TD Jakes launches divinity school, draws criticism from some in academia

The logo of the Jakes Divinity School set to launch in January 2020.
The logo of the Jakes Divinity School set to launch in January 2020. | Facebook

Megachurch pastor and televangelist T.D. Jakes announced the launch of Jakes Divinity School, a new venture that will begin enrolling students in January 2020. But some in academia are already criticizing the online program.

Jakes, senior pastor of The Potter's House megachurch in Dallas, Texas, will serve as chancellor while Antipas Harris, a Yale trained theologian and Regent professor, has been named as president. The online divinity school will grant accredited degrees through partnerships with Vanguard University of Southern California  and North Central University, a Christian school in Minnesota.

“As the potter forms the clay into a vessel of purpose, the vision at JDS is to form leaders for ministry in the church and society. Throughout more than 40 years of ministry, Bishop TD Jakes, our founder and chancellor, has poured of himself into millions of people around the world. He has a passion for equipping others to do the same,” Harris said in an announcement shared on Instagram Saturday.

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“There remains much more mission work, pastoral care, leadership and thought leading to be done. The moral decay of our world is leading a generation on a spiritual search. The Holy Spirit sends out a clarion call for us to study deeper, understand more, bear witness greater, lead better and go further. For theological education and spiritual formation, we can meet the complexities of ministry for the 21st century,” he added.

Antipas Harris, is president of the Jakes Divinity School which will start enrolling students in January 2020.
Antipas Harris, is president of the Jakes Divinity School which will start enrolling students in January 2020. | Instagram

According to the school’s website, JDS will prepare Christian leaders for the future through academic rigor with experiential-learning, spiritual formation, and creative innovation necessary to minister in the church and society.

“Our curriculum, under the stewardship of Bishop T.D. Jakes, senior pastor of The Potter’s House in Dallas, TX, incorporates an emphasis on: effective preaching, vibrant worship, biblical thought, tacit knowledge, and quality instruction,” the school notes.

The school’s online divinity degree, diploma, and certificate programs will also “relate to the multidimensional foci of Bishop T.D. Jakes’ life and ministry, including: the art of presentation, leadership, entrepreneurship, global humanitarianism, entertainment and media.”

Advanced degrees programs up to the Ph.D. level are also offered.

While the launch of the JDS was welcome by some in academia. Some raised questions about the effort by Jakes.

“I have ONE question ... who is their accreditation with? I looked and did not see one!! ***All right, y’all can enroll in this school if you want to, invest all that money in a degree for it not to count for anything, other than you went to Jakes Divinity School! Lastly, as a person who graduated from two accredited theological schools, Candler School of Theology (Emory University) and Chicago Theological Seminary, I have serious concerns about their curriculum,” wrote Quincy James Rineheart, a theologian and historian of African American religion.

Friends International Christian University awarded Jakes his Bachelor of Arts degree in biblical studies in 1985, his master's degree in biblical studies in 1990, and his doctor of ministry in 1995. 

Writing for Apologetics Index, Pastor David Kowalski dismissed Friends International Christian University as a prominent diploma mill for ministers.

Bishop T. D. Jakes (L) speaks with Pastor Ed Young on a fishing trip.
Bishop T. D. Jakes (L) speaks with Pastor Ed Young on a fishing trip. | (Screenshot: The Raw & The Reel)

“This ‘school’ awards doctorates to candidates who, after completing very minimal prerequisites, finish eight, easy correspondence classes. A diligent high school graduate can have his or her ‘doctorate’ in less than a year,” Kowalski wrote.

“The average, real, earned doctorate takes over eight years to obtain after earning a bachelor's and then a master’s degree. Doctorates from Friends International Christian University have been awarded to ministers such as ‘Dr.’ Fred Price, ‘Dr.’ T. D. Jakes, ‘Dr.’ Ron Kenoly, and ‘Dr.’ Stephen Wiley,” he wrote.

Marquez Ball, senior pastor of Uplift Church in Maryland, wrote on Facebook that even though he is not a supporter of Jakes’ ministry, he applauds the megachurch pastor’s efforts to leave a lasting legacy behind.

“So ... Jakes Divinity School. I’m far, very far from a Jakes follower however some of us need to calm down. The hate we give our own is sicking (sic). It’s true Jakes doesn’t have an earned degree and I know how we educated black, colored, negro preachers can be. Spurgeon didn’t have a degree and he started a school, John McArthur started the Masters Seminary and he doesn’t have a doctorate. So is it ok for white people to start schools but black people must first have 17 PhD’s etc in order to start a school?” he asked.

“Jakes has a major scholar leading the school and that’s great. Some of y’all who are hating on Jakes haven’t built a small group much less a school so.... CALM DOWN. He’s a black man trying to leave a legacy and as a black man I don’t have to agree with him on everything to celebrate a black man leaving a legacy. Maybe some black scholar who keeps getting overlooked by white schools can find a home and funding at Jakes school... let’s fight for advancement and stop hating on each other. If you don’t think he’s worthy ... YOU START A BETTER SCHOOL or... shhhhh,” he added.

In June 2010, The Potter’s House of Dallas, Inc. announced a partnership with Palmer Theological Seminary of Eastern University to deliver online seminary training to its leadership team of pastors, elders, ministers, deacons, laity and volunteers.

The partnership was called “Openseminary,” an online program that allows participants to integrate graduate-level studies into their existing ministry, work or family schedules.

“We believe in building leadership from within,” Jakes said of the partnership at the launch of the partnership. “Our collaboration with Eastern University enables The Potter’s House to equip leaders locally so they may meet the spiritual needs of the world beyond our four walls.”

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