Wheaton & the State of Christian Higher Education

I suppose by now most of my regular readers are already conversant with the controversy at Wheaton College over tenured political science professor Larycia Hawkins. This erupted while I was on my Christmas sabbatical so I’ve not written anything about it yet.

Today I believe it is time to share what I think, not because I am the final word on it but simply because I’m so committed to Christian higher education that a turmoil like this affects the realm in which I minister and work.

Larycia HawkinsLet’s review briefly what this controversy involves.

Larycia Hawkins, as you can see in the photo here, decided to wear the Muslim hijab as a statement of solidarity with her Muslim neighbors and/or friends.

But she didn’t stop there.

Hawkins also made a statement to the effect that both Christians and Muslims are people of the book (assuming she means the Bible) and worship the same God.

Hence the controversy.

Wheaton, an evangelical institution, suspended her temporarily while starting the process for her to explain her position more carefully before making a judgment on her future with the college. The result of that investigation has now led Wheaton to recommend her termination as a professor. That recommendation must now go through the rest of the process before it is finalized.

Is this fair? What should we think about Hawkins and this episode?

First, I stand solidly in the camp that says Christians and Muslims definitely do not worship the same God. Neither do I believe Muslims are followers of the Bible. Just because they trace their ancestry back to the patriarch Abraham, that is not sufficient. The Koran is not the Bible. Mohammad is not Jesus. The place of Jesus in Islam is subordinate; He is not considered the true Son of God who died on the cross for the forgiveness of our sins.

The fact that there is any controversy at all about these points sheds light on the sad state of modern evangelicalism.

Further, Hawkins sought out the Council on American-Islamic Relations (CAIR) for guidance on wearing the hijab. That organization has been linked to radical jihadism while simultaneously putting on an appearance of even-handedness and fairness. It is one of the most deceptive organizations operating in our country with respect to what it actually promotes.

That she would seek out CAIR says a lot to me about her views. Reports now also show that she has been questioned previously three times with regard to her Christian orthodoxy:

  • She wrote an academic paper on black liberation theology that seemed to endorse Marxism;
  • She was at a party associated with Chicago’s Gay Pride Parade;
  • She has challenged the college’s Biblical stance on sexuality.

Rather than perceiving her as a persecuted individual, I think these incidents reveal Hawkins as someone outside the mainstream of Christian belief. Wheaton has every right to terminate someone with her views, given the college’s statement of faith.

Let’s be clear: either a Christian college stands by its statement of faith or it should surrender its identity as Christian.

What’s more troubling to me, though, is that Hawkins appears to have rather widespread support at Wheaton, by faculty, students, and alumni. If true, what does this say about the solidity of its Christian witness?

Why was Hawkins hired in the first place? Was there no indication of her views at that time? Or, more disturbing, are her views accepted and/or commonplace in the political science department?

Why would so many students support her, given her deviations from orthodoxy? Is this an indication of what they are being taught by the majority of the faculty? Is the statement of faith merely window dressing for parents thinking they are sending their children to a bastion of Christian fundamentals (which is not identical with fundamentalism as a movement)?

20140806_091616I have no animus toward Wheaton. When I did some research there last year, I was treated well by those at the Billy Graham Center and at the Marion E. Wade Center. Rather than an animus, I have a special place in my heart for such memories and the help I received.

My concern is simply that Christians be Christian, and that they make a strong witness to the world as to what that means. Accepting ideas that blend Christianity and Islam, that promote an anti-Christian Marxist philosophy, or that dismiss Biblical doctrines on sexuality are an attempt to undermine clear Christian teaching.

I’ve been concerned about this trend for a long time. The Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) claims to represent conservative Christian institutions of higher learning, yet when two of its member colleges decided homosexual marriage was acceptable, there was not an immediate dismissal of those colleges from membership. They were relegated to a lower status in the organization, but apparently continue to have ties to it.

Evangelicals are sending an unclear message to the world. Well, maybe that’s not quite accurate. Perhaps the message is clear after all: we no longer take Biblical truth seriously.

I hope I’m wrong. You can be sure I’ll be following developments very carefully.

Researching C. S. Lewis

Now that I’m on sabbatical, projects have seemingly sprung up out of nowhere to keep me busy. One that has been in the back of my mind for a while has now taken a prominent place in my active imagination. I’ve always wanted to write something about C. S. Lewis. While reading a recent biography of him, I grabbed hold of an idea that I hope will come to fruition. I would like to assess, as much as possible, the impact Lewis has made on America and Americans individually. For some reason, America embraced him and his writings far more eagerly than his home nation of Britain. Why was that? How much documentation is there of his influence on Americans?

I thought that might be worth investigating, so since I was at Wheaton College this past week, I made sure to carve out some time to visit the Wade Center, which is a fantastic repository of all things C. S. Lewis and other key British authors such as J. R. R. Tolkien and Dorothy Sayers. It’s really rather amazing that a small Christian college in America has all these treasures. Amazing . . . and a real blessing for researchers like me.

The Wade Center is not huge, but it is welcoming and very helpful to researchers. I was staying at a guest house on campus, and the Wade Center was just across the street, so this is what greeted me every time I left the guest house:

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Where else, in America, can one go to see some original C. S. Lewis artifacts? For instance, here’s the desk he used both at Oxford and in his home later:

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If you are wondering where he got the idea for children to walk into a wardrobe and then into a land called Narnia, perhaps you don’t need to look any further than this piece of furniture that belonged to him:

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I even enjoyed viewing his teapot, tea cup, and pewter mug. How very British of him:

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And there was the research room itself, a veritable sanctuary for those of us who love to immerse ourselves in musty manuscripts and really good books:

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I found a place to call my own:

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My time at the Wade was a time I could enter into another “world,” if only briefly. This was just the beginning stage of the research. Will a book result from this? Perhaps that’s where faith comes in.

Sabbatical Update: Wheaton College

I’ve written previously in this blog about the blessing I’ve received for the coming academic year: a sabbatical to do research and writing. I also promised to provide updates. For the past week, I’ve been at Wheaton College in Illinois, delving into the papers of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA) and also materials relating to C. S. Lewis. I’ll talk about Lewis in tomorrow’s post; today, I’ll focus on Graham.

As a reminder, one of my projects during this sabbatical is to examine the relationship of presidents with their spiritual advisers. An obvious starting place for that is the life and ministry of Billy Graham, who has known each president from Dwight Eisenhower to George W. Bush. Wheaton is the repository for the records of the BGEA. Those records are housed in a magnificent building called the Billy Graham Center.

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I want to offer my sincere thanks for all the help I received while burrowing through the mass of material for more than three days. The staff members are excellent. Their spirit of service is greatly appreciated.

The Center has a very interesting museum depicting the history of evangelism and how America fits into the overall picture of the spreading of the Gospel. It also has some valuable artifacts, such as a copy of the first Bible printed in America during the American Revolution:

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I was also gratified to see a prominent display on the significant contribution of Charles Finney to evangelism in the nineteenth century:

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Naturally, the last half of the museum concentrated on the ministry of Billy Graham, but the spirit of it was excellent, as the focal point was not really Graham himself, but the message he preached and the lives that were changed. The Gospel message was central, as can be shown by this beautiful crystal display of the crucifixion with the poignant Scriptural message underneath:

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My attempt to capture the solemnity and grandeur of the room with the crystal display doesn’t do it justice. There is a sense of awe as you enter that room. The sacrifice of Christ on the cross goes directly to the heart. If you are ever in Wheaton, you must visit this museum and come away inspired by what the Lord has accomplished through so many who have been faithful to His calling.

The Productive Year Ahead

Colonial Williamsburg--CapitolLater this week, I’ll begin showing students around some of Virginia’s best historic sites. I’ll be staying in Williamsburg, one of my favorite places on the planet. The historic colonial area always attracts me.

We’ll also tour Jamestown’s original site, the re-created Jamestown settlement, Yorktown, Monticello (Jefferson’s home), Mt. Vernon (Washington’s home), and sites in Richmond (Virginia capitol, John Marshall’s house, St. John’s church, where Patrick Henry delivered his “Give Me Liberty or Give Me Death” oration).

That’s just the beginning of a year of travel for my sabbatical. I’ll be at Wheaton College in August to examine the Billy Graham papers. If I can, I also hope to squeeze in some time to at least begin looking at the papers of C. S. Lewis, also housed at Wheaton. Then I hope my collaborative colleague and I can make a trip to North Carolina in September to interview some of Graham’s family and associates.

October is the target date for the Reagan and Nixon libraries in California. On that trip, I may also have the opportunity to interview Michael Reagan and visit Reagan’s ranch. I’ve been to the Reagan library three times before, but all prior to the erection of the massive building that houses Air Force One, and also before the renovation of the museum. It will be like seeing all things new.

Air Force One

November provides a change of pace, as I’ve been invited to return to Puerto Rico to teach at a Youth with a Mission base. That’s always a highlight for me. Then I’m aiming for a Texas excursion in December. I have three presidential libraries to visit there: both Bushes’ and Lyndon Johnson’s. That will leave the Eisenhower library and any others I might be able to add (if the funding holds out) for 2015. Everywhere I go, I’m hoping to reconnect with friends and former students.

The goal for all these trips is to provide enough research to write a series of books on spiritual advisers to presidents. In addition to that, I’m collaborating with another faculty colleague on a book that showcases prominent individuals who switched from being political liberals to political conservatives.

This will be a full year, and a very productive one. I simply thank the Lord for this great opportunity.