderful sabbatical and summer, I have been—inadvertently—awarded an honorary PhD! I was asked to write a review/endorsement of Len Hjalmarson’s latest book, No Home Like Place [Urban Loft, 2014], and an excerpt from my words made the back cover of the book [shown above]. However, let me set the record straight by making it public that I do not have a PhD, I am not a PhD candidate, and I have no plans of ever working on a PhD. However, I am an academic, and since it is the beginning of an academic year this seems an appropriate time to blog about academic qualifications.
The degree I do have is an STM, Master of Sacred Theology. Most people have never heard of this degree. It is primarily awarded in mainline and Roman Catholic seminaries for those who already have a previous theological degree such as an MDiv, MA or MTS. It is equivalent to a DMin or a ThM in academic rigor. I received this degree from the College of Emmanuel & St. Chad [Anglican], which was part of the Saskatoon Theological Union which also included St. Andrews College [United Church of Canada] and Luther Seminary on the campus of the University of Saskatchewan. My major was in Pastoral Theology and minor in Church History with a thesis on spirituality and human development, particularly the transition from high school to college and its impact on spirituality. It is perfect for what I am doing at present and I don’t see the need for a PhD in addition to it.
What about Anabaptists and education? Since going to a Mennonite Bible College for two years I have not studied at an Anabaptist or Mennonite school and yet became a committed and enthusiastic Anabaptist in the midst of this broad theological environment. I have learned to appreciate the contributions of other theological streams while at the same time deepening my commitment to Anabaptist emphases.
Anabaptists have always had an ambivalent relationship with academics. Of the first generation of Anabaptists, only one had a doctorate, and by the second generation they were too focused on escaping persecution to be getting an education. Of course in later generations Mennonites became very educated and today there are Mennonites with PhD’s in many areas. I would guess that a few of the progressive Mennonite denominations might have more PhD’s per capita than many other traditions, but my particular conservative background did not follow this trend. They believed that education would expose people to worldliness and tempt them with pride. Getting an education was not a high priority. My father struggled to make it to grade 7 and his father could barely write his own name. A popular saying in Low German was “The more learned the more useless.” Reading books was of no practical value, working hard on the farm was what mattered. Of my parents’ generation in my extended family only one of seventeen earned a post-secondary degree, and this was often viewed with suspicion. Despite having three post-secondary degrees, I still carry some of this mindset with me. Education better be practical or it is of no value. Thus, I kind of like lumping all of my courses under the banner of practical theology, adding with a wink that this is not necessarily an oxymoron.