David I. Smith on Christian Teaching

teaching teachers

What role does spiritual formation play in teaching at Christian colleges?  Calvin College pedagogy expert David I. Smith discusses this topic in a recent interview at Faith & Leadership.  Here is a taste:

Q: So how do Christian beliefs and values and commitments shape one’s approach to teaching?

When I started teaching, I taught German, French and Russian in secular secondary schools. Early on, I was struck that the language textbooks I’d been given were pretty much based around consumerism. We spent a lot of time practicing dialogues in French and German where we were buying food in cafes and supermarkets and buying train tickets and theater tickets and going on vacation and talking about our vacation and talking about what clothes we bought.

I gradually thought, “Wait a minute. The picture I’m giving of why you learn other people’s languages is so you can buy stuff from them.”

Then I reflected on the biblical theme of hospitality to strangers. Leviticus 19 says, “Love your neighbor as yourself” (19:18), and then a few verses later, “Love the foreigner as yourself” (19:34). I thought, “If, as a Christian, I think we learn other people’s languages because of the call to love our neighbor and because most of our neighbors don’t speak English, then how would that reshape the examples that I choose, the pictures that I show, the dialogues that we practice, the way I shape a language curriculum?”

When you work at it from that end and you question the underlying values that shape the curriculum you’re delivering, it starts to be possible to come up with alternatives that other people find attractive.

Q: Doesn’t any good teacher think about these kinds of questions, about how they want to shape their students?

In a perfect world, yes. But a lot of things stymie that. Teachers are under enormous time pressure. It’s a very demanding task. They’re under increasing pressure to standardize and meet various external benchmarks and tests, and in the worst cases, it can become a massive exercise in checking boxes and keeping records.

It becomes an exercise in bureaucracy more than an exercise in teaching and learning. It’s like the professionalism of the profession has been downgraded, and teachers are treated as folks who should just make sure that all the bits get covered, and not as people who should be thinking deeply about what they’re doing.

The way we think [most] effectively about our deepest values and how they shape what we do is through engaging in constructive dialogue with colleagues.

It creates more space for self-critique when you can bounce it off colleagues, but in schools, we often end up just teaching in our classrooms and maybe see other people over lunchtime briefly. It’s difficult to carve out time and space for deep collaboration.

Read the entire interview here.

Alan Jacobs on White Christian Males in the Academy

Baylor

Jacobs is responding here to Rod Dreher’s post at The American Conservative.  I was struck by this paragraph in Jacobs’s response:

I’m not exactly a pollyanna about these matters. I have said over and over again that, thanks to my long career at a Christian college and the specifically Christian character of much of my writing, I am almost certainly unemployable in my field (English literature) outside the world of Christian higher education. And there’s bigotry at work there — no doubt about it. On the other hand, I have been able to publish at some of the best university presses in the world, which also shouldn’t be possible if Rod’s friend’s account of the academic humanities is accurate.

Read the entire post here.

Is Jacobs right when he says that white Christian males are “certainly unemployable” in humanities fields “outside the world of Christian higher education?”

How Much Money Do Christian College Presidents Make?

bethel-college

Over at The Pietist Schoolman, Chris Gehrz has the answers.

Here is a taste:

In 2013 I parsed some data from The Chronicle of Higher Education to see how well evangelical college and university presidents were paid. Since the Chronicle just released an updated version of the study, today thought I’d revisit that question.

Four years ago about a third of the presidents in the Council for Christian Colleges & Universities (CCCU) were included in the Chronicle set, with the median CCCU president earning just a shade under $300,000 in total compensation — over $80,000 lower than the median for all private college presidents in the study. Just seven CCCU presidents were in the top half of earners. But if you expressed presidential compensation as a share of overall institutional expenditures, then the CCCU set exceeded the overall median. By that standard seven CCCU presidents were in the top 100, with Bill Ellis (Howard Payne) and Dub Oliver (East Texas Baptist, now at Union University) cracking the top 50.

And now? Thirty-five CCCU presidents appear in the newest version of the Chronicle exercise with data from 2014 (the most recent for which numbers were available). In general, they were paid much less than their peers (only 86.5% of the national median for private colleges). But eight were in the top half of the rankings, and presidential compensation again accounted for a larger share of institutional expenses at CCCU schools than at most other private colleges.

By two newer measures — ratios of executive compensation to average student tuition and to average salary for full professor — the CCCU presidents were right in the national middle, with earnings equal to the tuition paid by just over 12 students and the salary earned by 4.4 senior faculty members.

Here’s the full Google Sheet, if you want to see the full data. One thing to note: there are only three women on this list, and the highest-paid (Kim Phipps of Messiah College) earns 10% less than the median compensation for private college presidents.

Read the rest, including charts and rankings, here.  Thanks for your work on this Chris!

Teaser:  Jerry Falwell Jr. is the highest paid Christian college president in the country.  He makes about $896,000 a year.  Only the presidents of Arizona State, Texas, Texas A&M, Florida, Indiana, Penn State, Ohio State, and Iowa make more than Falwell.

The highest paid president in the Coalition for Christian Colleges and Universities (Liberty University is not a member of this coalition) is Randy O’Rear of Mary Hardin-Baylor University.  He makes $549,165.  Philip Ryken of Wheaton is close behind at $516,148.

Rod Dreher Publishes E-Mails from Duke Divinity School Controversy

Duke

You can read them here.

Get up to speed here.

Some quick thoughts on what I have read:

  1. Faculty were invited to attend the Racial Equity Institute training at Duke.  They were not forced to attend.
  2. Regardless of what one thinks about racial equity training, Griffith’s response to Anathea Portier-Young‘s e-mail was unnecessarily rude and provocative.  If Griffiths does have a legitimate critique of this training, he is not going to get very far convincing others with an e-mail like this.  The e-mail was very unprofessional.  Nevertheless, in an environment defined by academic freedom he has the right to express his views this way.
  3. Keep your eyes on the prize.”  Interesting way for Griffiths to end the e-mail.
  4. One of the best things I have read about this kind of racial sensitivity training is Elisabeth Lasch-Quinn’s book Race Experts: How Racial Etiquette, Sensitivity Training, and New Age Therapy Hijacked the Civil Rights Revolution.  I recommend it to all involved.
  5. Elaine Heath‘s original response to Griffiths is fair, but I think Dreher has a point when he says that Heath was assuming a lot when she described Griffiths’s e-mail as a model of “racism, sexism, and other forms of bigotry.”  Thomas Pfau, who holds an endowed chair in the Duke English Department, seems to agree with Dreher here.
  6. Griffiths sounds like he can be a real pain in the neck.
  7. For someone who has never been part of an academic institution–Christian or otherwise–Dreher sure seems to have this case all figured out.
  8. How will the faculty who Griffiths offended respond this week?  How will Griffith’s defenders respond this week?  This will say a lot about the Christian character of the Duke Divinity School community.  One self-proclaimed “conservative” student has already said that “repentance” is needed.  Dreher seems most concerned about how this all relates to the culture wars.
  9. This raises a big question for me:  Where does one draw the line between exercising academic freedom and using such freedom to undermine the community of a Christian institution?  Often-times Christian schools use “community” to stifle academic freedom or marginalize independent voices. Those who approach issues from a Christian perspective or confessional commitment that might be different from the dominant Christian culture of the institution can be easily ostracized.  I have seen this happen.  At other times independent voices spew forth their ideas without any consideration for how they might hurt or damage the community in the process.  I have seen this happen.

In the end, I am sure there is a lot more to this story.  It will be interesting to see how it unfolds.

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.

What is Going on at Cedarville University?

Cedarville

Yesterday we reported on the racist shenanigans at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary.  Today, the conservative evangelical Cedarville University is in the news.

Here is a taste of Christianity Today’s coverage of Cedarville’s new “Philippians 4:8” policy:

This spring, Cedarville University enacted new curriculum guidelines inspired by Philippians 4:8 and aimed at purifying coursework of erotic and graphic content.

Cedarville, a buttoned-up Baptist school with a 130-year Christian history, is not the kind of place where professors assign Fifty Shades of Grey or anything close. But administrators want to err on the side of caution. This means, for example, that now an R-rated movie like Schindler’s List cannot be shown in its entirety, nor can students put on plays that include swear words.

In its Biblically Consistent Curriculum policy, nicknamed for the Apostle Paul’s admonishment to Christians in Philippi, Cedarville has spelled out new guidelines officially barring any materials that “may be considered ‘adult’ in nature, that represent immorality, or that may be a stumbling block to students.”

The move comes as the Ohio school, located between Columbus and Dayton, unfolds a broader, campus-wide campaign to double-down on its biblical identity. At a time when fellow Christian colleges are looking to defy narrow evangelical stereotypes and compete with secular schools, Cedarville is instead deepening its conservative Christian distinctions.

When they heard about the Philippians 4:8 policy through department chairs and town hall meetings last month, faculty in the disciplines most impacted by the restrictions—which cover movies, plays, art, and texts—were frustrated. So were the small group of students who got their hands on a copy of the 1,500-word policy. They wondered: Why were these new rules necessary? How would they be applied?

Christianity Today heard from four current and former Cedarville faculty in the humanities who spoke on the condition of anonymity, citing fear of retaliation toward them or their colleagues for publicly criticizing the administration.

“Faculty in various department meetings were absolutely furious—even faculty who tend to be in favor of the administration’s policies,” said one of the dozens of concerned professors who showed up at the town hall meetings held by administrators in March. “It seems to me the goal is to have a squeaky clean, shiny place—scrubbed clean like a Christian bookstore.”

Read the rest here.

I guess there will be no classes on “Breaking Bad” at Cedarville.

Cedarville University seems to have chosen to privilege the satisfaction of conservative Christian helicopter parents over the kind of cultural engagement that should be happening at Christian colleges.

It is also worth nothing that there may be a connection between yesterday’s Southwestern Baptist Seminary story and today’s Cedarville story.  Cedarville president Tom White came to the Ohio university from Southwestern Seminary.  White and Southwestern president Paige Patterson appear to see the world the same way.

“The Face of Higher Education is Not Jerry Falwell Jr.”

jerry-falwell-696x362

It’s good to have Chris Gehrz, aka “The Pietist Schoolman,” back from Europe and blogging again.

In this post he explains why Jerry Falwell Jr. should not get anywhere near American higher education.

Here is a taste:

On Tuesday Jerry Falwell, Jr., the president of Liberty University, told the Chronicle of Higher Education that he’s been asked by the Trump administration to head up a task force recommending higher ed policy changes for the Department of Education. (In late November Falwell had told the Associated Press that he turned down the Secretary of Education position itself, preferring to stay at Liberty.) I can only imagine how satisfying a moment this must be for Falwell, who was the most vocal backer of the Trump candidacy in the world of evangelical higher education — and received plenty of criticism (even from students and a trustee at Liberty) for staking out that position. Already the leader of the country’s largest, wealthiest Christian university, Falwell is now in a position to pursue a deregulation of higher ed that will likely benefit his own school enormously.

Read the entire piece here.

Adam Laats on Evangelical Colleges and Trump: Concluding Thoughts

6258d-clintonatmessiahAdam Laats has now had a chance to respond to my critique of his HNN piece .  I am not going to go into too much detail here, but I think we will just have to agree to disagree on some of the key assertions he makes.

Consider this paragraph from his response:

The leaders of all schools, not just evangelical ones, have to remain excruciatingly aware of a kind of “third rail” in American higher education.  To remain alive—and don’t forget that mere survival cannot be taken for granted these days—institutions of higher education must preserve at all costs their reputations.  This has always been and will always be a maddeningly frustrating and imprecise challenge.  At all schools, reputation becomes an unpredictable mix of academic prestige, numbers of applicants, perceptions of peers, athletic performance, and a host of other factors.  Not just to thrive and prosper, but simply to continue to exist, administrators must guard their schools’ reputations relentlessly.  A good reputation means more applications, which means a higher selectivity ranking, which means more applications, which means more tuition dollars, which means improved facilities, which means more applications, etc. etc.

Evangelical colleges share this dilemma, but with an added factor.  Evangelical schools need to maintain and defend their reputations as academic institutions, but also as safe havens for evangelical youth.  In addition to the challenges faced by every college administrator and trustee, the leaders of evangelical schools need to wrestle with the ever-changing and ever-contentious nature of evangelicalism itself.

However the boundaries of evangelicalism are defined, whether in 1935, 1963, or 2016, schools need to remain squarely within them.  More relevant, they need to be seen by the evangelical public as remaining squarely within those boundaries.  If school administrators fail, students and alumni will vote with their wallets, taking their tuition dollars and donations elsewhere.

This does not mean that faculty, students, and administrators won’t push those boundaries. In fact, at many schools there is a long tradition, almost an expectation, that faculty and students will do so.  But we need to be careful not to mistake this tradition—what Fred Clark aptly callobama-and-hillarys the “faculty lounge” perspective—to be the entirety of evangelical higher education.  It’s not.  Rather, even the winked-at toleration of such boundary-pushing only underlines the vital fact that every school has certain poorly defined lines that no one is allowed to cross.  Or, to be more precise, it means that the evangelical public needs to feel confident that the school as a whole is not crossing those lines, even if some students and teachers are.  Or are rumored to be.

There is a lot of good stuff in these paragraphs that people who study evangelical higher education need to keep in mind.  For example, constituency, boards, and donors obviously play a major role in institutional identity. Boards do indeed guard reputations.  Donors and constituencies do have a voice.

But I return to the argument posed in Laats’s original piece.  Laats argued that evangelical Christian colleges were one of the main reasons why so many evangelicals turned to Trump.  I still disagree.

Frankly, part of me wants to agree with Laats.  I wish vast numbers of evangelicals paid attention to what Christian colleges have to offer evangelical political and cultural witness. Sadly, then do not.

In the quoted paragraphs above, Laats assumes that there is a correlation between a board concerned with a college’s Christian reputation and that board’s support or endorsement of Trump.  It is certainly possible that the leadership or board members of a Christian college that wants to define itself in certain confessional ways on issues related to other world religions, gay marriage, doctrine, religious liberty, etc. can still reject Trump.  Many did, although it is hard to gauge since many Christian college boards are not always in the business of endorsing or not endorsing presidential candidates.

Let the conversation continue in the comment section.

David Michael Bruno Weighs in on the Gay Marriage Controversy in the CCCU

David Michael Bruno teaches history at Point Loma Nazarene University, a member institution of the Council for Christian College and Universities (CCCU).  In this insightful post, drawing from the theological work of German scholar Helmut Thielicke, he provides some much needed perspective on the current debates going on in the CCCU regarding gay marriage

A taste:

There is this small book by the late German theologian Helmut Thielicke titled, A Little Exercise for Young Theologians. First published in 1962 and just more than fifty pages long, it is a short book in which Thielicke speaks volumes. Disagreements among professing Christians about what it means to be faithful occur at all times and in all cultures. So I am not trying to elevate one particular disagreement in one particular culture to a severity of historical proportions. I simply want to layer Thielicke’s caution on top of some of the disputes brewing among some Christians in the United States. I especially have a concern for Christian higher education..

Thielicke wrote A Little Exercise as an admonition to his young students who were learning fancy theological terms like apophatic and cataphatic, then returning from university to their home churches. At home they interrupted Sunday school classes with their theological erudition. Erudition, not edification. “It is possible,” said Thielecke, “that theology makes the young theologian vain and so kindles in him something like gnostic pride. The chief reason for this is that in us men truth and love are seldom combined.”

So sure, that old lady in the congregation thinks the hypostatic union is what happens to her knee when she wobbles out of bed in the morning. She has a leg up, even so, on many young theologians when it comes to living a charitable life that blesses the body of Christ. Merely possessing knowledge cannot save or satisfy the soul. To earnest yet immature young theologians, Thielecke said, “Love is the opposite of the will to possess.”

…Thielicke pushes further still. He not only chastens young theologians who look down their hermeneutical noses at laymen, but he also cautions them to be gracious with one another. When I was studying systematic theology in school, one of my professors used a memorably simple illustration to express two different postures taken by humans studying theology. He reached out his hands in front of him and made fists. Then he opened his fists and raises his palms upward. We can do theology pridefully or we can do theology humbly. We can battle our way to God or we can submit our way to God. As we choose our posture toward God so too do we choose our posture towards our brothers and sisters in Christ. It is remarkable how many theologians with open palms towards God make fists at each other. Again Thielecke provides an insightful caution.

…those who affirm the doctrinal boundaries of orthodox Christianity must contend with equal earnestness to safeguard those boundaries as well as protect the unity of the church when a dispute takes place outside of those boundaries. This is not easy work because the boundaries are not always clear and because even the disputes outside the boundaries of orthodoxy are important. In this matter it is my personal view that the church must sit at the feet of faithful historians and that those historians must rise to the challenge of faithfully guiding the church through this difficult work. The church needs to be reminded, for example, how John Wesley and George Whitefield ultimately elevated brotherly love above doctrinal differences. Their relationship was messy. In the end, however, it was not characterized by schism. There are a thousand similar examples. So then, fists clenched or palms up? Humility and unity, especially when it is hard, is the way of Christ.
…Perhaps, in keeping with Thielicke’s admonition to his young students that they return to their home churches and keep quiet for an extended time, we could advocate a similar discipline. Thielicke wanted his students whose brains were freshly packed with theological nuance to sit still upon returning to their home churches and observe how the work of Christ takes place without their theological erudition. Perhaps what Christian institutions of higher education need is a silent ambassador program in which an ambassador from one institution is sent to another, not to articulate a doctrinal position or negotiate terms, but to sit still and watch. Would these silent ambassadors observe points of doctrinal disagreement? Most assuredly. Would they observe the work of Christ taking place in spite of disagreement? I think so. Would that change attitudes about disunity? We must hope it would or else grieve that the witness of body of Christ is not what Christ himself desires it to be.
Good stuff, indeed.

The CCCU, Union University, Gay Marriage, and the Problem of Evangelicalism

Over at First Things, Carl Trueman of Westminster Theological Seminary has weighed in on Union University‘s decision to leave the Council for Christian Colleges and Universities. 

If you have read this far, you probably know the story.  We have covered it here and here.  Union University has left the CCCU–an associated of Christian colleges–because it refused to expel two Mennonite colleges (Goshen and Eastern Mennonite) for allowing gay marriage among the faculty.

Let’s review.  There is nothing about gay marriage or sexual ethics in the CCCU membership requirements.  College and universities affiliated with the CCCU must have a mission statement that is “Christ-centered and rooted in the historic Christian faith” and be committed to “integrating Biblical faith with education programs.” I realize that this looks very restrictive to many secular readers of The Way of Improvement Leads Home, but from the perspective of evangelical Protestantism in America this is rather broad.  The CCCU has schools representing many Protestant denominations.  Member schools all think that being “Christ-centered” is very important, but they interpret what that means in different ways.  I am sure, for example, that both Goshen and Eastern Mennonite believe that their embrace of gay marriage is fitting with their deeply held beliefs about what it means to be “Christ-centered” and Christian.

Moreover, as Jay Green suggested in the comment section of this post, Goshen and EMU seem to be committed to defending the religious liberty of other CCCU members institutions who uphold more traditional views of marriage.

Trueman gets to the heart of the matter.  The problem, he argues, is with evangelicalism and its failure to offer any confessional boundaries.  He writes:

Many classic Protestant confessions contain definitions of marriage which implicitly rule out of bounds same sex marriage (and any other permutation of partners which the human mind might invent). And is marriage really more important than, say, the doctrinal differences between Baptists and Quakers? In the current climate, Christians need to be very careful to make sure that the perceived political needs of the hour do not translate into words and actions that can easily be shown by our critics to be highly selective and very inconsistent with respect to our larger doctrinal commitments and convictions.

This points to a wider problem which evangelicalism looks set to face in the very near future. It implicitly assumes too much and explicitly states too little. Roman Catholics have their Catechism, confessional Lutherans have their Book of Concord and Presbyterians have the Westminster Confession of Faith.  Evangelicals often have at best very minimal doctrinal statements and a range of other, often confessionally unstated, cultural concerns which guide policy.  These brief statements of faith and ‘shadow confessions’ are wholly inadequate to handle the coming cultural storm or indeed to guide day-to-day catechesis within the churches themselves.  They  also mean that the ‘gospel’ can tend to operate as a useful means for justifying any distinctive stand which evangelicals care to take.


This problem is both theological and cultural. Theologically, it will not be solved by the simple addition of a clause on marriage to such statements. The Christian understanding of marriage rests upon a whole complex of other doctrines, from creation to Christology to anthropology to eschatology. For a confessional statement on marriage to be coherent, the confession must also address all of these other topics.  

Culturally, while American evangelicalism may be numerically healthy, the Union/CCCU debacle indicates a fundamental flaw in the movement which will only become more acute over time. It is too rooted in extra-ecclesial alliances and thus tends towards confessional reductionism.  If evangelicalism is to have long term theological stability, it needs to learn from churches with properly elaborate confessions and catechisms. That will involve a major culture shift which might well cost its current leadership significant power and indeed money. A movement built on broad-based networks of churches and parachurch organizations will inevitably fragment when it tries to move to more thorough doctrinal statements. Yet failure to do so is surely not an option at this point in time.  Evangelicalism may have the numbers but it needs confessional coherence to maintain its identity in face of the coming challenges.  The ambiguity of the case of Union and the CCCU represents precisely the kind of problem which a lack of comprehensive confessional commitment necessarily involves.  

Union’s stand is no doubt popular with the base.  It may also serve a useful wider purpose. Yet it points not to the strength but to the weakness of evangelicalism.

Two New Colleges Join the CCCU

This is interesting in light of the Union University departure:

WASHINGTON – The Council for Christian Colleges & Universities is pleased to announce the inclusion of the following new member and affiliate campuses:

The CCCU Board of Directors approved the admissions at its July meeting. Together these three institutions join 120 member campuses and 60 affiliate campuses from around the world in promoting Christian education.

Welcome aboard Harding University and Wisconsin Lutheran!

Addendum:  Chris Gehrz just pointed out on Twitter that both Wisconsin Lutheran and Harding are conservative and traditional on marriage.  Harding was mentioned in a New York Times article on gay identity at Christian colleges and Wisconsin Lutheran affirms that “homosexual lifestyle is a sin.”  Yet these two schools have joined the CCCU precisely at the time that other schools, such as Union, are leaving over this issue.

Why is this the case?

It strikes me that both Harding University (Churches of Christ) and Wisconsin Lutheran College (Wisconsin Synod Lutheran) are from denominations that do not embrace a Reformed approach to cultural transformation in the way that Union does.  I don’t know the Churches of Christ very well, but Lutherans do not tend to be culture warriors.  Just a thought.  

What is Going on at Union University?

I have friends and acquaintances who teach at Union University in Jackson, Tennessee.  These folks are serious Christian thinkers and educators.  I have never visited Union, but I have always respected its work from afar.

This is why I was disappointed to hear that Union has left the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities.  Inside Higher Education reports:

Union University, in Tennessee, has quit the Council of Christian Colleges and Universities, saying it cannot remain in a Christian group in which some member institutions will hire people in same-sex marriages.

Union may not be the last college to leave the council, and its action is creating division in a group that has been proud of representing Christian colleges from many denominations and viewpoints. But while there is a diversity of views about many issues among CCCU institutions, the issue of same-sex marriage has been elevated by some institutions to one on which no compromise is possible.

The action by Union follows the announcements last month by Eastern Mennonite University and Goshen College that they were willing to hire faculty members in same-sex marriages. The two universities, until then, had said they would hire faculty members who were celibate (gay or straight) or married in heterosexual relationships. The new policy means that gay and straight applicants for faculty positions will be judged in the same way. The two colleges are the first CCCU members to be willing to hire gay and lesbian faculty members who are married to other gay or lesbian people.

Union President Samuel W. Oliver released a letter he sent to the CCCU in which he explained that while Union is a member of higher education groups with a range of views, it could not be a member of a Christian higher education group that deviated from the university’s views on marriage. Eastern Mennonite and Goshen “abandoned fidelity to God’s word when they endorsed same-sex marriage,” Oliver wrote.

“The reason we are passionate about this is because what we are talking about is not a secondary or tertiary theological issue — marriage is at the heart of the Gospel. To deny the Bible’s concept of marriage is to deny the authority of Scripture,” Oliver wrote.

Want to learn more? I strongly suggest reading the following commentators:

1.  Chris Gehrz, aka “The Pietist Schoolman.”  Chris is the chair of the history department evangelical Bethel University in St. Paul, MN and the author of The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education.  Read his posts on this issue here.

2.  Scot McKnight, New Testament scholar and author of the Jesus Creed blog.  Scot is
supporter of traditional marriage, but he challenges Union’s belief that marriage is
somehow “at the heart of the Gospel.” Read his post here.  A taste:

Let me register this: I disagree with Eastern Mennonite and Goshen, and often do on theie progressive courage fronts, and Union and others can do what they want, but this is culture war stuff being used theologically to create division…

I do have a couple of observations/thoughts:

First, Union’s decision to separate from the CCCU seems a bit hasty.  The CCCU has not made any decision about the status of Eastern Mennonite’s or Goshen’s membership yet.

Second, when it comes to marriage being the “heart of the gospel,” I am convinced by McKnight.

Perhaps I am biased–McKnight taught me Greek and New Testament at Trinity
Evangelical School, the divinity school where former Union president David Dockery now serves as president.

Third, I am very curious to hear from members of the Union University faculty.  What
does the faculty think about Oliver’s decision to pull the university out of the CCCU? (I
am guessing that faculty who disagree with Oliver’s decision might be hesitant to speak
up out of fear of consequences from Oliver and his inner circle).  I would be very
surprised if Oliver has universal support for this move among the faculty.

Only time will tell how the issue of gay marriage will divide the CCCU.  At the moment
see three groups.  First, some institutions are willing to leave the CCCU over this issue
before any official decision about Eastern Mennonite’s and Goshen’s membership has
been made.  They are practicing what might be called “second-degree separation.” They will not associate with Eastern Mennonite or Goshen (and any other CCCU school that might affirm gay marriage) and they will not associate with Christian colleges who believe in traditional marriage but are unwilling to kick these Mennonite schools out of the CCCU.  Union and Oklahoma Wesleyan (so far) fall into this category.

The second group is made up of institutions that privilege traditional marriage and are willing to be part of a CCCU that permits schools that affirm gay marriage

The third group is made up of institutions that will wait to see how the CCCU responds to Goshen and Eastern Mennonite and decide to leave the CCCU if it allows these Mennonite schools to maintain membership in the organization.

The CCCU makes its decision about Goshen and Eastern Mennonite on August 31.

And what about the Lilly Fellows National Network of colleges and universities? Union
University is a member of this organization.  Will they leave this fellowship of church
related schools because many of the schools in the network hire homosexuals

ADDENDUM:  I also encourage you to check out John Hawthorne’s post: Dis-Union in the CCCU

Chris Gehrz Holds Forth on the "Pietist Vision of Higher Education"

Chris Gehrz is all over the Internet these days.  Whether he is wandering the Bethel University campus with his trusty microphone as the host of Past and Presence, announcing Bethel’s new job search for an “Ancient-Digital” historian, or talking about the relationship between piety and higher education, his musings are always thoughtful and on the mark.

For example, check out Chris on the Christian Humanist podcast with Nathan Gilmour.  Chris and Nathan discuss Chris’s newly edited volume, The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education: Forming Whole and Holy Persons.  I listened to it this afternoon and was deeply impressed with how Chris, a trained diplomatic historian with a Ph.D from Yale, is able talk so freely about matters pertaining to theology and academic life.  There is a reason they call this guy “The Pietist Schoolman

Listen here.

New in the Mail: "The Pietist Vision of Christian Higher Education"

I just received my copy today.  Here is my blurb on the back of the book: 

I have been reading Chris Gehrz’s blog, “The Pietist Schoolman” for several years and have been cheering him on as he makes a compelling and humble case for the compatibility of Pietism, the intellectual life and Christian higher education.  Now Chris has gathered his academic brothers and sisters in the faith to continue the conversation.  If you thought that “pietist higher education” was an oxymoron, these essays will force you to think again.

John Fea, Messiah College, author of Why Study History?: Reflecting on the Importance of the Past