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.

Higher Education’s Sad Spectacle

I’ve been following events on our nation’s campuses where higher learning is supposed to take place. From one perspective, one could say the faculty and students have performed a great service for making the nation laugh again, what with their “safe spaces” and tears over the last election.

However, my desire for higher learning to be appreciated makes the spectacle more a reason for sadness than laughter. Denying conservative speakers the right to be heard is a type of fascism, which is ironic because the deniers claim to be combating fascism. Their totalitarianism is fascistic; the speakers hold to limited government and the right for every position on the issues to be aired publicly.

The fascists are the student protesters; those who value liberty, decency, and civil discussion are the conservatives who are being shouted at and slandered.

I sit in a fairly “safe space” of my own since I teach on a Christian evangelical campus. I have yet to witness a riot on my campus, and people are allowed to speak without being shouted down. Each year, I bring a speaker for Constitution Day who extols the virtues of our form of government and the Christian basis for understanding government.

If you want to find where higher education is occurring, may I suggest a campus like mine? I invite all potential history majors to come and study under me and others who grasp the importance of Christian faith to education.

I have experienced other campus scenarios, however. Both my master’s and doctoral degrees were earned at typical secular universities. Some of what I received was excellent; some was biased. I learned to tell the difference.

For a few years, I even taught as an adjunct history professor at a large, well-known university in Virginia. I brought my Christian perspective into the classroom, along with my conservative political interpretation of American history. Course evaluations from my students were an affirmation that they believed I was a good professor.

Then I had a class in which one student, a radical feminist, complained to the department chair about my teaching. That led to a phone call from the chair (I never met her in person). She asked about how I teach and I told her. She seemed very civil and even noted that every professor teaches from his/her own perspective. I thought the conversation went very well.

I was never invited back.

The open mind is always closed at one end. That’s what Whittaker Chambers said about his mother when he asked her once about when God created the universe. She froze, he related, and in an icy voice, informed him that someone must have told him that, and that he was to keep an open mind. She then lectured him that the universe was created out of gases, not by God.

He learned a lot at that moment; that’s when he realized that those who proclaim to be so open are often the most close-minded.

That’s what we see at this moment on our campuses, and it’s a sad reality. Of course, I know this is not new. I was on a campus myself as a student during the Vietnam War. That era was ripe with protest, potential anarchy, and violence.

As has often been noted, the radicals of the 1960s-1970s are now teaching the current generation. The cycle continues. Back in my college days, the mantra was not to trust anyone over thirty. Only the younger generation really knew what to believe.

The more time passes, the less things change. That arrogance is still the cornerstone of radical protest today. They walk in blindness. The Christian mission on campuses is to shed light on that blindness and lead them into true Truth.

The Left Going Crazy, Trump Being Trump

Watching the cultural/political Left go crazy the past few weeks should be instructive to many Americans. Although there’s nothing really surprising about the “progressive” reaction to Trump’s presidency, their out-of-control rage, whining, and actual destruction of property offers a valuable lesson about the dangers of Totalitarian Leftism.

The University of California Berkeley retains an iconic status in the minds of those on the Left. They believe it is the place where free speech was born in the 1960s. That image is imaginary. Free speech existed long before the presumed free speech movement at Berkeley.

Recently, Berkeley is again in the news as riots have broken out on campus, complete with attacks on local businesses. No one is allowed to have a different idea at Berkeley; genuine free speech is a rarity on many American campuses—all in the name of tolerance.

As a university professor myself, I think I can assign a grade:

Conservative voices are either silenced or harassed in many of our cultural venues. Calm, reasoned debate no longer is the norm; emotions rule all too often:

Stakeholders on the Left are all upset that a woman who fervently believes children need better educational options is now confirmed as the new secretary of education. Apparently, working for school choice (I thought the Left loved “choice”) and donating tons of personal funds toward helping children get the education they need is now a disqualification for being the education secretary. Their reaction has become typical:

And of course there are all the organized and funded protests over a travel executive order that has been characterized undeservedly as a “Muslim ban.” Never mind that it was in accordance with previous legislation and similar to what other presidents have done; rationality and constitutionality are not part of the Left’s thought process anymore.

The real problem with that particular EO was the way Trump handled it and how it was applied to people who should not have been targeted. What Trump should have done is make a short address to the American people about what he was going to do and explain the precise nature of the order ahead of time, thereby short-circuiting some of the hysteria that erupted.

Instead, he just dumped it out there without sufficient explanation. That’s one of Trump’s ongoing problems. He just does things and doesn’t take into account the possible reaction.

He also continues to have a brain-to-mouth issue. In an interview with Bill O’Reilly, when asked about Putin, whom O’Reilly correctly called a killer, Trump came back with the quip that the US has done its share of killing as well.

That came across as Trump proclaiming a moral equivalency between an increasingly totalitarian Russia and the US. Putin finds ways to create suspicious deaths for those who criticize him; when has that been US policy?

Trump continues to harbor admiration for Putin and other strong dictators, and he somehow seems to think that America has been just as bad as other nations in how its citizens have been treated. Tell that to the 7 million Ukrainians starved to death by Stalin. Explain how the persecution and executions of Christians in communist countries compares favorably with how we treat our people.

This moral equivalence argument is fantasy land, and Trump needs to disavow it immediately. It reverses the realistic view that Reagan brought to policy in his day.

Donald Trump remains his own worst enemy. If he wishes to succeed as president, it’s going to take more than bluster and insults toward those who disagree with him. He’s going to have to learn some statesmanship. Will his basic character allow this?

The Confirmation Circus

Confirmation hearings for Trump’s nominees have become quite a circus. It was to be expected, unfortunately. I remember when Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin was putting forth his agenda a few years ago. Democrats in the Wisconsin legislature ran away to Illinois so there wouldn’t be a quorum to conduct business. Senate Democrats seem to be copying that strategy, refusing to show up to vote on whether to send nominees to the full Senate.

It’s a tried and true method used by toddlers, angry juveniles, and immature people everywhere.

Republicans had to alter the rules even to get the nominees out of committee. Perhaps it’s the only way to deal with temper tantrums.

In the Democrats’ crosshairs now is Betsy DeVos, slated to be the new education secretary. Since she’s an advocate for private schooling, the teachers’ unions are up in arms. They’ve been busy consolidating their support with the Democrats:

I’m always amused by cries of “influence” when aimed at various conservative groups who donate to Republicans. The National Education Association (NEA) and its allies practically own Democrats; they have more money to throw around than all conservative groups combined.

Soon we’ll be treated with the confirmation hearing for Neil Gorsuch, chosen to take Antonin Scalia’s seat on the Supreme Court. The circus will continue. Over a decade ago, Gorsuch received a unanimous vote for his current judicial position. That’s history.

I trust Gorsuch is prepared for what he is about to experience:

Will Republicans have to turn to what is called the “nuclear option,” not allowing a filibuster on the nomination?

What a shame that this scenario has turned into an unbridgeable political divide. Democrats have become unhinged over these nominees, using their outrage to raise even more funding for their theatrics.

I know that theatrics have played a role throughout American political history, but I don’t believe we’ve ever witnessed the kind of role-playing that has come to the forefront ever since Ronald Reagan was elected in 1980, at least not on such a sustained basis. We are a nation that is verging on a complete cultural and political division not seen since the Civil War.

What will be the result?

The Lewis & Chambers Blessing

Two of the courses I’m teaching this semester are particularly gratifying: one is on C. S. Lewis and the other on Whittaker Chambers. I’ve taught on Chambers for many years; this is only the second time I’ve offered the Lewis course.

Those of you who are regular readers of this blog know that I’ve written books lately on both men. The added blessing is to be given the opportunity to then take what I’ve researched and written about and offer it to the students.

In the Lewis course, we started with his autobiography, Surprised By Joy, and will be completing most of Mere Christianity next week. Along with the latter, I’ve had the students read Paul McCusker’s C. S. Lewis and Mere Christianity, which provides the historical background for his WWII BBC talks that eventually became the classic work.

Next we will turn to The Screwtape Letters, The Great Divorce, The Abolition of Man, That Hideous Strength, The Last Battle, and A Grief Observed. Interspersed with those books will be a number of Lewis’s essays, thereby helping students get as broad an acquaintance with his thought as possible.

And of course I end with my book on how Lewis has impacted Americans. How could I omit that?

The discussion has been heartfelt as students reflect on not only what Lewis has said but how he has said it. The observations the students turn in to me after each reading assignment have been excellent; it warms a professor’s heart to see them interacting with what they are reading.

My Chambers course is small, but I like the coziness of a small class. I give them a history of communism in short doses, we read Chambers’s amazing autobiography Witness, along with some of his essays (kind of like the Lewis class), and mostly just sit and discuss what we have read.

Again, like Lewis, Chambers’s manner of writing is bracing and so personal that it stirs the mind and the heart simultaneously.

So, in the middle of a very busy schedule in which grading becomes a constant companion, I have oases that refresh and remind me why God has put me on this career path.

Being a professor can be discouraging at times, but what career doesn’t have those moments? I have been given a free hand over the years to develop unique courses that flow from what God has done for me; I offer them to the students in gratitude for His mercy (unmerited favor) and grace (strength to do His will).

Focusing on the Eternal

Last year’s political season was probably the most divisive in modern American history. The nature of the presidential race was such that I felt compelled to concentrate on it in this blog. However, I always sought to provide thoughts on other topics as well. After all, this blog is not about politics and government only; it’s about life overall.

I have a daily routine of online sites I check for current events and commentary, but I don’t limit my reading to those. That would be unbalanced. I am a voracious reader. It’s not just my profession as a history professor that mandates it; I thrive on reading.

My foundational reading for life is always going to be Scripture. I just completed reading the Bible through again. Whenever I do that, I use a different version to keep the message fresh.

My newest Bible-reading project will be long-term, as I’ve begun to delve into a study Bible that will keep me occupied for at least a couple of years. I’m not going to rush through it. I’ll take my time while I meditate not only on the verses themselves but the commentary within.

As a corollary to Scripture reading, I also have a daily e-mail from Christian History that not only offers a short devotional but also information about various people and movements in the history of the church.

A lot of my reading does have to do with the courses I teach, as I want to stay current with scholarship in my field. Yet that type of reading is not a duty; rather, it’s a joy.

For instance, I am teaching my C. S. Lewis course this spring. In my reading of a book about Lewis over Christmas break, I realized I hadn’t yet read some of his essays on literature. So I got a collection of those and found some I have now incorporated into the course.

Reading Lewis is one of my favorite things, as most of you probably know, since I published a book about him a few months ago. I find endless fascination in his thoughts and in the way he expresses them. He helps keep me balanced.

I’m reading other books now as well (I usually have three or four going at the same time). For my American Revolution course, which I will probably teach again in the fall, I’m previewing a book with an intriguing title: Reading the Bible with the Founding Fathers. The author is a man I know personally, Daniel Dreisbach, who is an excellent scholar. Reading a book like that is a perfect combination of faith and history.

A course I’ve not yet taught, American history from 1877 to 1917, is another one I may teach in the fall, so I’m focusing right now on a key period in that history, trying to find just the right book to fill in the gap.

I’ve found a very readable book on the pivotal 1912 election that may be the one. It’s an interesting character study of the four candidates in that key campaign: Woodrow Wilson, Theodore Roosevelt, William Howard Taft, and Eugene Debs. I can say I’ve learned quite a bit; it has deepened my knowledge of the era, which is something I always seek to do with any historical period.

I also read fiction, mostly from evangelical authors who know how to tell a good story. Some of my staples in that area are Ted Dekker, Stephen Lawhead, and Joel Rosenberg, but I broaden my search all the time, wanting to find others who know how to combine fine storytelling with the faith.

I’m also working my way slowly through Paradise Lost, which is going to take a while, to be sure. Catching up on some of the classics that I’ve never read is another goal.

So, you can see I’m not just narrowly focused on politics. My life is so much more than just a matter of who won the last election. In fact, with an election like the one that has just occurred, I am truly grateful that life is bigger than that.

Memes created from one of my favorite movies, The Princess Bride, can sometimes capture how I feel:

I hope we can all keep our sense of humor in times like these. Faith in God and a sense of humor should go together to remind us that current events are just that—current, not eternal.

That reminds me of another of my favorite Scripture passages, found in 2 Corinthians 4:16-18:

Therefore we do not lost heart, but though our outer man is decaying, yet our inner man is being renewed day by day.

For momentary, light affliction is producing for us an eternal weight of glory far beyond all comparison, while we look not at the things which are seen, but at the things which are not seen.

For the things which are seen are temporal, but the things which are not seen are eternal.

May our focus always be on the eternal.

Where I Come From & Where I Am Today

I’ve been musing the past few days on the roots of my political and/or governmental philosophy. Why am I where I am today in my understanding of what’s best for the governing of this nation?

I wasn’t raised in a home that taught me what I now believe, so it’s not a matter of merely copying what my parents thought. In fact, I grew up thinking the Democrats were the party to support.

I was conservative as far as I understood what conservatism was, but didn’t grasp the drift taking place in that party. I thought that because I was sympathetic to the civil rights movement, I was a good Democrat.

Liberal-ConservativeIt took a conversation in college with someone knew the difference to show me I was truly a conservative in outlook and that my views lined up better with the Republicans. That actually surprised me.

Yet I didn’t just follow the advice of that person blindly. I began to investigate what I should believe and why. Two factors guided my thinking: my growing Christian faith and the influence of certain writers I was beginning to enjoy reading.

First, I began to learn about Biblical principles and how they should be applied to society, including government. Those principles continue to guide me today.

William F. Buckley Holding BookSecond, two periodicals honed my thinking in accordance with those Biblical principles: National Review and The Freeman. The first offered witty and insightful commentary on the current political scene, and I greatly admired William F. Buckley, the founder of the magazine; the second grounded me in free-market concepts.

When I decided to pursue my doctorate in history, I was in a time of uncertainty spiritually. I was searching to see if anything else could fill that void. My professors, generally speaking, were far more liberal than I, and some of the reading I was given allowed me to test my convictions. Would they stand?

They did. I was now grounded in what liberals thought, as I expanded my understanding of both worldviews.

My advanced degrees offered no answers for life; God mercifully drew me back to Himself. Yet that pursuit of higher education did prepare me to better define what I believed and why.

My path to what I believe is not everyone’s path, by any stretch. My spiritual quest combined with my educational quest to make me what I am. It was a fascinating integration of intellectual and emotional satisfaction.

TextbooksI have been in higher education circles ever since. Seven of my years of teaching were at the graduate level; another five at a college that stressed classical education.

In my courses, I try to communicate to my students a worldview that is spiritually and intellectually sound.

I’ve always approached politics from this foundation of Biblical principles and solid reasoning from a well-grounded conservative philosophy. I don’t repent of any of this, but I do think my approach has left me a little bewildered by the politics of 2016.

As I meditate on what has developed politically over the past year, I have been astounded by what seems to me to be a devastating loss of principle in both the Christian world and the corresponding conservative world.

Donald Trump at DebateI’ve been trying to understand why this is so. You see, for me, the first time I saw Donald Trump on the stage with all those other candidates, I came away thinking that this was the biggest con of recent political history and that no one would take him seriously. Why? Because I didn’t perceive him as a serious candidate.

Trump had no command of the issues. He was an egotist who blustered, interrupted, and insulted anyone he thought was in his way. His entire history was as a liberal Democrat, and now he was trying to convince everyone he was a Republican.

I thought everyone would see through this charade. I’ve been sorely disappointed.

True, he didn’t get the majority of Republican votes in the primaries. I console myself with that fact. But once he became the nominee, so many who had previously said he was unacceptable suddenly decided he was now worth supporting, and anyone who disagreed should be shamed and guilted (is that a word?) into abandoning their principles and declaring their undying allegiance.

My entire background and training doesn’t allow me to board this train. I’m dismayed that so many others have decided to do so.

PrinciplesI’ve learned a valuable lesson, though. I have to realize that not everyone makes decisions based on principles only. Sometimes emotions carry the day. The emotion that leads some to vote for Trump now is fear—fear of a Hillary Clinton presidency.

I understand that fear. What I don’t get is why those same voters don’t see the danger of a Trump presidency as well. In my view, both are equally undesirable.

Some probably wonder why I continue to warn about Trump when it is clear that one or the other—Trump or Hillary—will be the next president. The answer is this: I’m looking beyond this election; I’m trying to keep us thinking about what comes next and whether there will be a Christian witness left to the nation after this, and whether there will be any conservative movement to build upon and salvage the disaster that is sure to come regardless of who wins this particular election.

We need to be principled people. My task, I believe, is to stay true to that calling and convince as many others as possible to do the same.