Cedarville University President Responds

Cedarville

In a statement titled “Biblically Consistent Curriculum,” Cedarville University president Thomas White has responded to criticism of his school’s new “Philippians 4:8” curriculum policy.

Here is White’s statement:

A recent article has raised some questions about the new Biblically Consistent Curriculum policy at Cedarville University. I requested this policy be written to guide our entire academic division, and I announced that desire publicly on October 19, 2016. Cedarville had several individual policies in different departments and has generally operated this way, but we lacked a central policy in the academic division that could help guide new faculty. On occasion, I have defended our faculty from external questions about curriculum choices, and I felt a comprehensive policy would be helpful to provide future internal guidance and external clarity. The academic division developed the policy with input from academic leadership and held two town hall meetings in late February for internal discussion.

Upon reading the recent article, one person commented to me that he thought the story sounded like something straight from the “Babylon Bee.” Perhaps the “Bee” would have titled it, “Christian University Reads Bible and Seeks to Apply It.” That such a desire is newsworthy demonstrates the sad state of so-called “Christian education” in our country. Others who saw the article immediately feared legalism, and I want to put their fears to rest — especially those who may not be as familiar with this place that I love so much.

Let me reassure you that we believe in salvation by grace alone, through faith alone, and in Christ alone and that once saved, we do not pursue a life of legalistic boxes to be checked, but a life that loves Christ and seeks to please Him in all we do. Our behavior should be motivated by love — not rules.

Clarity brings freedom. Cedarville University wants to be clear, strategic, wise, thoughtful, and biblical in our curriculum choices. This desire flows from our 1,000 days vision, which includes academic excellence and our efforts at “Transforming Minds in a Fallen World.” In light of this, allow me to address a few concerns from others that have come across my desk.

We will still show Michelangelo’s David, along with other historic works depicting “artistic bareness” as we educate students in the humanities and art history. Yet, we will have strategic thought and defensible logic behind each of those choices. We have not ruled out movies based on a flawed, secular ratings system, but “generally” do not desire rated “R” movies as class assignments. Some “PG-13” or other rated movies may be equally unwise. We simply want strategic, biblical thought behind our choices, recognizing there is a difference between what a university assigns in class as a requirement and what an individual may choose to view personally.

We have not ruled out all play scripts with profanity or difficult themes, but we do desire wisdom and thoughtfulness in script choices and appropriate modifications to those scripts so that what we publicly display on the stage glorifies God and represents Cedarville well. We will continue to read fiction works that depict the depravity of humanity, but we do not wish our students to engage in sin while reading about it, so we will choose wisely and avoid pornographic or explicit material. We recognize a difference in appropriate curriculum between general education courses and upper-level courses, especially when studying the arts.

Perhaps most amusingly, yes, we will teach about world wars in history classes and continue to encourage our students to read the Song of Solomon … along with every other book of the Bible as we challenge them to have a daily time with the Lord. I suspect some of these questions were meant more for comic value than out of serious concern, and I did crack a smile at them. So please forgive my desire to defend our world-class education and faculty against even the absurd.

We want our faculty and staff to be as 1 Chronicles 12:32 describes the men of Issachar, “who had understanding of the times, to know what Israel ought to do.” This policy provides guidance that brings freedom and administrative protection from external critique to the faculty of Cedarville University as they seek to invest both academically and spiritually into the lives of students. I want academic excellence, a commitment to our mission, and content pleasing to the Lord in every area of our campus. I have included a copy of the internal academic policy below. My heart’s passion is that we accomplish our goal of hearing, “Well done, good and faithful servant.”

We live in difficult times culturally. Parents and students can trust that at Cedarville University, Christ-centered is more than a phrase in our mission statement—it’s a motto directing the content of every class. We must educate with academic excellence, preparing students to understand, encounter, and critique many worldviews while standing for the Word of God and the Testimony of Jesus Christ.

A few thoughts:

White takes a shot at what he calls “the sad state of so-called ‘Christian education’ in our country. Notice the scare quotes.  Apparently anyone or any institution that does not agree with him is not worthy of the name “Christian education.”  OK–we are off to a good start.

White spends a good chunk of this statement suggesting that Cedarville is not a “legalistic” institution.  (Of course anyone familiar with evangelical Christianity knows that “legalism” is often used to describe “fundamentalist” Christians and their schools. To be labeled with that term in today’s day and age is not good for recruitment).  Yet he makes it abundantly clear that Cedarville’s administration is going to be dictating to faculty what kinds of texts can be read and what kinds of movies can be shown.  Will there be a list of banned books and movies?  Does anyone from Cedarville’s faculty want to go on record about the nature of those two “town hall” meetings that took place in February?

White’s statement implies that he does not believe his faculty are capable of making wise decisions about the kinds of materials that they use in class.  This new policy demeans the faculty.  It suggests that White does not trust what they are doing in the classroom as teachers and as Christians.  White seems to believe that Christian faculty, when left to their own devices, will always gravitate towards assigning things that violate the spirit of Philippians 4:8.

This is not only legalism and authoritarianism, it is a separatism.  Cedarville’s history in the separatist wing of the fundamentalist movement runs deep.  So does White’s connection to the major players involved in the Southern Baptist conservative takeover. This is the past that White finds most usable as he leads the institution.

White’s Cedarville does not want to engage the culture from a Christian point of view, it wants to run from it.

Let’s remember that this is also the school that shut down a dissenting student newspaper on campus, dismissed several professors for denying 7-day creationism, eliminated the philosophy department, and kept women out of religion and ministry courses.  In this article in the Toledo Blade, White says that he assigns liberal and conservative writers in his theology classes.  And then he adds: “as your professor, I’m going to help guide you to what I believe is the right position…we’re trying to make sure we have good comprehensive education, not indoctrination.”  Wait a minute, doesn’t the first part of this sentence (before the ellipses) contradict the second part of the sentence?

I am willing to bet that Cedarville is now more fundamentalist in its orientation than Liberty University and Bob Jones University combined.

3 thoughts on “Cedarville University President Responds

  1. So I am curious. What do you believe constitutes a “Christian” philosophy of education? Are there any boundaries to such a notion? Would a curriculum choice stand outside of those boundaries for a “Christian” college? Where do you draw the line and on what basis do you draw that line? Furthermore, is it wrong to establish ethical norms for faculty and students in a “Christian” college? If not, then what are the boundaries for those norms and on what basis do you establish them? Is it left up to faculty and students to interpret them as they individually see fit?

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    • This would take a much longer post than I have time for right now. I think there are always boundaries at a Christian college and faculty must work within them. Different Christian colleges will have different views on how one responds to culture and the arts from a Christian point of view. I don’t think a “Christ against culture” or separatist view is helpful or useful at a liberal arts college. Boundaries can be drawn in different places, but I think the we can get so caught up in trying to define the boundaries that we neglect the larger and more macro questions of our overall philosophy of a Christian approach to the world and how we define being “in the world” but “not of it.”

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      • John, thanks for replying. I think given our increasingly contentious society and what we see happening on various university campuses clarifying the mission of education from a Christian perspective is going to be increasingly important.

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