On Religious Exemptions

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Wheaton College is featured in this article

I found this article helpful.  The author is Patrick Hornbeck, chair and associate professor of theology at Fordham University.

Here is a taste of “The Tragedy of Religious Freedom”:

It’s clear that for at least the foreseeable future, religious exemptions will remain the subject of hotly contested battles in courts and legislatures. There is no easy solution, since as legal scholar Kent Greenawalt has noted, the two Religion Clauses of the First Amendment often stand in tension with each other and, as a result, “a good bit of the prevailing law is genuinely confusing.” The question I have been raising here—who, if anyone, should be the arbiter of whether a behavior is sufficiently grounded in religious conviction to qualify for an exemption that might be available—is just a starting point.

Read the entire piece at Religion Dispatches.

Congratulations to Crystal and David Downing

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Photo credit: Wheaton College

My Messiah College colleague Crystal Downing will be leaving us next year.  She and her husband, C.S. Lewis scholar David Downing, are headed to Wheaton College.  This is a huge loss for Messiah, but I can’t think of a better couple to share the Marion E. Wade Chair of Christian Thought at Wheaton.  Congratulations!

Here is the press release:

The Marion E. Wade Center is delighted to announce the appointment of Dr. Crystal Downing and Dr. David C. Downing as co-directors and co-holders of the Marion E. Wade Chair of Christian Thought. As Lisa Richmond, Director of Library and Archives at Wheaton College, explains, “The opportunity to have two such distinguished scholars leading the Wade Center is very exciting and holds great promise for continuing the Wade’s strong legacy of work on the seven authors. We are thrilled that the Downings are joining Wheaton in this role.” As co-directors, the Downings will share administrative responsibilities, and as a joint appointment they will also have significantly more time to invest in writing and research on the Wade authors. They will take up their responsibilities at the Wade Center on July 1, 2018.

Dr. Crystal Downing is currently Distinguished Professor of English and Film Studies at Messiah College, PA. She has published on a variety of topics, with much of her recent scholarship focused on the relationship between cultural theory and religious faith. Her first book, Writing Performances: The Stages of Dorothy L. Sayers (Palgrave Macmillan 2004) received an international award from the Dorothy L. Sayers Society in Cambridge, England in 2009. The thought of Sayers and C.S. Lewis is evident in Crystal’s next two books, How Postmodernism Serves (My) Faith (IVP Academic 2006) and Changing Signs of Truth (IVP Academic 2012). The success of her fourth book, Salvation from Cinema (Routledge 2016) has led to her current book project, The Wages of Cinema: Looking through the Lens of Dorothy L. Sayers. Crystal has received a number of teaching awards and was the recipient of the Clyde S. Kilby Research Grant for 2001 from the Wade Center. She holds a PhD in English from the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Dr. David Downing currently serves as the R.W. Schlosser Professor of English at Elizabethtown College, PA. He has published widely on C.S. Lewis, including Planets in Peril: A Critical Study of C.S. Lewis’s Ransom Trilogy (UMass 1992), The Most Reluctant Convert: C.S. Lewis’s Journey to Faith (IVP 2002), which was awarded the Clyde S. Kilby Research Grant for 2000, Into the Region of Awe: Mysticism in C.S. Lewis (IVP 2005), and Into the Wardrobe: C.S. Lewis and the Narnia Chronicles (Jossey-Bass 2005). David is also the editor of C.S. Lewis’s The Pilgrim’s Regress: The Wade Annotated Edition (Eerdmans, 2014). A prolific speaker and writer, David has spoken extensively throughout the U.S. and internationally. He has received numerous teaching awards and holds a PhD in English from the University of California at Los Angeles.

The Downings are the first to be jointly appointed to the Wade directorship in the more than 50-year history of the Wade Center. They follow Wade founder and first director Clyde S. Kilby (1965–1980), director Lyle W. Dorsett (1983–1990), and director Christopher W. Mitchell (1994–2013).

Let’s Remember That Young Evangelicals Have Never Been a Moral Majority

183a7-wheatonThe Economist “Lexington” columnist visited Wheaton College and this is what he/she found:

...One of America’s foremost Christian institutions, it was founded by abolitionists in 1860 and doubled as a stop on the Underground Railway. These days its leafy campus also houses a museum dedicated to a famous alumnus, Billy Graham, “America’s pastor”, in the admiring phrase of George H.W. Bush. And in the political-science class to which Lexington was welcomed, the students, 14 evangelical sophomores from across America, seemed mindful of that dual legacy.

They were contemptuous of the acquiescence, or worse, of their co-religionists to Mr Trump’s racial divisiveness. “Evangelical Christianity is supposed to be about love thy neighbour,” said Tim, a uniformed soldier from Ohio. “It gave me a sense of betrayal,” said Jessica, a Mexican-American from San Diego. “It was like our own community turned against my family.” Like Mr Graham, the students also worried that the church had become too political and too partisan. “We’ve become over-identified with a political party,” said Drew, from Pittsburgh. Only two of the students had voted for Mr Trump (though most of their parents had). Nine said they were now uneasy about being identified as evangelical.

Read the entire piece here.

Can Evangelical Christian Colleges Learn Anything from John Henry Newman?

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Some evangelicals at Christian Colleges do not believe that John Henry Newman is useful today because his famous book The Idea of a University is addressed to Christian “gentlemen.”  I understand this critique. I also think it is short-sighted.  Indeed, Newman wrote the lectures that became Idea in 1854–a time when the most prestigious British universities were only open to men.  But his lectures on the university also offer a lot of interesting insights for anyone who works, teachers, or leads a Christian college.

In a plenary address at “The State of the Evangelical Mind” conference this past week, Tim Larsen, the McManis Chair of Christian Thought at Wheaton College, applied Newman’s work to the task of cultivating the evangelical mind on Christian college campuses.

Drawing from Newman, Larsen offered several characteristics of a Christian liberal arts college:

  1. Christian liberal arts colleges must pursue “substantial knowledge.”  Students should study those things that distinguish us from other animals.  Larsen argued that money should be used to pursue this kind of “substantial knowledge” and not the other way around.
  2. Christian liberal arts colleges are about “formation,” not careerism or the pursuit of monetary comfort.
  3. Liberal arts colleges must promote “the entire circle of knowledge.”  They should embrace and celebrate the fact that psychologists, biologists, historians, sociologists, economists, and theologians, among others, all offer useful ways of understanding the world.
  4. Students at Christian liberal arts colleges should not be sheltered from “unsettling realities.”  When students are sheltered from certain ideas they are only “delaying their education” and, in essence, turning their education over to the world.
  5.  Theology must be a core discipline at a Christian liberal arts college and it must inform all the other disciplines.

The Q&A was lively.  I was interested in how Larsen’s model might work at a college without a denominational or Christian confessional core or specific doctrinal statement beyond the basic historic Christian creeds. At the college where I teach there is no particular theological system that can serve as a starting point for how theology might inform the work we do in our fields.  Jay Green followed up on my question by asking Larsen how to balance disciplinary-specific ways of thinking with the integrated model Larsen proposed in his lecture.

I liked Larsen’s lecture and have always been attracted to the kind of Christian liberal arts institutions that he described (with a lot of help from Newman).  I do wonder whether such a vision would only work at a handful of Christian colleges.  At most Christian colleges the humanities (the study of the things that separate us from other animals) are in decline, professional programs prevail, and students decide what to study based on economic considerations. Some Christian colleges even prevent students from engaging with certain texts and ideas that are considered dangerous by the administrators in charge.

Football and God

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The NFL season began last night.  That means it’s time for Christianity Today and other religious publications to start publishing pieces on Christianity and football.  This year is no exception.  Check out this piece by Paul Putz and Hunter Hampton, two emerging scholars of religion and sport.

Here is a taste of “God and the Gridiron Game“:

Some Protestants, especially “muscular Christians” like Yale graduate and University of Chicago football coach Amos Alonzo Stagg, saw nothing wrong with the physicality of the sport. Indeed, football’s defenders often cited the prevalence of pious “praying” players as evidence of the game’s compatibility with Christian morality. But many Protestant leaders denounced football’s brutality. Charles Blanchard, president of Wheaton College from 1882 until 1925, took this view. He placed football in the same category as gambling and hard liquor, and viewed the sport not as a heroic, manly game, but a savage sport inhibiting students’ development into productive and civilized men.

In the 1890s and early 1900s, football’s leaders responded to critics like Blanchard by instituting a series of reforms (such as the legalization of the forward pass and the elimination of mass plays) to open up the game. Over time the rule changes helped to protect football from charges of brutality.

The passion that the game inspired in participants and spectators protected football as well. Presbyterian theologian J. Gresham Machen was one of many to fall under its spell. “When I see a vacant field on one of these autumn days,” Machen wrote to a friend while in Europe in 1905, “my mind is filled with wonder at this benighted people which does not seem to hear the voice of nature when she commands every human being to play football or watch it being played.”

Read the entire piece here.  In their next piece, I would like to see Hampton and Putz historicize this story.  How much longer can Christian colleges continue to field football teams and keep their moral integrity?

The Prophetic Witness of American Evangelicals

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Ed Stetzer, the Billy Graham Distinguished Chair of Church, Mission, and Evangelism at Wheaton College, gets it right in his recent piece at Christianity Today.  According to Stetzer, “if you are unable to critique a president, you’ve lost your prophetic witness.”

Here is a taste:

This is key, and the point of my article today. These events don’t call people’s loyalty into question, they expose the loyalty they already have in their hearts. And that’s concerning when the Rorschach test exposes where their hope truly lies…

I don’t think everyone needs to speak up on everything, but I’m talking about those who defend that which Trump saw that he needed to correct—with him (finally) condemning racism in this instance.

Christians have a prophetic witness, but we can lose that witness when we are unable to see (or speak to) the errors or failings of leaders. And if Christians feel the need to defend even an obvious and divisive mistake (and my Twitter feed is filled with those people), they hurt the church’s witness and tie it too closely to a person, not the truth.

Now, if that’s your job in the White House, I get it. You sometimes have to defend even the errors. But if Christians do the same, it shows the world that our loyalty is to the person in the White House rather than the Person who said He is the Truth.

If you are a Christian, you should be able to speak out against error, injustice, and the depraved strategy of silence. Many did, some said nothing, but some went to the defense of something, ironically, the President two days later felt the need to correct.

If you’re a Christian who acts like President Trump can do no wrong, you’re giving the message that he’s the savior. He’s not. He is fallible, human, and makes mistakes that we, as responsible Christians and members of Christ’s household, should not be afraid to address.

So, rather than defending his error, which he himself felt the need to correct today, search your heart and ask, have I become too connected to a secular leader?

Read the rest here.

What is Bernie Sanders Doing?

This is why many evangelicals turn to a strongman like Donald Trump. They believe that their religious liberties are under attack and Trump will defend them.

Whatever one thinks about Russel Vought’s religious beliefs or the way he handled Bernie’s grilling, what happened here should concern all of us.  Even atheists are concerned.

This seems to me to be a clear violation of Article VI of the United States Constitution: “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.”

Here is a taste of Emma Green’s piece on the incident at The Atlantic:

Article VI of the U.S. Constitution states that “no religious test shall ever be required as a qualification to any office or public trust under the United States.” On Wednesday, Senator Bernie Sanders flirted with the boundaries of this rule during a confirmation hearing for Russell Vought, President Trump’s nominee for deputy director of the Office of Management and Budget.

Sanders took issue with a piece Vought wrote in January 2016 about a fight at the nominee’s alma mater, Wheaton College. The Christian school had fired a political-science professor, Larycia Hawkins, for a Facebook post intended to express solidarity with Muslims. Vought disagreed with Hawkins’s post and defended the school in an article for the conservative website The Resurgent. During the hearing, Sanders repeatedly quoted one passage that he found particularly objectionable:

Muslims do not simply have a deficient theology. They do not know God because they have rejected Jesus Christ his Son, and they stand condemned.

“In my view, the statement made by Mr. Vought is indefensible, it is hateful, it is Islamophobic, and it is an insult to over a billion Muslims throughout the world,” Sanders told the committee during his introductory remarks. “This country, since its inception, has struggled, sometimes with great pain, to overcome discrimination of all forms … we must not go backwards.”

Later, during the question-and-answer portion of the hearing, Sanders brought this up again. “Do you believe that statement is Islamophobic?” he asked Vought.

“Absolutely not, Senator,” Vought replied. “I’m a Christian, and I believe in a Christian set of principles based on my faith.”

Where Sanders saw Islamophobia and intolerance, Vought believed he was stating a basic principle of his belief as an evangelical Christian: that faith in Jesus is the only pathway to salvation. And where Sanders believed he was policing bigotry in public office, others believed he was imposing a religious test. As Russell Moore, the head of the political arm of the Southern Baptist Convention, said in a statement, “Even if one were to excuse Senator Sanders for not realizing that all Christians of every age have insisted that faith in Jesus Christ is the only pathway to salvation, it is inconceivable that Senator Sanders would cite religious beliefs as disqualifying an individual for public office.”

Read the entire piece here.

Many conservative evangelicals are likely to turn this into another culture war issue. Few will try to use this incident to think more deeply about how to balance the exclusivist claims of religious faith with participation in a pluralistic society.  The former is easy, and because it is easy it often becomes our default position.  The latter takes hard work–work I am not sure many evangelicals are interested in, or capable of, performing.

Mark Noll Talks Trump, Hawkins, and the Evangelical Mind

NollCheck out this interview with Noll at The Wheaton Record, the student newspaper of Wheaton College.  As many of you know, Noll taught at Wheaton for 27 years before moving to Notre Dame for the final decade of his teaching career.  In this wide-ranging interview Noll talks about Donald Trump’s election, the Larycia Hawkins case at Wheaton, his retirement plans, and the state of the evangelical mind.

Here is a taste of editor Ciera Horton’s interview:

C: The word “evangelical” took center stage in the presidential election and continues to do so. However, there does seem to be a disconnect between Trump’s policies such as the now-blocked travel ban, immigration and sole support for Israel which Christians are divided on — so how do you explain the evangelical support and winning the evangelical vote?

M: I think what’s called “evangelical support for Trump” had to do with the pro-life position of the Republican party, it had to do with a lot of antagonism against some of the cultural steps taken by the Obama administration. It certainly had to do with the memory of Bill Clinton’s immorality in the White House, and a lot of white evangelicals were concerned about economics…I do think we have increasing numbers of Christian academics who would have a much more sophisticated approach to political life than, “I’m angry at Hillary so I’m voting for Trump.” But I’m worried about the Christian populace at large listening all the time to their media go-to and never being concerned about folks who are trying to see things more broadly.

Read the entire interview here.  It appears just in time for Nollstock (Nollfest?, Nollapalooza?) next month.

Larycia Hawkins Lands at the University of Virginia

Hawkins_LFormer Wheaton College political science professor Larycia Hawkins will spend the next three years at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture at the University of Virginia.

Here is a taste of a piece at the Chronicle of Higher Education:

Larycia A. Hawkins, the associate professor of political science who was placed on leave by Wheaton College, in Illinois, for expressing solidarity with Muslim students, has a new job, at the University of Virginia.

She will conduct research on the relationship between religions and race at the university’s Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture as the Abd el-Kader Visiting Faculty Fellow, which is named for the 19th-century Islamic scholar and leader. The position is renewable for up to three years.

A decade ago, Ms. Hawkins was a fellow at UVa’s Miller Center, which the university calls “a nonpartisan institute that seeks to expand understanding of the presidency, policy, and political history.”

Ms. Hawkins and Wheaton, which suspended her in December over her assertion that Muslims and Christians “worship the same God” and her decision to wear a hijab in solidarity with Muslims, reached a “confidential agreement”last month that resulted in her departure from the institution, where she was the first and only black female tenured professor.

The Executive Director at the Institute for Advanced Studies in Culture is sociologist James Davidson Hunter. The Institute publishes the Hedgehog Review.

 

Did Wheaton College and Larycia Hawkins Really “Reconcile?”

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Jacob Lupfer, a graduate Oklahoma Baptist University and a doctoral candidate in political science at Georgetown University, is not buying it.

Here is a taste of his recent piece at Religion News Service:

(RNS) The ongoing drama of Professor Larycia Hawkins’ strained relationship with her employer, evangelical Wheaton College, was headed for a climactic heresy trial this month.

Instead, the parties announced in a Saturday (Feb. 6) statement that they will part ways, despite supposedly having “found a mutual place of resolution and reconciliation.”

If separating from a tenured professor under a confidential agreement is “reconciliation,” then surely the word has no meaning.

Confidential agreements often include undisclosed financial payments. I have no insight into what legal counsel Hawkins may have received. But if Wheaton did pay Hawkins to go away, then selling the departure as reconciliation seems especially egregious.

Unfortunately, actual reconciliation was unlikely right from the start of this bungled episode. Hawkins had run afoul of Wheaton’s conservative ethos before, as when she was photographed in a Chicago home on the day of the LGBT pride parade.

Read the rest here.

Academic Freedom: From the University of Washington to Wheaton College

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Several years ago Tracy McKenzie moved from the University of Washington to Wheaton College in Wheaton, Illinois.  He is thus ideally suited to speak about the issues surrounding academic freedom at Wheaton in the context of the Larycia Hawkins case.

Here is a taste of his post “Academic Freedom in a Christian Context” from his blog “Faith and American History.”

My professional life has been framed by two very different institutions. For the first twenty-two years of my academic career, I taught at the University of Washington in Seattle. In many ways, my time there was a blessing. The UW is an elite academic institution with an extraordinary faculty and world-class resources. During my time there it boasted five Nobel Prize winners, one of the largest libraries in North America, and was ranked by the Economist as one of the top twenty public universities in the world.

I also made several good friends at UW and benefited from a number of genuinely kind colleagues who took sincere interest in my well being, both personal and professional. Finally, I should acknowledge that I flourished there professionally—in certain respects. I was awarded tenure, rose in rank from assistant to associate to full professor, won the university’s distinguished teaching award, and was accorded a prestigious endowed chair in U. S. history.

And yet while I was experiencing a certain measure of professional success, my soul was always deeply divided. I can best describe the alienation I felt by quoting from Harry Blamires, one of the last students of C. S. Lewis. In his book The Christian Mind, Blamires wrote hauntingly of “the loneliness of the thinking Christian.” Describing my life at UW, Blamires described his own experience as a Christian in the secular academy as akin to being “caught up, entangled, in the lumbering day-to-day operations of a machinery working in many respects in the service of ends that I rejected.”

That is eventually how I came to think of my time at UW. For all of its discrete strengths, the university is less than the sum of its parts. Like the secular academy overall, it is “hollow at its core,” to borrow the words of historian George Marsden.  There is no common foundation, no cohering vision, no basis for meaningful unity. After twenty-two years of faculty meetings, I can attest to the truth that the faculty functioned best as a group when we avoided larger questions about our collective mission and purpose. As long as we could each do our own thing we were fine.

When it came to matters of faith, the university’s unwritten policy was a variation of “don’t ask, don’t tell.” It celebrated racial and ethnic diversity relentlessly but was never all that enthusiastic about a genuine diversity of worldviews, at least among the faculty and in the curriculum. If you espoused a vague “spirituality” that made no demands on anyone–or better yet, seemed to reinforce the standard liberal positions of the political Left–all well and good. Otherwise, it was best to remember that religious belief was a private matter that was irrelevant to our teaching and our scholarship.

For twenty-two years I accommodated my sense of calling to this secular dogma, bracketing my faith and limiting explicit Christian expressions and Christian reflections to private conversations with students who sought me out. In his book Let Your Life Speak: Listening to the Voice of Vocation, Parker Palmer writes movingly about the costs of such segmentation. Vocation is a calling to a way of life more than to a sphere of life. “Divided no more!” is Palmer’s rallying cry.

If I were to characterize my experience since coming to Wheaton five and a half years ago, these are the words that first come to mind–divided no more. Wheaton is not a perfect place, nor did I expect it to be one when I came here. But I can honestly say that I have experienced much greater academic freedom at Wheaton than I ever did at the secular university that I left.

Read the entire post here.

 

What is a Christian College?

a9fde-messiah2bgraduationHere are some of my thoughts about evangelical higher education in light of the Larcyia Hawkins case at Wheaton College.  I pitched it a few places, but no one seemed to want it.  My opinions here are solely my own.  Regular readers at The Way of Improvement Leads Home will find some of this stuff familiar–JF

It has been a few years since I taught Messiah College first-year students in our “Created and Called for Community” course.  The course begins with Genesis 1 where we read of God speaking his word into the darkness which covered the face of the earth.  He said “let there be light,” and there was light.  He then went on to create the water, land, plant life, the universe, and all living creatures.  His greatest creation, of course, was human beings.  Genesis 1:26-27 reminds our students that women and men are the highest form of God’s creation as they were created in His image.

“And God saw that it was good.”

I like to think of these first days of the Created and Called for Community course as a fitting introduction to a Christian liberal arts education.  Students learn that all of their fellow human beings have dignity, worth, and value because of the doctrine of Imago Dei.

As a historian and a Christian.  I am especially appreciative of this aspect of Messiah College’s curriculum.  Historians, after all, are a very earthy bunch.  We are in the business of studying human beings. The Imago Dei reminds us that the human beings we study have a very special identity, independent of their actions and behavior.  While people have been created with freedom, and are thus capable of performing villainous or sinful acts, even the most despicable human subjects bear the image of God and thus have inherent value in his eyes.

If life is indeed sacred and valuable, then Christians have a responsibility to celebrate and protect it.  Scholars debate the way a belief in Imago Dei should be applied in our lives, but most would agree that it serves as a foundation for Christian social teaching and, by extension, a Christian education.  I want the students in my history courses to know that all the voices of the people we encounter in the past count in the stories we tell in the classroom, on the printed page, on the Internet, and in museums and other historical sites.

I have been thinking a lot about “Created and Called for Community” and the Judeo-Christian doctrine of Imago Dei in light of the recent Larycia Hawkins case at Wheaton College.

In case you have not heard, Hawkins is a political science professor at Wheaton, the Chicago-area school that many consider American evangelicalism’s flagship institution of higher education.  Last December Hawkins decided to wear a hijab during the Advent season to show solidarity with her Muslim neighbors.  It was a compassionate, even Christ-like gesture that at least one Wheaton alumnus believes was fitting with the college’s nineteenth-century commitment to social justice.

But when Hawkins claimed that Muslims and Christians worship the same God she apparently went too far.  The Wheaton administration has placed her on leave, threatened to take away her tenure, and has decided to move to terminate her employment at the college.

After listening to Hawkins speak in a video posted by The Chicago Tribune it seems that her decision to wear the hijab and acknowledge the common monotheistic ancestry of Christians and Muslims was a direct expression of her evangelical faith.  Think about it.  How many political science professors in the United States engage in what Hawkins calls “Advent worship?” Better yet, how many evangelical Christians–the kind of folks who could sign Wheaton’s statement of faith–participate in “Advent worship?”  On this front, Hawkins appeared to be a model faculty member.

Of course the leadership of Wheaton College has every right to draw theological boundaries as they see fit.  If we believe in religious liberty we must defend the college’s right to terminate Hawkins, whether we agree with the decision or not.  But this entire case does offer some interesting opportunities to think about the identity of Christian colleges.

I imagine that there are a lot of evangelical colleges and universities who would have responded to Hawkins’s Advent worship in a similar fashion as Wheaton. But not all Christian colleges are alike.  I would hope that any administrators at Christian colleges would take Imago Dei seriously, but they would not all apply this doctrine in the same way amid the day-to-day life of their institutions.

What is an evangelical Christian college?  First of all, Christian colleges are not churches.  Churches exist to uphold, defend, and promote Christian theology and the proper worship of God.  Churches are primarily in the business of formation and catechism in a particular Christian tradition.  One should expect the leadership of a church to promote what they believe to be correct doctrine and, in the process, show how other manifestations of religion are wrong.

Second, Christian colleges are places of learning, just like every other college. They are educational communities where students should feel comfortable asking the “big questions” about the meaning of life.  They are places where intellectual risks are taken and ideas—even ideas that we may believe to be sacred—are critically analyzed.

But what makes Christian colleges unique is the fact that they occupy a space somewhere between the church and the broader non-Christian academy.  This makes them different from the public university down the road or the private, non-sectarian liberal arts institution.  Christian colleges do not offer the same kind of academic freedom afforded to faculty at other institutions.  They have statements of faith and community expectations that result in the drawing of specific intellectual boundaries.  They attract faculty who feel comfortable pursuing their academic vocations in such a confessional environment.  (Some have argued that this is a kind of “academic freedom” unavailable to faculty at a public university). They attract students who want their college education to be steeped in a particular Christian tradition.

At the same time, Christian liberal arts colleges are in the business of educating young minds and thus do not draw boundaries in the same way that churches draw boundaries.  We hope that students who attend Christian colleges will be more confident and secure in their faith when they leave four years later, and we want spiritual formation to happen on campus (and we should be concerned when it does not), but this is not the primary goal. Spiritual formation is primarily the job of the church.

So to what extent should an evangelical college carve out space for the celebration of the universal values that apply to all human beings as created in the image of God?  And how should such space exist alongside, or in conjunction with, the more particular or specific doctrinal beliefs that define evangelical Christian faith and the identity of an evangelical college?  These questions seem to go to the heart of what recently happened to Larycia Hawkins at Wheaton.

Don’t get me wrong. The particular doctrines and faith commitments of historic Christianity (however they are defined by the institution) should always be paramount at an evangelical college. These commitments should inform the life of the institution in every way–from student programs to faculty hiring and from the classroom to the chapel. But the kind of expression of human solidarity that Hawkins exemplified in this situation– an expression rooted in Christian theology (the Imago Dei)–is also appropriate at times.

One cannot deny that both Christians and Muslims trace their roots to Abrahamic faith. So in that sense, they do worship the same God.  Of course there are some major distinctions between the way Christians and Muslims worship this God, understand His identity (the Trinity, for example), and interpret his plan for the human beings he created.

Hawkins never denied these distinctions.  Instead, her Advent worship was meant to show us that we all belong to the same family–the human family. And there are times, even in the life of an exclusively Christian college, when those human connections should be acknowledged and even celebrated.

Caution, care, and education must accompany such expressions of solidarity.  They must be explained in the context of a theology of Imago Dei.  But dialogue and conversation on these matters is good.  I am afraid that Wheaton  either missed such an opportunity or, perhaps more likely, was unwilling to be a host to this type of discussion.  In the Hawkins case Wheaton College erred on the side of being Christian over its identity as a liberal arts college.

 

Why I Agree with Timothy Larsen

9475f-wheatonA few hours ago I wrote a post on Timothy Larsen’s insider remarks about the Larycia Hawkins affair at Wheaton College.   Here are some more thoughts on that piece:

I think we need to remember that there are different levels of critique about what is going on Wheaton. For the mainstream media and the academic world, the criticism of the Hawkins affair should not surprise anyone.  This critique has been around for a long time, but it gains traction whenever something like this happens at a Christian college.  It goes something like this:  Wheaton is fundamentalist, intolerant, maybe racist or sexist, does not permit academic freedom, does not allow Catholics, etc.

When I read this critique I find myself in agreement with Larson.  After all, I teach at Messiah College, one of Wheaton’s younger sisters in the world of Christian college higher education.  Let Wheaton College be Wheaton College. If we believe in religious liberty, then it has every right to define its boundaries as the administration sees fit.

On the other hand, there is an intramural conversation going on that is worth noting. This is a conversation taking place among Christians–mostly bloggers and social media folks–about Wheaton’s theological definition of evangelical Christian faith and the  interpretation of its Statement of Faith.  On this point I disagree with the way the Wheaton administration is handling this case.  If you are a reader of The Way of Improvement Leads Home, you know that I have argued for a vision of a Christian college that is slightly more inclusive in its approach to solidarity with Muslims.

In a world of social media, online publishing, and the speedy news cycle that they foster, it is often hard to distinguish the difference between these two critiques. Larsen’s piece, which appears at CNN, addresses the secular/academic critique of Wheaton.

GOP Candidates and Their Evangelical Constituencies

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Is there a “Billy Graham” wing in American evangelicalism?

Last week I wrote about Marco Rubio’s new religious liberty advisory committee.  In that post I argued that the make-up of the committee suggests Rubio’s attempt to appeal to mainstream evangelicals.  I compared these evangelicals with those evangelicals who support the Ted Cruz and Donald Trump candidacies.

Today I learned that Russell Moore, President of the Ethics and Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Church, offered a similar analysis.  Here is a quote from an article at Roll Call:

Russell Moore, president of the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, said Trump, Cruz and Rubio are appealing to disparate camps of evangelicals.

“I would say that Ted Cruz is leading in the ‘Jerry Falwell’ wing, Marco Rubio is leading the ‘Billy Graham’ wing and Trump is leading the ‘Jimmy Swaggart’ wing,” Moore said, meaning that Cruz has largely followed the classic Moral Majority model that was the face of the conservative movement — he has received endorsements from figures such as Focus on the Family founder James Dobson — while Trump “tends to work most closely with the prosperity wing of Pentecostalism” which tends to believe that God would financially reward believers.

I chose to use the adjective “mainstream” to describe the Billy Graham wing of evangelicalism.  This wing of evangelicalism, which I would associate with Christianity Today, Graham, Wheaton College, Moody Bible Institute, Trinity Evangelical Divinity School, Campus Crusade for Christ (now called “Cru”) and InterVarsity Christian Fellowship, is the kind of evangelicalism that I am familiar with because it is the evangelicalism that  I joined as a teenager in the 1980s.

But after thinking a bit more, I wonder if this wing of evangelicalism is still “mainstream?”  Perhaps Moore’s “Falwell” wing or Trump’s “prosperity” wing may now be more mainstream.

Thoughts?

Timothy Larsen Defends Wheaton College

9475f-wheatonTimothy Larsen is the McManis Professor of Christian Thought at Wheaton College.  (Some of you know that this is the endowed chair formerly held by Notre Dame historian Mark Noll). Larsen is an excellent scholar and a thoughtful defender of Christian colleges.  I am glad to see that he has written a piece in defense of Wheaton and places like it. (He doesn’t mention Messiah College in the piece, but much of what he says applies to Messiah, the college where I teach).

Here is a taste of his piece at CNN, “Let Wheaton and Other Christian Colleges Be Christian“:

…Indeed, for some of our most thoroughgoing critics it means that we are not at all like the University of Illinois. A statement of faith, they assert, prohibits academic freedom and thus disqualifies us from being a genuine institution of higher education.

It feels differently from the inside. The vast majority of the professors Wheaton hires come either straight from a Ph.D. program at a major, secular school or from teaching at a secular university. Again and again they revel in the luxurious, newfound academic freedom that Wheaton has granted them: For the first time in their careers they can think aloud in the classroom about the meaning of life and the nature of the human condition without worrying about being accused of violating the separation of church and state or transgressing the taboo against allowing spiritual reflections to wander into a conversation about death or ethics or hope.

Just like no Catholic wants everyone to join a monastery, so I would not want every institution of higher education to be like Wheaton. Still, I have no doubt that the intellectual life of the entire nation is stronger because places like Wheaton exist than it would be if all higher education had its academic freedom curtailed by prohibiting theological lines of inquiry.

Wheaton is continually renewing and testing the caliber of its intellectual mettle in the wider academy: Every year we send out students who have been admitted into some of the best graduate schools, hire faculty members who have been trained in major research universities, and have professors present their research at the conferences of leading learned societies and publish it in peer-review journals. We gain the freedom to discuss matters of faith without losing the accountability that comes with having to meet the scholarly standards of the wider academy.

Read the rest here.

Even More Wheaton College Stuff

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The Chronicle of Higher Education has weighed-in on the Larcyia Hakwins case at Wheaton College.  Here is a taste:

Yet Ms. Hawkins and others question how welcoming Wheaton is of diverse viewpoints and styles. “All evangelical colleges have to ask what diversity means,” said Gary M. Burge, a professor of New Testament who added that he finds Ms. Hawkins’s views in keeping with the faith statement. “Genuine diversity is going to stretch the margins of what’s comfortable for us.”

Michael S. Hamilton, an associate professor of history at Seattle Pacific University who has written about Wheaton and other religious colleges, said Wheaton is often uncomfortable with people who don’t fit into its Northern, white, fundamentalist tradition. “If you don’t sit in that tradition, then you don’t fit at Wheaton. But if you don’t fit in that tradition, they will pin your nonconformity to the faith statement,” he said. “That’s what’s happening in the case of Larycia Hawkins.”

Faculty members also worry about how much external constituents’ prejudices are pressuring the administration. Time magazine excerpted an email that Mr. Jones sent to another professor, in which he described Ms. Hawkins’s Facebook statements as “innocuous” but noted that “the media are pounding on our door asking for comments about our faculty who are endorsing Islam.”

Ms. Hawkins said that Mr. Jones had told her that hundreds of students had already withdrawn their applications. Mr. Jones said that’s not accurate. “We did, however, discuss the numerous responses the college was receiving, and that this could have negative implications for applications,” he said.

“I don’t think the administration is being racist in singling her out for her recent comments,” said Mr. Toly. “I fear that in the background of many concerns raised by external constituencies there may be systemic undercurrents of racial issues that are at play that we don’t want to acknowledge.”

Ms. Hawkins’s case may be resolved within the next month. The administration has compiled a roughly 40-page memo, she said, outlining why she should be fired, including her assertion of religious solidarity with Muslims and Jews, and that Muslims and Christians worship the same God.

Christianity Today, the voice of American evangelicalism, has also published an editorial on the matter.  The magazine will not take a side, but it calls for reason and reconciliation.

 

More on Wheaton College

d67ac-wheatonEveryone is talking about Wheaton College.  I just got back from the annual meeting of the American Historical Association in Atlanta and it seemed like everyone I ran into wanted to chat about the Larycia Hawkins case.

I had conversations with three difference kind of people this weekend in Atlanta:

  1. Evangelical historians.  These conversations were intramural in nature.  We all understand Wheaton and the issues that Christian colleges face, but are baffled with the way the administration is handling the whole thing.
  2. Non-Christian historians.  What is happening at Wheaton College has a ripple effect on those of us who teach at other Christian colleges–sister schools, if you will.  Since many of my historian colleagues know I teach at Messiah College, they wonder just how Messiah would respond to a similar situation.   I have had to work up an answer on this front.
  3. Public intellectuals.  I had a few exchanges this weekend with historians who work at intellectual and political magazines as reporters and editors.  They are very aware of what is going on at Wheaton and feel an obligation to cover this.

After last night’s article in Time magazine, a few more observers weighed-in today.  John Hawthorne’s “Why Wheaton Matters” is worth reading.  I appreciate him referencing my post on graduate admissions and our subsequent exchange on Facebook.  Tobin Grant’s extensive piece at Religion News Service is also worth a look.