Posted by jlwile on November 1, 2011
When I got my PhD, I started on the typical “professor track.” I got a postdoctoral position at Indiana University, eventually was appointed to the faculty there, and then transferred to be on the faculty at Ball State University. However, I found that I enjoyed writing more than teaching and research, so I eventually started a publishing company to sell the textbooks I was writing. A few years ago, I sold the publishing company, and even though I planned to stay with it for another 10 years, I could not support the direction taken by the new owner. As a result, I resigned from the company.
Once I resigned, I prayed and thought about what God would have me do in this next chapter of my life, and one idea that popped into my head was to go back to the university and start teaching again. However, since most secular universities are terrified of serious scientific debate on the origins issue, I knew that my reputation as a young-earth creationist textbook author would make it very unlikely that a secular university would hire me. Thus, I decided to apply to a few Christian universities, and it was a rather disheartening experience.
You see, most Christian universities have this long list of beliefs and practices to which their professors must subscribe. For example, I applied to one fairly well-known Christian university, and their doctrinal statement (a statement to which all their faculty are asked to adhere) detailed the university’s stance on a number of issues about which many serious Evangelical Christian theologians disagree. In addition, they had a “community covenant” that prohibited all sorts of activities, including one in which Christ Himself engaged: the drinking of wine! Finally, the chairman of the chemistry department informed me that if I was to be hired by this university, I would have to change the type of church I attend, since my current denomination (Free Methodist) is not on the list of approved denominations!
So in order to teach at this university, I would have to subscribe to a long list of beliefs, agree to a long list of behaviors, and I would have to go to a different kind of church. Even if I already did believe everything on this long list of beliefs, and even if I already did conform to the behavioral expectations of the university, and even if I already did attend an “approved” church, I could never be part of such a university. Why? Because one of the the purposes of a university is to engage in an honest search for truth. If I am forced to agree to a long list of “truths” upfront, how in the world can my search for truth be an honest one? It seems to me that in order to be a honest investigator, I must be open to the idea that I might actually be wrong on a few issues. Most Christian universities don’t seem to allow that of their faculty members!
Now that’s not true of all Christian universities, and I thank God for that. One university that seems to understand this is the institution whose ad appears at the top: Anderson University. This university is actually in my hometown, and my wonderful wife graduated from it. U.S. News and World Report ranks it as one of the top 50 regional universities in the Midwest, and the Princeton Review recognizes it as one of the best colleges in the Midwest.
The fact that my wife graduated from Anderson University is not the reason I like it. Neither are the accolades that Anderson University has earned. The reason I like it is that Anderson University seems to understand that the quest for truth is important and cannot be hindered by one specific interpretation of the Scriptures that has been developed by fallible people. Instead, if we are to learn the truth, we must honestly search the Scriptures, honestly study God’s creation, and honestly explore the various ideas that have emerged throughout the history of Christendom. If we make up our minds on most issues before investigating them, our investigation will be anything but honest.
As a result, Anderson University wants to proclaim that there are many things it does not believe. Here are two from the video above:
We don’t believe that the quest for truth ever ends.
We don’t believe that faith and science are incompatible.
Both of these statements are essential for a Christian University, if it really wants to be a haven for those who are searching for the truth. If you don’t believe the quest for truth ever ends, you will not sign on to a long list of beliefs that says the quest for truth is essentially over when it comes to a large number of topics upon which devout Christians disagree. Also, if you don’t believe that faith and science are incompatible, you won’t be afraid to honestly look at science, even if it might contradict some of your cherished beliefs. After all, the science might contradict your cherished beliefs because your cherished beliefs are wrong, not because the science is wrong!
The point is that God is the author of all truth. Thus, we shouldn’t be afraid to look at issues with an open mind. Remember, the Scriptures tell us
Do not quench the Spirit; do not despise prophetic utterances. But examine everything carefully; hold fast to that which is good (1 Thessalonians 5:19-21)
We are to examine everything carefully and then hold fast that that which is good. What does “everything” entail? In my mind, it entails everything, even those ideas that clash with what you have already decided is the truth.
Once again, since God is the author of all truth, we should not be afraid to challenge our cherished beliefs. As another Anderson University ad says:
We don’t believe tough questions should frighten us.
Unfortunately, too many Christian universities are frightened of the tough questions, which is why they don’t hire any faculty who disagree with their doctrinal or behavioral beliefs.
Now don’t get me wrong here. I don’t mean to even imply that a Christian university shouldn’t be selective. Obviously, if it is a Christian university, it needs to hire serious Christian faculty. After all, the university is an intellectual training ground for Christians. At the same time, however, the university has to be true to what a university is – an enclave of honest inquiry. Thus, there is a bit of a tension here. There are some beliefs that are absolutely necessary to do inquiry in a Christian worldview, but at the same time, requiring too much unanimity on too many issues stifles honest inquiry. In fact, this is one problem with secular universities today. When it comes to the origins issue, they require such unanimity from their faculty that it stifles honest inquiry into that very important issue!
It seems that Anderson University is dealing with the tension of promoting honest inquiry in a Christian worldview better than most Christian universities. Rather than forcing their faculty to sign on to a long list of beliefs, they have focused on the important issue: Christ. Unfortunately, many Christian universities are, in the words of C.S. Lewis’s younger son, concentrating on the “trivial at the expense of the essential.” It does my heart good to know that some Christian universities (like Anderson University) are not!