Wednesday, April 18, 2007


People have often asked me why I never went on in my education to get a Ph.D. I suppose I have many reasons: I’m lazy. When I had the money I didn’t have the time and when I’ve had the time I didn’t have enough money. My wife says she wouldn’t support me through one more year of education. I’m not smart enough. I’m smart enough already.

All of these excuses have some element of truth in them I suppose, but there’s also another reason – I just don’t like titles. I know that a doctorate is (usually) an earned degree. I also know that my credentials as an educator will always be a bit suspect without a Doctor’s degree. I also know a few doctors who love that title.

Many of my friends and colleagues have D.Mins. Somehow I have a hard time calling them by their titles. I usually don’t. In the book No God but God, David Wells has a chapter entitled “The D-Min-ization of the Ministry,” in which he bewails the professionalization of the ministry. He calls these degrees “minimalist.” He claims that they give a show of advancement, in a world where image matters as much as reality. I think he’s probably going too far.

I just don’t like titles. I’m haunted by Jesus’ words in Matthew 23. He tears into the scribes and Pharisees in this chapter. In verse 5, He says “… they do all their deeds to be noticed by men” and goes on to condemn their love of external show in the way they dress and where they sit. In verse 7, He says that they love “ … respectful greetings in the market places, and being called by men, ‘Rabbi.’”

Then in verses 8-10, He tells His disciples “But do not be called Rabbi, for One is your Teacher, and you are all brothers. Do not call anyone on earth your father, for One is your Father, He who is in heaven. Do not be called leaders for One is your Leader, that is, Christ.” Pretty strong!

Look at Luke 22:25, 26: … “The kings of the Gentiles lord it over them and those who have authority over them are called ‘Benefactors.’ But it is not this way with you, but the one who is the greatest among you must become like the youngest, and the leader like the servant.” I’ve very seldom been called by any of these titles, so I guess I’m doing okay, right? And if I don’t get a doctor’s degree people won’t call me that anyway.

But I call my physician “Doctor Stigall” (though usually I just call him Brian) and my pastor “Pastor Phil” (though usually it’s just Phil; he doesn’t like “Doctor Phil” for some reason). Many of my students call me “Professor Ball” or “Prof Ball” (even though my official title was Assistant Professor. You need a Doctorate to be a full professor. I’ve never been too concerned about that.

I think the difference is that these are “professional” titles. They describe us by what we do, not what we are. But see what Paul says of his title in 1 Corinthians 15:9. He says he is “not worthy to be called an apostle.”

A lot of people in the ministry use “Reverend” as a title. I hate that title. I don’t use it on myself and won’t use it on others, even if they expect me to. Many of my students are called by this title, but I usually call them either by their first names, or Mr. or Mrs. or Ms something or other. Sometimes even brother or sister so and so.

I don’t know how this title, Reverend” began to be used of people. It’s not found in any modern translation of the Bible. It is found once in the King James Bible. Psalm 111:9: “Holy and Reverend is His Name.” The Hebrew word is NORAH. It’s a passive participle form of the verb for fear, and means something like “to be feared.” “Awesome” is a good modern translation. God’s Name is awesome, I’m not (even though I’ve been called that by a few overenthusiastic students)!

Now I’m not trying to sound humble. It’s just that Jesus has warned us of assuming too much honor for ourselves. I actually get very nervous when people flatter me, because I enjoy it. And I know that I should beware “when all men speak well of (me)” (Luke 6:26) He deserves all the glory!!!

Bill Ball

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