PhD from Forge Theological Seminary

Discussion in 'Seminary, theology, and religion-related degrees' started by RAM PhD, Apr 2, 2024.

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  1. RAM PhD

    RAM PhD Member

    Hi Michael,

    I noticed that you hold a PhD from Forge Theological Seminary, where you also serve as President. How did this work for you? Was there any conflict of interest?
  2. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    From their page on accreditation:

    This is disingenuous and beneath contempt. So, like a cat playing with a mouse, I'm going to bat it around a little.

    First, the church-and-state thing is just bogus. They're not a church. They're a school issuing degrees.

    Second, accreditation is private and non-governmental. Sure, the Department of Education maintains a list of accreditors it recognizes for Title IV (student aid), but that's not the same as being involved with the federal government. It's ridiculous on the face of it. Accreditation is a private, self-governing process.

    Third, I don't care where they think theological education "belongs," but they're issuing degrees. Those degrees should have meaning, and that meaning--in the U.S.--is derived from the accreditation process. I don't care in what subject those degrees are issued.

    Fourth, there are several hundred Christian-related colleges and universities in the nation. There's no conflict with such affiliations and recognized accreditation. Even TRACS accredits nearly 100 schools just by itself.

    Fifth, the "take on debt" stuff is nonsense. They can be both accredited and opt not to participate in the federal student loan program.

    What they should say is, "While recognized accreditation is available to church-related schools, we have opted not to pursue such accreditation. Depending on the circumstances, this may render credits and degrees we issue unacceptable to employers, accredited colleges and universities, and in other situations." Caveat Emptor would be nice, too.

    As for the PhD, this school doesn't offer one. Nor should it. It's not part of the academy and has no business producing scholars in no position to advance scholarship.

    This stuff doesn't even stand up to the most casual amount of scrutiny. (And that's all the patience I have for this flim flam.)
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2024
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  3. tadj

    tadj Well-Known Member

    Religious exempt schools are a largely American phenomenon. Some states have chosen to go along with this concept.

    The state of Kentucky (to serve as an illustration of the range of degree-granting possibilities) allows for the following: “The institution shall offer only educational programs that prepare students for religious vocations as ministers or laypersons in the categories of ministry, counseling, theology, religious education, administration, religious music, religious fine arts, media communications, or social work.” This is quite broad with this caveat: “The titles of degrees issued by the institution shall be distinguished from secular degree titles by including a religious modifier.” Furthermore, “the institution shall be nonprofit, owned, maintained, and controlled by a church or religious organization which is exempt from property taxation under the laws of Kentucky.”


    Once this type of degree-granting operation is allowed, individuals can make all kinds of arguments (perhaps persuasive. Rich has expressed his reservations here) against the concept. But the law is on the side of the schools that operate under religious exemption in the select states where this has become the norm.
  4. Michael Burgos

    Michael Burgos Active Member

    I was a student beginning in 2016, and I did not have any connection with the institution. Its faculty was mainly comprised of SBTS grads, and its doctoral program attracted me because it was in the style of a South African/European PhD (thesis-only w/ supervision). The faculty shared several members with the Puritan Reformed Theological Seminary and a few other traditionally accredited institutions. Also, FTS did not charge tuition at the time, and it was well funded by a network of churches and individual giving.

    In 2017, I was invited to supervise undergraduate students as an adjunct while I chipped away at my thesis. The school functioned on a mentor model at the time, and by the time I was done, I had been asked by the board to come on as a graduate mentor/professor. Right about that time COVID brought many difficulties, and within about a year, nearly all of the funding FTS received dried up. It looked as though the school would close, and several key faculty members jumped ship. I approached the trustees with a plan to save the institution, make it solvent once again, improve its programs, reestablish its connection with local churches, and rebuild its faculty. I subsequently took the helm in 2022. Therefore, no, there was no conflict of interest and the school is flourishing.
  5. Michael Burgos

    Michael Burgos Active Member


    Don't be so coy Rich, tell me how you really feel.

    You have implicitly defined "church" and have, therefore, made a theological claim. Fortunately, you don't get to define our theology just like I don't get to define your hostility to religion.

    We do not believe that for a second. There is a mountain of evidence that demonstrates that accreditors serve as proxies of the state to varying degrees.

    Our degrees certainly do have meaning, namely, in service to the church. Our grads are churchmen, lay teachers, deacons, and missionaries. Not only have various presbyteries, conventions, and regional denominational organizations recognized our degrees, but a great number of local churches have as well. That is the only credibility we care about.

    This is an argumentum ad populum that transparently ignores the substance of our claim.

    Certainly, there are many good institutions that take this route. Indeed, it was on the table prior to my involvement. However, our claim is that we have theological objections to compliance with federal expectations that are inescapable whether an accredited institution accepts federal money or not.

    While I don't recall asking for your opinion on the matter, I'll put your advice in my "Atheist Advice on Christian Education" file. As you might imagine, it's not a terribly active file.

    That's quite a claim. I wonder, do the various academic books and journal articles (and now our own journal) produced by our students, grads, and faculty not count because Rich says we're "not part of the academy"? Hardly. I was just invited to speak at another traditionally accredited university to discuss the subject matter of my dissertation. Evidently, the academy doesn't feel the same way you do.

    That is an unsupported assertion and a lazy one at that. Maybe you can muster up the patience to substantiate some of your many claims.
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  6. b4cz28

    b4cz28 Active Member

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  7. Jonathan Whatley

    Jonathan Whatley Well-Known Member

    A link on Forge’s Accreditation page goes to a pdf hosted by Forge of the "Explanation of Exemption for Institutions Whose Sole Purpose is Religious or Theological Training (Updated 2/26/2016)" from the South Carolina Commission on Higher Education.

    This passage from South Carolina’s document deserves attention:
    Will a prospective student prior to enrollment see a clear statement from Forge “that use of credentials issued by unlicensed or unaccredited institutions is limited?"

    Will a prospective student prior to enrollment see a clear statement from Forge “that this type of credential may not be accepted by employers for jobs?”

    Will a prospective student prior to enrollment see a clear statement from Forge that “it is unlikely that institutions that hold recognized accreditation will accept the credit for transfer?”

    Forge has a sentence on its Accreditation page and on the Accreditation page of its 2023 catalog stating
    and the same sentence on its FAQ page except that one word is added, which I’ll underline here:
    South Carolina states that the institution should state credit transfer to an accredited institution is unlikely. Forge’s position is that Forge has found that credit transfer to an accredited institution often occurs. A prospective student would be more fully informed if Forge also provided South Carolina’s statement nearby and likely to be read on the same occasion.

    Will a prospective student, for “each program where the major is in a specific field (such as Christian Education or Pastoral/Ministerial/Christian Counseling)," prior to enrollment see "a specific disclaimer that the program does not meet requirements for professional licensure or certification?”

    On the program page for the Master of Theological Studies in Biblical Counseling, for instance, Forge states,
    A prospective student – for example, someone interested in professional licensure or certification as a licensed professional counselor – would be more fully informed if Forge also provided South Carolina’s statement nearby and likely to be read on the same occasion.

    Although Forge has reposted South Carolina’s document, I only see it in an obscure corner of their website: on the Accreditation page – of the website main body, with no apparent equivalent in their catalog – past a link that understates its importance to prospective students. Forge puts the South Carolina document past a link that reads “Click here for more information on South Carolina's Religious Exemption policy.” Further, reposing the document directed from South Carolina towards institutions doesn't constitute the institution itself clearly stating in its "Publications and advising."
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2024
  8. tadj

    tadj Well-Known Member

    To add to Jonathan's points, I would also be interested in the clarification concerning South Carolina. My understanding is that Michael pastors a church in Connecticut. What's the connection of Forge Theological Seminary to this particular state?
  9. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    I'm purposely not responding to you. Thanks.
  10. Garp

    Garp Well-Known Member

    Rich said, "Second, accreditation is private and non-governmental. Sure, the Department of Education maintains a list of accreditors it recognizes for Title IV (student aid), but that's not the same as being involved with the federal government. It's ridiculous on the face of it. Accreditation is a private, self-governing process."

    Michael Burgos is actually correct when he responds that there is evidence of attempts to interfere. There were several highly publicized cases of accreditors letting politically correct agendas drive an attempt to force Christian institutions to conform to current social sensibilities. The interference fizzled (accreditation was threatened). This occurred in Canada as well.

    It is these cases that give unaccredited schools ammunition. I don't agree with the approach as Christian schools need to fight out those issues under the US constitution, etc.

    Also, there is no reason not to become accredited by TRACS which can accredit through the PhD level. Then you eliminate the secular accreditor if that is an issue.
  11. Michael Burgos

    Michael Burgos Active Member

    There is no state body that engages in the licensure of biblical counselors. We state that the relevant program "is designed to equip students for vocational ministry in biblical counseling." What is unclear about that?

    So essentially your main gripe here is that you do not like the fact that we don't post SC's document at every point on our website? And our "Accreditation" page is an "obscure corner." Seems legit. Let's not bother with the fact that we are completely explicit in our rejection of recognized accreditation and that we state plainly that our programs are intended to equip people to serve the church.
  12. Michael Burgos

    Michael Burgos Active Member

    And yet, here you are.
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  13. tadj

    tadj Well-Known Member

    I just found this information concerning my own question: "FORGE THEOLOGICAL SEMINARY INC. is a South Carolina Domestic Non-Profit Corporation filed on March 29, 2023. The company's filing status is listed as Good ..." But I could not confirm any of this info earlier on other sites associated with the state. That's why I asked about the connection to South Carolina.
  14. Jonathan Whatley

    Jonathan Whatley Well-Known Member

    I don't object to Forge stating that. I ask whether Forge makes a clear statement consistent with South Carolina's where a prospective student will see it prior to enrollment.
    That's silly and that's not my position.
    Imagine I'm a used car dealer and my state instructs used car dealers to publicize a set of disclosures, clearly in their publications and advising, to prospective clients.

    I take the state's direction to me and put it in a binder in a box on the wall of my waiting room under the title "Open here for more information on the state's Auto Dealership policy."

    Then when a third party concerned about consumer protection asks me whether I publicize each disclosure where a prospective client will see or hear it prior to purchasing, I don't answer this. Instead I ask the third party whether they hold a silly exaggerated position, and I contend that my waiting room wall isn't itself an obscure location.
    The decision to reject recognized accreditation is your right. Equipping people to serve your church is commendable. But all this is moving away from the questions about South Carolina's specific consumer disclosures.
    Last edited: Apr 2, 2024
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  15. Rich Douglas

    Rich Douglas Well-Known Member

    As Steve Levicoff used to object, 'But it's LEEEEEEEEEEagle." I can just imagine what he'd have to say about this.

    There can be a huge difference between what is legal and what is moral.

    "Just because you can do it doesn't make it a good idea." -- Chris Rock.
  16. SteveFoerster

    SteveFoerster Resident Gadfly Staff Member

    I'm pretty sure FTS wouldn't be my cup of tea. But this thread has become bizarre. We're not talking about an Axact clone here. They link to the state's own explanatory document right from their own accreditation page. That isn't hidden or obscure, it's exactly where it should be. Their programs are obviously designed not to mislead anyone. And whatever their connection to South Carolina is, it's obviously good enough for South Carolina.

    I get it that some people wish that this type of education didn't exist within the coat of many colors that is the US system of higher education. Well, too bad, because it does.
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  17. tadj

    tadj Well-Known Member

    I agree with this point. There is massive difference. However, the fact that this degree-granting is permitted by state law in various U.S. states makes the whole thing appear legit, even if we make all kinds of non-legal objections to the practice.
  18. Jonathan Whatley

    Jonathan Whatley Well-Known Member

    The title they put the link under obscures the content and relevance of the disclosures in section 4.
    I like that this type of education exists in the US. Forge is even a few better answers about their disclosure policy away from my liking Forge!
  19. Bruce

    Bruce Moderator

    Uhhh, hmmmm....I take some time off, and walk into this shitshow. :emoji_astonished:

    I just looked at Forge's website, and plain as day under "Accreditation" is the following;

    Forge Theological Seminary is not accredited by any accreditation agency recognized by the United States Department of Education or the Council for Higher Education Accreditation.

    As Steve noted above, they couldn't be more upfront and honest about their accreditation status, which puts them light years ahead of many other non-accredited religious schools.

    However, looking at their faculty page, there are some rather sketchy degrees (Andersonville Theological Seminary, which claims bogus accreditation) along with very legitimate (Liberty).

    I know nothing about religious/theological degrees, but any thread involving a non-accredited school never fails to entertain, it draws replies like moths to a flame! :D
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  20. Tireman 44444

    Tireman 44444 Well-Known Member

    Sidenote: YERRR BACKKK!!!
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