Recently, I read about a major leader in a large evangelical denomination who had paid for and plagiarized many of his sermons. I also read the tragic tale of another very respected evangelical “apologist” who claimed to have studied at a prestigious university, only to find out later this was not true.
In recent weeks I have also learned about a self-appointed “pastor” without a high school diploma who is now speaking at churches on the subject of artificial intelligence and technology.
This sort of stuff greatly bothers me, and for the last several years I have given the subject of American evangelicalism and false academic credentials a lot of thought.
As a Christian who has spent most of my life in conservative evangelical and academic circles, I have seen a lot of fraud, deception and lack of discernment about what academic scholarship really is and what legitimate academic credentials are.
Education is valuable
The first thing I want to address is the notion, expressed in many conservative evangelical circles, that legitimate academic credentials are essentially worthless.
In many of the conservative evangelical churches I have been part of over the last 40 years, I have encountered countless Christian leaders who have told me the pursuit of academic credentials is meaningless and that what matters is if a person “knows the Lord.”
While I agree with the sentiment that having a vital personal relationship with Jesus Christ is essential, I disagree fundamentally, and believe studying and obtaining legitimate academic credentials that demonstrate requisite knowledge about an important academic subject is vitally important.
Who’s an expert?
I believe there are far too many self-taught individuals operating in evangelical circles who claim to be experts and authorities on subjects, who really do not know what they are talking about. I have seen that they never have actually engaged in legitimate and thorough peer-reviewed scholarship on matters they claim expertise in.
In my estimation, there are far too many self-taught Christian “scholars” going around the evangelical world, claiming to be authorities on certain academic subjects without any academic credentials at all.
Many of these individuals operate under the cloak of deception and false spiritual authority and have spread the false idea that academic credentials really do not matter and are part of “worldly human inquiry” that has no real value in light of eternity.
“I have seen countless examples in evangelical circles of pastors and Christian leaders who simply teach nonsensical things.”
When questioned about the legitimacy of the things they are claiming to be “experts” on, many of these self-taught Christian leaders claim some form of authority that leaves them beyond scrutiny. However, I have seen countless examples in evangelical circles of pastors and Christian leaders who simply teach nonsensical things.
I am old enough now to remember certain evangelical Bible teachers who, around the year 2000, claimed Y2K would absolutely melt down the technological infrastructure of society and people needed to go out at once and buy their “Y2K preparation kits” for $250 — being sold in the church parking lot.
I also remember questioning a famous eschatology teacher in the Calvary Chapel movement, after a sermon in which he dogmatically claimed former Iraqi dictator Saddam Hussein would become the “new Nebuchadnezzar” who would build Iraq into a global superpower as the “new Babylon.”
I remember distinctly, although many years ago now, how this leader was shocked that I would dare to question the legitimacy of his “Bible teaching.”
Yes, I did question his Bible teaching on the end of the world and yes, I did question his other teachings on the legitimacy of UFOs and extraterrestrial alien encounters. Yes, I also did question his plagiarized books on Bible codes and “gospel in the stars” astronomical forecasts that bordered on dubious astrology.
On a few occasions, I have seen some Christian leaders who claim to be scholars on certain subjects who do not even have high school or college diplomas. Please, please just stop pretending to be something you are not.
“I remember reading about and meeting a certain evangelical ‘expert’ on Islam who turned out to be a complete fraud.”
I remember reading about and meeting a certain evangelical “expert” on Islam who turned out to be a complete fraud. This individual never learned Arabic and eventually was exposed by Muslim apologists who knew that language.
Additionally, I have been grieved by many of the false academic credentials certain leaders have attributed to themselves. I have seen several Christian leaders operating in the evangelical world who claim to have “earned” degrees in certain subjects, only to find out that the “degree” they have acquired came from an unaccredited paper mill someplace.
I am sad to address this, but there are several famous evangelical leaders, operating in churches today, who claim to be “doctors” who never have actually earned legitimate doctoral degrees. Some at best have earned “honorary doctorates” and others, at worst, have paid for worthless diplomas from fabricated degree mills that are not reputable academic institutions at all.
I am sad to make mention of this, but one of the leading evangelical apologists in America today does not have an earned doctorate but still calls himself a “Dr.”
The moral of this story is that there are no shortcuts to academic scholarship. If you want to become an academic scholar in a subject, you need to put in the real work. I am afraid there are many Christian pastors and leaders operating in the American evangelical world these days who have false academic credentials.
“Many Christians feel pressured to obtain academic degrees and qualifications they never earned.”
It has been my experience that many Christians feel pressured to obtain academic degrees and qualifications they never earned.
Additionally, it is truly shocking to me to see so many Christian leaders plagiarizing and paying for sermons that are not an honest expression of their own work.
My word to those pastors and leaders in the evangelical world who are plagiarizing other pastors’ work: Please stop it. Eventually you will be exposed.
Also, to those who claim false academic authority for themselves: Please stop this. It is embarrassing.
The truth is academic degrees take time to earn and it takes a lot of effort to become a true expert in a chosen field of academic interest.
“But examine everything carefully, hold fast to the truth” (1 Thessalonians 5:21).
Lee Enochs is a graduate of Princeton Theological Seminary.