January 22, 2021

iMonk 101: Big Money for a Little Piece of Paper (Dedicated to “Dr.” Johnny Hunt)

Since new SBC President “Dr.” Johnny Hunt is having a bit of an academic credentials crisis, I thought it would be a good time for me to say I understand the feeling that drives us to do things like order a Ph.d from the back of a comic book.

So here’s an essay where I share with you the struggles I went through as I wrestled with whether to write the check and get a doctorate from the local tanning salon.

It’s an iMonk 101 piece called Big Money For a Little Piece of Paper.

(I’m at the Ravi Zacharias Summer Institute at Wheaton College, so blogging is almost non-existent. A very busy schedule.)


  1. Are you still planning on visiting Riverview? If so what weekend?

    Dan Price

  2. I know what you mean and how you feel. I left a Ph.D program at a Big 10 school to attend seminary. I’ve thought many times about how that at least I could have pursued a D.Min., but never did. It isn’t a big deal for me now, but it was earlier in life.

    I think that you did the appropriate thing by putting “” around Dr. I believe that the same should be done for honorary D.D. receipients.

  3. Scott Eaton says

    Hey Michael,

    I am about twenty minutes up the road from Wheaton. As one of your regular blog readers it would be a joy to meet you. If you have an hour to spare I would count it a privilege to buy you dinner, whether you have a doctorate or not. 🙂

    Of course, if time constraints forbid this, no problem. I just thought I’d offer and would enjoy getting to know a brother in Christ who has blessed me. (By the way, I have no agenda in this offer. Honest.)

    If you’re interested, send me an email.


  4. Man, this hit home. I just finished my B.S. degree in Religion this past spring(Liberty University, so it is accredited). It only took me 15 years after I started on that path. Now I am taking some graduate level courses on a path to an M.A. degree(same school), but only because it gives me the chance to take some classes I really want to take. My classes actually start next Monday, so my online reading and blogging may go way down. 🙂
    By the way, I have always enjoyed Ravi’s books. Can you give a word or two on what the institute is like when you get clear?

  5. The goofy thing is how often people ride on those honorary degrees. Peter Marshall, fr’instance; his doctorate was honorary, yet everyone in A Man Called Peter kept referring to him as Dr. Marshall after he got it. Francis Schaeffer too.

    I suppose people felt these guys were so wise that they deserved such titles. If that’s the sentiment then perhaps we should start referring to our Lord as Dr. Jesus.

    Of course, Jesus could give a rip about such things. The only people a title impresses are the folks who don’t have one, the superficial, and the insecure.

  6. Bob Sacamento says

    On the other hand, I got my doctorate. A full Ph.D. I went and studied for seven years while all my college buddies found gainful employment and lovely wives and started wonderful families. (And I’m not joking. They all did just that!!!) But I was making the sacrifice for a career path that I desperately wanted …. and which never worked out. I do OK now in a completely different career, but in terms of money, family, and pretty much everything else the world has to offer, I am more than ten years behind the curve compared to my peers. Am I just reaping the fruit of my own stubbornness, or did God lead me through all of that for some purpose yet to be understood? Heck if I know. But I can bet you that for every time you have kicked yourself for not finishing your degree, I have kicked myself for finishing mine. On the other hand, if I had quit, I would probably be feeling exactly the way you do now.

    I wish life came with a road map.

  7. Haley Ballast says

    Thanks for sharing this – since I am a relatively new IM reader I didn’t get to read it the first time around. I am a stay-at-home mom who often dreams of going back to school, mostly because I am an affirmation junkie and school was a place that fed my addiction. It is encouraging to hear how you’ve dealt with that, and more significantly, how Jesus has been at work in you through it.

  8. Memphis Aggie says

    I can relate Bob. I got my PhD mostly because I couldn’t get a decent job with my BS or my MS. Now I work in a distantly related area. My PhD is what allowed me to compete for this job, so it wasn’t a total loss, but life was surely delayed in the process.

  9. Since we’re discussion ethics, I’ll start with a full disclosure: I pretty much grew up (from about 11-24) in Johnny Hunt’s church, though, as you know, I recently converted to Orthodoxy.

    That said, I have some issues with that Ethics Daily article you linked to. In the course of the article, the author mentions three schools from whom Pastor Johnny (as I grew up calling him) received honorary doctorates: Covington Theological Seminary, Immanuel Baptist Theological Seminary (the so-called “diploma mills”), and Tennessee Temple University (a fully-accredited institution).

    However, after this, the author simply ignores the third school, and comes to the unfounded conclusion that “Two dubious institutions gave the new SBC president a title that he proudly bears. By identifying himself with the “Dr.” title, Hunt legitimizes these diploma mills and encourages by example other ministers to take educational shortcuts.”

    A few points here:

    1) I counted three (that is, one more than two) institutions in the very same article that are said to have awarded honorary doctorates to Hunt.
    2) One of those *three* schools is fully-accredited.
    3) If he has a doctorate from an accredited school, and two unaccredited schools, he can still legitimately title himself “Doctor”. (I’ll save the question as to whether a person with an honorary doctorate *should* call themselves Doctor for another day).

    Also, the author rather quickly comes to the conclusion that Covington and Immanuel are “diploma mills,” but I’m not sure that is warranted. Just because they lack credible accreditation does not, in my mind, necessarily mean they are “diploma mills” (though I wouldn’t choose to enroll there). They may, in fact, offer a decent education for all I know. I mean, I could be wrong, but there’s nothing in the article that tells me I am.

    In addition, the article itself mentions that the doctorates were honorary. In other words, Hunt did not “order a Ph.d from the back of a comic book.”

    Finally, the author of the article does not accurately represent the facts of the Steven Flockhart incident. According to the very Baptist Press article he links to, the issue leading to Flockhart’s resignation wasn’t so much that he had degrees from Covington, it’s that he lied about where his degrees came from. The author gives us no indication that Hunt was aware of this, BTW.

    So, based on the information the author of the article has given us, this sounds, to me, like a badly-researched, overblown attack piece written by someone with an axe to grind.

  10. Thank you Michael.

    I wish I’d never posted about Johnny Hunt’s degrees, wish I’d never heard of Johnny Hunt.

    Coder there is no justification, no rationalizations change hard facts in this situation.

    Excuses, shooting messengers and denials won’t make this credible or ethical.
    They are diploma mills in the full meaning of the term, and to add shame to Johnny Hunt’s poor decision to take them, Immanuel and Covington employee Hunt family members.

    You might want to read “Name It and Frame It.”
    You might want to learn about the harm diploma mill usage does to institutions, employers, organizations and individuals.

    Johnny Hunt had these handed to him and publicly admits it.
    He publicly admits he did nothing for them.
    He knows these are fake. He admits he uses them in his speaker bios and resume.

    He has two earned degrees, an honourary doctorate from Tennessee Temple.

    What chills me is a man called a pastors pastor gets elected to the highest office in his denomination and he can’t let go of two fake degrees.

  11. Bene D: I’m not talking about justification and rationalizations. I’m precisely talking about hard facts.

    And I’m saying that the “hard facts” in the Ethics Daily article don’t justify the author’s allegations.

    Repeating allegations doesn’t make them true.

    I understand that diploma mills devalue quality education. I have friends who have earned their Ph.d’s and after hearing of the hard work they went through to get there, and the trouble they’ve experienced finding jobs, diploma mills seem, to me, to be a slap in the face to those who have earned the honor.

    But, hey, whatever. I don’t really have a dog in this fight. I just found the Ethics Daily article to be rather, hrm…unethical. And, you know, what diploma mills do to institutions, employers, et. al., unethical journalism does to the wider journalistic world.

  12. Bene D-

    You mention that “Immanuel and Covington employee Hunt family members.”

    Who are they?

    You also mentioned “I wish I’d never posted about Johnny Hunt’s degrees, wish I’d never heard of Johnny Hunt.”

    Yet it is you that seems to not be able to let go… you are demonstrating the saying “beating a dead horse.”

    I am not sure why you are having such a hard time with this… apparently Johnny Hunt is not the one with a problem.

    Chris Lee

  13. Micheal:

    I made a serious typo in my comment above.
    I’d appreciate it if you’d correct it when you are able.

    I wrote: “Immanuel and Covington employee Hunt family members.”

    I apologize.
    I’m fighting a bad cold, it’s no excuse. It’s my typo, I didn’t catch it.

    It should read: “Immanuel and Covington employee family members.” No Hunt. My bad.

    Chris, thank you for catching it.

    Okay Coder, whatever.

  14. For the moderator of this post-

    Johnny Hunt did not order or buy the honorary doctorates. The institutions in questions choose to “honor” Johnny Hunt with these degrees.

    There was no motivation on why to get these degrees, the institutions just choose to give them to him

    For some of the other post-

    The “hard facts” of this discussions are simple. Johnny Hunt has done nothing wrong. We can debate whether or not Covington and Immanuel are valid institutions (TN Temple is accredited). We can debate whether or not one can use “Dr.” before their name if they have received and honorary doctorate (I have searched high and low and have been no professional guidelines as to what is right, only a bunch of opinions that provide very little objective support). I have traveled and worked with Johnny Hunt for many years. I can’t recall a single occurrence where he referred to himself has Dr., and I can remember many times he stated that his Dr. title was not earned when introduced that way. The people of First Baptist do not care about wether he has a Dr. or not. He is simply referred to as Pastor Johnny.

    This story hasn’t made national news because there is no story. The national news has called FBCW on many occasions because of this being discussed in the world of blogs but they have not run with any story because there is not one. The only “somewhat” national news outlet that has even mentioned the story is the Washington Post and the writer of the story is also a blogger and an editor that wrote the same basic story (see moderators first link) a few days before and has made it clear prior to that time that he does not like Johnny Hunt (for what reasons he has made unclear although he does not know the man).

    It really is time for this “story” to die. It is a distraction for all who need to be out doing the work of the kingdom.

    Moderator, you would be interested to know, Johnny and Ravi are in the process of setting up a ministry to disciple and mentor young pastors and apologist. They both seem very excited about this new endeavor and are working out the details to make it happen.

  15. I think we are missing the point Chris.

    Michael is explaining what would motivate good people seek or accept academic shortcuts.

    I don’t see Michael condoning fake degrees from diploma mills that use fake credentialing agencies.

    I don’t see him attacking Johnny Hunt.

    These mills are illegal in some states, in most countries and some US federal agencies are charged with shutting them down.

    The US Government Office of Accountability knows this is a multi-billion dollar business and a white collar crime. The National Consumer Protection Agency explains the spottiness you are finding.


    If you are saying the SBC doesn’t think it matters if their executive, staff and members use diploma mills, fine.

    Johnny Hunt took them, he can hand them back.

    Since he earned legitimate degrees from academic institutions of the denominational group he is now president of, and accepted an honourary from a legitimate university – isn’t he in in an ideal position to explain what’s wrong with what he and the diploma mill operators have done?

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