Christian Higher Education: Discernment Needed

In my last post, I critiqued the current campus scene in colleges and universities nationwide and extolled the virtues of evangelical colleges. While not walking back that endorsement, I do want to point out that as long as we are on this earth, nothing is perfect, and that applies to evangelical institutions of higher education as well.

Some evangelicals seem to have some kind of inferiority complex because of their affiliation with a Christian college. They continue to look at what they consider to be prestigious universities as the epitome of higher education and strive to be acceptable to them intellectually. Let’s be honest: since the only places you can get many doctoral degrees are at those institutions, some Christian professors teaching at evangelical colleges may consider themselves to be second-rate because of that affiliation.

I disagree, of course, because I think all true learning begins with the knowledge of God and His ways. But I have seen an envy of sorts pop up in a number of colleagues over the years.

I’ve also seen an uncritical acceptance of trendy thought patterns. Every evangelical college has its quota, it seems, of social justice warriors who mirror the policies promoted by “progressive” forces in the secular world. In one sense, I understand how this can happen. Christians care for the poor; they see a need to help; they then adopt the clichés and attitudes of the Left who, to them, appear to be as concerned for the poor as they are.

Never mind that progressive, socialist policies have only hurt the poor wherever they are tried. They then label anyone who disagrees with such policies as uncaring, greedy, and unrighteous. And they have to ignore the incipient totalitarianism of the progressive Left that shouts down anyone with a different point of view and seeks to force conformity.

Personally, I have experienced what it means to be in the crosshairs of a Christian university administration when I have challenged certain trendy movements. At one of the universities where I taught, I was called into the academic dean’s office to answer for my teaching “heresies.”

What offenses did I commit? Well, first of all, I held to the Biblical view that parents are the ones who should decide how their children are educated, not the government. For advocating private schools and homeschooling, I was going against the university’s goal of placing students in public schools.

I never said that Christians shouldn’t be teaching in those schools as missionaries; I was merely stating that parents should take their educational responsibilities seriously and make sure their own children were brought up in the faith.

For that, I was a heretic, I guess.

The second teaching that got me into trouble was my concern over how much of modern psychology had found its way into Christian psychology and counseling. In particular, I questioned the emphasis on self-esteem because I see it as an artificial, self-centered approach that denies the true Christian message of recognition of sin and repentance prior to salvation. I believe that movement has done great damage in the church.

Then I had the audacity to put those views in a book. Apparently, that was the final straw. For those two reasons, I was told my contract would not be renewed. The book was an attempt on my part to help Christians understand the Biblical grounds for government and public policy, as I came to realize that the main reason some Christians drifted into progressive policies is that they don’t have a firm grasp of Biblical principles as applied to government.

That book is available for purchase on Amazon. I still use it in my basic historiography course.

While having my contract ended stung at the time, God opened another door that was far more fruitful. I have learned through experiences like this that I should never despair because He always has something for His people to do.

That old maxim that says when one door closes, another opens, is accurate when you believe that God works all things together for good for those who love Him.

So what am I saying? Be discerning. Not all advertisements for Christian education tell the whole story. Dig deeper and know what is being taught before sending your 18-year-old off to college. Avoid the heartbreak of seeing your children adopt views that run counter to the Biblical foundation you have tried to instill within them.

The New University Culture

I have taught at Christian colleges and universities for 27 years. I’ve noted in past blogs that there have been bumps along the way and that none of those higher education institutions have been perfect. But I still believe in Christian higher education and am grateful that I’m not subjected to most of the insanity that is in the ascendance on many of our secular campuses.

One of the areas of study that is under attack the most is American history, which is what I happen to teach. I have the liberty to teach that history from a Christian perspective, discerning what was in accordance with Biblical principles and what was not. I have never, at my current institution, been told what to teach or threatened because of the content of my courses.

I shudder to think what might happen to me if I attempted to teach at a state university somewhere:

Welcome to College

I’m afraid I would have to undergo “sensitivity” training. My approach to my courses just wouldn’t fit the new, enlightened perspective:

Can't Take

Some organizations are trying to correct the imbalance by bringing in more conservative speakers to these campuses. All too often, those speakers are now being banned from the campuses. You see, they’re too controversial and might damage the self-esteem of those snowflakes who are huddled in their comfy ideological corner:

Banning the Speakers

And it’s becoming increasingly difficult for students to stay in line with the “correct” ideology because it keeps changing so rapidly. Princeton now wants all faculty, staff, and students to stop using such terrible words as “man.” That’s much too patriarchal for our tastes now.

Gender-Neutral Human

So where are we culturally?

Rhetorical Question

Classes for me don’t begin this year until after Labor Day, so I have a little more time to prepare. The nice thing is that I don’t have to dread my time in the classroom, never knowing when I will be called out for being too male, too white, too heterosexual, and too Christian.

I feel for my colleagues who are attempting to bring truth to students in a different environment. May they stay true to their calling and may God protect them.

Christian Higher Education & The Threat That Won’t Go Away

I want to give an update on the proposed bill in the California legislature that would deny state funding to Christian colleges and universities that don’t toe the line on the homosexual agenda.

Ricardo LaraYou may recall that this particular bill, championed by state senator Ricardo Lara, sought to castigate evangelical institutions of higher education for “discriminating” against openly homosexual students at those institutions. The bill is an attempt to force Christian colleges to change their theology and their stance on sexual morality.

For the record, Sen. Lara is a homosexual who proudly calls himself “the first openly gay person of color elected to the California Senate.” That quote comes directly from his website.

Leaders in the Christian academic community have been able, through dialogue with Lara, to get him to back off on the most egregious part of the bill, dropping the financial penalty and just requiring those institutions to provide notice of their stance on homosexuality and disclose to the state any students (or faculty and staff, I presume) who are dismissed for violating the institution’s policy.

Is this a victory? Well, in a limited sense. The outright threat to those institutions’ financial well-being is now eliminated—but for how long? Sen. Lara has not promised that he will abandon his quest and may try again in the next legislative session.

Also, just the idea that Christian educational institutions must give notice of their policy and keep the state informed of their actions toward those who violate the policy sets those institutions apart in the public mind as “different,” in the sense that they are suspect and need to be watched.

This is the first step toward isolating and subjecting Christian education to “public shaming.”

So while I’m relieved that a bullet has been dodged for the time being, this is not a victory in the long run.

Let me add this: Christian institutions of higher education would not be in this fix if they hadn’t succumbed to the siren song of public funding. When you bring the government in, no matter how good the intentions, you bring with it the possibility of government control over your academic policies and programs.

The best of all worlds would be for Christian colleges and universities to begin figuring out how they can wean themselves off the government money supply. Given the drift of our culture, which has accelerated in an anti-Christian direction in the past few years, we cannot go forward thinking that the problem has been resolved. It has not.

The attacks will only increase. We need to be wise and prepare accordingly.

The Attempt to Destroy Christian Education

Let’s not play word games. Let’s say what’s really happening in American culture and how it’s being reflected now in its government. What we have is a rising anger and antipathy toward Christianity among a growing number of Americans who want to rebel against the moral parameters that the Christian faith upholds.

What they don’t understand, of course, is that those moral standards are for everyone’s good and that they are what hold a society together. Without them, chaos will eventually reign and no one will be safe in a Darwinist world where might makes right.

Why now? Why so many drastic changes in our culture that seem to gain acceptance when they never were seriously considered before? A lot of the blame rests on what has been occurring in our educational system for the past century. The system has become heavily politicized and has promoted an anti-Christian worldview for quite a long time.

One of the goals of a system like this is to indoctrinate children rather than teach them foundational concepts upon which all reasoning is based. You will hear trendy talk about how we are focusing on teaching our children how to think, but, in reality, we are teaching them what to think by only presenting one side of issues.

That’s why they come out of their elementary and secondary education as mini-socialists/fascists who believe the government ought to be the arbiter of all things. We have undermined ourselves.

Educational Performance

Each new generation has been trained in a mindset that is further from Christian thought and values, and now we’re seeing the results. This is why, in my view, so many of this upcoming generation are fine with the departure from objective reality, seeking to replace reality with their own “reality.” They think Christians are narrowminded and bigoted.

When the Supreme Court declares same-sex marriage is a right, they applaud. When the president decides that we should gender-bend the society, they rejoice.

Door Number Two

And if you don’t agree with this transformation of reality, there is a convenient word to use against you:

Making Me Uncomfortable

College campuses have become zones where the new unreality has its fullest expression:

Campus Debate

Those purveyors of hatred—otherwise known as “fundamentalist” Christians—are the real enemy. One sore thumb that is sticking out in our society that is hindering the new acceptance, in their opinion, is Christian education.

They hate homeschoolers, so they try to portray them as insulated; parents should never have control of their children’s education, they protest. Christian schools should have to abide by all the strictures the state places on public/government schools, they proclaim. If you don’t think so, check out the resolutions of the National Education Association (NEA) sometime.

Then there are those evangelical colleges and universities, like the one where I teach. Havens of bigotry and the closed mind, they cry. Something must be done.

Have you heard what is brewing in California? The legislature there is ready to clamp down on all Christian higher education institutions in the state.

If a bill before the legislature right now passes, Christian colleges will be told they must not require their professors to be Christians who adhere to a statement of faith.

They will be prohibited from teaching Biblical principles in their courses. As a history professor, I interweave those principles into everything I teach. Neither will professors be allowed to pray in their classrooms because it might offend someone.

Required chapel attendance? Out. Mandatory Bible classes? Forbidden. Separate bathrooms, locker rooms, and dormitories for men and women? Not if you want to weather a lawsuit.

Well, that’s only California, you say. It’s a test case. If it happens there, it will spread.

The goal: total destruction of Christian higher education.

Yes, that is on the horizon. I don’t just warn about this because it threatens my profession and future as an educator. I warn about it because it is a harbinger of a society on the verge of collapse.

Jesus told us we are to be the light and salt in a society. The challenge is before us. How will we respond? Yes, the response needs to be loving, but there needs to be a steel spine behind that love. We need to stand strong and stand together.

Christian Colleges–Are They?

I’ve been involved with Christian higher education for a long time; I’m beginning my 27th year of teaching next month. I can’t imagine trying to do what I do in the classroom in any other setting than a Christian college or university committed to upholding Biblical standards.

CCCUThe primary organization that acts as an umbrella for these Christian educational institutions is the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU). All Christian colleges that are part of this organization are supposed to maintain a basic fidelity to the essential teachings of Scripture regarding Christian faith, committed to a high view of Biblical authority.

Now, two of those institutions, Goshen College in Indiana and Eastern Mennonite University in Virginia, have decided, in the wake of the Supreme Court decision on same-sex marriage, to alter their view of Biblical marriage. Both are now allowing same-sex married couples to be on the faculty.

This is a radical departure from Christian orthodoxy. One would assume these institutions would immediately be suspended from the CCCU, yet the official statement from its board of directors is that they will continue deliberations.

What is there to deliberate?

The rationale for suspending judgment on the matter is that all member colleges and universities will be contacted and consulted first. I am trying to give the benefit of the doubt here, but if an organization that says it is committed to Biblical authority cannot emphatically declare from the outset that what these two institutions have done is clearly unbiblical, one must be excused for having doubts about that commitment.

The CCCU may come to the correct conclusion after all its consultations and deliberations. Goshen and Eastern Mennonite may no longer be part of the organization as a result. Yet I cannot help but be dismayed by the slow nature of decisionmaking on a subject that should not be a matter of debate.

Christian EducationI’ve had my concerns about Christian higher education all along, primarily the willingness on the part of some of these institutions to show a Christian face to prospective students and their parents, while allowing some of their faculty to teach on the fringes on genuine Christianity—and in some cases to hold forth blatantly unbiblical positions.

Do I have a problem with academic freedom? Not at all. I want to be able to teach what I believe to be Biblical without undue scrutiny. But there is a limit when you agree to a statement of faith before being hired. If you then teach contrary to that statement of faith, you have demonstrated infidelity and a distinct lack of integrity.

Christian education needs to be uniquely Christian. We are here to serve the Lord and help lead our students into a Biblical worldview. If we do anything less than that, we are unfaithful to the One who called us.

Snyderian Truism #11

Another semester comes to a close tonight with the fall commencement at Southeastern University. I’m in my twenty-fifth year of teaching at the college level and have now witnessed a multitude of these. As I watch the graduates cross the stage and receive their diplomas, I hope that the four years they have invested were worth all the effort and the money that was spent. At least I have a higher comfort level at a university like SEU, knowing that a significant portion of what they received came from professors, for the most part, who are dedicated to providing a Biblical grounding for their subject matter. But that’s not the norm nationwide, which is what leads me to share another Snyderian truism. This one’s quite short and to the point:

Higher education sometimes isn’t.

Harvard CollegeA new report has just been made public. At Harvard College, the undergraduate school for its Arts and Sciences program, the most common grade is an A and the average grade is A-. Back in 2001, 91% of its students graduated with honors; the grading system has become even more lenient since then. Even in 2001, the Boston Globe called Harvard’s grading system “the laughingstock of the Ivy League.” And this is supposed to be the “gold standard” for university education in America?

I’m sure this story could be repeated at a great many of our institutions of higher education. Personally, I believe that university education as a whole has been dumbed down over the last few decades. The basic American history courses I teach are what students should have learned in high school, yet most of my students are fairly ignorant of even the most noteworthy people and events in our history. A college education now can be equated with a high school education of yesteryear. Now you need a master’s degree to obtain the type of education you would have received at the undergraduate level decades ago.

We’re also on a “critical thinking” bandwagon. We say students need to be critical thinkers, but we don’t offer them any solid worldview from which to do their thinking; most wander in the realm of moral relativism and nihilism, without any grounding at all. Critical thinking degenerates into uninformed, but firmly held, opinions.

Another hobby horse is “diversity.” We apply it externally to admissions policies, focusing on percentages of minorities entering the institution; internally, we say we value diversity of views in teaching. Right. Do you really think most public universities would welcome my views on American history and government, complete with Biblical principles for arriving at those views? Diversity is a sham, but it’s trendy.

Thought Diversity

Of course, as the above comic reveals, real diversity must operate within a certain framework of general agreement. That’s why a Christian university comes closer to the real definition of the term—we have a Biblical framework within which we can hash out different views in our subject areas. The secular university is a no-holds-barred free-for-all with no unity at all, except for a general disdain for the Biblical worldview.

So, anyway, those are some of my thoughts today as another commencement looms. I want to do all I can to ensure the students who pass through my courses are challenged to do their best, are grounded in a Biblical worldview to enable them to do critical thinking, and when they graduate, are closer to the ideal of what a higher education should provide for them.

Christian Higher Education at a Crossroads

Christian EducationThe last couple days I’ve extolled Christian higher education. I believe in it with a whole heart. Yet that doesn’t mean there aren’t problems. In fact, a battle royal is currently waging for the soul of the Christian college and university. Let me comment on that today.

Where does one receive a doctoral degree? Overwhelmingly, if you attain a doctorate, you’ve gotten it from a non-Christian university. Relatively few doctoral programs exist within evangelical Christian universities. I, for instance, have my doctorate from American University in Washington, DC. There was nothing very Christian about the program. I had to examine what I was being taught and filter it all through Biblical principles. Consequently, most professors teaching in evangelical higher education have a thoroughly secular education at the doctoral level. How many have gone to the effort to rethink the premises or assumptions behind the knowledge they imbibed? Have they come to a Biblical understanding of that basic information?

Doubt-FaithAll too often, that rethinking has been abortive. I’m afraid many teach primarily what they have been taught, sprinkling a prayer or a short devotional on top of it. That leads to a confused, inconsistent worldview being passed on to their students. Back in the 1980s, I remember reading about one study that concluded that a higher percentage of churched young people lose their faith in Christian colleges than in the worldly ones. Why? They were dismayed by the false advertising; they were told they would receive an education based on Biblical principles, but, in fact, they weren’t getting anything all that different from what a state university would have given them. Disillusioned, they abandoned the faith.

 Here’s what’s transpiring in most of the Christian colleges with which I’m familiar:

  • A significant minority—and in some cases a majority—of the professors have jumped on the bandwagon of social justice teaching. Social justice, simply as a term, is not pernicious. Surely Christians want to see justice in society, at all levels. The problem is the definition making the rounds today: it always equates with the liberal/progressive worldview that sees government programs as the solution to poverty and all other social ills. All too often, it exonerates the crimes of communism/Marxism/socialism and tries to convince students these are movements based on Biblical teaching.
  • This quest for social justice manifests itself through nearly all the disciplines. Sociology and social work professors, sincerely concerned for those living in terrible circumstances, believe that Christian compassion demands more government help, making almost no distinction between legitimate Biblical compassion and government programs. They are not the same.
  • English departments will concentrate on “cutting edge” literature espousing radical ideology at the expense of classics that have stood the test of time and that teach some valuable spiritual and moral precepts.
  • History and political science professors will make heroes of some of the worst dregs of humanity: Lenin, Mao, Castro, and Che Guevara, to name just a few. Liberal political ideology is promoted as the natural outgrowth of Christianity. I recall one history professor’s door at a well-known and respected evangelical university littered with peace signs and all other standard liberal propaganda. And if you see a Christian professor walking around campus with a Che shirt, you shouldn’t be surprised.
  • This battle even invades the religion and theology departments. Sometimes, those professors can be the greatest promoters of the progressive, semi-Marxist philosophy. Again, this will be done in the name of Christian compassion for the poor and downtrodden. Yet I’ve also noticed that, among such professors, concern about abortion is minimal. Somehow, the most innocent of all, who are losing their lives in the most awful holocaust in history, are marginalized; they take a back seat to those who supposedly need a higher minimum wage or some other liberal nostrum.
  • I’ve also perceived that Christian professors of this stripe aren’t all that concerned about homosexuality. They seem to have bought into the trendy idea of diversity, believing that since God loves sinners, He will probably accept their sexual orientation. Even using the language of “sexual orientation” is to dismiss the Biblical truth of personal responsibility for one’s actions, otherwise known as “sin.”

Many of these professors who espouse liberal views are sincere Christians in their personal lives. I won’t say that of all of them; God is the ultimate judge. However, for those who know they’ve been rescued from their own sinfulness, the problem lies with their grasp of how Biblical principles are to be applied to society. Bottom line: they have little understanding of the Bible’s teaching on government in general, and on civil government in particular; they have spotty comprehension of economics based on Biblical principles; and they are quite muddled in their definitions of compassion and social justice.

The very soul of the Christian college and university is on the line. Christian higher education may be at a crucial crossroads. Will we reaffirm basic Biblical teachings or allow ourselves to drift into modern thought tinged with a vague type of Christian compassion? The stakes are high. The next generation of Christian leaders is at risk.