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Friday, October 24, 2014

This is a Christian University That Gets It

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!

Comments

13 Responses to “This is a Christian University That Gets It”
  1. Shawn Huston says:

    Sorry to hear about your experience, Jay. I have to say that I just went through the same thing. I was a top 2 finalist in faculty searches at two different, fairly well-known Christian universities. I was disqualified from one based on doctrinal issues. They listed 30-50 very specific doctrines and I wouldn’t affirm their interpretation of Revelations because i) it’s interpretation is not straight-forward ii) I haven’t made a serious study of it to avow that I believe one specific thing about it and iii) theologians who I very much respect hold differing views. My response was basically, “I don’t disagree with this interpretation, but I don’t have enough knowledge to make an informed decision yet.” That did it for them.

    I don’t even want to talk about the other place that rejected me after a campus visit. (They assured me that I was “their guy” over the phone.) The rejection was for spiritual reasons and primarily involved an arrest record for an alcohol problem 10 years ago (public intox, not DUI).

    The whole process left me a little bitter. Still trying to get over that, but know that God put me down in the place where He wants me right now. It turns out that the rejections really were a blessing. I’m not sure that I’ll go through applying at Christian universities again, though. The one I saw that was really bad was a Reformed college that not only required signing off on doctrine and attending a Reformed church, but also required that faculty send their kids to a local Reformed private school. No thanks! I’m not about to let any fallible entity have that much control over me and my family.

    Enjoy your writing as always. Thanks for standing up for truth.

  2. jlwile says:

    Shawn, your experience is, unfortunately, not at all uncommon. The saddest part is that your response to the first university (I don’t disagree with this interpretation, but I don’t have enough knowledge to make an informed decision yet) is what any serious Christian should say in such a situation. The very fact that your response bothered them indicates to me that they weren’t interested in finding serious Christians to serve on their faculty.

    There are some wonderful Christian universities out there. They are just few and far between. Perhaps you can find one if you decide to pursue academics again. I would be happy to be a prof at Anderson University, for example, if God calls be back to the university setting.

  3. Kevin Spear says:

    As an AU alum, and the father of an AU student, I’m very thankful for your comments, Jay. Thank you for confirming why I believe Anderson University is a first class, Christian institution.

  4. jlwile says:

    You are very welcome, Kevin!

  5. Josiah says:

    It is terrible that Christian universities should be so very particular about enforcing orthodoxy at the expense of true freedom of inquiry. Do they not realize that difficult questions are going to remain difficult questions if no-one is allowed to wrestle with them with sufficient sincerity and perseverance to find the answer?

    Being dogmatic about the personal lives of their staff is in some ways worse. Perhaps you should send them a copy of 1 Timothy 4 or Romans 14, or perhaps they just need a full copy of the Bible!

    I’m very glad that there are exceptions. Do tell where things go from here!

  6. jlwile says:

    Josiah, I think the point is that a lot of Christian universities don’t want to wrestle with the tough questions with sincerity and perseverance. Instead, they prefer the answer that is “safe” to the one that is true.

    Unfortunately, as I learned from a previous series of posts, some Christians excuse themselves from obeying Romans 14 by claiming that the particular issue they care about is essential to the Christian faith and not the kind of “side issues” covered by that passage of Scripture. As a result, they are free to trash their Christian brothers and sisters, make false accusations against them, etc.

  7. Josiah says:

    Yes, it is quite annoying when they do that. I always ask whether it is more essential than one of the ten commandments (keeping the sabbath). Unfortunately such people rarely actually want to consider things!

  8. Ernie Estrada says:

    Hi Jay,
    Did you apply at any Catholic Universities? You don’t have to be Catholic to be a member of their faculty.

  9. jlwile says:

    No, Ernie, I did not. It is an interesting thought. I knew you don’t have to be catholic to be in the faculty of a Catholic university. Alvin Plantinga is a well-known example of a Protestant on the faculty of a Catholic university. I would expect such universities to be much more reasonable when it comes to allowing faculty with a broad range of views.

  10. The Black Sheep says:

    I’m always annoyed when people, especially educational institutions seem to want to remove thinking from learning. When did we become a society of sheep (Not like Black Sheep who stray from the pack HA!) who just accept what we are told.

    I know I’ve made comments similar to this on this blog before, but well, it bothers me!!! I was raised to think for myself, to ask questions, to explore all sides of an issue. Living in a house with one Republican, charismatic church raised parent from Indiana, and one Democrat, Southern Methodist parent from Georgia, I learned to ask questions and develop my own thoughts on a variety of issues. As a result, I understand and respect the thoughts of people whose opinions differ from mine, and am prepared to discuss issues from both sides of the table.

    Why would a University not want that for their students? Why would a student not want that for themselves?

  11. jlwile says:

    Black Sheep, you are definitely not like most sheep! I can tell you exactly why a university, a high school, and even a parent might not want a child to think as he or she learns. Quite simply, it’s because of fear. A university is afraid that a thinking student will challenge the deeply-held beliefs of its donors/supporters. A high school is afraid that a thinking student might challenge the assumptions upon which many of society’s rules have been founded. A parent is afraid that a thinking child might end up believing something that is slightly different from what the parent wants the child to believe.

    In each case (university, high school, parent) the good of the student must be put ahead of the comfort level of the institution or person. In fact, thinking students will benefit the university, high school, and parent in the long run. However, the thinking student will probably cause some short-term pain. Since most of us can’t stand to think about the long term, most of us choose the path of fear over what is best for the student.

  12. The Black Sheep says:

    So the better solution is to send the student out into the world unprepared? UGH!!!!

  13. jlwile says:

    Unfortunately, Black Sheep, for some parents, that seems to be the conclusion. The good news is that most Christian university students don’t go to that kind of Christian university.

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