In this episode I wanted to talk about the question that is often hotly debated online and in educational circles: should a student consider getting their degree from a non-accredited seminary?
In answering this question, I want to focus on several non-accredited seminaries I considered when exploring my options for both my Master’s and my doctorate programs. These would be CES, MIUD, SBTS, and I’m also going to throw in Liberty University as a comparison, even though it is regionally accredited.
Of course, as is always the case, the choice you ultimately make on what seminary you go to (if any at all) will be based on several different variables that are often highly subjective. You may even be part of a denomination that requires degrees from only specific institutions making your options narrowed or non-existent to begin with.
But, in the current educational climate we find ourselves today, I want to take the time to explore some of the options that are out there, why you may or may not choose them, or when it would be a better decision to go a different route altogether.
So, let’s dive in and decide which seminary might be the right choice for you….
Accreditation Does Not Equal Quality
I’m not certain the history of accreditation as much as I am certain the use of it today. In the western world, accreditation is now used as a kind of filter to weed out non-compliant worldview. It is a mechanism of indoctrination or a purity pledge toward the secular ideology that is pushed in nearly every area of academia, even in many (if not most) seminaries that are regionally accredited.
But, the best educational experience I’ve had has not been in a regionally accredited institution (in fact those have been the worst) but in no institution at all. I personally prefer self-study over formal training, or the mentorship approach to learning (apprenticeship model).
So, it’s important to weigh accreditation carefully based on your ROI and future intended use of the degree. If you plan to put yourself into ministry in some fashion, whether as a teacher or a pastor, evangelist or self-appointed prophet of your own cult, there may very well be no need for a degree from an accredited school (maybe not even a degree at all). In fact, in many ministry and pastoral circles today, formal education is downplayed over 1. An extroverted disposition 2. The ability to “run” and “grow” a church through modern marketing, social media, and interaction with the public 3. Handle and work effectively with people.
If you have experience at these three traits and no seminary degree, then there’s a really good chance you will beat out your competition who has a Master’s or a Doctorate from even a regionally accredited school but not experience.
If your plans are to be in academia, the parameters are much, much different (so are your prospects). The brutal fact is, there are few to no jobs in academia either in the secular world or in the religious sector. All the academic positions I apply for I lose out every one because there is so many applicants in the job pool. Even if you have an advanced degree from an accredited seminary, you still will not get a job in academia unless you know someone or are related to someone. What makes it worse is if you are in a department such as humanities or especially philosophy, which as a whole is being dismantled in colleges, universities, and seminaries across the country. I will repeat myself again and again on this podcast: do not pay money for a seminary degree in philosophy. It will have no ROI at all and you will either be saddled with debt you can’t repay or you will be out thousands if not tens of thousands of dollars for a worthless degree.
Accreditation really is used as a badge of presumed legitimacy (which in reality means nothing). The marketing scheme is that it guarantees quality but really all it guarantees is tuition inflation. You will, in the majority of circumstances, pay much, much more for an accredited degree than you will a non-accredited degree, though in many instances the actual curriculum has no discernible differences.
Answering the Question
So, is there ever a time to go to a non-accredited university or seminary? Can you ever get a job using one of these degrees? Are they even legitimate?
The bottom line is, there are very few situations in which a non-accredited school is the right choice. Right out of the gate, if you are pursuing a degree for employment purposes in the future, unless you are certain your profession and potential employers do not require accreditation, you will need this to qualify. Any teaching position will require it. Any government position will require it. And some denominations even require it.
If you want to be a pastor or work in the para-church sector, it’s possible you just need a degree and not an accredited one. Then you could save thousands of dollars by going the non-accredited route. But be aware, there are more people exiting the ministry today than there are entering it. If you get an advanced degree today and enter the ministry tomorrow, there is no way of telling if you’re going to leave five years later. Non-accredited degrees cannot typically be used for secular job positions. It would be as if you have no degree at all. You have no way of knowing if you will last in the ministry field long-term. Most don’t last. A better alternative might be to get an undergrad degree at a regionally accredited university, get your Master’s in Business, and then get a second Master’s in Theology or go on (if you can) and get a PhD or ThD in Theology at a seminary. This way, if you do leave the ministry field, you still have a regionally accredited BA and MBA to fall back on.
There are some other issues to be addressed a little later, but let’s first look at some examples of seminaries I looked at (and ultimately rejected) when searching to do my Master’s program and my Doctorate.
Columbia Evangelical Seminary
This school has been around for some time. It is actually the institution James White received his ThD from (and subsequently got so much static from the public at large and his critics that he has now gone on to enter a PhD program with a South African seminary. I liked CES primarily because of 1. It’s price (ThD for about $7000) 2. It’s student-directed/designed curriculum and self-paced approach.
My criticism and why I ultimately did not choose CES? Cost. Despite a degree from this school costing a fraction of what regionally accredited programs cost, it is a double edged sword. Because of the much lower portability of a degree from CES, it’s internal value is greatly reduced. Because of that, even at $7000, it’s not worth it if no one will ever higher you. It’s a loss of $7000.
Additionally, there was already static about this school. There is a kind of cult surrounding accreditation and that cult has its high priests just like any other cult does. And those high priests have gone after CES in the past and have marred it’s reputation.
Master’s International University of Divinity
I had never actually heard of this school before and found it one night searching the internet. MIUD is an online seminary and offers a PhD in Biblical Studies for about $140 per credit, but you only pay while you are actively taking courses. Because it is self-paced (you finish as quickly or as slowly as you desire) if you finish your courses quickly and receive your degree early you are discounted the remaining amount on your tuition.
After a detailed analysis of the courses offered and the requirements of each course, it is equivalent to what Liberty offers for it’s PhD program, though Liberty tends to lean more heavily on testing while MIUD leans more heavily on writing assignments.
Still, even with the greater discount on tuition (I think I could have finished with the program costing me about $1000), I still couldn’t justify paying that price for a degree that was essentially worthless. I could possibly get a job as a chaplain or pastor or para-church worker with a degree from MIUD (which I don’t really want), but anything would be a non-starter.
School of Biblical and Theological Studies
This school I’ve looked at for a very long time. Several years. It is a fundamental Baptist online correspondence school that I think has moved to the internet now (but was not entirely clear on that). The cost of their program was about $4000 and I liked it because it was based on the Bible and not on classes or modern ministry concepts. The downsides of course were it was KJV only, and there was no portability. You’re not going to get a job anywhere with this except for in a KJV church as a pastor. I’m not KJV. This also means the cost was too great of a risk.
I found this school rather late in my searching and, though I do like their format and approach, they did not have a program I was interested in. The cost for an MA degree is $8000. You get a Logos package with the tuition but it is a customized package, does not have very good titles in it (relative), and is certainly not worth the price. On top of this, the school officially holds to a “teach both sides” of the intersectionality and CRT debate which I suspect is really a closeted approval of the insanity so as to offend the least about of students to keep the student body numbers higher.
This was an interesting looking school and has a $400 / quarter tuition fee, which makes it rather cheap when considering it is nationally accredited. It does have a good reputation in the Christian community and in the accreditation cult, surprisingly. It’s programs seem to be on par with that of Liberty. Still, the cost will end up being around $4000 and it will garner you no academic positions. You could use a BA or MA degree from Nations to put you into a program at a regionally accredited school (if they take nationally accredited transfer students – Liberty does).
Louisiana Baptist University and Seminary
This is the seminary Dr. Missler got his PhD at, but, unfortunately, I think it was akin to honorary, which is why I suspect he did it (most likely received life ministry credit). I can only assume the move was so he could put Dr. on the book covers and marketing materials.
I looked at the programs and, though it does appear to be on par with Liberty, it’s about $140 / credit hour with no breaks.
This was the school I intended to go to because it was regionally accredited. Unfortunately, as I dug into their PhD program and into their marketing schema, I came away feeling like the school was not acting in good faith and being a little deceptive. They gave great discounts for Veterans, but once you factored in the semester and pre-req requirements, the cost goes right back up wiping out any discount they provide. The lowest I could get the all-in price for the PhD program was just under $14,000 and it would take a minimum of 2 years.
In addition to this, the criticism and reputation of Liberty is not very good. Yes, it is a massive school and has been around for a very long time, but if I finish with a PhD degree from them and still cannot get a job in academia, what’s the point?
Alternative to Paying for Seminary
In the end, and at the final hour just before I quit and decided I would not go on and get a doctorate, someone recommended a seminary that was fully funded. It was non-accredited, but once I was accepted into the program it cost me nothing to attend or graduate. Even still, I do not recommend them because of their doctrinal positions. They are certainly Christian, though much less open to the speculative questions my research demands.
But, I think there is another way someone can get a Bible education without attending any kind of formal seminary institution. It’s called self-study. It is an approach I’m using to fill in the gaps of my formal educational experience with my uThM program. You design your own curriculum, utilize whatever materials available to you, and you get the benefit of being mentored by some of the worlds greatest minds, regardless of whether they’re alive or dead.
Especially since the academic world is in such upheaval, it is a better idea to adjust to the changes than to dig your heels in and mourn for a world that is now lost. I personally think God rescued me from a life in academia back when I was 17. There was a good chance, if I had been left to my own devices, I would have ended up going to college on my own (instead of the military) and my karmic worldview would have only been reinforced by the indoctrination of higher education. There’s a greater than likely chance I would then never have listened or heard the truth and been set free.
With the advancement of technology, the sum total of the world’s knowledge is available for free right at your fingertips from any smartphone or laptop computer or digital tv. You don’t have to go to school to learn anything anymore. You can do it from the comfort of your own home, on your own time table and at your own pace.
ROI is Key Measurement
But, what if you were going to school for a future job? Self study is fine for personal enrichment but it does little to nothing for future job prospects. To this I say:
1. Be careful, cautious, and sober in your pursuits.
2. Strive to make your call and election sure.
3. Work out your own salvation in fear and trembling.
I would argue that if you need a degree for a prospective job, really consider long and hard, in much prayer, if God is truly calling you to that position. As James states in 4:13, “you who say, “Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a city, spend a year there, buy and sell, and make a profit”; whereas you do not know what will happen tomorrow. For what is your life? It is even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away. Instead you ought to say, “If the Lord wills, we shall live and do this or that.”” I am a vocal and ardent supporter of Thoreau’s approach of learning to live without something as opposed to learning way to afford it.
If God is truly calling you to a particular profession and you believe you can do actual good in the world in that profession (and it’s not about money or fame or influence or any other worldly desire from the corrupt hearts of men), then by all means, get your accredited degree. But, if you must, do it all the way, put your whole into it. Get your degree from the very best university you possibly can, in the name of Christ, for the glory of God. If you want a degree because of what it can get you, I would advise you reconsider your life choices.
The ROI for a degree is an important factor. Don’t throw money away. I’ve spent approximately $30,000 on my education, and about half of that was out of my own pocket and the other half was paid for out of the four years of indentured servitude I gave to the US government. It has proffered me nothing tangible in this world, other than quieting the voices in my head. Since I have no idea how long my life will be (I may died tonight or I may live another 30 years), it is entirely possible that God is not finished with me or my degrees just yet. It is possible those degrees may one day gain me access to some human system in which I can do good for the cause of Christ. There must be a reason for the conviction I’ve had for so many years to finish my schooling. I finished my BA and yet the voices did not cease. I finished my Master’s and yet, still, the voices would not be quieted. It was not until I finished my doctorate that I finally had peace from the conviction that followed me since I was 18. That voice, that conviction, very well could have been my own unsettled pride speaking. If so, my degrees will be burned up like chaff, and I will have received my reward.
Personally, I give my time in college, at university, and in Seminary to the Lord to do with as he sees fit. I do not know what the future will bring. But, I am thankful I do not go into the unknown with massive amounts of debt and a degree that cost multitudes more than what I’ve spent already for nothing.
Bottom line: is there ever a circumstance in which attending a non-accredited university is worth your time and investment? Although a tricky question to answer given all the different variables, I would argue there are only a few situations that would justify it.
1. You have the money to spend and you can’t find any other use for it that would honor the Lord more.
2. If you are spending money on the degree, you need to have at least a neutral ROI if not a positive one. You need a realistic job prospect in the future.
3. You can get the degree 100% free. Whether on scholarship, by discount, or through a fully funded program.
If your situation does not meet one of the above criteria I would advise against non-accredited seminary. That being said, I would argue against accredited seminaries simply because of the cost and because of the inherent doctrinal propoganda and anti-christian, anti-biblical ideology you will most certainly be subjected to. If you’re called to be an apologist, by all means, a hyper liberal institution might be best as a proving ground for your arguments against the enemies of the cross.
Personally I would advise most if not all potential seminary students away from formal education and toward a mentorship relationship with an elder in your church or a seasoned Christian in the faith that you respect. I would argue that, like Paul, you learn a secular trade that pays well so that you lack for nothing, so you can give freely to the body of Christ and ask for nothing in return. Work at your regular job as to the Lord and devote your free time to Christ, and studying his Word, and to service of the saints.
Much like faith and salvation itself, God does not call every man to fame or influence or riches (in fact, I am convinced wealth is a sign of condemnation on an individual, a judgment against them – what did Jesus say? How hard it is for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God (Ma 19:23).
Until my next Seminary Segment…..
Please consider supporting my writing, my unschooled studies, and my hermitic lifestyle by purchasing one or more of my books. I’m not supported by academia or have a lucrative corporate job – I’m just a mystical modern-day hermit trying to live out the life I believe God has called me to. So, any support you choose to provide is GREATLY appreciated.
Excerpt from Sacred the Circle:
There was a knock at the door.
Campbell got up from the chair and crossed the small distance so he could open it.
A young man stood in the doorway, probably in his early twenties.
Campbell could tell he looked a little disheveled.
He had deep rings around his eyes, as if he hadn’t been sleeping much, and he kept checking the hallway in both directions, as if half expecting someone to be stalking him.
“Hey,” Campbell said.
The kid was stumbling over his own words.
Campbell leaned out into the hallway, checking to make sure there was no one else listening.
This guy wasn’t the only one who was becoming paranoid.
There were two students hanging out at the foyer, near the stairs, but the rest of the floor was clear.
“I’m sorry,” the kid said. “Must be the wrong place. I’m mistaken.”
He started to leave.
“Wait,” Campbell said, putting a hand out. “Hold on a second.”
The kid paused.
“What’s your name?”
He fidgeted with his collar.
“I know it sounds crazy, but – ”
“You’re not crazy, Lloyd,” Campbell said, grinning.
“Did you – ? ”
The kid paused, as if unsure if he should continue.
He looked back toward the stairs, then at Campbell.
“Did you know I was coming?” he finally asked. “I mean, that’s not possible, but, were you expecting me?”
Campbell chuckled to himself.
“What’s so funny?” Lloyd asked.
“Well – ”
Campbell pushed the door open all the way so Lloyd could see inside his dorm room.
The entire room was full of them, students, non-students, ranging from what looked like eighteen to even a few middle-aged men, scattered about the room, sitting wherever they could find a comfortable spot.
Lloyd’s mouth dropped open.
“I wasn’t really expecting them, either,” Campbell said. “So, I hope you don’t hold it against me when I tell you, I had no idea you’d be showing up here. Do you care to join us, anyway?”
Buy my book Sacred the Circle to find out what these men are hearing from the supernatural realm. Will they answer the questions tugging at them? What are the visions saying? Who are the Multitude? Why are all these men being brought together? By whom? And why, above all else, are they being convicted….to pray?
But, trust me when I say, you’ll be white knuckling this one with every turn of the page!