In the last two decades, the wily old PhD has been challenged by a feisty upstart, the Doctor of Ministry. High-achieving individuals dedicated to some field of theology, biblical studies, or pastoral ministry often hop back and forth between the two, wondering which better fits their needs and life situation.
First, some terminology. Let’s begin with the Doctor of Philosophy. In North America, this research degree is usually abbreviated Ph.D, while in Great Britain PhD is more common. There are variants, of course. Harvard University and Harvard Divinity School, for example, offer both a Ph.D. and a Th.D. The latter abbreviates Doctor of Theology. Although there are fierce debates inside Harvard regarding the equivalence (or not) of the two degrees, people on the outside generally regard them as two variants of the same course of study. On the other side of the Atlantic, Oxford University offers the DPhil.
For our purposes, we’ll group these variations together and refer to them collectively as the PhD. This is a research degree with a book-length thesis serving as one of its anchors. In effect, one hones one’s research skills either after a course of doctoral classes (the common scheme in North America) or by way of the research and ‘writing up’ itself (a distinctive of the British PhD, which requires little or no formal coursework).
A conventional distinction that still serves as a point of departure holds that the PhD is an academic or research degree in contrast to the D.Min, which is a professional degree.
Let’s get into that: the Doctor of Ministry (D.Min.) has flourished among clergy and related professionals during the past twenty-five years. Seminaries that never imagined themselves offering a doctorate now have active D.Min. programs whose enrollment sometimes rivals or even exceeds its coterie of Master’s Degrees.
Clarity on one point is essential: the PhD and the D.Min. are not variations on a common theme. They are completely different programs of study. This reality alone should ease the angst of the aspiring student who cannot decide which fork in the road makes the best sense. In truth, they are two completely different roads traversing the same theological-ministerial terrain.