|"For the word of the Lord is truth, and whatsoever is truth is light..."|
John Ankerberg & John Weldon
It is getting to be such a constant theme among the critics of the Mormon church to find that they have questionable credentials. Many of them have degrees from diploma mills and it would seem that they are saying that it doesn't take any real expertise to expose Mormonism. They read from each other and feel that they have an ironclad case. However, if their scholarship was genuine they would realize the unstability of their foundations.
John Ankerberg has co-authored many books on the church with John Weldon. They list their credentials on the Ankerberg website as:
"John Ankerberg hosts the nationally televised, award-winning 'The John Ankerberg Show'. He holds advanced degrees in theology and philosophy including two master's degrees and a doctorate."
"John Weldon has authored and co-authored numerous books dealing with contemporary issues. He has three master's degrees and two doctorates, one each in comparative religion and contemporary religious movements."
Daniel C. Peterson included an appendix in a recent review of their book: Behind the Mask of Mormonism. In this appendix he discusses their claimed degrees. This appendix is included here:
Disarmed by Degrees
Although they themselves insist that their academic back-ground qualifies them to critique the faith of the Latter-day Saints, it is very difficult to figure out what degrees Dr. Ankerberg and Dr. Dr. Weldon have and what sort of education they have received.
As an example, take the back cover of Behind the Mask of Mormonism, which describes John Ankerberg as holding "master's degrees in divinity and church history and the philosophy of Christian thought, and a doctorate degree from Luther Rice Seminary." Does this mean that he has two master's degrees, or three? On page 14, we are told that "John Ankerberg has two graduate degrees in Christian History and the History of Christian Thought." Do these two degrees include his doctorate? If so, what happened to the other master's degree, or to the other two master's degrees? If his doctorate is not included, why not? (A 1991 Ankerberg and Weldon publication speaks of an indeterminate number of "masters degrees" possessed by Mr. Ankerberg, but mentions no doctorate.)69 And is "the philosophy of Christian thought" the same subject as "the History of Christian Thought"? Do any of John Ankerberg's diplomas represent correspondence degrees? A letter sent to me on 10 April 1996 by Luther Rice Bible College and Seminary claims that it is "the world's leader in non-traditional, practical, conservative theological education." A brochure sent on the same day by Luther Rice Seminary and Bible College -- note, incidentally, the variation in the school's name explains that "All LRS degree programs are offered through Home Study or Distance Education."70 But do graduate degrees earned via correspondence represent the same quality of training as those attained through close work with graduate faculty advisors and research in graduate libraries? (Every reputable graduate program that I am aware of requires a minimum of one year, and usually two years, in residence, and practical reality almost always demands more than the stipulated minimum.)
Furthermore, a search of the Comprehensive Dissertation Index in the Brigham Young University library located no entry for John Ankerberg, and a scan of the hundreds of degree-granting institutions listed as submitting reports of dissertations to the Index (including such evangelical Protestant institutions as Dallas Theological Seminary and Denver Conservative Baptist Seminary) detected no reference to Luther Rice Seminary. Did he not write a dissertation? (Academic doctoral programs typically require dissertations.) Or is Luther Rice not covered by the Cornprehensive Dissertation Index? Or both? Finally, a huge standard reference work on graduate and professional degree programs that I consulted, although containing information on more than 1500 degree-granting institutions (including many seminaries, representing all brands of Christianity), apparently fails to mention Luther Rice.71
Careful readers are bound to find this all a tad puzzling, and would no doubt appreciate further information so that they can be properly assured of Ankerberg's academic qualifications to speak for his type of Protestantism against the Latter-day Saints. There is, of course, nothing necessarily wrong with such institutions as Luther Rice and the people who attend them. To the extent that the programs they offer enhance the ability of Protestant clergy and laypersons to serve other people, and to serve the Lord, they are certainly to be welcomed. They fill a niche, and they serve a purpose. But it is not obvious that the kind of "practical" training they supply qualifies their students as academic authorities on theology -- let alone on the faith of the Latter-day Saints.
In the case of John Weldon, I fear that the situation is more complicated still. The back cover of Behind the Mask of Mormonism assures us that he has "master's degrees in divinity and Christian apologetics, and a doctorate in comparative religion." But it would be nice to know where he received these degrees. Furthermore, are the "master's degrees in divinity and Christian apologetics" mentioned on the back cover the same as the "two master's degrees in biblical studies" mentioned on page 14, or are they in addition to those? And does he really have only one doctorate? Behind the Mask of Mormonism says on page 14 that John Weldon "has a Ph.D. in comparative religion, including a second doctorate specializing in cultic theology." Why was this second doctorate not mentioned on the back cover? It was also omitted on the back cover of Ankerberg and Weldon's 1991 attack on Islam, which mentions for him only "a doctorate in comparative religion, with an emphasis on Eastern religions."72 Where did he obtain this second doctorate? What kind of a field is "cultic theology" anyway, and what kind of school teaches it? (By Ankerberg and Weldon's standards, I suppose Brigham Young University does!) And what does it mean for one doctoral degree to "include" another? In all my experience in academic circles, I have never heard of any such thing. Nor has anybody with whom I have spoken about it. (Is it some sort of quantity discount? "Buy one and get the second diploma free"?)
A published 1985 reference to Mr. Weldon reported that he had received his B.A. (with honors) from San Diego State University, following that with an M.A. from the Pacific College of Graduate Studies, in Melbourne, Australia.73 By 1987, a biographical sketch inside one of his books identified him as "John Weldon, M.A., M.Div."74 Between 1987 and the 1992 publication of Everything You Ever Wanted to Know about Mormonism, however, Mr. Weldon was apparently quite busy acquiring yet more advanced degrees, including two doctorates. That book also described him as "a graduate of law school, where he majored in the subject of evaluating evidence for the true [sic] claims of Christianity"-a somewhat unusual legal specialty, as I noted earlier -- although Behind the Mask of Mormonism now says that he is "a graduate of Simon Greenleaf University, where he majored in the subject of evaluating evidence for the truth claims of Christianity" (p.14, emphasis added).75 All of this continues to be perplexing. As I reported in my 1993 review, a search of the Cornprehensive Dissertation Index turned up no mention of Mr. Weldon, which appeared to indicate that his doctorates were earned at the kind of institution that either (a) does not require a dissertation or (b) is not represented in the Comprehensive Dissertation Index. (Or, alternatively, that his dissertations were submitted prior to 1861.)
Although Mr. Weldon, so far as I am able to determine, never names the school or schools from which he obtained his doctorate(s), he has given us the valuable clue that his Ph.D. comes from Australia (p. 480 n. 3). That fact, coupled with the information, mentioned above, that he received an M.A. from the Pacific College of Graduate Studies in Melbourne, Australia, would lead one to suspect that it is this same institution from which he secured at least one of his doctoral degrees. With that in mind, I shall summarize something of what I have learned about that school.76
The Pacific College of Graduate Studies is a fundamentalist Protestant operation. For instance, its published "Doctrinal Statement" affirms the inerrancy and finality of the 66 books of the Protestant biblical canon and requires that its students' work agree with a conservative Protestant view of such subjects as the Trinity. The first point of its six-item statement of "Academic Philosophy" refers to the ability of "the Christian teacher ... to examine critically and to confront effectively the views of opponents of Christianity." Its courses in archaeology survey the "archaeological evidence" not so much to gain a thorough understanding of the state of the discipline but in order to show "how it supports the historical veracity of the Bible." And its course on "Logical Fallacies," Philosophy 502, is designed to "investigate" the alleged fallacies that are "used against the Bible and Christian belief."
Established in the area of greater Melbourne in 1980, the Pacific College of Graduate Studies seems to have no campus, and apparently offers degrees only by correspondence. A telephone conversation with a worker at the College indicated that, as of late March 1996, the College had just moved, and that matters there were, consequently, in something of a state of chaos. (The situation was rendered more difficult, the worker said, by the fact that, in order to keep overhead costs low, the College employs minimal staff.) Only the College's dean has e-mail. When asked for a Fax number, the worker replied that the College owns just one Fax machine, which shares the College's telephone number. And, according to the official letter sent out to prospective students (my copy is dated 26 March 1996), all telephone calls that come in to that College number after business hours on Monday through Thursday evenings are automatically routed to the home of the "Principal" of the College. "When it is time for the student to graduate," says the College's xeroxed "Distance Education Prospectus," "a ceremony is organised at the student's home church or at any other location that is relevant to the student, his family and community. The ceremony takes about ten minutes and full academic dress (where appropriate) is usually required."
According to the materials it sends out to inquirers, the Pacific College of Graduate Studies has close but not clearly defined links with (of all places!) Luther Rice Seminary. I would judge, too, that there is some unease at the College about its academic reputation, because among these materials is a two-page collection of endorsements from fundamentalist Protestants affiliated with a pair of conservative seminaries (one "a world class, accredited institution," and the other "an accredited American institution") and a number of other organizations. A certain Rev. Dr. Bruce Dipple is quoted as saying that the College's "degrees are of a high standard and are worthy of the endorsejnent of any accrediting body," which may, I suspect, be taken as a tacit admission that, in reality, they have not actually been accredited. (If they had, surely mention of that fact would have been more impressive than Rev. Dr. Dipple's compliments.)
Graduate students enrolled with the Pacific College of Graduate Studies may concentrate in fields such as "Christian Counseling," "Pastoral Care," "Pastoral Ministry," and, my own favorite, "Apologetics." Among the courses students may take toward the latter major are Cults 501 ("Introduction to Cults"), Cults 502 ("The Theology of Cults"), and Cults 506, which covers "Mormons (Church of Jesus Christ of the [sic] Latter Day [sic] Saints)." The College offers "three professional doctoral degrees by distance education," which include "Doctor of Biblical Studies," "Doctor of Christian Education," and "Doctor of Ministry." The faculty of the College appears to consist of 24 people, including the President, the Principal, and two deans. These personnel are not, it would seem, necessarily resident in Australia. After all, one of the listed "tutors and supervisors" is none other than "Dr. John Weldon" himself, who is identified as a "senior researcher for 'The John Ankerberg Show,'" which is based in Chattanooga, Tennessee.
In the "Distance Education Prospectus" of Pacific College and Pacific College of Graduate Studies, John Weldon's degrees are listed as "M.Div. -- Luther Rice Sem., DMin [sic] -- Luther Rice Sem., Ph.D." So here we find identified the two doctorates that are occasionally ascribed to him. Unfortunately, though, there is no mention of a law degree, nor of an M.A. Nor, once again, are we told where he obtained his Ph.D. I have hypothesized, because of his statement that it comes from Australia and because of his intimate (though geographically distant) connection with the Pacific College of Graduate Studies, that it was from this rather obscure Melbourne correspondence school that he received it. But the enigma remains thus far unresolvable. For the College's three listed doctoral degrees -- "Doctor of Biblical Studies," "Doctor of Christian Education," and "Doctor of Ministry"--do not appear to include the degree of "Ph.D."
Ankerberg and Weldon are very upset with me because, they say, I assert that "Dr. Weldon's Ph.D. is probably from a degree mill." (Note the singular, incidentally, with no word of a second doctorate. I actually declared myself mystified by both of his doctoral degrees.) Such an accusation, they write, made simply because his doctorate "is not listed in Comprehensive Dissertation Index[,] is unfounded. Australian institutions do not report their dissertations to U.S. Indices" (p.480 n. 3). But, in fact, a cursory survey of the many, many degree-granting schools listed in the Index found institutions not only in North America but in the United Kingdom, on the European continent, in Asia, and, yes, in Australia. In fact, I located listings from two schools in Melbourne itself, and there may be more. Unfortunately, though, the Pacific College of Graduate Studies was not among them. What is more, as I have just noted, the catalog distributed by the Pacific College of Graduate Studies identifies one of Weldon's two doctorates, his Doctor of Ministry degree (D.Min.), as coming not from a school in Australia but from a seminary in the United States of America. From Luther Rice Seminary, to be precise.77 So, as far as that particular Weldon doctorate is concerned, the judgment seems to be sustained that it comes from an institution that either (a) does not require a dissertation or (b) is not represented in the Comprehensive Dissertation Index. (Or, alternatively, that Weldon submitted his dissertation prior to 1861.) It would have been interesting to know, if he wrote one, what his dissertation was about.
What is more, it is not at all clear how a D.Min. degree would qualify Weldon to research and write on either "comparative religions" or "cultic theology." As Professor James M. Robinson, the renowned director of the Institute for Antiquity and Christianity at the Claremont Graduate School, has observed, "Doctor of Ministry is the name of a degree aimed at practical church work such as is earned by a pastor. It is not the scholarly degree (Ph.D. or Th.D.)." And Frederick Von Bush, of California's conservative Fuller Theological Seminary, concurs, explaining that the Doctor of Ministry degree, even when it is legitimately earned from a legitimate institution, is "professional, not academic."78 For that matter, the l996-l998 General Catalog published by Luther Rice Bible College and Seminary goes out of its way to stress that several of its original leaders had "earned an academic doctorate"- i.e., either a Th.D. or a Ph.D. -- in implicit contrast to the D.Min., which, although many of the early Seminary leaders seem to have held that degree, is never so described.79
Actually, of course, I never said that Weldon's claimed doctorates were "from a degree mill" (see Proverbs 28:1). But I do admit to being puzzled about this issue, and the repeated tendency of anti-Mormon agitators to claim phony degrees does, I think, give me some grounds for justifiable suspicion.80 Our authors could end my perplexity (and, no doubt, that of at least some other readers) by simply telling us clearly when and where and in what discipline they earned their degrees.81 (They are the people who raised the issue of their credentials in the first place.) As it is, Ankerberg and Weldon advise us to reject Joseph Smith's accounts of his First Vision because one narrative of the event mentions the Son and another mentions the Father and the Son. They call this a "contradiction" (see pp.268-72.) So what are we to say of John Ankerberg, who sometimes claims a doctorate and sometimes does not, or of John Weldon, who sometimes mentions one doctorate and sometimes two?82 What are we to make of their vagueness on the subject, which persists in Behind the Mask of Mormonism despite my criticisms and despite their own obvious touchiness about it? Why don't they just settle the matter?
71See Peterson's Graduate and Professional Programs: An Overview 1996 (Princeton: Peterson's, 1996). During a 15 April 1996 telephone conversation with me, an official at Princeton Theological Seminary was similarly unable to find any mention of Luther Rice in the reference works available to her. She had not heard of the school. Brown and Brown, They Lie in Wait to Deceive, 4:111, says that, at least as recently as 1995, Luther Rice Seminary was unaccredited. On the other hand, the "Distance Education Prospectus" of Pacific College and Pacific College of Graduate Studies, a school (of sorts) that I shall introduce below, calls it "an accredited American institution." A 10 April 1996 letter to me from Dennis Dieringer, director of admissions at Luther Rice Bible College and Seminary, says that the Seminary is "accredited by the Transnational Association of Christian Colleges and Schools," which is "recognized by the U.S. Department of Education." But this does not seem to match the accreditation process for seminaries and divinity schools as it was outlined to me by an official of Denver's Iliff School of Theology on 16 April 1996. She told me that such institutions are typically accredited by the same regional bodies that certify mainstream universities and colleges, followed by the added scrutiny of an organization called the Association of Theological Schools (ATS). Some fundamentalist schools, she continued, claim accreditation from organizations that are, themselves, not properly authorized to give it. The General Catalog just published by Luther Rice admits that the school "is not accredited by a regional acerediting association." See The Catalog of Luther Rice Bible College and Seminary. 1996-1998 (Lithonia, Ga.: Luther Rice Seminary, n.d), 11.
75 My colleague Dr. William Hamblin and I visited Simon Greenleaf University in southern California during late November 1989. It was an enlight- enin~expen.ence, one that I shall someday describe in print.
76 My information comes from Dennis R. Curyer, of the greater Melbourne area, to whom I am grateful for his assistance, as well as from a 25 March 1996 telephone call to the Pacific College of Graduate Studies made by my colleague William Hamblin. I shall he quoting, too, from the January 1996 edition of the "Distance Education Prospectus" of Pacific College and Pacific College of Graduate Studies. (Incidentally, Mr. Curyer, a Latter-day Saint student at the University of Melbourne, when asked via telephone on 26 March 1996 what he knew about the Pacific College of Graduate Studies, replied that, until then, he had never heard of it.)
77 The introductory brochure distributed by Luther Rice Seminary lists fouiteen "prominent Christian leaders" among their graduates. I recognized four of the names, including John Weldon and John Ankerberg.
80I will not include here one of the earliest (and perhaps the greatest) of all anti-Mormons, the excommunicated immoralist Doctor Philastus Hurlbut. For he came by his "Doctor" honestly It was his given first name (His parents apparently named him "Doctor because as a seventh son he was folklorically expected to have miraculous powers) But see Robert L Brown and Rosemary Brown, They Lie in Wait to Deceive (Mesa Brownsworth 1981 ) I l~3 (on "Dr." Dee Jay Nelson); 2:75 115 165 214 (on Dr Walter Martin and Dr Dee Jay Nelson); 3:2966 (on Dr Walter Martin) 4:71 145 (on Dr Richard Fales, "Dr." Charles Crane, and "Dr." John L. Smith). A similar aroma seems to emanate from "Dr. Howard Davis:' who was prominently involved with Dr. Martin in an effort, during the late 1970s, to resurrect the so-called "Spalding theory" of the origins of the Book of Mormon. In an article on the case, the Los Angeles Times (30 June 1977) introduced "Howard A. Davis, 33, who holds a doctor of theology degree from a California Bible college," as "an unemployed lab technician." I am told by a credible source that one widely published critic of the Church, not an evangelical, derives his title of Doctor from his background as an herbal medicine salesman. (His customers call him Doc). I have said nothing of bogus genealogies, an anti-Mormon ploy used by "Dr." Martin and his associate Wayne Cowdrey, on which volumes 2 and 3 of the Browns' ongoing work have some truly delicious information. Walter Martin was the founder of the Christian Research Institute (CR1), which, since his death, has been led by FI Decker's ardent fan Hank Ilanegraaff, and was the host of CRI's national radio call-in show, The Bible Answer Man.
81I shall begin this new era of full disclosure by revealing that I was awarded a Ph.D -- alas, I have only one -- in Near Eastern Languages and Cultures (with an emphasis in Arabic and Persian) at the University of California at Los Angeles in 1990, following my submission of a dissertation entitled "Cosmogony and the Ten Separated Intellects in the Rahaf al-AqI of Hamid al-Din al- Kirmani." I had previously earned a B.A. in classical Greek, with a minor in philosophy, from Brigham Young University in 1977, which I followed with about four and a half years in the Middle East studying in Jerusalem (on formative Judaism and Christianity) and at the American University in Cairo (on Arabic language and literature, and medieval Islam).