Christian liberal arts colleges came under attack recently by a Southern Baptist theologian named Denny Burk. I was going to blog about his recent tweets, but I did not want to call attention to them. The tweets mischaracterize the work we do at such colleges and universities. But I am glad that Chris Gerhz, a professor at Bethel University, an evangelical college in the Minneapolis-St. Paul area, did respond.
Here is a taste of his Anxious Bench post, “A Letter to Christian Parents about Christian Colleges“:
…no single person or tweet created such doubts. Rumors of “liberal drift” have simmered throughout my seventeen years at Bethel, and occasionally reached a boil. And that’s nothing new. One of Tal’s books quotes an 18th century student saying about the German university that is one of Bethel’s educational and spiritual ancestors: “So you’re going to Halle? You’ll return either a pietist or an atheist.”
I don’t know anyone at Bethel who doesn’t want our students to follow Christ as he is attested in Scripture. But one legacy of Halle’s Pietism is the evangelical conviction that authentic Christianity cannot result from coercion or conformity, only choice. So at Bethel, we believe that our students must encounter multiple points of view and be as free to reject faith as to affirm it.
Inevitably, a Christian university of that type will seem “Christian” to some other believers and a “university” to some other educators. But it’s the kind of institution to which I’ve dedicated my career.
So how do you know that a Christian university like Bethel is the right option for your child? How do you assuage concerns like Burk’s?
First, don’t just listen to what someone on the Internet says. (Myself included.) Don’t put credence in whispered rumors about something as amorphous as “drift.” Do your due diligence and talk in concrete terms to someone who can actually address the concerns: not an alumnus or even an admissions counselor, but someone who currently teaches at the college or university your child is considering. Better yet, talk to two professors — one who teaches in your child’s likely major field of study, then another who teaches in the general education curriculum that all students share — and perhaps also to someone who works on the co-curricular side, like a coach, campus pastor, or resident director. They’ll all give you different perspectives on the experiences that will do most to define your child’s education.
Again, I’m several years away from going through this process myself. But there are two questions I would make sure to ask.
Read the rest here.