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Jesus Creed


Mainline University Bias?

posted by Scot McKnight

A post by Dan Wallace, over at Parchment and Pen, has more than 400 comments and I’ve been asked to weigh in via this letter below. The gist is that Professor Wallace (at Dallas) has suggested there’s enough bias against Dallas and evangelicals to call into question the so-called tolerance and liberalism of the liberals. Dan’s got some exaggerated rhetoric, but what he describes is not an uncommon experience. Sometimes liberalism is a biased form of reverse fundamentalism. Anyway, I publish this letter to get your response. I will respond tonight just after midnight.

 

Dr. McKnight,

I am a student at an evangelical seminary who is thinking of doing PhD work. Recently I happened to notice an evangelical scholar who wrote something about how the mainline universities and divinity schools (i.e. “liberals” according to most) routinely reject students’ applications from evangelical seminaries seemingly because they’re evangelical and therefore must be “anti-intellectual.” I have heard of this kind of thing before, but was not aware that it was as bad as this professor claims. Personally, I would prefer to get a PhD at a mainline institution because I think it will stretch me more intellectually and challenge me more as a Christian. I also think the work (research, etc.) scholars put out at some of these schools is top-notch and we need more evangelicals who go to these schools to learn from them instead of staying in our “safe-haven” institutions.  

The questions I would like to ask you & the Jesus Creed community are:



Do non-evangelicals discriminate against evangelicals just because of where they got their education?

Is it to the degree that this professor suggests? Where professors are interested until they find out where the candidate was educated and then give them the cold shoulder?

Is this warranted?

How can this change?

What have been your experiences?

Should students even go to confessional schools if this will inevitably happen and they want to teach elsewhere or be respected outside of the conservative evangelical world?

Are professors at the mainline universities and divinity schools nothing more than left-wing fundamentalists?

If this is going to change any time soon, then we have to get it out in the open and be willing to dialog about it.

Then we can dispel the myths, get the facts straight, and truly be ecumenical and judge people by the content of ther character, how they present their arguments, and how willing they are to change their mind as opposed to by what school they got their masters or PhD at.

Can this bridge be repaired,  or does it even need to be?



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RJS

posted December 7, 2009 at 7:09 am


This is a fascinating post – and led me over to read the conversation at Pen and Parchment, which was also fascinating. There were many insightful comments and sub conversations.
I am not in any kind of Biblical Studies discipline but I am in a secular University (and a top-notch one) – so the whole conversation intrigues me.
In a competitive program – where only a few are chosen, those few must stand out. This means that there must be a reason to think that they will be able to think critically and logically. I have to admit Dallas Theological Seminary doesn’t jump to the front of my mind as a place able to foster critical thinking (Dallas has a reputation for fences not thinking) – but other evangelical institutions seem just fine.
I am in the sciences – and if an application comes in from a student who went to a YEC school, say Cedarville, it will come in for an extra level of scrutiny. There is a serious doubt that the student actually learned to think about science in a fair fashion. On the other hand an application from a student from Wheaton or Bethel or … does not get that same level of extra scrutiny. It is a non-issue in general.
I wonder if the issue is somewhat the same in biblical studies disciplines.



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bthomas

posted December 7, 2009 at 8:00 am


Those who build the fences hold the key to the gate. When it comes to the matter of entry, point of origin is a useful way to limit participation by those whose interest are at stake.



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Trevin Wax

posted December 7, 2009 at 8:30 am


I have some friends who have made the jump from evangelical institutions to mainline institutions. They have said that – ironically – the mainline institutions don’t offer the same well-rounded view that the evangelical ones do. For example, the best evangelical institutions will require students to read all points of view, including liberals who they disagree with. Unfortunately, many of the mainline institutions do not require reading from conservative sources. The more conservative Christians are thus excluded from discussion because of their presuppositions.



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Rob

posted December 7, 2009 at 8:33 am


RJS,
I think one of Dan’s main points is that Dallas traditionally has a bad rap that shouldn’t reflect its current students’ abilities. Sure Dallas is confessional and has a history of “fences,” but that does not deny its current students the ability to critically think through issues and be open to various critical methods. I am sure if students want, they may buck the reputation and really strive for critical engagement in the wider academic world. I personally know a graduate from there who is now in a Ph.D. programme for post-colonial criticism. He is not alone in pursuing various critical issues, I am sure. The point is, the perception of a school in particular and evangelicalism in general should not prejudice one who claims liberal thinking. Furthermore, one is not determined by their geneology and some may and probably do try and rise above. I think Dan brings up a good word of caution.



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JAR

posted December 7, 2009 at 8:45 am


I have both a seminary degree from a leading interdenominational evangelical seminary and a religious studies PhD from a mainline American university.
Eight years ago I would have expressed dismay at the bias against evangelical seminaries, especially because I was applying to Phd programs. However, I now have a different perspective having completed my education.
Looking back at my own experiences, I don’t think my seminary education was as challenging at it needed to be in order to go straight in a Phd program (I would have disagreed with this at the time). It wasn’t because Evangelicals are dumb; the faculty at my school were all top-notch with impressive degrees.
I can think of a number of reasons for the lack of rigor. One has to do with the purpose and ethos of my seminary: we were training pastors for the mission field, not scholars for academia. The goal was not to hyper-critical about texts and arguments, but to shape our thinking and character so that we might serve the church. The content and difficulty of the courses were tailored so that might be helpful to pastoral ministry, and 95% of my classmates had no further academic ambitions. My professors on the whole were just plain nice–trying to establish a communal rather than competitive atmosphere–which often meant that the lowest grade for a completed paper was a B. We also tended only to read books by other evangelicals, which meant that I was often unaware of larger debates in the field I hoped to work, or that those debates were often encountered “second-hand” through evangelical writings. This made it difficult to produce writing samples for my graduate school applications that showed a deep understanding of the issues of the discipline I was hoping to enter.
I am not saying that those with evangelical degrees should not do future academic work, but rather I am saying that I understand why it is hard to assess the suitability of students who come from confessional programs.



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Rick

posted December 7, 2009 at 8:47 am


Tevin #3-
I have heard the same thing.



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josenmiami

posted December 7, 2009 at 8:48 am


I was a 20-year Evangelical pastor and church planter and I fully expected to run into this kind of prejudice from liberals when I enrolled in a PhD program at a major state university. However, I have been pleasantly surprised and have found very few profs. who have pigeon-holed me because of my background. In fact, to the contrary, many professors have been fascinated and intriegued by my experience and have encouraged me to bring my faith into my historical research. I think attitude is critical. Many conservative evangelicals go into secular settings defensively with guns locked and loaded, and ready to strike pre-emptively … and of course, this generates a corresponding reaction.



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RJS

posted December 7, 2009 at 8:49 am


Rob,
I rather expect that Dallas graduates have gone on to excellent programs and careers. The same is true of other rather conservative institutions (Westminster jumps to mind). This is in fact what the conversation on Pen and Parchment brings out. (And I read all 454 comments on the site at the time when I was first made aware of this).
But an institution that will not give a degree to a student who does not sign on the bottom line on inerrancy and points to the Chicago Statement when asked what it means (from the comments) leaves an extra hurdle to be surmounted.
When there are 9 openings and more than 200 applications (from one of the comments) competition is intense and small things will make the difference.
If you think it doesn’t matter – in image and in real comparison – you are fooling yourself.



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_Rob

posted December 7, 2009 at 8:58 am


No, your point on inerrancy is duly noted. Such confessions are hurdles, no doubt. I am impressed you read all those comments! I only tackled about 300 before I had to quit! :-)



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Tripp Hudgins

posted December 7, 2009 at 9:00 am


These comments cover most of the thoughts that I had. I will also simply remind us that the two different Christian scholastic traditions (within Protestantism) have their roots in the “Modernist/Fundamentalist Controversy.” The goals of the two traditions are not the same. Of course there is a bias against one another. Why wouldn’t there be? I wish there weren’t but Wheaton is not Duke is not Fuller is not Chicago…They have different goals. Until the traditions make peace with one another, this may always be so. Ecumenism will be part of this student’s work.
Best to you. This is a tough question to answer.



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RJS

posted December 7, 2009 at 9:16 am


JAR makes a great point.
As I said above (and many here know) I am in science not BTS, but some experience here is relevant. I went from a small liberal arts college (happened to be confessional, but this is not the point here) to the Ph.D. program at the number one ranked program in the country in my field (masters degrees are not the norm in my field – in fact they are frowned upon in general).
There is no doubt that my preparation was not up to the level of many of my fellow students from more eminent institutions. The courses had been taught to prepare those who would go to Medical school or other professional programs, or who would go into industry or K-12 education. There was not the same level of rigor or competition.
I see the same distinction in our incoming graduate students – many of those who attended small schools have an extra hurdle to leap. Science graduate programs are not as competitive as many – because there is a large employment market – but this is still an issue in comparison of applicants.
I wonder how much of the hurdle in this discussion about Ph.D. programs in BTS is “prejudice” (and I think that some of it is) and how much relates to preparation (this plays a role as well).



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Mike Hickerson

posted December 7, 2009 at 9:40 am


RJS makes an excellent point about competitiveness – i.e. 200 applicants for 9 openings. There are two sides to this. That level of competition makes it easier for bias to win out, precisely because there will be so little difference between applicant #9 (who gets in) and applicant #10 (who does not). Heck, there probably isn’t *that* much difference between applicant #9 and applicant #50, so anyone who doesn’t fit the ideal (as defined by the admissions committee) will be at a disadvantage.
There’s another side, though, which relates to the difference between evangelical values and the values of the secular academy. An engineering prof once shared with me that he regularly sees evangelicals fail to get tenure at his university, not because of overt bias or incompetence, but because they don’t value the same things as the university. The evangelicals want to do crazy things like spend time with their family, get involved with a local church, and sponsor student clubs, when the tenure committee mostly cares about how much research they’ve done. I expect that something similar plays out in Biblical studies. It doesn’t take too many “failed” applicants to mark the whole bunch as “not serious” about scholarship (when, really, they might be far more serious about the Bible and theology, just in different ways).



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Scot McKnight

posted December 7, 2009 at 9:53 am


Mike #12, I think your point could very well be true and a pervasive issue, but I suspect it doesn’t matter quite as much during the school/research days (and you weren’t saying that, I know). During PhD days most are full time and it is all business.
Young professors, in my experience, tend to be all research and less church and over time they realize that if it weren’t for the latter the former might not even matter.



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Michael W. Kruse

posted December 7, 2009 at 9:54 am


It has been alluded to a couple of times in comments but I think the focus of Evangelical seminaries and Mainline seminaries differ. Generally speaking, I think Evangelical seminaries lean toward preparing students for practical ministry while Mainline seminaries lean toward academic rigor. I will tell you that there are big debates and disagreements over the role of seminaries in the PCUSA. Most seminary leadership is unabashed in their commitment to academic rigor while other leaders in the church are calling for less academics and more practical tutoring toward effective pastoring. The perception that you are coming from a school that doesn’t match the their academic emphasis may be an obstacle.



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RJS

posted December 7, 2009 at 9:55 am


Mike (#12)
Well this is “off topic” – slightly – but you are right on the failure to get tenure. People must be prepared to view that 5-6 years or so pre-tenure as a very intense experience. The purpose is to build a national/international reputation in the discipline. Anything that seriously detracts from this effort is a problem.
After tenure one has more academic freedom and more personal freedom. There can be costs, but not “loss of job.”



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scott eaton

posted December 7, 2009 at 10:17 am


I don’t know much about the process for becoming admitted into a PhD program. But when I was in Durham, NC and was thinking about PhD work I spoke with a number of Duke PhD students. They told me admittance into a Duke PhD program was very competitive.
Not only did you need exceptional grades and demonstrated critical thinking skills, but you also needed to be interesting to the professors. I was told that candidates needed to have interests that aligned themselves with the professors in their particular field. For example, if you wanted to research something that the professors thought was already over-researched – forget it. If you wanted to research something that no one else (or relatively few others) have researched and could somehow contribute to the research then you had a better chance, especially if the professors found your area of interest interesting to them as well.
One more thought. Graduates from some evangelical institutions might do well to go on to a Masters program at a mainline university first and then apply for a PhD program.



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David Phillips

posted December 7, 2009 at 10:23 am


2 Points:
1. I agree with JAR #5. I graduated (MDIV) from a SBC seminary in the mid ’90’s. I just finished my D.Min from George Fox Seminary in Portland. I had to make up so much ground theologically in the DMin because in my MDiv all they wanted us to be was a good Southern Baptist. I had to do a double amount of reading to learn about Barth, Bultmann, and others whose names were being tossed around easily. All I got in the MDiv was good SBC teaching and I suffered for it. If you do not learn to think critically and if all your are getting is the denominational perspective, you have a limited perspective. I think if I could do it again, and had the money, I would have considered a more diverse seminary.
2. I have had the same experience as josenmiami #7. I did some non-degree work in Communications at the Univ of South Florida and then got into the PhD in Communications at the Univ of Alabama. I didn’t get looked down on for my education. I was actually pleased when my libertarian, atheist prof at USF encouraged a paper on the reputation of the church. He told me to go be a consultant to the church! He was encouraged and appreciated my ability to integrate what he was teaching us into a ministry background.
I will note that I did not go to a state university right out of seminary. I had pastored a church and then spent a couple of years doing IT networking/programming. I was seen as more well-rounded because I had a degree in Computer Info Systems in addition to a seminary degree, and I had experience in an emerging technology field. I was also able to show the ability to integrate business, theology/ministry, and communications as a non-degree student. I had profs clamoring to write recommendations for me to get into PhD programs.
I moved before I could get too far into the PhD in Communications to go pastor a church in Delaware. The Univ of Delaware is a competitive school. I applied for their PhD in Sociology and didn’t get rejected. I got wait-listed. It was probably because I had never had a sociology class, but they didn’t have a PhD Communications degree. I talked to several profs there and never got the feeling I was being limited because of my degree, but was limited by my lack of education in their field.



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John W Frye

posted December 7, 2009 at 10:28 am


I appreciated Dan Wallace’s honest admission about the narrowed confessional stance of the “old” Dallas Theological Seminary. IMO, old line dispensationalism or progressive dispensationalism really doesn’t matter to the liberal universities or seminaries. It is the concept of dispensationalism…which they only know probably from all the Rapture/Tribulation popularism. As long as *dispensationalism* remains DTS’s conservative distinctive, its most promising and competent scholar-students will most likely get the cold shoulder. I could be wrong.



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John W Frye

posted December 7, 2009 at 10:29 am


BTW, I am a graduated of Dallas Seminary, and I am very grateful for my education at that fine school.



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John W Frye

posted December 7, 2009 at 10:35 am


I lerned too spel thar alzo…graduate(d)… :-)



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Glenn

posted December 7, 2009 at 12:14 pm


Trevin with post #3 has a good point. The best evangelical schools take liberal scholarship quite serious and engage with deep and careful reflection on the insights of liberal theology, historical studies, etc. Yet it does seem to be a common experience that mainline or “liberal” schools do not interact in any in-depth way with the best of conservative theologians, etc.



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Mark Baker-Wright

posted December 7, 2009 at 12:32 pm


As a graduate from an evangelical institution myself, and one who’s wife (also from this institution) was concerned about such bias when applying for PhDs, and who herself feels that she was denied consideration to at least one program because she came from this evangelical institution (that school has since accepted another applicant from this one, though, implying they’ve reconsidered that stance), I do think that there’s a real issue here. However, I don’t think that it’s altogether a fault of “liberals,” (nor of “evangelicals”) per se.
Maybe I can attempt an illustration from the secular world. One has good reason to suspect that a graduate from, say, Harvard, probably has greater qualifications for further study than a graduate from, say, Montreat College (I pick on them because I myself graduated from them, so rather than insult some other non-Harvard school, I’ll just use my own). Taken in generalities, this prejudice is probably well-founded.
Of course, it would be folly to say that any Harvard grad is better than any Montreat grad. These prejudices are simply no excuse for not digging more deeply into each applicant’s background.
So, I expect that some prejudices will not only continue to exist, but should continue (other reasons given in previous comments, I think, bear this out as well). However, applications must be explored beyond just the fact of which institution was attended. That only tells part of the story.



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James

posted December 7, 2009 at 1:02 pm


I have an undergraduate degree from a small liberal arts Christian confessionally based college. I also have some seminary training from the seminary associated with the college. I applied to several mainline universities for Ph.D. work and was accepted without problems, even receiving funding. I ended up choosing the University of Chicago for various reasons. I never felt that my undergraduate degree was a problem. In fact, I felt that my having gone to the U of C was more of a barrier in getting hired by an evangelical institution than the other way around!
Things have changed a lot in the 20 years since that happened, though. I don’t think the U of Chicago training would be as big a barrier today.
James



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RJS

posted December 7, 2009 at 1:13 pm


This whole discussion is a tad ironic given that Dallas (for example) will probably not have bias against a master’s degree from a “liberal” institution – but they do require that Ph.D. Students:

adhere to the following doctrines: the authority and inerrancy of Scripture, the Trinity, the full deity and humanity of Christ, the spiritual lostness of the human race, the substitutionary atonement and bodily resurrection of Christ, salvation by faith alone in Christ alone, and the physical return of Christ.

While I do think that there is bias at mainline institutions and in the academy – it is far more subtle.
Not only this – but I believe that a student who found his view challenged and changed in the course of pursuing a degree at Dallas would have a hard time graduating (correct me if I am wrong).
A student who came to faith (even evangelical faith) while pursuing a Ph.D. at Harvard would not have to worry that such would cost him degree and future at all levels.
Who, I ask, can actually pursue academic questions honestly?
I bring this up in part because I had a conversation a while back with a colleague here about a Carnegie initiative on graduate education in the US – how to revise and improve. Seminaries or Divinity schools were one of the programs considered – and we had a rather interesting discussion on the validity of censorship in academic pursuits. It just floored him (outside of his realm of reason) that such could happen in a “real” academic program.



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Barb

posted December 7, 2009 at 1:28 pm


I actually have in my file a transcript from Dallas with 10 credits that I earned as a student there in the summer of 1976. As a woman, summer was the only time I could attend. I actually enjoyed my time there but because Texas was far from my home in Washington state I only went that one summer. THEN, the Dallas grads that I had worked along side to found a church informed me that as a woman I couldn’t actually be part of the leadership of that church. (they were the one’s who encouraged me to go to Dallas in the first place).
Not too long after I returned to my PC(USA) roots. I haven’t paid much attention to Dallas since–Today, Can a women enroll in the regular program? If not, then that seems like a major divide between many of the “mainline” schools that you mention.



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PreacherTeacher

posted December 7, 2009 at 1:44 pm


This post and the comments are interesting to me because they hit on my own exprience in a variety of ways. I attended an Ivy League university as an undergrad, where I found some professors sympathetic to Christianity or Christians themselves, but other were clearly hostile.
I then went to a conservative school for a Masters degree in religion. There were no creedal statements to sign, but the professors were mostly right of center theologically. Still they made sure we read a variety of views from works written by the people who help those views. That is, with one or two exceptions, they presented all sides as fairly as they could.
From there I went to a mainline seminary for my M.Div. I received a scholarship for my college work and ministry work, but no mention was made of my first masters, even though I had a 4.0. There I also found some profs sympthetic to evangelical students, and others that took shots whenever they could. The introductory-level classes in Bible were designed to get everyone on the same page, asserting the “critically assured miniumum,” with no serious engagement of alternative views (and sometimes little patience for expressing them). Still, I count my time there as a blessing because I was forced to think about, defend, and often revise my own views. That is, my faith became my own.
My doctoral program was also at a mainline demoninational seminary. There was clear hostility by a few toward evangelicals, but a number of others who were generous to us and appreciative of us and our religious heritage. But, again, overall the process generally sharpened my faith, and there were fellow evangelicals to walk with in the program. In fact, my major difficulties there were more political than theological (professors opposing each other, being perceive as not showing proper deference to “established” scholars, etc.). I would recommend visiting any school you are thinking about attending, and talk to a lot of students in the program (not just the ones the admissions people assign to you). You will probably get a feel for how professors regard more conservative students and how such students fare in the program.



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AHH

posted December 7, 2009 at 1:59 pm


I have no directly relevant experience, but I have to wonder if some of this anectotal bias is more perceived than real. Programs are competitive, and when one doesn’t get picked it is always tempting to blame it on some kind of bias rather than think you might have legitimately lost the competition, or that you might have just been unlucky.
When I was finishing my postdoc and applying for faculty jobs, it was a time when women were just starting to enter my field in significant numbers at the Ph.D. level, and all-male departments were under pressure to diversify. When I was turned down for some jobs, it was tempting to say “If I was a woman they would have hired me.” Most of the time I managed to refrain from that, and with the perspective of time I have seen that my personality would not have been well suited for such a position (and places that didn’t hire me probably recognized that when I didn’t).
I also must admit that I am automatically suspicious of claims of bias (or, worse, “persecution”) by conservative Christians in the U.S. Like in the propaganda film “Expelled” where the most celebrated case of tenure denial, while he did face some bias, also had a mediocre publication record and brought in no research funding so probably did not merit tenure. Or people who classify stores not saying “Merry Christmas” as persecution. There can be a “Boy who cried wolf” effect, which is unfortunate because it tempts me to ignore a concern that has at least some legitimacy.



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RJS

posted December 7, 2009 at 2:13 pm


AHH (#27)
And being one of those women hired at roughly that time – there was always the “if you weren’t a woman you wouldn’t have gotten the job” backlash.
(Not quite the same field – but similar pressures.)



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_Rob

posted December 7, 2009 at 2:43 pm


AHH and RJS (#s 27-28),
The only problem with that is the example given in Dan’s post is that of a discussion between a potential student and a professor, in which the professor was very interested in the student until he asked the name of the school he attended. At that moment, the professor stopped all conversation, and proceeded to change the topic. It was blatant not subtle.
Also, we are not talking about “getting in” or “getting picked,” but prior to that even getting a fair audience.
This student was not even considered. If this is not an example of bias, I am not sure what is?
Agreed, far too often conspiracy theories abound, and to the detriment of many. If real, they hurt their petitioner’s case. Nevertheless, when real injustice happens, we should not shy away. This was a real student who was dismissed the moment his school was mentioned.



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RJS

posted December 7, 2009 at 2:55 pm


_Rob,
You are right – and I am sure that it has happened, far too often.
But I am not convinced that it is pervasive and regular, rather subject to individuals and situations.



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AHH

posted December 7, 2009 at 3:05 pm


Rob #29,
Please notice that I was not suggesting that such bias never happens, or that the particular anecdote was not real bias and a legitimate topic of concern.
What I was wondering was whether the bias is as pervasive as the post Scot linked to would have us believe. To simplify and summarize, I brought up two factors that might cause the extent of such a problem (which no doubt exists) to be exaggerated:
1) The human tendency to want to blame external factors whenever we don’t get the response we want in a situation (whether a personal conversation or an application process).
2) The tendency in some conservative Evangelical circles to cry persecution and bias at the drop of a hat.



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Kacie

posted December 7, 2009 at 3:08 pm


This is a fascinating discussion and I look forward to your thoughts, Scot.
In defense of Dallas… I too had a general impression of DTS being a conservative place that wouldn’t accept dialogue. I was disappointed when my husband chose DTS as the place to pursue graduate studies in Church History. Since he started the program two and a half years ago, my impressions of DTS have mostly been proved wrong. Even the required class on dispensationlism rather discouraged classic dispensationalism, though the school as a whole certainly leans to progressive dispensationalism – but does this quality necessarily mean that DTS is not a high quality academic program?
My experience auditing classes proved that they were quite comfortable with theistic evolution, that women were definitely allowed and encouraged in their main programs, and that Christians of all denominations (even including some Eastern Orthodox) are present in DTS classes. The most conservative and un-thinking stripe of people that I’ve met at DTS were students from small-town America who were still rather aghast at the possibilities that DTS professors were willing to discuss.
DTS isn’t perfect, but I will say that it is not the angrily conservative school that it once was. I believe their ThM program is excellent academically, and their spiritual formation program helps to provide the discipleship and spiritual health component. DTS is known for their excellent Greek, Hebrew, and exegesis courses, and for good reason.



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AHH

posted December 7, 2009 at 3:08 pm


Yuk, excuse the formatting in my comment just above, where I meant the bold to only be on the word “was”.
It would be nice if Beliefnet had a “preview” feature for comments.



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dopderbeck

posted December 7, 2009 at 3:52 pm


Kacie (#32) — thanks for those comments! I come out of an old-school dispensationalist background, which makes me knee-jerk suspicious of schools like DTS. However, in recent years I’ve had the opportunity to converse with a few current DTS profs about various things and have found them to be careful and thoughtful people, not at all in the mold I recall from many years ago. That world seems to be changing.
I know someone from an evangelical context who’s working on a degree at Princeton Seminary. This person suggests that PTS is friendly to evangelicals in many ways. You might even say that Bruce McCormack of PTS is an evangelical of sorts. Then there is Mirslav Volf at Yale, who might not identify as an Evangelical despite his Fuller background, but who seem evangelical in some key aspects. At Duke there is Richard Hays, a true third way person I think. What this adds up to for Ph.D. admissions, I don’t know, but it seems there certainly is more convergence between evangelicals and post-liberals now than any time in the recent past.



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Luke

posted December 7, 2009 at 3:58 pm


This is great Scot. The discussion is a good one and I’m looking forward to hearing what you have to say. My question is this: is it typical of the mainline schools to think the students coming from the conservative/confessional schools share the same convictions and beliefs as the aforementioned conservative/confessional schools? Do the PhD committees and professors at, e.g., Harvard think all DTS grads are dispensationalists, or all SBTS grads are complementarians, or all RTS students are Calvinists, etc? I know this would be a natural deduction, but my experience demands that this needs to be rethought.
Perhaps the bias is so prevalent because this assumption is automatically made??



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dopderbeck

posted December 7, 2009 at 5:40 pm


Curious about this too Scot: if you were to advise someone with a sincere Christian faith who was considering attending a non-evangelical seminary for a first theological degree (M.Div.), are there any schools you would recommend?



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Scot McKnight

posted December 7, 2009 at 5:45 pm


dopderbeck,
Princeton
Duke
Duke
Princeton
But I don’t know the seminary landscape well enough to know curriculum. I’m confident of these two schools.



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AKMA

posted December 7, 2009 at 5:59 pm


When people are separated by significant ideological gulfs, it’s hard to make any reliable claims about who’s biased, who’s just telling the straight truth, who’s not ready for demanding work, and who’s unwilling to entertain serious arguments. That difficulty increases dramatically when the endeavor in question involves cultivating a complex intellectual (financial, spiritual, social) ecology — a graduate program, for instance.
I respect Dan Wallace a lot, and I would anticipate no trouble working with a student he recommended to Glasgow’s doctoral program. But that’s in the abstract (as are a large proportion of the observations here and in Dan’s gargantuan comments thread). In actual specific facts, this student’s manners may have put me off, or I might imagine him or her to have trouble working with my colleagues, or the other students. I might not want to devote the years of work it would take to advise this student on the topic that interests them most. The student may have made a casually deprecatory remark about someone whose work I admire (this happens way more than would-be students think; I suspect they imagine it enhances the impression of their critical capacity, but much of the time it backfires). Or I may be carrying too many other students, or I may think this applicant would do better at St Andrew’s or Princeton Seminary or Fuller or Chicago.
Graduate programs are relatively small. That means that each interested party may have a proportionally bigger effect on the ecology of the whole. They are usually slow-moving; the person you admit today may be relying on you for ten years of guidance. They involve specialized knowledge at a very high level; very few people are in the position to second-guess institutions’ admissions decisions. (By the way, very few theological institutions admit nine students in any given field these days. One or two is nearer the average. And back when I was at PTS, with a relatively large PhD program, we still had vastly more applications than we could take.) In other words, experts are making hairsbreadth judgment calls on the grounds of interwoven criteria that no one can see significantly more clearly than they do.
To return to the presenting question: Is there bias against certain institutions’ students at other institutions? Absolutely. Is it systemic? My experience suggests that it is not, or at least not asymmetrically so. And as commenters in both this thread and Dan’s have said, sometimes what appears to be bias on the part of the admitting institution (or interviewing scholar) has a different basis that remains unknown to the applicant. And sometimes there are good (if superficial) reasons for what looks like bias.
All of which is to say that if a dozen people suddenly applied to Glasgow to work with me, I couldn’t take them all no matter where they were from, no matter how certain they were that they rank among the best. I wouldn’t take solely “postmodern” types; I wouldn’t take solely “liberal” types; I would take those among the best students who seemed best to complement the rest of the program’s ecosystem. And some of those who were not accepted would probably chalk it up to bias. Egos are frail, self-justification is easy, and institutions are imperfect (and all of these generalizations cut both ways).
On the whole, I’ve seen too much racism, sexism, nativism, and theological bigotry at play in graduate education. I doubt that anti-evangelicalism is the biggest problem that PhD programs face, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, nor that people who are affected by anti-evangelicalism shouldn’t complain about it. But in any such discussion, I’ll pay the most attention to people who show the most careful attention to the complexities and nuances of the situation. Kinda like in doctoral work itself, and in scholarship.



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Christopher Heard

posted December 7, 2009 at 6:37 pm


To whatever extent there really is a systemic bias among “liberal” schools against students from evangelical seminaries?and a few second-hand anecdotes about individual professors’ biases is far from establishing a systemic bias as fact?I doubt that it has anything to do with dispensationalism specifically. It’s far more likely that any such bias stems from a perception, whether accurate or inaccurate, that evangelical seminaries, especially those that require students to affirm creeds or statements of faith, produce closed-minded graduates.
Whether DTS and similar schools actually produce closed-minded graduates is a different question, one that requires hard data, not anecdotes, to answer accurately. Even my first paragraph above is based on a narrow slice of my own subjective impressions and has no hard data behind it.
P.S. Beliefnet is a singularly annoying place to host a blog. Why make your readers slog through Betty Crocker ads to read about this topic?



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Randy G.

posted December 7, 2009 at 9:10 pm


Given my experience with graduate studies and what I see in the comments above, I suspect that the greater barrier grads of evangelical seminaries face in applying to mainline Ph.D. programs is more about the academic difference than the theological difference: Seminaries, particularly confessional ones, train people to lead in ministry, whereas Ph.D. programs teach and are seeking people skilled at high-level critical academic work.
Peace,
Randy G.



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nathan

posted December 7, 2009 at 10:14 pm


i am a graduate of Vanderbilt Divinity. The school stands squarely in the “liberal tradition”. The student body and faculty was the picture of engagement, vigorous theological reflection and i was constantly challenged, especially by one of my more “liberal” mentors, to celebrate the value of my evangelical upbringing even though i don’t find some things in evangelicalism useful anymore OR self-identify as such.
In all of my classes i never heard a disparaging word from a faculty member for “conservative” perspectives…I never felt like i was being “indoctrinated”.
instead, i saw serious people of faith reflecting deeply on the Scriptures together–even as they came to very different positions/conclusions/etc.
I am thankful for the community that is Vanderbilt Divinity School.
It sharpened my love for theology, re-ignited my sense of call to full-time ministry as a young theologian, and it also destroyed the myths (read: “lies”) about the “God-hating liberals” that are out to destroy the faith of poor persecuted “real Christians” that I had been handed.



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J

posted December 7, 2009 at 10:46 pm


I am currently and MDiv student at Princeton theological seminary (thanks for the vote of confidence Scot) and I would have to say that there are quite a few evangelicals or at least conservative denominational folk amongst the student body here and that includes the PhD folk. I also feel you have the option here of making your own track beyond the basic requirements. If you are going for ordination (It is still a PC(usa) school) and want to concentrate on more “practical” theology type courses you can do that. If you want to load up on the pre-PhD type courses you can do that as well. I’d say that most of my professors are not adamantly against evangelicals but are very willing to voice their concern or disagreement over particular stances such as a theology of scripture etc… Oh, and just a bit of advice, if you want to get into PTS’s PhD program, read up on Barth, he’s kinda big here.



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Your Name

posted December 8, 2009 at 12:35 am


Much has been made at how selective PhD. programs to justify the prejudice of liberal schools against seminaries such as DTS. However as Dr. Wallace pointed out in his blog, we seem to have a much easier time getting to British schools such as St. Andrews, Cambridge, Aberdeen, and Oxford.
I graduated from DTS recently, I know of many people who were able to get into PhD schools from some of the top schools in the U.K., but a proportionately small few who got into American secular schools. When someone can get into Cambridge and St. Andrews, but cannot get into a top American program, that to me seems like there might be more than pure academic ability involved in the acceptance process.



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AKMA

posted December 8, 2009 at 2:28 am


#43, the admission process is very different over here from in the USA. I can’t vouch for all UK universities, but if someone wants to work with me, they fill out the forms, send a 500-word research prospectus, and the decision to admit or not rests to a great extent with me — whether I’d be willing and able to work with this person. Plus, in the US, most schools concern themselves with funding their students more than is true in the UK (over here, government is a big factor for citizens, and international students are a source of income).
Not to say standards are harder or easier — just that it’s not appropriate to compare two divergent systems. Let’s say, strictly hypothetically, that there is in fact a financial benefit to a UK institution that accepts a student from the US, and that there’s a financial burden for a comparable institution that accepts a similar student in the USA. We would then expect that more such students would be admitted to institutions in the UK, without having introduced such factors as “quality of student,” “quality of program,” or “theological bias.” Proportionately fewer students should be accepted there, and more here, given the different systems; it’s not yet evidence of bias.
Admission and advancement in doctoral programs is way, way more complicated than pro- or anti-evangelicalism. That doesn’t mean it doesn’t exist, but that we look for evidence that can’t be explained by other systemic factors.



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paul

posted December 8, 2009 at 12:31 pm


Immediately after finishing (with honors) my M.A. from Denver Seminary in Philosophy of Religion, I applied for an adjuct opportunity at a local community college teaching World Religions. After not hearing from my paperwork submitted, I called and spoke with the dept. chair. Brashly, she asked “How can you teach, say, Buddhism objectively since you are a Christian? After all, Buddhist are atheists.” I responded, “That’s true for Therevada but not necessarily of all Mahayana sects, such as Amida Buddhists.” She said “This conversation is over!” and hung up on me. Who’s the objective one here!?
By the grace of God, I went on to teach a full load for 4 years courses in Philosophy, World Religions, Logic, Philosophy of Religion, etc. at a different community college; and students and faculty gave me rave reviews. Hum…



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Rob

posted December 8, 2009 at 1:14 pm


P.S. Beliefnet is a singularly annoying place to host a blog. Why make your readers slog through Betty Crocker ads to read about this topic?
side note…I agree with his P.S. Scot, have you evaluated the move to BN and did it have the intended outcome (more exposure)? Between the slower load times and the annoying ads, visiting BN sites is not a pleasant experience anymore.



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