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Good witch hunts

I've been thinking lately about witch hunts at Christian colleges. I've had contact with several very conservative colleges in my time, and I know well how difficult it can be for faculty not to have tenure and to face the possibility of being fired over small deviations from school doctrine on unimportant points. It does not foster a good academic environment for people to have to worry that they will lose their jobs if they have the "wrong" views on the order of events in eschatology, for example. And the more or less "fire at will" atmosphere on some Christian college campuses can just as easily be used to penalize conservatives who want to uphold the school's traditional identity as to penalize liberals who want to tear it down.

But when I read a post like this I have to think that at some point there has been a failure of leadership. The whole point of not granting tenure in Christian colleges, or of making that tenure conditional on continuing to uphold the mission and doctrinal positions of the school, was supposed to be to avoid precisely this sort of attack from within. Given the bio of Stephen Dilley (the author of the above-linked post), it appears that he is talking about Whitworth College, about which I know little to nothing. I do know that there are many other colleges who still have a chance to get it right. Cedarville seems to have been doing some house cleaning lately. Oddly, and receiving most attention in the news, this seems to have taken the form of ruling that women cannot teach theology classes with male students in them. I am anti-feminist but am not sure that biblical teaching on that subject mandates that particular reform at an institution of higher learning. However, my hope is that this is just a signal of deeper and more important reforms at Cedarville--specifically, routing out some more-than-nascent "emergent" and postmodern views which I happen to know were getting far too popular among some faculty in the past. There is some reason to believe that this is so given the proposal that one-man-one-woman marriage be added to the statement of faith. Indeed, that should have been done some time ago, but by all means, it should be added ASAP, and any faculty member who refuses to sign on that ground should be outta here.

Long ago, I used to think that a minimalist statement of faith at a Christian school was the way to go. This was an understandable reaction to some over-detailed requirements. The older I get, the more I realize that statements of faith are very much like creeds in Christian history. Why does the Nicene Creed go on and on about the Son's "being of one substance with the Father"? Of course, it is because that creed grew out of the response to the Arian heresy. In the same way, as the Enemy attacks in subsequent ages, it is understandable that the creedal affirmations required at Christian institutions will evolve so as to block the intrusion of new heresies and serious moral false teachings into the institution. The result will, no doubt, be statements that would appear odd in other ages. Others might wonder why statements on marriage suddenly crop up, or statements about God's omniscience (in response, say, to open theism), or statements about the existence of Adam, and so forth. So it will happen, inevitably, that a statement of faith will be to some degree a "monster," in the technical sense of having what appear to be disparate parts put together in an ad hoc manner.

What I am realizing is that this isn't entirely a bad thing. Nor do my own disagreements with the particulars of some school's statement of faith mean that the ideal is to have a "mere Christian" school whose only statement of faith is, say, the minimalism of the Apostles' Creed. (I hate to point this out, but it would be possible to be a non-Trinitarian and affirm the words of the Apostles' Creed.)

The funny thing is that even if I wrote a "monster" statement of faith of my own for faculty at my own imaginary and hypothetical Christian college, it would probably be fairly "mere Christian" in some respects. It might very well not contain inerrancy! It would contain nothing about eschatology except a minimal statement that we look for the return of Jesus Christ, who will come to judge the quick and the dead. It would be by intention broad enough to include both those who affirm only believers' baptism and those who advocate infant baptism. It would be intended to allow both conservative Catholics and conservative Protestants to teach or be administrators. On the other hand, it would be strongly enough worded on Trinitarian theology and the nature of God to make it clear that Mormons would not be regarded as Christians and could not teach at the school and that modalists would be o-u-t, and it would very likely exclude those who refused to affirm the existence of an historical Adam. I'm undecided on whether to exclude open theists. I would like to include something that would exclude doctrinaire, bullying, anti-ID theistic evolutionists and prevent them from taking over the biology department but haven't yet figured out how to word that. The moral section would be fairly extensive, given our present world's Corinthian debauchery and the appalling extent to which approval of this debauchery is entering the Christian world through specious and sophistical arguments. I would support any administrator who was an absolute hawk on these moral issues and promptly fired any faculty member who showed himself to be undermining the mission of the institution on those points.

My point in listing those suggestions is not so much to defend every single one of them as to suggest a trajectory of simultaneous minimalism in some areas and maximalism in others. It seems to me that Christian institutions need to get their priorities straight. I read some years ago about a well-known Christian college that was hiring a high-level administrator whose background was in the Assemblies of God. By my recollection (I haven't time to try to find the exact words) he had also made some disturbingly wishy-washy statements about abortion. I then read about an on-campus interview process (or perhaps this occurred immediately after he was hired) in which he had an open Q & A with students. Even though both his Assemblies of God background and his abortion remarks had previously been published, the students appeared to be questioning him far more about whether he believed in eternal security of salvation than about his down-playing the evil of abortion. In fact, if I recall correctly, I didn't see a single reference in the questions to what he had said about abortion. This was misguided. Was the same set of priorities represented among those who hired him? If so, that was misguided. Eternal security is a far more open question, biblically and in terms of Christian ethics, than the grave evil of abortion.

I suppose it is not surprising that I should have become more authoritarian as I have gotten older, and I'm keenly aware that authority can be abused. But where authority exists, as it certainly does exist in the private "little kingdoms" of small Christian colleges, it should be used aright. Having and keeping faculty who are teaching what Dilley calls "evangelical self-loathing" is a recipe for disaster. If nothing else, it means accepting parents' hard-earned money and/or students' back-breaking debt under false pretenses.

This is especially true in this day and age when it comes to having faculty who are teaching that moral perversion is right. As I noted here, this has apparently happened at Gordon College. Quite frankly, I am not terribly sympathetic to talk about the lawsuits that a Christian college would or might face if it fired a "gay" professor who was opposing the mission of the school by advocating the legitimacy of homosexual acts. For decades Christian colleges have been leaning on religious exemptions to non-discrimination laws to allow them to enforce minor points of doctrine. If they cannot now use such exemptions, or at least attempt to do so, to fire members of "sexual minorities" who are teaching gross sexual perversion (or anyone who is so teaching under their auspices), then the sooner they cease to put themselves forward as Christian schools, the better! Indeed, the sooner they cease to exist, the better, since their raison d'etre will be gone. What? If open advocacy by faculty of the morality of homosexual practice is not a reductio, what is? Would an administrator refuse, out of fear of lawsuit, to fire a faculty member at a Christian school who was openly advocating orgies in the chapel? I suppose the time might come when that person's "orientation" would also gain the sympathy of the intelligentsia and the courts, but that certainly would not mean that he should be kept on staff, paid by the dollars of pious parents under the impression that they are sending their students to receive a grounding in the Christian worldview! Better for the school to close its doors altogether. The same applies to anyone who is teaching the licitness of homosexual sodomy. An administrator who lacks the stomach for that legal and spiritual fight betrays, at least to my mind, a failure to understand the serious moral evil involved.

I'm sorry for those who have been harmed by misguided witch hunts. But I'm even more sorry for students who will someday go to hell because of a failure of proper vigilance against seriously false teaching. May God give grace and wisdom to Christian leaders to know the difference between one and the other.


Comments (13)

So, inclusive enough for theists, but keep those filthy Mormons out! As I've said before and I'll probably say many more times, those who say Latter-day Saints are not Christian are either not familiar with LDS theology, or they're not familiar with the Bible.

I invite you to repent, however, and recommend to you the words of a living Apostle of Jesus Christ:

If you won't repent of the apostate doctrine taught in the Nicene and Athanasian Creeds, at least repent of the notion that conformity to creeds with no biblical basis has anything at all to do with whether a person is a disciple of Christ or not.

Whatevs. I'm not going to debate Mormonism in this thread but yes, I do stand by my statements. A "follower of Christ"? In some vague sense, sure. As a prophet, etc. Not in the sense that the Apostle Paul or John would have meant "a follower of Christ." Which is what I mean here by "Christian."

It is at least mildly amusing that at one and the same time you castigate me for "saying that Latter-day Saints aren't Christian" and castigate me for holding to the Trinitarian doctrine of the Nicene Creed, calling it "apostate"! I mean, make up your mind! It would at least _look_ a little better to try to pretend that Mormon doctrine is compatible with the Nicene creed, if you want to make a grievance out of my refusal to refer to Mormons as Christians! You're scarcely even trying!

And here I thought the fireworks would arise because I suggested leaving inerrancy out of a college statement of faith.

Ah well, I should wait around. That may come later from someone else.

Well, it won't come from me.

Nor will I disagree with your characterization of Mormonism. Though it might be "nicer" to say that Mormons are Christians in a looser sense, but not in the proper sense. I am not always nice.

The big issue is authority and authenticity in an institution that is explicitly religious. While I sympathize with professors who have troubles with job security at an institution based on parsing some minor quibble of Revelation, I wouldn't say that their plight should be the founding principle of the matter. If a college calls itself evangelical (or Christian, or Catholic, or Mormon) and bills itself that way to parents and students, it has a darn solid obligation to STAY that through and through. And if that means that it discovers that it cannot remain true to its own calling while keeping good ol' Professor X, then he has to go.

In Catholic institutions that are truly Catholic (and not "in the Jesuit tradition", for example), they have an advantage that they can point to an authoritative sounding board OUTSIDE their own halls, an objective measure that does not rest on their own charter or their own creedal document. This is sometimes true of other denominational institutions too, but not necessarily. In any case, the college ought to have a sure-fire method of determining "this belief or practice makes you unemployable here". And given that, they sure as heck ought to USE such methods for real, just as they sure ought to get rid of students who are problems either morally or creedally.

Stephen Dilley and his ilk have spent too long trying to bend over backwards, their intestinal strength (fortitude) for saying and doing the mean and nasty of kicking people out isn't there. While a college does indeed need to allow a student to raise questions - even questions about their creed - it needs to recognize that this has a purpose: it is part of the pursuit of truth. But if the pursuit become the end rather than the means, the truth itself suffers and the meaning of higher education wastes away. As Lydia says, the college itself ought to dissolve rather than go on pretending to turn out Christians.

Everyone is an authoritarian. People who think that they are not authoritarians are still authoritarians: they are just sociopathic authoritarians.

I just like to be an authoritarian on a small scale. :-)

Even so, I've evolved on that as well: When I was twenty-five years younger I _wanted_ to start and run a Christian college. It was a personal dream. Now I'm more of an authoritarian about how such a college should be run, but I would _never_ want to run a Christian college myself. Sounds more like a nightmare.


Sounds more like a nightmare.

I can't tell you how much I have come to be grateful that 'closer to home' challenges have prevented me from becoming, um, institutionalized.

Having grown up with people, and then married into the family of people, who "started a small Christian school", I know what you mean - both of you.

Yet there are a few people, whom God calls, for which this sort of undertaking is bread and butter, meat and potatoes, nay breath itself. They LIVE for the challenge of imposing on chaos some new order seen formerly only in their (and God's) mind. Or, they are God-made for managing others so that the others can achieve more than anyone reasonably thought. And so on. For those few, it is like a canker to NOT have that outlet for their capabilities, their passions, their will to build and create. They will turn to building garbage if they can't build good things. Imagine the architect of St. Peter's Basilica, Bramante, with nothing to build.

Many of these sorts are cholerics by temperament, that being beneficial for doing the near-impossible. Or rather, for actually undertaking to START on a plan that was only a plan and remained only a very implausible plan for years. Someone to say "Let's stop TALKING about it, and DO it, or fail in the attempt." Someone who can speak to potential moneybag supporters with enough passion and commitment to get the money to say "well, I think you're crazy, but everyone ought to have the chance to fail." Both of which literally happened at the start of a small college.

We are not all called to that kind of endeavor, and it is indeed heartbreakingly difficult for nearly anyone, even those who are called to it.

The downward spiral is happening too fast for me to keep up with anymore. It appears that evangelical and Christian colleges (such as Baylor, where this guy teaches) now also need to include something in their statement of faith and morals about the evil of assisted suicide.


I am pleased you singled out Latter Day Saints as a heretical group; who your doctrinal statement would expressly exclude? The creedal statement should be clear to also exclude some of the Latter Day Saints splinter groups; like the Communities of Christ. The LDS, and the modality heretics, have acquired respectability, that should not be granted to them. In the past adherents of the Society of Friends, Unitarians, Swedenborgians, and Universalists, to name a few, have infiltrated historically Christian institutions; irrevocably altering their Christian witness.
Should the faculty members who teach theology and philosophy be held to a different standard or be required to sign an additional doctrinal statement, like the 39 Articles, then say, those who teach English or Chemistry?
May I suggest a statement about the Bible being the Word of God and an infallible rule of faith and practice might be a way of skirting some of the nuances of a Statement about inerrancy.

Yes, I thought about that as "word of God and infallible rule of faith and practice," which might well work.

Interesting question about theology faculty. I think it would depend on whether one wanted one's theology department to be denominational. A Catholic school, for example, might want only Catholic theology teachers. Since I was expressly envisaging a multi-denominational school in general, the question would be whether the theology department would not be similarly ecumenical. That's not something on which I have a strong opinion. I think it might depend on whether a school can be held together well without some non-ecumenical core to it. I certainly think that an "ecumenical church" is an impossibility. Whether an "ecumenical theology faculty" is also impossible, at least as a _good_ thing, is something I don't know. (It will be clear from everything else I have said that by "ecumenical" I don't mean "wussy and formless" but something more like "conservative ecumenical Christian.")

"We must hold fast to the faith; which has been believed everywhere, always, and by all of the faithful." Saint Vincent of Lerins
Ideally theological education should occur in an institution under the direct control of an ecclesiastical body. The training of clerics should properly be in the the sphere of the Church not the Academy. The Church may append its Theological Seminary to the University or College. The Theological Seminary is still the responsibility of the Church.
But what about those who teach Bible to underclassmen? Do we require the professors to affirm their subscription to the dogmatic decrees of the first six Ecumenical Synods of the undivided Church and affirm that the Bible is the Word of God and as such an infallible rule of faith and practice. That would satisfy most conservative Presbyterians, Anglicans, and Lutherans. Baptists would object.
We have Christian institutions of higher learning, that are not Church controlled or governed, that include a Seminary or Graduate School of Theology, like Regent and Wheaton. Would a subscription based on the dogmatic decrees of the first six Ecumenical Synods and the Bible as the infallible Word of God be adequate for the graduate faculty.
In the past, some noteworthy protestant seminaries have had visiting faculty members, who were not and could not have subscribed to the doctrinal statement of the institution they were visiting. John Warwick Montgomery and John H. Gerstner served as visiting professors of Church History and Apologetics at Trinity Evangelical Divinity School in Deerfield, Il; a school of the Evangelical Free Church. Philip Edgecumbe Hughes, an Anglican, served on the faculty of two Presbyterian Seminaries: Columbia Theological Seminary an Westminster Theological Seminary.
Professors of Philosophy are another issue. As an example, do we include those who though orthodox in their religious profession but are proponents of the neo-Kantian philosophy of Herman Dooyeweerd, D. H. T. Vollenhoven, and Hendrik G. Stoker in our philosophy faculty. If we agree their philosophy is apostate; why would we also include those who stand in the tradition of Cornelius Van Til?

Well, of course a school might have a Baptist identity and require all of its professors of theology, or all professors, to hold to Baptist distinctives! I don't know that this is a good idea, particularly, but one can readily picture it.

In philosophy, I would be especially concerned to root out postmodernism and the denial of objective truth. It was suggested on my Facebook wall that this should be a special concern for philosophy departments, but relativism and postmodernism could affect other departments as well, so it is not a bad idea to require all faculty to subscribe to a statement that there is such a thing as objective truth and that it can be known.

Another very interesting sociological point arises here: Sometimes denominational distinctives are bellwethers for a whole slew of other issues that are not _logically_ related to the denominational distinctive.

Here's an example: Do I really want the Catholic Church to change its stance on married clergy? As a sociological matter, I don't. This despite the fact that I believe that Paul in the pastoral epistles clearly envisages a married clergy. But as a sociological matter, if the Catholic Church allows a married clergy, this would very probably have all sorts of bad domino effects on issues that _seem_ unrelated, because we know that as a matter of fact the same people agitating for a married clergy in the Catholic Church are agitating for the ordination of women (for example).

The same tends to be true of inerrancy. While in my ideal academic world, a school is absolutely staunch on all manner of things while not requiring a commitment to inerrancy in its statement of faith, the fact remains that inerrancy has become bound up with theological staunchness in evangelicalism for getting on for a hundred years. I was discussing some issue a few months ago with someone on Facebook; I believe it may have been the historical Adam. I was carefully showing how Adam, as a real person, is bound up with all manner of theological matters in the New Testament. He glibly said that it didn't matter anyway because he was not an inerrantist! So the abandonment of inerrancy apparently meant "anything goes." How likely is it, again, as a sociological matter, that professors in a Protestant college would hold to the authority of Scripture in matters of faith and morals if they abandoned inerrancy?

So these are very messy matters, and I'm sure others can think of their own examples. There are examples in matters of practice, for example. I recently heard that Moody Bible Institute now allows its professors to drink alcoholic beverages off campus, though not to hold drinking parties with students. They have defended their position, it sounds to me, correctly as a matter of biblical interpretation. But on the other hand, is this a bellwether of a general loosening of historic moral standards at Moody? In this day and age, I am cynical enough to fear so, even though I agree with them that Scripture does not teach teetotalism.

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