Scot McKnight Responds to Union University

Scot McKnight

Last week we did a post on Carl Trueman’s article at First Things in which he wondered whether Union University was expecting too much from the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities (CCCU) by demanding that the Council expel Goshen College and Eastern Mennonite University for allowing faculty to participate in gay marriages. (See our coverage of this issue here and here and here.

Following the publication of Trueman’s piece, Union University Provost C. Ben Mitchell responded. Here is part of what he wrote:

Thus, Professor Trueman is right to say that our relationship to the CCCU, like both of our relationships with the ECFA, is not built on comprehensive confessional commitment. But here’s where he errs, I think. Our relationship with the CCCU is not “really pragmatic and only very superficially theological” any more than Westminster’s relationship with the ECFA and financial responsibility is pragmatic and only superficially theological. We take the CCCU’s missional affirmation of Christ-centeredness and service to biblical truth very seriously. We believe that claiming Christ’s lordship over Christian higher education is, or should be, a robust theological claim.

That is why we have been so deeply disappointed over the last nearly two years in the CCCU leadership’s unwillingness to deal decisively with whether or not the organization will take a stand for traditional marriage. The good news that Jesus is Lord entails that we believe what he says wholeheartedly and follow him faithfully. In our view, one cannot consistently affirm his lordship and affirm the legitimacy of same-sex marriage. After all, every time Jesus dealt with questions about the sanctity of marriage, he himself affirmed that “at the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female,’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh’” (Matthew 19: 4). The prescription, “a man” and “a wife” in a “one flesh” union, proscribes same-sex marriage.

Now Scot McKnight, whose original post at his blog Jesus Creed prompted the Trueman piece, has responded to Mitchell.  Here is a taste: 

To all this I would say: It is big leap to go from the essentials of the faith and theological robustness to the ethics of same-sex marriage. Not that I disagree with Union or with traditionalists on the ethical stance about same-sex marriage —I’ve been contending for the traditional view for a long time. The issue is that essentials of the faith and theological robustness speak to the Christian creeds and not to anything about marriage. The CCCU’s terms about theology, as I understand them, were designed to set a boundary against theologically liberal colleges and seminaries and against church- and denomination-based schools. The problem was that there were some Christian colleges in name only. Perhaps now Union thinks that of Goshen and Eastern Mennonite. I suspect these two offending institutions have not changed their theological statements. 

Furthermore, the CCCU has been a mishmash of theological orientations and persuasions and articulations for its entire history. Notice this list of Christian colleges/universities and that Union has been in some kind of “fellowship” with these schools for as long as it has been part of the CCCU.

The point is clear: There is here a widespread—if not breathtaking—set of differences between these schools. Theological robustness is stretched beyond anything that could possibly be maintained in one theological statement. Here is the list:

Anderson University in Indiana
Baylor University
Campbell University
Emanuel College
Evangel and other charismatic and Pentecostal schools
All the Churches of Christ schools
Franciscan at Steubenville is overtly and radically Catholic
Friends, George Fox, Malone and other Quaker schools
Fuller Theological Seminary
Wisconsin Lutheran

Traditionally, conservative Evangelical schools will have tensions with all or some of these institutions, and vice versa. The CCCU embraced this kind of diversity at the theological level because its concerns were not primarily theological but rather rooted in some very basic agreements.

What cracked the surface here, then, was the culture war being waged over same-sex marriage—not commitment to theological robustness and the essentials of the faith. What Carl Trueman rightly calls “comprehensive confessional commitment” is not what the CCCU has in mind because it offers only a basic theological commitment for pragmatic, practical, and strategic common concerns. These are schools who say they are “Christ-centered” and who believe in the “essentials of the faith” but who gather not to discuss theology but to help one another along in their commitment to Christian higher education. One could well say the CCCU’s statement is too thin to garner deep theological unity—but it may well answer back that its concerns are more practical.

So what this crack-up with the CCCU illustrates is the total inability for theologically non-specific theological statements to hold Christians together theologically. Generic brand theological statements in low churches will never be enough and nearly all such churches end up amending the statements, producing white papers, or announcing at some level new conclusions about pressing theological concerns. The CCCU is not in the position, nor does it have the theological breadth and depth, to adjudicate pressing theological challenges. 

One thought on “Scot McKnight Responds to Union University

  1. To all this I would say: It is big leap to go from the essentials of the faith and theological robustness to the ethics of same-sex marriage.

    Dr. McKnight misidentifies the crisis merely an “ethical” problem. Theology–the Bible–is not merely a lesson in ethics.

    The CCCU is not in the position, nor does it have the theological breadth and depth, to adjudicate pressing theological challenges.

    The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) has the word “Christian” in it. If it's to be faithful to its mission, it must do the best it can to define it then be faithful to it. Otherwise, if “Christian” has no meaning and every meaning, it's a garbage term.


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