God is not a God of confusion but of peace (1 Cor. 14:33).
The uniqueness of Christianity, as Greg Hall shared with us in the last chapter, must always be at the forefront of our minds. Yes, a war over worldviews is being waged across the globe. The battles are intensely fierce on the campuses of both secular and Christian colleges and universities. Sometimes it is so easy to get wrapped up in the fight that we forget the cause. We are not fighting for some obscure ideology, for some sort of social morality, or even for political integrity. What we’re fighting for is truth.
Jesus said, “You shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free” (John 8:32; NKJV). Why do we fight for the authority of Scripture? Because the message Scripture proclaims has the power to set captives free and to liberate those who are living in the shackles of lies that bind them to the world system. When Jesus said, “I am the way and the truth and the life” in John 14:6, He claimed to be the one and only way to the Father, to a life of liberty, peace, grace, mercy, and forgiveness. Truly the Bible contains the most valuable and precious message on earth and for all eternity. God has placed it in our care to share it, protect it, defend it, and live it. Jude 1:3 boldly calls us to this stance:
I felt compelled to write and urge you to contend for the faith that was once for all entrusted to God’s holy people (NIV).
The words that Peter wrote nearly 2,000 years ago are as true today as they ever have been:
Who is there to harm you if you prove zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for the sake of righteousness, you are blessed AND DO NOT FEAR THEIR INTIMIDATION, AND DO NOT BE TROUBLED, but sanctify Christ as Lord in your hearts, always being ready to make a defense to everyone who asks you to give an account for the hope that is in you, yet with gentleness and reverence (1 Pet. 3:13–15).
Are Christian colleges and universities living up to this verse today? Are we?
When someone buys an expensive airline ticket and steps onto an airplane, they do so trusting that the pilot and the copilot are working together to ensure the direction and the safety of the aircraft and everyone on board. Recently we’ve seen heroic cooperation in the midst of life-threatening emergencies, where the leadership of the aircraft works together, saving all onboard.
When Christian parents begin writing substantial checks and send their children into the care of Christian colleges, it is usually accompanied with similar expectations. They believe that they are putting their children into a safe spiritual environment where their faith will be nurtured and where they will learn to defend and stand strong in their faith as they enter into adulthood. Parents do this in good faith, believing that those who are in leadership over the institution share their values and concerns, and are working together with the parents to provide the best environment possible for their children to grow mentally and spiritually.
Are these expectations reasonable? Or are they simply hope in an illusion? When we looked at how presidents and vice presidents of Christian colleges and universities answered our survey, the answers became profoundly clear.
The number-one answers given were grouped as follows:
Important observations can be made here, about both what the presidents and vice presidents said and what they didn’t say. One of our immediate concerns is that no one mentioned apologetics and defending their faith! In fact, throughout the whole survey of 312 people, only one person mentioned the importance of apologetics and defending the Bible. I am wondering if one of the most blaring issues here is that none of them mention “the gospel” as a differentiating factor. I think this too would floor people in considering that “Christian” colleges don’t even differentiate themselves in terms of gospel when compared to the world. And there’s nothing about teaching them to have a comprehensive Christian worldview and little about preparing them for interacting in the secular world.
We have found from our own personal experiences that most Bible colleges, Christian colleges, and seminaries do not teach apologetics. Apologetics is basically missing from our churches and Sunday schools, youth ministries included. (Which is not surprising, given that most pastors were not trained in apologetics at their colleges/seminaries!)
Are some Christian colleges basically secular institutions in disguise?
Second, 25 percent of the answers had nothing to do with Christianity at all! Smaller class sizes, fewer liberal arts classes, and caring instructors? Are those the most important things that distinguish a Christian school from a secular school? We would hope for something different than that! Yet these responses are consistent with other things we see in the study. Christian schools are reluctant to differentiate themselves from the world. There are plenty of liberal arts schools that would distinguish themselves by class size, the care of their professors, etc. The most critical analysis of the situation might lead someone to conclude the Christian schools are really just like secular schools, except with some stricter rules, a few Bible classes added in, and a chapel service that may or may not be mandatory to attend. We hear story after story from students who go to Christian colleges hoping for a refreshing and distinctive Christian environment, only to be confronted with behavior and activities such as drunkenness and promiscuity, which they were hoping to avoid. Are some Christian colleges basically secular institutions in disguise?
The third concern we gather from the data shows a drastic lack of agreement between the president and the vice president on important issues. (As we will show, this lack of agreement extends to other areas.) There should have been one answer that stood out for each school — a rallying cause, belief, or vision that distinguishes them from the world. But other than saying they “teach the Bible” in some of their classes, we couldn’t find any clear vision among these leaders of Christian education. In some circumstances it seems as if they may be upholding a handful of Christian “traditions” rather than equipping the next generation of believers. Now it may be that the school has some sort of mission statement, but regardless, the survey shows clearly what was on the minds of the leaders of these institutions.
Skim the numbers in the following graphs once again, and you’ll find great disagreement between the president and the vice president. If the pilot and copilot of an airliner functioned in the same way, we know that the flight would be headed for disaster. This “confusion in the cockpit” appears to be the reality at most Christian colleges and universities. No wonder so many students’ experiences end in disaster.
We were encouraged, however, to find that presidents and vice presidents, like those in the religion and science departments, have a strong belief in issues regarding the New Testament. But as usual, once we started asking questions about the Old Testament — particularly detailed questions — the answers became much more concerning. In many cases, the division between the president and the vice president was striking.
Both of these percentages were higher than were the religion and science departments (84.0 percent and 88.9 percent, respectively), so we’re pleased to see at least a general belief in this historic event.
Again, the president and the vice president showed slightly higher levels of belief than the religion and science departments, and we see only a minimal amount of discrepancy between these two offices. They gave similar responses and compatible numbers when asked if they believed the Genesis account “as written.”
So in the general questions everything appears (and as you will understand as we go on, we have to emphasize “appears”) to be fairly solid and headed in the right direction. But then again, we haven’t gotten to any of the details yet. When we asked specific questions that show what they mean by what they say, the numbers are quite different.
There is some indecision on the parts of the vice presidents; other than that there’s a fair amount of unity here, even though the leaders, like the rest of the faculty, are almost evenly split in their beliefs about a young and old earth. This issue draws the line in the sand time and time again and helps us to discern between what people say and what they actually mean. As we have seen, it’s much easier to agree on general statements than on the specifics. As the questions become more detailed, a very unusual “disconnect” begins to appear between the presidents and the VPs of the schools.
The presidents’ responses are somewhat encouraging, but it is disheartening to see that well over half of the vice presidents of Christian universities believe in a local or nonliteral flood. And we are really giving them the benefit of the doubt about what they mean by “worldwide.” This is yet another area where “newspeak” shows up. Many times when someone says “worldwide” what they really mean is “the whole world as it was known to exist then.” Many people think that Noah’s Flood covered only the known world at that time — meaning that it was simply a regional flood. Hugh Ross (from the biblically compromising ministry Reasons to Believe), for example, says he believes in a “universal” flood, but it’s only part of the world that was covered. Some people say they believe in a global flood, but they only believe it was on part of the globe. So even those words don’t necessarily mean to these academics what they mean to us. I’m not saying that they’re necessarily being deceptive; they’re just not being descriptive. If you want to find out what they really mean, you have to ask very specific questions. In fact, the more we considered the results of this research, the more this problem became apparent. It is really an epidemic. You can’t really assume that what these professors and presidents are saying to you is equivalent to your plain understanding of the words and phrases.
Several years ago I got a supporter to write to a number of colleges to could get in writing what they believed about the Flood. The responses were mindboggling. Most colleges won’t even give you a statement anymore. They don’t want to be held accountable in black and white, and even if they did, what would they say? When the president and vice president believe such radically different things, what could they write that would represent the school? They couldn’t write anything specific, because there is no consensus on the details.
Again, notice that nearly twice as many presidents say that they believe in a six-day creation compared to vice presidents. Not only is this result telling, but it also calls for the question, “Why is that?!” Why in the world would there be such a huge difference in belief between these two positions?
The vice presidents answered this follow-up question consistently, though the majority did so incorrectly. But the presidents? Notice that 78 percent said they do believe in six literal days, but 42 percent said they do NOT believe in six literal days. If you add that up, it means that 20 percent of the presidents answer yes to both questions!
So much of this hinges on their views of the authority of Scripture. Notice how they answered these key yes/no questions:
Take a look at that again. Both offices strongly believe in the “inspiration” of Scripture (98%+). But when asked about inerrancy and infallibility, the presidents answered with an apparently low level of belief. Only 21 percent believe in inerrancy and only 17.3 percent believe in infallibility! And let me remind you that these are the presidents of religiously affiliated colleges and universities that are members of the CCCU (Council for Christian Colleges and Universities). These are the men and women in the big office, with the big desks, who are charting the direction of the school. They are the representatives, the guardians, and the voice of the school. These are the leaders. And this is their level of belief in the authority of Scripture? Does that concern you as one possibly entrusting your children to them?
Interestingly, the vice presidents seem to have a much higher view of Scripture than the presidents do, though this doesn’t really line up with their answers to questions about the days of creation and the Flood as outlined above. The vice presidents are the ones who are usually approving the hiring of faculty. They are the ones that are in the middle of the division between the science and religion departments, and they appear to show a relatively higher view of Scripture.
One huge part of the concern, however, is this huge gap of belief that exists between the president and the vice president. You look at these kinds of numbers (21.2%–77.9%, 17.3%–94.8%) on central issues regarding the authority of Scripture, and you have to wonder what is going on.
We can only speculate on why these huge gaps exist between presidents and vice presidents. Do they really believe this differently? If not, why would they skew their answers? How could they ever really work together in a unified way for the institution?
Unfortunately, other questions only lead to more head scratching.
The differences between the president and the vice president are less pronounced on this issue, but we should still be concerned about the 25 percent of the presidents who do not believe the Bible is literally true. Yet again, when we correlate this question with one that we already looked at, the results are not consistent:
The vice presidents say they believe the Bible is literally true, but far less than half believe in six literal 24-hour days. More presidents believe in six literal 24-hour days than claim that the Bible is literally true. It is tempting to try to get inside their heads and figure out where these discrepancies and inconsistencies come from. For example, the vice presidents said that they have a higher view of Scripture than the presidents, yet on important issues such as the Flood, they show a much lower belief level in historical biblical events.
In all honesty, it’s tough to interpret such inconsistent data. Perhaps the only logical conclusion is that their belief systems/worldviews are highly inconsistent as well. What we can conclude from this data, however, is that some presidents of Christian colleges answered regrettably on key issues regarding the authority of Scripture, and we find very, very little unity between the presidents and the vice presidents who are in the cockpit of these institutions.
The interesting finding about this question is that there is virtually no agreement between the leadership about the educational background of their faculty. In most institutions the president does not hire the faculty. Generally, the chairs of the individual departments recommend faculty to the vice president, who makes the decision. But even so, 24.7 percent of vice presidents didn’t know.
One of the big reasons you have evolution/millions of years (and other compromises in regard to Genesis/Old Testament) being taught in Christian colleges is because so many of the faculty come from secular institutions. They don’t know any other way of thinking than what they heard in their own personal education. Yet if the educational background of the faculty is an important issue for you when you start choosing schools, we don’t know who to tell you to ask. Unless you actually see a piece of paper listing the faculty’s educational background, it will be very difficult to determine how many people actually did get their degree from Christian institutions (and it depends on which Christian institutions anyway, because some are no different than the secular ones!). The mixed data did reveal one thing, however: for the leaders, unbelievably, this does not seem to be an important question at all . . . but even if it is, nobody really knows the answer.
A further concern is that presidents seem to be very detached and unaware of what is actually being taught in their classrooms on key issues regarding the evolution/creation debate.
You can see problems all through this data, but the most obvious one is this: 0.0 percent of college presidents think that their institution is teaching evolution to be true. Yet 30.9 percent of the religion departments are clearly doing so. (If you remember our analysis of this data in an earlier chapter, you will recall that this number might be significantly higher depending on what the “teach and dissect” category means.) Only slightly more of the vice presidents (3.9 percent) are aware that the religion department is teaching evolution to be true.
There is a huge disconnect going on here. And on issues as critical as this one, the disconnect is scary.
Not only are some of these presidents apparently unaware of what is being taught in the classrooms, but because of this they are also unaware of the conflict that exists between the departments they oversee.
Note that the presidents have significantly higher impressions on unity of curriculum across the campus than the vice presidents do. We already know from the data whose perception is more accurate. The vice president knows about the conflict. While the president is out shaking hands at luncheons, raising money, and promoting the school to potential students and their parents, the vice president is getting all the calls from the parents and is in the crossfire of the squabbles between the departments.
This lack of perception is not exclusive to Christian colleges and universities, however. America’s Research Group recently did a survey for a mattress company where the same questions were asked to the president, to the head of merchandising, to the mattress buyer, and to the salespeople. What the owners thought and what the salesperson did coincided only 6 percent of the time. What the merchandising manager thought and what the buyer said coincided only 45 percent of the time. But the buyer and the salespeople were fifty-fifty, so they had four different people in four different positions all believing four different things about what was going on in the organization. Christian colleges are no exception — but they should be!
The leadership at most of the Christian colleges doesn’t know what is being taught in the classroom, and it’s very difficult for them to find out. The leaders have dozens or hundreds of professors in the classrooms for many hours every week . . . and the president is supposed to monitor that? Sure, maybe a few professors will sign off on a doctrinal statement that they maybe don’t fully believe in — or even disagree with — to get the job. And, as we have already shown and discussed, they can agree to words and phrases in the statement that may mean something different to them than what it meant to those who formulated the statement for the institution. Some might just skim it and sign it without serious consideration — and when they get to the classroom they can teach whatever they want. We hate to say that, but it’s true. There is a strong emphasis on “academic freedom,” as they have been taught and have experienced in the secular world. Many professors consider it an insult to be told what they should be teaching.
Again, we see a significant difference here between what the president thinks is happening and what the vice president thinks is happening. The presidents think that there are definite consequences when someone teaches contrary to the Bible; only about half of the vice presidents believe that this is taking place. That’s a huge spread again.
Several factors could be contributing to this. As we saw above, the presidents are largely unaware of what is being taught in their classrooms, and they probably think that everyone is teaching in accordance with the Bible. The vice presidents know that this isn’t true, yet only half of them are aware of any consequences to unbiblical teaching. From the survey, we know that there are a lot of things being taught contrary to the Bible, and nobody seems to be doing anything about it.
From the survey, we know that there are a lot of things being taught contrary to the Bible, and nobody seems to be doing anything about it.
As usual, the questions we asked brought up even more questions. What did most of the people we interviewed think when they heard the phrase “contrary to the Bible”? My guess is that they may have only thought about blatant issues, such as teaching that Hinduism and/or Islam is true and Christianity is false. When they heard this phrase, did they even think evolution? Did they think millions of years? Did they think of a historical Adam? Those are things that some of them don’t consider to be contrary to the Bible anyway!
And what did they think of when we said “consequences”? Did they think we’re talking about social consequences? Professional censorship? Perhaps we should have asked the question this way: if someone teaches something contrary to the Bible, do you have the will to fire them or publicly correct them? We have seen very few instances where faculty were fired for compromise teachings. In those cases it usually has to be something really outlandish. But worrying about the details of “inerrancy,” “infallibility,” or even evolution/creation/millions of years? There’s no consequence for that — and many times it is even encouraged.
In many situations, there is really only a “consequence” if the word gets out to the public and parents become involved. Once it becomes public and the parents become concerned, then there is action. The action is not necessarily because of what is being taught (because others are probably teaching the same things and haven’t been highlighted) but because of public relations damage and possible loss of donors and support.
The analysis of this data unfortunately confirmed the hunches that we had about what was happening and what is happening at the highest levels of leadership at many Christian colleges and universities. These numbers show such Christian institutions and those that are “religiously affiliated” may have a disconnect from the reason the college should exist. There is great disunity among the leadership, and compromise teachings have infiltrated the classrooms. Many schools struggle to differentiate themselves from secular institutions, and clear conflict exists between departments.
Equally concerning are the inconsistencies that we find in people’s answers. As a group, these respondents are highly educated and amazingly confused. Many of us have felt this was true, but now we have the statistics, drawn from their own words, to show it. President Greg Hall summarized the situation this way:
There is no idea or concept that more accurately describes my 20 years of experience in “Christian” higher education than the periodic, but continual, evidence of equivocation, capitulation, and compromise among those of us who lead and teach in these institutions when it comes to whether or not we will stand on the truth of biblical authority. In the equivocation we cause massive confusion among students, who are far more discerning than we realize at times, and see it for what it is. I have observed this phenomenon among other Christian colleges and my own. If we are not willing to stand upon the truth and veracity of Scripture, we have no choice but to capitulate and compromise in the classroom. In more than just the disciplines related to science we will find secular philosophies and ideologies in direct conflict with the clear instruction of the Word of God. In most cases there are some very strange intellectual “gymnastics” going on to try to reconcile these worldly philosophies with the eternal truth of God’s Word. It is a fool’s errand in the worst sense of the word. To cause confusion among students because we can’t decide on the place to stand as our first priority, that being the Word of God, is to render ourselves incompetent as Christian educators.
Professing to be institutions of truth, many schools have become the propagators of confusion. They are the authors of confusion. “If the trumpet does not sound a clear call, who will get ready for battle?” (1 Cor. 14:8; NIV). The reason young Christians are not prepared for the battle is that they don’t take a firm stand on the authority of the Bible. This generation does not know there is a battle, does not care if there is a battle, does not know the enemy, does not know what is at stake, and does not care. You would hope that the Christian colleges would have been preparing “warriors” for the ensuing conflict. But they have not. They have bought into the enemy’s strategy to divide and conquer. As President Hall notes, “While we should have been equipping students, we have been confusing them.” And of course all this flows over into the pulpit, Christian schools, other Christian institutions, and so on down the line to the Christian public.
Let’s take another look at the question that asks about what differentiates a Christian school from a secular one. As we probe deeper to find explanations for the division and difficulties we see emerging from Christian schools, two of the answers might offer us some helpful insight.
Again, notice that there is striking contrast between what the president and vice president prioritize. Is it possible that these responses reflect the different priorities of their specific positions? As we broke up these answers, an interesting profile of the presidency emerged. It appears that the presidents, rather than being the defenders and leaders of a spiritual institution, give answers that make them sound more like salesmen. But these responses certainly reflect financial and social realities facing many college presidents and would be consistent with what are otherwise unexplainable responses.
Let’s take the most obvious one: when asked what makes a Christian school different from a secular school, the presidents’ number-one answer was “smaller class size.” At 36.5 percent, no other category of answers was close. Is this what should distinguish a Christian school from a secular school? This is a typical mantra for any private school — one of their big marketing angles that helps them justify higher tuition (because most people believe that smaller classes equate with a better education). But what does that have to do with being Christian?
The same can be asked of the high response “caring instructors” the presidents gave. None of the other three positions of leadership gave this any sort of statistical significance. Not only is the president’s view on this completely different than the rest of his faculty, but we must also question why.
In many situations, it appears that the president is giving answers that put their schools in the best light for Christian parents. They gave the highest numbers when asked how many in their faculty were trained in Christian institutions. But is this number objective? Do they really know? Or is this another situation where the president is trying to sell the institution to Christian parents? In all honesty, we simply couldn’t tell.
Presidents believe in the highest levels of unity between their departments, they don’t see conflict in the curriculum, and none of them believe that evolution is being taught as truth in their school. Smaller class sizes and caring instructors could be just another pitch for enrollment.
If this is the situation, it’s not unique to Christian colleges and universities. In bigger churches, the lead pastor is often more detached. It’s the associate pastor who is in the trenches, aware of the division between the committees, and more concerned about what is being taught in the Sunday school classrooms. The senior pastors tend to be more concerned about how they are coming across to the congregation, how the church is being branded, and how the church’s image affects the offering plate. I think it’s the same in these colleges. The president tends to be more political and the vice president and the chairs tend to be more personal.
Particularly in the wake of the recession, many of these schools are struggling financially. Many institutions are sitting on a time bomb of debt. In this economy, the temptation certainly exists to tell the parents what they want to hear in order to keep the classrooms filled. The pressure to meet enrollment could also be driving these fuzzy answers. We know that’s a horrible accusation to make, but it’s at least one possibility that must be considered and addressed.
Everything rises and falls on leadership.
Dr. John Maxwell said, “Everything rises and falls on leadership.”1 The survey found that leadership is in a questionable and chaotic state on Christian colleges and campuses. The tone and precedents set at the highest levels of leadership will, and are, having an effect on the rest of the campus and ultimately the Church in general.
Someone must take ownership and responsibility for the situation and step out with clear leadership in the midst of this crisis. So far, it seems as if we just don’t see the type of leadership we have known in the past: the men and women who held the authority of Scripture in highest regard, above all things, and then taught and lived and learned accordingly. Where are those leaders today? It’s only a matter of time before an institution falls to the level of its leadership. We saw this time and time again with the Ivy League schools, which started with such high and bold principles and eventually descended into compromise with the world.
Somehow, someway, we must regain the certain sound of our trumpet so that the next generation will take up their weapons of faith and join us in the battle for life-changing truth.